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The Golden Circle.

The bread and butter of tourism in Iceland.

Golden Circle, Iceland

This popular 300 km loop from Reykjavik into central Iceland is the single most popular tour people take in the country. The route typically takes groups to Þingvellir National Park, Gulfoss waterfall, and the geothermally active valley of Haukadalur. Some tours also include stops at the Kerið volcano crater, Skálholt church, or even the Langjökull glacier if you package the Golden Circle with winter activities like snowmobiling.

I did just that.

I signed up for the Pearl Tour with Mountaineers of Iceland, which included not only the major Golden Circle sites in a super jeep, but also was supposed to include snowmobiling on the Langjökull glacier.

Yes, snowmobiling. ON A GLACIER.

Golden Circle, Iceland

However, due to a big blizzard blowing in the night before and snow still falling heavily on the morning of my tour up in the country’s higher elevations, we had to scratch the glacier and go snowmobiling in the lava fields a bit closer to Reykjavik.

I certainly wasn’t complaining, though, as this would mean more time at the Golden Circle sites later.

After a very quick lesson, we set out over the lava fields. Snow was still falling heavily — so heavily in fact that it was almost like we were on another planet.

Snowmobiling in Iceland

The winter gear the company gave us to keep us warm and dry even had trouble doing its job — I spent the rest of the day with very wet jeans. But it was so worth it.

The sun even decided to peek out of the clouds by the end of our ride — a testament to just how volatile Iceland’s weather can be.

Snowmobiling in Iceland

 

Þingvellir National Park 

After snowmobiling, our next stop was Þingvellir National Park, on the shore of Þingvallavatn lake. This site is important to Iceland for a few reasons.

Firstly, Þingvellir is the site of Europe’s oldest Parliament. In the year 930 AD (less than 100 years after the Vikings settled Iceland), Icelanders held their very first meeting of Parliament, or Alþingi (Althing), in Þingvellir. Partly for this reason, Þingvellir was named Iceland’s first national park around 1930.

Þingvellir National Park, Iceland

Þingvellir National Park, Iceland

But the coolest thing about Þingvellir (in my opinion, at least), is that it sits in a rift valley on the Mid-Atlantic ridge, and is one of only two places in the world where you can see two of the earth’s tectonic plates above the ground. Here, the North American and Eurasian plates are moving apart from each other at a steady pace of about 2 cm per year. This constant movement only adds to Iceland’s very “active” nature geologically.

Þingvellir National Park, Iceland

Along with oogling the tectonic plates, another popular activity here is SCUBA diving or snorkleing in Þingvallavatn lake, which is Iceland’s largest natural lake. At Silfra fissure, you can actually swim in between the two tectonic plates in some of the clearest water you will find anywhere in the world. The water comes from nearby glaciers, and therefore is very clean — and very cold — year-round.

Þingvellir National Park, Iceland

 

Gullfoss

After Þingvellir, our small group headed to Gullfoss waterfall (“Golden falls”), one of the most well-known waterfalls in Iceland. This double waterfall, with its blue-green water and multiple viewpoints, is impressive — much more impressive in person that I expected it to be.

Gullfoss, Iceland

Unfortunately, another freak snowstorm kept most of us from lingering at the falls. We sought refuge in the nearby cafe instead, warming up with some delicious lamb soup.

Gullfoss, Iceland

 

Haukadalur

From Gullfoss, it was on to Haukadalur geothermal valley, which is home to the geysers Geysir and Strokkur.

Haukadalur, Iceland

It’s actually here that the term “geyser” comes from. Upon seeing these erupting pools of hot water for the first time, Europeans had no word to describe them (they had yet to see them in Yellowstone or New Zealand yet). They asked the Icelanders what they were called — and hence some form of “geyser” began to be used around the world.

Haukadalur, Iceland
Geysir actually comes from the Old Norse word “geysa,” which means “to gush.” Geysir, therefore, is often referred to as the “daddy” geyser. He used to erupt quite regularly, but has quieted down quite a bit in his old age. These days, the show is put on by Strokkur, which erupts roughly once every 4-7 minutes.

Strokkur geyser, Iceland

Obviously, we all stuck around to see at least 3 eruptions.

 

Icelandic Horses

On out way out of Haukadalur, we stopped to visit with some friendly Icelandic horses. Our guide for the day, Sven, has horses himself, and was very excited to introduce us to some random horses on the side of the road. (More to come on these cuddly guys in another post.)

Icelandic horses

 

Kerið Volcanic Crater

Our last stop of the day was at Kerið, an impressive volcanic crater lake. Not all Golden Circle tours include a stop at this site, but I was very excited that ours did.

Kerið Volcanic Crater, Iceland

The crater is actually the intact caldera of a volcano that erupted about 3,000 years ago and has since filled with ground water. Its rare for a caldera to be so well-preserved after an eruption, but scientists think that Kerið was actually a cone volcano that emptied its magma, and that the cone then collapsed inward (instead of exploding outward).

The red volcanic dirt and rock here makes you feel like you’re on Mars, and the fact that the lake was frozen was an added bonus.

Kerið Volcanic Crater, Iceland

 

To Super Jeep or Not?

The Pearl Tour offered by Mountaineers of Iceland is conducted in a super jeep with massive tires, meaning your tour group is confined to about 10 or so people. Yes, these small group tours are more expensive that the Golden Circle bus tours you can book with other companies, but I would argue that they are much, much better.

Not only can you go places buses can’t in a super jeep, you also get the added bonus of getting to know your guide and tour mates much better.

Iceland

Either way, though, the Golden Circle is definitely a worthwhile tour in Iceland.

——

Which of these sites would YOU be most excited to see in person?

 

*Note: I received a 50% discount on the Pearl Tour from Mountaineers of Iceland, which was negotiated by the lovely Susanna of ICELANDisHOT.

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42 Responses to Iceland’s Golden Circle

  1. This looks like a great tour — especially the geyser part! Mountaineers of Iceland looks like the way to go — off-roading in a jeep seems like a no-brained.

    I’m on the fence as whether or not to do a Golden Circle tour or spend that day touring another part of Iceland (like the Snaefellness Peninsula). I’ll be visiting Pingvellir National Park anyway when I go snorkeling. Still not quite sure…
    Adventurous Kate recently posted..A World of Exploding Colors

    • DangerousBiz says:

      It WAS a really good tour! I did 2 super jeep tours and 1 bus tour while I was there, and this one was definitely my favorite (the other super jeep one was good, too, except we literally almost died trying to get to a glacier… more on that later…).

      If you’re on the fence about the Golden Circle, maybe you could consider one of the “Gullfoss and Geyser Direct” bus tours I saw advertised there — they just take you to the waterfall and geysers and then back to Reykjavik, so it only takes a few hours as opposed to all day.

      There’s SO much to choose from in Iceland, it was very hard to pick!

  2. Erik says:

    So Cool seeing these sights in the winter- It looks like there are some different options than the tour I took almost 13 years ago (I’m old).

    I also think the coolest thing about Þingvellir is the meeting of the two tectonic plates. I used my pictures from here when teaching a science lesson on it!
    Erik recently posted..Silly Saturday- Ashley’s Belgian Beer Festival

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I think different tour companies go to different sites, so that could also have something to do with it!

      So cool that you were able to use your Iceland photos for a science lesson! It’s definitely a unique country.

  3. The more I read about your Iceland posts, the more I seriously want to visit the place, like in 2-weeks kind of ASAP! Lol Your pictures are simply amazing Amanda! Looking forward to reading about the Iceland horses… they look a bit… unusual, to say the least
    Antoinette B. recently posted..Friday Fotos: An American Natural Wonder

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Awesome!! If you book that ticket anytime soon, you’ll have to let me know. ;)

      And the horses are SO CUTE! But yes, very unique. I’ll have a post about them hopefully sometime next week!

  4. Gaelyn says:

    This quite an adventure. The volcano is very cool.

    Question about your Suffusion Theme, which I also have. How did you get that big blue comment button on there?
    Gaelyn recently posted..SSS2–Century plant

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Iceland is FULL of adventure!

      As far as the Suffusion question, I’m not sure which button you’re talking about? I just use the “blue” preset color theme! Lol.

  5. Bernadett says:

    What an action-packed day! It must have been amazing! And the jeep was huge! :)

    The letter Þ that they have in a couple of their words you mentioned, is that like a p? I saw Adventurous Kate was referring to “Pingvellir”, and I’m guessing she’s done her research. :)
    Bernadett recently posted..Cápatámadások

    • DangerousBiz says:

      The tires on the jeep were inSANE! Lol, but it was really fun to ride in.

      And as for the “Þ” letter in Icelandic, it’s actually pronounced like a “th.” Icelandic is so confusing… lol.

  6. Pamela says:

    Sounds amazing. Some of the photos remind me of growing up in Alaska. I’d love the geysers.
    Pamela recently posted..Preparing My Car for a Road-Trip

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I haven’t spent much time in Alaska, but I can imagine the similarities! Seeing the geysers was very cool, even as someone who’s seen some before elsewhere in the world!

  7. Love your pictures and your site! I’m so glad you’re doing an Iceland series and I’m bookmarking your posts as great references. We will be there in mid-June with two kids in tow. We’ll be renting a car and driving the Golden Circle though. I am most looking looking forward to seeing the geysers, Gullfoss and those adorable horses. Glad to hear you had a wonderful trip.
    Mary @ The World Is A Book recently posted..Touring Aruba: Cacti and Beaches

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Awesome! Iceland in June should be lovely. And good that your renting a car — that’s definitely the best way to see this great country!

  8. I commend you on being able to spell all those Icelandic words and finding the right characters to use! Iceland looks like such a spectacular, wild place. They just added a direct flight there from my hometown, so hopefully that means a trip will be in the works soon!
    John of Travel Rinse Repeat recently posted..Travel Rinse Repeat Roundup – April 1st, 2012

    • DangerousBiz says:

      You should definitely take advantage of that new direct flight!!

      And, as for the correct spellings and characters… that’s what Wikipedia is for! Lol.

  9. What an amazing journey you had! I would love to go to Iceland and your images and story now make me want to go even more. I really like the image of the geysir, it really shows the action well.
    Anne McKinnell recently posted..Before The Shutter: Free eBook Launched Today

  10. Iceland AND winter wonderland? This is one of my biggest travel dreams and I’m drooling over your post here – but don’t worry, only metaphorically :) Can you go in a boat if you want to be in the water between the tectonic plates yet rather not freeze to death?
    Ayelet – All Colores recently posted..Video of the Week: A Drive through Heaven on Earth – Glacier National Park, Argentina

    • DangerousBiz says:

      I don’t know about boating between the two plates… I didn’t hear anything about it, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t! And, those who do go snorkeling/diving get really hefty wetsuits or drysuits, so I’m told it’s really not that cold!

  11. EurotripTips says:

    Wow! I love the landscape of the Golden Circle, so unusual and out-of-this-world!

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Yes, there was definitely more than one time that we all commented that it was like being on another planet or the moon! So cool though.

  12. Now that’s a different way to explore a glacier. Love the photo of the horses.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..The Driest Place on the Planet is Flooding

    • DangerousBiz says:

      We didn’t actually get to explore a glacier because of the blizzard, unfortunately. But yes, it WOULD be really cool to snowmobile on one!

      And stayed tuned for more cute horses soon!

  13. Curt says:

    How lovely that you got to see all these sights in the winter with snow everywhere! It’s a very different scene in July.
    Curt recently posted..Rental car nightmare

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Yes, I’m sure it looks quite different in the summer! I quite liked it in the winter, though. Not too crowded, and the dusting of snow everywhere was very pretty!

  14. Kate says:

    Great pics! Looking at some of them was like looking at another planet. The horses are so beautiful and the landscapes are just amazing. I’ve always wanted to visit Iceland and this makes me want to go even more.
    Kate recently posted..I’d rather be traveling! What to do when you want to travel but can’t.

  15. [...] for something a bit safer the next evening. I met up with two Australian girls who had been on my Golden Circle tour the day before, and we headed down to the old harbor to find the Sea Baron. This little restaurant [...]

  16. Arti says:

    Spellbound! Such a fantastic view, such natural beauty.
    Arti recently posted..Yamuna River: Ghats of Mathura – Vishram Ghat

  17. Elise Walsh says:

    Wow, Iceland is insanely beautiful. But I do not think I would be swimming in any lake, no matter how clean, in those cold waters.
    Elise Walsh recently posted..I want to ‘Go with Oh’ to London

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Haha, I’m with you on that one! Though, if you do go snorkeling/diving at Silfa, they give you wetsuits/drysuits to keep you warm. However, one girl went snorkeling and said water somehow came through her drysuit and got her feet all wet, so they must not work 100% of the time! Brrr.

  18. Kelly says:

    Gorgeous! A friend just recommended your site to me as Im heading to Iceland this September, and am loving reading about your experiences there. Thanks for sharing!
    Kelly recently posted..Baked kale chips

    • DangerousBiz says:

      Awesome! Iceland is such a cool country. If you have any specific questions that I might be able to help you with, please don’t hesitate to ask!

  19. AmyEliza says:

    This looks stunning! I’d love to go snowmobiling there!
    AmyEliza recently posted..ONTARIO SNOWMOBILE

  20. Thor says:

    The golden circle is for sure worth 10 star.
    Try to go over summer time also.

  21. [...] Iceland’s Golden Circle in the Winter - A Dangerous Business [...]

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