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The Golden Circle is a term used to describe a sightseeing route around a series of natural landmarks in southwest Iceland. Þingvellir National Park with its geological drama and rich history, Geysir’s hot water blowholes, and Gullfoss waterfall all sit within easy reach of Reykjavík, and are generally grouped together for a day trip.

Almost all visitors to Iceland will spend some time in these places, so they can get crowded, particularly in summer. But, stay overnight and you can enjoy the sights at less-busy times of the day and take in a variety of lesser-known attractions in the region.

Silfra fissure in Þingvellir National Park, Golden Circle Þingvellir National Park sits right on the continental divide between Europe and North America. You can clearly see a deep chasm here where the two tectonic plates are slowly shifting apart by about 2 cm (3/4 of an inch) each year. The great Almannagjá rift is lined by a boardwalk that allows you to stroll between the two continents while exploring smaller fissures, chasms and pools.

Just south of Almannagjá, Þingvallavatn is Iceland’s largest natural lake. Here, both snorkelers and divers can sink into glacial waters between the two tectonic plates. Above ground, the Öxará River tumbles off the edge of the North American plate in a series of waterfalls, the most striking of which is Öxarárfoss.

The dramatic clash of continents was noticed by Iceland’s first settlers, and the natural amphitheatre here was used by Icelandic chieftains for their most important meetings. This was the original site of the Alþing – Iceland’s General Assembly and arguably the oldest parliament in the world. Local leaders met here to settle disputes and discuss laws and trade from 930 AD right up until 1798 when the parliament relocated to Reykjavík.

By contrast, in nearby Geysir, geothermal activity is the main draw. In Icelandic, geysir means ‘gusher’ and here, a bolt of hot water driven skywards by elemental forces far below the earth’s surface gave its name to all other hot water blowholes around the world.

Geysir Geothermal Area, Golden Circle The Haukadalur geothermal field is home to several blowholes, vibrant mineral pools and bubbling mud pots. Although Geysir now only spouts sporadically every few years, the Strokkur geyser alongside it erupts every five to ten minutes and spouts water high into the sky.

From Geysir most tours head to Gullfoss. At this site, meltwater from the Langjökull glacier fuels the raging Hvítá River, which tumbles over a set of double falls. You can witness the power of Gullfoss, Iceland’s most visited waterfall, from viewpoints set above and below the falls. Alongside the roiling water, you’ll see clear stripes of volcanic rock in the canyon walls, which chronicle the location’s geological history.

Gullfoss means ‘Golden Waterfall’ and is named after the yellowish spray that hangs in the air and splits into vibrant rainbows when the sun comes out. If you have the time to linger in the area, you can also see natural lagoons and hot springs.

If you’d like to actively explore the circle’s dynamic landscape, we can arrange a variety of excursions, depending on the season. During the winter you can snowmobile on Langjökull Glacier or explore ice caves, and, in the warm summer months, go white-water rafting down the canyon below Gullfoss Falls. You can also bathe in a geothermal hot spring, regardless of the time of year.

Other stops on the may route include the Faxi and Brúarfoss waterfalls, Brúarhlöð Canyon and Kerið Crater, where you can see a brilliantly green lake at the bottom of the rust-red sloping walls of the ancient volcanic crater.

Best time to visit the Golden Circle

The Golden Circle makes a great year-round destination. Long summer days between May and August allow more time to explore at each site, but also see the most visitors. Spring and autumn offer good daylight, while in winter daylight hours are limited but the snow and ice, waterfalls and steaming fumaroles are more dramatic than ever.

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