A must do in Iceland is definitely the Golden Circle.
You can choose to book a guided bus/jeep tour to cover the Golden Circle, but even better is to rent a car and drive yourself. This is a fool-proof mini-roadtrip that everyone will be able to do and enjoy. And best of all, when driving this route, you will see Iceland’s most amazing sights!
Even though the Golden Circle is a very popular and cheap tourist route, still you will be able to enjoy Iceland’s peace and nature without having the feeling that it is too touristic.
You can easily cover the Golden Circle in one day, if you leave early enough.
Of course, the time you need will mostly depend on how much time you like to spend around the “attractions”, since the driving time is “only” about 3 hours.
So what is there to see?
When departing from Reykjavik, the first stop will probably be Thingvellir National Park (UNESCO World Heritage Site). This site is nicely indicated and there is plenty of free parking space where you can easily leave your car. As soon as you park your car, you will already have a great viewpoint over the National Park, but when going to the left you will be able to enter the park and enjoy everything from close by.
Actually the Thingvellir National Park is mostly known for the Icelandic Parliament that was founded there (the building you will find in the middle of the park).
However, what I liked most about this place, is the beauty of nature. Iceland is situated on the tectonic plate boundaries of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which means that in this specific place you will be able to witness some amazing natural wonders due to former earthquakes and eruptions.
The water in the lakes is beautifully clear and you can easily see the bottom of the lake. At a certain bridge you will see lots of coins in the water. This place is called Peningagjá, which means Money Fault. Officially there is no specific reason why people have been throwing coins in the lake (merely as a symbol of the great natural resource that the water in fact is), but I was told that if you see your own coin landing on the bottom of the lake, you can make a wish. Unfortunately, the water got to blurry when throwing in my coin, so no wish for me 😉
We also saw lots of people diving in the water. If we would have had more time, I think it would have been worth doing this as well! As long as you have the right suit (since the water is freezing cold), I am sure you will be able to see some amazing things under water.
Thingvellir has its own website, which is definitely worth visiting before going to Thingvellir National Park!
The following stop is my personal favourite, Geysir and Strokkur at Haukadalur geothermal area! Did you for example know that all of the other geysers in the world are called “geyser” because of this nataral wonder that was called Geysir by the Icelandic people? Personally, I thought this was going to be an over-crowded place where you would have to follow the tourists.
Nothing is less true. This area is very well preserved, even though it is free of charge and there is nobody really checking what tourists do. You can go very close to the geysers and enjoy the beauty and the power of nature over and over again.
There are several hot springs and mini geysers (you see the water boiling and steaming) in this area, but the most amazing thing will of course always be the big geyser.
You would have to wait about 5-10 minutes to see the water shooting in the air. For me, it was the first time in a lifetime that I saw this, and I just couldn’t get enough of it! Apparently, the geyser that is currenlty erupting is Strokkur. Unfortunately the real Geysir doesn’t spout anymore 🙁
I would advise you to take your time for this area. You can for example hike higher up the hill, and enjoy some breathtaking views over the (erupting) geyser.
Furthermore, by staying longer, you will have moments when you will be completely alone around the active geyser, since most of the tour buses just come to see the geyser spout once and then leave again.
On the other side of the road (where you will also have to park your car) you will find a big restaurant and store, where you can find lots of typical things from Iceland.
Since there are not that many shops in Iceland, it is definitely worth having a look.
From Geysir you will drive further to Gullfoss. We have already discussed the beauty of waterfalls in Iceland here, but as a small reminder, I can tell you that the name of the Golden Circle refers to the Gullfoss waterfall, which literally means Golden Waterfall. It is better to take a rain jacket with you, since you will be able to enjoy the power of the waterfall by feeling the water on your face! 🙂
Next stop would be Kerid Crater Lake. We thought we would never be able to find it, but again, it was nicely indicated (small sign though) and there was enough space to park the car.
You can walk on top of the crater, which allows you to really experience the volcano and crater, with its beautiful vegetation.
However, do not forget to also go down in the crater, where you can walk around the lake. This won’t take too long, but is again a very nice volcanic experience.
There are of course many more crater lakes in Iceland, but this one is really amazing and on your Golden Circle route! 🙂
For us, this was the last stop on the Golden Circle.
Some tours also stop in Skaholt (where you have Skaholt Church), Hveragerdi (a nice historical town) and Nesjavellir (where you have the Geothermal Power Plant).
I have not visited this Power Plant myself, but seeing it form the outside was already quite impressive!
On the road you will see many more amazing viewpoints and you can easily stop wherever you want.
Hot springs will be present everywhere and the locals will often be baking the famous and delicious black bread, using the hot ground as an oven. Once you have tasted this bread, you will for sure be eating it the rest of your trip! 😉 You can also boil eggs in the hot springs, just to show you how hot the water really is.
This day trip is more than worth it and I can advise everyone to rent a car and self-drive the Golden Circle! You will not be disappointed… 🙂
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