The Golden Circle is one of Iceland’s most popular tourist attractions. Tourists can drive this loop from Reykjavik into central Iceland and back or they can pay for a guided tour and travel by bus. Since we already had a rental car, we opted to drive ourselves, as this was both cheaper and allowed us more flexibility with our sight-seeing. The three main stops along the Golden Circle are Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss, and the geothermally active valley of Haukadalur.
During the winter, the days are very short in Iceland. We stopped along our route to take pictures of the sunrise. These pictures were taken at 10:30 a.m. and the sun goes down at about 4:30 p.m. These few hours of daylight will continue to decrease into the colder winter months.
Throughout Iceland, you will find the beautiful Icelandic horse. This hardy horse gets a thick and furry winter coat and is also known to change its color. Our glacier tour guide, Anna, mentioned that the Icelandic horse has more color variations than any other horse breed. Another notable difference is that most other horse breeds only have three gaits, but the Icelandic breed has five gaits. The Icelandic horse is the only breed of horse in Iceland and they do not allow other breeds to be imported. If an Icelandic horse is ever exported, it will never be allowed back into Iceland. The Icelandic people use this horse for both work and leisure. Many Icelanders own a horse and ride them daily. As I mentioned in an earlier post, they also use the horse as a food source.
Our first “official” stop along the Golden Circle should have been Thingvellir National Park. Thingvellir was home to the very first parliament in the world. In 930, Vikings held annual parliament meetings around a rock formation to amend laws and create new ones. Thingvellir is also one of the few places in the world where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge comes above water, and is also home to a huge geological rift between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. I am sure all of these things would have made for some great photos, but unfortunately, due to some language misunderstandings, Rob and I did not stop. Oops! I guess this gives me another reason to go back to Iceland!
We made our way through the Haukadalur valley and stopped to see the active geysers in action. Geysir is the most well-known geyser in Iceland and it is also where the English word geyser derived from. Geysir used to be one of the most active and “reliable” geysers in Iceland. Unfortunately, Geysir doesn’t erupt like it once did due tourists throwing rocks into it in an attempt to set it off. Although it once erupted several times an hour like clockwork, it can now go several years without erupting.
Luckily for us, Strokkur has stepped up to the plate. Strokkur erupts about every 10 minutes and it was absolutely fascinating to watch. Rob and I definitely stayed much longer than anticipated, but we just couldn’t get enough. I think we must have stayed long enough to watch it erupt about 15 times!
To get the full effect, check out these videos we got of Strokkur erupting!
Satisfied with our photos and video, we stopped at the Geysir tourist center for lunch where I had more of the delicious meat soup. After interacting with the cute Icelandic horses earlier that morning, I was once again telling myself it was lamb soup. Then we set off to check out Gullfoss, the most famous waterfall in Iceland. The weather had taken a turn and it had started to snow, but we were undeterred. Gullfoss is a double tiered waterfall that is known for casting beautiful rainbows. Our pictures are much more dreary than other pictures I have seen of this postcard-perfect waterfall, but I was still thriving on my geyser high, so it didn’t get me down. Although, I am sure Gullfoss would be absolutely breathtaking in the summertime. Oh wait…what’s that? Another reason to go back to Iceland!