Iceland attracts many tourists firstly because of the beauty of its nature. Also, the filming of the Game of Thrones and earlier the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano that stopped air traffic in Europe at least for a week played a role in increasing the popularity of Iceland. The most favored tour of the country is the Golden Circle. Be prepared to be one of the very many tourists when you take a Golden Circle tour. Still, if you are in Iceland for the first time it’s a must do to visit Iceland's most iconic attractions. They include Thingvellir (Þingvellir) National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, and Geysir geothermal area. One of the trusted tour companies offering this tour is the Gray Line. Building on more than a quarter century of experience, Gray Line Iceland is the local expert for destinations and sightseeing around Iceland. Their big bus tour can also be a money saver for you. Here is my review of their tour.
This Golden Circle tour first takes you from Reykjavik city to the Thingvellir National Park:
Natural beauty and rich history of Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir is one of the most frequently visited tourist sites in Iceland. Each year, thousands of visitors go there. Thingvellir (literally, "Parliament Plains") by the river Öxará was the Althing general assembly established in the early 10th century. It continued to meet there until 1798. Major events in the history of Iceland have taken place at Thingvellir. Today Thingvellir is a protected national shrine. According to law, the protected area shall always be the property of the Icelandic nation. Thingvellir was included in the World Heritage list for its cultural values in 2004. The park there lies in a valley that marks the boundary between the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plate. Visitors can admire the views of Thingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland. Then the tour continues to the iconic Gullfoss waterfall.
The power of Gullfoss Waterfall
Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall) is located in South Iceland on the Hvítá (White) river which is fed by Iceland´s second biggest glacier, the Langjökull. At Gullfoss waterfall, we had the opportunity to take a short walk down a pathway and get right up close to this powerful waterfall. It’s great to feel the mist of glacial water on your face as it cascades down into the narrow Hvítárgljúfur Canyon. The water falls down 32 meters in two stages into a rugged canyon. On a sunny day, a shimmering rainbow can be seen over the falls.
Gullfoss is more than just a pretty waterfall; it has a story to tell. In the early 20th century foreign investors wanted to use the power of Gullfoss to produce electricity. In the early 20th century, Englishman Howells wanted to buy Gullfoss from Tómas Tómasson, a farmer who owned Gullfoss at this time. Tómas declined Howells´ offer to buy the waterfall but later he leased it to him. The farmer´s daughter, Sigriður Tómasdóttir sought to have the rental contract voided. Her attempts failed in court but before any damage was done to the waterfall the contract ended because of the lack of payments of the rental fee. The struggles of Sigriður to preserve the waterfall brought to people's attention the importance of preserving nature. That’s why she is often called Iceland´s first environmentalist. In 1940 the adopted son of Sigriður acquired the waterfall from Sigriður´s father and later sold it to the Icelandic government. Gullfoss and its surroundings were designated as a nature reserve in 1979 to protect the waterfall and allow the public to enjoy this unique area.
Then the tour continues to Geysir geothermal area.
Geysir geothermal area
The geothermal field at Geysir geothermal area has a surface of about 3 km². Most of the springs are aligned along a 500 metre long and 100 metres wide strip of land running from south to southwest of Haukadalur valley on the slopes of Laugarfjall hill. This area is best known for the Great Geysir. The Great Geysir, Iceland's most famous hot spring that has given the name to geysers all over the world, last erupted on February 20, 2016. Eruptions at Geysir can hurl boiling water up to 70 metres in the air. However, eruptions have stopped altogether for years at a time. An earthquake in the year 2000 revived the geyser again and an eruption took place for two days straight, reaching 122 metres in height. In the last decade, eruptions have decreased considerably and it is now considered almost inactive. I was lucky to see it erupting in 1999 when I was visiting Iceland for the first time. The Great Geysir is not the only geyser in the Geysir hot spring area. The most active geyser in the area is called Strokkur. It sprouts hot water as high as 30 meters into the air every few minutes or so. Strokkur's activity has also been affected by earthquakes, although to a lesser extent than the Great Geysir.This is also the place for a lunch break usually taken at Gullfoss Cafe at the service centre at the Geysir area. It's also good opportunity to buy souvenirs from Iceland.
Surprise stop: the Faxi waterfall
It was nice to have a surprise stop on our tour: the Faxi waterfall. Faxi is a wide, serene waterfall in South Iceland on the Tungufljót River, approximately twelve kilometres away from Gullfoss and Geysir, the two attractions on the Golden Circle. Here the river stretches to a width of more than 90 metres (300 feet) and plunges into a broad fall of 7 metres (22 feet) in height, bypassed on the left by a small fish ladder. Hiking and salmon fishing are the two most popular activities in the area. Faxi is a beautiful scenic waterfall, one of the most photogenic waterfalls in Iceland. Therefore it’s worth visiting.
Hveragerdi - Stone and Mineral Museum
Our last stop was a great little exhibit of many rocks and minerals located in the gas station market. Four generations of Ljósbrá family members have travelled and collected these beautiful earthly gems and today have created a wonderful exhibition free to the public. The owner was very informative and friendly and very proud of his heritage.
While you’re viewing some of Iceland’s hidden treasures, there is also an opportunity to stop by their gift shop where visitors can find handmade keepsakes to take home.
What did I like about this Gray Line tour?
I very much enjoyed the stories told by the expert tour guide sharing fascinating facts & history including stories about elves and favourite Icelander’s Christmas dish, fried rock ptarmigan, that I have never heard of before.
The duration of this tour is 8 hours. You can also enjoy the other Gray Line tours including the Northern lights tour. And for sure no trip to Iceland is complete without visiting Blue Lagoon. Looking for places where to stay in Iceland? Click here!
Have you been to Iceland? Share your impressions in the comments section!
Note: I was invited by Gray Line tours but all opinions are my own.
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Author: Anita Sane
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