Today, I was lucky enough to be invited on the Golden Circle Tour of Iceland with Reykjavik Excursions. It is one of the most popular tours of Iceland and can be done in a day trip from Reykjavik. The Golden Circle consists of three sights of outstanding natural beauty: Thingvellir National Park, (Þingvellir but the Þ is a ‘Th’ in Icelandic), the Geysir Geothermal area and Gullfoss waterfall.
Highlights of the Golden Circle Tour
Our tour guide was the enthusiastic ex-language teacher and now Reykjavik Excursions guide Albert.
On the way to Thingvellir National Park, Albert told us entertaining stories about the mountains as we drove past them. Reykjavik mountain has a plateau and the valleys have been carved into it. It’s an example of a mountain that rose from the ice in the ice age.
At Christmas, the Icelandic people believe that Santa comes down from the mountain!
In Iceland, the also have the ‘Yule lads’ – 13 naughty boys come down the mountain on the 13 nights before Christmas, one each day. If the children of Reykjavik have been good, the boys leave something nice in their shoe. However, naughty children may get a potato or even a rotten one! Each of the boys displays a particular odd behaviour – there is a door slammer, ladle licker and candle snatcher! The father of the boys is evil, the mom eats children and the cat will feast upon you if someone doesn’t get a piece of clothing to wear!
The highest peak of the mountain that you see leaving Reykjavik is a popular skiing area. Heli skiing is possible all the way down to the coastline.
Some of the mountains, of course, are there because it was where a female troll lay down and never got up again! Welcome to Iceland 😉
The Route from Reykjavik to Thingvellir (Þingvellir) National Park
Iceland is located on the Atlantic ridge, where two tectonic plates meet as are being pulled apart. When the ice cap melted, the land was pushed up.
The mountain provides Reykjavik with shelter and a good area for physical exercise – popular with hikers. Locals hike up the mountain or glacier sometimes several times a week to keep fit.
Rift Valley – UNESCO World Heritage Site
UNESCO declared the rift valley in Iceland to be one of the best places in the world to see the division of the plates. The earth’s crust is 32km thick, and therefore, the division of plates is not clear cut like a slice of bread! The earths plates are been pulled gently apart.
In the severe 1876 earthquake, land sunk between 2-3 metres – quite a massive drop! The last earthquake was just a few days ago 4.2 on the Richter scale. However, this could have been due to movement from the volcano that was erupting for 5 months last winter!
This is where the oldest parliament in the world was formed in Iceland in 930AD. This parliament initially took place outdoors. In 1876 the earthquake reduced the area for camping. The Parliament was then moved to Reykjavik where it has been ever since.
Geysir – The Hot Springs and Geothermal Area
The next stop on the Golden Circle tour was Geysir – the hot springs and geothermal area. A word of warning – you will smell sulphur – AKA rotten eggs! The sandy red landscape is indicative of geothermal activity.
This area is famous for it’s muddy springs and geyser. On the walk to the Strokkur geyser, you will see a mini-geyser or ‘litli geysir’.
The temperature of the hot springs is between 80-100 degrees C. Stick to the allocated paths and DO NOT TOUCH THE WATER IN THE SPRINGS!
The white edge of this hot spring is silica. The geothermal area is a result of high temperatures and water pressure to the east of a little mountain called Laugafel.
‘Geysir’ was the first sprouting hot spring ever discovered (which is how ‘Geysers’ actually got their name). Albert likened it to a coffee brewing machine when the boiling water is being pushed up!
The old guy is dormant, probably due to a crack in the earths surface caused by an earthquake, but it’s neighbour, Strokkur, is sprouting every 3-8 minutes.
The Strokkur Geyser was probably my favourite bit of the Golden Circle tour. Everyone waits around the Geyser in a circle and cheers it on! You will hear people counting down, and shouting ‘wooop!’ I think that I stood the wrong side of the Geyser, because when it sprouted, I got a little bit wet!
The Gullfoss waterfall was, to me, even more beautiful than Niagra Falls in Canada. Gullfoss waterfall was created by the river Hvítá, which tumbles into a crevasse approximately 32m deep. The blue colours of the clear water are striking.
The beauty of Gullfoss comes from the fact that it is staged, and often displays a rainbow. And what do you find at the end of the rainbow? A pot of Gold, of course, hence the name of the route – The Golden Circle!
You can see why it is the perfect place for proposals – Albert told us that many occur at this location
Golden Circle Tours with Reykjavik Excursions
There are two Golden Circle Tours that you can book on with Reykjavik Excursions….
Golden Circle Classic 10500 Krona (8 Hours) – This takes the route of the Golden Circle and also includes admission to the multimedia show at the Geysir centre and Friðheimar greenhouse, where you can learn about the greenhouses that use geothermal energy to grow cucumbers, tomatoes and peppers for domestic and tourist demands (9am – 5pm).
Express Golden Circle – Gullfoss, Geysir and Thillingvir 8900 Krona (6 Hours) – This express version of the Golden Circle gives you slightly less time at each location and doesn’t include the Geysir centre and the Friðheimar greenhouse tour, but it is still an excellent version of the Golden Circle. This is particularly suitable if you had an evening at the Northern Lights previously, because it starts at 10.30am instead of 9am. There is also an afternoon tour.
Tips about the Golden Circle Tour
- There are plenty of cafes and toilet stops.
- The Reykjavik Excursions coaches have free WIFI so that you can instantly upload your photos to social media accounts.
- Teenagers 12-15 years 4450 Krona and children 0-11 FREE!
- You can usually book the day before, but but earlier in peak times (May-September). You can book online here.
- It is possible to hire a car and drive the Golden Circle yourself. Make sure that you have maps, compass and GPS. Weather can be unpredictable in Iceland, so check the forecast.
What to Pack for Iceland
Iceland can get cold in winter, and so you definitely want to be thinking about investing in a thermal base layer and thermal socks. A good wind and waterproof mountain jacket and walking boots are essential purchases for Iceland in the winter.
Also remember to pack your hat, scarf and gloves. Regarding specialist equipment such as crampons and diving gear for Silfra, most tour operators supply these included in the price of your tour or for an extra supplement.
Don’t Forget Your Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is so important as it will help you with emergencies and unexpected costs on your trip. Make sure that you declare any pre-existing health conditions so that you are covered for those. Check your cover for accidents and medical care and also lost baggage or getting things stolen. Remember to report as soon as something goes wrong on your trip because some travel insurance companies require you to report something that you want to claim for within 24 hours. Read the fine print carefully when you sign up. I always recommend World Nomads. You can get a free quote here:
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