Self drive Iceland’s Golden Circle
As soon as we got out of the airport in Iceland, I was so amazed by the scenery and the landscape that I could not stop taking pictures from the window of our truck. Look at the pictures below, wouldn’t you do the same? The first day of our trip, we chose to self drive the Golden Circle, most popular of the attractions in Iceland. The entire drive, was about about 300 km and about 4 hours total. But with stops along the way, it takes about 6-8 hours.
Must see Stops:
Thingvellir National Park
Our first stop was at Thingvellir National Park about an hour and half away from the airport. This is where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet and are separating slowly, creating a fissure. We walked between the rifts and stopped at many look out points to enjoy a view of the valley below.
Another interesting site in the National Park is the Silfa fissure, a crack between the two tectonic plates filled with clear cold water. We saw people diving in this fissure. It seemed like it would be a really cool experience to swim between the two continents.
There is also an impressive waterfall in the National Park that you can walk to from the visitor center. Instead of walking the whole way, we decided to drive to the closest parking lot to the waterfall for minimal walking since it had started raining. There are various parking lots in the National Park. Parking Lot 1 is the biggest and right by the visitor center and restrooms. Parking Lot 3 is closest to the waterfall and Parking Lot 5 is closest to the Silfa fissure. You can walk/hike the whole thing or drive to the closest parking lot and do shorter hikes from there.
This small area known as Geysir (where the term Geyser originated), is full of geothermal activity including boiling mud, steaming water and a shooting geyser. In the past there used to be two geysers: the Great Geyser and Strokkur. While Great Geyser stopped erupting following the earthquake in 1916, Strokkur goes off every 4-8 minutes.
The first two times we saw it erupt, it was at an interval of about 2 minutes but the eruptions were rather small. So we decided to wait for another one, hoping it would erupt within a few minutes. I had the camera ready in my hand to capture the bubble that forms right before the eruption. But boy it made us wait. My hand was starting to hurt, but I couldn’t let it go or even look away for a bit, because it could erupt at anytime without any warning and I could miss it in a flash. Finally it went off about 15 minutes later, and I was very happy with the pictures I captured.:)
This powerful waterfall is about 15 minutes from the Geysir area. There are walking trails that take you closer to the falls or up to the top of a nearby hill for a broader view. There is also a gift/coffee shop here where we enjoyed a warm and delicious Cappuccino.
By now we had determined that ‘foss’ meant waterfall. We were navigating our way to Kerio crater, when we discovered this gorgeous waterfall on google maps. Since it had great reviews we decided to take a slight detour and visit. However, just finding this waterfall was quite an adventure. We drove back and forth the same road couple of times looking for it. Finally we saw some some people parking and walking down a bushy field, we followed them and ended up at this beautiful waterfall. The best way to get there is to park as close as possible to the google maps location and walk down to the waterfall. it is about a 10-15 minute walk from the closest parking spaces.
The crater is filled with water and has an amazing color combination. It’s brown and has green grass streaks in some places and the water was greenish blue. We walked around the rim and also down to the lake. It was an amazing experience.
If you only have a day or two in Iceland, this is a great drive to get a taste of Iceland. Since we were continuing on and driving the entire ring road around Iceland, we spent the night at one of the camping sites near Selfoss.
Also read: Iceland in 7 days- Our complete Itinerary
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Things you need to know before visiting Iceland:
- Make sure you have a credit card with a pin number. Most gas stations are self service and require a credit card that supports Chip and Pin.
- Siminn has very good cell coverage and internet speeds that work almost at every corner of Iceland. They have relatively inexpensive Data packages that can be very useful throughout Iceland.
- Driving is very easy in Iceland and is the best way to see the country. Rental car companies are about 3 mins from the airport and provide shuttle to and from the airport. Most rental cars are manual transmission. If you prefer automatic like us, make sure to reserve it in advance since quantities may be limited.
- Gas stations are your go to for food. N1 Nesti gas stations have a fast food restaurant inside them and there is one in just about every town.
- Weather can be very unpredictable in Iceland, so carry clothes for all seasons and dress in layers. Long sleeved raincoats/jackets are a must have. Umbrellas are no good and likely more of a hassle since it gets very windy. Even though we were there in June, it was very cold and it rained almost everyday.
- The average gas price is about $8 per gallon, so make sure to factor that into your budget while calculating your expenses.
- The ring road that goes around the island is a nice paved/sealed road. But if you want to explore a little more you, will need a 4×4 car. Most popular attractions are on the ring road.
- Make sure you have good water proof hiking shoes. I like my Columbia Redmond waterproof hiking shoes.
- Everyone speaks English.