Touring the Golden Circle with FAB Travel
I got my first taste of Iceland when I arrived in Reykjavik this summer. One and a half days was all the time that was available to me while in Reykjavik and so began the challenge of cramming in as much sightseeing as possible.
I managed to take a dip in the Blue Lagoon, explored Reykjavik’s downtown core, and went on a full day tour of the Golden Circle - a popular tourist route that combines three of Iceland’s top attractions: Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir, and Þingvellir National Park.
Considering the short amount of time I had in Reykjavik, I think I did pretty well.
If you’re planning on visiting Iceland I would highly recommend putting in the effort to find a local tour provider. I was lucky to have found Fab Travel prior to departing and highly recommend them.
When our cruise ship arrived at the pier our incredible driver/guide Tryggvi and the Fab Travel mini bus (hooray for small groups!) were already waiting to begin the Golden Circle tour.
Shortly after we left Reykjavik we were zooming past two active volcanoes in the distance: Hekla and Eyjafjallajӧkul, the latter known for its powerful eruption in 2010 that brought European air traffic to a standstill.
Our first stop was Gullfoss, or “Golden Falls”, a two tiered waterfall with a drop off that appears as if it is being swallowed whole by the Earth.
In the early 20th century foreign investors wanted to use Gullfoss to produce electricity. At the time the waterfall was owned by a farmer named Tómas Tómasson.
His daughter, Sigriður Tómasdóttir felt that the waterfall should not be altered from its natural state and began a court case in Reykjavik to fight the foreign investors. Several times she walked 100 kilometers barefoot from her farm to Reykjavik to raise awareness about preserving Iceland’s nature. She even threatened to throw herself into the waterfall if construction were to begin.
Eventually the contract to use Gullfoss as a source of electricity was cancelled because of the investors failing to pay the rental fee. In 1979, Gullfoss was designated a nature reserve to permanently protect it and allow visitors to enjoy its beauty.
Today, Sigriður Tómasdóttir is known as Iceland’s first environmentalist. A memorial to honor her sits above the waterfall.
Our second stop on the Golden Circle tour was at the famous Icelandic geysers, the almost dormant Geysir (meaning “to gush” in Icelandic) and the frequently erupting Strokkur (meaning “to churn” in Icelandic).
A geyser is a spring that turbulently discharges hot water followed by steam into the air at various intervals. Geysers are usually found in areas with volcanic activity.
Geyser activity, like all hot spring activity, is caused by surface water gradually seeping down through the ground until it meets rock heated by magma. The geothermal heated water then rises back toward the surface by convection through porous and fractured rocks.
Strokkur is one of Iceland's most famous geysers erupting about every 8-10 minutes, some 15-20 meters high, occasionally up to 40 meters high!
Our third stop on the Golden Circle tour was at Þingvellir National Park, a place of great cultural and natural significance. This scenic area is characterized by a giant rift line running through it, marking the spot where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet.
One minute you’re walking in Europe, the next minute you’re on North American ground!
Some rifts and faults have filled with clear blue water and are now a popular tourist attraction for scuba divers.
Alþingi, the first Icelandic Parliament, was founded here at Þingvellir in 930 by the early Norse settlers and Vikings. The Parliament remained here until 1798.
Every year people would flock to Þingvellir from all over Iceland and set up their temporary houses for the two weeks of the Commonwealth assembly. During this time period, games and feasts were held, merchants would sell their goods and services, entertainers performed, news and tales were exchanged.
Þingvellir was the cultural hub for everyone in Iceland and the meetings here established the foundation for the rich culture, language, and literature that are prominent in Iceland today.
Upon leaving Þingvellir we piled into our mini bus and settled in for the return ride back to Reykjavik. Although it was already time to head back into town it felt like we had just started the eight hour tour. It's amazing what you can pack into one day!
The Golden Circle tour was definitely one of my highlights from visiting Iceland. It's the perfect introduction to discovering the natural features and rich history of the country, and I couldn't have asked for a better tour guide - thank you Tryggvi and FAB Travel!
I have been left with such a positive impression of southwestern Iceland and hope to return again soon. I would love to visit Iceland in the winter time to experience the cold snowy landscape, witness the aurora borealis, and experience a whole new side to the country.
Many thanks to FAB Travel for providing such a fantastic tour of the Golden Circle! Please note, I did receive a discount for the tour, however all opinions are, as always, my own.