Our second day found us on the Golden Circle tour which hits three of Iceland’s biggest natural attractions: Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfalls, and Geysir. A bit of a highlight tour if you will. We did the slightly shortened afternoon tour, but I’d recommend doing the full day tour to ensure you have adequate time to walk around at each of the sights.
Þingvellir means “Parliament Plains” and that is the most accurate description of the importance of this location. Þingvellir is where the Icelandic parliament was created in 930 and where it continued to hold its assemblies until 1798. In 1930, the national park was created in order to protect this important historical site, and in 2004 it was deemed a UNESCO world heritage site.
What’s even cooler? It’s also the rift of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which separates the Eurasian and North American Plates. The plates have been shifting about 2.5 cm per year, so there is a very clear gap between the two tectonic plates. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can actually go diving here. It is supposed to be home to some of the clearest water in the world, and at some of the more narrow points you can actually touch both the plates at the same time. We didn’t get a chance to do the dive this go around, but I would love to do this in the future.
Given that we only had limited time here, we didn’t get a chance to actually walk down to the actual parliament site. We definitely would have loved to explore the area more and hence the recommendation for the slightly longer tour.
Second stop: Gullfoss waterfalls
Apparently at one point some foreign investors had plans to rent Gullfoss and build a hydroelectric powerplant, which would have obviously destroyed the falls. The story goes that Sigríður Tómasdóttir, who was the daughter of Gullfoss’s owner loved the falls so much that she threatened to throw herself into the falls in protest against the plan. To show that her threat was in earnest, she walked barefoot from Gullfoss to Reykjavík (about 120 km). She was successful in her bid, and we have her to thanks for preserving the beauty of the falls for the enjoyment of all future generations.
If you’re lucky enough, the sun will catch the mist from the falls just perfectly to create a nice little rainbow. We had plenty of mist although not much sun, but we were able to get a little glimpse of a rainbow (squint and you can see it).
It was interesting to learn that the English word geyser derives from Geysir, which itself comes from the Icelandic word geysa (to gush). Geysir is said to have been active for 10,000 years and in the mid-1800’s the eruption was said to have reached a height of 170 meters. It’s currently inactive and in a dormant state, so do not expect to see any eruptions from this geyser.
Some adventurous souls decide to stand downwind from Strokkur and are rewarded with a blast of warm sulphuric steam/rain when the geyser erupts. Although the brief moment of warm water was tempting, in our older age we are smart enough to know that the warmth is fleeting and all you are left with is damp clothes in the cold air. And so naturally, we positioned ourselves upwind and played the waiting game.
And thar she blows!
Packed back into the bus, we settled in to enjoy the breathtaking landscapes as we began the drive back to Reykjavík. Did you know that Iceland has more than 600 types of moss? Or that the white substance on the rocks is actually lichen (essentially the pre-moss phase) and not bird poop? Me neither. All the random tidbits of information are what I love most about doing tours, and our tour guide was excellent.
If you’re visiting Iceland and have only limited time to view the sites, I would definitely recommend doing one of the Golden Circle tours as it is the easiest way to see some of Iceland’s most popular spots. Having tackled these, next time we plan to rent a car and head to some of the spots a little more off the beaten (tourist) path.