During my three day trip to Iceland, I wanted to spend time in Reykjavik, time doing some guided tours, and also some time renting a car with B and traveling alone. One of the top things to see in Iceland is The Golden Circle. This is essentially the route you take that leads from Thingvellir National Park, to the Geysers, to Gullfoss Waterfall with various other stops you can make on the way.
This route is around 300 km and can be done in half a day, but you'll want to take the whole day if you want to stop off and take pictures of wildlife like the sheep and Icelandic horses. That's really what this route is all about, taking in the scenery and exploring Iceland on your own. We rented Europcar for only a day because we were going to stop off at The Blue Lagoon and then drop off our car at the Keflavik Airport, but you can really use any rental agency and they are pretty much the same price. They did charge us extra money to turn the car into the airport instead of where we originally got it from. They also charged for the gas we used.
We began our trip at around 10 am and finished around 7 pm. We did not go back to the beginning, but finished off our trip at The Blue Lagoon and then headed on a flight at midnight back home. When I was doing research for how to do The Golden Circle, I saw a lot of great blog posts, but I really wanted to break it down and make it easier to understand. Again, our route was Thingvellir National Park, Geyser, and Gullfoss. Along the way, we made stops to capture the beautiful wildlife.
The easiest way to find your destinations are by using a car gps. There are also plenty of signs everywhere guiding you in the right direction. Iceland has had a boom of tourism in the past few years so don't be surprised to find loads of tourist either on buses or rentals stopping along on the same stops as you are. I didn't realize how touristy The Golden Circle was until I noticed gift stores and cafes at nearly every major sight. But even with how touristy it seemed, it still didn't deter from the amazing sights and moments we had cruising along the Icelandic countryside.
There are many Icelandic Sheep on the The Golden Circle route as well as everywhere else. Like the Icelandic horses, this domestic breed was brought over from the Vikings. Their fur comes in multiple colors that create the beautiful Icelandic wool sweaters.
I got to see and talk about these beautiful Icelandic Horses my first day in Iceland in my post A Scenic Morning in Gardur, Iceland, but I thought these horses were so lovely that I wanted to see more. It's not hard to find these horses, they are everywhere. They are also super friendly. The last horse image is a picture I took as we were walking back to the car. They were looking at us as if to say, "don't leave!" or that was my perception anyway.
All over Iceland and big tourist sites around the world I've noticed these stacked rocks. Many of the stacked rocks in Iceland are not to be messed with as they are land markers or apparently honoring Icelandic sagas. These rocks below were allowed to be stacked by tourists passing by. I'm still not exactly sure of the significance of this but people were all about it. In the background you can see the large Thingvallavatn Lake.
Thingvellir National Park and Tectonic Plates
Thingvellir National Park (spelled with what looks like a P), is pretty broad and there isn't just one thing to see here. This area is known for it's tectonic plate rifts and volcanic environment. You can see many large cracks in the ground marking the North American and Eurasian Tectonic Plates. During our trip to Iceland we also went on a snorkeling tour between the tectonic plates in Silfra, but I'll talk more about that in my next post. This is a great area to roam off the beaten path and explore some of the odd terrain. The park itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The National Parliament of Iceland
The National Parliament of Iceland or Althing in English is also located in the Thingvellir National Park. It was founded in 930 making it the oldest parliament area in the world. Here you can find some paths to walk and you can go up to the top of the cliff seen below and surprise, at the top is a gift shop.
At the top of the cliff you can also see the Thingvellir Church. We walked down towards it and took a look around the premises. The church dates back to the 11th century (it has obviously had some work done) and is said to be built shortly after the acceptance of Christianity in Iceland. The church also has a cemetery.
You will know you are here because of yet another gift shop and cafe. There are several active geyers in this area, the biggest being Geysir. But Geysir is not currently active and luckily enought a smaller geyser in the same area called Strokkur erupts every 4-8 minutes.
Moving on to the last main stop on The Golden Circle will take you to Gullfoss, or Golden Falls. This waterfall is huge and beautiful. I couldn't quite get a good picture of the falls or even stand near it long enough because on this particular day it was very windy and rainy. The wind and drizzle were almost too much to bear so I snapped a few pictures and left the site. As you can see from the image below, you can actually walk up the path to get a closer look.