I recently went on one of the most popular tours in Iceland: The Golden Circle tour. It is a 9 hour long guided day trip from Reykjavík where one gets to see some phenomenal places here in Iceland.
There are so many beautiful places in Iceland and interesting things to do, but the Golden Circle is where I take all my foreign friends which I show around my country.
Thingvellir National Park
The first stop on the tour is one of my most beloved places here in Iceland, Þingvellir National Park. I go there often as it is only 50 km away from Reykjavík.
There are two extraordinary things about Þingvellir:
Firstly it is the only place in the world which has been recognized by UNESCO as a cultural site connected to the Viking culture. The Vikings established a parliament at Þingvellir in 930.
Secondly Þingvellir National Park is situated on the tectonic plate boundaries of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the North-American and Eurasian continents, making it a very special tourist attraction. The tectonic plates are actually visible above ground and you can really experience the continental drift. To us Icelanders Þingvellir is one of our greatest treasures.
On the tour we were guided through this amazing place and learned about its history and walked inside Almannagjá gorge, which forms the eastern boundaries of the North-American Plate.
I stopped by Nikulásargjá rift, which we Icelanders call Peningagjá rift - the Money rift, where it is a custom amongst us Icelanders to throw in some coins - it is said that your wishes come true if you follow the coin sink through the clear water and watch it land on the bottom of the rift.
It is actually the only place in Icelandic nature, where it is allowed to throw in coins.
On the photo above is Peningagjá rift - there are other rifts here where one can go snorkeling or diving under guidance.
Our next stop was at Gullfoss - the Golden Waterfall from which the Golden Circle tour gets its name (gull=gold, foss=waterfall).
Gullfoss is the best known waterfall in Iceland and it is breathtakingly beautiful, 33 metres high, with two cascades, the first one is 11 metres high, and the other one is 22 metres high and they fall into the 2.5 km canyon which is 70 m deep.
It is possible to walk right up to the waterfall where you can stand on the edge. It will make you drenched but it is a breathtaking experience. Please remember to be careful as the path gets slippery and fatal accidents have happened here. If it is too icy in winter time then the path is closed.
You can also walk up the stairs to get a better view from above and to visit the restaurant there. They are well known for their meat-broth "kjötsúpa" and here we stopped and had lunch.
Gullfoss is state property. The recent history of the waterfall is quite interesting and startling at the same time, as the waterfall was contracted to foreigners and almost used to create a hydroelectric power station.
The daughter of the farmer who owned this land, Sigríður in Brattholt (1871-1957), put up a fight to save Gullfoss and threatened to throw herself into the waterfall. This is a long story but to make it short Sigríður saved Gullfoss and we are really thankful to her for that.
Geysir Geothermal Area
Our next stop was at Geysir geothermal area. Iceland is the only place in Europe where this natural phenomenon can be seen, so it is well worth a visit. Geysir has given its name to all other erupting hot-springs which are called geysers.
Although this geothermal area is named after Geysir then the "geysir" which erupts most frequently (like every 5-10 minutes), is called Strokkur. Geysir itself stopped erupting in 1915, but it must have been a sight to see as it went up to 70 metres into the air, but Strokkur is much smaller.
Icelanders tried reviving it by throwing soap into Geysir and forced an eruption and from time to time it erupted. Then after a big earthquake in 2000 Geysir started erupting again ca 8-10 meters into the air, but much less frequently than Strokkur. Geysir erupts from time to time nowadays. But Strokkur erupts so frequently that one is bound to get a good photo of its eruption.
Take care that this is a high temperature geothermal area and stay within the boundaries and don't touch the water as it is HOT.
And if you don't want to be drenched stay up-wind. I myself have arrived there at the very moment of the eruption and as it can get really windy I got Strokkur right in my face.
There was no guidance on this stop, but one can read up on the geothermal activity in the Geysir geothermal area and wonder around, having a look at the other smaller geysers, which don't erupt, but have a spectacular colour - and wait for Strokkur to erupt with the camera ready.
There are several restaurants by Geysir and a big shop, selling Icelandic woollen goods etc. The rye bread sold at the restaurants is baked in the ground in the Geysir geothermal area. There is one more photo opportunity at Geysir, which was not mentioned by the tour guide, but I always go there to have my photo taken - with the TROLL :)
We Icelanders not only believe in the existence of elves, we also believe in trolls, at least some of us. I have got so many photos of myself with the troll through the years - it is a friendly troll, different to the ones in our folklore, who eat humans. It is situated right by the road next to the hotel.
Our next stop was at Skálholt cathedral - the old seat of the bishops. We stopped here for a short while, long enough to have a look inside this beautiful cathedral - which is my all time favourite here in Iceland.
Our tour guide surprised us with singing an Icelandic song and she sang it beautifully - the whole church got filled with her voice.
Skálholtskirkja cathedral is one of Iceland's most historic places. It was the centre of ecclesiastic power in Iceland and the first bishopric was founded here in 1056, with the first bishop, Ísleifur, taking seat.
From then on Skálholt became the centre of learning, culture and worldly power in Iceland. The first Cathedral was built in the 12th century and altogether there have been 10 wooden churches here, some of which burnt down, others were destroyed in bad weather etc. Some of them were even much larger than the present Cathedral, which was built from 1956-1963.
How beautiful is it when the sun reflects through the stained glass windows and fills the cathedral with multi-coloured light. Even the altarpiece of Jesus reflects the colours of the windows. It is just out of this world.
Hellisheidavirkjun Geothermal Powerplant
Our final stop on the tour was at Hellisheiðarvirkjun power plant, which is the largest geothermal power station in Iceland. There is a Geothermal Energy exhibition at the power plant on how geothermal energy is harnessed there.
The entrance fee was not included in the tour and half the tour visited the power plant and half the tour visited the cafeteria on the ground floor. I would recommend not missing the exhibition, as it is very informative.
After visiting the power plant the circle was almost completed as we were only 20 minutes away from Reykjavík. A lovely day had come to an end and the guests were returned to their hotels. As can be seen then this Golden Circle Tour is extensive and some major historic areas in Iceland are visited on the tour.
Since I wrote this travel blog it has come to my attention that alterations have been made to this tour, so instead of visiting the power plant a visit to the cultivation centre, Friðheimar, is now included in this tour. If you want to visit Hellisheiðarvirkjun then the Golden Circle & green energy|Exciting and educational minibus tour will take you there.
Now this tour, which I joined, is one of the cheapest bus tours. We have many variations of the Golden Circle tours so check out all the Golden Circle tours available here in Iceland, so you can choose the best tour for yourself.
We have f.ex. the Golden Circle & Silfra Snorkelling Small Group Tour, the Horse Riding & Golden Circle Tour, the 3 Day South Coast Northern Lights, Jokulsarlon Ice Cave, Golden Circle & Glacier Hiking, the Golden Circle & Blue Lagoon, the Golden Circle & the Secret Lagoon, the Golden Circle & the Fontana Geothermal baths and the Golden Circle & Hvítá River Jet Boat Tour.
Then we have the Golden Circle with Whale watching from Reykjavík, the Golden Circle, Monster Truck & Snowmobiling and the Golden Circle is included in the 5 Day Self Drive Tour - Reykjavik, Blue Lagoon, Golden Circle & Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon just to name a few of the Golden Circle tour available in Iceland.