Golden Circle Tour in Iceland
One of the most popular excursions from Reykjavik in is the Golden Circle Tour. The classic tour makes stops at Gulfoss, Geyser, and Thingvellir. There are lots of options for taking in the Golden Circle. A giant tour bus, renting a car, private 4×4 tour, or a small tour. Although we really enjoyed our road trip along the southern coast of Iceland, we just couldn’t stomach (about $200/day) renting a car for another day. We chose a small midnight sun tour, that began late in the day, and included an interesting twist that I’ll share with you at the end of this post.
Our day began being picked up by our van and meeting our guide and about 10 other people in our group. After being on our own for the previous couple of days, it was nice to have a running commentary from our guide during the drive. She answered the myriad of questions about Iceland we had accumulated in the days prior. It took almost 2 hours to make it to our first stop on the tour…Gulfoss. It’s a huge waterfall and reminds me of a small Niagra Falls. It was very different from the waterfalls we had visited on our southern iceland road trip just days before. There were several parking lots, lots of people, large tour buses, a large building with restrooms, cafeteria, and gift shop. I don’t think this should deter you from visiting, just be prepared. Crowds in Iceland are still relatively small if you are used to tourist sights in the United States.
Again, the access to this nature was incredible. We joined the people out on the edge of the falls. The only thing separating us from the falls was a 3 foot high rope about as thick as my pinky finger. The rocks we were standing on were wet from the spray. Make sure you proceed with caution. We wandered around Gulfoss on our own. Our guide used our drive time to tell us about what we would see, dropped us off at a prime location, and then met us in a cafeteria or parking lot at a predetermined time. She was always available to answer questions. One of her best tips was in the Gulfoss Cafeteria. It was 2pm by the time we made it there, and lunch is not included in the tour. However, our guide told us that their lamb stew is her favorite, and that you can have one free refill. So we got one bowl of soup (with one refill) and two rolls for lunch. In such an expensive country I was thankful that she shared that tip. And she was right, the stew was delicious.
Our next stop was Geysir. The Geysir area is where the original Geysir is located. It’s from the Icelandic word meaning “gush”. Geysir doesn’t erupt anymore, but another geyser close by, Strokkur, erupts every 8 minutes. Again, the access is amazing. The geysers are roped off, albeit only a few feet away. There is no decking to keep anyone off of the surrounding earth. We visited Yellowstone last summer, and you can’t get within 50 feet of Old Faithful. The access at Geysir creates a very intimate atmosphere. We walked through the runoff of Strokkur, got up close to the blue geyser named Blesi and touched the boiling runoff from another one. Although the area is small, it packs a big punch in a small space. There are steam vents everywhere.
The steam vents are used by Icelanders to bake bread. The modern method is to pour the bread batter into a milk carton and set it inside of the tiny house that traps the steam. When the bread is cooked, they can retrieve it from the steam house and peel or cut away the carton on the outside. The Geysir cafeteria and gift shop are quite extensive. The hotel has such a low profile I hardly noticed it.
The last stop on our Golden Circle tour was Thingvellir. Thingviller National Park is a place of historical and geographical significance for Iceland. Historically, it is where the first parliament occurred in 930AD. During that time Iceland people existed in clans that came to Iceland from the Norse and Celtic regions. The national park pays tribute to these groups coming together and forming a commonwealth with a large flag pole and flag on what is thought to be the sight. Oddly enough, part of the TV series Game of Thrones was filmed just up the path from the flag. Hubby watches that show, and he was so excited.
The geographical importance of Thingviller National Park is that it sits on the Mid Atlantic Ridge. Within the park, you can see the edges of both the North American and European Tectonic Plates. The Mid Atlantic Ridge is the space in the middle that is separating at a rate of about 2 cm per year. The small road and few parking lots that dot this national park are very well hidden. The main visitors center sits up high on the edge of the North American plate. The benefit of the later small group tour, is that the visitors center and large overlook area was completely empty. Apparently, on big bus tours, this is usually the first stop, so seeing them in reverse pays off.
The viewpoint from the visitors center is great since it shows the glaciers in the distance, the Mid Atlantic ridge, the clear glacier runoff that has filled the fissures and leads out to Iceland’s largest lake. The interesting twist that I mentioned at the beginning of this post is about those fissures. The Siflra fissures are known for their crystal clear freezing cold water that is perfect for snorkeling or scuba diving. Yes, crazy people can scuba or snorkel in 37 degree celsius water.
So check back next week when I share the story about those crazy people and how I became one of them.