There are three different ways that people come out to experience Iceland. The most adventurous get a four wheel drive and dive into the interior of the island where made roads are inaccessible except for a couple of months out of the year. Others rent a camper van and travel around the Ring Road, hopping from one campsite to another. But the most common way that people experience Iceland is to find a place in Reykjavik, and go out on day trips from there. The place where most of them end up at is called the Golden Circle. It is a place where there are many sights to take in, and you can still make it back to your cozy hotel room for the night.
I’ll be honest; this was the part of Iceland that I was least excited about seeing. There was something about being among the throngs of people visiting a part of Europe that set me on edge. I have been out in the busiest parts of Europe during the summer a few times before, and there is nothing that gets under my skin more than tourists who are wandering aimlessly among a sea of other tourists who are doing the same. It makes you feel like a silver ball in an active game of pinball. You just bounce around hoping that you will land somewhere safe eventually.
What I did not realize was that Iceland is a good sized country with a lot of open space, so even in the places with densely populated tourist sights, it is not as bad as some of the worst places on the main continent. Yes, there were more tourists in this part of the country than the other parts, but we were still able to drive with ease and not get into traffic jams. We were not delayed by herds of tourists trying to get their picture of the next waterfall. In short, the tourist annoyance that you might see in other parts of the world was not really here. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this part of Iceland.
There is a lot to see in the Golden Circle, and it is hard to pick and choose what the best options will be. I will admit that some of the sights are a little lackluster. Kerid Crater was a perfect example of this. Basically it is a dormant volcano that has started to fill up with water and create its own lake. It was neat to see, but the fact that they charged 400 kroner to hike up to the rim, it was not really worth the price. If you want to see a better example of this I would suggest Crater Lake in Oregon. On the other hand, the geysers out there were definitely worth the trip. They are very similar to the sulfur ponds that you can find in Yellowstone National Park except for the fact that you do not need to wait an hour for the big one to erupt. It likes to go off every four to eight minutes, and if you hang around long enough you will see it explode.
I also know that Iceland is the land of waterfalls, and there is a time when you think you can’t go out and see another one, but the one in the Golden Circle, Gullfoss, is the most impressive one that I have seen since I have been out here. This is a must stop on the Golden Circle and it is only a short hike to both of the viewing points without the crowds that you would expect to find at a place like this. Keep in mind that if you go here that you will still want to wear your rain gear because you will still get a lot of spray back from the waterfall.
Another must see is Pinvellir National Park. Historically, it is a cool sight because this is where the oldest parliamentary government in the world was first established. Geologically, it is really cool because it is the only place in the world where you can see two tectonic plates butt up against each other. This is the place where the European continent runs up against the North American continent, and you can see the two plates competing against each other.
There are also some pretty fun food options out in this area as well. There is the Fridheimer farm which supplies Iceland with all of its tomatoes. You get to eat in the greenhouse next to the growing tomatoes and buzzing bumble bees flying around pollinating all of the plants. Their speciality is a tomato soup with home baked bread. It is served buffet style with all of the coffee you need to warm yourself up. If you come here, you do need a reservation, but it is worth the trip out there.
There is also the Efistidilur Creamery if you are in the mood for ice cream. This is basically a dairy farm that puts together a bunch of batches of ice cream that you can try. Like most gelato places you will find in Europe, you can get one, two or three scoops, and they don’t have to be all the same. When you are done ordering, you can grab a seat next to the window where in the background the cows who supplied the dairy are eat their daily hay. It makes for the perfect atmosphere to enjoy this summery delight.
Basically, I can see why people get excited about the Golden Circle. It is a fun place to spend an afternoon or two, and though I did not like to admit it when I first got here, it is a must do when visiting Iceland. Make sure you add it to your itinerary today.