31 In Hiking + The Outdoors/ Iceland/ Travel

Exploring Iceland’s Golden Circle in the Winter

Iceland’s Golden Circle is definitely not one of those off-the-beaten-path kind of day trips. But the way I see it is that this trip is extremely popular for a reason. Iceland is full of many geographical phenomena and a trip around the Golden Circle is a great way to catch examples of many of them. We didn’t hop on a tour for our own excursion. Instead we loaded our rental car up with a few snacks and plenty of water and took off for the day.

Honestly, the drive alone would’ve made it worth the trip. Don’t forget to take time to look out the window.

Þingvelir National Park

I made my own itinerary and we took off early, trying to make the most of the daylight.  We arrived at Þingvelir National Park just as the sun was really popping up. We drove down to the second visitor’s center, mostly because a fleet of tour buses had just pulled into the main entrance. So, we thought we’d try to dodge the crowd and find some extra info out down there. I asked the man working the visitor center for his must-sees. He was so kind and marked specific spots on the map and sent us right back up the hill, which was perfect timing because as we arrived, the people on the tours were heading back to the buses.

(Often written Thingvellir in English). This national park is known for a few really interesting things. The first, and main reason I was dying to visit is that you can walk (or snorkel / dive) between two continental plates. That’s right. Where the Eurasian and North-American tectonic plates come together, there’s this rift that marks where they come together. Secondly, it’s the home of the oldest known parliament on earth. Third, the lake just south of Þingvelir is the largest natural lake in Iceland. Convinced to visit? Wait until you see it!

Perfect view of the country’s largest lake just as the sun is coming up over it.

Walking through this was a definite highlight of the trip. I’ve done a lot of cool things, but walking between two continents is one of my favorites. Next time, I’m going to snorkel it! 

In addition to the unique opportunity of being able to walk between the continents, you do get an excellent view of a massive mountain. Also, just past here is an Icelandic flag and where that flag is, is where the Icelandic parliament was held. In this area, trials were held and if a person was found guilty of something for which sentence was death, they were thrown into a jagged waterfall part of this river to be killed.

The aforementioned death pool

The bottom of the death pool after it crossed under a bridge. It definitely looks like it would do quite some damage. 

Öxarárfoss os a gorgeous waterfall that spills over large rocks. It’s obviously a very popular spot because they’ve built a boardwalk right up to it. Be sure to be careful in the winter because it was snowing and sleeting when we got there, and it was seriously slick! 

The biggest thing I wish I would’ve done is visit Silfra. It’s a location where you can snorkel or dive between tectonic plates. We obviously decided that this was more of a summer activity than winter activity, just for comfort, but you can do it in any season. There are a few big reasons that I’m really wanting to give it a go. You can swim between the tectonic plates, you can snorkel and experience it – no diving certification necessary, and it’s not the ocean; it’s a lake. (Read more about my fear of the ocean here.)

Geysir Hot Springs of Haukadalur

I first fell in love with geysers on my first trip to Yellowstone National Park. Our english word geyser, actually comes from the famous Golden Circle stop – Geysir, which is actually the specific name of a geyser here.

The geyser field here is covered in geothermal pools ranging in size, shape, color and type.

  

Some of the pools look like small craters with bubbling pots. Some pools are tiny and have the smallest eruptions. They’re so interesting and each is unique!

The main attraction in this geyser field now is Strokkur. Strokkur’s big draw is it’s massive eruption that can reach quite spectacular heights. Plus, it erupts every 6-8 minutes, so you’re sure to get to see it upon any visit along the Golden Circle. While we were there we saw it erupt had a dozen times. Right before it erupts it bubbles up [right], and then explodes loudly! 

 

We definitely had to watch it erupt twice at first to get a photo because it was so loud that I jumped and ruined my photo! Ha! 

Blesi was my favorite pool, after the Strokkur, of course. I love the brilliant blue colors and you get a gorgeous view of Strokkur in the background. There are loads of signs around this area that say not to trow coins into the natural pools, but you wouldn’t believe how many people I saw read the signs and immediately throw them in anyway. I definitely shamed at least two people out of littering with coins here. The minute I saw someone, coin in hand, I would walk near them and loudly exclaim to my mother how the people who threw coins in were littering, that it was against the rules and horrible for the future of these gorgeous pools. No one I shamed threw in coins. I hope it’s something that sticks with them.

 

 You can see the stunning turquoise pool littered with coins, but you can also see Strokkur erupting in the distance. 

This is what used to be the big deal. Geysir which means ‘to gush’ in Icelandic. Although it can be dormant for years at a time, research has shown that Geysir has been active for over 10k years! That’s incredible! As far as I’ve heard the last eruption was over a year ago and there’s no known pattern. So, if you see it erupt, take it in and know you’re seeing something incredible!

One of the things that I really loved about this hillside area was the different colors of moss, grass and earth. It was so beautiful. Plus, when it started snowing, it made the snowflakes stand out even more. 

The Haukadalur geyser field is definitely a must on the Golden Circle. While it isn’t the most impressive collection of multi-colored pools, Strokkur is the coolest geyser I’ve ever seen in real life thus far. The sheer power of it is just extraordinary.

Gullfoss

Gullfoss is tied for my first favorite stop on the Golden Circle. It’s just so massive, multi-tiered and simply gorgeous! The roar that comes from the falls is amazing and it was so hard to peel my eyes from that turquoise flow.

 

There are multiple vantage points, although a couple seemed less safe in the winter, it was more and more beautiful from every angle. Down on one of the lower vantage points was this monument [left]. This woman, Sigríður Tómasdóttir, was one of the first people to lead people to see this stunning natural site.

It’s so perfect because Sigríður Tómasdóttir gets to continue to look over the falls that she brought so many people to enjoy. How cool is that?

When we went back to the top of the falls to one of the more upper overlooks, it started to snow and it made for such a spectacular landscape! I’m obsessed! While you don’t get as much detail of the lower falls, it’s also really cool to see the upper section in more detail.

Kerið

Kerið is a gorgeous example of a crater lake that sits just off the road along the Golden Circle. I almost missed it and I’m very glad we made the u-turn to go back. I’ve seen many photos where the lake can be frozen over in the winter, but we were fortunate enough to see the green-blue water and the amazing striped colors around the crater. You can walk the perimeter of the lake and walk down stairs that go down into it. I’m so glad that we were able to get this view of it.

While many of the stops along the Golden Circle or breath-taking and shouldn’t be missed, the landscape that you travel through is equally as amazing. There are mountains, lakes, coastlines and more that just inspire awe and beauty. This is just a small selection of the things that can be seen. If I were there in the summer, it would be very possible to connect the Golden Circle drive to the Southern Coast drive and stay in Vik before venturing on north.

Did I miss anything on the Golden Circle? Which stop was your favorite?

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31 Comments

  • Reply
    Megan Indoe
    June 6, 2017 at 10:55 am

    I am aching to go to Iceland! I feel like everyone has been but us! It’s such a beautiful place, you’ve captured it very well! I want to hit all the hotsprings and waterfalls doing a road trip! Your trip looked like absolute perfection.

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      June 7, 2017 at 10:40 pm

      You will love it when you make it there. And thank you, that’s a huge compliment coming from you! I have always loved your photography style!

  • Reply
    yodandalek
    June 6, 2017 at 3:59 pm

    Nice writeup, we visited in the winter too and were quite pleasantly surprised at how awesome Thingvellir turned out to be. The crowds are the only drawback of the Golden Circle, we much preferred the South Coast, in part due to lesser people there

    Here is our winter experience: https://beyondourhorizons.wordpress.com/2017/02/18/iceland-first-timer-recommendations-practical-tips/ in case you’d like to compare notes 😉

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      June 7, 2017 at 10:42 pm

      Thank you so much! I also went to the South Coast and enjoyed it very much. It was almost equally as crowded for us, but we did the southern coast “backwards” so we beat managed to get away from the massive tour buses on the waterfalls, which was amazing.

  • Reply
    Meghan
    June 6, 2017 at 9:07 pm

    I so wanted to snorkel there too. I freaking loved Iceland; thanks for letting me revisit.

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      June 7, 2017 at 10:44 pm

      When you went were you there in summer or winter? I’m hoping to get back there next summer or fall on the way home from our big trip. Matt is DYING to see it. We’re thinking of renting a camper van!

      • Reply
        Meghan
        June 8, 2017 at 8:27 am

        I was there in the first week of September though it felt like winter some days! My friends and I rented a car and drove the Ring Road all the way around staying at guesthouses which were very affordable (at least in 2012) and served delicious large breakfasts!

        • Reply
          Paige Wunder
          June 9, 2017 at 7:19 am

          That’s so awesome! I can’t wait to go back and do the Ring Road! We’re thinking of going on our way home from our big trip and renting a camper van. We stayed in a guesthouse in Reykjavik and it was really affordable, but the breakfast wasn’t. But it was easy to do things on a budget, I thought.

  • Reply
    The Soul of Seoul
    June 7, 2017 at 12:04 am

    I hope you do get to go back in the summer and experience those tectonic plates. That would definitely be something! Sounds amazing and the photos you got from this winter rip are just stunning. So interesting.

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      June 7, 2017 at 10:45 pm

      Thank you! I want to give it a go for sure. Thanks for reading!

  • Reply
    Sandy N Vyjay
    June 7, 2017 at 12:37 am

    Iceland is a white wonder and the landscapes really stunning. Your pictures are really stunning and capture the beauty so vividly. The geysers look phenomenal. Had seen quite a few of them in Yellowstone.National Park including the Old Faithful. I feel that Geysers and Volcanoes are some of the most fascinating of natural phenomena.

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      June 7, 2017 at 10:46 pm

      I definitely agree with you there. All the geothermal stuff if just so interesting! I loved the geyser basin in Yellowstone with all the different colored pools! So interesting! Thanks for reading!

  • Reply
    melbtravel
    June 7, 2017 at 3:46 am

    I went to Iceland 11yrs ago in winter and loved it and have been wanting to go back ever since. Your post took me right back there and made me want to pack my bags and get onto a plane and go. Glad you loved walking between the two continents, it is such a surreal feeling to say that you have done that.

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      June 7, 2017 at 10:50 pm

      Thank you so much! What amazing compliments! It really is a surreal feeling. I had never even thought about that being a thing that a person could do before researching this trip. I need to research if there are other places to do this because it was so amazing!

  • Reply
    Candy
    June 7, 2017 at 5:45 pm

    Iceland is absolutely breathtaking. We have been twice and will go again for a third 🙂 Next time we would love to walk between two continents as well! Looks like such a fun adventure.

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      June 7, 2017 at 10:56 pm

      I’m hoping to make a second trip there next year, hopefully not in the wintertime. I’m wanting to rent a camper van! What’s your favorite thing in Iceland after two visits?

  • Reply
    Sally E
    June 7, 2017 at 6:18 pm

    I feel like I’ve seen so many great posts of Iceland lately but they never get old. Namely because the country is SO beautiful! Your photos really capture the beauty of the country – I’ve been dying to go for awhile!

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      June 7, 2017 at 10:57 pm

      Thank you so much Sally! When you make it you won’t be disappointed. It’s such a gorgeous spot!

  • Reply
    Genie | Gallivanting Bean
    June 7, 2017 at 11:53 pm

    okay all your photos are breathtaking! I’m seriously dying to go to iceland but have no one to go with. do you think it’s a solo traveler friendly destination. although then i think who’s going to take my photos for me haha

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      June 9, 2017 at 7:21 am

      Thank you so much! I think Iceland is an insanely solo-traveler friendly destination. I’ve seen in on lots of lists ranked as number one. Their crime rate is really low and people are extremely friendly. I would definitely reach out to people on some trade groups, like Girls LOVE Travel, for people to meet up with during the day to split the cost of things with, like if someone had a rental car and would just have you pay part for a day.

  • Reply
    traveldejavu0
    June 8, 2017 at 1:26 am

    This is certainly the best Iceland post I have read lately. there are so many posts but this one truly gives info about the core beauty of Iceland.

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      June 9, 2017 at 7:22 am

      Thank you so much! I really appreciate that! I really enjoyed my time there.

  • Reply
    Anne
    June 8, 2017 at 2:55 am

    When I travelled to Iceland there seemed to be hardly anyone there (although it was nearly ten years ago) so we had many places to ourselves, and the opportunity to really admire the incredible scenery. It is stunning

  • Reply
    Susan
    June 8, 2017 at 4:20 am

    You got so many amazing photos of the Golden Circle! We visited in April one year and it felt like Winter. Did you get to the tomato place nearby where you eat in a greenhouse?

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      June 9, 2017 at 7:22 am

      We didn’t! I read about after our trip to the Golden Circle (go figure). And I was super bummed because my parents own a greenhouse so that would’ve been such a cool place to take me mom!

  • Reply
    Nina Zara
    June 8, 2017 at 5:50 am

    Looks wonderful! if you liked Gullfoss, then you would love Victoria falls in Zambia or Zimbabwe.

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      June 9, 2017 at 7:23 am

      I’ve been dying to get to Victoria Falls and swim in the Devil’s Pool. It’s definitely on the list!

  • Reply
    Tara
    June 8, 2017 at 6:59 am

    Your photos are stunning (as always). We actually did this trip years ago and didn’t even bring a camera. What were we thinking? In 1998, there were no tour buses in the winter. In fact, we blew a tire and waited two hours before someone came to our rescue. I would love to do it again, but I think I would like to visit in the summer. I was not so into the eternal darkness.

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      June 9, 2017 at 7:26 am

      Oh my gosh! That’s a crazy story! I also can’t believe you didn’t take a camera! I think you would be amazed at how much it has changed! We tried to get places before or just after tour buses arrived/left (except for the continents that had people in it all the time). Crazy about having to wait two hours! The roads were a bit insane because there’s no shoulder anywhere! Luckily someone helped you though!

  • Reply
    ambujsaxena05
    June 13, 2017 at 7:25 am

    I never knew Iceland from this angle. Thank you for the post! Iceland looks intriguing and mysterious!

    • Reply
      Paige Wunder
      June 20, 2017 at 10:15 am

      Thank you! I loved Iceland in the winter. I hadn’t traveled to a winter destination before, not being a huge fan of the cold, but I found with the right gear it wasn’t bad. I also loved the more mysterious and adventurous look to the snow covered sites! Thanks for commenting and reading!

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