The Golden Circle road trip, commencing from Reykjavík, is a full-day circular tour highly acclaimed for showcasing Iceland’s most iconic natural wonders. This renowned journey encompasses visits to ancient volcanoes, magnificent waterfalls cascading down with force, and impressive geysers erupting with steaming hot water.
|Reykjavík (Harpa Car Park)||Reykjadalur Car Park||49.8||45|
|Reykjadalur Car Park||Kerið Car Park||27.3||25|
|Kerið Car Park||Faxafoss Car Park||35.4||26|
|Faxafoss Car Park||Gullfoss Car Park||18.7||23|
|Gullfoss Car Park||Haukadalur Car Park||9.7||9|
|Haukadalur Car Park||Þingvellir Car Park||53.9||45|
|Þingvellir Car Park||Reykjavík (Harpa Car Park)||54.2||50|
The Valley of Reykjadalur [Valley of Steam] is a geothermal area situated within the remains of an extinct volcano. Accessible via a 3-kilometer hike on a gravel path leading uphill from the car park of the town of Hveragerði, this trail meanders amidst hot springs, mud pools and small waterfalls. The most popular attraction of the valley is the hot spring where visitors can indulge in a relaxing bathing experience. However, there are no facilities available, so in cold temperatures, getting rid of wet clothes could be uncomfortable. Additionally, guided riding tours on Icelandic horses, the same breed introduced by Norse settlers, are available to explore the picturesque Reykjadalur Valley.
Kerið is a volcanic crater lake situated at the northern end of a collection of craters called Tjarnarhólar. The lake’s water has an opaque bluish appearance due to the minerals present in the soil. The caldera offers different captivating views from various angles. There is a pathway along the edge of the caldera and also access to the lake at the bottom.
To prepare for the renowned Gullfoss, visitors can make a quick stop at Faxafoss [Waterfall of Faxi], a waterfall on River Tungufljót. The waterfall is 80 meters wide and 7 meters high, and it is possible to approach it closely and feel the refreshing drizzle from the cascading water.
One of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls, Gullfoss [Golden Falls] is a magnificent waterfall in the canyon of the River Hvítá. The waterfall derives its name from the golden hue that frequently illuminates its meltwater, originating from the Langjökull Glacier. The awe-inspiring display of nature’s raw power is evident in the intense force of the water cascading through two distinct falls, measuring 11 and 21 meters in height. Exploring all the vantage points is highly recommended to fully appreciate the diverse facets of this dramatic manifestation, from up-close encounters to panoramic vistas.
Gullfoss may not bear its current appearance had it not been for the efforts of Sigríður Tómasdóttir (1871–1957). During that time, the waterfall belonged to her family’s farm. When foreign investors sought to lease the land with intentions to exploit Gullfoss for electricity generation, she courageously stood in their way. Her unwavering resistance has positioned her as Iceland’s inaugural environmentalist, credited for preserving the natural integrity of Gullfoss.
The Haukadalur geothermal area is renowned for its geysers, namely Geysir and Strokkur. Deep underground, magma heats the meltwater from the Langjökull Glacier, causing it to surge to the surface through vents. Geysir, the largest geyser in the area, provided the term ‘geyser’ to the world. However, it currently lies dormant, with eruptions occurring only after several years. When active, it can propel water up to 70 meters into the sky. While Strokkur is the most active geyser in the area, spouting scalding water up to 30 meters high every five to ten minutes. A massive bubble formation serves as a precursor, signaling an imminent eruption.
Þingvellir National Park holds immense geological, historical, and cultural significance. Nestled within a rift valley, it serves as a boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, this ridge predominantly lies at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, but certain Icelandic locations, including this park, feature parts of it above sea level. The slow divergence of the plates, progressing a few centimeters each year, has given rise to fissures within the lava fields. Silfra, a renowned fissure, garners attention from divers worldwide due to its remarkably clear water and geological marvels. Despite the year-round icy temperatures, the allure of Silfra remains strong. The vast Þingvallavatn lake within the park receives its water from the Langjökull Glacier, filtered through the porous lava fields along its path. The journey from the glacier to the lake spans 20-30 years, resulting in pristine water conditions.
Numerous pivotal events in Iceland’s history took place within this remarkable natural environment, including the establishment of the Alþingi [National Parliament of Iceland] in 930 AD, approximately six decades after the island’s initial settlement, the adoption of Christianity around 1000 AD, and the foundation of the modern Icelandic republic in 1944. Notably, the Alþingi stands as one of the world’s oldest parliamentary institutions. During the Old Commonwealth period (930-1262), the Alþingi convened here each summer, with Lögberg [Law Rock] serving as its central point of legislative and judicial power. People from all corners of the country gathered at Þingvellir, where chieftains held meetings, peddlers, sword-sharpeners, tanners and ale-brewers sold their wares and services, and clowns performed for the assembled visitors.
However, as the Old Commonwealth dissolved, Þingvellir’s prominence waned, eventually reducing it to a simple court of law. Over the centuries, the sinking of the rift valley caused flooding of the assembly area and the formation of new fissures. Consequently, the site was abandoned in 1798. The Alþingi itself was abolished by a decree from the Danish crown in 1800 but reconvened in Reykjavík in 1845. However, Þingvellir’s symbolic significance in the collective consciousness of Icelanders led to its restoration as a venue for national ceremonies in the 20th century. Notable events such as the millennial celebrations of the Settlement in 1874 and the founding of the Alþingi in 1930 were held at this historic site. Þingvellir National Park was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004 due to its outstanding universal value in terms of both geological features and historical significance.