A Day Exploring the Golden Circle


The best thing we did before heading to Iceland was book two tours with Gray Line. Our first tour, the Golden Circle Classic tour, gave us 7 hours on the famous Golden Circle with stops at Thingvellier National Park, Gullfoss waterfall, and Geysir. This tour did not disappoint with enough time at each stop to see and experience the history and natural wonders of this beautiful part of Iceland.

Our tour bus picked us up at 8 a.m. at the conveniently located bus stop #8 near our hotel and took us to the Gray Line Iceland headquarters where we then transferred to a larger bus that accommodated about 40 people. I knew coming to Iceland that the touristy spots were, well, filled with tourists and that our bus full would just be one of many that we would have to compete with when at these picturesque locations.

The tour seemed to start the second we pulled out from the Gray Line headquarters. The landscape quickly changed from city streets to green hills and mountains and then shaped into something more rugged with lava rock and jagged edges etched into the natural landscape.

The landscape of Iceland is like something out of a sci-fi movie.

Our first stop on the Golden Circle tour was Thingvellier National Park. This place is important to Iceland for geological and historical reasons. Thingvellier is the location where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, pulling away from each other at a rate of 2 cm. each year. One of our tour guides joked with us saying, “Iceland will eventually be the biggest country in the world since it’s expanding slightly every year!” The unique thing about this place where the plates meet though is that you can walk in between them.

Walking in between tectonic plates at Thingvellier National Park. Look to your left and there is the North American plate. To your right, the Eurasian plate.

It wasn’t until I was standing in between the plates that I remembered that I wanted to be a geologist when I was in middle school. It occurred to me then that had I chosen that field as my career path, I most likely would have ended up in Iceland for a completely different reason. Because this is the exact point where two plates meet, earthquakes and geological activity are common. In fact, all of Iceland is a “hot spot” for tectonic and volcanic activity.

While Thingvellier is a draw for tourists and geologists alike, it may also interest history buffs. In 930 AD the first parliament of Iceland was established in this exact location, acting as a meeting grounds for all leaders of the separate populations in Iceland. Parliament sessions were held here until 1798. It was incredible to stand in a place with such a long history that predates the founding of America by over 800 years.

Straddling tectonic plates at Thingvellier National Park.

Thingvellier turned out to be the most crowded part of our tour and of our whole trip, it seemed. Because it was a beautiful, sunny day everyone was using that to their advantage and taking as many pictures as possible. One thing I didn’t realize before heading out on our tour was that every stop, no matter how natural and well preserved it was, had a cafe, souvenir shop, and was located very close to the main road. As I say that though I do want to mention that even though these spots are catered to tourists I never felt like the tourism aspect of it lessened the wow factor of the actual sight to see (unlike what has happened with Niagara Falls in the US & Canada).

After about an hour at Thingvellier we were back on the bus and headed to our next stop, Gullfoss. I have to admit, I am someone who “chases waterfalls” and gets giddy and childlike when I am up close to one. Gullfoss was unlike any waterfall I had ever seen before. Even the powerful Niagara Falls could not compare to Gullfoss.

Before we reached the waterfall though we had more of the beautiful Icelandic landscape to meander through and there was never an opportunity to look away from the window because there’s always something to see. This trip to Iceland gave me my first glimpse of a volcano, glacier, and geyser with the first two being present on the horizon no matter where you are in the country. Along the way there were also rivers than ran from glaciers to the ocean with crystal clear water. It seemed as though no matter where you looked there was always a gem hidden in the Icelandic landscape.

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Once we arrived at Gullfoss there was a short walk down some stairs to the multi-tiered waterfall. It was the largest waterfall I had ever seen and one of the most beautiful. The size of the waterfall compared to the individual people standing beside it was astounding. Although there were plenty of tourists with us it never felt crowded because of how massive the area was and how many different layers there were to view the waterfall. I enjoyed the area above the waterfall the most since you were able to see every facet of the falls.

Gullfoss waterfall from the top overlook area.


There was a walkway from the overlook to the side of the falls where you were able to climb on the rocks and get a look at the crevice in which the water flows. While the falls themselves are powerful and intimidating, the river that begins at the bottom of the falls was calm and serene.

The side of Gullfoss from the walkway. While there are rope fences to keep tourists away from the falls there are no obstructed views of the natural beauty.

Just like Thingvellier there was a cafe and store located above the falls but we spent all of our time at Gullfoss. Off in the distance you are able to see the glacier from which the water at Gullfoss runs off. The landscape of Iceland is often times overwhelming with so many beautiful sights to see at once. This was the case at Gullfoss. The power of the falls appealed to me, but so did the calmness of the river below and the looming glacier-topped volcano in the distance.


Gullfoss was easily my favorite stop along the Golden Circle. As I said before, I’m an avid waterfall chaser, but while Gullfoss was beautiful and powerful, the day after this tour I would travel to two other waterfalls that would quickly take the top spots on my “favorite waterfalls of all time” list. More on that to follow soon.

I guess I should mention that the weather in Iceland is normally not like what we had for our two tour days. We were lucky enough to have 60 degree days with constant sunshine but we knew to expect rain and chilly temperatures when traveling here. The weather was a topic of conversation for our whole trip because it was so out of the ordinary. We were told by many Icelanders that they hadn’t had weather like this in over two years. Of course when I was researching Iceland and its many must see locations I found numerous photos with the sun shining and blue skies so I had hoped we would get lucky and receive days like that and WE DID! Woohoo! With that being said, make sure to come prepared with sweaters, a rain jacket, and warm clothes when headed to Iceland… and maybe pack a t-shirt or two, just in case you get lucky enough to have weather like we did. They say that if you don’t like the weather in Iceland to eat five minutes and it will change, but luckily that wasn’t the case while we were there.

The last stop on our Golden Circle tour was Geysir. I imagine Yellowstone and other geysers around the world look much like this place but what makes Iceland’s Geysir unique is that the English word “geyser” derives from this location. All throughout our Golden Circle tour our guide pointed out hot spots along the terrain that were volcanic and geothermal in nature but it wasn’t until we stopped here that I realized how active the ground beneath us was.

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As I mentioned earlier in this post, I had never seen a geyser before so this was a unique experience for me. This is the spot where you realize just how active and explosive Iceland is. The volcanos near by were overdue on their eruption schedules with one of the volcanos, Hekla, having a full magma chamber and our tour guides telling us “She could go off today, tomorrow, or one year from now. Who knows?” The geothermal activity of those volcanos trickled down to these tiny cracks in the earth and made me feel tiny in comparison to how much natural power was present around me.

Geysir goes off every 12-15 minutes, like clockwork, and did not disappoint while we were there. Of course Geysir was the main attraction of this spot but I was more impressed with the other smaller openings in the earth that produced constant steam and sounds of geothermal activity. It was amazing how a place that was so unstable and volatile could be beautiful at the same time.  Unfortunately I was busy enjoying Geysir’s quick eruption so I was not able to get a photo of it. The hundreds of people standing around waiting for this geothermal phenomenon also took away from the natural aspect and beauty that I would have hoped a photo could have captured anyways.


With our tour of the Golden Circle finished it was time to head back to Reykjavik. It may come as no surprise that I have a severe fear of missing out (fomo) so I was unable to nap on the bus like many others and instead kept my eyes glued to the passing landscape that again changed from green hillsides to volcanic craters and alien-like landscape. My insistence to not miss out on anything paid off when I realized I had been transported to a galaxy far, far away, specifically on the planet Lah’mu as seen in Rogue One. That was a pretty cool moment for the Star Wars nerd in me to feel like I’m in that world without even needing to go to Galaxy’s Edge in Disney! (Don’t worry, I’ll be in Galaxy’s Edge soon enough too).

Credit: Lucasfilm- Disney Star Wars: Rogue One 2016 (Imperial Soldiers were not in Iceland while I was visiting, unfortunately…)

After our 7 hour tour we were back in Reykjavik and only had one more day in Iceland. I purposely booked the South Coast of Iceland tour for our last day because I just KNEW it was going to be my favorite part and I was 100% correct on that so, Spoiler Alert: The best of Iceland is yet to come. 🙂

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