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The Golden Circle is by far, the most popular tourist route in the entire country and for good reason too. The Golden Circle is home to many of Iceland’s beautiful natural landscapes and loops around from Reykjavík up into the southern uplands of Iceland then back around. The entire span of the Golden Circle is approximately 300 kms, so it makes for the perfect Icelandic day trip. Whether you are visiting Iceland for a week and have your own rented vehicle to explore at your own pace, or have a stopover for just a couple of days and want to join a guided tour, the Golden Circle is a great way to see some of Iceland’s top landmarks. Here are the best spots to stop and admire along the Golden Circle route.
Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park
Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park is most famously known for being home to the splitting tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia, which creates deep fissures in the ground. The tectonic plates are drifting apart t the rate of 2.5 cms a year and is literally ripping Iceland in half. One of these deep fissures, called the Silfra Fissure, can be snorkeled and scuba dived in and is said to have the clearest and freshest water in the entire world. Þingvellir was once also home to Iceland’s early Viking Parliament, which would meet there to discuss issues and laws on behalf of the country’s people and sometimes even settle disputes by engaging in battles. Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park is also home to Þingvallavatn, which is Iceland’s largest natural lake. Its clear waters are also famous for char and trout fishing and on any given day, you’ll see locals trying to nab a catch of the day for dinner.
Read more: Inspired by Iceland – The Land of Fire & Ice
Geysers of Haukadalur
The Haukadalur area is home to some of the most famous sights in all of Iceland; Geysir Hot Spring, which hasn’t erupted to its full potential since the mid 20th century, Strokkur, which is the geyser that erupts reliably approximately every seven to eight minutes, and other geothermal pool areas that surround it. The most famous and photographed geyser of them all is Strokkur. Visitors patiently wait with their fingers ready on their camera shutters for it to erupt. It does create somewhat of a shock though, because you never know when it’s going to go off, or if it’ll be a small, or large burst with a loud gushing noise as it sprays almost 50 to 100 feet straight up in the air. A word of advice for visitors…if you are standing down wind, you’ll want to make sure that you are wearing a rain jacket, as you will get wet from the spray. The geothermal pools of water in the Haukadalur area range from 80 to 100 degrees celcius, so unless you want to burn your skin, do NOT touch the water. Strokkur’s pool is boiling hot, but once the water hits the air, it is cooled down before it makes its way back down to the ground. The Geysir Centre located directly across the street from Strokkur has a restaurant that serves coffee, tea and sandwiches, which suited me fine as something to eat on the go, but if you are looking for something else, the on site hotel, Hotel Geysir, serves full meals if you wish to sit down and fully relax with a proper meal.
As you walk towards the majestic Gullfoss (meaning Golden Falls in English) from the parking area, chances are that you will hear it, before you actually see it. The majestic two tiered waterfall is one of the most popular landmarks, not only along the Golden Circle, but in all of Iceland. As the thundering falls flow viciously from the fast moving Hvítá river and into the deep ravine below as it shrouds onlookers with enough mist to soak everyone as if it were pouring rain. To get down to Gullfoss from the parking area, you must descend down a massive flight of stairs, which get fairly slippery from the mist and if it’s cold enough, will turn to ice, so watch your step. In the early 20th century, Gullfoss was the sight of the country’s first ever environmental dispute. Gullfoss was very close to being turned into a hydroelectric dam, but thanks to Sigríður Tómasdóttir’s intense passion for Gullfoss (she threatened to throw herself into the falls if construction began) and a strong public opinion, in 1929 Gullfoss was thankfully put back into the hands of the Icelandic people. Sigríður Tómasdóttir was considered Iceland’s first environmentalist and a plaque telling her story sits at the top of Gullfoss to this very day.
Kerið Crater Lake
The Kerið Crater Lake is a vibrant blue volcanic crater that is surrounded by red sand and green moss-like vegetation. The cool thing about the Kerið Crater Lake is that it used to be a cone shaped volcano that everyone usually thinks of when they imagine a volcano, but the top of Kerið collapsed and is just an empty magma chamber now. Kerið Crater Lake isn’t as popular as the other stops along the Golden Circle, but it’s definitely worth taking a look at. We actually stumbled upon it by accident while driving back from dinner and there weren’t that many tourists around, which actually was quite great. Located just off off the Ring Road (Highway 1) on Road 35 (the same road that heads to Geysir and Gullfoss) it is easy to miss, as you can’t see it from the road, but a tiny parking lot with a tiny wooden hut and a road sign is what you’ll need to look for. You’ll need to pay a small fee of 400ISK to visit, but the money is used to maintain the area and keep it clean. Money well spent if you ask me.
Whether you have a few days in Iceland, or a full week, driving the Golden Circle is something that shouldn’t be missed. Driving the Golden Circle on your own should take no longer than 3-4 hours, but you’ll more than likely make a million stops along the way to take amazing photos and admire Iceland’s natural beauty.
Have you guys ever driven the Golden Circle? Would you prefer being part of an organized tour, or driving it yourself in a rental vehicle? Let me know in the comments below! xo