We visited Iceland with our two daughters and son-in-law in June 2021 just after it began to welcome vaccinated Americans and we spent five days in this incredible country (see also our Reykjavik, South Coast and Blue Lagoon posts)
The Golden Circle tour is a must-do in Iceland. You can rent a car or take an organized tour. We opted for a tour to learn as much as we could about what we saw. We chose a "small-group" tour and including the five of us, there were about 15 on our small bus which was a perfect size. This tour took about eight hours and the time went very fast. Below is generally the area you'll cover.
Þingvellir National Park
Our first stop was Þingvellir National Park, the only UNESCO World Heritage site in Iceland. Þingvellir can roughly be translated as "Fields of Parliament". Our guide told us that the world's first parliament was formed here in 930 AD. The houses now serve as a summer residence for the President of Iceland.
One of the many highlights of this area is the convergence of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates which are slowly moving apart. The western part of Iceland sits on the North American plate while the eastern part sits on the Eurasian plate. It's one of the only areas in the world where visitors can see this type of geology.
In the photo below the Eurasian plate is all the land to the right of the river and the North American plate is to the left of the river. There are an average of 185 earthquakes per day in Iceland, although most of them can't be felt. Not surprisingly, homes are built to withstand them.
Next stop was Gullfoss, the powerful and beautiful waterfalls (shown in the still photo at the top of this page). The water travels from the Langjökull glacier before cascading down 105 feet. "Stunning" was a word we used a lot on this trip!
You can see that there are actually two levels of waterfalls. The force is unbelievable with about 459 cubic feet of water falling every second.
Interestingly, this is a photo of the same waterfall when Paul and I visited in February a number of years ago. Both seasons offer such beauty!
Some of the beautiful scenery along our route. Below is volcanic rock.
With more than 200 volcanos and so many hot springs, Iceland is a pioneer in geothermal energy. We saw many pipes such as this which transport the geothermal energy around the country.
Geysir is the Icelandic work for geyser and did we ever see them! The geyser which thrills visitors in this area is actually called Strokkur. It erupts every eight minutes or so to the delight of everyone, young and old.
Wait for it...
And a lovely still photo.
This is the baby geyser in the park.
And the bubble just before it erupted.
We figured they meant business by adding the distance to the hospital!
Although much smaller than Gullfoss, Faxi was nevertheless beautiful.
These lovely purple flowers were all over. We were told that they help with erosion as their roots grow deep, but they also tend to take over whatever other plants are in their path. They were beautiful to see as we drove through the countryside.
Anyone interested in Iceland has no doubt heard of the iconic Icelandic horses. They're small; bigger than a pony but not as big as the horses most of us know. And they're beautiful. I had always heard of the wild Icelandic horses, but the truth is that there is not one wild horse in Iceland; all are owned, and from the looks of them, very well taken care of. We were able to stop to say hi to a couple of them.
They have a thick coat in the winter which they shed in the summer. This guy was very affectionate and obviously trying to tell us he was hungry!
I loved his windswept mane!
And While We're Talking Animals...
Sheep are EVERYWHERE in Iceland. We didn't drive a mile without seeing them (and many lambs). They also belong to farmers but roam freely during the summer.
The photo below tells an interesting story. Our guide told us that each farmer tags his sheep and in the early fall all the farmers comb the country for up to two or three weeks gathering all of them. They bring them down to the inner circle in this pen then they send them to the various pens off the main one depending on who they belong to. The sheep are kept inside in the winter because they would develop frostbite on their feet if left outside.
I spotted this plaque on the Café Loki just across the street from Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik and thought of the story we had been told the day before.
Happy sheep. Don't you love their natural curls?
Also known as Kerid Crater, this beauty was originally thought to be formed by a volcanic explosion, but the lack of volcanic ash has led geologists to think that it's actually a "cone volcano" which emptied its magma. Once it no longer contained magma, the cone collapsed on itself creating this crater. You can walk down to the bottom of the crater. Notice how the sun plays on the water.
This is what it looked like in February during our previous trip. So different, but equally beautiful.
What a day it was!
➜ Top Tips
Dress warmly, even in the summer. The wind can be very chilly. We were fortunate to have plenty of sun, but we still needed layers and a jacket.
Bring hiking shoes. I was glad I had mine as a lot of the surfaces are rough and uneven.
Bring a good camera (that probably goes without saying)!
Spend a little more for a smaller tour if you go with a group.
If you rent a car, do your homework so you know what you're looking at; it makes the beautiful scenery even more interesting and meaningful.