our iceland stopover // the golden circle
The second day of our Iceland stopover was reserved for our self-guided tour of the so-called “Golden Circle” route. Traditionally, this route is a one day trip, ca. 3-4 hours of driving, and covers at least three top stops: Þingvellir National Park (anglicized as Thingvellir), the geothermal fields and the Strokkur geyser in the Haukadalur region, and Gulfoss waterfall. After some online research and Martin’s skilled navigation, we organized our own route including a few more destinations. We planned for an early start to minimize tourist bus encounters along the way, but ended up sleeping in a bit and only left mid-morning. You’ll find our route and destinations in the Google map below. Unfortunately I don’t remember now all the driving times between the stops, but in the end, even though we left later, we still had enough time at each destination without feeling too rushed, and we made back to Reykjavik just as the sun was setting so the day wasn’t too long.
Þingvellir National Park
Our first stop was, of course, for a cinnamon bun and coffee in Reykjavik (more on that in another post), before beginning the drive out to Þingvellir National Park (see also wikipedia for a cool aerial photo of the fault) along Þingvallavatn lake. The road and accompanying landscape was easy to drive and wide open. We arrived to the visitor’s center around 10.15am and, after taking a quick look around, we decided it was worth it to pay for parking and walk around a bit to see the visitor center, viewpoint over the lake at Hakið, and around the paths into the Almannagjá fault. Along the way, we also saw a cool waterfall (also featured on Game of Thrones).
Haukadalur geothermal geysers
Following our walk through the park, we hopped back into the car to drive on to the Geysir geothermal area, arriving around 12.45pm. And, our happy backseat traveler took a nap and was ready for another ride in the Ergo as we walked through the hot pots and geysers. We all especially enjoyed standing around and waiting for the giant Strokkur geyser to blow every few minutes.
Note: There is a very nice visitor center and shop near the geysers with some good lunch options. As we were heading for a late lunch at another stop, we didn’t try it out, but it is good to know.
And, it was so cool to drive through the open landscape and see giant ice caps on the horizon. I’m so used to glaciers and mountain peaks that the ice caps looked so alien to me.
Our next stop around 2.oopm was at the powerful and majestic Gulfoss Waterfall. We laughed our way through the cool mist and starred in awe at the falls.
Following the Gulfoss Waterfall, we drove on for a late lunch at Friðheimar Farm. We were very lucky as we hadn’t booked in advance, but were able to squeeze in for lunch around 3.15pm. Reese enjoyed walking the massive tomato greenhouse while we waited for a table. Once seated, we enjoyed amazingly delicious tomato tasting menu of soup and bread, tortilla pizza, and homemade ravioli. Oddly, Reese was particularly into eating fresh basil off the plant at our table. It was the perfect late afternoon stop. If you go, definitely consider making reservations in advance.
Skálholt Cathedral & Kerið Crater
After lunch we drove on through the wide open countryside passing happy Icelandic horses, sheep, and beautiful buildings and Skálholt Cathedral on the way to Kerið Crater. I think Reese was sleeping at this point so we decided not to get out and look inside the church, but even the architecture was cool from the outside.
Once you get to the Crater you have to pay a small fee to walk around or down in. It is worth it. I loved the red of the lava rock, especially compared to the rest of the landscape on a clear day.
For the final leg of our journey, we were inspired to go off the beaten path by I Heart Reykjavik’s Golden Circle guide and took the Nesjavalllaleið back to Reykjavik. Along this route you drive by on the opposite side of the Þingvallavatn lake near the Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Station, which you can visit if you have time. This road is dirt and a bit rough at times, as well as steep, but the views are otherworldly, especially along the huge hot water pipelines headed back towards Reykjavik. It was perfectly passable in late summer, but likely not in winter. We also passed by the Ion Adventure Hotel, and I would love to come back here and stay sometime.
All in all, it was a day to remember. So many unique and beautiful spots along the route to spend more time exploring in the future. Take an Iceland stopover; you can see so much in just a few days.