There are a few things that you cannot miss during a visit to Iceland and the Golden Circle is one of them. It may be the most congested touristy loops on the island but there is a reason visitors flock to the three natural wonders known as the ‘Golden Circle’.
In just half a day you can admire the incredible spouting hot spring, Geysir; watch in awe at the collosal, roaring Gullfoss waterfall; and lose yourself in the beauty at Þingvellir National Park, the cite of Icelands first parliment. Only 100km from the countries capital, it is a loop worth taking.
The best way to see the Golden Circle is by hiring a car and taking it at your own pace. If you are like me and my mother and terrified of driving in arctic November conditions many tour companies offer tours of the loop, allowing you the ease of not being in one of the upside down cars you will pass on the drive… We used an amazing small company called Iceland Horizons (email: email@example.com, Telephone: +354 866 7237). The mini-bus was slightly less intimidating than some of the giant coaches that other companies use, and David, the owner, is an incredible guide with a contagious passion for the country.
Whichever way you chose, a trip around the Golden Circle allows you to admire these three amazing sights:
Iceland’s original hot-water spout is the one that all other geysers are named. Geysir (gay-zeer, which literally means gusher), has been active for an estimated 800 years, and once gushed water up to 80m into the air. But since 1916, the old sprout has not been doing much. Luckily, right alongside old Geysir is the very reliable other geyser, Strokkur. Which erupts about every 10 minutes, shooting an impressive 15m to 30m plume. Be warned: if you are standing downwind, you may get a free shower… A disgusting egg-smelling geothermal shower…
Gullfoss, or ‘Golden Falls’, is Icelands most famous waterfall, and after witnessing the colossal double falls for myself it is easy to see why. The breathtaking falls drop 32m in a thunderous spectacle which showcases shimmering rainbows on sunny days and glitters with ice in winter.
Þingvellir National Park is one of the most beautiful places I have visited. Maybe it was something about watching the sun set on a freezing November afternoon, but the snow-dusted scenery was breathtaking. Only 23km east of Reykjavík, the park is Iceland’s most important historical site and a place of vivid beauty. It is also the sight where the Vikings established the world’s first democratic parliament, the Alþingi (pronounced ál-thingk–ee, also called Alþing), here in AD 930. The site is also the where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, cracking through the land with rivers and waterfalls. It is the country’s first national park, and was made a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2004.
Visiting the Golden Circle is a must do on a trip to Iceland. Whether you are braving the roads yourself or joining a tour, I can assure you, somewhere between natural eruptions and cracks in the earth you will have a this-country-is-amazing moment. There is a risk that you might just find yourself doing something crazy, like moving to Iceland – and trust me, if you do it will be one of the best things you ever do.
PS If you are self-driving, don’t forget to pull over and get up close and personal with the locals. Icelandic horses are extremely friendly (not to mention super cute) and always up for a pat.