Three of Iceland’s most renowned geological attractions lie in close proximity to Reykjavík and can be explored on a looped driving route known as the Golden Circle. This private, full-day tour with a local guide takes in the visible tectonic plate movement and original parliament site at Þingvellir National Park, the spurting hot-water blowholes at Haukadalur, also known as Geysir Geothermal Area, and the thundering falls at Gullfoss. Along with transport to and from each site, you’ll get an insight into the history, geology and importance of the area and its role in Iceland’s turbulent physical and political past.
Your driver-guide will pick you up from your hotel in Reykjavík on the morning of your tour and you’ll travel east out of the city toward Þingvellir National Park.
Located approximately 45 minutes from Reykjavík, Þingvellir is best known for its dramatic rift valley, where the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia can be seen splitting apart above ground, creating deep fissures across the landscape. You can walk through Almannagiá, a canyon that was formed here. Merchants used to meet in the canyon at the Althing, and it was also used as a filming location for Game of Thrones.
In addition to being protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its geological significance, the area is steeped in culture and history. Despite lacking any permanent buildings, Þingvellir served as the location of Iceland‘s first parliament, dating back to 930 AD. Representatives from all around the island would convene each year for these parliamentary sessions, while merchants would gather for trading and social interaction.
You‘ll take in several viewpoints and walks around the national park to best absorb the scenery, before continuing east for an hour to the geothermal site of Geysir, in the Haukadalur valley. Here, you‘ll find Geysir and Strokkur, two of the most renowned geysers in the country.
Geysir has been active for over 10,000 years and is the original hot-water blowhole after which all others in the world are named. Although Geysir now only erupts sporadically every few years, nearby Strokkur spouts boiling water every five to eight minutes, at heights of nearly 20 to 30 m (65 to 100 ft) and is surrounded by bubbling, vibrant pools and steam vents which provide an otherworldly backdrop for photography.
The third highlight of the tour is the powerful Gullfoss (Golden Falls), Iceland’s most photographed waterfall. From its source beneath Langjökull, Iceland’s second-largest ice cap, the water flows down the Hvitá River. At Gullfoss, the current cascades down a series of steps, creating a wide mist that fills the deep canyon below. In winter, parts of the waterfall can freeze, creating an even more impressive visual display.
As you drive between the sights, you’ll stop for lunch, usually at a local restaurant. Alternatively, a picnic lunch can be included for you — please let your specialist know if you’d like to do this.
At the end of your tour, you’ll be driven back to Reykjavík, about eight hours after your departure.