Raging waterfalls, jagged mountain ranges and some of the friendliest people in Europe, make Iceland a must place to visit. There is so much to see in Iceland, so if you only have a short time there, the Golden Circle tour will give you a great feel for this amazing little country.
We visited Iceland in January, when the snow was deep and the Northern Lights activity was high. As well and spending time in the amazing city of Reykjavik and going Northern Lights spotting, we took the Golden Circle tour. Starting in the capital of Reykjavik, the 300km Golden Circle tour takes in views of the Icelandic countryside as it makes its way to three of the most dramatic sights the country has to offer: The Gullfoss Waterfall, the geysers at Haukadalur Valley and Thingvellir National Park.
(The Golden Circle route in south west Iceland)
The tour coach departs Reykjavik at 9am, which in January is still over 90 minutes before sunrise. The coach heads to the southern uplands of Hveragerthi and Selfoss, before winding north east through the municipality of Hrunamannahreppur. The scenery along the way is absolutely stunning, and as the first rays of sun creep over the horizon, it becomes even more apparent how breathtaking the Icelandic countryside is.
(Views of the Icelandic scenery)
As the coach reaches the municipality of Bláskógabyggth, the road splits east to the Haukadalur Valley or west to Gullfoss. It is here that we headed to the first stop on the Golden Circle tour: the intimidating Gullfoss Waterfall.
Literally meaning Golden Falls, Gullfoss is located in the wide Hvítá River and is a three tiered “staircase” waterfall. With a total drop of 32 metres, it is quite the sight to behold! As we approached the falls, we had to battle the intense wind and -20° temperature, but the view was definitely worth it.
(The walk down to the main viewing area)
(View from the southern viewing point)
Approaching from the south of the falls, the view of the edge is obscured so it looks like the falls drop straight into the ground, however, the river simply takes a turn into a canyon.
(The western view showing the final drop into the canyon)
(The Hvítá River showing Gullfoss, the canyon and Tindfjallajökul volcano in the distance)
After spending around an hour at the falls, it was time to board the coach to continue the Golden Circle tour and head to the geothermal area of the Haukadalur Valley.
After a short journey, we reached Haukadalur Valley, which is home to geysers, hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles. The two main geysers are Strokkur (Icelandic for ‘churn’) and Geysir (which gave us the word ‘geyser’). Geysir erupts very rarely, but Strokkur erupts every 5-10 minutes, making it a very popular tourist attraction. Its eruption height is normally 15-20 metres, but has erupted as high as 40 metres.
(The Strokkur geyser, moments before eruption)
(Strokkur seen from the distance showing the height of the eruption)
(A video showing Strokkur erupting)
(The hot spring area with Mount Hekla in the distance)
After spending around 40 minutes at the geothermal area, it was time to head to the final stop in the Golden Circle tour – Thingvellir National park.
Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir is located about 40km north east of Reykjavik and is one of the most geologically important areas in Iceland. The park lies on a rift valley that marks the boundaries between the European and North American tectonic plates, meaning you can stand in two continents at the same time. It is also an important historical site as the Icelandic parliament was established there in 930. Just to the south of the park is Thingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland.
(View of the two tectonic plates with Thingvallavatn Lake in the distance)
(Looking out over the River Oxara to Thingvallakirkja – Thingvellir Church)
(The paths through the rocky park)
As the sun started to set, which was around 3.30pm, we headed back to the coach to take the final journey back to Reykjavik.
The Golden Circle tour is a fantastic way to see the amazing country of Iceland. The day long tour is a great way to pack in a lot of sights in a short time.
Have you been to Iceland? What were your favourite parts?