Strolling along the Seine during a Paris spring. Experiencing the 24-hour frenzy of Manhattan. Glimpsing the Pyramids for the first time.
There are some things in life that are such quintessential experiences they can’t be considered a cliché.
If you’ve heard about one trip in Iceland, it’s probably the Golden Circle, and you’ll have heard about it for a reason. In a roughly circular, 200-kilometre route, it encapsulates much of what is unique about this island nation.
You’ll see spouting geysers, geology in action, majestic waterfalls, and sites of cultural and historical importance, all in a half- or full-day trip from the capital.
The main highlights of any Golden Circle trip are:
Þingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
The rocky outcrops and shrub covered slopes overlooking Lake Þingvallavatn were the site of Iceland’s first parliament, the Alþingi, which began meeting in 930 AD, making it the oldest running parliament in the world.
This park also lies on the fault line between the North American and European tectonic plates, so it’s a perfect place to witness the effects of the geology in action: The land here is separating at a rate of about 1 centimetre per year.
Geysir hot springs and geothermal area
Strokkur is the reliable little brother to Geysir, the erupting geyser that lent its name to all the others. Strokkur lies in the Haukadalur geothermal fields, diligently spouting hot water — often close to the height of Reykjavík’s Hallgrímskirkja Church — every ten minutes or so.
The “Golden Waterfall”, cascades in two steps over the Hvitá River as this glacial torrent barrels towards the sea.
In addition to these three stops, some tours also take in other highlights along this route including the church and ancient seat of power at Skálholt, and the geothermal greenhouses of Hveragerði town, where - no joke - many of Europe’s bananas are grown.
Gray Line Iceland offers numerous Golden Circle tours daily throughout the year.