Unsurprisingly, the secret is out. Iceland is amazing and travellers world-wide know it. The Golden Circle would have to include some of the most crowded areas of all – probably because it is very accessible from Reykjavik, meaning foreigners can easily dip their toes into what Iceland has to offer. Personally, I never found it so crowded that it verged on unenjoyable (like what we’ve come to expect in places like Dubrovnik and Venice), but given that it felt like we were often in the middle of nowhere, it was amazing that so many people seemed to find their way to where we were.
Realistically, no-one comes to Iceland deliberately just to see Reykjavik – rather, it’s all about the land of fire and ice. Sometimes people have layovers in Iceland, with enough time to escape the country’s capital. The best place for one day excursions (or the beginning of a Ring Road trip) is through the Golden Circle. We did most of the Golden Circle on a day trip from Reykjavik, except for the Blue Lagoon, which we saved for our last night in Iceland. We were fortunate enough to have a car, meaning we could go at our own pace, but there are certainly trillions of tour buses about! The must-dos in the Golden Circle include:
1. Tingvellir National Park: the site of Iceland’s original parliament just happens to fall on the location where two of the world’s tectonic plates meet. The plates (American and Eurasian) are meant to be moving apart at a rate of 1mm – 8mm each year. The result in an amazing fissure amongst the rock, giving way to a magnificent pathway through. Logberg (follow the signs), is where the world’s oldest parliament took place. This is also home to the Silfra fissure, which is meant to be epic for diving, albeit extremely cold.
2. Gullfoss: one of the most impressive waterfalls in Iceland, in my humble opinion. It is two tiered, appears out of nowhere, takes a sharp turn mid-waterfall and carries what seems like an impossible volume of water (and to think it’s not even the biggest in Iceland!). The two drops are 11m and 21m and it is possible to take a high path and low path for viewing. The low path allows you to get right up close to the water.
3. Geysir: one of Iceland’s most accessible geothermic areas, there are a number of spitting mud pools and shooting geysers all within walking distance. The effect is created by water meeting magma heated rock, where it boils and erupts under pressure. Although the original Geysir is now considered dormant, the Strokkur geyser reliably shoots every 5 – 10 minutes about 20 metres high. It smells strongly of sulphur; something which I think Andy couldn’t quite accept!
4. Kerid: one of the only sights that required an entry fee (ironically it was one of the most low key), Kerid is an explosion crater dating 6500 years old. It takes about 20 minutes to walk around and if you can spare the time I would highly recommend it: the ethereal green lake contrasted with the red earth makes for a wonderful sight.
5. The Blue Lagoon: saving the best for last, the Blue Lagoon is situated out near the airport so is commonly done as a separate trip. It is one of my favourite memories of my time in Iceland. A luxurious experience, we were treated to face masks, robes, drinks in the lagoon and then a delicious four course meal at the Lava restaurant (on site) afterwards. The powder blue pools are expansive, meaning that crowded doesn’t feel too crowded and there is a cosy spot for everyone. Although people claim it’s commercial, I thought it was in the best possible way.