The Golden Circle, which gets its name from Gullfoss (The Golden Falls), is a must-visit for every Iceland enthusiast. No matter if you are here for the first time or visited the country multiple times: The Golden Circle Magic will enchant you. The scenery changes from Summer to Winter, so that your experience will be different every time.
First Stop: Þingvellir National Park
Start your journey with the most significant cultural heritage site in the country—a place where Iceland became a commonwealth in the year 930 when the parliament was established. Follow along and learn how the first Icelanders during the Viking Age established laws to build the functional society that Iceland is today.
Short Geology Excursion
Þingvellir is one of the very few places on Earth where people can see tectonic plates drifting apart. The North American content is situated on the North American tectonic plate while Europe and Asia are on the Eurasian plate.
These two gigantic plates are moving apart along the so called Atlantic Ridge. Iceland lies on top of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where the two plates move apart for about 2 cm (0.79 inches) every year.
Therefore, it is nearly impossible to see the movement in real-time. But visitors can see the large fault stretching through the area. Many tourists assume that the plate boundary can be seen through Silfra, the rift in Þingvellir National Park. But the plate boundary is more of a wide area rather than a single crack. You can learn more about Iceland’s Geology in this book.
Arriving at the Visitor Center, you have to keep in mind to pay for parking. You can easily do this on the machine by entering your license plate number.
We highly recommend to check out the new interactive exhibit “Heart of Iceland” if you have time. Visitors can witness a meeting of the first Lawspeakers and learn about the geological history of Þingvellir through immersive and interactive displays.
Take a walk along the walking paths, trough the cracks and fissures, and see old lava formations from the last volcano eruptions. There is no specific spot you have to walk towards. Thingvellir is a place to enjoy while exploring nature, history, and stunning geological formations.
Do you love Game of Thrones?
Then you probably know that several scenes were filmed here in Iceland. Remember when Tormund talks to Ygritte after she shoots Jon three times? The scene was filmed here in Thingvellir National Park.
“I’ve seen you put a shaft through a rabbit’s eye at 200 yards. If this boy is still walking, it’s cause you let him go.”Tormund to Ygritte in a scene of Game of Thrones, Season 4, Episode 1
Other scenes of the same season were shot at Thingvellir as well. One of the most famous ones when Brienne and the Hound’s fight is filmed close to Hengill Volcano. Explore the magic of standing right at the scenes
Next: Geysir, Strokkur (Haukadalur)
Geysir is one of the best-known attractions in Iceland and the second stop on the Golden Circle. The Icelandic word Geysir (gusher) also found its way into other languages where it describes this natural phenomenon.
Many visitors don’t know that Geysir stopped erupting many years ago. Strokkur, it’s neighbor is the star now, erupting continuously every few minutes.
This high-temperature area at Geysir is believed to belong to an independent volcanic system that was active a few hundred thousand years ago. Stretching over 3 km2, it includes numerous springs and boiling pods. Please be careful when you approach the area and stay on the food path. The steamy pods can look inviting but burn you quickly with temperatures around 100 °C (212 Fahrenheit).
If you are aiming to take a picture without other people around, its best to arrive very early in the morning, around 3 am to 4 am in the summertime. In winter, the daylight hours are limited, and your only option to take photos will be between 11 am and 4 pm.
Don’t miss out on all the other hot springs, although they do not erupt anymore. Unique colors around the hot springs are generated when hydrogen sulfide blends with the air’s oxygen, creating sulfuric acid. The yellow color forms of sulfating. That’s why all high-temperature areas have a distinctive “rotten egg” smell.
Final Stop: Gullfoss Waterfall
Gullfoss – The Golden Falls – gives the Golden Circle Tour its name. When you approach the parking lot, you can hear the power of the water gushing down 32 meters over two steps. If you walk further towards Gullfoss, you will soon feel the fine water droplets on your skin, so pack a raincoat! It can get pretty wet as with most waterfalls.
The amount of water running over this waterfall is 140 m³/s average in the summertime and 80 m³/s in the wintertime. The highest flood measured was 2000 m³/s. That’s why foreign investors wanted to build a power plant to generate electricity. Their attempt at the turn of the 19th century was unsuccessful. Now Gullfoss is owned by the state of Iceland and protected.
Gullfoss is usually busy with visitors all year round. As with Geysir, if you want to take a picture with little or no people, use the early morning hours in the summer, or even the midnight sun. The footpath to the waterfall might close in the wintertime due to icy conditions so be careful – as always.
As with most natural sights in Iceland, Gullfoss is a fantastic spot to see both in summer and wintertime. While more crowded with visitors in the summertime, you can see a rainbow when the sun is shining. In winter, parts of the waterfall’s stairs are frozen, giving it this magical look visible in the picture above.
Click here to see how you can extend your Golden Circle Tour. Relaxing in a hot tub after a long trip is the best way to complete your day!