If you are in Iceland for a limited amount of time and want to take advantage of a tour to cram in as much as possible, opt for the Golden Circle tour. This tour will take you to some amazing sights, seeing a snapshot of the natural features Iceland has to offer. I signed up for my tour with GeoIceland*, a small company, with small tour sizes, and a great overall experience!
After being picked up at my hotel, we were off to Þingvellir National Park. Shortly after leaving the city we drove into some spectacular mountains. The sight was jaw dropping as we turned the corner into the first valley. We stopped for a few minutes to take some photos and take in the amazing scenery around us. Next, Lake Þingvallavatn came into view. This lake was created by two continental plates moving away from each other over millions of years. It formed a rift valley, that is now filled with clear (and cold) glacial waters. Our tour guide, Baldwin, pointed out his family’s cottage, and told us as story about how it used to be on the other side of the lake. His grandfather decided to move it one winter (over the ice) to the more prestigious side.
Þingvellir National Park is a geologist’s dream. I am far from a geologist, but I learned all about tectonic plates, and rock formations in university, and it is all pretty amazing to me. To actually stand between two continental plates, and see the results of tectonic activity before my eyes was unimaginable. Every time I see something like this I turn into my grown up version of a kid at a candy store.
The downside of taking a tour is that you might not get the time you really want to explore certain areas. I could have hiked more through Þingvellir National Park and looked closer at the layers of rock and the vegetation that now grows there. I would have like to go further into the park because I’m sure some of those corners I didn’t turn around had some spectacular views. But, nonetheless, I opted for a tour because it offers many benefits too – including a chance to see the other great sights along the Golden Circle.
Our next stop was Geyser. Did you know that the word Geyser, actually comes from the name of the first Geyser ever seen? And that Geyser is in Iceland. It sits along an active geothermal area, with 3 main geysers: Geyser, Blesi, and Strokkur. Geysers are very unpredictable, but luckily Strokkur is pretty active and you are pretty much guaranteed to see if go off at least once if you make a stop in Haukadalur. It was a bit unfortunate to see the crowds of people circled around Strokkur, but since it goes off so often, you can make your way to the front of the crowd pretty quickly. I packed my lunch and watched from a bench in the background, then made my way to the front for some photos. Strokkur is frequent, but unpredictable. You see it bubbling and you think it is about to burst, but it is just tricking you! When it is ready to go, it doesn’t warn you. A couple of times there was a smaller eruption immediately after the main one. One of the best parts was watching it fill up again after the eruption.
There is a lookout point behind the geysers that many people will hike up. It doesn’t take long to get up there and you can see some views of all three geyers in one direction, and farmland in the other. It was extremely windy the day I was there. I sometimes felt that I would be blown over. It was also very dry that week, and therefore dust was blowing everywhere. I ended up getting covered in dirt – in my eyes, nose…everywhere. It was not my favourite moment, but possibly a once in a lifetime view so I continued on knowing that I could clean myself up across the street at the gift shop/restaurant.
I have never been somewhere with so many unique waterfalls. Gullfoss was one of the stops on our Golden Circle tour. It has two levels, and you can get quite close to the rushing water. Bring your rain jacket, and hold onto your camera while you are here! We also made a stop at Faxi waterfall (Vatnsleysufoss), where we were literally the only people there. Although Faxi is not very large, it is still beautiful and was a great way to finish off the tour.
There are many ways to see the Golden Circle. One day I would love to drive it on my own, but a tour was the right option for me on this trip. Almost every tour company has a Golden Circle option. Do your research and find the one that is right for you. I can attest that GeoIceland’s tour was in fact a small, more intimate group, with a great guide. They were very helpful before the tour, providing me with the information I needed, and answering my questions before I left home. After my tour, I was very happy to receive an email from them, with a map outlining where we went on our tour – which is helpful for anyone trying to document their trip, and figure out what all of those pictures are from!
*I have no affiliation with GeoIceland