The Golden Circle is pretty much mandatory if you decide to come to Iceland. Most tourist information websites list 3 stops to complete the circle, I will tell you about 4. You have Þingvellir National Park, the geysers, Gullfoss, and Kerid. In my opinion, a rental car is mandatory in Iceland. So many of the countries' sites are outside of Reykjavik and it’s really unnecessary to spend the 573442592 Krona on a bus tour. You only get to spend a couple minutes at each spot, it's stupid expensive, you miss the 4th stop on the circle, and all the other cooler tourists will look down on you for being an insufferable spendthrift. So, when all is said and done, the Golden Circle should take you about 6 to 8 hours; just in time to get back for dinner (see here for our dinner recommendation). Obviously, it’s better to leave earlier in the morning to get to the stops before all the bus tours arrive. This amount of time won’t keep you in the car that long between stops, and will give you plenty of face time with each of the stops.
Þingvellir is pretty sweet, it may not be the most exciting spot that you will stop at during your tour of the Golden Circle, but by no means should it be overlooked. I mean, they used to drown women in the pool right by the first bridge you cross (look for the plaque that tells you the history of it right along the bridge).
If you want to, there is a small waterfall that you can hike to before you get to the main parking area, park in the smaller parking area about a 6th of a mile before the main one. You can’t miss it since a ton of other tourists will be stopping there as well. Walking between the chasms of the continental plates is pretty much the highlight of the park, and for good reason. It's damn impressive. While we were there, part of the chasm was closed off due to a recent earthquake. Got that? Part of the place that you would normally walk collapsed into the bowels of hell. Have a good hike sucka.
Of course there are other hiking trails to check out, as well as more history to learn about. This was the spot, in the year of 930, where the first “congress”, called an Althing, was established to represent the people of Iceland. For 2 weeks every year, up to the year 1798, the congress met here to settle disputes, and create new laws and what not. Also, if you time it right, you can set up a guided tour to snorkel in between the European and North American continental plate in a fissure called Silfra. It’s totally worth the icicles you will most likely get on your nose. Check out our bucket list experience snorkeling in Silfra here!
Geysir IS rock and roll. This was probably our favorite stop on our golden circle trip. If you did even the smallest amount of research you know that geysir is the name of the first, well, geyser. The one that all the others get their name from. Different people spout off different reasons as to why the great geysir stopped erupting. Some people say that tourists threw garbage into it; others say a trench filled with earth and silica caused it to stop erupting, but what seems to be the most common agreed upon reason for the great one to go dormant is an earthquake. Occasionally the government of Iceland authorizes scientists to bait geyser with some laundry soap to make it go off, but this is few and far between. Lucky for you, when one door closes, another opens, and right next to geysir is the geyser strokkur. This bad boy explodes every 5 minutes shooting boiling water about 100 feet into the air!
It’s a lot of fun, and it makes for great pictures. We hung out for about 30 minute’s watching this marvel. Now is a good time to grab some food, surprisingly the gift shop next to the geysers is somewhat decent. Try the smoked lamb on a pita for 250 krona or the traditional lamb stew.
Gullfoss, or the Golden falls, as its name means, is big. Really big. It’s often debated to be one of the most powerful waterfalls in Europe. If it isn’t raining while you’re there, you will most likely get the treat of seeing a rainbow cresting over the falls which will probably make you all teary eyed. There are 2 parking lots for access to the falls. One up top by the gift shop, and restaurant, and another on the lower level closer to the falls. Either way works, and both spots give you fantastic views.
Most Golden Circle itineraries skip Kerid, who knows why, cause it’s pretty awesome. Kerid is a volcanic crater lake, and is pretty much on your way back to Reykjavik. Look close for the signs because it can be easy to miss. It takes about 15 minutes to walk the circumference of the crater and about 5 minutes to walk down to the water.
If you're the adventurous type bring a bathing suit and hop on in if you don't mind the razor sharp volcanic rocks tickling your piggies, not to mention the ice cold freezing water.
We had a few extra minutes to kill before dinner so we went to see the Perlan, or the Pearl.
Honestly, unless you’re going to eat at this overpriced water tank it’s not really worth stopping at. It does however give you a nice view of center city. After your dinner (see our restaurant recommendations) head on down to the harbor to check out the sun voyager, Solfar, for some awesome pictures.