Today you will head to the Golden Circle, a popular route for viewing some of the best-known natural sites in south Iceland.
Thingvellir National Park
Besides being a natural wonder, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site where the world’s longest continuously run parliament was founded and still running some good 1.000 years later, but now in Reykjavik. The parliament first met here in 930 AD, half a century after the country was first settled. Meetings occurred during the warmer summer months, with Icelandic people coming from around the country. Thingvellir was specifically chosen as the location for the Althing (parliament) because it was fairly convenient to access different parts of Iceland. Parliament continued to sit at Thingvellir up to the late 1790s.
Thingvellir isn’t just a special historical and cultural place; it also has many fascinating geological aspects and nature. The island of Iceland sits on the boundaries of two continental plates: the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate. As the two plates gradually move away from each other, a gaping rift is created on the Earth’s surface. Thingvellir is the rift valley, and visitors can see the huge cracks and walk in the unusual fissures.
Don’t miss visiting Öxararfoss waterfall in the national park; it is easily found along the marked trail. The pretty cascade is around a 10-minute walk from the car park.
You may recognize some spots as you explore, especially if you’re a Game of Thrones fan. Several scenes were filmed around the national park. See the Bloody Gate from Season 4, marking the path to the Eyrie.
Your next stop is at Gullfoss Waterfall (golden falls), the beautiful falls after which the Golden Circle is named. One of the most spectacular cascades in the country. The falls are split into two levels. The first tier is around 11 meters (36 ft) high, while the second level is almost twice as high, at around 21 meters (68 ft). The two stages are broken by wide steps that ultimately cross the river’s width.
The falls are genuinely amazing when viewed from any vantage point. You can see the cascades from two main areas, with higher and lower observation points. Follow the steps that link the two main areas for different views. With more time to enjoy the mighty falls, you can also follow the river at the top of the waterfall for yet another perspective.
Gullfoss is spectacular at all times of the year. The falls are surrounded by verdant foliage in the summer, and you may catch rainbows sparkling in the spray. Over the winter, snow-covered landscapes engulf the falls for as far as the eye can see.
Geysir Geothermal Area
The next stop is the epic Geysir Geothermal Area. The word "Geysir" is an Icelandic verb; it means "to gush", and it’s where the English word geyser originates from. Indeed, the first written record of a geyser is the one at Icelandic Geysir.
It’s no surprise, therefore, that you’ll find plenty of geothermal magic at Geysir Geothermal Area. There are hot springs, bubbling pools of heated water, warm mud pots, fissures that belch steam and gases (fumaroles), and of course, geysers. You’ll find two of the most famous geysers in Iceland here, the namesake Geysir and the frequently erupting Strokkur.
Thought to have been erupting for some 10,000 years, Geysir is fairly inactive these days. If you are lucky enough to catch the famous geyser in action, you’re in for a real treat—boiling water shoots more than 120 meters into the air, surrounded by a cloud of steam.
Sitting close to Geysir is Strokkur, the area’s main star for most visitors today. Eruptions occur every five to ten minutes, making reliable and frequent jets a marvelous sight. Water and steam typically reach 15 and 20 meters (49-65 ft) high, though they can sometimes be as high as 40 meters (131 ft).
Taste meals made of locally grown tomato in Friðheimar Restaurant & Tomato Farm
For lunch, we recommend visiting the unique Friðheimar Tomato Farm. A unique food experience in a restaurant in the middle of a greenhouse, with tomatoes growing all around you! Three varieties of tomatoes are cultivated in the greenhouses, and food is served among the tomato plants. Tomato soup, freshly baked bread, and other goodies, are in this charming environment among the tomato plants.
Call them in advance to book a table and a guided tour (optional). Visitors gain an insight into the processes of greenhouse horticulture with a short and informative talk on the subject – and in fact, it is quite remarkable that it should be possible to grow vegetables in this cold climate by creating warm Mediterranean conditions, all year round, through the long dark winter. The Atrium also includes an exhibition about the use of geothermal heating in Icelandic horticulture. And visitors can take away delicious food souvenirs such as Tomato Jam, Cucumber Salsa, and Tomato Drink.
Bathe in the Secret Lagoon
You'll end this memorable day with a relaxing warm bath at the Secret Lagoon, a hot spring pool in the small village of Fludir. It is the oldest man-made swimming pool in Iceland, built in 1891, and Icelanders call it simply 'the old pool' or 'Gamla laugin'.
What makes this place special are the natural resources of warm water from three hot springs that provide 100% of the water supply in the lagoon. The pool water flows continuously, and it takes only 24 hours for its complete replacement. Therefore the pool doesn't require any additional filtration or purification. It is naturally warm, clean, and rich in sulfur; it stays at 38-40 Celsius (100-104°F) all year round.
The area around the hot spring consists of mossy lava fields and geothermal hot spots, including a small geyser that erupts every 5 minutes or so, which can be seen from the pool. A path by the pool allows you to explore this area with ease. The steam that rises from the surrounding terrain gives the place its distinct and magical atmosphere.
The Secret Lagoon is only 2 – 3 feet deep (0.6 – 0.9 meters), making it more of a wading pool. This shallow depth makes it an excellent choice for families or poor swimmers, as one can easily stand up should circumstances become uncomfortable.
After the relaxing bath, you'll head to your hotel in the Geysir area.