Iceland’s Golden Circle

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July 16th 2018
Published: July 20th 2018
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Most people visiting Iceland for only 1 to 3 days find that the most effective use of their time, to get a reasonably varied view of the different facets of this country, arrange to drive or take a day tour around the Golden Circle. Although we had just returned from 6 days exploring the entire circumference of Iceland, we wanted even more, so we set off in our car to see some highlights of the Golden Circle.

Leaving Reykjavik travelling south on Hwy 1, you pass across an area with giant hot water pipes laying on the ground across the landscape. The Nesjavellir geothermal power station is visible, connected to the end of the pipes, and sends hundreds of gallons of hot water per second down the pipes to Reykjavik.

Highway 1 drops down into a valley and you turn left at the junction onto highway 360 which follows tightly along the edge of Þingvallavatn lake for a while before you turn right at the junction for highway 36. In just a few minutes more you reach Þingvellir (THING-VETT-leer), National Park., a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

P1 parking lot is reached from the first turnoff and although quite large, is often full. There is
Drekkingarhylur (“ Drowning Pool”)Drekkingarhylur (“ Drowning Pool”)Drekkingarhylur (“ Drowning Pool”)

where women suspected of witchcraft were drowned between the late-16th and mid-18th centuries.
a visitor centre there, where you can pay your 750 isk parking fee at a machine, and a short walkway to see the fissure. If you continue along the road past the P1 turnoff, the next lot a few km’s away is P2. This is much closer to the waterfall, more likely to have available parking spaces, and has an easy hiking path to the fissure.

Öxarárfoss Waterfall is an easy uphill walk from P2 where we parked and very photo worthy and the sunny day even rewarded us with a partial rainbow in our photos. Below it, along a path downstream a few hundred metres and just below a small waterfall is Drekkingarhylur, the “Drowning Pool”, where women suspected of witchcraft were drowned between the late-16th and mid-18th centuries.

From here you can continue walking on a good, wide gravel path towards the fissure viewpoint. As you walk along, the ground you are on used to be even height with the high cliff on your right; you are actually walking on the gap between the North American (on your right) and Eurasian (on your left) tectonic plates.

Continue along, gradually upwards for a few hundred yards,
Þingvellir’s great fissureÞingvellir’s great fissureÞingvellir’s great fissure

North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are moving apart.
until you reach the viewpoint overlooking the very visible fissure dividing the two continental plates. You can clearly see a very large fissure running off both left and right and a variety of smaller ones. The tectonic plates are shifting apart here about 3mm a year.

Walk back down the path then turn right across a small bridge over the Öxará river flowing into Þingvallavatn Lake. This is Iceland’s largest lake, fed by Langajökull glacier. This path takes you to Þingvellir Church and next to it, Þingvellir House which is the official summer house of the Prime Minister of Iceland.

From here the path continues on to P1 parking, a large visitor centre with a gift shop, restaurant, free bathrooms, and the machine to pay for your parking. Another path runs from here back to P2 lot where we left our car.

Leaving the park, we continued east on highway 36 for nearly an hour to reach the Geysir Geothermal Field . Along the way, Highway 36 becomes hwy 365 (stay left past hwy 36 junction) then it changes to hwy 37 which comes in from the right (stay straight, do not turn right) then it changes again to hwy 35 which comes in from the right (stay straight, do not turn right). After about 56 km you will arrive at the Geysir Geothermal fields.

There is a large visitor centre on your right with a large gift shop, free bathrooms and a restaurant. You can park here, for free, if there is room but there will be lots of tourists in cars and buses with lots of traffic congestion. This entire attraction is also completely free as are most natural wonders in Iceland. You can already clearly see steam rising all over the place across the road. Just beside and past the visitor centre is a hotel and just past that, there is a road to your left with a small parking lot that usually has empty spots and is very close to the geysirs.

We parked at the visitor centre then crossed the road at the cross walk to enter the geothermal field. The geysirs and hot pools have either a small rope or a curb surrounding them but there are no boardwalks or sidewalks. Hang on tight to your kids as one wrong step could drop you into 100c+ boiling mud or water!

Although it is very interesting walking through the hillside field with bubbling water holes and mud bogs, it will be immediately obvious where the main attraction is. Dozens of people will be shoulder to shoulder surrounding a large pool of bubbling water with their cameras pointing at it. Strokkur is the name of this geysir and it will suddenly erupt an explosive stream of boiling water up to 50 feet high. It erupts every 5 to 15 minutes or so with varying height and although everybody loves being right beside it when it goes, including me, photos are actually much better from a little further away.

Geysir (GAY-sear), is actually an Icelandic word which literally means “the gusher.” The famous original geysir is here and clearly marked, although it very rarely erupts any more and Strokkur is now the star of the show.

Just a couple minutes further along hwy 35 there is a parking area on your left with a small hot dog and coffee stand. The attraction here is the very calm, older Icelandic horses penned beside it. You can buy some special Horse Candy to feed the horses and take your photos while patting them. Please DO at least buy a coffee or some horse candy and do not just stop to take free photos without giving them a little business.

Continue in the same direction for another 10 minutes to reach Gulfoss waterfall. Gullfoss (GUTL-foss, “Golden Falls”) is situated on the wide, glacial Hvítá river. The rocky upper falls have a drop of about 35 feet, and the lower falls drops about 70 feet straight down into a narrow gorge which unusually, runs not straight out but off to the side of the falls. The spray up out of the gorge can really soak you and a strong, cold wind is often blowing here so dress warm and waterproof. We were lucky enough to have the sun out, creating a dramatic rainbow across the falls, one of the best ever, a regular local assured us.

When leaving Gulfoss, do NOT continue in the direction you were going (as we did) as 15 minutes along it changes to a gravel road passable with large 4-wheel drive vehicles only. It is necessary to backtrack the way you came on highway 35 and pass by Geysir again. Shortly after Geysir, make a left turn to stay on highway 35 toward Reykholt and Selfoss.

From this corner it is 41 km along hwy 35 to reach our next stop, the Kerið crater. After passing Skálholt, drive about another 15 minutes, then watch for the little Kerið sign, which comes up very quickly. An early warning you might see as you approach the corner is an Icelandic flag along a ridge on your left.

Kerið Crater (“ The Tub”) was formed about 6500 years ago, probably by a small magma chamber in the crater which emptied at the end of an eruption, leaving a collapsed top to form the crater.

There is an entry fee here of 400 isk which gives you access to a path around the rim of the crater as well as a stairway taking you about 55 metres down inside to the edge of the small lake filling the bottom which is another 7 - 14 metres deep. There is also a rough path all around the water’s edge, although the best photos are from the top edge of the crater. For the best photos try to come during sunny weather, mid-day when all the interior walls are in the light.

Leaving here we continued along hwy 35 reaching hwy 1 in just a few minutes. To our left on hwy 1 is the beautiful Selfoss falls, usually included on a Golden Circle tour. But as we visited them just a week ago at the start of our Ring Road adventure, we turned right instead, back towards our home in Reykjavik.

I hope you enjoyed reading about our day travelling on Iceland’s Golden Circle. Remember to scroll down further to see the rest of the photos.

Additional photos below
Photos: 26, Displayed: 26


Almannagjá (“ Everyman’s Gorge”)Almannagjá (“ Everyman’s Gorge”)
Almannagjá (“ Everyman’s Gorge”)

As you walk, to your right is the North American and on your left, the Eurasian tectonic plates

23rd June 2021

Thanks for the GREAT info!
Wow! I humbly thank you for this information and the gorgeous pictures! My husband and I are here in Iceland for a week and plan on diving the Golden Circle tomorrow. Hence, your information was invaluable for giving us a heads up on where to go, park, and see. Thanks for saving me many hours of trying to figure this out by researching each site individually. We are driving and just returned from a 4-night stay in Heimaey in the Westman Islands! I recommend you do another blog from a visit here. There is so much to do on this fantastic island!
23rd June 2021

Thanks for your comments. Glad you found it useful. We unfortunately have not had time for the Westman islands but hope to get there on another trip. Happy travels!

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