The Golden Circle is the ultimate driving route in Iceland. Why? Because you’ll be treated with a huge waterfall, a geyser and the place where the tectonic plates are being torn apart. Is it very touristic? Yes? But it’s a must do. And you can do all of it in one day. So let’s do this!
About an hour outside of Reykjavik is Þingvellir national park. It’s where the vikings installed the first parlement, the Alþing. The vikings chose Þingvellir for a reason. First of all, it had a big lake that was perfect for fishing. Food? Check!
But it’s also the place where the North-American and Eurasian tectonic plates are being torn apart. The landscape re-echoes your voice which adds a little drama to an important speech.
The nature at Þingvellir is just astonishing. You have a fantastic view and the rivers here are so clear that you can see the bottom. Moreover, you can go snorkelling to see the underwater tear in the tectonic plates. We decided not do try this. It was already cold enough.
But it’s worth to walk up to the Pingvallakirkja, one of the oldest churches in Iceland.
As a child I was fascinated by geysers. So I was very excited when I found out that geysers are named after the Icelandic geyser, Geyser. Unfortunately, Geyser has been inactive since 1916. But his little brother Strokkur is still very active. Every 5 minutes, Strokkur spits boiling water up to 30 meters high into the sky.
Go and stand close to the geyser to play the waiting game. You can see the geyser breathing. The water rises, then drops until it creates a large bright blue bubble. Showtime! In a matter seconds it will explode. A true spectacle. One which smells like rotten eggs though.
There are hundreds of waterfalls in Iceland. But Gullfoss, also called the golden waterfall is one of the largest and most beautiful. Why? Because rainbows emerge on sunny days. If you have seen one of the worlds biggest waterfalls such as Iguazu, you might not find it impressive at first. But when you get closer, you’ll see how the falls thunder down into a canyon.
The popular story is that the daughter of a farmer on whose land the waterfall stood once threatened to throw herself into the falls when she heard the plans to stem it. Part of the story probably is true because you can find a plaque in honour of this woman who preserved the waterfall on the upper deck.
More things to do
Have some extra time? There are a number of extra stops you can make.
When most of the landscape is shaped by volcanoes and glaciers, it’s not easy to grow vegetables. But at Friðheimar they thought, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. So they used the forces of nature to their advantage. They installed greenhouses to grow tomatoes and heated these houses with geothermal energy by using water from the hot springs. Now, we wouldn’t send you here to just stare at a bunch of tomatoes. No, you can also taste these tomatoes. Order some sweet tomato soup with icelandic butter, sour cream and pickled cucumber. It’s the perfect lunch break!
The Kerið crater is a large volcanic crater which is located beside the road. When we drove past it, it was raining heavily. But it might be worth the stop and the short climb.
Hveragerði is a geothermal area. The river here is warm year-round. It’s the ideal place to go for a swim. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time. So make sure you have some time for this.
Some extra tips
The Golden Circle isn’t actually a circle. All of the must sees are located in the first stretch. So if you are planning to drive the ring road afterwards, it’s not necessary to drive a full loop back to Reykjavik. We would recommend you to spend the night in the neighbourhood around Selfoss. Selfoss however isn’t the prettiest of cities. So, just stop here to eat something. We hugely recommend the Tryggvaskali restaurant! We decided to drive on to Gaulverjaskóli. Here we stayed at a former school which has been turned into a hostel. It’s located in the middle of nowhere which adds to the atmosphere of the place.
And if you’re wondering how much it costs to visit all this: nothing. The Icelandic people believe that nature belongs to everybody. So you won’t have to pay entrance fees to see any of it. Just enjoy it !