A tour of the Golden Circle is usually pretty high on any visitor to Iceland’s ‘must do’ list. The natural features visited on any tour of the circle are second to none. In 8 short hours, you’ll experience the very best of area surrounding Reykjavik.
Looking more like a circle drawn by a two year old whilst half chewing on a crayola, I personally wondered why it isn’t referred to as a diamond in some way, but who cares what I think, the shape is irrelevant, a tour amazing!
Bopping around Reykjavik you’ll find a few different tour companies will to take you around said golden circle. The main two are Reykjavik excursions and Iceland excursions. In fairness their both good tour companies, and their is little to separate their routes, itineraies and costs. You can expect to pay around 9500-10000 ISK for a full days Golden Circle tour with either of them, and this usually includes a hotel/hostel pick up which is a pretty sweet deal.
The coaches are comfortable enough and usually have free wifi. Its easy to get lost just staring out the window as you move from one sight to enough. Sleep is tempting after getting up at such an early hour, but if you managed to keep those lids from dropping you’ll be rewarded with beautiful and dramatic landscapes, maybe even a few wild horses too.
There are three main sights to see along a tour of the Golden Circle. Some tours may offer you extras such as a visit to a tomato plantation, but lets get real, as interesting as the plantation was, it wasnt the reason we signed up for the tour. Show us the goods dammit!
1. The Gullfoss Waterfall
Now we’re talkin! Stop number one was the epic Gullfoss Waterfall, or in English ‘Golden Falls’. Its an epic (did I say that already?) two stage waterfall which was once almost lost. Once upon a time (late 20th century ish) there was a plan to utilise the power of the water flowing along the river Hvítá and down the falls to generate electricity. Foreign investors were serious in their bid to buy the waterfalls. Obviously this never happened, due in no small part to the efforts of an inspirational young lady.
Sigríður Tómasdóttir (picture below) was that young lady. So determined to see the waterfalls remain in the naturally beautiful state, she set out on a one woman mission to preserve them, walking 120 km from Gullfoss to Reykjavik to state her case, and even threatening to throw herself into the waters should her original case fail. Luckily it never came to that, along with her lawyer Sveinn Bjornsson (who later became the first president of Iceland) the falls were saved and Sigríður is remembered for her efforts in convincing the Icelandic big wigs that waterfall should remain in its natural state.
There’s your history lesson, now here’s what I thought. I loved it, seriously the waterfall is beautiful. A short walk from the car park is all it takes to reach the three different viewing decks, such is the scale of the falls. If you head for the lowest deck which is closest to the falls YOU WILL GET WET! The power of the falls sends a freezing spray flying into the air. If you are brave enough to try and take your gloves off to change a few settings on your camera, your fingers will freeze.
2. Geysir and Strokkur
Onwards and upwards, no seriously, looks skywards on your approach to the Haukadalur valley and if your timing is right, you cant miss the combination of boiling water and stream being sent skywards at force. You’ll probably also notice the smell. The smell is due to traces of hydrogen sulfide, its a pretty distinctive smell and is often likened to the smell of rotten eggs, wonderful! But don’t let the smell put you off, witnessing the a geysir erupt is an incredible site.
How and why to they erupt? Well pay attention, here comes the science part …
Notice that I’ve used two different spellings of geyser. One spelling (geyser) is the name given to the natural spring which intermitently ejects very hot water and steam. Geysir on the other hand refers to a specific geyser located in the Haukadalur valley, Iceland.
The frequency of eruptions can very. Geysir is now sadly dormant at this stage. Instead, tourists now flock to watch the nearby geyser ‘Strokkur’ erupt reliably every 5-10 minutes.
3. Þingvellir National Park
Its not often you get to see two of the worlds major tectonic plates doing their thing. In fact only in the Þingvellir National Park Iceland and the Great Rift Valley of Eastern Africa. Check the below photo for a crazy sight. OK its taken out of a coach window which isn’t ideal, but you get the idea right? That is the fault line between the European and American plates. Better know as Almannagjá, this giant crack/gorge in the earth (probable understatement) is 7.7km long and it said to be widening at a rate of 2cm per year, said widening is not a smooth process though, it usually takes place in the form of earthquakes. But still, its crazy to think area like this are usually hidden away in the depths of the worlds oceans.
So that was our introduction to the Þingvellir National Park, the equivalent of a very firm handshake indeed! But then you’d expect that from a UNESCO world heritage site wouldn’t you? A site of historical, cultural and geological importance. In 930 the national parliament of Iceland or ‘Alþingi‘ as it is otherwise know was established at Þingvellir. The national park was founded in 1930 to protect the remains of the parilment site and later expanded to protect the stunning natural beauty of the area.
The Þingvellir National Park was my favoutite part of our Golden Circle tour. Despite only having an hour to explore, it wasnt hard to understand why people flock to the area. I’d be happy to spend a week here, and I wouldnt be short of things to do. Þingvellir National Park offers both a workout of the mind and body. Camping, hiking, fishing, horse riding and diving are just some of the activities on offer … I imagine the diving is a little chilly though and I was quite happy to simply take a stroll and gaze over the vast and beautiful landscape.
Thingvellir church is a popular spot among both pro and amateur photographers. It is said to have been built using wood and a bell donated by the King of Nowary around the year 1000, shortly after the acceptance of Christianity as the primary religion within Iceland. Previously the country was split between Pagans and Christians.
A viewing platform just metres from the visitors centre (below) makes for a pretty good photo of the church against a backdrop of spectacular mountains.
Golden Circle Tour Verdict
So there you have it, a full day tour of Iceland’s Golden Circle. Do I recommend its – hells yes. Would I do it again – errrrrm, well here’s the thing. Yes, yes I would, but probably not the 8hr version of the tour. It wasn’t until after booking we realised we could have signed up to a reduced 6hr afternoon version of the tour which skips things such as the tomato plantation, and doesn’t give you as much time for shopping in gift shops etc. It also costs slightly less. I’m trying not to sound ungrateful for the opportunity we had to spend a day exploring the Golden Circle, but I think I would honestly have been happier with the condense version. I just not one for spending time in gift shops or being herded into overpriced site canteens. So long as you get to visit Gullfoss, Geysir and Þingvellir you’re golden – pun definitely intended BOOM BOOM.
Its up to you though. If in Iceland, do a tour of the Golden Circle without doubt. DO IT! … just pick the right tour for you. Enjoy!