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The Golden Circle - on a tour of Iceland

Iceland, nature, waterfalls
When traveling to Iceland, you will not miss the Golden Circle - here you will find the absolute highlights of the wild volcanic land.

The Golden Circle - on a tour of Iceland is written by Peter Christiansen. Photos by Pall Jökull Petturson.

Iceland Horses nature travel, the golden circle

The Golden Circle is easy to get to

Within a radius of 100 kilometers from Reykjavik, one finds three of Islands main attractions; the waterfall Gullfoss, Strokkurgejseren and Thingvellir - which are also written Þingvellir or Tingvalla.

The trip around to all three, The Golden Circle, is the obvious place to start when experiencing Icelandic nature up close, and if you have limited time available on Europe's second largest island, the trip is definitely one of the highlights.

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Iceland-river-nature-rainbow-hiking-gullfoss, The Golden Circle -travels

Gullfoss' magic

Even at a distance, the noise of the cascading water penetrates the air. In front of me, meltwater from the Langjökull glacier spills down over the cliff sides, and 32 meters further down, it all dissolves into an inferno of steam, noise and small rainbows.

The enormous masses of water - about a million liters of water per second - have over the years eroded a huge fissure in the rocks below, and through this gorge the water flows further towards Atlantic Sea.

Gullfoss is the first stop on the Golden Circle. Iceland's most famous waterfall is one of the country's top attractions, and with the danger of smoking in the clichés, you feel very small when you witness the violent natural scenery from the first floor, where the waters of the Hvita River undergo all three physical states; ice, water and steam. And the place not only attracts photo tourists: Further down the Hvita River is cultivated white-water rafting.

Gullfoss is the first stop on the tour The Golden Circle, and after a walk, photo break and a cup of coffee for 550 Icelandic kroner, which is actually cheap, we hop on the bus and continue towards the next destinations, Thingvallasletten and Strokkurgejseren. 

The Faroe Islands - nature - raise the golden circle

Good starting point

Iceland is bigger than you might immediately think. With its 103.000 square kilometers, the North Atlantic Republic is the size of countries like Hungary og Bulgaria, and at its widest point there are 500 kilometers from east to west.

It will take at least a couple of weeks to get around the country, and you have to be prepared for long journeys.

But less can do it too. Do you visit Iceland in connection with a weekend getaway, or do you make a stopover on the way to e.g. New York, with few exceptions, one will land in Reykjavik. And Iceland's capital is the obvious starting point for the Golden Circle, as you can reach all three attractions in one day.

Iceland-Almannagja-tomb-cliffs-hiking-landscape, The Golden Circle -travels

Europe and America meet in The Golden Circle

Further on the route of the Golden Circle, we see green ridges rise over the gray cliffs, and in several places small waterfalls run down the sides.

Further down, a stream flows through the valley, and in several places fallen pieces of rock and sharply cut mountain sides indicate that the landscape is in motion. But even though it is nature that catches the eye, Tingvalla is the epitome of Icelandic history.  

More than a thousand years ago, Tingvalla was the place where people met to settle disputes, make laws and pass judgments - a parliament of that time that was in operation for 868 years.

It's a wild thought that a bunch of chiefs might have been sitting right here and desperately discussing what to do with the combative Viking Erik the Red.

At the end of the 900th century, Erik had a couple of murder cases behind him Norway, so he fled to Iceland, but here too things went wrong. After a handful of Icelandic killings, Erik was once again persona non grata, so he took his boat, sailed west, and discovered Greenland. And the desire for adventure was obviously in the genes, because it was Erik's son, Leif the Happy, who a few years later discovered America - 500 years before Columbus.

Tingvalla is not only historical but also geologically unique.

If you imagine cornflakes floating around in a bowl of milk, you have a picture of the Earth's plate tectonic dynamics. Some pieces slide apart while others collide, and on a world map it is clear to see that the west coast of Africa was once connected with the east coast of South America.

Likewise, North America has been landlocked with Europe, but in the middle of the Atlantichavet lava flows up from the Earth's interior, and it constantly pushes the continents apart. At the top of this lava flow lies Iceland, and exactly where Tingvalla is beautifully situated in a green and lush valley, runs the rift that divides the American continental plate from the Eurasian one.

Of course - one is tempted to say - Tingvalla is busy UNESCO World Heritage List and a mandatory stop on the way around the Golden Circle, and as an added bonus, the place is considered to be one of the best diving spots in the world. One can literally dive into the crack between two continental plates. And who wouldn’t want to be able to brag a little bit about it?

35 meters above the ground: The Strok Kurgeyser

“Puffff,” it says, and a huge column of water shoots up from the subsoil, dissolving in steam and hovering down over us like a downpour. You can almost set your watch after the Strokkurgejseren, for every seven minutes a new beam shoots 35 meters into the air. On the ground, the brown mud bubbles, and from cracks in the subsoil, steam seeps up.

As mentioned, Iceland has a natural pipeline to the earth's inner layer, and through this boiling water flows up. The large volcanic activity means - together with Iceland's hydropower resources - that the country is largely self-sufficient in energy. But the large amounts of inflowing water masses also create the spectacular geysers.

When the cavity at the bottom of a geyser fills with water, it immediately begins to boil, and at some point the pressure becomes so great that it explodes. This empties the cavity and the process starts all over again.

A couple of fellow passengers on our round trip, who have not taken into account the wind direction, get on the bus well wet, and five minutes later we set course for Reykjavik. We are all filled with new travel impressions, and mobile phones with today's spectacular selfies go on and on.

Iceland-lake-nature-forest-Thingvellir-raises the golden circle

From the top shelf

Whether you visit Iceland for a few days or on a longer holiday, you can look forward to a unique experience at the Golden Circle, and every day several bus trips depart from Reykjavik.

One of the major operators is Gray line, which offers both the classic tour with Strokkur, Gullfoss and Thingvalla, but which also offers combination tours - eg The Golden Circle & Northern Lights or The Golden Circle & Whale Safari. The company also arranges sightseeing in Reykjavik and a trip to one of the many thermal baths.

See much more about traveling in Iceland here

Now you have to be careful with superlatives like "fantastic", "unique" and "fabulous", but The Golden Circle is actually a round trip from the very top shelf.

Good trip to Iceland.

About the author

Peter Christiansen

Peter Christiansen has for 25 years written travel articles for newspapers such as Politiken, Jyllands Posten and Berlingske. The desire to travel was really aroused on trips to Japan, where Peter has been several times to practice judo. Since then, there have been lots of articles about active holidays, and Peter has tried everything from marathon running in New York and ice climbing in Chamonix to bobsledding in Lillehammer and bridge climbing in Sydney.
Peter covers a wide range and has recently written on such diverse topics as interrail in the Balkans, river sailing in Russia and cultural holidays in the Loire Valley.



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