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Iceland - Gulfoss waterfall, Strokkur geyser, Thingvellir

Three of the main attractions of Iceland's Golden Circle

The Golden Circle if Iceland forms the main series of natural wonders not too far from each other, which for many tourists is the heart of their visit to the country (and many of them just visit this, plus the Blue Lagoon). Indeed, if you don't have much time, you could do this in one long day or better two days, although this would make a fast and superficial visit to Iceland. And no matter if you are an individualist or a group tourist, the main sights on the Circle should really not be missed. No wonder that the Golden Circle is often very crowded. Hoards of tourists are bused along the route for short visits and the obvious photoshoots.

However, with some planning, favorable timing and a bit of good luck, it is possible to visit these places without finding yourself in huge crowds. We definitely had our portion of luck. First of all we were already staying in the immediate area of three main attractions: Gulfoss Waterfall, Strockur Geysir and the unbelievable Thingvellir (Þingvellir) valley. Second, the weather was absolutely fantastic. And third, we had our own faithful Sad Car.

I will try not to write too much now, and let the pictures tell the story, with some added background between the pictures where needed.

Gulfoss waterfall

The word Gulfoss means Golden Waterfall, which is probably related to the fact that in sunny weather the mist of the falling water often creates beautiful rainbows and other light effects.


Some 150 years ago, it was very hard to reach the waterfalls. Sigríður Tómasdóttir was a daughter of local farmers in Bratholt, nearby the falls. She was one of thirteen children of whom only seven reached adulthood. She was an independent spirit among her many sisters and brothers. It was the beginning of foreign travel for tourism reasons and the first people started to come to Iceland. According to the stories, she was the first one who guided those early tourists and actually built a path to access the falls.

Gulfoss waterfall, the young lady who assisted tourists 150  years ago

Gulfoss waterfall, the young lady who assisted tourists 150+ years ago


Strokkur Geysir

The word "geyser" is used worldwide to describe the phenomenon of a geothermic spring, fountain or spout, and the origin of that word comes right from here. The original Geysir used to erupt frequently, with water masses ejected up to 60 meters, however with irregular interviews. This was the reason that impatient tourists used to throw objects such as rocks into the spring. This, in addition to small earthquakes, made Geysir become dormant (but still potentially active). Next to it, however, the Strokkur geyser became active and not only that, it is almost as regular as a Swiss clock: every four to six minutes it spouts water to a height of 30 meters.

Strockur Geysir

Strockur Geysir


Geysir and Strokkur are located on a geothermally very active field, with a lot of activity. Steam comes out of the ground everywhere, and there is the unmistakable smell of rotten eggs: hydrogen sulfide. There are also mud pots where people can see the actual boiling of liquid mud, and many steam and sulfur vents. Getting off the path that leads along the places is very dangerous, and people must take enough distance from the Strokkur too, because the water is boiling hot.

large_DSCN4939.JPGLitli Geysir, Strockur

Litli Geysir, Strockur


Along the main road there is a large parking and a new visitors center with restaurants and a gast station. Across the road, a path leads into the geothermal field. There is no entrance fee. Walking up the hill gives a beautiful and impressive view over this area with all the activity from the inner earth. There are always people waiting for the eruption, and people are in awe when suddenly the water and steam is ejected.


Thingvellir (Þingvellir) Valley


Þingvellir may be one of the most impressive places on Earth to visit, especially for people who understand something about geology and tectonic plates. It is part of the Mid-Atlantic fracture zone, to which also the Azore islands belong., which almost runs from pole to pole. The facture zone is where since hundreds of millions of years, when the super continent Pangea started to break up, the American south and north continents are pushed to the West and the African and Eurasian continent are pushed to the East.


This happens with just millimeters per year (at most). If you realize how wide is the Atlantic Ocean (which was not there, at first), and that the entire Atlantic sea bed was "created" from that longitudinal crack in the earth crest, you start to get some idea of the gigantic forces, but also the enormous time spans of plate tectonic processes.

And Þingvellir is part of the Icelandic system of "cracks" where this process does not happen under the sea, but on land. You can actually walk on the very bottom of it. Or even more spectacularly: there is a space where the river runs through an immensely deep crack, and there you can dive or snorkel in the water of the birth place of land.


When you walk through the narrow gorge, the rocks on one side are the American continent, the rock wall on the other side is Europe. No man's land, in a way. New earth crest, new land, is created here by forces of nature that are beyond every imagination. And this happens continuously, also right at the moment you walk here. What's more, it will continue for hundreds of millions if not billions of years: the Pacific Ocean is not squeezed to close yet, it is still spanning half the globe...

The name "Þingvellir", by the way, has absolutely nothing to do with the geological super-event that happens here all the time. In fact, the name means something like the valley of the parliament. It was the place where already back in the year 930 A.D. the world's first parliament was established. Only in 1800, the parliament was relocated to Reykjavík.


To keep things practical, and for a dark and cynical form of entertainment maybe, many of the executions were also performed here. Some of the rocks were quite convenient for this, and names of some places still remind of this. People were hung, beheaded, put on stakes, or burnt on the fire stack, depending on man or woman, witch or wizard, and what other crime was involved. For hanging purposes, there was frequently discussion whether Gallow Rock did or did not have enough space to hang two people at the same time...


You can "do" the Golden Circle in a day, but we concluded that if we ever really want to take in this unique place Þingvellir, then we will need several days at least, for this place alone. Nice thought for a next trip!

Posted by westwind57 23:57 Archived in Iceland Tagged road_trip volcano countryside colors roadtrip iceland r geysir thingvellir fresh_air sad_cars strockur gulfoss_waterfall

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