The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is the name given to a 190 mile (300 kilometer) circular route which emcompasses many of Iceland’s most famous landmarks. The Golden Circle can easily be completed in one day, either by renting a car or going as part of a group (tours depart every day from Reykjavik). There are also hotels and campsites en route for people who wish to take longer. In addition to sites like the greenhouses at Hveragerdi, the huge pseudo-crater Kerid, and the church at Skalholt, the center of Christianity in Iceland from the mid-11th until the 18th centuries, there are three major points of interest on the Golden Circle:
In 930 AD, while most of Europe was mired in feudalism and conflict, chieftains in Iceland gathered in a natural amphitheater to the north and west of Reykjavik and formed what is often referred to as the world’s first parliament, the Althing. The meeting place was called Thingvellir (“parliament plains”), and over the next 300 years representatives journeyed here once a year to elect leaders, argue cases, and settle disputes - sometimes peacefully, sometimes not. Today, Thingvellir National Park remains the ultimate symbol of Iceland’s independence and unity, a landscape inseparable from the national soul.
The founders of the Althing could hardly have chosen a more appropriate place to meet. Thingvellir tells the story of Iceland’s land as much as it does its people. Nowhere in the country is there a landscape that better vocalizes the geologic history of Iceland. In Thingvellir, you can stand on a bluff and see the Mid-Atlantic ridge as it carves its way north and east into the island’s interior.
The English word geyser comes from Icelandic. Though the word refers to all geysers in general, it comes from a single geyser (in fact, the geyser) located in the South West of Iceland. Unfortunately, the Geysir has been somewhat shy in recent decades. When Geysir does perform, once or twice a year, it lives up to its name, spewing a jet of steaming water 200 feet skyward. Far more reliable, though less spectacular, is nearby Strokkur, which spouts a 60-100 foot jet about once every five minutes. The geyser area is also rich in walking paths that lead past steaming vents and colorful, mineral-rich mud formations.
Gullfoss, meaning “Golden Falls” with its 105-foot double-cascade into the churning Hvita glacial river is one of the highlights of the Golden Circle and Europe’s largest waterfall. On a sunlit day, the mist clouds surrounding the hammering falls are filled with dozens of rainbows, providing an unparalleled spectacle of color and motion. In winter, ice around the edges of the falls freezes to form magical shapes of ice and snow.
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