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Touring Iceland’s Golden Circle

If you’ve only got time for one tour on your trip to Iceland make it a tour of The Golden Circle. Why this tour? You’ll experience three forces of nature in one unforgettable day – Gullfoss, geysers and geological rifts. This really is one of the best Iceland tours.

Iceland’s Golden Circle route in Southern Iceland, covers about 300 km starting in Reykjavík, before panning into central Iceland and back again taking in en-route the rugged beauty and power of mother nature in all her Icelandic glory.

The sky was still deep blue when we left Hotel Ion at 9am, around dawn, on an icy February morning.  Visiting Iceland in winter has its bonuses though – you get to see the sunrise without having to get up at silly o’clock!

Þingvellir National Park, Iceland
Thingvellir national park

Þingvellir National Park

Our first stop was Þingvellir (pronounced Thingvellir) National Park, home to the world’s oldest parliament where the Alþingi general assembly was founded in the year 930 AD and carried on convening until 1798.

Þingvellir means ‘Parliament Plains’ and the views across them are breathtaking; even on a dusky morning when a vicious wind whips your face and a weak sun struggles to light the landscape their beauty shines through.

Þingvellir National Park, Iceland

The whole area is part of a fissure ribboning through Iceland where you can clearly see the drifting in the tectonic plate boundaries of North America and Eurasia – The Mid-Atlantic Ridge.   The rift widens every year by a few millimetres and the faults in the earth’s crust filled with deep crystal-clear waters are clearly visible.

Þingvellir National Park, Iceland

Great Geysir, Strokkur, Litli Geysir

All over Iceland wafts of eggy smelling sulphur are a constant reminder of the activity going on beneath the surface.  Hillsides and plains are wreathed in mists from steaming springs and bubbling mud pools but it’s the geyser field, Haukadalur, that really shows off the country’s geothermal power to full effect.

Litli Geysir, Iceland

Great Geysir, mother of Icelandic spouts, and responsible for the naming all other geysers worldwide, is a little capricious and doesn’t want to play anymore – well maybe occasionally after an earthquake or two – but when she does, she blows an imprssive 200ft skywards.

Much more reliable is nearby Strokkur  (the churn) who likes to show off and happily performs every 5-8 minutes.  We stood and waited while Strokkur rippled, rolled, taunted and tantalised until suddenly, the second I looked away, spewed upwards with such force it made me jump out of my skin! 

I just about got the shot – well, okay, half a shot and then it was gone in a wisp of vapour.

Strokkur Geyser, Iceland

There’s a restaurant nearby where you can get a warming coffee or a steaming bowl of Icelandic lamb stew to fend off the shivers.  There’s a souvenir shop too – tourist prices but definitely worth a look at the fabulous homemade Icelandic crafts.

Gullfoss Waterfall

The third A-lister on Iceland’s Golden Circle tour was the majestic Gullfoss or The Golden Falls.  We heard Gullfoss before we saw it and as we carefully made our way down the icy path the thundering noise of the River Hvita filled my head and a chill spray misted the air.  Gullfoss is magnificent and despite the freezing weather I stood mesmerised.

Gullfoss Waterfall, Iceland

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The powerful river tipped over the first step and roared towards me thundering and foaming, hints of turquoise shining beneath the surface, before pitching over the crevice and exploding into the canyon below leaving me feeling completely alive and invigorated.  And very, very tiny.

Gullfoss Waterfall, Iceland f

I had a very brief taste of Iceland and fell in love with its wild, rugged beauty, the contrasting textures and colours of the landscape, diversity of experience and the extreme forces of nature.  The Golden Circle encompassed all of that, and more, in one unforgettable day.

Ideally I’d have taken an Icelandic road trip but if you don’t have time this is the next best alternative. Check out Adam Biernat’s website for some beautiful Iceland photography

My video (below) has some Iceland highlights including a helicopter ride over the black sands of Vik and some of the country’s most beautiful landscapes and glaciers. Excuse the wobbly bits – it’s a bit tricky in a helicopter!

Touring Iceland's Golden Circle

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Tuesday 29th of September 2015

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Monday 31st of August 2015

[…] have shifted. It was good to see the Icelandic scenery in the summer – last time I stood and looked at this view it was early February with a very wintery looking scene and a vicious […]

Richard

Sunday 22nd of March 2015

I love that video, what an experience from a chopper! I loved the Golden Circle tour too, but went on an organised trip so was a bit frustrated at only having about half an hour at each stop :(

Suzanne Jones

Tuesday 24th of March 2015

We were a bit rushed too - I'd have liked more time to wander around at each stop.

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