We have been on the road in the south of Iceland for a few days now. No road trip in Icleland would be complete without seeing and experiencing the Golden Circle.
As you’ve probably read in my last blog post, my husband Dirk and I are traveling in Iceland in winter. January 2023 was one of the coldest in many years, with tons of snow. There is no sign of this anymore, as it has been unusually warm in the recent weeks. Now, at the beginning of March, the cold is back, but it is a very dry cold. It freezes a lot, especially at night, but we never need to scrape our car windows free. *
From Reykholt to Thingvellir National Park
Before we leave the hotel in Reykholt quite early , Dirk takes another look at the “Safe Travel” app to see if there are any road closures. So we rely on Google Maps to take the shortest route to Thingvellir National Park.
Soon we turn from the 50 to 52. If it weren’t so incredibly cold outside, we would have stopped at a hot spring on the way, which is historically interesting, but the wind is merciless. To the left and right are mountains, not high, but we feel like we are driving through a large river landscape. Of course, one of the many rivers accompanies us here as well. From time to time, we see a lonely farmstead and again and again Icelandic ponies on the barren pastures.
Then the 52 abrupt ends and we stand in front of a sign that means, the continuation on the 550 is at our own risk. We think about whether we should turn around, that would be a huge detour of several hours and so we wouldn’t see everything today or whether we trust our 4×4 car.
The road 550
It is clear that we are on our own with this sign. The road consists only of gravel and this is partially washed away, as we quickly realize. There are no more houses here. We drive uphill for a long time and the grey clouds seem to slowly envelop us. There is nothing left to see, snow flurries begins and we haven’t had cell phone reception for a long time. We are alone. No other vehicle comes towards us, but that’s a good thing, because the “road” is narrow, Dirk only drives at a snail’s pace, because there is hardly anything to see and the deep potholes could be dangerous for us.
Around us it is only milky white, where the clouds begin and the ground ends is not recognizable. It thins out in front of us and we realize that we are standing on the crest of a pass. On the right hand side a huge lake, mostly frozen, in front of us a sheet of ice, the road is no longer recognizable, only tire tracks show us the way. After all, people must have driven along here before us. That’s a little comforting. Just don’t slip off! Slip into the lake is certainly not a good idea…
Over the mountain
It’s going downhill again. Google shows us that we should be at the next crossroad soon. And from there, it is not too far to our first stop at the Golden Circle. Finally we come to the crossroads. The road to the left is closed, maybe some kind of avalanche has come down there, it looks better to the right which is our direction anyway. The road is now paved again, but is it actually more of a dam through some kind of lake, a melting lake? It’s hard to say. There are hiking signs that go right through it. So, this lake is probably only temporary.
Suddenly, more than half of the road in front of us has disappeared, sagged, swept away by torrents? I don’t know, but we drive past it very slowly.
In front of us we see an excavator in action, people! The area next to the road is filled up, leveled or whatever. The driver looks at us strangely. Oh…
Then another labourer, who stands on the side of the road looks at us kind of strange. The road remains interesting, on a rock overhang, a lot of snow has come down and lies thickly on the road. Tire tracks show us the way. It continues downhill and the road gets better.
Finally, the road ends at the crossing of the 36. And what do we see here? Passage prohibited! At least that sign definitely wasn’t on the other side, but we’re still glad that we’ve arrived back in “civilization”.
Thingvellir National Park at the Golden Circle
We head towards the Thingvellir Information Centre, where large parking spaces are available at the foot of the Rift Valley. We have already paid the parking fees online. Amazing how crowded it is here at this time of year! Buses and many private cars are parked here, most of them probably rental cars, like ours, because all tourists want to see the rift valley that separates the Eurasian continental plate from the American plate and drifts further apart year after year.
The Golden Circle is interesting at any time of the year and can also be done from Reykjavik in one day.
The wind grabs us with icy gusts as we leave the car and take the easy-to-walk footpath to the top. If there is snow, crampons are a good idea! Once at the top, wooden paths point to the left and right.
of course, I have to take pictures of it. To do this, I have to take off my gloves and immediately I have the feeling that my fingers are frozen. What a wind chill!
At the waterfall, the path ends. So we go back again and down to the foot of the rift valley.
How to get to the information centre of the National Park and the Golden Circle
There is a clean toilet facility at the parking lot. It’s heated! I warm up a little before heading back into the icy wind. For a good kilometer, we walk on a footpath always along the rift valley or on top of it, always steadily uphill.
After about half of the way we are at the viewpoint, with seating areas and a magnificent view over the plain. Many rivers, small lakes and deep crevices can be seen, all due to the constant drifting of the plates. In the far distance, we see the snowy mountains.
In 930 A.D., the Vikings met here for the first time to hold a parliament or albingi . Since 2004, the national park has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Shortly before reaching the information center, the path leads through a kind of gorge, it is quite wide and in very good shape. As we learn from signs above, this was used to be a road where cars drove. Then a wide crack opened up and the road was closed.
The whole area is historically extremely important for the Icelanders. Unfortunately, the exhibition is not accessible today in the Info center. So we make our way back, the wind now from the front. I feel like my face is frozen, but as long as my nose is still running, it’s fine…
Our next stop on the Golden Circle is the
I’ve seen it icy before. What does it look like today? Again, the parking lot is full. This parking is free of charge. The visitor center is large and well heated, but we want to go to the waterfall first. The path is a little slippery, the stairs partly icy. If you come at snowfall, you should strap your crampons under your shoes!
The waterfall cannot be missed with its incredible roar. It looks wonderful, partly icy and yet the water masses of the river Hvítá thunder 32 meters into the depths. A grandiose spectacle, but hardly bearable for more than a few minutes in this cold and the fine, icy water mist. Retreating is also better for the cameras. We take our photos and look forward to a short stay in the shop to thaw out again.
We continue along the Golden Circle. The
Geyser (pulsating spring)
is waiting for us. After this geyser, but there are several here, all other pulsating springs on earth were got their name from.
The large geyser, whose enormous power could spew the water jet up to 120 meters into the air, has been inactive for years. However, this does not mean that it will stay that way. Its “little brother”, the Strokkur, is more reliable and spews out a jet up to 30 meters every 5 to 10 minutes . Since the wind is quite strong today, the fountain is not so high, but rather foggy, or it quickly goes away horizontally. Many people are standing around it, almost all of them with their cameras out. Then a general “Ahhhh” goes through the crowd as it hisses, and the beam comes up in a huge bubble.
There are a few more bubbling springs. The water of all of them is boiling hot, so keep your distance and be sure to observe the barrier ropes.
The Golden Circle is now complete! However, our daily program is not yet finished, as we have a reservation in one of the oldest thermal swimming pools, the
Secret Lagoon (Gamla Laugin)
Tickets should be reserved online in advance.
Shoes must be removed before entering the changing rooms. Towels can be rented.
The changing rooms are separated into men and women and are equipped with benches and lockers. Before entering the thermal swimming pool, you should take a naked shower. It’s -7 degrees Celsius outside! Due to the strong wind, it feels much colder, but there is a lot going on here!
In the water
I like to take a warm shower after the icy day today and don’t want to stop. Then I dare to go out into the freezing cold! It is about 7 meters to the entrance to the large, already well-visited pool. They seem eternal to me! Never before have I been wet, undressed except for a swimsuit, exposed to such a cold. But how wonderful the reward is when you’re inside! The water has got 38 to 40 degrees Celsius and when I stand, it goes up to my neck. I still dip down a little deeper, because I have the feeling that my chin will freeze to death otherwise.
The Icelanders are easy to recognize. They wear woolen bonnets, because the wind that rushes over our heads is really cold! Some have champagne glasses with them and seem to be celebrating something. Bathing in the thermal springs is a social gathering here, like drinking coffee at home.
Around the basin
there are several more hot springs and a small stream. There is a path around it, but be careful! These springs are piping hot! There are even fairy houses here.
Getting out is only feasible for me with extreme willpower. It feels like it has gotten even colder, the wind has gained strength. So, I quickly get into the slippers and off to the shower.
is known for its geothermal greenhouses. Mushrooms are primarily grown here.
Our hotel for one night, the Hótel Flúdir, is just a stone’s throw away. A nice room is waiting for us and I make myself a hot coffee. Then our stomachs growls violently!
So, we set off again and watch the sun slowly set and the moon rise in a cloudless sky. We cross the river Ölfusá and are soon at the Mika restaurant. We didn’t make a reservation and when we arrive, it looks totally full.
But we are lucky and get the last available table. Not only are fantastic chocolate creations made here, but the cuisine is also excellent, as we quickly discover. The appetizer, scallops, we share. I ordered a pizza and it is definitely one of the best I’ve ever eaten! So we also take fresh chocolates with us as bedtime treats. After this sometimes quite exciting day, we deserve something sweet!
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*This blog post contains unpaid advertisement. This trip was paid by myself and all I have written is my personal opinion. You´ll find affiliate links. If you buy a product through this link, you´ll not pay more, but I’ll get a small commission, that helps to go on with my blog.