Here comes a huge post on one of my favorite Iceland adventures: the Golden Circle tour. The Golden Circle is the name for the 185 mile route connecting three of the biggest natural sites outside of Reykjavik: the national park Thingvellir, the waterfall Gulfoss ("golden falls"), and the geyser valley Haukadalur, including Geysir and Strokkur. The tour lasted about six hours and allowed us about 20-60 minutes at each site. I saw landscapes and sites that I hope I never forget.
It turned out to be a better financial deal for us to do the Golden Circle as a bus tour rather than renting a car and doing it on our own. Commercial bus tours are extremely popular in Iceland, probably because they are affordable and make seeing the bigger natural sites really easy. We went with Gray Line Iceland tours and were happy with the price and the tour. I loved our tour guide's Canadian/Icelandic accent, I just didn't love it when he accused me of rubbing bacon on my tour bus seat. Yeah...that actually happened. Him accusing me, not the bacon part.
Thingvellir (Þingvellir in Icelandic) is a large national park in the southwestern part of Iceland and is a historical, cultural and geological landmark. The historical/cultural part: it's the site of the world's first parliament, established in 930 AD. My public policy friend was completely geeking out over this site. The geological/natural part: the largest natural lake in Iceland is nearby, but the real attraction at Thingvellir is the meeting of the American and European continents - literally. The coolest part is seeing evidence of the two continents slowly shifting away from each other, at a rate of about a few centimeters per year. In one of the pictures below you can see the path that you can walk through the space that has developed in the land. I'm not a geologist, so I'm not going to try to explain how this is possible, but it was certainly cool to see.
Gullfoss is a gorgeous waterfall and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country. The waterfall is made by the Hvítá river as it curves around the land and then drops into about a 100 foot deep crevice. I enjoyed walking along the path that leads you right to the biggest part of the falls - and loved that I had my rain jacket to protect me from the mist coming off the falls. I also loved the Bugles that I ate while I walked around Gulfoss.
The aforementioned Bugles. And our friends taking pictures of Paul taking pictures of us.
We were on that rock where all the people are standing when Paul took the Bugle picture of us. There was a small railing that kept you from jumping/falling in the water.
The tour bus picked us up by the visitors center on the hill overlooking the falls. There were some pretty fantastic landscape views from up there. We took full advantage of them.
HAUKADALUR (Geyser valley)
Did you know that the word geyser comes from the geyser called Geysir in Iceland? (Did you follow that?) Some of the geysers are dormant now, but the Haukadalur valley that we visited has an active geyser called Strokkur that we saw go off several times while we there. The geothermal area is activated especially by earthquakes, and the time the area was first mentioned in written sources was in 1294 - after an earthquake. The water that "geyses" (a word I just made up) is warm, though we only felt the hot water coming out of a dormant geyser. The water on the very edge felt as hot as a warm bath.
The bubble that appears just before the geyser goes off.
After checking out the geysers we thought the tour was over, but then we looked out our window and saw hundreds of sheep being herded home for the night. Amazing tour bonus! Don't think your eyes are tricking you - there were white, black, and brown sheep in the herd. Just another day in Iceland....
BONUS #2: ANOTHER WATERFALL!
The tour guide may have told us the name of this waterfall, but we were at the end of the tour and my attention was waning. Plus I had to look in the guidebooks about half a dozen times just to get the names of three places that I did remember. So forever in my mind this will always just be the "bonus waterfall."
Thanks for reading! Hope you enjoyed your cyber Golden Circle Tour!