We are going to take you back to Iceland this week. I mentioned that we are revisiting some of our favorite locations that I didn’t write about after we traveled to them and I thought it would be good to take you there! I am working on drafting up some new travel experiences for you (coming soon!). In this post we are going to take you to one of the oldest and most historic places in Iceland. This is a very important place for Icelanders culturally as this is where their Parliament first came together. Geographically this is where two plates – the Eurasian and North American plates – meet creating a continental drift. Naturally this area is one of the most beautiful and scenic we saw in the country. There is a great deal of diversity between the thermal hot zones and craggy, rocky divides in the earth and this area is called the Golden Circle.
The Golden Circle is a route you can take through some of the most amazing and historic parts of Iceland, and it is very near Reykjavík. There are three big sites that are encompassed in the Golden Circle: Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss, and Geysir. We opted to rent a car and take the tour on our own time. There are bus tours that are available and leave daily from Reykjavík, but as our son was only 5 years old at the time we preferred to spend a little extra to give us flexibility with our schedule and not to have to stick to a schedule with the bus. We could stay longer at certain locations we loved and not stay as long at places we weren’t as keen on. He was able to sit in his car seat and we could bring a lot of things with us to help us through the day (mainly extra layers of clothes and food).
Þingvellir National Park
We started at Þingvellir National Park, where the first Icelandic Parliament met around 930 AD and continued to meet until 1798. This is a pretty special place that has been protected and held in very high regard by all Icelanders. Its history is not the only draw, but the incredible landscape, hiking, and waterfalls lure people to the area. We spent a couple of hours touring the information center and exploring the park. We also learned about the continental drift between one of the North American Plates and the Eurasian Plate, which travels through the park and it is quite visible as you can see in the picture on the right. The plate movement is actually causing Iceland to get bigger! We enjoyed our walks along the river Öxará and while the weather was beautiful it was rather chilly (we visited in September). The park is a must-see not just to learn more about their history and the importance of this sacred place but, and this might sound crazy, they have some of the fanciest restrooms we have ever seen complete with pretty incredible views! Plus, with kids, lots of stops have to be made for this vary reason.
Being from the Northwest and growing up with waterfalls, I have pretty high expectations when someone says they have seen a really big waterfall. We were told Gullfoss (the Golden Falls) was a big waterfall and everyone was right! It is amazing, powerful and breathtaking and lived up to the hype in a major way. Pictures never do it justice and everyone who visits Iceland visits Gullfoss to just see this amazing natural spectacle.
The falls are fed by the Lángjökull Glacier and the Hvítá (White) River, and tumble down 96ft in two drops to continue flowing down an amazing canyon. As you pull up, you will only see spray in the air. You have to get out and take a short walk to the view point to actually see the waterfall. Hike a little further and you will be right down on the ledge of the falls and feel like they are surrounding you. You can feel the rumble of the water under your feet. Watch your footing and your children, as the rocks can be slick and the one wire keeping people from going over the edge offers little protection.
Haukadalur Valley (Geothermal Area)
There is a lot of geyser activity in the Haukadalur Valley, which is also home to Gullfoss. We stopped in to watch the geysers. The one that erupted the most and was the most excited was the geyser called “Strokkur”. It erupted every 4-8 minutes. Generally when it erupts it can go 45-60 feet high, but has the potential to reach 120 feet on a good eruption. It is exciting to watch, especially if you have never seen anything like it before but make sure you stand upwind, as the water spray can be hot. In this area you have the ability to take a short hike up the hill just behind the geyser for a different perspective. This also gives you the opporunity take in the view of the surrounding area from a higher elevation.
“Geysir”, the most famous geyser in the geothermal area, has stopped erupting due to many earthquakes that have hit the area (it might go off every couple of years), making Strokkur the one to head to. Geysers are not the only things to see in this area though! Make sure you check out the other geothermal wonders in the area like the mud pools, fumaroles, and algal deposits. Keep hold of your kids as the water is boiling hot.