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The best known and most popular geothermal hot spring area in Iceland is The Great Geysir area. Strokkur is Europe´s only erupting hot spring and a very active one erupting every 4-5 minutes. Geysir is one of the three main attractions of the super popular Golden Circle Tour, which also includes Gullfoss Waterfall and Thingvellir National Park and Rift Valley. The word “geyser” actually originates from this place the old Geysir (one who goes fast) was the only erupting hot spring in europe giving the phenomenon its name.
Strokkur erupts pretty much like clockwork every few minutes and can be seen from quite a distance and its worth keeping your eye out for those spouts of steaming hot water shooting towards the sky. There are a few other places when driving The Golden Circle where you can see steam rising from the ground and the fact is that there is geothermal heat everywhere. Many farms in the area have drilled into the earth and found their own private supply of hot water to produce heat and electricity. Geothermal resources are very important to the country.
There are five major geothermal power plants in Iceland and about 25% of all electricity in Iceland is produced with geothermal energy and 90% of all homes are heated with geothermal water. Being right on the rift between the North American and The Eurasian tectonic plates causes these geothermal features, and although south Iceland probably has the greatest concentration then most of the rest of the country has underground heat.
When doing the Golden Circle visiting The Geysir Hot Spring Area is an absolute must and apart from being an amazing feature of the Icelandic landscape it is also one of the best pit stops in the area. There is the Geysir Glíma Bistro and Súpa soup joint, as well as the food court in the same building as the large souvenir shop. Across the parking area there is also Hotel Geysir which has a lunch buffet and also offers great accommodation if you are planning to extend your stay in the area.
Any time of year the Geysir area is well worth a visit. Whether it is during the bright summer months when you might get a picture of the midnight sun through a geothermal eruption, or midwinter when the steam freezes into glistening mini sculptures and there´s a chance to experience the flickering play of northern lights in night sky made even more mysterious by the steam rising and the bubbling in the ground.
Gullfoss Waterfall is the largest two-stepped waterfall in Iceland, flowing in a glacial river, Hvítá, from Iceland´s second largest glacier Langjökull. The river flows around 40 km from the glacier until it drops over 30 meters into the gorge around the waterfall.
Gullfoss Waterfall is one of the highlights of The Golden Circle and is infact its namesake Gullfoss literally means the golden waterfall. Hvítá River has been flowing through the area carving out the landscape for around 5000 years. At the time Iceland experienced an extended period of increased volcanic activity which among other things created The Westman Islands just off Eyjafjallajökull Volcano on the south coast. The river has been working on the great gorge for awhile and the majestic flow of glacial water can be almost overwhelming as it thunders down roaring between rock walls.
Gullfoss Waterfall is also considered to be one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland and is greatly loved by locals as well as travellers coming from afar. At one point during the 20th century there were plans to dam the gorge in order to create a reservoir for a powerplant. This met with a surprising amount of opposition from the locals, a farmer´s daughter, Sigríður Tómasdóttir threatened to throw herself into the waterfall if they started any construction there. To make a long story short all plans for a dam were abandoned and Gullfoss flows proudly and will hopefully for the unforeseeable future. Langjökull glacier is the second largest glacier in Iceland and can be seen from various points of the ring road and has operations on both sides, hiking, snowmobiling and even a man made ice tunnel dug under the ice cap to study the glacier. Weather permitting there is a great view of the glacier from the parking lot of Gullfoss were often monster trucks can be seen leaving for the higher ground.
The waterfall can be viewed from two levels. There is a platform on the same level as the parking lot where there is a service center which has a restaurant, a souvenir shop and toilets. There is also a second level which can be reached by stairs which brings you closer to the waterfall, there is great reason to take care here specially in wintertime since the path can be slippery from ice and snow. Any warning signs should be taken very seriously.
Gullfos is a location that can be enjoyed throughout the year whether sparkling in the midnight sun of summer or clad in ice armour of mid winter tingling with aurora afterglow.
Þingvellir National Park is a true natural gem and one of the most visited destinations in Iceland. Known for its breathtaking landscape, geological curiosities and important part in Iceland's history. Usually taken as the first or last stop on the classic Golden Circle.
This is where the tectonic plate boundaries can be clearly seen. The North American plate and The Eurasian plate are drifting apart about 2-3 cm per year and the continental crust is about as thin as it gets. Most of the rest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is below sea level where the volcanoes rise from the Atlantic ocean floor. Here, however, the skyline is jagged with volcanoes and craters and the earth's surface is torn apart by the movement of the tectonics. Some of those fissures are quite wide and water runs through them towards Thingvallavatn Lake, one of the biggest lakes in Iceland and home to the local arctic char. The source of the water is mostly Langjökull Glacier to the north-east and it takes around thirty years for the water to seep through the lava and then emerge crystal clear. The water in Silfra fissure is a popular dive site famous for the absolute clarity of its waters. An amazing experience despite the cold, just make sure you are wearing a dry suit. There's also a theory stating that right here between the two major plates is a minor plate or a piece that has broken off and that is the reason for how many volcanoes can be found in the area.
This is also where the vikings formed their national council here in 930 and thus created the oldest ongoing parliament in the world. This was based on a tribal system which was common in scandinavia and northern Europe at the time, but evolved separately in Iceland and is referred to as Althingi. Thingvellir actually means The Fields of the Parliament. This is were most major decisions in the history of Iceland have been taken from the decision to become a christian nation in 1000 ad up until the declaration of independence from Denmark in 1944. Also, one of Iceland ́s foremost painters in the 20th century Mr. Johannes Kjarval turned the combination of lava, moss and birch into his own school of abstract painting greatly admired and loved both domestically and abroad.
In recent years the area has entered popular culture as the backdrop for some scenes in the very successful TV series Game of Thrones. And right where we usually stop at Hakid might be where some of the inspiration for the look of the great wall in the series comes from.
The ice cap on Langjokull glacier stretches almost 50 km from north to south and is on average between 15 and 20 km wide. The Golden Circle Tour as a day tour can add a visit to the glacier and a snowmobile ride on the ice although this needs to be planned and booked in advance. The south-east side of the glacier can be reached from Gullfoss Waterfall if you are doing The Golden Circle and the south-west from Þingvellir National Park via one of the highland roads. The main route to the Into The Glacier operation is through Borgarfjörður, first reaching the town of Borgarnes via the ring road and then head further inland. Going along road 50 we reach the largest hot spring in Europe Deildartunguhver close to the settlement of Reykholt which was home to the great medieval scholar Snorri Sturluson, believed to be the author of some of the icelandic sagas, Egil Saga in particular. Hraunfossar, The Waterfalls in the Lava, are an absolutely beautiful series of waterfalls coming from underneath an ancient lava field overgrown with a wild birch forest.
When going to Langjökull on the west side, where the man made ice tunnel is situated and the Into The Glacier operation works from, we go through Húsafell, a popular holiday spot. Húsafell is a birch forest right on the edge of the highland tracks which has numerous cottages as well as the lovely Hotel Húsafell complete with a bar and swimming pool supplied with hot water from a nearby geothermal hot spring. Going up to the glacier and on it requires special vehicles, monster trucks, which will take you all the way to the top. Another track in the area takes you to the lava cave Víðgelmir, which has been made safe for visitors and can be explored with a local guide.
The view from the top of Langjökull glacier is absolutely fantastic on clear days. At an elevation of almost 1500 meters from sea level there is a view into the highlands to the north and east, and out to sea to the west and south. If you are on the glacier after dark on a clear night you should definitely keep your eyes in the sky since it is an amazing place to see the northern lights.
A visit to glacier is always an experience whether you choose hiking, snowmobiling or going into it either via man made tunnel or a natural cave, but it should be absolutely clear that glaciers can be very unstable and that going on one should always be with an experienced person preferably a local guide.
When coming on a Cruise ship to Iceland and docking in Reykjavik the most popular day tour is The Golden Circle Tour going to The National Park and Rift Valley of Thingvellir (Þingvellir), The Geysir Hot Spring Area and Gullfoss Waterfall, to take this tour to another level you can add going to Langjökull, the second largest glacier in Iceland with an ice cap of roughly one thousand square kilometers.
Golden Circle on the Rocks
Thingvellir (Þingvellir) is the oldest national park in Iceland and covers the whole valley and the lake Þingvallavatn. The clearly visible plate boundaries of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates moving apart on the thin continental crust. These two major plates also happen to envelope a minor plate on whose edges a few of the major volcanoes of Iceland are situated. This is also historically one of the most important places in Iceland where by the law rock since 930 ad most important decisions in the history of Iceland up until the 19th century were made. The name Thingvellir basically means The Fields of the Parliament and the parliament was basically a two week camping trip in summer made by the chieftains of old Iceland and their men.
The great Geysir Hot Spring Area is a large geothermal field of boiling pools situated in Haukadalur valley and the geyser Strokkur erupts there every 4-5 minutes.
Gullfoss waterfall is the largest two-stepped waterfall in Iceland almost a hundred feet where the Hvítá river drops into a magnificent gorge.
Langjökull Glacier the second largest glacier in Europe lies above the mountain ranges to the north from Gullfoss. There some outlet glaciers snaking down between some of the passes there and glacier is the source of the great Hvítá river. In fact the glacier is also the water source for Lake Thingvallavatn at the national park but it takes the water about 30 years to travel from the glacier to the lake where it comes out chrystal clear after being filtered through sand and lava.
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