Experiences of a Lifetime – The Golden Circle – Iceland
I was so excited about visiting Iceland! The land of ice and fire…waterfalls, volcanoes, wilderness, nature, history…I wanted to jump right in and experience it all. I had seen so many pictures and read so much about this country that I had to experience it for myself.
Iceland was really high on my list of places to see, but this visit came slightly out of the blue, we were planning to visit friends in Canada and the plans evolved…somewhere along the line it was suggested “Why don’t we visit New York as well?” Then whilst researching flights back to the U.K from New York we found that we could stop over in Iceland without it adding any cost…Why not?
When looking at things to see and do whilst in Iceland one of the first things you will find are Golden Circle tours. The Golden Circle is a tourist route covering about 190 miles which is usually started at Thingvellir National Park around 30-35 minutes east of Reykjavik. We organised our trip with Guide to Iceland and everything was straightforward and well planned. We were picked up near to our accommodation, most of the major hotels in Reykjavik are covered. Our guide on the day was really knowledgeable and the tour was carried out at a really nice pace, not rushed at all, I would definitely recommend them.
To see their range of Golden Circle Tours click here. The tour we went on is here.
So the three regular stops during a Golden Circle Tour are Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, and the geothermal area in Haukadalur where the second highest geyser in the world is located. On our tour we had an additional stop at Kerid Volcanic Crater. As soon as we confirmed we were going to Iceland…this was the tour we wanted to do!
Thingvellir National Park
I could have easily spent an entire day at this UNESCO world heritage site, this place is steeped in history, both in terms of social/human history and natural history, and there are some really beautiful views, it definitely has an otherworldly feel… what a place!
It is in this park that the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, continental drift can be seen in full effect here as the tectonic plates pull apart from each other at a rate of 2cm a year, this is what has created the amazing landscape here.
Thingvellir or Þingvellir in Icelandic means parliament plains, it is here that the Alþing (Althing), Iceland’s parliament was founded in 930 AD. Settlement in Iceland began in 874 and as the population grew district assemblies were formed, it was eventually decided that a general assembly was needed as the population grew further and it as decided that the assembly site would be here. The assembly site is not far from the main car park and is where law rock is located, this is where the law speaker would recite the laws of the land and each summer the procedural rules. The believed location of Law Rock is Marked by the flag of Iceland, the first picture of this post shows this.
Any person could take part in proceedings here and could put their case forward from law rock, it is also where legal disputes and conflicts would be settled. The Althing continued to meet here up until 1798, except for a period of time where Iceland fell under Norwegian rule, it is easy to imagine the meetings happening here and why they chose the site, it is almost a natural amphitheatre and there are lovely views.
As we continued through the park the natural beauty of the place really hit me, even though the weather during our visit was pretty damp and grey, it didn’t spoil it for me, in fact it kind of added to the atmosphere of the place, I had never seen an environment or landscape like this, I can’t imagine there being many if any places similar to this, or as unique!
At this point our guide gave us some time to ourselves and gave us directions on how to get to Oxarafoss a waterfall slightly further into the park. When we found it we were stopped in our tracks, although not huge, or massively powerful, it was beautiful and it was one of those moments when people spoke in hushed tones taking it all in. I’ve seen pictures of the waterfall in the winter when the rocks below are covered in ice…any time of year though…Oxarafoss is beautiful.
Apparently when it was decided that the Althing would be located here, the river was diverted to provide drinking water for everyone at the assembly, and some say that in diverting the river, this is how Oxarafoss waterfall was created…even if it was created by man it still doesn’t take anything away from the beauty, it really is captivating and we spent quite a while here enjoying it…everyone loves a waterfall right?
We only really scratched the surface here and if we go back to Iceland we will definitely make a trip out here again.
Stop number 2 on our Golden Circle Tour was the spectacular Gullfoss waterfall…now this was a wow moment! The beauty of this waterfall is something else, and the views from the paths around are extraordinary, you can get so close to the falls and really immerse yourself in the sound and feel the thunder of the water.
The water cascades down over 30 metres in two stages and eventually drops into a canyon with walls which reach 70 metres high. The first part is beautiful, I doubt the human mind could create something as beautiful as this, then the water thunders over the second ledge into the rugged canyon below, this is where nature is at its most powerful! Be prepared to get a little wet though the force of the water creates a mist and without realising it…my attention was totally taken up by the view…my camera was soaked, my phone…everything!
There is a story of an amazing woman linked to Gullfoss waterfall too. Sigriður Tómasdóttir’s father, a farmer, owned the the waterfall and and in 1907 a guy from England (pesky English!) offered to buy it from him with the intention of using the power of the falls to create electricity, which clearly would have meant developing on the site. The farmer initially refused but then later leased the site to this pesky English guy. Sigriður had grown up on the farm and understandably was in love with it, she fought as hard as she could to prevent the site from being developed, using her own savings to hire a lawyer, walking barefoot to Reykjavik in protest to fight the decision in the courts, she even threatened to throw herself into the falls should the site be developed. Her court challenge failed in the end, but by delaying the project for as long as she could the damage had been done and Howells, that pesky Englishman, had not paid his rent and his contract on the waterfall was withdrawn. Eventually Sigriður’s son bought the waterfall and later sold it to the icelandic government and it wa declared a national park preventing any construction on the site. This was an important event in iceland and really highlighted the fact that nature needed to be preserved for future generations.
The geothermal area in Haukadalur was our next stop… home to Geysir…the geyser all other geysers got their name from! The word Geysir or geyser comes from an old norse word meaning to “Gush”. Geysir has been dormant for a significant amount of time now but when it was active during eruptions it shot water up to 170 metres into the air! Strokkur is Geysir’s little brother at the location but still so impressive, and although it is less powerful than Geysir was, it is still one of the tallest, most frequent and predictable geysers in the world. Erupting every 5-10 minutes Strokkur fires water between 15 and 40 metres into the air…it really is an incredible show!
Every time Strokkur erupted, without fail, it made me jump!!! We were standing there watching the water, and it would start swaying around, become agitated…then nothing would happen, the water would get sucked in as if someone was sucking it in through a straw, surely it would blow back out…then nothing would happen. Then all of a sudden just as you reach the point of getting infuriated with mother nature BANG it goes off! With no tripod, just holding the camera in my hands and jumping every time it went off, it made for difficult frustrating photography…especially for an amateur! However this is one of my favourite photographs I have ever managed to take, when I saw the father and son wander over to where the breeze was taking the water and steam my initial thought was how stupid they were, they were going to get soaked, but their reaction when it erupted, the excitement, you could tell it was a special moment for them!
This area is unlike any other place I have ever been to, you can smell the sulphur in the air and all around you there is steam rising from pools of water, it is almost a little eerie away from the geysers and tourists who have come to see the natural phenomenon.
Across the road from the geysers is a shop, which is a bit touristy but sells some cool souvenirs, there are also places to get food, again a bit touristy, but if you are on the Golden Circle tour when you get here you will have worked up an appetite!
Watching a geyser in action is something that had been on my bucket list for a long long time…almost as long as Niagara Falls had been…almost. This kind of natural phenomena I find absolutely spellbinding, there is something very special about places like this.
Kerid Volcanic Crater
Our final stop off on the Golden Circle tour was Kerid (Kerið), and it was another beautiful spot, looking down at the blue water and the red soil, amazing.
The crater is deceptive in size, look at the people stood at the top of the crater, how small they look in comparison, that gives you a better idea of the size of this place. The crater is over 50 metres deep and around 270 metres across. It is believed that the crater was formed from a cone volcano and as the lava spewed out during an eruption the roof of the cone collapsed in on itself forming the crater.
We were assaulted by the elements here, the wind picked up and the rain began to drive into our faces, it had been a long amazing day, and my eyes had been getting heavy in the mini bus on the drive here, but standing on the ridge of the crater with the wind and rain blowing into my face…it’s moments like these that really make you feel alive!
The Golden Circle Tour is a must do and is an amazing day trip, we had some magical moments here, fulfilled dreams I had had for a long long time, a great adventure!
You can book a wide range of trips, tours and activities through Guide To Iceland and the contact we had with them was great and the tour was brilliant, really well organised with an experienced guide who was able to answer any questions we had. We also organised a whale watching trip with them which was brilliant…check back soon for my post on that!
I’m sure you are tired about me banging on about this…BUT…Iceland is so affordable to get to at the moment, with a huge push promoting it as a stopover destination…which was an incredible thing to do like we did…but…to get the most out of your visit I would recommend visiting for 5-7 days, there is just so much to see and do, really special things…trip of a lifetime type things! We are definitely going to head back during the winter months in search of the Northern Lights and venture further afield…adventure is calling!
I recommend checking out TripAdvisor when searching for your flights and accommodation, I’ve been able to find really competitively priced flights through them recently and you can book accommodation through them as well, they also show the price comparison of all the major sites as well when searching. Check out the reviews as well when looking at accommodation, you know that the reviews are genuine here, the best way to research accommodation.
Many thanks to Guide to Iceland who supported My Travel Mission during our trip…as always opinions are 100% my own.