15 Jul Self Drive Tour of the Golden Circle in Iceland
The Golden Circle is another “must see” area when visiting Iceland, as there are many fascinating sites along one route. You have the option to take a bus tour of the area, but I would recommend renting a car and driving yourself if you are able; it gives you flexibility and can be more cost effective, too. We decided to do the self drive tour of the Golden Circle and were fortunate to have Inga from Tiny Iceland join us again! Looking back, we were glad we drove because it is nice to go at our own pace and not be limited by the bus schedule.
Either way, with whatever mode of transportation you choose to use, the main stops will likely be the same: Gullfoss, Geyser and Þingvellir National Park; some people add in the volcano crater, Kerið, as well, but we didn’t have time to add this stop in as we had a snorkel tour to catch that evening!
We decided to start with visiting Gullfoss first. It was another rainy day, but the weather didn’t detract from the beauty of the falls. Gullfoss plunges over 105 ft. down into the canyon below. The English translation of Gullfoss means “golden falls”, and it got the name because once glacial water melts it collects sediments from the earth that get carried with it. The sediments turn the water a brownish color and on sunny days the water can appear golden in color. It is rumored that the falls almost met their demise to a potential hydropower plant. It wasn’t until a women, Sigríður, protested in a barefoot march from Reykjavik to Gullfoss (120 km) and threatened to throw herself over the falls that the plans were halted and the falls saved. Thanks to this woman’s effort, we can all enjoy the stunning falls today.
Next up are the geysers in Haukadalur geothermal area. The original highlight at this stop was Geysir, which is the geyser that gave all others their name; however, it is no longer actively erupting at this time. But, don’t be too disappointed as there is another geyser named Strokkur nearby that erupts every 4-10 minutes. Strokkur shoots to heights of 15-40 meters high and it is a fascinating sight to see, while others such as Litli-Geysir offer a more tame show. The land here is very active and there are more than 40 bubbling and steaming hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles to gaze upon. If you feel like going for a walk, there are numerous trails to follow as well.
Across the road from the Haukadalur, there is also a rest stop with a cafe, gift shop and restrooms, which is convenient because there are very few places like this around the area and countryside. The restaurant looked tasty but pricey, so we were glad we packed a lunch.
Our last stop was Þingvellir National Park. We were happy to have Inga with us because she knows the park very well and showed us a “secret” lava cave she found out about many years ago from a book. We climbed down inside it a ways, and it was really neat to see. If you didn’t know the cave was there, you would miss it because it’s almost like a hole in the ground. Apparently you can walk/crawl through the cave and come out another side, but it is a long path and you need proper equipment to do so. Sorry…I don’t know where the cave is actually located as Inga led the way!
Next, we drove farther into the park, and stopped for a walk around some of the most interesting sites in Þingvellir. It is here where you can see the actual division between tectonic plates of North America and Europe. There is also a church nearby that you can explore, but we walked in the opposite direction towards the pretty waterfall, Öxarárfoss. This waterfall is near the spot where the worlds first parliament meetings were held, back in 930. Vikings from all over Iceland would travel, some for 17 days, to meet and discuss the laws and rules of their land. It was fun trying to picture what that must have been like so many years ago.
Another spot we visited in the park, had a gruesome history: Drekkingarhylur, or the drowning pools. Here, women who were believed to be guilty of acts such as witchcraft or adultery were put in sacks and drowned in the river; however, thankfully this practice was not in place long.
All but too soon, our day of exploring the golden circle was over and it was now time for our snorkeling adventure nearby–stay tuned!