So on Friday night we arrived in Iceland, Saturday arvo we Blue Lagoon-ed and then on Saturday evening we hit the town for plenty of food and drink. Today was Sunday and we were ready for the highlight of many people’s Iceland weekender…
The Golden Circle
On The Road
The Golden Circle is a popular tour-come-driving route that takes you in a handy loop from Reykjavik through the beautiful scenery of west-central Iceland. This round route is approx 300 km and could take you anywhere between 3 hours (for a nearly non-stop visit to all points), 5 hours if you’re enjoying yourself or anything up to a whole day if you stop for hikes, bikes or dykes.
A dike or dyke, in geological usage, is a sheet of rock that formed in a fracture in a pre-existing rock body. … Magmatic dikes form when magma intrudes into a crack then crystallizes as a sheet intrusion, either cutting across layers of rock or through an unlayered mass of rock** Because, of course, that’s exactly what I meant… geological…
This popular route will take in some of Iceland’s most famous sights including the unpronounceable national park, that ridiculously breathtaking waterfall whose name escapes me, the crater with the crazy letter and, finally, the geysir next to Geysir that is probably the geysir you thought was actually Geysir – but it ain’t. This blog is nothing if not educational.There are several thousand coach companies willing to part you from your hard earned cash and take you on this route for approx £80-100pp for a 5-8 hour excursion. Clearly, the transit business in Iceland is a serious gold mine and at 8am you will find the city streets are clustered with coaches. We chose the drive-it-yourself route, making use of Google Maps, several blogs and plenty of sing-a-along tunes to keep us company. Driving a route like this has soo many benefits.
- We woke up and left our apartment at a time that suited us
- There was no stopping at several hotels to pick up passengers on route
- We decided where we would stop and how long for
- We pulled over to stop for photographs at will
- The whole route was absolutely stunning to see through the front windscreen; something you may have missed through the tinted, side-facing windows on your coach
- There was none of that ‘pretending to be nice to the other passengers’ malarky, no stinky neighbours (debatable – haha! Sorry Mrs Carl!) and no driver begging for tips (crap, I missed a trick… retrospect is a fine thing…)
Being a cold, dark January, we were limited to short daylight hours so we left our hotel at 10am prompt, arriving at the first top: Þingvellir National Park (yes that one has a crazy letter too) by 11 am’s sunrise. Þingvellir (or Thingvellir -not Pingvellir) is “site of historical, cultural, and geological significance, and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland”. It is home to the country’s largest lake as well as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, making it the only place in the world where you can swim beneath two continental tectonic plates (the North Atlantic and the Eruasion) which tower out of the rocky ground. Told you this blog was educational. There is also a lot of historical importance here… however.. to be honest…
…we were here for 5 minutes; in and out. Bish-bash-bosh. There is a beautiful lookout point over the park where we got a little bit snap happy, there are the mountainous tectonic plates that lead you down into the valley below and then there is the minus-something degree wind, sleet in the air and crowds of tourists battling for space. Not for us. On a sunny day, or even just a summer’s day when the day is long, then perhaps we’d go for a walk. Or even as a standalone trip from Reykjavik one day- then fine… but we were on a time limit so we were outie. Oh the joys of having your own vehicle. If somebody told me to “meet me back here in an hour” I probably would (not) have cried. What?? I said not.
On The Road Again…
The great thing about this route is that the stopping points seem to be quite evenly spread apart; about an hour between each highlight. Before we left for Iceland a friend joked that the route was easy to plan “just follow all the coaches” he remarked. Well, let me tell you this… the road was absolutely clear. I can only assume that the 8 am coaches all leave in a convoy, do the stops en mass and then continue along the track in a smokey mess all together.
Our next stop(you guessed it- one hour away) was the geysirs. Now this was more like it. After yet more stunning scenic views we pulled into what I can only describe as the Geysir Retail and Refreshment Centre (Incorporated)*. A large, soulless, purpose built commercial hub for the tourists to stretch their legs, wallets and open themselves up to a world up self-indulgence. From artisan coffee, winterwear, keychains, postcards, jewellery and tins of fresh Icelandic air (no jokes) this centre had it all. In fairness, the place was really well thought out and it must make an absolute fortune (which goes to help care for the local environment, I assume). There are a few dining options here; from fancy pants to fast and furious and the burger and chips we grabbed was both satisfactory and “extremely good value” at about £15 each.
Visiting the Geysir Fields was a fun experience and waiting for the pop of Stokkur was both captivating and frustrating. The first blow came within a minute of us watching – the next was twenty – and the two came at once. Seriously endless fun. They’re due approx every 8 minutes so you’ll be sure to catch a glimpse or two. You can walk around lots of hot, steamy, well mapped geysir’s before poking your head into the inactive Geysir, the original and the best, which gave all other geysir’s their name.
The third stop on our journey was a little closer; the breathtaking Gulfoss Waterfall. Nothing can prepare you for the sheer scale of this beast and claims that it is more beautiful or impressive than Niagara Falls are wholey believable. The site is easily accessible and you’re able to walk up, down or around Gulfoss for the most part.
Our forth and final stop along the Golden Circle took us back in the direction of home as we pulled into Kerið (Kerid); a massive volcanic crater. The photos look like a ditch but believe me this thing is a behemoth. To put the photo into scale a little bit… if you were alone in a Kayak in the middle of the lake then you would look like a hair, a smudge or (more likely) a teeny, tiny snowman. It was fast approaching 3-4pm at this point so we were conscious of darkness approaching, however I would have loved to have followed the path for a deeper, closer, probably colder, look at the frozen lake at the heart of this once active volcano.
With our camera batteries rapidly draining we headed for home, food, drink and warmth. Another fantastic day out in Iceland and a day where the natural beauty of the place really took our breath away.
There’s one day left on our three day excursion so it only seems right that this trip gets a triple-part-blog! See y’all in Part 3 – Not Finished With Iceland
*It’s actually called the Geysir Centre! Ha!! I wasn’t far off… Oh, how I chuckled!
Have you been on this trip? How do you feel Car v Coach? What was your highlight of the Golden Circle? Ever completed the entire ring road? Comments below…