Despite the storms, we finally made it out of Reykjavik and managed to see the sights of the Golden Circle. The main stops along this tourist trail are the geysers, the Gullfoss waterfall, and Þingvellir National Park. We opted to do this with one of the many tour companies based around Reykjavik, rather than rent a car and do it ourselves. While this did make it more expensive, with the difficult road conditions it was definitely the best idea and we also ended up visiting places that we otherwise wouldn’t have even known about. Normally I’m not that big on doing organised tours, but we did ours with Time Tours and it was great. There were only about 12 of us in a little mini bus and our guide Alex was fantastic. He picked us up from our hostel at 8:30am and after quickly collecting the rest of our group from around Reykjavik we were immediately on our way.
Our first stop was just a quick one, in the small town of Hveragerði around 45km out of Reykjavik. The town is the main point where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet and is also famous for its hot springs, but as we got there before the sun was even up it wasn’t really swimming weather. I did however try the deliciousness that is the snúður – essentially a cinnamon bun the size of my face covered in melted dark chocolate. Not the worst way to start the day.
From there we made another unexpected stop at Kerið volcanic crater. We arrived there just as the sun was coming up and personally I just spent our time there wandering around in complete awe at the beauty of the place.
Once we were on the road again and heading further out into the countryside, we started to see Icelandic horses pretty much everywhere, and because they’re hella cute we stopped to see a small group of them. We were feeding them some bread that Alex had brought, and James was a little bit apprehensive. Laughing, I told him not to be silly, they were just horses and they wouldn’t hurt him – to which one of them grabbed the slice of bread out of my hand and had a little gnaw on my finger at the same time. Famous last words eh.
Again we made a slight detour off of our expected route, and before we reached our first scheduled stop at Gullfoss we stopped to check out the smaller, but equally as stunning, waterfall of Faxafoss.
We arrived at Gullfoss around lunch time and had a wander around the waterfalls, which hands down beat Niagara Falls in my opinion. Maybe it was because of the gorgeous snowy landscapes as far as the eye could see, or the lack of tourist boats & casinos, or just the general magic of Iceland. Once we’d walked along the upper side of the waterfalls the wind started to pick up slightly, so we headed inside to the restaurant to grab some lunch and on numerous recommendations went for the Icelandic lamb soup. It is a tourist spot, and in Iceland, so understandably was quite pricey but super tasty and you get unlimited refills which definitely makes it worth the money.
After lunch we backtracked slightly to see the geysers at the site of the 10,000 year old Geysir. Like a lot of Icelandic names it is nice and simply self-descriptive – it comes from the Icelandic verb for ‘to gush’ and is where we get the English word. Unfortunately it no longer ‘spurts’, but luckily another one, Strokkur (from ‘to churn’) gives a rather impressive show every 5 minutes or so and is strangely hypnotic to watch and wait for.
Our final stop for the day was Þingvellir National Park, where Icelandic parliament was first established and where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates are slowly pulling apart and have formed a lake which makes up most of the National Park. On our way around the lake, we took another slight detour down a little snowy track to a spring at the edge of the water. Here Alex told us all to plunge our arms into the icy lake to fill our water bottles with some of the most fresh, clean Icelandic spring water. Coming from Scotland and having lived in the French Alps, I kind of take it for granted that the water coming out of your taps tastes good, but even I could appreciate that Iceland are pretty fortunate to have this stuff as their tap water.
With all of us now sporting one completely numb arm, we drove on a bit closer to the edge of the North American tectonic plate, and from there we enjoyed a nice walk, criss-crossing all the little rifts and cracks in the ground before ascending to the top edge of the plate. The view from the top was, like everything else we had seen throughout the day, absolutely captivating, made all the more so by the sun slowly setting across the lake.
On our way back, Alex continued his stories of Icelandic culture, history, lifestyle and his own personal life, which he’d kept up the entire day. Admittedly I’ve not been on many organised tourist trips, but I was struck by how chatty and friendly he was. The whole thing felt more like a road trip with a small group of mates than part of the tourism business, and I think that’s one of the main reasons why the day was so enjoyable. All in all it was definitely the highlight of the trip for me, and just made me fall completely in love with this country.