Visit Thingvellir National Park and walk between two tectonic plates
We took Highway 36 out of Reykavik and our first stop was Thingvellir National Park. This is a very large park and our short visit didn’t do justice to it as there are lots of hikes and picnic areas here. The park is also the site for (i) Game of Thrones filming and (ii) the meetings of the original Icelandic parliament and government. It’s best known for being the place where you can walk between two tectonic plates. As you can see by the photos below, there is a large fissure that runs right through Iceland and this is where the North American tectonic plate and the Eurasian plate are drifting apart and you can walk right down the middle of the gorge between them. Geologically and historically, this is a fascinating stop and the views are incredible as well.
See the Geysir Explode
About another 45 minutes away from Thingvellir is the geyser area. The most famous geysir here is Strokkur, which goes off about every 5 to 10 minutes. Sometimes the explosion is large and goes way up in the air and other times it’s fairly small. This entire area is filled with boiling pools, bubbling mud pots and steaming fumaroles and there are several hiking trails in the area. It has a nice visitor center with very clean bathrooms and a decent cafe if you want to take a breather from the drive, too. One thing to note is that this area is also quite smelly with a strong sulfuric odor.
Visit a few Waterfalls
The biggest and most popular waterfall on the Golden Circle is the Gullfoss Falls and they were very impressive. It’s only about a 15 minute drive down the road from the Geysir so it’s easy to see this right after. It was also insanely windy here when we went with gusts up to 40-50 miles per hour. I could barely hold my phone to get pictures so we didn’t stay very long or attempt to go down the trail to get up close. There are several other waterfalls in the Golden Circle area and you’ll know when you come across them because there will be a sign saying “Foss” with an arrow usually. As we were pressed for time, we only stopped to see the Gullfoss and the one at Thingvellir that was right by the gorge.
Eat at the Mushroom Farm
A local guide told us about this little known farm-to-table spot known as “The Mushroom Farm” on Route 30 near the town of Fluorid. We were so glad we stopped here. It’s the only mushroom farm in Iceland and they are growing mushrooms, peppers and chilis in greenhouses that are heated using geothermal steam from underground. They also built a small, cozy restaurant on the property and offer a menu and buffet featuring what they grow. We opted for the buffet and loved the delicious cream of mushroom soup, sauteed mushrooms and chilis, various breads with homemade butter spreads, pepper tapenades, chili marmalade and other mushroom centric dishes.
Walk around or down to Kerid Crater
Another spot worth seeing is Kerid Crater, which is actually a collapsed volcano cone that filled with water. It may not look like much in the photos but if you look carefully, you’ll see people walking along the edge of the crater so that should give some good perspective on how big this actually is. Also, parking here is free but this is the only place that had an entrance fee on the Golden Circle and cost about $4USD to see.
We really enjoyed our time driving around the very scenic Golden Circle and I would label it as a must-do if visiting Iceland. If staying longer, I would absolutely have spent more time at Thingvellir Park to do some longer walks in that area and would have also explored the Geysir basin a bit more as well. After we finished the Golden Circle we turned our car south and headed towards the southern coastal town of Vik, which would be our base for the next two days of sightseeing.