Along with the Blue Lagoon, Golden Circle is probably one of the most famous experiences in Iceland. It is doable in one day from the capital Reykjavik and it’s not even taking an entire day. It includes Geyser, Thingvellir (Þingvellir) National Park and Gulfoss Waterfall.
I took advantage of the fact that my Golden Tour trip departed at 10am to walk to the Hallgrimskirkja (Church of Hallgrímur) and especially go up into the tower for a panoramic view over the city. In front of the church it’s the statue of Leif Eriksson (~ 970 – 1020 AD), a Norse born in Iceland explorer who is believed to be the first European to discover North America (excluding Greenland) before Christopher Columbus. The statue was a gift from the USA in the 1930 when 1000 years from the first Icelandic Parliament at Þingvellir in 930 AD were celebrated.
2/3 of the population of Iceland (330.000 people) is concentrated in the area of the capital. Reykjavik might thus sound like a small city, but it is so sparse that two Amsterdams could fit inside its borders. The tower of Hallgrimskirkja offers a 360 panoramic view of the city with its colourful houses, small factories and the Atlantic Ocean.
Geyser (also known as The Great Geyser) is the first geyser to be mentioned in a printed document. It’s eruption is the tallest in Iceland even though now is rather dormant and it rarely erupts. It can hurl boiling water up to 70 meters in the air, but it used to throw hot water even up to 170 meters in the XIX century.
Likely you will walk to Strokkur Geyser which is 50 meters away from Geyser. It erupts every 6-8 minutes creating spectacular scenes. The eruptions are usually 15 – 20 meters high, but they could go up to 40 meters sometimes. Not all the time the eruptions are very impressive, it could sometimes through little water and some steam.
Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir National Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site since 2004 is the place where the North-American tectonic plate meets the Eurasian tectonic plate. It is basically situated in a rift meaning that in the (geological) future the island will be broken in two. The fact that Iceland it’s situated between two main tectonic plates explains the presence of earthquakes, volcanos and geysers. Moreover, the continental drift between the two plates creates cracks and sometimes the rifts are covered with water. Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland, which is South of Thingvellir was formed this way.
Icelandic history is full of events that happened at Thingvellir so it’s held in high esteem by locals and it is now preserved as a national shrine. One of the most notable events that took place is the first Parliament in 930 AD which stayed here until 1798.
Gulfoss Waterfall impressed me the most out of the three attractions of the Golden Circle. It is incredible beautiful (for me it’s the most gorgeous waterfall I’ve seen so far), it has two drops and the water has an unbelievable colour (at least during the winter when I’ve visited). During cold season a think layer of ice is formed on one of it’s sides and along with surroundings covered in snow it becomes a magic place.
Bonus: Secret Lagoon
Some tours might include the Secret Lagoon into the Golden Circle. It’s similar to the Blue Lagoon, but its scale is much smaller. You could have a quick bath or walk to see some more geysers. There is a little one, which erupts every couple of minutes, the eruption is no taller than 1-2 meters, but it throws hot water for longer than Geyser or Strokkur (tens of seconds). It’s still a pleasure to watch.
I’ve also found a horse shelter nearby the Secret Lagoon. Icelandic horses are very special because they’ve been living in isolation for thousands of years. If they leave the country they will never come back because of the chance of contaminating the others that remained of the island. They are very peaceful, usually living free on the fields so if you have a chance to rent a car, make sure you stop to see them. They are very friendly and happy for a cuddle. (in some areas there are fences between you and the horses to feel more safe).