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Iceland – The Golden Circle

Ready for more photos and highlights from Iceland? Read about our first day in Iceland, exploring Reykjavik and seeing the Northern Lights, here

Iceland - The Golden Circle

After a good night’s sleep, Liz and I woke up bright and early for our Golden Circle tour, booked through GeoIceland. We learned there are very few places open in Reykjavik at eight in the morning on a Saturday, so we stopped at our favorite grocery store and picked up breakfast. 

The Golden Circle is a route in southern Iceland that’s about 190 miles long, and loops from Reykjavík into the southern uplands of Iceland and back. The name itself is actually no more than a marketing term, but it’s one of the most popular destinations for tourists, given the waterfalls, geysers, and more along the route. For our first time in Iceland, it was a must-do.

Our guide for the day, Sif, was fabulous. When she picked us up at our stop, she didn’t wait around for any stragglers. We had strict directions to be at our pick up spot at a certain time, and Sif didn’t have time for those who didn’t adhere to the schedule. Remember, we were chasing daylight. The sun wouldn’t rise until ten or so, and it would start to set around four. We couldn’t afford to wait too long for those who didn’t turn up on time if we were going to fit everything in on our tour.

Iceland - Faxi Waterfall

It was still dark as we drove out of Reykjavik. Sif shared a lot about Iceland’s history and geology as we drove. Just as the sun started to rise, we made our first stop at Vatnsleysufoss, also known as, much simpler, Faxi. “Foss” in Icelandic means “waterfall,” and this was the first of several we visited during our four days in Iceland. Faxi was mostly frozen and the snow was deep. Sif passed out crampons – spikes that slip over your boots – to help us navigate the icy surface.

Iceland - Faxi Waterfall
Faxi Waterfall

Sunrise at a frozen waterfall in Iceland is indescribable. The ice sparkled, the snow glistened, and the soft colors that peeked over the horizon were just stunning. It was hard to capture them on camera, but I didn’t try too hard either – I was too busy enjoying the moment. While we were there, the sky became the most glorious shade of blue. It ended up being a perfectly clear day – Sif said we couldn’t have dreamed up better weather, especially for Iceland in the winter.

Iceland - Faxi Waterfall
It was around lunchtime when I took this photo – look how low the sun still is!

From there, we ventured to Geysir. Walking through a geothermal field is not without its dangers. Sif told us to stay on the path, and, even though it should be obvious, not to touch the water as it was scalding. We watched Stokker explode a few times, took some of my favorite photos from the trip, and ate a quick lunch at the gift shop area.

Iceland - Geysier - Stokker
Iceland - Geysier
Geothermal fields make for a beautiful landscape.

Then, it was off to Gullfoss.

Holy. Waterfall.

Iceland - Gulfoss

And holy freaking cold.

Iceland - Gulfoss
Gulfoss – and freezing. So cold and windy.

Like the first waterfall, this one was largely frozen. The path closer to the waterfall was closed due to ice and snow, but we still had a spectacular view from above. It’s hard to explain the sheer size of Gullfoss. I couldn’t quite comprehend it standing next to it myself. It’s overwhelmingly large, and has a great story behind it about the family who essentially saved the waterfall. You can’t actually see where the fall ends as the canyon is so deep. I didn’t stay outside long at Gullfoss however. It was bitterly cold and very windy. The gift shop was a welcomed retreat.

Icelandic Horses
We’re friends.
Icelandic Horses
He definitely wanted to come home with me.

Since we were good on time, Sif stopped off at a roadside farm so we could meet a few Icelandic horses. They were the sweetest things, and so friendly. Liz, the greatest animal lover I know, declared it the best day of her life. I think we’re both a little bummed we couldn’t smuggle one home with us. In fact, if an Icelandic horse is exported from Iceland, it can’t return. Iceland has very view diseases, and this is one way they ensure that remains the case. 

Iceland - Thingvellir

We ended our Golden Circle tour at Þingvellir, or Thingvellir. It’s a national park that lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, and the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. The national parliament of Iceland was established there in 930 A.D., and sessions were held there until 1798. A small show called Game of Thrones also films there.

Iceland - Thingvellir


Iceland - Thingvellir

Sunrise at a waterfall is spectacular, but so is sunset at Thingvellir. We could see for miles as the sun drifted below the horizon, and how often are you on two continental plates in the same day?

Back in Reykjavik, we wandered into a few shops, and then had a debate about dinner. We stopped into Sægreifinn– or The Seabaron – which is famous for their lobster stew. Their menu is minuscule, and technically nonexistent. You simply walk in, pick your combination of fish and vegetables on display in the cooler, and they cook it for you. Liz was all in, but I just couldn’t bring myself to order from a cooler. We were able to sample the soup, and while Liz loved it, I wasn’t a fan. We ended up at Reykjavik Fish where I had delicious fish and chips.

Note that every time I had fish, it was fried. I can eat most anything once its fried.

To say neither of us had trouble falling asleep would be an understatement. We were out like lights that night, and ready to explore the Southern Coast the next morning. 

If you’re headed to Iceland and looking for a great tour company, may I recommend GeoIceland? They were fabulous on the Golden Circle Tour and – spoiler alert – delivered great service again on our South Coast tour – more on that next week!

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