The Golden Circle: A Three-Pack of Sites

Ancient assembly site, geyser central and mega-waterfall.

IcelandTravel-tiny logo.-jpgThingvellir is the most meaningful but the least spectacular of three main stops on a route that’s an easy day trip from Reykjavik. Rent a car or join a one-day tour.  And there’s no admission charge for any of them.

Thingvellir

We trace our independence and therefore our country back to July 4, 1776, and we celebrate annually. Iceland’s earliest “government” dates back centuries earlier. Representatives of the island’s tribes met at Thingvellir (Þinvellir in the Icelandic alphabet) for what became an annual gathering known as the place where representatives of all the tribes of Iceland began meeting once a year beginning around 930.

The U.S. has Independence Hall. Iceland has Thingvellir, where a tribal parliament of sorts met back in the 10th century.
The U.S. has Independence Hall. Iceland has Thingvellir, where a tribal parliament of sorts met back in the 10th century. This is the site.

The yearly assembly continued to 1798. In 1944, the nation gathered at Thingvellir to celebrate Iceland’s independence from Denmark. The site, which has been called “the spiritual and symbolic heart of Iceland,” is also significant for its geology, it sits directly on the fault line between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. I didn’t plan to scuba dive there, but it is one of the most iconic and unusual scuba experiences on the planet. Thingvellir is the most meaningful but the least spectacular of the stops along the Golden Circle route.

Gullfoss

Iceland is a wet and hilly island that therefore has lots of waterfalls. Of them all, Gullfoss is the splashiest. The Hvítá (White) River, which is fed by Iceland´s second-biggest glacier, the Langjökull,  plummets into a rugged canyon in two states.

Gullfoss's awesome Water power.
Gullfoss’s awesome Water power.

The drop is roughly 100 feet. down. The raging river has carved a canyon whose walls reach up to about 220 feet in height. On a sunny day, they say, shimmering rainbows can be seen over the falls. In winter, they also say, it’s even more spectacular.

Geysir

Yellowstone National Park has geysers galore, but “the original” site Geysir, Iceland. You don’t even have to wait for an Old Faithful-like cycle to witness and eruption. Strokkur, the world’s most reliable geyser, shoots scalding water up to about 90 feet into the air every 10 minutes or less.

The geyser called Strokkur at the place called Geysir.
The geyser called Strokkur at the place called Geysir.

A stroll around the basin feels a tad like Yellowstone.