The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle Route is a 300 KM journey that covers major sights on a circular route from Reykjavik into central Iceland. A thorough tour will include a visit to Þingvellir -the sight of rift valley, Gullfoss waterfalls, the geothermal active valley of Haukadalur, Kerið volcano crater, Hveragerði greenhouse village, Skálholt church, and the Nesjavellir or Hellisheidarvirkjun geothermal power plant.
I awoke the following morning, had a quick bite to eat, and packed my belongings into my 50 liter backpack. I peeled a banana as I waited outside my hotel for the tour bus to pick me up. The sky was unusually blue and I hoped that it was a good omen that “The Golden Circle” route would be a worthwhile experience. I must admit that I normally prefer to explore on my own than to take an organized tour. The Golden Circle Tour was highly recommended and so I decided to give it a try.
The Golden Circle Tour can be booked with many tour companies and is a great option for a short stay or a head start of a lengthly Icelandic vacation.
Long after I had finished my banana the tour bus finally pulled up. I slumped my huge knapsack into the under – stow and boarded the bus. The bus wound up and down Reykjavik collecting its passengers. Finally after some time, all the passengers were collected and the tour had officially begun.
Our first stop was the The Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Station. Located in south-western Iceland, this facility is famous for being the second largest Geothermal Power Station in Iceland and is perched 177 m above sea level. The station pumps about 120 MW of electrical power; it also produces approximately 1,100 liters (290 US gal) of hot water (82-85°C) per second servicing the space heating and hot water needs of the Capital Region. I found it especially fascinating that the land has so much hot water that if everyone left their faucets on all day long, the country would only use about 1% of their water supply.
Our next stop was to visit a seemingly empty grassland that our tour operator informed us was the land of “the invisible people” –Huldufólk .The Huldufólk are elves in Icelandic folklore. Construction in Iceland is often altered to prevent damaging the rocks where they’re believed to live. According to Icelandic folk beliefs, one should never throw stones because there is a possibility of hitting the Huldufólk. Icelandic gardens often feature tiny wooden álfhól (elf houses) for elves/hidden people to dwell in. Some Icelanders have also constructed small churches to convert elves to Christianity. President Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson has explained the existence of huldufólk tales by saying: “Icelanders are few so in the old times we doubled our population with tales of elves and fairies.” As an onlooker it was fascinating to learn about this aspect of the Icelandic tradition, but unfortunately the Huldufólk weren’t available for photographs.
Continuing to our next site we arrived at Thingvellir National Park.Thingvellir National Park is a place in Bláskógabyggð in southwestern Iceland, near the peninsula of Reykjanes and the Hengill volcanic region. This park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge or otherwise known as “Rift Valley”. The Mid Atlantic Ridge is the point where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates spread further apart by 2.5 cm per year. While this ridge is popularly seen in Iceland (mainly because that is one of the few places that it gains enough elevation to be seen above sea level), most of it is actually underwater and part of the largest mountain chain in the North Atlantic.Divers come from all over the world to dive right between the crack in the two continents in the crystal clear Silfra Fissure (http://www.dive.is/dive-sites/silfra/).
Thingvellir National Park is also home to Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland, as well as the remains of the parliament (constructed in 1798). The purpose of the parliament was to protect this national park as a shrine to all Icelanders-never to be sold or mortgaged.
There’s no doubt about it!
The 300 kilometer journey around Iceland’s Golden Circle will leave you with deep inspiration for the Icelandic people and their mysterious land. Though I normally prefer to explore on my own than to take an organized tour, I’m happy that I made an “exception” for Iceland’s Golden Circle Tour.