If you choose to drive this route, raise your right hand and say, “I swear on my love for nutella, that I will not speed. I do not care how many cars pass me, how quickly I’m losing daylight, or how much I need to go to the bathroom. I understand that one speeding ticket in Iceland could cover the flights and accommodation for a deserving family of four to Disneyworld for a week.”
It's true, Google it.
Ok, great! Now that the severity of speeding has been addressed, let’s explore the Golden Circle.
The Golden Circle
A perfect day trip, The Golden Circle is approximately a 190 mile loop into Iceland’s Interior from Reykjavik. It’s a favorite tourist route because it runs through three major points of interest: þingviller National Park, the geothermally active valley of Haukadalur with two large geysers, and lastly, Gullfoss waterfall.
Additionally, it’s just a beautiful drive and great opportunity to see the countryside and still feel like you're fulfilling your tourist duties. That way, when you return home and your well-traveled and very vocal neighbors regale you of their Iceland trip, you can nod slowly and say, “yes, we did in fact see that too.”
Stop 1: Þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir National Park (Pronounced Thingvellir) is most noted for it’s historic and geological significance. In 930 AD, Iceland’s first parliament, Alpingi, was established here which is also the world’s oldest.
I drove the circle in a rental car with a few new friends from my hostel but I can also see the benefit of taking a tour bus here as well. The guides are always great resources and full of interesting information. I found myself lingering around tour groups a couple of times to listen in if they were speaking English, but placards are placed along the walkways explaining the history as well.
I remember two things: It was the 1st Icelandic parliament and eighteen “witches” were drowned here.
But in all serisousness, it’s pretty spectacular and mind boggling to think of what took place here in 930AD and to wonder how life must have been. The church and cemetery rest silently among the conflicted rocky landscape and still waters, seemingly carrying the burden and beauty of its past.
Stop 2: Haukadalur
The geothermally active valley of Haukadalur consists of a few small geysers and two large ones, Geysir and Strokkur that erupt about every 6 minutes.
I watched Strokkur erupt a couple of times then retreated to the café for an overpriced fish sandwich. This stop was underwhelming to me. If you’ve never seen a geothermally active area, it’s probably pretty incredible, but I’ve spent some time in Yellowstone National Park and let’s just say, Old Faithful has my heart. So, call me a geyser snob. They're like caves to me: you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.
I know many would disagree with this sentiment, which is why I still recommend stopping--if not for the geysers, it’s just a nice spot for a pit stop, snack, and nice souvenir shop. (Just don’t get the fish sandwich.)
Stop 3: Gullfoss Waterfall
Gullfoss Waterfall is just a massive and powerful display of nature. I was impressed. What I enjoyed the most about this stop was the freedom I had to roam. Tourists have very little limitations and can walk incredibly close to the falls and up on the rocks. It’s not as dangerous as it sounds, I promise.
The air is chilly, breezy, and damp so bring a raincoat. There is a restaurant, coffee and souvenir shop which is convenient for warming up those chilly hands. ( I was visiting in November). The food looked respectable so I’d recommend eating here over the geyser stop, as I mentioned my overpriced, soggy, fish sandwich covered in sautéed onions, right? Yes, yes, it was bad.
Despite my fish sandwich, driving the Golden Circle was a great experience. Three spectacular peeps from my hostel joined and after a day of exploring and car games we were fast friends from all walks of life and corners of the world. Matt, Shae, and Santo: Would you rather have to belch “Hello” everytime you answer your phone OR do the chicken dance every time you received a call?
Travel tip shared by Beth Yost