Preparation, Things to Do

Can I skip the Golden Circle?


We have to see the Golden Circle, right?

When you plan a vacation to Iceland, remember that the Icelandic government requires that you participate in at least one Golden Circle tour during your visit, and preferably more than one. Okay, not really. But there is a clear view that no trip to Iceland is complete without visiting the Golden Circle.

The Golden Circle consists of three very impressive natural tourist attractions, a subset of the hundreds of very impressive natural tourist attractions in Iceland. Part of what sets these three apart is that they are not far from Reykjavik, and also not far from each other:

Golden Circle Map

© Mapbox © OpenStreetMap

Thingviller (Þingvellir) is a national park. This is where the first Icelandic Parliament met (in the year 930!) and is comprised of two different continental plates—the one that eventually formed North America and the one that eventually formed Europe. It has miles of walking trails, a waterfall, and a visitor’s center.

Geysir is part of a larger geothermal field. Geysir is the original geyser, a word that describes a hot spring that periodically erupts a column of hot water. While Geysir used to erupt reliably, the main attraction today is Strokkur, a nearby geyser (lowercase g!) that erupts impressively every few minutes.

Gullfoss is a huge, world famous waterfall, with two sections of falling water at 90 degree angles. It’s impressive and there are paths available to get incredibly close to the powerful water. (Be careful!) There’s a small visitor’s center, gift shop, and café on site.

Of the three areas, Strokkur is probably the most unique for Iceland. There are other active geothermal areas with bubbling and boiling water, but no geysers as impressive as Strokkur. Gullfoss is of course, also unique, but there are other amazing waterfalls in Iceland too. Here is a map of the most popular / largest waterfalls in the country:

Map of some waterfalls in Iceland

While you’re reading the names of the waterfalls, you might as well learn an Icelandic word. Foss, not surprisingly, means waterfall.

So back to the title of the post. Do you need to see the Golden Circle? There are two answers, and they are “yes”, and “probably”. I think that families will choose one of two options for their vacation in Iceland: Either your family uses Reykjavik as a home base, and takes a couple of day trips from there, or you rent a car and travel around the country. For the Reykjavik option, a day trip to see the Golden Circle makes sense; that’s the “yes” option.

But if you plan to rent a car and head toward ring road, and you’re on a tight schedule, the Golden Circle attractions may be out of your way:

Golden circle roads

© Mapbox © OpenStreetMap

In that case, you’re going to see plenty of incredible sights along the way, and you have my permission to skip the Golden Circle.

Can I skip the Golden Circle? was last modified: December 26th, 2015 by Eric