Ask any Icelander what you should see while you’re in Iceland and you’ll get the same answer: the Golden Circle! Why the Golden Circle, you ask? Isn’t all of Iceland beautiful, what’s so special about this specific route? I’m glad you asked…
What is the Golden Circle?
The Golden Circle is a 300 km loop of road that usually opens and closes in Reykjavík. It covers three main locations: Þingvellir National Park, the waterfall Gullfoss and the erupting geyser Strokkur in Haukadalur. On the way, you pass all kinds of different landscapes and attractions. The cherry on top is that these magnificent natural wonders are a convenient distance from Reykjavík, so you can be back in the city at a respectable hour after a day of exploring.
Þingvellir (pronounced Thing-vet-leer) is an amazing location, not just for its natural beauty but for its rich history, reaching all the way back to the age of settlement. It’s where the Icelandic parliament was founded in 930 AD, shortly after the island’s settlement. This Viking government institution was way ahead of its time and its members met every year at Þingvellir for centuries. It was temporarily disbanded in 1799, only to be reconvened some 50 years later, this time in Reykjavík.
Some major matters in Icelandic history have been settled at Þingvellir. For instance, it was there that the decision was made, in the year 1000 AD, that Icelanders would turn their backs on the old Norse gods and convert to Christianity. Þingvellir is also where Iceland submitted to the Norwegian king in the 13th century and where they declared their independence in 1944.
In addition to the area’s historical importance, it’s also quite impressive from a geological point of view. As you might know, Iceland is a volcanic island and sits on the rift between the Eurasian and American tectonic plates. At Þingvellir you can actually see that rift, cracking the ground. This makes for some impressive landscapes, the whole area is covered in cliffs, cracks and fissures, some of them filled with crystal clear water. You can go snorkelling at Þingvellir and even go diving if you have the necessary permits. If you’d rather stay on dry land, simply enjoying the incomparable views is activity enough.
When you are able to tear yourself away from Þingvellir, head on towards Gullfoss, a waterfall in Hvítá river. Simply describing Gullfoss as a waterfall might be accurate but to do its natural beauty justice, you’re going to need to get more descriptive. Gullfoss is a two-tiered, bellowing stream of water; a constant display of the thundering power that nature can unleash when it gets its act together. The amount of water frothing white over cliffs before it goes roaring down into a deep canyon is almost unbelievable, until you see it with your own eyes.
The best part about Gullfoss is that it’s still relatively unspoilt by humans. There’re just some steps down from the road and a walking path, with a safety rope, up to the spot where the waterfall can best be viewed. This means you have to be careful and watch yourself while you’re there, (don’t cross the ropes! Just don’t do it!) but it also means that you can enjoy the splendour of the unobstructed view, just like nature intended.
When you leave Gullfoss, you’ve seen all you need to see of water streaming down, now it’s time to see it shoot straight out of the ground and into the air. Iceland has a few examples of one of nature’s most amazing spectacles – geysers or erupting hot springs. Geysir is one of the most famous geysers in the world, and the one that gave the phenomenon its name. Unfortunately, due to geological shifts in the earth, it doesn’t erupt regularly anymore, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see.
Strokkur, Geysir’s neighbour, puts on a show every 6-8 minutes, blowing hot water high into the air. The spectacle is amazing to witness. All around are pools of scorching hot water, some muddy, others clear and yet others bubbling like cauldrons. Icelanders have loved visiting Geysir for a long time, and tourists have been able to get coffee and refreshments there since 1928.
Make the most of your day trip!
Friðheimar farm and Kerið
After getting a close-up view of the country’s abundance of geothermal energy, pay a visit to Friðheimar and
Snowmobiling on a glacier
There’s nothing as thrilling as riding a snowmobile across the frozen plains of Langjökull glacier!