We passed over lava field after lava field. Our guide explained that the older ones are covered with vegetation, the younger are charred and the first thing to grow on the lava is grey moss. Our first stop was a wonderful crater lake. So beautiful!
We prefer to use public transport if we can but really enjoyed this organised tour. We booked it through a company called Bustravel Iceland. It cost 6500 isk each. Cheaper than other tours we saw advertised. It lasted around 6 hours. We were picked up at midday by car surprisingly then taken to the coach (no toilet on coach). The driver/guide was informative and very funny. The tour was thoroughly enjoyable and I strongly recommend it. I will put the places visited as separate tips below.
It is a circle of sights that is most achievable in one day out of Reykjavik. I did the golden circle and then drove on as far as Hella - this was a perfect distance and amount of sight seeing in one day.
The golden circle consists of PINGVELLIR NATIONAL PARK, GULFOSS and GEYSIR.
All tours do the Golden Circle tour - everybody that comes to Reykjavik surely does the Golden Circle... and it is quite wonderful - especially with your own wheels so you can do it at your own speed and also stop at other places (you will see so much more and be less herded). Also, being in Iceland in winter means a lot less visitors (in the summer there are more visitors in Iceland than there are inhabitants) and the Golden Circle is at the top of the list... it was wonderful having this places to ourselves.
Me and my family went on a 4x4 tour with Discover 4x4 Superjeep Tours in Iceland (www.discover.is) and had a good fun with great guides. We stoped at Thingvellir, Gullfoss and Geysir which is a must see for anyone going to Iceland. The guide took us to the Langjokull Glacier on Nissan Patrol with large tires and I must say that was the peak point of our tour. Liked the Icelandic food.
We did a tour with Mountaineers of Iceland - brilliant! Got picked up in a huge 4 wheel drive car - seating around 10 people and set off for our golden circle tour. Great tour company - great drivers! We went up to the Geyser then onto do some four wheel driving on the snow up to the snow mobiles. Amazing!!!! Got all the gear and set off to see the glacier - was so much fun!
Definitely look up this company!!
Ok, I know that a trip to a power plant might not be high on people's agenda when visiting Iceland and when I heard we would be visiting Hellisheiði Geothermal Plant on our tour of the Golden Circle I was less than excited.
However, I have to admit, it was quite an interesting and infomative stop on our tour and showed how Iceland is leading the way in exploring ways to harness the naturally occuring power of the Icelandic Hot Temperature areas.
The plant, which is run by Orkuveita Reykjavikur, uses the natural hot water present in the area to provide energy for homes and businesses in Reykjavik and its surrounding area. In fact most of the cities homes are heated geothermally using this method. The footpaths and roads in Reykjavik are even kept ice free during the winter using geothermally heated pipes laid underneath!
The plant has guided tours and media presentaions to show just how they use geothermal energy in this fully sustainable method and is hoping to export this energy in the future. Orkuveita Reykjavikur has already assited in the setting up of a similar plant in China and in this age of climate change, where people are looking for more sustainable energy sources, the Icelanders are certainly showing what can be done to provide a really workable method of environmentally friendly energy supply.
Somewhat surprisingly, the tour of the plant was very worthwhile and interesting and the guides working in the plant are very friendly and informative. They are justifiably very proud of their natural energy and are very dedicated to spreading their methods and expertise worldwide.
Hveragerði is a worth a stop if following the Golden Circle although you probably won't stay long! The small town is built in a natural hot area where hot underground water is used to geothermally heat hot houses in the town to grow plants, vegetables and fruit.
The Eden centre is where most poeple stop and where a lot of Golden Circle tours stop - mainly to give visitors a chance to buy even more souvenirs and trinkets from the gift shop. There is also a restaurant and coffee shop all built along a short indoor 'street'. This is probably one of the only places in Iceland where you can find a more traditionally European, tree-lined street!!!
The main thing to see here are the hot houses where vegetables, plants and fruit (including bananas!!! are grown so that Iceland does not actually have to imprt all its fruit and veg. It is just another example of the ingenuity and enterprise of the Icelandic people.
Not much to see here so it can be avoided if on a tight schedule but it is nice to share your 'tourist' money around, outside the main tourist areas and contribute to the local economy.
It might be a good idea to visit Faxi Waterfall before moving towards Gullfoss, because after seeing the incredible beauty and power of Gullfoss, poor little Faxifoss just doesn't compare.
This does not justify this 'other' stunning Golden Circle waterfall which is very impressive in its own right.
The falls are located on the River Tungurfljot and tumble in a stright cataract from a bend in the river before turning sharpely to the left. A tiny island right in front of the falls and a salmon ladder identifies the falls. One of the main reasons to visit the falls is the fact that they are more secluded and less visited than the more famous Gullfoss and so you can enjoy these falls without the crowds of visitors that are nearly always present at Gullfoss.
The falls are very well known by Icelandic fishermen who come here to fish for salmon. However, the privilege of fishing for salmon here at Faxi costs over €200 a day!
Well worth the short detour off the Skálholt, Geysir route.
Skálholt is included on most Golden Circle Tours and is considered the home of organised religion in Iceland. Skáholt was the seat of the bishopric since the 11th century. A wooden Cathedral was established here and later Iceland's first official school was also situated here.
By the 13th century it had become Iceland's largest settlement with a massive population of 200 people!
Skálholt become an important centre for learning and religion which lasted until a devastating earthquake in the 18th century caused the bishopric to move to Reykjavik.
In a lot of ways the interior and the exterior of the church doesn't live up to the major historical significance attached to it, especially when comparing it to major churches and cathedrals around the world but is worth a look even if only for the unusual mosaic of Christ behind the main altar and the colourful stained glass windows which play with the light coming through tham casting colourful patterns along the white walls and floor.
The scenery from the church is also beautiful looking out over the marchy plains towards the mountains. There is ongoing excavations going on around the church which has uncovered the former bishops residence among other important finds.
OK, so everybody does it, everybody knows about it and anybody planning a trip to Iceland already has it pencilled in to do, but I can hardly write tips on Iceland without including a tip on this Iceland 'must do'.
No matter how much you like to steer clear of the crowds of tourists, you simply cannot skip the Golden Circle because of the amazing history and geography attached to the route. The crowds are unavoidable, although acually not too bad when I visited in November.
You can do the Golden Circle either independently in a rental car or if you want to avoid the ofen frustrating and hazardous Icelandic roads, you can take one of the dreaded 'tourist' buses which provide a guided tours of the main sights of the Golden Circle.
All tours include stops at Þingvellir National Park, Geysir and Gullfoss with most also stopping at Hveragerði, Skálholt and a geothermal power plant. Some also stop at another impressive water fall at Faxi.
Some tours can also include add ons taking in some caving, galcier snowmobiles, horse riding, diving and snorkelling to name just a few options. You can also do an off-road vesion of the Golden Circle in a 4X4 'Super-Jeep'.
Although I am not a huge fan of organised nbus tours, it has to be said that the tour I took with Iceland Excursions was very good, for lenght at the stops, price and information and was very well organised with on time pick-ups and drop-offs to your hotel. Reykjavik Excursion Tour company also seems to be very good and well organised.
Some Golden Circle Tours are more expensive than others so make sure you shop around for a good deal and make sure you check the itinerary of the tour to see what is included.
The tour we got was around €53 which we thought was excellent value for money but this tour would usually be more expensive but we obviously came to Iceland at a great time for us because of the low value of the Icelandic Kroner during October/November 2008. Some tours didn't account for this value drop so were as expensive as always but in fairness to the Iceland Excursion company their prices dropped in line with the fall of the Kroner.
Some of the main stops on the Golden Circle tour are included in the following tips.
We took the golden circle express tour which took in Strokkur Geyser, Gullfoss Waterfall and lots of nice scenery. The bus driver also entertained us with Iceland folk stories. This trip is worth it as it was all very impressive!
I know some people are against using tour companies and sometimes we have wondered that ourselves but i have nothing but praise from Reykjavik Excursions. They pick up and drop off at your hotel, they were always on time, polite and the coachs in excellent condition.
Your 1st encounter with RE will probably be the Flybus from the airport. You are taken to the main bus station were you are then told to stay on that coach or are put onto another one to be taken to your hotel.
We used them for 3 trips.
South Shore. By far one of the best trips we have done anywhere in the world. We saw waterfalls, a musuem of all things Icelandic, the black sanded beach of Vik, fasinating rock formations and the best of all a glacier. We were lucky as at this time of year it is very hit and miss whether they can go to the glacier with the road conditions. It really was a great day and well worth the money. the guide was very knowledgeable and was very amusing too.
Golden Circle. Again a great tour where you get to see the massive waterfall at Gullfoss and the Geysirs. Our weather was not the best so seening the geysirs was quite tricky but again was good. We also went to the National Park were you get to cross the Atlantic Rift and see how the plates of the Earth are pulling apart.
Blue Lagoon. It was lightly snowing when we went and was very bizarre to be sat in a steaming pool of geothermic water at a lovely 39 degrees whilst it is freezing cold. the silica mud to put on your face and body is very cleansing and leaves your skin nice and soft. There is also a steam and sauna plus a wonderful waterfall which you can stand under. We got the tour that drops people back at the airport but it also goes back to Reykjavik too. We left at 11.00 and you leave the Blue Lagoon at 14.10, you get around 1 hour 40 minutes in the lagoon and that is plenty of time.
Never a big fan of organized tours, I had to submit to one here because of the cost. The Golden Circle tour was what I chose, and it turned out to be really great. To be sure, there were hundreds of other tourists with me at Gulfoss, but it wasn't as bad as I thought. Thingvellir and the Geysir areas were absolutely worth the trip. My tour, Reykjavik Excursions, also went by the steam plant that provides all of Reykjavik's energy and water heating. The guide had answers for any and every question. It is something that I came to understand, the Icelandic people LOVE their history and they know it better than any other country I have traveled in.
The cost was about 5000 ISK, or about 75USD. To be sure, it is expensive, but the trip is an entire day of sight-seeing with transportation included. Not a bad value in Iceland.
Ideal for short stay visitors. I took a tour bus, but you could also do a self-guided driving tour.
There are several variations of the tour, but most versions give you a chance to visit Mount Hekla, the Kerith volcano crater, the Gulfoss waterfall, the geysers of Geysir and Thingvellir National Park.
Highlights of the two Circle Tours I took:
A geothermal farm- manages to grow plants from all over the wold due to the heat generated from the hot springs below the earth's surface.
Gulfoss- one of the most magnificent waterfalls in Iceland.
Hekla- volcano, I was there when it erupted in 2000!!
Geysir and Strokkur- Geysers
Þingvellir (Thingvellir National Park) - Where the American tectonic plate meets the European tectonic plate.
WEATHER will determine length of your trip. The two I went on were about 8 hours each. Be prepared for itinerary to change due to snow.
One time my tour bus got stuck. Both times we didn't get to walk around much due to snow.
Go knowing Icelandic weather is unpredictable, and you'll have a great time!!
The most popular daytrip from Reykjavik is the Golden Circle tour which can be booked with Reykjavik Excursions and several other companies, we used Reykjavik Excursions.
The Golden Circle consists of a visits to:
Kerith, a huge volcanic crater that has turned into a lake
Gullfoss, Iceland's most famous and picturesque waterfall
Geysir, the Great Geyser isn't active any longer but another smaller geyser erupts every few minutes
Thingvellir, a national park where the two tetonic plates of America and Europe meet