When visiting Iceland, I cannot recommend enough a tour around the Golden circle route. Whether you are doing a self drive trip or an organised tour, this area needs to be seen. Whats more, this area can be seen in a day trip and isn't too far away from Reykjavik.
There are three main stops along this route, Thingvellir National park, Gullfoss waterfall and the geothermal Geysirs at Haukadalur.
We travelled in November, and although it was cold, the waterfalls weren't frozen and it felt just like a winter in Scotland. I feel that if you want to see the frozen wonderland at it's best, perhaps consider a visit in January. We wanted to go to Iceland during the darker months to ensure we could see the Northern Lights, which we did! (That's for another blog post) The thing about travelling at this time of year, is the light. It felt like the sun barely rose and there was always a certain type sundowngolden light all around.
The golden light at the Great Geysir.
Usually the first stop after leaving the city will be the Geysirs situated in Haukadalur, this area is a geography nerds dream. The amount of geothermal and volcanic activity is intense and you can really feel the power of the earth below. You'll see the hot steaming pools, the fumaroles and the mineral rich earth. However, let it be said the main reason you are here is to see the two Geysirs. The Great Geysir and Strokkur. Unfortunately, Great Geysir tends to be dormant and is very unlikely to erupt. However, you can get that money shot with Strokkur, it tends to blow every ten minutes or so. Throwing boiling glacial water into the air. What I found interesting is that it's the magma that is heating the water and you can see if bubbling up and simmering before the blast off.
Whilst you are at the Geysir stop, there is a commercial area with an overpriced cafe, toilets and shops. You'll find charming wooden troll statues around here too.
Watching Strokkur bubble up again.
There view overlooking the valley
The Money shot
Faxi is a condensed smaller version of Gullfoss, but still impressive. Faxi, or sometimes referred to as Fossin is situated on Tungufljót river. The name of this waterfall is derived from the Icelandic word for Horses' mane and you see the resemblance from afar. What's good about Faxi is that you can get up close to the waterfall without hoards of tourists there too!
The waterfall has an abundance of fresh Salmon and there is a "fish ladder" at the left side of the falls.
Capturing the Golden light
Faxi is short in height, and long in length.
Gullfoss is perhaps one of the most iconic waterfalls of Iceland, this is undoubtedly the highlight of a Golden Circle tour. The waterfall is set in a deep canyon, which is separated into two stages. Depending on the time of year, you can hear the powerful roar of the water before you see Gullfoss. The name derives from the words "Golden Falls" and this is from the glacial sediment which flows over the falls, in certain lights there can be a golden hint of colour.
As expected the falls are busy with tourists, but I feel like that will be the case regardless of the time of year you visit. But hey, look at where you are, this powerful water is impressive and the sheer steepness of the canyon walls is something to admire.
On one side of the falls, there are a set of high wooden stairs which allow you access to a viewing platform over the falls.
Once you are at the top of the viewing platform look out for the infamous Langjokull glacier. (The long glacier)
The best thing about these natural wonders is that they are completely free of charge to see, so if you were doing a self guided tour then this will help with the cost cutting.
The two steps of Gullfoss. In winter these falls are entirely frozen.
See how the waterfall shapes the landscape
See the glacier blue water tumble over the falls
Thingvellir National Park
This was my last stop on the Golden Circle tour before we headed back to Reykjavik.
The place where you can walk in between continents. (No wonder it's an UNESCO world heritage site)
This park really is of great geographical significance, the area where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. If you look around the landscape you can see where the great rift is, the differing heights of volcanic rock can be seen. The rest of the ridge is under the Atlantic Ocean, so when you think about it, it's pretty unique.
It puts us humans into perspective, in that we should respect nature and the landscapes around us.
This national park is in essence, the birthplace of Iceland. The world's oldest parliament was founded here way back in 930 AD. The arrival of the Vikings established a meeting place and "Law Rock" where laws of the land would have been made.
There are guided pathways all throughout the park, which will take you around all the main sites. Lake Þingvallavatn is also within the national park, and has a rich, unique biosphere system which also happens to be Iceland's largest natural lake.
Within the park there are restaurants, shops and toilet facilities and within the shop they will sell pieces of lava rock which are scattered all around the area. I also believe there is opportunities for scuba diving in the rock pool areas. (I'll leave web links below)
Visiting Thingvellir is important because it showcases the natural phenomena of Iceland and the rich harsh history that the country has endured, by having a guide you will understand the early beginnings of Iceland and you will truly understand how harsh this landscape is towards civilisation.
All around there are crystal clear pools of water for exploring
Lake Thingvallavatn at sundown
Another iconic sight in Iceland is the Icelandic ponies, when you are travelling along the main highways on the Golden circle you will see fields of them. It's worth asking your guide to stop and get a photo opportunity.
One of the rural roads heading back to Reykjavik
I hope that this post has provided you with travel inspiration to visit this wonderful area and feel free to leave a comment below!
Thingvellir National Park: http://www.thingvellir.is/nature/lake-thingvallavatn.aspx.
Golden Circle tour companies: https://www.extremeiceland.is/en/destinations/the-golden-circle
Scuba Diving: https://www.dive.is/dive-sites/silfra/.
Car hire: http://www.reykjavikcars.com/
Gullfoss Waterfall: http://gullfoss.is/