The Golden Circle is an extremely popular route in the South of Iceland. The Golden Circle explores the magnificent sights of Gullfoss Waterfall, Geysir Geothermal Field, and Thingvellir National Park. The Golden Circle is the perfect day tour out of Reykjavik, and it is a must-visit when you go to Iceland!
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 glacier river Hvita. Gullfoss cascades down in two huge steps (11 and 22 meters) into a deep gorge. The waterfall possesses immense power, which you can experience firsthand by walking up to it. Here you can feel the spray of the glacial water on your face, and on a sunny day, a rainbow might show up. Stand next to this amazing waterfall, and watch enormous quantities of water tumble with fury, into a deep and meandering canyon. Gullfoss Waterfall is a magnificent natural site that should not be missed by any visitor to Iceland.
About Gullfoss Waterfall
The water in Gullfoss waterfall comes from Lake Hvitarvatn, which is on the south-east side of Langjokull Glacier. Langjokull Glacier is the second largest ice cap in Iceland, after Vatnajokull. The water flows from Langjokull glacier in the glacial river Hvita. The wide Hvita river rushes southward. 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) into a crevice 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 a mighty river simply vanishes into the earth. The average amount of water running over this waterfall is 140 m³/s in the summertime and 80 m³/s in the wintertime. The highest flood volume was measured at 2000 m³/s.
Gullfoss Power Plant?
In the first half of the 20th century, a man named Tomas Tomasson owned Gullfoss Waterfall. Tomas was going to sell the waterfall to the authorities in order to build the first hydro power plant in Iceland by the falls. Tomas‘s daughter, Sigridur Tomasdottir, loved Gullfoss Waterfall like no other, and she protested greatly. Sigridur was determined to preserve the waterfall in its present condition, and she even threatened to throw herself into the waterfall. Thankfully, Sigridur 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 Sigridur Tomasdottir at the top of the falls that depicts her profile. As you look at it, be thankful to her that the waterfall is there in all its glory.
Geysir Geothermal Field
Geysir Geothermal field is a world renowned geothermal hot spring area around Geysir, the hot spring that all other spouting hot springs on earth 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 lines in the area, from south to southwest. Explore the hot springs, see the steam coming from the ground, and smell the Sulphur at this phenomenal natural wonder!
The Great Geysir
Geysir is the oldest known geyser on the planet. The English word "geyser" actually got its name from Geysir. The name Geysir is derived from the Icelandic verb gjosa, meaning to erupt. Geysir is not an active spouting hot spring at the moment, but its neighbour Strokkur is.
Strokkur (the churn) is currently the most energetic spouting 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 then been quiescent for some time. In all probability though, it had been active before.
Geology at Geysir Geothermal Field
Geysir Geothermal field lies on the outskirts of the neovolcanic zone from which it is drifting, and 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 caused significant changes in the local neighbouring landscape creating several new hot springs. Changes in the activity of 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 recent times earthquakes have tended to revive the activity of the Geysir which then subsides again in the following years.
Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir National Park is one of Iceland’s most significant historic sites. It was here where Iceland’s first parliament, Althing, was founded in the year 930 AD. Althing was the first parliament to be founded in the world. Thingvellir is also known for its geology. At Thingvellir, you can see where the Eurasian and the North American tectonic plates meet, but the tectonic plates drift apart a few centimes each year. You should visit Thingvellir to become better acquainted with Iceland’s greatest historical site, and to explore the natural wonders of Thingvellir that are visible in every step.
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 to 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 that run through Iceland are clearly visible. The tectonic plates are moving apart here and the land between them is subsiding. It is therefore interesting to see Europe and North-America meet in a stunning landscape. The Thingvellir area has a high concentration of volcanic activity and newly formed lava fields are seen all over. There are several lava tube caves in these recently formed lava fields.
Worlds First Parliament – Althing
Althing is the national parliament of Iceland. It was founded in 930 at Thingvellir National Park. It was also the first parliament to ever be founded in the world. Althing was an outdoor assembly held on the plains of Thingvellir. In 1844, the parliament moved to Reykjavik where it has been 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. Gjabakkahellir is 364 meters long, and it has a lot to offer to the explorer. During the wintertime, the cave often offers magnificent ice sculptures.
Snorkeling and Diving in Silfra Fissure
The Silfra Fissure is one if Iceland’s best kept secrets. The Silfra Fissure is in Thingvallavatn Lake in Thingvellir National Park. The fissure has amazing shades of blue, and since Silfra is a part of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, snorkelers and divers will experience swimming between two continents. The lake Thingvallavatn is particularly fertile and rich in vegetation, despite the very cold temperatures. The view while you are snorkeling is stunning.
There has been a church at the site of Thingvellir since the introduction of Christianity. However, the church that stands there today was built in 1859. In the summertime, you can visit the church since it is open to the public from 9 am until 5 pm every day. If you are not visiting in the summertime, hopefully you will be lucky and it is open. The church is very beautiful on the inside and well worth a visit.
River Oxara – Oxararfoss Waterfall
Oxara river has been a prominent feature of Thingvellir ever since the assemblies began there. The river was diverted into Almannagja rift to give people at the assembly easy access to fresh water. Flooding from Oxara, combined with land subsidence, made it necessary to move the Law Council from its original location. Oxararfoss is a splendid waterfall that flows from the river that you should not miss.
Other places commonly visited on the Golden Circle Route
If you have the time, make sure to check out more places than just Gullfoss, Geysir, and Thingvellir. The surrounding area is filled with beautiful nature and fun activities.
Kerid Crater Lake
Kerid is a 3000 year old volcanic crater lake located in the Grimsnes Area in South Iceland. Kerid is one of several crater lakes in the area, known as Iceland‘s Western Volcanic Zone. First it was thought that Kerið was formed by a huge volcanic explosion (as is usual for volcanic craters), however research now tells us this was probably a cone volcano which erupted and emptied its magma reserve. The cone collapsed into the magma chamber and created the crater lake bordered by strongly coloured red volcanic rock. Part of the crater is covered in green moss, and the contrast is quite magnificent.
The water in the crater lake is a beautiful blue color, and the area around the crater lake is very stunning too. Red volcanic rock and colorful moss surround the crater lake, creating a beautiful area to explore. It once served as a concert stage but the Icelandic singer Bjork sang there on a floating wooden platform back in 2000.
Faxi Waterfall is located around 12 km from Gullfoss Waterfall and Geysir Geothermal Area. Faxi is a smaller waterfall but totally worth the visit. The waterfall in the river Tungufljot, and it is surrounded with beautiful Icelandic nature. Faxi is full of salmon and it is 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 flavoured ice cream, produced from the farm cows‘ milk. We don‘t think you can get any fresher ice cream than that! As you enjoy the delicious ice cream, you can watch the cows, who produced the milk through 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. The Secret Lagoon is close to the golden circle area, and therefore is surrounded by hot pots. It is one of the oldest geothermal pools in Iceland and the nature and steam rising give the place a mystic 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 it a unique and wonderful experience to go for a swim. Sometimes you can see geysers erupt in the area while you relax in the pool. Truly magnificent! Wash of the mist from Gullfoss while you relax, enjoy beverages and the surrounding nature.
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