Iceland’s landscapes are insane and you may already know that if you’ve seen pictures of it everywhere. I traveled to Iceland 2 months ago and I fell in love with the awesomeness of this country. Not only is it really safe there, but it is a road-trip-worthy heck of a place. The Golden Circle in Iceland is a stunning area to hit and easily a popular sightseeing route. It’s called the Golden Circle because the places here are literally golden and since they’re all relatively close to each other, you’ll be driving around the territory.
Here are 5 things you should definitely see when you plan to drive around The Golden Circle!
1. Thingvellir National Park
Starting off with a national park, Thingvellir (also spelled as Þingvellir) National Park is a historical place known for having the annual parliament dating back from year 930 to its last session in 1798. It then became a national park in 1928 so that its parliament site can be protected for many future generations to come.
Aside from its history, when you come here, you’ll see why it is equally worth visiting. The high cliffs towering over you, the division of the cliffs and the streams, and the open green areas that sit below these natural rock cliffs are great views to walk by. In fact, its geology is so fascinating that the national park is located in between the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia and you can see this all from sea level in Thingvellir National Park.
2. Haukadalur Valley Geysers and Hot Springs
Is it Yellowstone National Park? No, it is Haukadalur. Iceland is definitely the land of fire and ice, but if there’s something else Iceland is iconically recognized for, it is the hot springs, even the hot springs you should not be soaking inside at all (like these). There are over 2 million visitors yearly that come to visit this area and upon being there, I thought it was one of the most crowded spots I’ve visited in Iceland.
Located beside the Hvita River, the geysers you can find here are completely show-stoppers and without paying anything to see them erupt into the air, it is completely worth it. The famous Strokkur can erupt every 6-10 minutes every single day and can reach a height up to 130 feet high. Near Strokkur is Geysir, a hot spring that has been active for about 10,000+ years now and it doesn’t erupt as frequently as Strokkur as it can stop erupting for a few years. But when it does, it can reach up to 230 feet high.
There are smaller hot springs by these and the smell of sulfur can be distinctively strong so if you’re sensitive to the smell, I recommend wearing a mask or not getting too close to the hot springs. You can also choose to hike further inside the park and overlook the valley views from outside the park.
There is actually some really good food at the visitor center and some cool things to pick up as souvenirs from its gift shop.
Gullfoss is Icelandic for “Golden Falls.” It’s named this because the water seems to glow gold sometimes when sunlight hits. These dramatic falls are so powerful as its water rushes down into a deep narrow canyon that drops 230 feet high, and there are three separate drops from these falls. The source of these waters are actually melting water from the Lángjökull glacier.
When I visited these falls, it was very popular and crowded and that is because it is one of Iceland’s most visited falls and since it’s free admission to go see the falls, there’s no reason not to see it. Plus, it’s quite a stunning landscape that just cannot be unseen, almost like the “Niagara Falls” of Iceland.
4. Kerid Volcanic Crater
This place just reflects off vivid colors everywhere. This 3,000 year old volcanic crater is shaped like an eye from the top and its slopes are red because the iron deposits are fresh, versus volcanos that give off a volcanic black color. At 180 feet deep, 558 feet wide, and with a circumference of 886 feet, Kerid Volcanic Crater is a unique geological formation that makes its aquamarine-colored crater lake stand out more.
Kerid was believed to have been a cone-shaped volcano and that it erupted then collapsed and got filled in with water. There are hiking trails to find around the crater and there is also a way to get down closer to the crater lake.
5. Icelandic Horses
As I was planning my Iceland trip, I wanted to at least get an up-close visit for the horses in Iceland because I’m a huge animal lover and I’m sure you love animals too. The horses in Iceland are different from the ones you’ll find in America, of course, because they are a breed in the country. They’re much smaller and more pony-like. You’ll also find a lot of these horses just roaming around in open grassy land as you drive around the country, whether around the South Coast or the Golden Circle.
The breed has tried to survive over and over again throughout history when the harsh climate in Iceland had wiped out the breed through malnourishment and then a volcano eruption in Laki wiped out most of them. So if you have the chance to get up close and personal of meeting an Icelandic horse, you’ll really come to embrace their uniqueness and how loving they really are. Plus, their hair is softer and better looking than mine, that’s for sure.