Destination: Iceland’s Golden Circle

Iceland has many great things to see, but for anyone with limited time who wants to see some unique sights quickly, The Golden Circle is a perfect route.

Why Iceland?

Iceland around The Golden Circle

I’m always in search of a good travel deal. A cheap flight is initially why I jumped on an opportunity to visit Iceland several years ago despite it being winter. And rainy season. And dark most of the time.

Many people thought we were crazy for going in November, when the end of the month averages only 5 hours of daylight each day. Mid-month we experienced a whopping six hours of daylight.

Our flight from DC was short, only about five and a half hours. We arrived around 7 a.m., got our rental car, and started into the darkness. Our destination was the Golden Circle. This route of top attractions in Iceland can be done in one day. The entire drive is around 3 hours long and takes visitors past three primary spots:  Þingvellir National Park, Gulfoss and two geysers. Along the way we witnessed geothermal plants and pools, some small towns, horses and an otherworldly landscape.

Thanks to GPS we soon managed to find a coffee place and grabbed a breakfast to-go before heading back onto the road. At that point it was around 8:30 in the morning and still no sign of the sun.

Thingvellir /Þingvellir


When we arrived at our first stop around 9:30 we got our first glimpse of daylight. Þingvellir National Park initially seems like it’s simply a rocky landscape. It’s hard to recognize that it’s the birthplace of oldest surviving parliament in the world. We started in the visitor’s center which helped us better understand what we were seeing and the world significance.

We hiked through the lichen- and rock-filled fields exploring a bit before we climbed into our car and continued on the route.

Geysers and Geothermal

Iceland’s geysers

The geysers were probably the most crowded stop along our route, but they also covered the smallest amount of land space. They are set in the midst of geothermal activity and are said to erupt at specific times of the day. It was interesting, and mostly accurately timed. But frankly other geysers across the globe are more impressive.

Considering daylight was at a premium, we decided to zip to our next stop with hope that we would arrive at our hotel that evening before the sun started to set.


A distant couple overlooks Gulfoss

While the geysers were less than impressive, we couldn’t say that about Gulfoss. “Foss” means falls in Icelandic. It’s a great term to know when reading signs as a tourist. “Gulfoss” is known as the “golden falls” and as the sun climbed across the sky we began to see why. The light practically danced across the water on these enormous falls. There was only one other couple and they were so far away we felt we had the immense waterway to ourselves.


With just a short time left in the day, we made our way to the hotel and a quick stop at Seljalandsfoss – a waterfall along the southern coast. It’s one of the few in Iceland that you can walk behind. Despite the cold and setting sun, the experience was a memorable one.

The landscape is what made me fall hard for Iceland. I’ve seen rainforests, beaches, cute towns and big cities. Iceland was so different. The terrain is hard and unforgiving, but covered in the softness of the green moss it felt welcoming. More people are discovering Iceland, with 2 million visitors in 2019. Even though it felt isolated to us when the country was a bit less traveled, it’s still one of the few places in the world where you can really experience the landscape without all the people.

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