Iceland24: Iceland: Golden Circle Tour
The name Golden Circle might be a tourist-industry tag, but it’s also apt, as this broad circuit east from Reykjavík covers many of Iceland’s best-known features and touches on the root of much of its history. The key area is Þingvellir, whose dramatic and geologically unstable rift valley marks where the Icelandic state sprang into being in Viking times.
South from here is the religious centre of Skálholt, where Iceland’s last Catholic bishop was assassinated in 1550; while travelling northeast takes you past the spa town of Laugarvatn to Geysir, the original hot blowhole that has lent its name to similar vents worldwide, before sealed roads end on the edge of Iceland’s barren interior at Gullfoss’ thundering twin cataracts.
Þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir (Thingvellir) is the National Park where the Althing, an open-air assembly representing the whole of Iceland, was established in 930 and continued to meet until 1798. Over two weeks a year, the assembly set laws - seen as a covenant between free men - and settled disputes. The Althing has deep historical and symbolic associations for the people of Iceland.
The property includes the Þingvellir National Park and the remains of the Althing itself: fragments of around 50 booths built from turf and stone. Remains from the 10th century are thought to be buried underground. The site also includes remains of agricultural use from the 18th and 19th centuries. The park shows evidence of the way the landscape was husbanded over 1,000 years.
Diving is permitted in two submerged rifts in the Park, Silfra and Davíðsgjá. Silfra is one of the best spots for diving in Iceland and many people find the rift unique on an international scale
Camping in Þingvellir
Camping is only permitted in two areas in the National Park. At Leirar, which is within a 5 minutes walking distance from the Information Center, and in Vatnskot, by lake Þingvallavatn. At Leirar there are four camping grounds: Fagrabrekka, Syðri-Leirar, Hvannabrekka and Nyrðri-Leirar. The Vatnskot camp ground is situated at an abandoned farm site by the lake.
Geysir, sometimes known as The Great Geysir, is a geyser in southwestern Iceland. It was the first geyser described in a printed source and the first known to modern Europeans.
The English word geyser (a spouting hot spring) derives from Geysir. The name Geysir itself is derived from the Icelandic verb geysa, "to gush", the verb from Old Norse. Geysir lies in the Haukadalur valley on the slopes of Laugarfjall hill, which is also the home to Strokkur geyser about 50 metres south.
Eruptions at Geysir can hurl boiling water up to 70 metres in the air. However, eruptions may be infrequent, and have in the past stopped altogether for years at a time.
Gullfoss is actually two separate waterfalls, the upper one has a drop of 11 metres and the lower one 21 metres. The rock of the river bed was formed during an interglacial period.
Water flows over Gullfoss at an average rate of 109 cubic metres per second. The heaviest floods have recorded a flow of 2000 cubic metres per second. During the summer the flow is 130 cubic metres per second, which would take only 3 seconds to fill this building. People were eager to exploit the power potential of Gullfoss and many plans for hydroelectric developments on the river Hvítá have been proposed.
Everyone that visits Iceland cannot miss the Golden Circle tour. But the ultimate question is whether you should visit the Golden Circle with a tour company, or self drive the Golden Circle in one day yourself? I highly recommend doing the latter.
What kind of rental car do I need in Iceland?
Depending on the time of year you go, and what your travel plans are, you should be fine just getting a small sedan.
If you are heading there in winter (November – March) you may want to consider picking up a 4×4. This is because some roads can be closed and the roads very icy/snowy. Just check the Iceland road conditions on this official website before you head out.
How to get there
There are several different ways to start the Golden Circle, including of course the option to drive clockwise or anti-clockwise. Here's a map for reference.
Generally it is better to drive clockwise and to begin by taking Route #1 (east) in the direction Vík, but just to the edge of Reykjavík, then turning north (left) onto the 431 and 435.
Johanna & Petrea, Iceland24