Iceland’s Golden Circle

Gullfoss

A sudden roar and spurt of water up into the air. Enough to make me jump and shriek as I’d been distracted chatting and forgotten we were waiting for Strukkur to strike.

The name of Golden Circle is intriguing enough, even before you start checking out pictures online or in the guidebook. We’d decided this was definitely on the agenda for our first full day in Iceland.

The two cars set off from Reykjavik in convoy, after deciding to head for the furthest point at Gulfoss, before checking out Geysir and taking a walk in Pingvellir. Barren wild plains, black rock from lava spurts over the centuries, and snowcapped mountains. The scenery as you drive out is breathtaking.

Gullfoss (or Golden Falls) is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland, and while you’re definitely not getting away from the crowds, it has to be seen. Plunging 10 metres down rocky steps then 20 metres into a chasm the water sends spray shooting up and over the assembled crowds. It’s free and just a short walk from the car park and café.

Gullfoss

Next stop was Geysir, that we’d driven past on our way out to Gullfoss. You’ll spot the steam from the many geysers well before arriving. The star attraction is Strukkur (the Churn) mainly due to its reliability. Every few minutes another chute of water is thrown 30 metres up into the air. Despite this, we managed to get distracted chatting and got a shock the first time it went off after our arrival. The sheer force of the water and majesty of the site would have anyone marveling at the wonders of nature. The other smaller vents and some amazing blue pools are also worth a look as you wander round the site. Warming up with tasty soup in the café afterwards we planned the visit to the national park, Pingvellir.

Geysir

The park is a 4km wide, 40 metre deep rift valley where the Eurasian and North American continental plates tear apart at 1.5 or 2cm (depending on who you ask) a year. A dramatic landscape that could easily keep you occupied for weeks. The parliament was founded here in 930AD and assembled here each year until the 13th century. Right through to modern times it’s continued to be the site of many crucial events, including the foundation of the modern Icelandic republic in 1944. It’s been a national park since 1940 and was added to the UNESCO world heritage list in 2004.

We stopped to check out Pingvallavatn, Iceland’s largest lake. And then walked the path down the Almannagja canyon, to see another waterfall from the Oxara river and incredible views across the park. With easy, well maintained paths this is an accessible walk and an easy way to experience some of Iceland’s magnificent scenery and dramatic rock formations.

Pingvellir National Park

For anyone after a spa, the golden circle is home to two, Fontana and the Secret Lagoon. We, however, were holding out for the Blue Lagoon, which we’d booked for the next day. More on that in my next blog article.