The Golden Circle is one of the most popular attractions in Iceland. It is made up of three locations, Gullfoss, Geysir, and Þingvellir (anglicized to Thingvellir), each of which is unique and spectacular in its own way.
All three stops are within driving distance of each other, and of Reykjavik, thus making for the perfect day trip.
Trips are offered from Reykjavik Excursions for 10,500 ISK for adults, 5,250 ISK for ages 12-15, and free for children under 11.
Golden Circle – Geysir
The Geysir Hot Spring Area provides visitors with a variety of points of interest, including boiling mud pits (which are fascinating, but a little smelly, so be prepared!), more than a dozen hot water blow holes, and the extremely informative Geysir Center.
Many years ago, the main attraction would have been the Great Geysir (Stori-Geysir).
Dormant since 1916, the Great Geysir used to shoot plumes of superheated water as high as 60-80 meters into the air.
Its opening, which is 18 meters wide, and its 20 meter deep chamber are both still visible, even if it is no longer active.
Now the main attraction is Strokkur (the Churn). While Strokkur only shoots water around 30 meters into the air, it is still quite the spectacle.
You don’t even have to wait very long to see the show, with Strokkur erupting regularly around every 10 minutes.
Golden Circle,Gullfoss: Located on the Hvitia (White) River, Gullfoss is a truly spectacular waterfall.
Descending 32 meters in two stages, the untamed power and natural beauty of Gullfoss will surely take your breath away and captivate you. The water is largely from glacial runoff from Iceland’s second largest glacier Langjökull.
Since glacial runoff is filled with all sorts of sediment that the glacier has gathered from the earth, glacial water can often appear brown. However, on a sunny day at Gullfoss, all the sediment gives the water a golden appearance.
The mist kicked up from the powerful falls can also produce rainbows on sunny days. The image of an immense golden waterfall crashing beneath a rainbow is a truly entrancing sight. However, even on an overcast day, Gullfoss’s powerful natural beauty is an unbelievable sight to behold.
Golden Circle, Thingvellir:
Thingvellir is a National Park filled with beautiful scenery (it seems like that is the only
way to describe much of Iceland), of great geologic significance, and steeped in fascinating Icelandic history. Thingvellir, just 49 km east of Reykjavik, is an active volcanic area. The park covers 24,000 ha, 9,270 of which are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It is at Thingvellir that the North American and Eurasian plates diverge, creating a massive rift through the park that is perhaps its most distinguishing feature. Numerous fissures fill the park, with the largest one, Almannagja, creating a legitimate canyon.
Many of the smaller fissures are filled with crystal clear water. One such fissure, Silfra, has become a popular scuba diving and snorkeling destination.
The fissure is filled with melting water from the Langjökull glacier filtering through the lava bed around the fissure.
Divers are drawn to Silfra both for unparalleled visibility, but also for the fact that since it is located right on the tectonic rift, divers are technically diving between two continents. Silfra has been named one of the top 50 diving destinations in the world.
Another result of the rift valley at Thingvellir is the rift valley lake Thingvallvatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland.
While the entirety of the lake does not fall within the confines of the park, it is at the northern shore, within Thingvellir, that the Althing, the original Icelandic parliament, was founded in 930 at the base of Lögberg (Law Rock).
At the time, the owner of the land that now makes up Thingvellir was convicted of murder, thus making his land public.
It was said that it was to be used for assembly proceedings, housing, timber, and grazing. Between this and the fact that the location was easilyaccessible from the most populous areas at the time, modern day Thingvellir was seen as the perfect location for such a parliament to meet.
The Althing was the supreme legislative authority in Iceland from when it was first settled in 930, until 1271. It was there that laws were made, legal actions were brought, the calendar was agreed, and any other announcement that concerned the nation was made.
It is said that the formation of the Althing coincides with the formation of the nation of Iceland and the history of the Icelandic Commonwealth goes nearly hand in hand with the history of the Althing.
Information on the history, geology, and other activities available at Thingvellir can be found at the Thingvellir Centre.
No matter what you are looking for, whether it be stunning natural scenery, recreation, or interesting history, the Golden Circle provides you with something to tickle your fancy.
The excitement of the geysers at Geysir, the jaw-dropping scale and power of Gullfoss, and the endless recreation, scenery, geology, and history at Thingvellir is the perfect way to experience everything Iceland has to offer all in one day.
A truly essential trip for for anyone visiting Iceland.