As soon as you book your flights to Iceland the first thing that targeted advertising will show you is the 101 options to journey around The Golden Circle.
The Golden Circle is a route around southern Iceland that takes in some of the best known natural landmarks and phenomena. It is a relatively easy drive (although be careful of snow in winter), or you can hop on board one of the various coach companies that will take you around the circle with a guide giving you all sorts of helpful information about the country and landscape.
Our first stop, after a couple of hours on the road through the lava fields, with snow stretching as far as we could see (this was December after all) was Þingvellir National Park, a remarkable place where you witness two tectonic plates as they spread apart and the ever changing nature of the earth is beautifully apparent. As we arrived the blueish tinge of dawn (slightly less poetic than ‘rosy fingers’) gave the entire national park a haunting feeling and walking through, seeing the huge rock structures around you makes you feel very small and insignificant. A rather refreshing and reassuring feeling!
Our next stop on the tour (we opted for coach as it gave you the freedom to stare at the impressive landscapes that cover Iceland) was Gullfoss Waterfall. A waterfall so huge and impressive that even when almost all other noise was deadened by the heavy snow cover, we could still hear the rumbling water as soon as we stepped off the coach. Iceland’s biggest trick is that you arrive in unassuming car parks, and skip merrily of the coach before having an enormous spectacle thrown in your face and frankly leaving you speechless.
My word of warning about Gullfoss is, unsurprisingly, the ice! During the winter months it is likely to have a fair bit of ice or at the very least slush build up around the walkways, and you’ll definitely want to venture forth with your camera to capture every conceivable angle of the waterfall so invest in some proper shoes! I grabbed a pair from Mountain Warehouse in the sale (less than £40) and they have been quite literally a lifesaver in slippery situations!
In recent years, as the tourist trade in Iceland has grown massively, these stops on The Golden Circle have become ever more accessible. At Gullfoss you can enjoy a bowl of hearty soup, grab a coffee and a slice of cake and peruse the gift shop all before a quick trip to the loo (any day trip necessity at any available opportunity!) all within the warm, welcoming and crucially dry, visitors centre.
The final big stop on The Golden Circle tour (there are many smaller locations that are far less touristy that I hope to return to during the summer months) is the geothermal area of Geysir.
By the time we arrived here, the warm ground was noticeable immediately as the complete lack of snow was a stark contrast to every other stop! The entire area is full of ominously steaming natural vents, and the reliable blast of Strokkur erupting every five to eight minutes or so. The bubbling water, particularly set against the cold temperature of the air (it was a damp -1 the day we were there!) shows you just how bizarre nature can be. We spent about 45 minutes exploring the smaller pools, whether they were tiny bubbling cauldrons or enormous, placid and bright blue. The incredible beauty of nature, and how close Iceland is to it, was evident.
When we finally made it around the corner to see Strokkur we joined the duly assembled throng. I wasn’t sure how impressive this geyser eruption might be, particularly given how frequent it is, so I kept my spot at the front, determined not to miss a thing. However, I didn’t need to worry, the geyser erupts wildly maybe twenty feet into the air, coating the crowd in a thin layer of mist!
I hung back, watching the eruption a further two or three times. Knowing what was going on, barely beneath our feet, and seeing the fruits of the energy exploding before me was exciting every single time. Even a rainy cold day couldn’t dampen my spirits!
So, if on a cold, drizzling day in December, The Golden Circle is this fantastic I cannot wait to see what it would be like during the spring and summer months!