GOLDEN CIRCLE TOURS
What to expect on the Golden Circle Tour?
Golden Circle Tour takes you to Iceland’s natural landmarks and jaw dropping sceneries are anything but for the faint hearted. With easily accessible magnificent displays of nature’s finest only a stone throw away from pretty much anywhere you find yourself on the island, it’s sometimes quite a daunting task to figure out where exactly to start, what to see and more importantly, how to get to it.
The Golden Circle is good place to either start or end our Viking explorations. This route is filled with beauty and diverse landscapes that takes you across vast lava fields and mesmerizing mighty waterfalls and is one of those fundamentals natural pillars, treating its visitors to a snippet of all that Iceland has to offer. Its ease of access, relative closeness to the country’s capital of Reykjavik and most importantly its distinct sights dotted along that 300 km stretch of pure beauty make it by far one of the most popular tourist routes in the country and if not, the whole world.
What is the Golden circle?
As mentioned above, Iceland’s Golden circle is a small collection of the country’s top attractions and most visited tourist routes for the lucky chosen ones coming to visit the land of Fire and Ice. An hour or so drive away separate Reykjavik to this popular 300 km stretch of pure sublimity, making it an ideal one-day trip for those short on time yet still wanting to experience nature’s finest. The location of the golden circle also makes it the perfect starting and ending point to any adventure. It can be a well-welcomed add-on to a more thrill seeking trip or for those traveling with families and children.
How accessible is the tour?
The sites that are visited along the golden circle are selected with thought to tourists and nature alike. The majority of attractions are accessible via man made sturdy wooden stairs and handrails that come particularly handy when it’s snowy and icy around (fortunately this is not a year-round occurrence, just yet). There is no need to be extremely in shape and this tour is particularly suited for both children and elders however as it’s an outdoors tour, some walking is required to get from one location to the other and when exploring the surrounding area. Due to its popularity, the majority of attractions visited are in close proximity to bathroom facilities and cafés or gas stations, making your trip as comfortable as possible.
The Golden Circle encompasses three of Iceland’s key landmarks – Thingvellir National Park, Geysir and Gullfoss all of which contain their specific yet distinct beauties, characters and wonders. In addition to the main three attractions, there are plentiful additional natural landscapes worth stopping for all around this route!
Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir National park (written Þingvellir in Icelandic) is one of the three main stops that make up the infamous Golden Circle. Located only a mere 40 kilometres from Reykjavik, this region is nowadays considered as one of Iceland’s tourist hotspots combining culture, geology and history in one; It’s great significance within the Icelandic culture have enabled this divine territory to attain a UNESCO World heritage status in 2004.
Historical and cultural Heritage – Northern Europe’s first parliament
It is believed that Iceland’s first Norse recognised settler, Ingólfr Árnason, came to its land in 874 AD alongside his wife and livestock. The country’s first pioneers were mainly lords and trivial kings running away from the tyranny of Harald Fairhair, who wanted to congregate the country and its population under his sole reign.
Ingólfr Arnarson’s arrival marked the beginning of Iceland’s slow yet steady influx of people, majoritarily from Norway and other Celtic countries. The more settlers came, the more issues that needed solving arose, which is why in the year 900, the country’s settlers determined it was time to establish one general assembly.
The first democratic parliament was introduced a few years later – in 930 AD. ‘Þingvellir’ in Icelandic meaning assembly fields, was where meetings and discussions took place. It followed a similar model of the parliament structure we know today – representatives from all around the country met outside annually to solve arguments and disagreements.
The Alþingi; or Iceland’s first parliament founded in Thingvellir, is believed to mark the beginning of the nation of Iceland and the country’s cultural and historical identity.
Geological history and attributes
Thingvellir’s particular and unique geo-location is another reason why this area is deemed to be one of the most visited regions in the country, and for good reason! Thingvellir lies on top of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a fissure that stretches between the North American and Eurasian continental plates. This vast 16.000 km stretch is the ideal nesting grounds for tectonic and volcanic activity.
It is estimated that 10.000 years ago, strong friction between the tectonic plates melted the Earths crust, causing the rock underneath to turn into hot magma, which was thereafter expulsed, by great pressure through fractures within the plates. This explosion caused the eruption of shield volcanoes in the area composed of near entirely fluid lava, creating one of the most beautiful shield volcanoes in Iceland – mount Skjaldbreiður. It is not known how long this eruption lasted however; geologists believed it could have gone on for over a century!
The most recent volcanic eruption in Thingvellir was in spring 1789 when a crater formed from the bottom of Lake Thingvallavatn, now considered as the largest lake in the country. There has been no active volcanic activity since then however, there is no guarantee this will stay the same in the future!
Haukadalur Valley - home of famous Geysir & Strokkur geysers
Nestled in the southwest part of Iceland in Haukadalur geothermal area lays the infamous hot spring Geysir, that’s given its name to geysers scattered all around the world.
This geothermal area, spreading over a surface of 3 km, is filled with so called boiling mud pits that, when active, expulse hot water high into the air, followed by a steady puff of evaporating steam, only to repeat this occurrence every couple of minutes.
Geothermal activity explained simply
Iceland is the mecca of geothermal activity – from natural hot springs scattered all around its territory to the energy used for residential heating and so forth, this country surely knows how to utilise its natural resources to its utmost advantage.
It goes without saying that the land of Fire and Ice is surrounded by vast amounts of water, after all, it is an island. Its geological location, being in between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates, make it one of most seismically and volcanic active regions in the world which, is both a blessing and a curse. When all this activity concentrates, magma and heat is generated, that is thereafter expulsed in the upper layers of the Earth, naturally forming hot springs and geysers. Where possible, this energy is also transformed by geothermal plants into renewable energy.
Geyser or Geisir?
It is exceptionally easy to confuse Geyser with Geysir and vice versa as, the words are so similar that most don’t even notice a difference.
To keep it simple, Geyser refers to hot springs that shoot boiling water up into the sky. They can be found in Iceland or all over the world – Fly Geyser in Nevada USA or El Tatio Geyser in Chile to name a few.
‘Geisir’ or ‘Great Geisir’ is the name given to Iceland’s most famous hot spring in the Haukadalur valley fields. Geisir was well known among tourists and locals alike for its cosmic powerful explosions that emitted remarkable amounts of water into the sky reaching heights of 70 meters or more.
Between 1916 and 1950, Geisir’s activity greatly diminished and the once temperamental sky-high explosions slowly became a thing of the past. This geyser is now fully dormant, and although various theories have been put in place to explain the possible reason behind its inactivity, no precise explanation has, until this day, ever been given.
Strokkur Geyser - feast for eyes every couple minutes
Nowadays, the highlight of Haukadalur valley is the mighty Strokkur geyser. If you’ve ever opened a Lonely Planet Guidebook about Iceland or scrolled through travel blogs, chances are you’d have unknowingly come across dozens of images of this natural marvel.
Found only a couple hundred feet away from its famous predecessor Geysir, Strokkur gifts its hundreds of spectators with sights like no other: every four to-ten minutes a mighty blast of water shoots up to a height of about 20 meters from deep within the Earth’s veins followed by a steady evaporating puff of steam.
Getting too close to the geyser itself should be avoided at all costs since, waters are known to reach an average of 100 degrees Celsius! Too hot for comfort, to say the least.
Gullfoss - The Golden Waterfall
A little over 110 kilometres from Iceland’s capital, nestled in the magical Haukadalur valley lies the mighty Gullfoss waterfall – one of Iceland’s most popular and venerated natural landscapes. The waterfalls ever so impressive influential flow rate is given by the glacier river – Hvítá a rich in Salmon River, flowing for 40 kilometres from Langjökull glacier in the highlands of Iceland before disappearing deep within the waterfalls canyon 32-meter drop. During summer, when glacial water from Langjökull melts at a higher volume due to the rise of the earth’s temperature, the average flow of the waterfall’s water reaches an impressive 140 cubic meters per second!
The name ‘Gullfoss’ directly translated from Iceland Gull/Foss means ‘ Golden Waterfall’. Although, unfortunately no gold has ever been found in this region, it’s array of beautiful distinct and stunning colours visible on a sunny day and produced by the waters evaporation into the air upon falling down it’s gorge give it its characteristic name.
Ég sel ekki vin minn (I will not sell my friend)
The waterfall’s unquestionable beauty and natural power not only provides visitors with jaw dropping scenic backdrops, but also has been, back in the days, source of lengthy disputes between those wanting to exploit the waterfall’s hydro-electric capabilities and the Icelanders wanting to protect it.
During the 20th century, Gullfoss stirred a whirlwind of troubles in between the Icelandic people and foreign investors that wanted to buy the land and its nearby territories in aim to use its powerful flow to produce hydroelectricity. It is said that an Englishman under the name of Mr Howell offered the landowner Tómas Tómasson 50.000 ISK for it, which was then dozens of times more than the cost of his own house. Tómasson refused, saying that ‘Ég sel ekki vin minn’ ( I will not sell my friend ).
Years later, the land was rented out to both local and foreign companies that somehow managed to find a loophole in the renting contract.
Sigríður Tómasdóttir, the daughter of the Gullfoss’s original owner personally took on the case to fight for the family’s beliefs however, after many trials and failures which subsequently made her loose all her money in court fees, she hand her hands tied and had no further say in the matter.
With ups and downs over the next couple of years, the waterfall remained untouched until Sigríður’s adopted son through a spout of luck acquired the land, which later sold to the Icelandic government in 1940.
The unstoppable battle of this family spread across numerous generations and their continuous fight for the land and morals has, up until today stayed within the Icelandic population as it lucidly represents the love and connection Icelanders have with their country’s nature.
Sigríður’s desire to save the sacred Gullfoss waterfall earned her the title of Iceland’s first environmentalist, with a memorial stone made in her honor that could be seen when visiting the waterfall.
Kerið Volcanic Crater Lake
Although not a part of the official Golden Circle route, Kerid volcano is only a stone throw away from the three primary stops, making it the ideal add-on to any golden circle tour.
60 kilometres separate Reykjavik and the magnificent picture perfect Kerid Crater Lake, strategically located in the Grímsnes area in the southern part of the island. The caldera, which is 55 meters deep and 170 meters wide is painted with an array of spectacular red volcanic rock with bright green deep moss embedded in its cracks.
The lake’s high mineral composition give its waters a fairy-tale like turquoise colour that creates a true visual spectacle paired with the brightly painted volcanic rock and vegetation.
Due to the relative mild slope on one of the crater’s walls, if desired, one can easily descend its side to get an even closer look at the lake or walk all around it’s border.
The Kerid crater is visited on many of our Multi day tours, summer and winter alike.
Best time to go on the tour?
Unlike many tours that run during only part of the year, the Golden Circle is open All year round (except in extreme and rare circumstances where dangerous road conditions cause road closures).
Each season paints the surrounding landscapes with different colours and brings along its charm and conquests. There is no right or wrong answer. It really is up to you and your preferences. The landscape dramatically changes from one season to another, which makes the experience even more unique and worthy for returning visitors. Summer brings out the warm fairy-tale like colors of the grounds and sky whereas winter allows its guests to experience a truly Nordic seasonal environment.
Selection of Golden Circle Tours
Discover the glorious Golden Circle, see the waterfalls of the South Coast, be amazed by the Glacier Lagoon and the Blue Ice Cave
See the most majestic sights in South Iceland, including the Glacier Lagoon and the Golden Circle, waterfalls, blue-ice glaciers, volcanoes and more
The glittering jewels in Iceland's crown, the Golden Circle and the Blue Lagoon are always at the top of everyone's list of "must-see places" here!
Visit the three main national parks of Iceland, go on a glacier hike, lava caving and take a boat ride on the ice strewn Glacier Lagoon
The Golden Circle is always right at the top of the list of the most popular day tours in Iceland, with four spectacular sights to be seen in one day
The glittering jewels in Iceland's crown, the Golden Circle and the Blue Lagoon are always at the top of everyone's list of "must-see places" here!
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