Top 5 Must-Go Places at Iceland’s Golden Circle
November 23, 2016
Hello everyone! If you’ve been following my articles, you’ll know that I have previously written a guide on self-driving along the Snaefellsnes Peninsula of Iceland. Exploring the coast took me about a day so I could only venture to Iceland’s Golden Circle the following day. As I travelled solo, I didn’t want to run the risk of renting a car and having to worry about getting lost or the car breaking down. I just wanted a relaxing trip but still desired to see as much as I can so, my best option was to join Reykjavik’s local tour agency! The Golden Circle Tour that I booked with “I Heart Reykjavik” is undertaken by their partner tour agency, Reykjavik Excursions. It starts as early as 6.30am but the good thing is that it ends around 3pm, giving you time in the afternoon and evening to explore the city of Reykjavik.
If you’re wondering, “what’s so attractive at Iceland’s Golden Circle that got thousands of tourists flocking there for?” My answer’s simple. Driving along Iceland’s Golden Circle brings you to waterfalls that tumble down the mountains, looking like a wall of blue satin threaded with silver and beautiful national parks like a scene out of a romantic novel. There is also the Stokkur Geyser, located in the Haukadalur Valley, which is the only currently active geyser in the area. Without further ado, I’m sharing my top 5 favourite places at Iceland’s Golden Circle that I feel is a must to visit!
If you love tomatoes and want to try the freshest and sweetest tomatoes soup, this is the place to visit! Under artificial lighting in greenhouses, juicy tomatoes are grown all year round, despite Iceland’s long, dark winters. Greenhouse growing has been practiced at Fridheimar since 1946 and this place produces 300 tons of tomatoes annually, which is about 18% of Iceland’s total tomato market. Fridheimar doesn’t use any pesticides. They believe that biological control is very effective against pests. For example, the mirid bug, imported from Holland, eats just about all the insect pests found in Icelandic greenhouses. Moreover, Fridheimar also imports bumble bees from Holland to pollinate the tomato plants. There are about 600 bees that pollinate the flowers at Fridheimar and each bee can visit up to 2,000 flowers a day.
Besides indulging in a piping hot bowl of comforting tomato soup at Fridheimar, you should take a lovely stroll in their gardens to the stables where you’ll get to interact with their Icelandic horses. I’m so glad that my tour group only had 6 participants, including myself, on that day as we had more time at each stop and was able to see more things all thanks to our super friendly and knowledgeable guide. Such a joy beginning the day with tomato soup for breakfast! This visit wasn’t included in the actual tour itinerary.
Address: Bláskógabyggð, IS-801 Selfoss (around 90km from Reykjavik)
Telephone Number: +354 486 8894 / +354 897 1915
Opening Hours: Restaurant opens from 12pm to 4pm daily and it’s recommended to drop them an email at email@example.com for reservations beforehand.
VATNSLEYSUFOSS (FAXI WATERFALL)
This wide waterfall is a force of nature, both beautiful and brutal. It can be tranquil from a distance but deafening up close. It was as if the cascades of water conjured cascades of equally powerful emotions in my brain, taking my breath away. Vatnsleysufoss is simply spectacular – one of the more magnificent sights I had ever beheld. Many have labeled this waterfall as a smaller version of the famous Gullfoss, possessing only one tier instead of two, with a salmon ladder adjacent to it. Vatnsleysufoss flows on the river Tungufljot, which is different from the one that Gullfoss flows on. There is a camping place nearby too and when the weather’s good, you can have a picnic while marveling at the glorious waterfall.
Flowing along the Hvita River, Gullfoss waterfall is not the gentle sort of waterfall you might see in a stately home garden. This is the kind where torrents of water are poured over rocks hard enough to crack your skull and mash your brains on the way down, then swirl in a plunge pool below, deep enough to drown you, even if you survived the fall. From the bottom, it was awe-inspiring. From the top, it was terrifying. This is such a dramatic and mysterious scene and from some angles, you can’t even see where the water disappears. You can only see the plume of spray rising into the air.
As compared to Vatnsleysufoss where you can’t really get that close to the waterfall, there’s a long staircase from the parking lot which brings you to a concrete pathway where you’ll be able to walk along the edge of Gullfoss waterfall and look down into the roaring cascade of water. I recommend a waterproof jacket and even pants (if you have) as the area around the waterfall tends to get quite windy.
GEYSERS AT HAUKADALUR
Haukadalur is a geothermal area at Iceland’s Golden Circle. This area boasts two famous geysers, namely Geysir and Strokkur. I was surprised to find out from the tour guide that the general term “geyser” was named after this particular one in Iceland. Watch where you’re walking, especially in this area, as the Earth churns up boiling hot water, with a pungent sulphuric smell lingering in the air. You’ll notice steam rising from vents in the Earth next to mud pools, fumaroles and mineral deposits.
The original Geysir no longer erupts after an earthquake shut it down but the other one, Strokkur, is currently active and the only one that frequently “explodes” with scalding water shooting 100 feet into the air every 10 minutes or so.
After your fascination with the Strokkur, hike a little upwards to the mountain. I visited Iceland during summer-time in June and realized that it was a wonderful period upon being greeted by endless rows of purple lupines surrounding the mountain. It made all my pictures so full of vibrant colours. I’ve hung some of these pictures on my bedroom walls, just to help brighten up my mood when I get up in the mornings. There is a gift shop and a restaurant located at Haukadalur so it’s a good place to take a break before carrying on your Golden Circle exploration.
ÞINGVELLIR NATIONAL PARK
Þingvellir National Park has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site as it is a key location in Icelandic history as the oldest existing parliament in the world, first assembled there in 930AD. Besides holding great historical significance, Þingvellir National Park also offers unique geology and natural formations, such as Almannagjá, a canyon formed between two tectonic plates, a visual representation of continental drift and waterfalls and lakes.
For the adventurous visiting Þingvellir National Park, especially those certified scuba-divers, I’m pretty sure you’ll be interested in the Silfra Fissure. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see this up close and only heard stories from my tour guide. The Silfra Fissure is a crack between the North American and Eurasian continental plates and this is the only place in the world where you can dive or snorkel directly between two continental plates. Do note that the water is nearly freezing, between -4 degree Celsius to 2 degree Celsius, as it is glacial water from the Langjökull ice cap.
Here’s some advice
Iceland’s weather conditions are known to change dramatically within a split second so if you’re out in the open exploring Golden Circle, please make sure that you check the weather forecast and road conditions regularly (if you’re self-driving). Bring adequate windbreakers and wear proper footwear. Do remember to pack some food and drinks, especially during winter season, as some cafés and restaurants might be closed and the only available food will be hot dog buns at gas stations, which might be a really long drive away from where you are at that point of time.
You’ve come to the end of my favourite five destinations in Iceland’s Golden Circle. A pity I only spent 3 days in Reykjavik and didn’t have time to visit the Blue Lagoon or enter any ice caves. Neither did I manage to catch the Northern Lights as I wasn’t there in the right season. I hope I’ll be able to find time to visit Iceland again in the near future. Meanwhile, if you’re heading there soon, click here for the link to the “Golden Circle” bus tour that I joined. Thank you so much to “I Heart Reykjavik” and “Reykjavik Excursions” for such an amazing tour with a knowledgeable and helpful local guide.