Travel Guide: Iceland’s Golden Circle
Get in the driver’s seat and tour around Iceland’s stunning landscape -- with a few stops for lattes, spas and food, of course.
by : Elena Viltovskaia- Sep 5th, 2013
Image courtesy of 101 Hotel
Iceland is known for its bleak yet beautiful volcanic landscapes – black rocks and soils that touch the clear blue skies, offer up a photographer’s dream of contrasts. And during the summer months where daylight lasts well into the early morning (we’re talking 2 am daylight), you get to take advantage of that beautiful scenery even longer. Pack up your bags for a day trip like no other – stop at geyirs, glaciers and the infamous Blue Lagoon.
7:00 am Wake up call at the luxurious
101 Hotel in downtown of Reykjavik. Located steps away from trendy Laugavegur street (where you’ll find quaint cafes and local shops), overlooking the bay and the modern Icelandic landmark, Harpa Concert Hall.
7:45 am Get your breakfast; bacon and eggs at one of Reykjavik’s oldest establishments, Prikið on Laugavegur street, a perfect spot for an early meal and people watching, in the brisk morning air.
8:30 am Grab to-go coffee for the road at eco-conscious coffee chain Kaffitar.
10:00 am First stop is an hour and a half away from Reykjavik in the Haukadalur Valley. Mysterious and smoky, the valley is a geothermal park and home to the world famous Great ‘Geysir’. Though the Geysir itself has not been active since the early 2000s, the surrounding area is a bubbling cauldron of hot springs. One of the largest and most active of which is Strokkur. Erupting every 10 minutes Strokkur spits out a white column of boiling water, so hot it turns into vapor before reaching the ground. It honestly looks like it has been taken straight from the Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne – perfect for an Instagram photo opt.
Image courtesy of Elena Viltovskaia
11:00 am A 10-minute drive from Geysir lies the spectacular Gullfoss waterfall. One of the biggest tourist attractions in Iceland it’s located in the canyon of river Hvita. As the river rushes southward it drops three times on waterfall’s "staircase", the first step is over 30 feet high, the second step is 60 feet high and the third is all the way down into a 105 feet deep crevice. Getting there on a sunny day offers up even more visual delights – when the sun hits the crashing water is gives off a perfect golden glow. Even on a rainy day though, the waterfall is an impressive sight. Spend your time here exploring the surrounding hiking trails or browsing for souvenirs at the local store (stock up on cozy gloves and hats), and warming up with a delicious cup of hot chocolate.
How to spend the rest of your day? Find out on the next page! Hint: It involves a volcano!
Image courtesy of Elena Viltovskaia
1:00 pm An hour away in the Grímsnes, Iceland’s Western Volcanic Zone, lies Volcano Kerið ( a.ka. Kerith or Kerid). Approximately 3,000 years old, Kerið is a volcanic crater lake that was formed after an eruption. The well-preserved crater walls of red volcanic rock are covered with green moss – a striking contrast with bright blue water of the lake. Get your cameras ready — the rim of the crater is a great vantage point providing stunning views of the surrounding area. Bonus: You won’t be needing any special gear to climb the volcano – the incline is totally manageable.
2:30 pm About 30-minute drive from Kerid is Thingvellir National Park (meaning "Parliament Plains" in Icelandic). Being a part of volcanic fissure zone on the boundaries of Mid-Atlantic Ridge tectonic plate, Thingvellir Park is a place of great natural and historical importance. This is where the Icelandic general assembly was established and the country’s first laws were set. Today park is protected by UNESCO and covers about 300 km of the ground. Hike along the historic trails, or for the more adventurous, strip down to your wet suit (it will be too chilly for your fave bikini, even in the summer) and swim between the North American and Eurasian plates at Silfra rift. The rift is considered one of best diving spots on the planet and definitely worth a few dips.
Image courtesy of Glymur Hotel.
3:30 pm Buckle up and get ready for a taste of real Iceland and one of the most breathtaking drives. Slightly of the beaten path, the road around the Golden Circle gets bumpy and narrow, as it leads through the mountains (passing mountain Esja), geothermal valleys, luscious fields with herds of horses and all the way around hvalfjordur (whale-fjord in Icelandic) to hotel Glymur. The two stops en route are Porufoss and Fossarrett waterfalls. You won’t find them by GPS or on Google maps, marked only by the road signs these beauties are definitely worth a visit.
Finish you day at the famous Blue Lagoon on the next page …
Image courtesy of Blue Lagoon
5:00 pm In an hour and a half arrive at
hotel Glymur for a much needed break and a very late lunch (when the sun stays up for nearly 24 hours, lunches tend to be later). Named after the highest waterfall located in the area, Glymur offers the simplicity and comfort of a real Icelandic home. Celery root soup and fresh salad accompanied by a slice of toasted garlic bread is a perfect meal after a long drive. Unfortunately, the four-hour hike to the Glymur waterfall requires not only a pair of hiking boots, but a rock climbing physique. No matter, the stunning views of hvalfjordur fjord are a great consolation along with delicious meal at hotel’s restaurant.
Image courtesy of Elena Viltovskaia
7:30 pm Arrive just in time to start the Midnight Sun luxury experience at Blue Lagoon Spa located in the town of Grindavik. Hidden in the midst of lava fields the spa offers unlimited access to all the facilities up until midnight during the months of summer. As the light above the pools of turquoise water slowly dims, enjoy the swim in thermal waters, sauna and steam rooms. Rest and relax while applying restorative masks from The Blue Lagoon line of skincare and feel the road fatigue melt away. All the products in the line are produced right here at the lagoon with silica and algae unique to the waters. The feeling of tranquility washes over just in time to wrap yourself in a white robe by the fireplace at lagoon’s private lounge.
10:00 pm Time for late dinner at
Blue Lagoon‘s Lava Restaurant. The breathtaking view opens from its large roof terrace overlooking the pools of hot water and black lava fields. The restaurant was built to be perfectly leveled with the planes of lava fields, which equals stunning views. One of restaurant’s interior walls was left an exposed mass of lava rock to reinforce the idea of a seamless connection with the unique nature of the lagoon. The menu created by Head chef Viktor Örn Andrésson focuses on featuring fresh local ingredients traditional to Icelandic cuisine. Pair your delish meal with a pint of crispy Egils Gull beer, brewed in Reykjavik.
12:00 am Arrive back in Reykjavik and after a brief stop at the local pub for a shot of much needed Brennivín (liquor distilled from potatoes or grain — an Icelandic signature), the day is complete and could be declared one of the best day trips ever.
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