We woke up early, around 6:30, to start our road trip as early as possible. We were told in advance that the Golden Circle would take us about 8-10 hours and we wanted to make the most use of the daylight (with sunrise around 8:30am and sunset at 6:30pm).
Þingvellir National Park
Our first was Thingvellir National Park, which was north-east from the city. The national park is also grounds of Iceland’s first Parliament – dating way back in 930 AD. It was interesting to read about the history and the way in which important matters were discussed. At the Lögberg people could step forward and give speeches.
But the park is more recently and famously known for being the spot where the North American & Eurasian tectonic plates are slowly splitting apart from each other.
It was only our first stop but I was already so excited to be outside. There was a childlike excitement inside of me that wanted to keep exploring off the path.
It was nice (in many ways) because October was a transition or shoulder season between summer and winter. It was already past the end of summer, but not yet the beginning of winter – so naturally there were not very many tourists.
At no point did any of the sites feel overwhelming or even close to mass tourism; but I could picture how busy it could get in the summer, and that makes my heart heavy because it’s hard to enjoy natural places when you can’t find some solitude.
We see fish! Fish swimming hard upstream. They are wiggling and waddling in the shallow waters.
Already I’m feeling so content with our first stop. But onto the next stop!
Geysers At Haukadalur
Next stop on our Golden Circle road trip was Haukadalur, a geothermal area about 60km away from Þingvellir National Park. There are two famous geysers here called Geysir and Strokkur.
The two main stars (geysers) of this spot is “Geysir” and “Strokkur”. Apparently, the general term geyser was named after this one in Iceland. The first thing you notice when you arrive is the strong smell of sulfur (which smells rotten eggs).
The original Geysir stopped erupting after an earthquake but the second one (now main one, Strokkur) continuously erupts. The water “explodes” skyward about 100 ft. and does so every 8 minutes or so. It’s funny seeing the crowd of people holding their cameras for minutes and minutes just…. waiting. And when the geyser explodes you hear the crowd gasp and awe in sync!
There was a nice hiking path passed the geysers so we explored the area for a while. The trail was sort of muddy and wet but nothing hard or strenuous. It was neat to climb up the path because you could see Strokkur exploding from afar.
Our next stop was the mighty (Niagara Falls like) waterfall called Gullfoss. The thick misty, rainy surrounds the parking lot and into the trail along the waterfall. You taking a long flight of stairs down towards the heart of the rapidly flowing water.
It’s worth getting a good rain jacket or poncho when visiting. I think it’s silly to have an umbrella because you have to use the umbrella as a shield and then you practically miss the whole view.
After descending a long staircase from the parking lot, a concrete pathway allows visitors to walk along the edge and look down into the roaring cascade of water. The area around the falls gets pretty windy, so a waterproof jacket (and maybe even pants) is recommended if you plan to get close. The dramatic scenery at Gullfoss makes it one of Iceland’s most popular attractions.
Driving tips! Even though I wasn’t driving, I was mainly napping. I think it’s worth mentioning that the roads are well maintained and there’s a lot of people driving so it’s not unsafe to drive. I can’t speak to the winter conditions, but I assume having experience driving in snow goes a long way. The are roads marked “F” which means that they require a four-wheel drive – I personally wouldn’t take a rental on those roads, even from looking they looked quite rocky.
Hike to Hotsprings
My heart is smiling as I’m thinking and writing about this part of the trip, easily one of my most treasured memories in Iceland. Reykjadalur combined two of my favourite things in the world: hiking and hot springs.
We were grateful for our friend who had already been on this hike, so his recommendation was what brought us to this gem outside of the city.
Reykjadalur is the name of the area which we started the hike, outside the small town of Hveragerði. Approximately a 40-minute drive from Reykjavik. In Icelandic the name Reykjadalur translates to “steam valley”.
The hike led us through almost volcanic looking landscapes – with red and barren rocks. There’s a lot to see packed on this hike. I stopped frequently to take photos and video. There were many little streams with steam rising from the water. Again parts were muddy, I accidently stepped in a sinking mud puddle and almost lost a boot… but otherwise the trail was well maintained with bridges and small planks of wood for the wet parts.
A friend and I explored a little bit further as we went inward and upwards along the path to find the warm streams of water. It was a perfect ending to the day. I had a smile on my face the whole hike and drive back.
Thank you Iceland for such an adventure today!