You can’t go to Iceland without seeing the natural wonders of the Golden Circle, either hire a car and do your own thing or book onto an organised tour. Matt and I went on a small group trip with Sterna Travel. As well as seeing the main sites there were a few other interesting stops along the way, we also chose to add a visit to a geothermal pool as when we were in Iceland the Blue Lagoon was closed for refurbishment. If you are visiting during the winter months wrap up warm with plenty of layers as the minus temperatures are definitely part of the experience!
The highlights of the Golden Circle are Þingvellir National Park, Geysir hot springs and Gullfoss waterfall. The drive itself was fantastic and a great way to see Iceland’s incredible landscape, we drove along mountain passes, through lava fields, past lakes, over fresh water and glacial rivers which are apparently clean enough to drink, across fault lines and past plenty of steam billowing from the ground from geothermal activity; you could smell the sulphur! Not to mention catching glimpses of volcanoes such as Hekla, which erupts every ten to twelve years making it one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes and Eyjafjallajökull the volcano which erupted in 2010 causing disruption to air travel worldwide. I got up close to this volcano whilst exploring the south of the island. Visiting in early January meant not seeing daylight until around 11am. This was the perfect time to stop in the mountains to watch the sunrise; it was an epic start to the day….
The next stop was Þingvellir National Park, the site of the first Viking parliament it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It also has a lot of geographic importance due to being on a fault line. You can actually walk between the Eurasian and American tectonic plates through the Almannagjá canyon, which is pretty cool!
Iceland has its own breed of horse. These hardy creatures stand between 13 and 14 hands high and could be mistakenly classed as ponies. But make this mistake at your own peril, as you will offend an Icelander by calling them ponies! They are very good-natured and I got to make friends with some of them on a short stop.
Onto the geothermal hot spring area where water temperatures hit 100°c and water continually bubbles from the ground, steam rising high into the air. The showstopper here is the hot spring Strokkur, it explodes regularly every 5 to 10 minutes without fail, shooting a high spout of water up into the air. It’s fascinating and addictive to watch!
Gullfoss was one of my favourite stops of the day and I think one of the coldest. The thundering falls are enormous, the power and noise of the gushing water falling into the crevice 105 ft below is like nothing I have experienced before and as I already mentioned the cold was extreme too! Removing your glove for just a second to take a photo led to instantly frozen and painful fingers, but it was worth it!
Next was a quick stop for a selfie at the beautiful Faxi waterfall before the final stop of the day at the Secret Lagoon. As I mentioned the Blue Lagoon was closed during our trip to Iceland so the Secret Lagoon was for us the next best thing. As I was six months pregnant at the time I was unable to go in but Matt went for a dip and loved floating around in the hot pool which is generally around 36-40°c with a beer in hand. I loved wandering around the edge of the hot pool watching the steam rising and taking photos of icicles hanging from tree branches, retreating into the warmth with a hot chocolate when I got too cold. This natural geothermal pool was first opened in 1891 and is such a unique experience.
For more information on what to do in Iceland take a look at my other blogs: What to do with four days in Iceland and if you are planning to see the Northern Lights: Northern Lights photography tips.