The Golden Circle

This is part 2 of our road trip through Iceland.

Driving the Golden Circle is a popular day trip for visitors to Iceland. Self-driving rather than joining an organized tour allows you stop for photos anytime you want or head off to explore side roads, which is what we did also.

The Golden Circle route includes 3 main attractions, close to Reykjavik: Thingvellir National Park, the Geysers at Haukadalur and the majestic Gullfoss Waterfall.

I recommend to start the day at the Geysers, to arrive before the rest of the tourists, since it gets really crowded afterwards.

The name comes from the largest one of them, Geysir, with eruptions that can hurl boiling water up to 70 metres in the air. Sadly, its eruptions are infrequent, so you will probably not be able to witness them. However, you will get the chance to see the smaller one, Strokkur, once every 6 to 10 minutes. The usual height of its eruption is around 20 meters, which still looks pretty spectacular in the photos.

Strokkur in action
Strokkur in action

We stood and waited while Strokkur rippled, boiled and tantalised and then, there it was, this great spectacle of nature, unfolding before our very eyes. The water spewed upwards from deep within the earth, in a show of force and beauty and all I could think of was how alive our planet truly is.

There are many other smaller geysers in the Haukadalur area, together with various other geothermal features such as mud pools or fumaroles. It takes a while to get used to the eggy smelling sulphur and mist everywhere, but we rather enjoyed our half hour walk through this strange landscape. We then spent about another half hour for coffee and shopping for souvenirs. The prices are pretty high, still it is definitely worth a look at the handmade Icelandic crafts.

Before the descent to Gulfoss
Before the descent to Gulfoss

Driving on on the Golden Circle we arrived shortly at the Gullfoss Waterfall. The foaming Hvítá river forms a massive waterfall that tumbles in wide steps before disappearing in a narrow crevice deep into the earth. Rainbows often form in the mists of the falls and we were lucky enough to see one just as we arrived.

There are some steps descending towards the waterfall and a concrete pathway for an easy walk along one side of the falls. As we got closer, we felt the chill spray hit our faces and became fully aware of the sheer force and beauty of Gullfoss. It was deafening, brute, terrifying and majestic, all at the same time. From the edge it looked as if the roaring water was being swallowed up into the great chasm below by a very thirsty Planet Earth.

Whether you choose to view it from afar or get up close, you must not miss the chance to visit Gullfoss. The feeling you get while being there is hard to describe. It left us in awe and made us feel alive. And very, very small.

Rainbow in Thingvellir
Rainbow in Thingvellir

The last stop was at Thingvellir National Park (Þingvellir). The area is part of a rift zone running through Iceland, being situated on the tectonic plate boundaries of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, between Europe and America.

Park the car at the park entrance and explore the place on foot. Walk the path along the Fissure Almannagja, take in the views of the distant mountains and breath in the fresh air. I recommend a visit to Öxarárfoss. It is easy to get there and the waterfall looks beautiful against the dark basaltic cliff.

The Golden Circle route is a short 3 hour drive, but we ended up spending over 8 hours to fully enjoy our trip. We then returned for a relaxing evening back in Reykjavik, exploring the streets, meeting the people and tasting local delicacies.

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Read more about our road trip to Iceland by following the posts in the ‘Iceland’ category.

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