The Golden Circle is an extremely popular route in the South of Iceland. The Golden Circle route features the magnificent sights of Gullfoss Waterfall, Geysir Geothermal Field, and Thingvellir National Park. The Golden Circle is the perfect day tour from Reykjavik, and it is a must-visit when you go to Iceland!
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Gullfoss Waterfall is one of the most famous waterfalls in all of Iceland. The name Gullfoss directly translates to 'Golden Falls' or 'Waterfall of Gold'. Gullfoss stems from the glacial river, Hvítá. The waterfall cascades down two huge steps (11 and 22 meters), descending into a deep gorge.
Gullfoss possesses immense power, which you will experience for yourself when you walk up to it. Here you can feel the spray of the glacial water on your face, and on a sunny day, a rainbow is very likely to show up.
Standing next to this amazing waterfall and watching enormous quantities of water tumbling with great fury into the deep and meandering canyon, you will appreciate the power of Icelandic nature. Gullfoss Waterfall is a magnificent natural site that no visitor to Iceland should miss.
About Gullfoss Waterfall
The water in Gullfoss Waterfall flows from Lake Hvítárvatn, which is on the south-eastern side of Langjökull Glacier. Langjökull Glacier is the second largest icecap in Iceland, after Vatnajökull. Water stemming from Langjökull Glacier fills the glacial river Hvítá, in English 'the White River'. This wide and fast river rushes relentlessly southwards.
About a kilometer above the falls it turns sharply to the left and flows down into a wide curved three-step 'staircase' and then abruptly plunges in two stages (11 m and 21 m), dropping into a crevice which is 32 m (105 ft) deep. That crevice, which is about 20 m (60 ft) wide, and 2.5 km in length, is at right angles to the flow of the river.
As one first approaches the falls, the crevice is obscured from view, so that it appears that this mighty river simply vanishes into the earth. The average volume of water running over this waterfall is 140 m³/s in the summertime, and 80 m³/s in the wintertime. The highest flood volume ever measured was a huge 2000 m³/s.
Gullfoss Power Plant?
In the first half of the 20th century, a man named Tómas Tómasson owned Gullfoss Waterfall. Tómas was going to sell the waterfall to the authorities in order that the first hydropower plant in Iceland could be built by the falls.
Tómas's daughter, Sigríður Tómasdóttir, loved Gullfoss Waterfall like no other, and she protested greatly. Sigríður was determined to preserve the waterfall in its present condition, and there were even times when she threatened to throw herself into it.
Thankfully, Sigríður did not have to use such drastic measures, as the power plant idea fell through. Now Gullfoss is a protected site. There is a memorial to Sigríður Tómasdóttir at the top of the falls that depicts her profile. As you look at it, be thankful to her that the waterfall is still there for you to see in all its glory.
Geysir Geothermal Field
The geothermal field at Geysir is a world-renowned geothermal hot spring area around Great Geysir, the hot spring that all other spouting hot springs in the English-speaking world are named after. The geothermal field is believed to have a total surface area of approximately 3 km².
Most of the springs are aligned along a 100-meter wide strip of land running in the same direction as the tectonic plate lines in the area, from south to southwest. Explore the hot springs, see the steam coming from the ground, and smell the sulfur at this phenomenal natural wonder!
The Great Geysir
Great Geysir is the oldest documented geyser in Europe. The English word "geyser" actually got its name from Great Geysir. The name Geysir is derived from the Icelandic verb 'gjosa', meaning to erupt. Great Geysir is not an actively spouting hot spring at the moment, but its neighbor, Strokkur, most certainly is.
Strokkur ('the Churn') is currently the most energetic spouting hot spring in Iceland. It spouts every few minutes, sometimes to a height of 40 meters, yet generally less than 10 - 20 meters. There is not much known about the age and history of Strokkur. It was set off during an earthquake in 1789, having been inactive for quite some time. In all probability though, it had been active before.
Geology at Geysir Geothermal Field
The Geysir Geothermal Field lies on the outskirts of the neovolcanic zone from which it is drifting, it is, therefore, gradually becoming a low-temperature field. Magma may have forced its way out of the neovolcanic zone along one or more fissures, forming intrusions. This would explain the sustained geothermal activity.
Earthquakes in the area have caused significant changes in the neighboring landscapes creating several new hot springs. Changes in the activities of the Great Geysir and the surrounding geysers are strongly related to earthquake activity.
Records dating back to 1630 show the geysers erupted so violently that the valley around them trembled. In more recent times earthquakes have tended to revive the activity of the Great Geysir which then subsides again in the following years.
Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir National Park (Þingvellir) is one of Iceland’s most significant historic sites. It was here that Iceland’s first parliament, Althing (Alþing), was founded in the year 930 AD. Althing is the earliest still operating parliament to be founded in the world. Thingvellir is also renowned for its geology.
At Thingvellir, you can see where the Eurasian and the North American tectonic plates meet, and, also the way those tectonic plates have drifted apart by a few centimes each year. You should visit Thingvellir to become better acquainted with Iceland’s greatest historical site, as you explore this place more natural wonders are revealed with every step you take.
National Park and World Heritage Site
Thingvellir was declared a national park in 1930. A law was passed designating Thingvellir as "a protected national shrine for all Icelanders, the perpetual property of the Icelandic nation under the preservation of parliament, never to be sold or mortgaged".
Thingvellir was nominated for the World Heritage List on July 2nd, 2004. The nomination states that the site is of outstanding universal value and should be preserved as a cultural site and for its natural environment.
Geology at Thingvellir
At Thingvellir, the Eurasian and North-American tectonic plate boundaries which run through Iceland are clearly visible. The tectonic plates are moving apart here and the land between them is also subsiding. It is, therefore, interesting to see how Europe and North-America meet, but also move apart a little, in this stunning landscape.
The Thingvellir area has a high concentration of volcanic activity, and newly formed lava fields can be seen in many places. There are several lava tube caves in these recently formed lava fields.
Worlds First Parliament – Althing
Althing (Alþing) is the national parliament of Iceland. It was founded in the year 930 at Thingvellir National Park. It was also the first democratic national parliament to be founded in the world. The Althing was an outdoor assembly held on the plains of Thingvellir. In 1844, the Icelandic Parliament moved to Reykjavík where it has operated ever since.
Gjabakkahellir is a lava tube cave in Thingvellir National Park. The cave was formed during an eruption around 9000 years ago. The tube is open in both directions so it is easy to walk through the cave. Gjábakkahellir is 364 meters long, and it has a lot to offer to the explorer. During the wintertime magnificent ice sculptures can often be found in this cave.
Snorkeling and Diving in Silfra Fissure
The Silfra Fissure is one if Iceland’s best kept secrets. It is located in Thingvallavatn Lake (Þingvallavatn) in Thingvellir National Park. The fissure displays amazing shades of blue, and since Silfra is a part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, snorkelers and divers will have the unique experience of swimming between two continents.
The water within this lake is particularly fertile, and a rich vegetation thrives in Thingvallavatn, despite the very cold temperatures. The views whilst you are snorkeling are stunning.
There has been a church at the site of Thingvellir since the introduction of Christianity. However, the attractive church that exists today was built in 1859. In the summertime, you can visit the church, it is open to the public from 9am until 5pm every day.
If you are not visiting in the summertime, hopefully, you will be lucky enough to go when it is open. The inside of the church is very beautiful and it is well worth visiting.
Other places commonly visited on the Golden Circle Route
If you have the time, make sure you check out more places than just Gullfoss, Geysir, and Thingvellir. The surrounding area is filled with beautiful nature and fun activities.
Faxi Waterfall is located around 12 km from Gullfoss Waterfall and the Geysir Geothermal Area. Faxi is a small waterfall but it is absolutely worth a visit.
The waterfall is on Tungufljót, a fabulous salmon-filled river surrounded by beautiful Icelandic nature, making it a great spot for fishing. On a sunny day, this is the perfect place to stop, sit down, and have a picnic.
Efstidalur is a charming and friendly family farm that is the perfect stop between Gullfoss/Geysir and Thingvellir National Park. The farm operates a clever little ice cream shop where you can enjoy different flavored ice creams, produced using milk from the farm’s own cows.
We don‘t think you can get ice cream that is any fresher than that! As you enjoy the delicious ice cream, you can watch the cows, who produced the milk to make it, through the windows that separate the store from the barn.
The Secret Lagoon
The Secret Lagoon is a magnificent natural hot spring pool located in a geothermal area in a small village called Fludir (Flúðir). The Secret Lagoon is close to the Golden Circle and, therefore, not so far from Geysir, it is surrounded by geothermal streams and bubbling hot pots.
This is one of the oldest geothermal pools in Iceland, the surrounding nature and the rising steam give the place a mystical atmosphere! The temperature of the water is about 38° – 40° Celsius the whole year and the place is perfect for relaxing.
The steam coming from the ground and the beautiful Icelandic nature surrounding the Secret Lagoon makes swimming a unique and wonderful experience. Sometimes you can see geysers erupting in the area while you are relaxing in the pool. Truly magnificent! Wash off the mist from Gullfoss while you relax, enjoy beverages and the surrounding nature.
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