Most visitors to Iceland have come first for the amazing scenery and well over 80% start in Reykjavík the island nations capital. If you’re considering your first visit to Iceland the fastest way to hit the ground running is to take Iceland’s Golden Circle tour. Because of its popularity there are a number of tour company options to consider or you can rent a car and take the tour on your own.
Icelands roads are well maintained, marked and easy to navigate and rental cars are reasonably priced. A one day rental will usually cost less than a tours cost for one person.
The three major sites composing Iceland’s Golden Circle sightseeing route include Þingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area and Gullfoss Waterfall, but virtually all guided tours include a number of additional sights.
Thingvellir (Þingvellir) National Park – There are several places on land where the Earth’s tetonic plates are actually pulling away from each other creating new land. Called a rift zone Þingvellir is the oldest of the national parks in Iceland and geologically sits atop of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The Þingvellir National Park is located in the southern part of the country about a 40 minute drive from Reykjavík . It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that contains the rift, the country’s second-largest lake, the Þingvallavatn Lake (Lake of the Parliament) and the amazing Öxarárfoss Waterfall. It also contains many hiking trails and camping grounds, and while admission to Þingvellir National Park is free there is a charge to park.
Geysir Geothermal Area – If the name Geysir seems a lot like geyser, the truth is that Geysir is where the name originated. While most of the geothermal area is on private land and there have been attempts to start charging, the area is still free. The oldest accounts of Geysir in Haukadalur Valley date back to 1294, when earthquakes in Iceland caused changes in the geothermal area and created several new hot springs. Geysir is the main geyser and has been measured to reach the height of 170 meters. Seismic activity in the area has effect on Geysir and after being dormant for a number of years, Geysir was revived by an earthquake in 2000.
Gullfoss Waterfall – Just a few miles past Geysir, on Iceland’s Golden Circle route is Gullfoss waterfall. Gullfoss is one of Iceland’s most popular attractions because of the sheer size of the falls and the ninety degree switch the falls takes half way down. There is plenty of parking and the visitor center has a nice restaurant, snack and gift shop with free restrooms.
Other attractions within the area of the Golden Circle include:
Kerið crater lake – is a beautiful volcanic crater lake on the Golden Circle route, filled with blue-green water with black and deep red slopes. It is believed to be an explosion crater formed 3,000 years ago.
Secret Lagoon Hot Spring – features a single pool supplied from hot and cold springs, keeping it at a perfect 100 to 104 °F. Spend time relaxing in the hot springs while viewing the beautiful landscape that includes a geyser spouting jets of hot water and steam every few minutes.
Blue Lagoon – Located in the heart of the Reykjanes UNESCO Global Geopark and surrounded by moss-covered lava fields, the Blue Lagoon Iceland is a wonderland named one of the 25 Wonders of the World by National Geographic in 2012. Once perceived as little more than an unusable byproduct of Iceland’s geothermal energy production, the Blue Lagoon is now water attraction with its warm waters known for their healing, rejuvenating, and nourishing qualities.
The Sólheimajökull and Mýrdalsjökull Glaciers – Sólheimajökull is an outlet glacier of the mighty icecap of Mýrdalsjökull on the South Coast of Iceland. It is one of the most easily accessible glaciers to reach from Reykjavík, just 98 miles away and is a favorite spot for glacier hiking.
The Black-sand Beaches of Vik – Reynisfjara is a black sand beach in Vík and one of the most popular black sand beaches in Iceland. It is located only two and a half hours away from Reykjavík and is worthy of a stop if you are near.
The Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss Waterfalls – Skogafoss is a waterfall at the cliffs of the former coastline. As the coastline receded seaward the former sea cliffs remained. Skogafoss waterfall comes from two glaciers, Eyjafjallajokull and Myrdalsjokull and drops almost 200 feet. From the top of Skogafoss waterfall is an inspiring view out over south Iceland’s coastline. Seljalandsfoss is another well known waterfall in Iceland. It drops almost 100 feet and is remarkably beautiful. If there is enough time add these waterfalls to a trip on south coast.
There are also a number of good museums and culture sites in Reykjavík along with the interesting Geothermal Energy Exhibition an interactive museum on Iceland’s volcanic processes at Hellisheiði Power Plant, just a twenty-minute drive outside Reykjavík.