You know those animations you’ve seen of the tectonic plates moving across the oceans and forming continents and mountain ranges? Well here in Iceland you can see the real thing in vivid color. The Golden Circle Classic Day Trip from Reykjavik takes you to some of the geological highlights of Iceland: Þingvellir, where the North American plate and the Eurasian plates meet; Gullfoss, a massive double waterfall; and Geysir, which gave its name to the natural phenomenon of water spouting from the ground.
Hop on a bus from your hotel in Reykjavik, which will take you to the central bus station, then you will be directed to your bus for the tour. This Golden Circle Tour serves as a perfect introduction to this country that brings earth science to life. During the six-hour tour, as you pass by hills of dark grey lava rock covered with green-gold moss practically glowing with the warmth of the hot springs below, your guide provides an overview of the country’s history, geography, religion, economy, politics, and language. She will even teach you how to pronounce the funny-looking d in Þingvellir! And where the name Björk comes from.
Þingvellir looks as strange as it sounds. This is the place where the North American plate and the Eurasian plates meet. Or where they almost meet. They are actually drifting apart at a rate of 2 centimeters per year. Þingvellir also holds great importance in Icelandic political, social, and economic history, as the site of congresses, sheep markets, and community gatherings.
At Þingvellir , the bus drops you off in a spot where you can walk up to a view over the great valley, or you can walk down into the valley itself to see the various rifts created by the moving plates. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can sign up for a tour to dive in one of the rifts.
Next comes Gullfoss, a double-tiered waterfall that seems to be digging itself into the river valley. If you visit on a cold and rainy day, as we did, you will welcome the stop at Gullfoss not only for the view, but for the warm lamb stew you can purchase at the restaurant there (free refills!), and if you are so inclined, small bottles of Icelandic vodka for a different kind of warmth.
At Geysir, you’ll find the spurting spouts that gave us their name, erupting regularly. The sulfuric smell permeates the steamy air around the geysers, but the steam can provide welcome warmth on cold Icelandic days. You can also purchase Icelandic woolens in the shop at Geysir there at prices as good as or better than shops in town.
See these three top Iceland sights and more with a Golden Circle Classic Day Trip from Reykjavik
- Paige Conner Totaro