Helloooo! So, as promised, this is part two of my in depth look back Iceland trilogy. Hopefully you read my last post which was all about the Blue Lagoon- a what is it/what to expect kind of guide, if not, you can catch that here! Today I bring you The Golden Circle, arguably the biggest set of attractions Iceland has to offer aside from the northern lights. Unlike those, the Golden Circle is available for you all year! As you’ll be aware by now, I visited Iceland in February with my best friend and although I haven’t visited in the summer, the Golden Circle attractions are far better in the snow. Give them a quick google and you decide!
So, the Golden Circle, what is it? It comprises of three attractions- Thingvellir National Park, Geysir and Gullfoss. If you choose to do a tour, like us, this is the order in which you’re likely to see the attractions. We were tight on time but in retrospect, I would whole heartedly recommend hiring a car and seeing these on your own schedule. Another reason I’d recommend doing this is because although these are the main three attractions, there are others within the route that you could easily pull up and go and see. Perhaps the most interesting is Kerið which is a volcanic crater that has filled with water, give it a quick google because it is impressive and something I definitely wish we’d have had time to see! Just means another trip back, right? The drive itself is roughly three hours in total, plus the time you spend at each attraction so it’s easily done in a day.
Thingvellir National Park was the start of our tour around the Golden Circle. I must admit, when we booked the tour, this was the one attraction we weren’t particularly bothered about seeing. We didn’t really know what it was and we kind of just wanted to crack on with Geysir and Gullfoss. However, this attraction was definitely underrated and I’m so glad we got to see it! So, what is it? Thingvellir is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is where you can see the tectonic plates rift. Iceland sits on both the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian plate and when you drive around where the plates meet, you can see the rifts and valleys that their movements have created. At the park, you can walk through Thingvellir Rift Valley which is where you literally walk through where the two plates have pulled apart, and continue to pull apart at roughly 2cm a year!
When we got there, the sun was only just coming up! Bear that in mind if you go in winter, you’re looking at about five hours of daylight a day. In itself, that’s a completely new experience. However, this meant that we got to see Thingvellir just as the sun was rising so we literally got to see it in two different lights. Definitely an underrated place. I’m aware that in the summer months, you do have the oppurtunity to go snorkelling there. This wasn’t an option for us as it was minus temperatures everyday- not quite the Blue Lagoon experience. If you have enough time to walk around the park, there is a waterfall somewhere! Unfortunately, we were short on time and didn’t manage to see it. Like I say though, just means we’re due another trip back, right?
It’s worth noting that all tours do start their trip at Thingvellir, so if you’re driving, perhaps starting your route from the other direction would lessen your chances of running into crowds. Thingvellir also has a little cafe (we didn’t go in) where you can buy coffee to warm yourself up. There’s also toilet facilities, but if memory serves me correctly, you did have to pay for these. If you’re not that desperate, definitely hold off until Geysir.
[Just your friendly guides in fifteen layers of clothes]
Next up we saw Geysir! It’s worth noting that Geysir is somewhat dormant such that it has been for a few years and it is known for not errupting for several years at a time. However, this doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be errupting any time soon. Geysir can errupt boiling water upto 70 metres high but it’s safe to say it wasn’t due a performnce for our visit. Instead, there’s a nearby geyser named Strokkur which errupts every seven minutes or so! Whilst we were there, we were lucky enough to see it errupt quite a few times and it’s definitely a must see! You can see the water bubbling up as you stand and anticipate when she’s gonna blow!
Before we actually saw the geysers, we went straight through the gift shop to find the toilets. We were both desperate by this point and the toilets here are free, hence it is worth the wait from Thingvellir to save yourself that extra bit of dollar! There’s also a cafe here, and in my opinion, it was definitely worth waiting until we got here to eat. Although we didn’t actually go in the cafe at Thingvellir, the one at the geysers was serving hot food!! So we grabbed ourselves some hot chips and sat in the warmth before we actually went out and saw the geysers.
On the walk up to Strokkur, we passed Litli, which was the smallest geyser you’ve ever seen! It didn’t do anything whilst we were there and equally, I’m not 100% certain if this is dormant, but you can see the heat it gives off as there was no snow around it. From here, you’ll see quite easily where Strokkur is, as it’s usually got quite a few people standing around it and waiting. You also can quite easily walk up to Geysir, although we chose to stick around Strokkur and watch that errupt a few times due to Geysir being dormant. But that’s totally your call, and if you’re not restricted by time constraints, why not, eh?
[These are stills taken from a video, which you can catch on my instagram. It’s worth noting that some erruptions are a lot bigger than others, so definitely stick around for a bit and you’ll see some of the massive ones!]
Finally we have Gullfoss! The part of the Golden Circle that I was most excited to see. Gullfoss is HUGE and get this, it isn’t even Iceland’s biggest waterfall! Apparently it is the favourite, and the most photographed, but not the biggest and it’s still pretty massive! As I mentioned in my original Iceland post, I was fighting with my camera settings a bit, but the HDR definitely brings out the colours of the waterfall against the white of the snow! Funnily enough as well, you’re stood quite far away form Gullfoss, and it’s still super misty from the water.
You’ll be able to see in a couple of the photos, but there is a walking path that takes you right down towards the waterfall so you can stand pretty close to it and admire it from there. Bear in mind though, this path is not always accessible in winter. It was closed off whilst we were there due to the amount of snow and ice, which is far enough, you don’t exactly want to go sliding down the ice and end up involuntarily white water rafting! The snow was also super deep and completely untouched so if you want a silver lining, it makes your photos look nicer.
Although we couldn’t walk down towards the waterfall, we could walk up. We were able to walk to a point where we were standing right next to the top- where the lake starts falling down smaller waterfalls before it actually makes the big drop. Great explanation, I know, but you’ll see what I mean! Whilst we were up there, a man was setting up a drone so he definitely got some good footage! If you have a drone (and boy, I so wish I did), this is the place to fly it!
Hopefully this mini guide of what to expect around the Golden Circle is helpful, or at least inspring for anyone planning to visit. It’s definitely a collection of must see’s, if ever you’re in Iceland! Feel free to ask any questions and I’ll see you in my next post where I take you around Reykjavik city!