Some places in Iceland are must-see and there’s a reason why. Although the Golden Circle is busy all year-round, don't miss it. But what is this "Golden Circle" you may ask. For those who still haven't heard of it, the short answer is that it is a common route between three breathtaking natural attractions in Iceland; Thingvellir (Þingvellir) National Park, Geysir geothermal area and Gullfoss waterfall. Instead of driving back and forth, travellers normally drive a circle, that's just under 230 km in total and visit the three. It can be done in a single day and it's around 100 km away from Reykjavik.
Although there are many interesting stops along, these are the three most famous ones.
Usually, the first stop of the Golden Circle is Thingvellir (Þingvellir) national park, the site of the ancient parliament of the Viking commonwealth. Besides being a geological hotspot (it's where the two tectonic plates meet) it is also the most important historic site in Iceland. Thingvellir played a central role in the Icelandic independence struggle. Right here the Icelanders declared independence from Denmark and agreed to adopt Christianity. Because of all of this, Thingvellir is considered the birthplace of the nation and its "holiest" site. In 2004 it was declared a Unesco world heritage site, described as a place with "deep historical and symbolic associations for the people of Iceland". Besides all the historical importance, Thingvellir is one of the few places on earth where you can walk along the crack between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. If you don't mind cold water, you can even go for a dive between them.
The second stop along the Golden Circle, and probably the most amusing one, is the highly active Geysir Hot Spring Area. You will walk around many boiling mud pits, some looking like witch's pots, be splashed by exploding geysers and possibly stay speechless (or even scream) when seeing the lively Strokkur spouting water 30 metres into the air every few minutes. The newly opened Geysir Center offers exhibits and informative presentations year round. The entrance is free, there is a café, toilets and a parking lot. It's not easy to leave this place, as the "eruptions" are each time different and people end up waiting for "just one more time" for hours. The best thing about the Geysir hot spring area is that you can really see all the process closely or climb a nearby hill and see it from the above.
Just 10 minutes further on from the Geysir is the powerful waterfalls complex of Gullfoss. I had seen many photos of it before but it still stunned me. The guide books and pictures do little justice to the amazing forces of nature at play here. First of all, because it's impossible to fit it in a single picture, and secondly, it will always be missing the deafening noise and the immense force with which the water plummets down. There are walkways all around the waterfall so you can see it from many different angles. Most likely you will also spot some rainbows around it.
No trip to Iceland is complete without going to chase aurora borealis — the Northern lights. If you don't want to miss it, make sure you visit Iceland between mid September and April. On your way back from the Golden Circle tour find a dark spot by the road and hope for the sky to start its show.
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