GOLDEN CIRCLE, KERID VOLCANO, BLUE LAGOON: This is probably the most well-known and most popular excursion from Reykjavik that almost everyone does. Each site of this tour was better than the others and Blue Lagoon is the cherry on top.
This was our first guided tour in Iceland, on our 2nd day here. It was $134 per adult which doesn’t include any meals. We were picked up from the Tour Bus Stop-12 near our hotel in Reykjavik by Nice Travel Iceland, a little after 9am and were dropped off at the same place around 8pm. It was a minivan and our guide/driver was a knowledgeable but couldn’t keep our attention for long. The sites and the drive were fantastic, but we couldn’t understand half of the things our guide said in a very monotonous voice.
Meals are not included in this trip. But the good part is that you don’t need to tip the drive or the guide…haven’t seen anyone tipping them during any of our trips. We did get a lunch break but lots of things were packed in the itinerary, therefore, everything was done in a bit hurry.
TIME of TRAVEL: It was during my kids’ summer break (end of July to be specific) when we flew to Iceland and met my little sister from the East Coast in Reykjavik. Four of us were in Iceland for a total of 5 nights. Although we were prepared for rain and sun with waterproof jackets, hats, rain boots, and hoodies, it barely rained during our stay…nothing we couldn’t have handled with just a t-shirt. But it does get chilly and windy in some places. So, being prepared doesn’t hurt, especially if you are traveling with children like I was.
EATING and SHOPPING: We had lunch when we stopped at Geysir at a very well-organized restaurant. The complex has a wide range of Icelandic designed clothing and accessories. Although a bit expensive, this is a great souvenir shop. Icelandic lamb is something very flavorful and different from other places. My lunch of lamb, salad, potato, and rice was about $30 per plate.
PLACES I’VE VISITED: The tour was for 11 hours in total. Many people rent car and do it on their own leisurely.
Here is rough itinerary of this tour:
From Reykjavik to Thingvellier National Park – Þingvellir – 35 minutes drive
From Þingvellir NP to Geysir/hot spring – 40 minutes drive
Lunch break at Geysir – for about an hour (including visiting the geysers)
From Geysir to Gulfoss and stay 40 minutes – 10 minutes drive
From Gulfoss to Kerid Volcan – 40 minutes drive
From Kerid Volcano to Blue Lagoon and stay here for ~2 hours – 1:15 hours drive
And here are all the places we’ve visited during this excursion:
Thingvellier NP also lies on the junction of two tectonic plates, on the Mid Atlantic Ridge. The junction of the plates is more clearly visible here than anywhere else in the world. The two plates are constantly diverging, causing fissures and gullies throughout the zone. It’s where the North-American and the European continental tectonic plates are drifting and being torn apart at a rate of few millimeters to 2 centimeters each year. The most exciting thing is that you can actually walk on the continental drift.
Since 1930, Thingvellier has been a National Park and in 2004 it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. The natural environment of Thingvellier NP is unique in the world.
We started our walk from the visitor’s center, looking over the vast valley where the river flows. The walk from there to the original parliament site and further is magnificent with breathtaking landscape.
The one hour that we stayed here was really not enough to explore some of the gorgeous views that this national park can offer.
2. GEYSIR: This is another popular and touristy geo-thermal hot spot with steamy water coming out of the earth. It’s amazing how close you can get to these boiling water and smell the sulfur. You can touch the flowing water which is not hot as much.
If you walk along a few more steps, the big geyser, Strokkur, shoots up every couple minutes. And it’s a thrill to watch such a show created by nature.
This is also a good place for meals or snacks. Across from the geysers, are the restaurants where you can find a variety of food options and souvenirs. We had about an hour to visit the geysers and for lunch.
3. GULLFOSS: Gullfoss, also known as the Golden Falls, was our next on the itinerary. This is considered to be the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland. Rain and glacier water on the White River plunge down a double cascade to create one monstrous and the largest volume falls during summer in Europe.
Tourists started to visit Gullfoss around 1875. Prior to that time the waterfall was hard to reach because of rough terrain and impassable rivers. A local female, name Sigridur in Brattholt and her sisters often guided visitors to Gullfoss, building the first trail that led down to the waterfall.
There are few theories how the name Gullfoss was given. One is that it was named Gullfoss because of the golden evening hue which often colors its glacier water. Another story is that the name was inspired by the rainbow which often appears when sunshine hits the water spray thrown up by the waterfall. And another story goes that once upon a time, a farmer named Gygur lived at Gygjarholl. He had plenty of gold and could not bear the thought of someone else possessing it after his lifetime. To prevent this, he placed the gold in a coffer and threw it into the waterfall. And since then, it has been named Gullfoss.
We could feel the mist from the falls from the parking lot while walking towards it. It was about 10 minutes walk on the trail rim right by the falls. Anyone would be awestruck by its sheer size, beauty, and enormity of this falls.
After the Gullfoss, our driver stopped at a small area where we could pet some Icelandic horses. I bought some horse food for my daughter to feed them. Icelandic horses look very much like Mongolian horses…extremely elegant yet cute looking. Seems like, other tour guide buses were also stopping here to pet these few horses and feed them.
4. KERID CRATER LAKE: This is a small volcanic crater lake on the route back toward Reykjavik from Gullfoss that is about 6500 years old.. You can walk up to the rim and can take an easy hike down into the belly of the crater and circle the lake. This is a very easy crater to visit, even with children.
While most of the sights in Iceland are free to enter, Kerid Volcano requires 400 ISK charge which was covered in our excursion fee.
5. BLUE LAGOON: Our last stop of the day was the highlight of Golden Circle excursion and the most anticipated site, Blue Lagoon. Everybody gets hyped about this and for a very valid reason. This is the most famous and iconic hotspot to visit in Iceland. It’s a man-made lagoon/pool and a geo-thermal health spa center near the airport. Sliding into the warm milky blue water is an experience that I’ll never forget. The water coats your skin in silica. While you are there, slather on a mineral mask for a rejuvenating spa experience (it comes with the entry fee).
The Blue Lagoon’s geothermal seawater is born 2000 meters within the earth where ocean water and freshwater converge in a volcanic frontier of searing heat and immense pressure. The water temperature stays around 40 degree Celsius all year round, even in the winter weather. And the vast lava plain surrounding the Blue Lagoon dates from the year 1226. The beneficial powers of the Blue Lagoon were first discovered by a man seeking comfort from psoriasis.
Pre-booking is almost a must if you are planning to go to Blue Lagoon on a specific date and time. Time slots get sold out days or even weeks before sometimes during busy seasons. It is an expensive yet one of a kind experience to have. We got the cheapest package for about $94 per adult (kids are free) which included face mask, a drink, a locker, and a towel.
We had only 2 hours here, which is definitely not enough…I could spend a couple more hours in that warm water. Also, if you are planning to buy souvenirs from the Blue Lagoon store, be ready to spend more than expected.