Golden Circle afternoon with Reykjavik whale watching
Come along on a relaxing, easy tour of some of the most famous locations in Iceland! This tour combines the wonders of the whales and seabirds with a tour of the Golden Circle.
You will be picked up from your hotel by the shuttle bus between 8:15 and 8:45 AM for the whale watching tour starting at 9:00 AM from Reykjavík's Old Harbour. After exploring the wonders of the whales and seabirds Faxaflói offers, you’ll return to the harbour around 12:00.
Spend a half an hour stretching your legs with a walk around the pier or a bite to eat. At 12:30, you'll be picked up by another shuttle bus in front of the Elding ticket office for an afternoon on the Golden Circle.
You will be visiting some of the very best known historical sites and natural phenomena in the country: Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall, and Geysir geothermal area as well as the hot spring town Hveragerði.
Þingvellir National Park was created to preserve some of Iceland’s most precious history and geology, and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site because the world’s first parliament was founded there in the 10th century. The valley is also split in two by the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Take a stroll down the walking path and you’ll be wandering between North America and Eurasia! Sifta fissure is also here, on the edge of Lake Þingvallavatn, and is a popular place for snorkeling between the land masses!
Next is Gullfoss waterfall, one of the mightiest of Iceland’s natural wonders. Located in a canyon of the fast-moving Hvitá river, this place is all about power. Glacial meltwater fills the river, shooting across the two-tiered falls before crashing into a crevice. The canyon below is also a favorite spot for white water rafting, allowing sportsmen to pit themselves against the river. You can watch the waterfall from a viewing deck, or walk down a path right next to the tumbling waters.
Geysir geothermal area will take you to a fiendish landscape of rock and raging power. Pressure building beneath the earth has created great forces at work. Hot springs bubble, steam vents hiss and fumaroles release smoky pressure from down below. The geysers, of course, are the stars here, and though The Great Geysir has gone to sleep, his little brother Strokkur blasts off every 5-10 minutes, flinging water as high as 40 m (131 ft).
See below for alternate summer itinerary, which takes you to the Golden Circle in the evening.
Don’t miss this fabulous tour of Reykjavik’s harbor and the beautiful south coast! Check the booking availability above by pressing "Choose a date."
- Available: Oct. - Apr.
- Duration: 11 hours
- Activities: Whale Watching, Sightseeing
- Difficulty: Easy
Geysir is a famous hot spring in Haukadalur valley in South Iceland. Part of the ‘Golden Circle', Geysir gives its name to hot springs all over the world.
Though Geysir itself is hardly active anymore, the area features spectacular hot springs such as the powerful Strokkur, which spouts a vast amount of water every 10 minutes, around 15-20 meters into the air, Smidur and Litli-Strokkur.
North of Geysir are fumaroles, i.e. unlike the hot springs that emit hot water, only steam and gas emanate from these. You may be able to observe bright yellow stains at the fumaroles, this is native sulphur, which crystallizes from the steam. At the southern part of the geothermal area, called Thykkuhverir, you‘ll find various mud pots. Such mud pots are actually fumaroles that boil up through surface water/groundwater and may become steaming fumaroles during dry spells, rather than the usual boiling mud pots.
About 2 km from Geysir is an old preserved natural pool called Kúalaug. One can bathe in it and it has room for 3-5 people at a time, but care should be taken, as the area around the pool is very delicate. The temperature is 39-43°C, depending on how you are positioned in the pool. The water is slightly muddy, as the pool is built on soil, and the bottom is slippery due to algae, so caution is advised.
In Haukadalur there has also been tree planting in recent times and today the forest Haukadalsskógur is one of the largest in South Iceland. Aspen, various types of pine, and other plants have been tried out there and experiments and research continue. We also recommend visiting the tree museum, built in the memory of forester Gunnar Freysteinsson. There are good paths and roads in the forest and the wood is specially designed to accommodate wheelchairs.
Haukadalur has been a church site since ancient time. The current wooden church was last rebuilt in 1938 but the variety and appearance of the church dates back to 1842, making it one of the oldest of its kind in Iceland.
Haukadalur is indeed a historical place. It was settled during the age of settlement and scholar Ari “The Wise“ Thorgilsson grew up there. The first pastoral school in Iceland was also built there.
For accommodation, Hotel Gullfoss is about 7 km from the Geysir area, and closer still is the Hotel Geysir.
Thingvellir is one of the most important sites to visit in Iceland for its landscape, history and cultural value.
The Icelandic parliament was founded in Thingvellir in 930 and remained there for centuries.Thingvellir is surrounded by a beautiful mountain range and is the site of a rift valley, marking the crest of the Mid-Atlantic range. Today it is a natural park, listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and considered a vital part of the ‘Golden triangle’ (with Geysir and Gullfoss). Of particular note is the magnificent gorge Almannagja, which marks the eastern boundary of the north American plate and into which the beautiful waterfall Oxararfoss falls.
Other notable attractions within the park include the beautiful lake Thingvallavatn, the largest lake in Iceland, the Silfra fissure, one of the world's top dives, and Gjabakkahellir, one of Iceland's most interesting lava tubes.
Silfra is a fissure filled with fresh springwater within Þingvellir National Park, and one of the country’s most cherished wonders. Snorkelling and diving in its crystal-clear waters is an experience that is both thrilling and relaxing, and it is now considered to be one of the top five dive sites in the world. It takes around an hour to reach Silfra from Reykjavík.
- See this article on Diving and Snorkelling in Iceland
Geography of Silfra
Silfra fissure opened in 1789, due to the movements of the tectonic plates that frame Þingvellir National Park. The North American and Eurasian plates, which run all the way through Iceland, separate at about 2 centimetres per year, and when they do, tear open fissures in the land between them.
The ravines fill with water travelling underground through the porous lava fields in the area, originating from Langjökull glacier about 60 kilometres north. It can take the water up to a century to reach Silfra and this long filtration process results in the water being both extremely clear and drinkable.
Because the water travels underground, it maintains a constant temperature of two to three degrees Celsius and does not freeze over immediately at the source of the spring. Snorkelling and diving tours are thus open throughout the year.
The clarity of the water is what draws most visitors. The visibility can extend to over 100 metres, allowing you to see the canyon walls and bottom like you are floating over a great cathedral.
The last colour that water absorbs is blue, which means that when you look forward in Silfra, it is as if you are looking into an ethereal, vivid, azure world. The clarity also means that sun-rays refract through the surface of the water, creating rainbows on Silfra’s bed when the weather allows.
Snorkelling in Silfra
Snorkelling in Silfra fissure is a highly enjoyable activity, but you must meet some prerequisites to be able to join. These are as follows:
- You must be able to swim
- You must be over 16
- You must be in good physical health
- You must be at least 145 centimetres and 45 kilograms
- If you are over sixty, you will need a medical waiver
- If you are over forty-five with a history of heavy alcohol use and pipe smoking, you will also need a waiver
The most common option for snorkelling is to conduct it in a drysuit like is done on this tour. Drysuits work with a fluffy undersuit to keep your body free from water and insulated against the cold, making the task of swimming through the near-freezing temperature more than achievable.
While drysuit snorkelling is the most comfortable and popular option, a few tours allow you to go through Silfra wearing a wetsuit. Wetsuits, made of neoprene, allow water to surround your body in a thin layer, that your body then heats up and uses to protect you. Though they grant you more flexibility, they are not so warm, so this should be done by the daring; you will also need to be at least 50 kilograms to snorkel in a wetsuit.
In all tours, you wear neoprene on your head and hands to allow for better mobility, a mask and snorkel, and a pair of fins, all of which are provided on site. The course of Silfra takes approximately forty minutes, and there is a gentle current throughout, meaning it requires minimal energy to traverse.
Diving in Silfra
Diving through Silfra gives an extra dimension to its beauty, as you will be able to look up and see the sun glistening upon the surface as you cruise through the crystal clear waters. However, considering the risks associated with diving in cold water and cumbersome equipment, all who partake must meet all the requirements above, as well as one of the following:
- You must be a qualified diver with a certification in a drysuit speciality, OR
- You must be a qualified diver with at least 10 logged dives in a drysuit conducted over the past two years, signed by an instructor or divemaster.
Hveragerði is a town and municipality in the southwest of Iceland, around 45 km from the capital Reykjavik. Around 2300 people live in Hveragerði. The river Varmá runs through it. The town is well known for its greenhouses and strong geothermal activity, in particular the nearby Reykjadalur valley.
In the scenic Reykjadalur ('Steam Valley') you have the hot water stream falling down the slopes of the valley. The mountain range is ideal for relaxing and the valley offers a rich variety of hot pools and geothermal springs. It is also possible to have a dip in the river.
There are nice botanical areas and parks in the town, many recreational activities are available, excellent hiking trails as well as nice hotels and a camping ground. A number of museums can be found, such as the Árnesingar art museum. The town hosts an annual culture and family festival in August.
Þingvallavatn (anglicised as Thingvallavatn, “Lake of the Parliament”) is a rift valley lake located roughly forty minutes drive from Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik.
Features of Þingvallavatn.
Þingvallavatn is partially within the boundaries of Þingvellir National Park, Iceland’s largest national park and only one with UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Covering an area of 84 km², Þingvallavatn is the largest natural lake in Iceland with its greatest depth measuring at 114 m. Þingvallavatn is situated on the Mid-Atlantic Rift, on a part of the ridge known as the Reykjanes Ridge. The lake has only one outflow, the river Sog.
Of particular note to biologists and fishermen are the four morphs of Arctic Char that inhabit the lake. The lake’s char are an excellent example of species evolving to fit and adapt to a secluded environment; over ten thousand years, one species of Char has transformed into four different-sub branches. Other fish in the lake include the the Brown Trout and the Three-Spine Stickleback.
History and Geology
Þingvallavatn takes its name from the historical founding of the Althingi, which occurred in 930 AD at what is now known as Þingvellir National Park. Þingvellir literally translates to “Fields of Parliament.” The Althingi was the first democratically elected parliament in world history; Icelanders used to travel by foot or horseback simply to congregate at Þingvellir where they would hear the latest laws and judgements of the island.
Þingvellir National Park is also notable for its geology. Given its position on the Mid Atlantic Ridge, the park is one of the only places on the planet where visitors can see both the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates standing exposed from the earth. Footpaths allow you to get up close and personal to the plates, standing right where the ancient settlers once did. In between the tectonic plates lies fields of dried volcanic rock, blanketed with a thick, yet fragile layer of Icelandic moss.
Scuba Diving at Silfra / David's Crack
Scuba diving around Þingvallavatn revolves around two sites, Silfra Fissure and David’s Crack, the former being one of the most popular spots on the planet for snorkelling and underwater exploration. Silfra Fissure is situated between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates and is filled with crystal-clear glacial water originating from the Langjokull ice cap. The water measures at between 2-3 degrees Celsius all year round, a slight current preventing the fissure from ever freezing over.
David’s Crack is found within Þingvallavatn and is often considered the darker and more dramatic cousin of Silfra Fissure, resembling the gorge formation so prevalent across the Mid Atlantic Rift. Only certain tour operators provide David’s Crack, so make sure to do some research beforehand if you are looking to access this dive site during your time in Iceland.
Header Photo: Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Credit: Axel Kristinsson.
Starting time : 08:15
Use of overalls on boat
Pick-up / Drop-off at your accommodation in Reykjavik
What to bring:
Warm clothing and outerwear suited to rainy or chilly weather
Sturdy shoes for walking/hiking
Good to know:
The tour above is for the fall, winter and spring months. In the summer, the tour is arranged to take advantage of the Midnight Sun! You will go whale watching in the afternoon and spend the evening on the Golden Circle. You will be picked up from your hotel by the shuttle bus between 13:15 and 13:45 for the whale watching tour, starting at 14:00 from Reykjavík's Old Harbour. You'll return to dry land around 17:00. You can have dinner nearby before being picked up for the Golden Circle Evening tour by the shuttle bus at 17:30. Soak in the sunshine, all night long!