The Golden Circle – Iceland (long post warning!)

I totally admit that this has taken me far too long to write up, however it seems that time hasn’t really stood still fr a moment since me and Adam came back from Iceland. I’ve never been to a place like Iceland before, from landing at the airport and driving around it all felt a bit surreal, there were tmes when II thought we were on another planet, its no surprise to me at all that the new Star Wars film is being filmed here. During our time in Iceland we did so many things however in this post I’m going to focus on one of my favourite days which was the day we did the Golden Circle tour. The golden circle tour itself is a popular tourist route of 300km in the South of Iceland which takes you through many of the countries natural wonders.

We were picked up by the tour company from our hotel in Reykjavik at 8:30 am. Once everyone was on the mini coach (there were about 12 of us in total) our driver Omar introduced himself and took us through a quick safety briefing before we headed on our way into the farming districts of the south. Ever since I arrived in Iceland I had been eyeing up the snow topped mountains and was so pleased that our tour took us up through them. Before getting to Iceland Adam had got me addicted to Game of Thrones, it was on these mountains that the scenes from north of the wall were shot. We’d seen on twitter that they were filming series 5 whilst we were there so I was keen to keep an eye out for Jon Snow. Whilst we may not have seen the man himself, it did start to snow, not quite the same thing but something I could settle for.

Our first stop on the tour took us to the Faxi waterfall. I’m not sure if the driver Omar was joking or not but he said it was a tiny waterfall. I had only seen a waterfall in the UK once before and can assure you that it wasn’t small at all! Located next to a salmon farm it was a lovely and peaceful spot which allowed us to stop, contemplate and take a few photos.

Faxi Waterfall Iceland

Views of Faxi Waterfall

Following the stop at Faxi, Omar continued on the journey to Gullfoss. We took an unscheduled 10 minute stop at a small church on the way. It was nice to know that the driver had such good knowledge of the island that despite the diversion to the tour he was still able to tell us so much about the area. There were two churches next to each other one covered in grass which made it look really cute like a hobbit house. The architecture in Iceland is really mixed, the buildings are by no means extravagant, not even the churches. As we moved more into the rural parts of the country we saw more and more buildings covered by land, I really liked the concept and whilst the UK isn’t as cold as Iceland it made me wonder why we aren’t making the most of our land for warmth. We learnt that the people of Iceland have the benefit of being able to use the geothermal power of the country to heat their homes for free. Whilst they have several aluminium factories in the country there are many things which make them appear pretty eco friendly. It’s maybe that and the free electric bills that make the people of Iceland some of the happiest in the world.

Churches of Iceland

Churches of Iceland

Following this short stop we continued on our way. Omar was incredibly knowledgeable about Iceland and throughout the whole tour gave us many facts and trinkets of information. I liked in particular how he gave his own opinion on what he thought about things. Icelandic people are great believers in stories and tales; it was nice to hear another side and opinion to the Iceland story. He went into detail about the very first settlers on the island and how they came to inhabit it. He told us about the nature and the animals of the island in particular the horses that became a striking part of Icelandic history. Although we didn’t get out and stop near to any horses, you could see how beautiful they were with their long shaggy manes and fur. They looked like small rugged Shetland ponies but if you ever visit the island be careful not to call them ponies as the people of Iceland are incredibly proud of their native breed of horses and don’t take kindly to it. As well as the animals he told about the plants and I was astounded to learn that there are over 600 types of moss on the island which the locals love to make into tea. I am gutted to say I didn’t have time to experience or taste this and am quite disappointed in that fact, but I guess there is always next time. I was particularly interested in Omar’s information about how Iceland and Reykjavik came to have their name. The first Viking inhabitants of Iceland came across the geysirs and couldn’t work out what they were, believing they were fire and smoke they named Reykjavik the Smoky City and started to start their life there. It makes you wonder what they must have thought arriving on the desolate island and making it a place of their own.

Icelandic Horses

Icelandic Horses

After sucking up all the knowledge we could about Iceland we made our way to Gullfoss (the golden waterfall). I can honestly say that nothing prepared me for how beautiful it would be. It took my breath away, not only because it was so cold but at how completely breathtaking the scenery was. The two tiered waterfall was both beautiful and fiercely powerful. Following the visit here it was great to learn that there had been much campaigning from the locals to prevent this beautiful landmark from being turned into a natural power supply plant. It was snowing whilst we were at the waterfall, and whilst I could barely move my hands to take a photo I am so glad I got some lovely shots as it was such an awe-inspiring place, it took a while to take everything in. In the distance we could see glaciers, and were surrounded by snow topped mountains. I couldn’t take my eyes of the beautiful scenery; the photos don’t do justice to the colour, beauty and sheer size of this incredible landmark.

Gullfoss Waterfall

The sights at Gullfoss Waterfall

We had an hour at Gullfoss and it seemed to go in a blink of an eye, but after here we took a short drive to geothermal valley of Haukadalur of the slopes of Laugarfjall hill. It was here that we got to see the incredible force of the geothermal activity in the region that powers most of Iceland’s homes. We watched in awe as the most active hot spring, Strokkur spouted steam up in the air 20 meters high. The spectacle happened like clockwork every 5-7 minutes, each time nothing prepared us for this burst of spectacular force. We spent a while here which allowed us enough time to walk up the mountainous slopes of Laugarfjall hill and catch 360 degree panoramas of the spectacular landscape. You can see from the photos below that the landscape is truly beautiful.

View from the top of the mountain

View from the top of the mountain

other views from the mountainother views from the mountain

other views from the mountain

Following a lunch break refuel at the nearby cafe we drove onto the national Park Thingvellir, which included the Rift valley and the Rock of law which was the site of the first Viking parliament. This area was originally an open air parliament where people used to ceremoniously gather every year in June. It is not only a beautiful National Park on the UNESCO World heritage list but also set on two continental tectonic plates. It was a beautiful site it was here where I took my favourite photo of our trip. The peacefulness, smells and sounds I feel are really reflected in it.

Views at Parliament Rock Iceland

Views at Parliament Rock Iceland

It was after this tour that Omar told us a few words of advice for if we ever got lost in an Icelandic forest, “just stand up”. I found it really odd how there was a real lack of trees in the country, the air felt so clean yet the volcanic landscape was so uncluttered without them. Such an odd but beautiful place.

The last stop of the tour ended with a photo stop at the view point above the Almannagja and the historic ‘Rock of law’ before heading back to Reykjavik alongside the great lake with its unique arctic and volcanic landscape.
In all the tour took about 8 hours and we couldn’t have asked for a better day. We managed to see so much in that time and saw sights which I will never forget. I would recommend to anyone thinking of doing the golden circle to do it with a tour company rather than hiring a car and doing it yourself. The knowledge and information which the drivers have is incomparable and something which you would never be able to experience driving yourself. However if I was going to go back to Iceland I would love to hire a car and go and travel to the black beaches of Vik and make my way further North. There are so many things to do in the country that the possibilities are endless and I cant wait to go back to explore.

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