Following a disappointing Northern Lights tour with no aurora visible, we were keen to start our sightseeing tour of Iceland. We awoke early for our 8 am pick up by Your Days Tours (a subsidiary of Arctic Adventures) to embark on our small group minibus tour of the Golden Circle.
The Golden Circle is Iceland’s most famous scenic route, covering approximately 300 kilometres looping from Reykjavik into the southern uplands of Iceland and back. Three primary attractions along the route are Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, and the geothermal area in Haukadalur.
Views along our drive were otherworldly. The terrain is a unique composition of what looks like volcanic rock and moss.
Strolling through Þingvellir National Park
Our first stop was a walk through Þingvellir National Park, located about an hour drive northeast of Reykjavik. Þingvellir (anglicised as Thingvellir) was the site of the annual parliament of Iceland from 930 until 1798. It is now a national park of historical and geological significance, lying in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. To the south lies Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland.
Hanging out with Icelandic horses
On the way to Gullfoss Waterfall, we made a short stop in Bláskógabyggð (don’t even ask me how to pronounce this) where we met some Icelandic horses. These pony-sized horses are the only breed in Iceland, developed from ponies brought to Iceland by Norse settlers in the 9th and 10th centuries. They are traditionally used for sheepherding work, as well as leisure, showing, and racing. The ones we met were very affectionate and had great hair.
Visiting the majestic Gullfoss Waterfall
Next, we made our way to the Gullfoss Waterfall. This massive waterfall flows into the canyon of the Hvítá river, plunging into an impressive crevice measuring 105 feet deep.
During the first half of the 20th century, there was speculation about using Gullfoss to generate electricity and the waterfall was rented to some foreign investors. However, the investors’ attempts were ultimately unsuccessful, and the waterfall was later sold to the state of Iceland and is now a protected site.
There is a path leading right up to a viewing platform at the base of the waterfall, which is an easy walk but gets slippery on the rocks adjacent to the water, so my trail shoes came in handy. Speaking of travel gear, we spotted many visitors with some serious hiking attire but found that this was not essential for our plan of simple sightseeing. I would recommend at least some shoes with good traction and my Merrell shoes served me well, while Mr. Chuckles did fine with his Adidas tennis shoes. We were otherwise blessed with fair weather for the duration of our trip and didn’t need to use any of the rain gear that I had packed.
Watching geysers at Haukadalur
We had our lunch break once we arrived at the Haukadalur geothermal area, where we enjoyed a sample platter of chicken, pork, lamb, fish, and beef on a side of roast potatoes, vegetables, and rice. The single plate cost us a whopping $60 CAD so we were glad that it was actually good.
After lunch, we walked over to check out the geothermal sights. The Haukadalur valley is made up of numerous geothermal pools that get as hot as 100 degrees Celsius. The sulfur smell is off-putting but they are incredible to see.
You can also find two of south Iceland’s largest geysers here — Strokkur and Geysir. The larger Geysir erupts very rarely now, while Strokkur consistently erupts about every 5 to 10 minutes.
Swimming in the Secret Lagoon
We ended our tour at Gamla Laugin, translating to “The Old Pool”. This manmade pool located in the village of Flúðir was constructed in 1891, officially the oldest pool in Iceland. Swimming lessons took place here until 1947 when a newer pool opened in Flúðir, and Gamla Laugin became largely forgotten. When ownership changed hands, it was freshly marketed as the “Secret Lagoon” which successfully drew in crowds of curious visitors, and it is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in south Iceland.
The Secret Lagoon is heated by the surrounding natural geothermal pools, keeping the water at a comfortable temperature of 38-40 degrees Celsius. It is surrounded by mossy lava fields and small geysers that erupt every 5 minutes, visible from the pool.
We spent a couple hours here, lounging in the warm water and enjoying some beers. The perfect way to relax after a busy day of exploration in Iceland.
We returned to Reykjavik in the early evening. For dinner, we attempted to go to Þrir Frakkar to try some traditional Icelandic seafood, but they didn’t have tables available until much later in the evening. As such, we settled with another dinner of Icelandic hot dogs which I didn’t mind at all!
Next up, more awe-inspiring sights on our south shore adventure.
Leave a Reply