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.
Faxi Waterfall is a short drive from the more famous and much bigger Gullfoss, but that does not make it any less of a great stop. On any given day the clear waters of Tungufljót river rushing from the highlands cascading off the edge here on there way to the North Atlantic are well worth the visit.
When doing The Golden Circle Tour there are many little stops that can be made apart from the classic three, i.e. Gullfoss Waterfall, Geysir Hot Spring Area and Thingvellir National Park and Rift Valley, given you have time and the weather conditions are right. One of those is the beautiful Faxi Waterfall situated in Tungufljót River only 12 km from the Geysir geothermal area and 15 km from The Secret Lagoon, and if you are coming from the ring road in the Selfoss area then it is around a 25 minute drive after you hit the volcanic crater Kerid.
Faxi Waterfall is a great example of what wonders can be found just around the next corner/hill in south Iceland and in fact all of Iceland is like this, full of surprises, adventure and awesome sights. You can spend full day trips just checking out Þingvellir national park or going to the ice cave at Langjökull glacier. Even visiting power plants is an experience here whether they are hydro or geothermal just knowing that the whole country is run on green electricity makes things a little more special. Amazing places like The Blue Lagoon are even given added value from details like going through a lava field to get there. Day tours in Iceland can so easily change in concept just depending on what interests you and what catches your eye at any given moment.
Faxi Waterfall is around 80 meters wide and 7 meters tall and is not visible from the road when driving The Golden Circle but the car park is just on the side of the main route. There is a fish ladder here since the river is a spawning ground for salmon which being a migration fish has an annual cycle to complete. There is a sheep coral down the hill where farmers gather their sheep in the fall, usually september, and sort them. There is a tradition here as well to use the opportunity to sample each others hooch and moonshine and sing traditional songs, and some can certainly sing… others can not. There is also a campsite here and a nice little café called Vid Faxa which is well worth checking out to enjoy a drink or snack with an absolutely amazing view. There are of course many waterfalls in Iceland of all shapes and sizes but this one can easily be recommended for anybody curious to see what lies just off the main road.
Kerid is a caldera 55m deep and 270m across and the crater is located in the Grímsnes area and a part of Iceland´s western volcanic zone and right next to highway 35 going towards Gullfoss and Geysir, and close to where highway 36 leads up to Thingvellir National Park. The bottom of the crater has a lake which follows the ground water table and has a striking opaque color caused by the minerals in the soil. The volcanic rock in the Kerid crater has a striking red color which is relatively common in this area but much less out the Reykjanes Peninsula for example where black is the most common color.
For a long time the theory among volcanologists was that the Kerid was formed during an explosion and would therefore qualify as pseudo crater. However, further study showed no signs of such a massive explosion and it is now believed that Kerid was formed when cone volcano had emptied its magma reserve chamber during an eruption and then fell in on itself from its own weight creating the volcanic crater lake.
The south of Iceland is basically a system of volcanoes and the theory is that there is a piece of the tectonic plate loose here. Just off the coastline are Vestmannaeyjar islands which were created in a series of massive eruptions about 5,000 years ago, and suffered two eruptions in the 20th century. The first one was the great Surtsey eruption that lasted from 1963 until 1967 a created a new island at the southern tip of the archipelago. The second one was the Heimaey eruption which started in January 1973 and is the only recorded case of a volcanic eruption starting on the outskirts of a town in Iceland. Eyjafjallajökull the infamous volcano that erupted in 2010 and made world headlines is just a little further to the north on the mainland, and a little further north from there is Mount Hekla which is one of the most active volcanoes in Iceland. To the east is the massive Mount Katla which last erupted in 1918 and then as it has before changed the coastline bringing out so much ash and gravel that it was pushed out around 200 meters.
Kerid is only about 15 km north of Selfoss village which is right on the crossroads between where the Golden Circle and the South Shore tours both start effectively. Any time of year is a good time to visit Kerid and in fact every season offers a slightly different look. Whether it is summer or winter, midnight sun or northern lights, this is a good stop. Be aware that there is a small entrance fee charged by the landowners.
Reykjavík is the capital of Iceland, the world´s northernmost capital and around two-thirds of the total population of the country live in and around the city. The oldest archeological remains of a permanent settlement in Iceland are right in the city center dating back to 874 and believed to be that of Ingólfur Arnarson the founder of Reykjavík according to the sagas. Reykjavík really just became a city during the 20th century. In 1900 only about 6000 people were living in reykjavík at the time. During WW2 the city grew significantly and during the war the allied forces built many roads as well as the domestic airport, and the international airport, as well as setting up their headquarters and army barracks. The second half of the 20th century was pretty quiet but included highlights such as the world championship in chess in 1972 when Bobby Fischer became world champion. In 1986 the world cast its eye towards Iceland when then USA President Ronald Reagan and USSR General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev met for a summit in Reykjavik which is considered an important stepping stone towards the end of the cold war and disarmament. But apart from WW2 Reykjavik has been a pretty cool little place, a breeding ground for artists and infamous for a colourful nightlife.
Reykjavik City has become a hip destination lately for people seeking northern lights, music festivals and the new Icelandic fusion cuisine. A number of amazing day tours can be taken from the city that are back before happy hour and give you plenty of time to relax in one of the geothermal swimming pools and check out what is going on at the Harpa Concert Hall. In summertime the Secret Solstice music festival is a major event, so is Culture Night and Gay Pride weekend. In winter there are the Iceland Airwaves and Sonar music festivals both drawing international crowds. Although Reykjavik is the northernmost capital in the world, thanks to the hot springs and geothermal heat it quite warm on the inside and 90% of all homes in Iceland are geothermally heated. So, only green energy for this capital city on the shores of Faxaflói (Smoky Bay) guarded by the great Mount Esja.
There are many ways to experience Reykjavik. Whether you go by foot or get someone to give you a little road trip around the city make sure you get in a few highlights. Perlan observation deck, Hallgrimskirkja lutheran church, Harpa Concert Hall, City Hall and The Pond (Tjörnin) are all well worth checking out. Make sure you find out where there is free entry and were you need to pay. Getting a private driver to take you around is really the best way to get everything in make sure you get a proper introduction.
Possible add-ons along the way(entrance to be paid locally):
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When arriving in Reykjavik on a cruise ship you might want to manage your time as well as possible. A Private Golden Circle Tour is a comfortable way to be picked up at the ship and taken on the most popular day tour in Iceland. This is a great way to experience Thingvellir (Þingvellir) National Park and Rift Valley, The Geysir Hot Spring Area and Gullfoss Waterfall. Private Driver gives you a chance to follow The Golden Circle route on a private tour specially made to fit your personal needs and requirements.
Thingvellir (Þingvellir) National Park and Rift Valley is not just a geological attraction but also on the UNESCO world heritage list being the birthplace of the oldest ongoing parliament in the world founded in 930 ad. Next to the parking lot where we stop there is a platform with a panoramic view of the valley and a path leading down to the so-called law rock where most major decisions in the history of Iceland were taken from the decision to become a christian nation in 1000 ad up until the declaration of independence in 1944. Geologically this also is a place of great interest being where the continental plates can be seen drift apart and the edges of the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates can be clearly made out on either side of the valley. The movement is very slow 1-3 cm on a yearly average but for added excitement the area qualifies as super volcano. Lake Thingvallavatn within the valley is also a large deep lake full of arctic char and according to legend a monster that roams the deeper parts of the lake.
The Geysir Hot Spring Area home of the great Geysir which seldom erupts anymore and the very active geyser Strokkur erupts like clockwork every 4-5 minutes. Everywhere in this area there is geothermal heat underneath but in very few places are the hot springs themselves on the surface in such abundance. Apart from the two geysers there are various other bubbling pools spread out over the area. There is also a large souvenir shop here and bistro as well as a food court to choose from.
Gullfoss the golden waterfall is situated in Hvítá river flowing from Langjökull glacier further up in the highlands. It is the largest two-stepped waterfall in Iceland and considered to be on of the most beautiful in the country. There were plans to dam the gorge in which the waterfall is situated in the early 20th century to create a reservoir for a power plant. These plans met with a lot of local opposition, in fact one of the local women went as far as to threaten to throw herself into the waterfall if any construction was started. To make a long story short there was never any damage done to this natural wonderland and Gullfoss waterfall still flows proudly.
The Golden Circle Tour is basically a circle going out from the ring road and there are also many scenic photo stops that can be made as well as add-ons all depending on what sparks your interest the most.