The Golden Circle route in southern Iceland is a popular tourist trail that covers some of the most wonderful natural landmarks of the country. Shorter than the Ring Road that encircles the nation, the Golden Circle is perfect for those who are short on time and yet do not want to be left out on witnessing Iceland’s most stunning features.
One can either self-drive or join an organized tour to explore the various stopovers along the route. However, the most important attractions on the Golden Circle are the Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfalls, the geothermal area in Haukadalur containing the Geysir and Strokkur geysers. Other features include the Kerio volcanic crater, Hverageroi, Skalholt cathedral and the Hellisheioarvirkjun and Nesjavellir geothermal plants.
WHAT TO SEE
Thingvellir National Park
The Thingvellir National Park is the first national park of Iceland and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The fascinating geology of the area is fraught with historical references making the park a great folklore and landscape destination. The park is situated between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates and hence the Mid Atlantic Rift Valley is visible above sea level here alone. The magma raised from between the plates several years ago, is what constitutes Iceland today and the dramatic realization of the formation of the land is more than evident while visiting the park. The park is full of lava rocks and volcanoes that rise and surround the country’s largest natural lake, Thingvallavatn. Moss and birch trees now cover the lava fields whereas the rifts formed by continued earthquakes are filled with water melting from the Langjokull glacier. The water then flows underground through the lava rocks towards Lake Thingvallavatn. Thus the crystal clear waters are perfect for snorkeling and diving, particularly at Silfra which is famous for snorkeling. The underwater here is immensely exciting and worth a shot at.
The Almannagja gorge leading to the absolutely stunning Oxararfoss waterfall is a sight to behold. Besides the natural wonders, the park is also the location for the first ever Parliament of Iceland in 930 AD. 48 chieftains met here to discuss law and court proceedings. The Parliament has since then remained only later moved to Reykjavik.
The geothermal area at Haukadalur is about 50 minutes away from Thingvellir and as it approaches one can see the change in the geology and activity within the earth manifesting itself on the surface. The village of Laugarvatn is one such example where chimneys of smoke and steaming vent are a common sight, so much so, that the village also has a spa which is heated by the currents of water below the surface of the earth. At Haukadalur itself, however, the steam vents are more significant and visible from large distances. There are many hot pools, fumaroles and the land is covered with various mineral deposits making it an impressive landscape view.
The Great Geysir erupts rarely however, the Strokkur erupts after every 5-10 minutes sprinkling water from 20-40 ft below in the air.
Gullfoss Waterfall is one of the most gorgeous waterfalls of the country. At a distance of 10mins from Geysir, this stunning cascade plunges into an ancient valley from a height of 32m. The surrounding view of the waterfall is no less splendid, with the outstretched fields and landscapes that reach all the way to the Langjokull ice sheet making the area look like a wonderful painting. The waterfall is also known for its magnificent rainbows that arch across the powerful flow of water making it sight to remember and behold.
The Hvita River that makes this wondrous waterfall is also excellent for rafting. A memorial dedicated to the feisty Sigridur, a woman who stood up to counter investors from making a hydroelectric plant hence spoiling the pristine beauty of nature, is located atop the waterfall.
Besides the three main attractions of the Golden Circle the other features worth checking out if one has time are the Lake Kerid and Blue Lagoon. The Kerid Lake lies within the crater and one can reach it by simply hiking down the crater’s slope. The emerald of the lake against the red and green slopes is magical, to say the least.
On the other hand, one can also easily club the Golden Circle tour with a cultural tour, tasting the Icelandic traditional cuisine and interacting with the locals en route.
The Golden Circle is hence a perfect getaway for those looking, to sum up, some of the most wonderful attractions of the country in a short span of time. With each destination en route easily accessible and well connected by roads, the journey is as pleasant as each of the stops. The Golden Circle is, therefore, one of Iceland’s best tourist attractions.
How to reach
The Golden Circle when mapped is not exactly a circular route. The three main attractions are in fact more on a linear route. One can change or decide the starting point and work their way through the attractions accordingly, however, the usual route that is taken is as follows:
Start from Reykjavik, reach Thingvellir National Park, to Geysir to finally Gullfoss Waterfall.