In Iceland, there are two self-tour routes that anyone can drive on. There’s Ring Road, which is Iceland Highway 1 surrounding the entire country which takes about a week to complete. And then there’s the Golden Circle which can be easily accomplished in a day and consists of three major stops.
In Iceland, there are two "self-tour" routes that anyone can drive on. There's Ring Road, which is Iceland Highway 1 surrounding the entire country which takes about a week to complete. And then there's the Golden Circle which can be easily accomplished in a day and consists of three major stops:
- Þingvellir National Park (B)
- Gullfoss (C)
- Geysir (D)
You can view all of these sites with a tour group, but I recommend reserving a rental car and driving it yourself! It'll allow you to go at your own pace. The Golden Circle is approximately three hours of driving time, but you'll want to keep your whole day open for this self-guided tour - you can easily spend a couple of hours at each stop just to admire the beauty of the tundras, surrounding mountains, and waterfalls.
I Don't Want To Miss A Þingvellir
We picked up our rental car bright and early at 6:30 in the morning (OK, it was really dark outside). We drove along the highway from Keflavík through Reykjavik until the road forked in a direction away from the city.In that time driving between Keflavík and Reykjavik, I spotted four Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants. It's not your typical Icelandic food... or is it? Most of the intersections on highways in Iceland are roundabouts, so as soon as we hit the Capitol city, we headed northeast in the direction of the Golden Circle path.
Pro Tip: If there's a tour bus following you, or you are following a tour bus, you're probably going in the right direction!
Right at sunrise, we arrived at Þingvellir National Park. Out in the distance is the largest natural lake in Iceland, Þingvallavatn. Over to the left is Þingvallakirkja, the church of Þingvellir.
The park is located on a tectonic plate and is shaped by surrounding volcanic and tectonic activity. Guests can walk through the largest crack that the tectonic plates created Almannagjá. The trail leads to a waterfall known as Öxarárfoss. Since it was winter, there was not much water flow along the river, so this waterfall was very weak. Still definitely worth a walk so that you can brag about walking along a tectonic crack!
"You Geysir Fun"
After exploring Þingvellir for a couple of hours, we headed onwards to the second stop on the Golden Circle tour - Geysir. Along this drive, the weather changed dramatically based on where we were. When we left the park, it was a typical cloudy sky (what I expected of Iceland this time of year). Then, all of a sudden, the clouds broke and the sun was shining so brightly. I was literally blinded by the sun and could hardly see! I didn't think about packing sunglasses, but thankfully my mother was more prepared than I was and lent me her pair. As soon as I put those sunglasses on, we were hit by sleet, snow, and gusts of 4o miles per hour. Time to put the sunglasses away, I thought to myself.
I had only seen one geyser previously, and that of course was Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park. But even before that, I learned about it back in my childhood - anyone remember Pajama Sam?
"Geysers are located in Wyoming, New Zeland, or Iceland!"
The edges of the paths give of a nice steamy effect as the runoff of hot water is mixed with the cold air. There are multilingual signs everywhere warning people not to touch the water, as it hits 100 degrees Celsius because as we all know, there is a reason that signs are there in the first place... sure enough, I saw tourists testing the temperature of the water with their bare hands... this is why we can't have nice things I guess...
Foss is Icelandic for "falls", which can be found all across the country. Luckily, for travellers who don't have much time to spend, one of the more popular waterfalls is included on the Golden Circle tour! Once you've had enough of the sulfuric scent and steamy ambience, you can head to Gulfoss for a nice cool breeze from the mists of the falls. According to Gullfoss' official website, investors wanted to buy the waterfall from a farmer in order to turn it into hydroelectric energy. The daughter, Sigriður Tómasdóttir, didn't approve of this and attempted to have a rental contract voided. In court, she "threatened to throw herself into the waterfall if [any] construction were [to] begin". Luckily for the family, the rent was not paid, nullifying the contract. Sigriður's efforts went down in history, and she is typically referred to "Iceland's first environmentalist". Today, it's permanently protected land by the Icelandic government.
By the time we got there, it was slightly rainy and cloudy. I was preparing for a long-exposure shot, and out of no where, the clouds parted allowing for some sunshine. This created a beautiful, but faint rainbow across the falls. Wow! I'd seen that before back at Snoqualmie Falls, but this is quite different!
Just Horsin' Around
After a long filled day of driving away the golden circle route, we finally made it back to Reykjavik just before sundown. Wanting to capitalize on the photo opportunities. I wanted to take some night-shots of the tallest building in the city - the Church of Iceland, Hallgrímskirkja.
It took 41 years to build this church, which's design is inspired by the lava flow of volcanos in the country. The building can be seen all over Reykjavik and is considered one of the country's best-known landmarks.
I'll definitely come back for some more shots during the day tomorrow, but here are the last two pictures for today!
What a day! I've been up for over 24 hours due to the time zone difference, and I need some rest as this vacation is just getting started! Time for some well-needed rest and relaxation. To say that today was "golden" would be quite the understatement!