The Golden Circle
Where continents collide! Waterfalls, trails and stunning views await you here...
Geothermal field with bubbling mud pits, hot springs and blow-holes!
The magnificent Golden Falls waterfall that cascades into the Gullfossgjufur Canyon.
Volanic crater famous for its vibrant red ash and blue-green mineral water.
So we rented a car, went to Bonus for snacks, put on some Sigur Ros and hit the road. The Golden Circle can be done comfortably in a day (leaving and returning to Reykjavik), or you can spend a few days doing hikes and soaking in geothermal spas. The main points of attraction are Þingvellir, Geysir, Gulfoss and Kerið Crater, with a few in between if you have time.
First up you’ve got Þingvellir National Park. After heading north-east along road 36 you will drive through impressive mountains and lakes – (I was lucky enough to see them still frozen and covered in snow). Literally translating to “Parliament Plains” this world heritage site has great historical significance to Iceland. The main attraction is only minutes from the car park – a rift valley that separates the North American tectonic plate from Eurasia in the form of jagged, irregular, towering mounds of rock. The path takes you between the valley where you get an amazing view of the park. One of the things I love about Iceland is the parking – it’s easy and right there at the side of the road for most attractions – at this site you have to pay, but it’s the only charged area I came across.
Between Þingvellir and Strokkur you’ve got if you fancy trying out a geothermal bath or some geothermal baked bread! There’s also Bruarfoss; a river and waterfall famous for the stunning crystal blue colour that runs through it, however it’s not quite as easily accessible. For more on directions click here.
One of my favourite spots along the Golden Circle is the geyser Strokkur. Re-join road 37 until you reach road 35 and you will see signs for “Geysir”. This highly active geothermal field is filled with bubbling mud pits, hot springs and blow-holes. There’s something exhilarating about witnessing boiling water explode from the ground. The word geyser gets its name from ‘Geysir’; the original blow-hole dating back to the 13th century. Situated next to Strokkur it is now almost dormant in comparison, with Strokkur erupting around every 5-10 minutes reaching heights of 30 metres – it’s impossible to only watch it only once.
Next up is Gulfoss – this immense waterfall pummels down on two different levels, the first being 11 metres high and the second being 20 metres. It’s only 10km north of Strokkur and you can hear it before you see it; roaring water crashing down into a huge crevice in the ground with spray travelling in all directions. It was so cold and my nose had just about frozen but it was worth it.
Head back down road 35 and keep going south. Faxi is another waterfall about 20km south of Gulfoss. Albeit less powerful, it is still an impressive 80 metres wide and another beauty on the Golden Circle route.
35km later and continuing south along road 35 you’ll start to notice the soil turn deep red along the side of the road. You’re approaching Kerið Crater. You have to pay around 400kr to a man in a little hut before you can explore the area but it’s worth it. Around 3000 years old it is believed to be a scoria crater, formed after a volcanic eruption had emptied the magma chamber below the crater which caused the ground to collapse. The ground is formed by red volcanic rock rather than black, as a result it is deep and vibrant in colour. The opaque blue-green water (caused by minerals in the soil) in centre of the crater is a reflection on the current ground water conditions as it rises and falls according to changes in the water table. The steep circular slopes resemble an ancient amphitheatre and concerts have been held on a floating raft on the lake.
After Kerið you’re only 62km from Reykjavik. Continue along road 35 and then join route 1 (Iceland’s main high way) for the home stretch. If you want to stop anywhere before heading back, Selfoss is a cute little town only 15 minutes from Kerið. You will also pass by Hveragerði 30 minutes before Reykjavik but it is worth spending a whole afternoon here another day. As you leave Hveragerði you’ll drive up the lava plateau Hellisheidi (approximately 380m high). At the top of the steep hill leaving Hveragerði you have reached the “heath” where you will get an incredible overview of the town. As you drive on you will see mountains Vifilsfell and Blafjoll (The Blue Mountains) to the south and Mt. Hengill to the north. This part of the journey is a beautiful drive – try to leave while there’s still some daylight in order to fully appreciate it. Most importantly – Enjoy!