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 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 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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