The Golden Circle has for a long time been popular among visitors to Iceland. And for a good reasons, it includes the most popular natural wonders of South Iceland, Geysir geyser, Gullfoss waterfall and the majestic Þingvellir.
The Golden Circle showcases some of the most beautiful natural wonders of Iceland. Along the way you can see glaciers and volcanoes, not to mention the incredible Þingvellir. This route has been a favorite among tourists for years. We offer a great selection of various tours including the Golden Circle.
The route is about 300 km (190 mi) long, from Reykjavik into the southern uplands and back again.
Geysir – the original geyser
A favorite stop along the Golden Circle is the highly active Geysir Hot Spring Area with boiling mud pits, exploding geysers and the lively Strokkur which spouts water 30 meters (100 ft) into the air every few minutes. The newly opened Geysir Center offers exhibits and informative presentations year round.
The geothermal field is believed to have a surface area of approximately 3 km². Most of the springs are aligned along a 100m wide strip of land running in the same direction as the tectonic lines in the area, from south to southwest. The strip is 500m long and culminates near what once was the seat of the lords of Haukadalur.
The area became active more than 1000 years ago and comprises more than a dozen hot water blow holes. Although Geysir is less active these days, it did lend its name to hot springs all over the world. It was the first geyser described in a printed source and the first known to modern Europeans.
Geysir and history
The oldest account of Geysir in Haukadalur Valley date back to 1294, earthquakes in southern Iceland caused changes in the geothermal area and created several new hot springs. Researches in the 19th century showed that Geysir could reach the height of 170 meters! Seismic actvity in the area has effect on Geysir and after being dormant for years, Geysir was revived by an earthquake in 2000 and erupted for a couple of times a day for a few years. Now, Geysir is mostly dormant, though other hot springs in the Geysir geothermal area are quite active.
A truly unique experience offered is Geysir or ‘hot spring bread’, where visitors assist a chef to boil eggs outside in a hot spring, and dig up rye bread that has been ‘baking’ underground for 24 hours.
The great Geysir is not the only geyser in the Geysir hot spring area. The most active geyser in the area is called Strokkur. It sprouts hot water as high as 30 meters into the air every few minutes or so.
A ride along the Golden Circle in the south reveals the breathtaking Gullfoss (Golden Waterfalls) where traversing a narrow path provides close-up views of the massive, two-tiered waterfall below. In winter the view is spectacular when the waterfall freezes over into undulating waves of glistening ice. On sunny days visitors are treated to thousands of rainbows, a natural reaction with the clouds of spray from the tumbling falls.
Gullfoss is one of the most popular tourist attraction in Iceland and part of the Golden Circle, and the waterfall is by many considered one of the most beautiful waterfall in Iceland. It is situated in the upper part of the Hvita river. The water cascades down in two stages, one 11 m (36 ft) high, and the other 21 m (69 ft), into the 2,5 km (1.6 mi) long crevasse below. This crevasse was created at the end of the Ice Age by catastrophic flood waves and is lengthened by 25 cm (9.8 in) a year by the constant erosion from the water.
Plans for harnessing Gullfoss for Electricity
In the early 20th century there was much speculation about harnessing Gullfoss for electricity. Foreign investors, who rented Gullfoss indirectly from the owners, Tomas Tomasson and Halldor Halldorsson, wanted to build a hydroelectric power plant, which would have destroyed Gullfoss forever. Sigridur Tomasdottir, the daughter of Tomas Tomasson, was fiercely against this as she loved the waterfall so much. She took on many long and difficult journeys, walking all the way to Reykjavik (120 kilometres one way) to further her cause. When all else had failed she threatened to throw herself in the waterfall in protest. Fortunately it did not have to come to that. With the help of her lawyer, Sveinn Bjornsson who later became the first president of Iceland, they managed to have the contract annulled and Gullfoss became the property of the people of Iceland.
Sigridur’s memorial, by sculptor Rikhardur Jonsson, sits by the waterfall and is visited each year by thousands of tourists.
Gullfoss is also a popular photostop during winter, since it offers a great setting for a beautiful photo of the majestic Northern Lights as they dance across the sky. Gullfoss has also been the location for some films and even music video, as it features in the music video “Heaven” by the American rock band Live. You can see both the waterfall and the 32 meter deep crevice, the river plunges into.
Thingvellir national park
Thingvellir is a favourite stop among travellers along the Golden Circle route. It has been a National Park in Iceland since 1928 and was named a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 2004. When Viking settlers arrived in the 10th century it was the site they chose as the meeting place of Althing, the world’s first parliament.
The location may seem a bit out of the way, but the unique geology created a natural amphitheatre perfect for public speaking including the high rock wall of Logberg (Law Rock), where the laws of the land would be recited from memory.
Aside from its historic interest, Thingvellir holds a special appeal for nature lovers. It is the visible site of the mid-Atlantic Ridge where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, and are being pulled apart at a rate of 2 centimetres (nearly an inch) per year, creating the Thingvellir Rift Valley. The geology here is not only interesting to learn about but also spectacular to behold.
In winter if also offers a great view, especially after dark when the Northern Lights reign supreme on the sky. When snow covers the lave field and the days are short, the landscape becomes almost surreal and offers some great photo opportunities. Thingvellir has been a favorite spot among professional and amature photographers for years, and for a good reason.
According to a law, passed in 1928, Thingvellir shall always be the property of the Icelandic nation, under the preservation of the Alþing. The National Park was formerly founded in 1930, marking the thousand-year anniversary of the Alþingi. Later the park was expanded to protect the incredible and diverse nature of the park and was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2004.
Often added points of interest
Many Golden Circle tours also offer stops by Skalholt Cathedral, Seljalandsfoss waterfall (the one you can walk behind) or Hellisheidi geothermal power plant. Make sure you check out the itinerary of your tour, in order to see if the tour stops by the attractions you would like to see.
If doesn’t matter when you visit, seeing these places whether in summer or winter, it is an unforgettable experience and we fully recommend the Golden Circle.