A Guide to Þingvellir National Park

Þingvellir National Park in Iceland

One of the most extraordinary places in Iceland is Þingvellir National Park. Located within the Golden Circle route, Þingvellir park offers a unique geological and historical experience unlike any other. As the site of Europe’s first parliament, established in 930, Þingvellir played an important role in Iceland’s cultural heritage. Additionally its a place of very unique geological features as you can walk through a rift valley between two continents. In this Þingvellir guide, you will find information that will help you make the most of your visit to this historic Icelandic landmark. 

How to get to Þingvellir

The national park is located approximately 40 km [131 mi] northeast of Reykjavík city and is easily accessible by car via Route 36 and is usually either the first or last stop of the Golden Circle tour. Þingvellir is easily accessible by car and the journey will take about 1 hour, depending on traffic conditions.

Exploring Þingvellir area

When you visit Þingvellir National Park the first thing to keep in mind is to take your time. The area has so much to see and given its rich history there is a lot to learn and explore. Here are some of the highlights:

Þingvellir´s Visitor Centre

At the visitor centre you can learn about the history and significance of Þingvellir through exhibits and displays. This way you have introduced yourself to the captivating history of the sights you are about to see. 

Lögberg (Law Rock)

Is one of the ancient assembly sites in the park. This is where the lawspeaker read the law of the land during the annual assembly of Alþingi parliament. The laws were proclaimed and settled and anyone attending could make their argument there. The exact location of Lögberg is unknown due to the changing geography of the area but two possible locations have been identified, one of which is marked with a flag pole.

Almannagjá gorge

This is one of Iceland’s most magnificent geological wonders. The rift valley known as Almannagjá is where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates are slowly pulling apart. You are able to walk between the two tectonic plates through the gorge and admire the rugged cliffs and landscapes shaped by millennia of tectonic activity. Be sure to look up and try to see the troll-faces engraved in the cliffs.

Silfra fissure

While on the topic of two tectonic plates it is worth mentioning Silfra fissure. This fissure lies at the rim of Þingvallavatn Lake and is very large and deep. Here you can have a very unique experience of diving or snorkeling between two continents in the clear blue, glacial waters of Silfra. 

Öxarárfoss waterfall

This waterfall is just as beautiful in the summer as in the winter. During the cold months the waterfall can freeze which makes for an extremely unique and beautiful sight. The waterfall is located near the parking lot of Þingvellir National Park and falls around 12 metres [39 ft] from a beautiful, square lava cliff. 

Drekkingarhylur pool

This pool of water, originating from Öxará river, is one of the places in Þingvellir with the darkest history. The name of the pool literally translates to The Drowning Pool, and that is exactly what it was. Here women were drowned as punishment for either having a child out of wedlock or when committing the crime of incest. Records show that 18 women were drowned in the pool, with the last one being executed in 1739. 

Þingvallakirkja church

The Þingvallakirkja church within the national park was built in 1859 but according to the Icelandic saga´s a church has been standing there since 1017. The church is closed to the public unless staff is present but it is possible to look through the windows or participate in free guided tours with one of the rangers, usually starting around 10 AM. 

Practical tips when visiting Þingvellir National Park

  1. How much time do you need at Þingvellir
    Make sure to have enough time as it is quite easy to spend up to two hours exploring the area. The National Park is big and there is a lot to see and read about. Enjoy the walk and learn as much as you can about this remarkable, historical site.
  2. Safety first
    Always respect warning signs and closed off areas while walking through the park. Designated walking paths are always available and restricted area´s are marked off with ropes or signs. Þingvellir is a natural reserve and both flora and fauna get to stay in peace.
  3. Accessibility
    Even though Þingvellir National Park is easily accessible by car, exploring the area has to happen on foot. Therefore it is advisable to wear good and comfortable walking shoes and dress appropriately.
  4. Picnic areas
    Pack a picnic, especially during the summer months. There are designated picnic areas and benches available throughout the park and it can be a great opportunity to have a little refreshment amongst the magnificent views of the valley.

A visit to Þingvellir National Park should be on the travel itinerary for every person visiting Iceland. Its rich history and natural beauty are unparalleled and it’s the perfect place to walk through some of Iceland’s most important historic sites with your own two feet. Whether you are tracing the footsteps of the Vikings or awestruck by the geological wonders, experiencing Þingvellir will leave you with a deep appreciation for Iceland’s cultural and natural heritage. 

 

A Guide to Gullfoss: Iceland’s Most Iconic Waterfall

Gullfoss Iceland, Golden Circle

One of the most popular tours in Iceland is the Golden Circle with attractions like Þingvellir National park, Geysir geothermal area and Gullfoss waterfall. 

Gullfoss is a breathtaking waterfall cascading in two tiers down a big canyon. Its thunderous roar and the picturesque scenery is sure to leave you captivated by the power of nature. In this guide we will provide you with all the essential information so you can make the most of your visit to this iconic landmark. 

How to get to Gullfoss waterfall

Located approximately 120 km [74,5 mi] from Reykjavík city, Gullfoss waterfall is easily accessible by car through the scenic Ring Road (route 1) or via Route 35. It takes around 1,5 to 2 hours to drive from the city centre. If you prefer not to drive there are plenty of guided tours departing from Reykjavík city that offer transportation as well as all the benefits of having an experienced guide. 

The most popular way of visiting Gullfoss is taking the Golden Circle route, combining it with a visit to Geysir geothermal area and Þingvellir National Park

Exploring Gullfoss

When you arrive at Gullfoss waterfall you are greeted by the thundering sound of this powerful natural wonder. The walk from the parking lot to the waterfall lookout point takes about 5 minutes and from there you can walk up to the upper fall.

Gullfoss Visitor Centre
Upon your arrival it might be fun to start at the visitor centre. There you can read about the history of Gullfoss waterfall, learn about the geology and significance of the waterfall as well as getting familiar with the waterfall´s formation and cultural importance.

The upper and lower falls
Gullfoss waterfall is a two tiered waterfall; the upper falls, which drops 11 metres [36 ft], and the lower falls which plunge 21 metres [68 ft] into the impressive canyon below. You can take in the picturesque view from various vantage points along the walking paths, each offering a unique perspective. 

Hiking trails
If you have enough time and are seeking a closer encounter with the waterfall´s power, several hiking trails lead down to viewpoints near the edge of the canyon. If you decide to embark on this little adventure make sure you follow the designated paths and exercise great caution as it can be slippery and unstable. 

Photo by Golli

Practical Tips for visiting Gullfoss waterfalls

  1. Can anyone visit Gullfoss waterfall?
    Gullfoss waterfall is accessible for almost anyone. Even though some might not be able to hike up to the waterfall, the viewpoints close by the parking lot offer a great view of this majestic natural wonder.
  2. Where to park
    When arriving by car to Gullfoss waterfall you have a few different parking options that are free. You can either turn to the lower parking lot or continue on Route 35 to the upper parking lot. At the upper lot you will find some facilities, including bathrooms, a café and a souvenir shop.
  3. How to dress when visiting Gullfoss waterfalls
    Bring your waterproof jacket with you and wear sturdy footwear. The weather can be a bit chilly and the misty spray might get you a little bit wet, depending on how close you get. Keep an eye out for the stunning rainbows that often form over the canyon and be ready to snap an amazing photo as your souvenir!
  4. Best time to visit Gullfoss waterfalls
    If you want to avoid crowds, consider visiting early in the morning. A great travel tip for the summer months is to visit the more popular attractions at night. The endless, bright summer nights make for a beautiful, golden hour experience – with less crowds.
  5. Safety first
    Always respect the environment and adhere to any safety warnings and guidelines. Often the only warning are signs or small ropes indicating where not to go – so be vigilant and stay informed. 

Without a doubt a visit to Gullfoss waterfall is worth your while. Even though it might be one of the most photographed and talked about attractions in Iceland it is with good reason. The experience of the thundering waterfall falling into the canyon below will leave you in awe of nature’s power. 

 

A Guide to Geysir: Iceland’s Most Famous Natural Phenomenon

The active geothermal area of Haukadalur valley is located in the southwest of Iceland and is one of the stops along the Golden Circle route. In this area you will find Geysir hot spring, a captivating natural wonder that draws visitors from all over the world. Even though Geysir is the name everyone associates with this natural wonder, it is actually Strokkur who does all the hard work and shows off spectacular eruptions of boiling water into the air. 

In this guide we will provide you with all the essential information needed to make the most of your visit to Iceland’s most famous geothermal sites. 


How to get to Geysir geothermal area

As mentioned above, Geysir is situated on the Golden Circle route, around 116 km [72 mi] from Reykjavík city. The journey takes roughly 1,5 hours from the city and is easily accessible with a private car. Alternatively there are enough guided tour options for those who just want to sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. 

Exploring the area

Upon arrival you might already get a sneaky preview of the erupting hot spring while parking on the other side of the road. The landscape surrounding the many hot springs in the area is dominated by steam, bubbling mud pots and the iconic geysers.

Strokkur Geyser

The star of the show is Strokkur geyser with its powerful eruptions shooting boiling water up to 30 metres [98 ft] into the air. Strokkur erupts every 5-10 minutes so there are plenty of opportunities to watch, be in awe and get that one perfect picture to show everyone at home.

Geysir

The geothermal area is named after the famous Geysir, an old hot spring that has been dormant for decades. The surrounding area is very beautiful and even though only one of the geysers actively erupts, many bubbling ones are to be seen when strolling around the area. Additionally you can see fumaroles and marvel at the clayish brown surroundings merging with the surrounding greenery. Always stay on the designated paths as the ground can be unstable due to the geothermal activity beneath. 


Geysir Visitor Centre

Either before or after walking around the area and seeing Strokkur erupt once, twice or ten times, it can be a fun experience to visit the local visitor centre to learn more about the geology, history and significance of this natural phenomenon. 

Geysir Golden Circle in Iceland
Geysir area – photo by Golli

 

Practical tips and fun facts about the Geysir area

  1. How to dress when visiting Geysir
    Dress according to the weather and wear good shoes. The paths can get a little muddy.

  2. Safety first
    Always stay on designated paths and adhere to all signs and safety instructions. Even though only one of the hot springs is active the whole area is still an active geothermal area and the non-active geysers are still boiling hot.

  3. Why do geysers erupt?
    The reason why geysers erupt is water being heated by bubbling magma underneath earth’s surface. When the water reaches a certain pressure it is forced towards the surface where it erupts with magnificent results. 

  4. When did Geysir first erupt?
    The first mentioned eruption of Geysir hot spring dates back to 1647. The famous geyser was very active back then, shooting water up to 80 metres [262 ft] into the air. In the early 1900s the activity started to decline and it eventually became dormant. After a row of very big earthquakes in the year 2000, Geysir awoke and became active once more. However its last eruption was in 2016 and it has been dormant ever since.

  5. Where does the word geyser come from?
    The English word
    geyser is adapted from Geysir´s name and is now an internationally known word for spouting hot water springs. This is however not the Icelandic word for the phenomenon. In Iceland Geysir is, and always will be, the name of one of the geysers but the word used for this natural wonder is hver [ˈvɛːˀr].

 

 

Even though the Geysir area is probably one of the most hyped up attractions in Iceland it is a remarkable experience for everyone to witness the power of nature in this  explosive way. The geothermal activity is one of Iceland’s most unique attributes and where better to experience it than in the Geysir area? The trip is an easily accessible day-trip from Reykjavík city and well worth your while to witness Iceland’s most iconic natural phenomenon first hand. 

 

Enjoying Iceland as a Couple

Something that can be said unequivocally about Iceland is that it is an exceptionally cozy place for couples. The small, intimate streets of Reykjavík, the numerous swimming pools and hot baths and the hotels and lodges in remote and breathtaking nature, all work together to make Iceland feel like a couple’s own private playground. Whether going on a honeymoon or simply a romantic getaway, Iceland is an ideal destination, making up for sandy beaches with raw, natural charm and unforgettable scenery. 

Romantic Reykjavík

It’s not necessary to plan a big trip around Iceland in order to have a romantic vacation there, Reykjavík is big enough to offer numerous activities and restaurants while it’s small enough for the natural elements to never seem far away. A perfect start to the day on a weekend would be to head to one of the many bottomless brunches around the city, for example at Brút Restaurant. Brút offers a delicious buffet of unconventional brunch courses that are a great way to try out some of the best of Icelandic cuisine. There’s also a separate dessert buffet and a self service bar of brunch drinks classics like mimosas and bloody mary’s. Afterwards, it’s nice to walk around down to the harbour or wander into Harpa music hall to enjoy the views of Esjan mountain that’s right off the coast. 

Photo: Golli. Beautiful scenery in the harbour area of Reykjavík

There are numerous museums in Reykjavík that are worth a visit, but The Einar Jónsson Museum, up by Hallgrímskirkja church, is one that stands out and would be a perfect addition to a couple’s visit to the city. The museum was designed and built by sculptor Einar himself, and he lived and worked there most of his career. As a result, it has a homey feel to it while also displaying Einar’s beautiful art in a distinct way. After a stroll to the museum, it’s a must to go up to Hallgrímskirkja tower for a stunning view of Reykjavík.

Soaking in Luxury 

While Reykjavík has no shortage of public swimming pools and hot tubs to soak in, for a special treat on a couple’s visit we recommend heading out to the Sky Lagoon in Kópavogur, a short 20 minute drive from Reykjavík. It’s a newly built, adult’s only, geothermal retreat with a special seven step spa type ritual that is designed to relax and rejuvenate visitors. 

Photo: Golli. Soaking in a natural pool is a great way to spend time together in Iceland for a couple

Going on a treasure hunt for a good natural bath is a great way for a couple to explore the country. In the vicinity of Reykjavík there are some good options, like Hvammsvík Hot Springs, which was opened in 2022. The Hvammsvík experience is similar to Sky Lagoon, with its man made, luxurious feel, but for a more authentic adventure, there is the Reykjadalur Hot Spring, an all natural river flowing down Reykjadalur Valley, close to the town of Hveragerði. There’s about an hour long hike to get to the hot spring but the reward of a soak in the unique landscape is priceless. Also in Reykjadalur is a newly installed zip line for thrill seekers looking for unconventional views of the land.

Seeking Adventure

In the fall and winter months, it’s possible to spot the Northern Lights from within Reykjavík but to make an event out of it, there’s no better way than on a cruise around Reykjavík Bay. A boat trip will take visitors far from the city lights and a nice, heated, café area inside the boat makes for a cozy, romantic outing. To get a glimpse at the power of Icelandic nature, the Golden Circle is a classic, taking visitors on an exciting trip to the iconic Gullfoss waterfall and Strokkur geysir. It’s the cherry on top for couples that are looking for an Icelandic experience they’ll never forget.

Photo: Golli. Catching the Northern Lights is an unforgettable experience

The possibilities for a couple’s getaway in Iceland are endless, and certainly not limited to Reykjavík. Some might enjoy renting a camper van and going rogue out in the rugged countryside while others might enjoy a more contained experience like the dreamy Highland Base on the Kerlingafjöll mountain range or a cozy cabin in the magnificent Þakgil canyon. Whichever route is chosen, Iceland is sure to deliver a romantic wonderland full of special moments that will last long after the trip is over.

Driving The Ring Road in Three Days

Iceland’s famous Þjóðvegur 1 highway, or the Ring Road, is a 1322 km long road that circles the country. Technically it can be covered from start to finish in less than 24 hours but rushing the road trip would defeat the purpose of experiencing the beautiful nature and eccentric small towns that Iceland has to offer. The optimal way to travel the Ring Road is in approximately seven days with plenty of pit stops, but it’s also entirely possible to have an enjoyable trip in much less than that. For those who have limited time to travel, here’s a guide to a three day trip around Iceland.

Where to Begin?

At the start of the trip, travellers have two options, driving north or south but for the purpose of this article, the northern route is chosen. Heading north takes travellers through the Hvalfjarðargöng tunnel towards Borgarnes which is a popular first quick stop for gathering snacks or having lunch, but for a little less crowded option we recommend Baulan, a small gas station twenty minutes past Borgarnes. Baulan is perfect for a coffee break and a hot dog before getting back on the road. About 40 minutes from Baulan marks the beginning of the drive through Holtavörðuheiði, a long stretch of road that ascends through barren hillsides. During the summer, Holtavörðuheiði poses no difficulty for drivers but during winter the road can get quite icy and it’s worth staying up to date on road conditions when travelling in the winter months. Coming back down from the hills, travellers are greeted by Staðarskáli, a good sized gas station and restaurant that was originally opened in 1960 and then reconstructed in 2008 under the N1 chain of gas stations. Due to its location right between Reykjavík and the North part of Iceland, it has been one of the most popular rest stops on the Ring Road. Although some of the old time charm was replaced by a more modern look by N1, it’s still a classic stop to restock on drinks and road snacks. Before getting to Akureyri, the road crosses Blönduós, a decent sized town named after the Blanda river that rushes through the area. Blönduós has a number of restaurants and gas stations to drop in, but for people who crave an old fashioned burger joint there is the North West restaurant in Víðigerði, some 39 km from Blönduós.

Photo: Golli. A collection of waterfalls in Borgarfjörður

After that the Ring Road heads into Skagafjörður, a large region known for its dramatic history during the Sturlunga Era and for its rich horsebreeding culture. The last proper stop before Akureyri is Varmahlíð in Skagafjörður, a tiny community that still manages a hotel and a swimming pool along with a restaurant and gas station. From Varmahlíð it’s about an hour drive to Akureyri with no other options for pit stops through the sometimes treacherous Öxnadalsheiði. 

Akureyri, Capital of North Iceland

Akureyri, the second biggest town in Iceland, is nestled at the roots of Hlíðarfjall mountain, a popular skiing area during winter time. It has a more “city feel” than the other smaller towns that are scattered around the country, and is an ideal place to stop for the first night of the trip. Akureyri offers numerous hotels, guesthouses and camping areas along with a diverse restaurant scene and a huge swimming pool with a funky waterslide. The climate in Akureyri is often a lot calmer than in Reykjavík and during summer it’s more likely than not to catch beautiful, sunny days there while Reykjavík has more unpredictable weather. There is no shortage of activities available in Akureyri and it is sure to leave an impression on any traveller passing through. In 2022, a new geothermal bath spot opened right outside Akureyri called Skógarböðin, or Forest Lagoon, a beautifully designed, modern take on the natural bath. It’s a great spot to unwind after the long drive and enjoy the surrounding nature. For breakfast in Akureyri there are a few options, but a great little café called Kaffi Ilmur is a great choice. Kaffi Ilmur serves breakfast all day long and has amazing Dutch specialty pancakes that should not be missed.

Photo: Golli. Akureyri is the second largest town in Iceland

Experiencing East-Iceland

Heading out east from Akureyri, the next stop should be Egilsstaðir, a small town with a big personality and a great natural bath called Vök, which is located on top of Urriðavatn lake. Visitors can soak in the hot pools and then take a dip in the lake to cool off. East-Iceland has a lot to offer and it’s the only part of the country where wild reindeer roam free. Because of the short trip and long drives between destinations, it might not be possible to go on many excursions, but travellers should try to squeeze in a reindeer safari to see these adorable animals in their natural habitat. On the South-Eastern edge of Iceland, close to Vatnajökull glacer is Jökulsárlón, a glacier lake that is a must see on the Ring Road trip. The lake runs directly from Vatnajökull and out to the ocean and carries with it beautiful icebergs from the glacier in all different colors of blue. Close by is the Diamond Beach where pieces of the icebergs have broken off and collected on the shore. It’s a stunning display of the ever changing elements of Icelandic nature.

Photo: Berglind. The Glacier Lagoon in East-Iceland

 For the second night on the trip, Höfn í Hornafirði is a great spot, a small coastal town on the  South-East tip, or travellers can duck into Hotel Jökulsárlón, a cozy hotel close to the glacier lake. About 20 minutes before entering Höfn there are the Vestrahorn mountains, a picturesque range of ragged mountains that seem to rise up from the black, sandy beach. 

The Scenic South Coast

On the third day, driving from Höfn, begins the home stretch, a beautiful, scenic drive along the southern part of Iceland. This part of the country doesn’t have the many hills and valleys of the western and northern parts and so the drive is smooth and peaceful. The southern route also has some of the most popular nature highlights of Iceland, and as travellers get closer to Reykjavík, there are numerous spots to stop and enjoy the views. Three hours from Höfn is Vík í Mýrdal, another small seaside town that is surrounded by dramatic mountain formations. There are a number of food options in Vík, including a craft brewery pub called Smiðjan Brewery that offers a good selection of local specialty beers. Thirty minutes from Vík is the famed Skógafoss, an iconic waterfall that can be seen right from the highway. Continuing west is another, smaller waterfall, Seljalandsfoss, where visitors have a chance to walk up close and get behind the gushing water. Close by Seljalandsfoss is Seljavallalaug, a beautiful natural bath, hidden from the views of the Ring Road. It’s a bit of a hike to get to the pool but the soak is worth every minute.

Photo: Golli. Seljalandsfoss on the South Coast

Getting back on the road from Seljavallalaug, travellers have the option of taking a small detour to see Gullfoss waterfall and Strokkur geysir. As part of the Golden Cirlce, these spots are a popular attraction for tour groups, but it’s easy and fun to get around there on your own. From the Golden Circle it’s a short one hour drive back to Reykjavík where it all started. A short trip like this around Iceland is only able to give a small preview of all the possible things to see and do around the country, but it is a great way to get familiar with driving on the roads and to hopefully get hyped for a longer return trip in the future.

The Golden Circle | Iceland’s Favourite Sightseeing Route  

Geysir Iceland tourism

Iceland is famed far and wide for its astounding natural spectacles. Cascading waterfalls. Bursting geysers. Wide stretches of untamed wilderness. But particular places have become more renowned than most. For instance, the Golden Circle sightseeing route is the most popular sightseeing route in Iceland. 

The route is named after one of its three impressive stops – the colossal Gullfoss waterfall, literally translating to ‘Golden Waterfall.’ From one perspective, this is something of a coincidence as this trail is considered the premium – and thus golden – sightseeing circuit in the country. It offers guests awe, reverence, and appreciation in equal measures.

In total, the Golden Circle covers 300 km (186 mi); a fairly considerable distance, but very manageable within a day, bearing in mind one is prepared to fill it with intrigue and adventure, of course.

Table of Contents

Where is the Golden Circle in Iceland? 

Gullfoss waterfall in Autumn
Photo: Private Golden Circle & Secret Lagoon tour from Reykjavik

The Golden Circle sightseeing route is located in West Iceland, about 45 km northwest of Iceland’s vibrant capital city, Reykjavik. 

For those leaving from Reykjvik towards the route’s most popular starting point – the notoriously unpronounceable Þingvellir National Park – expect to drive for one hour. 

Guests should leave the capital by following the major highway, Route 49, west toward the leafy town of Mosfellsbær. On the outskirts of the city, be aware that Route 49 becomes Route 1 without having to turn off. 

Continue along this main road, crossing four roundabouts as you drive through Mosfellsbær. At the fifth roundabout, swing into the first right turn onto Route 36, otherwise known as Þingvallavegur. There will be clear signs en route, leaving no room for doubt.

This road will take you across wide open wilderness until, eventually, the placid blue waters of Lake Þingvallavatn appear on your right hand side. When you spot what is Iceland’s largest natural lake—a beautiful sight in and of itself—you know you’re heading in the right direction.

Route 36 will take you right up to Þingvellir National Park’s modern Visitor’s centre, complete with its engaging information boards and easily-accessible walkways.

Congratulations – you have now reached your first stop on the Golden Circle route. So, what incredible sites lie ahead of you?

What sites are considered the Golden Circle route?

A map showing the topography of Þingvellir
 Photo: Adam Fagen. Flickr. CC. A map showing Þingvellir.

There are three major sites on Iceland’s Golden Circle sightseeing route – Þingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal area, and Gullfoss waterfall. 

All of them can be visited within the space of one day. The majority of one’s time will be spent at Þingvellir National Park given the wealth of activities available there, but leisurely travellers may want to spread the experience out over a couple of days. 

A gentle approach is especially true for those who want to make extra stops along the way, but we discuss more about them later. 

For now, let’s focus on the main attractions, starting with Þingvellir (pronounced Thing-veck-leer). 

Þingvellir National Park

It is not an easy job, using words to justify exactly how the UNESCO World Heritage site, Þingvellir, is such a special place. 

Why, you ask? Because Þingvellir National Park is many things at once, the least of which being that it is often constituted as the first part of the Golden Circle route. 

The History of Þingvellir National Park

þingvellir national park
 Photo: Páll Stefánsson. þingvellir during the winter.

Þingvellir is a site of immense historical importance, not just for the Icelandic people, but humanity itself. 

For starters, Þingvellir was where the first democratically-elected parliament, the Alþingi, first formed back in 930 AD. It was in that summer that the nation of Iceland was born, marking the beginning of the Icelandic Commonwealth, which lasted until 1262. While the Commonwealth did not last, the Alþingi is still in operation today. 

Anyone with some knowledge of Icelandic would recognise that Þingvellir translates to ‘Assembly Fields.’ In ancient Germanic sites, a thing (Þing) describes the gathering of a government, while the singular vǫllr means ‘field.’

Playing dress-up as Vikings
 Photo: Golli. Festival-goers dressed as Vikings.

Every year since its founding, chieftains (or Goðar) and their clans would travel from across Iceland to assemble at Þingvellir, setting up temporary living quarters amid its craggy walls. 

For two weeks at a time, clans would discuss the law, settle disputes, forge alliances, and hold great games and feasts. Ordinary citizens would also attend, be they sword-makers, farmers, or merchants, using the gathering to peddle their wares, find work, and seek out adventure.      

Þingvellir was established as a national park in 1930. In 2004, UNESCO recognised the area as a world heritage site, lathering even more prestige onto this exceptional locale. 

Þingvellir’s Fascinating Geology & Nature 

Guests at Þingvellir National Park
 Photo: Golli. Walking in Þingvellir National Park

The landscapes of Þingvellir were formed by an eruptive fissure northeast of nearby Mount Hengill. What it left behind was a volcanic paradise composed of lush arctic flora and incredible geology defined by the park’s location atop the Mid-Atlantic Rift

The Eurasian and the North American tectonic plates make up the outer periphery of this protected area, creating what amounts to a shield-wall enclosing a wholly unique rift valley. 

Given that these tectonic plates are drifting apart ever-so slowly each year, the valley basin has been torn apart with fissures and cracks, many filled with water. 

Water filling in a volcanic rift.
 Photo: Golli. A volcanic rift filled with water.

By far, the most impressive rift is Almannagjá (Everyman’s Gorge), better described as a scenic, yet haunting canyon. Guests can walk down Almannagjá as part of the Execution trail, stopping at various display boards within their award-winning interactive exhibition to learn about the history that took place there. 

Visitors can look upon Höggstokkseyri (“the bank of the execution block”), where decapitations took place in the name of the Icelandic law. 

A short while north, they will stumble across Brennugjá (“the Burning Canyon”) where those accused of sorcery were burned alive at the stake.

Volcanic activity has been dormant at Þingvellir for over two millennia, but there is no telling when it will start up again.     

Explore a strange underwater world at Silfra Fissure 

A snorkeller at Silfra Fissure in Iceland
Photo: Golden Circle & Snorkeling in Silfra Minibus Tour | Free Underwater Photos

Þingvellir is where snorkelers and scuba divers discover the glacial beauty of Silfra Fissure. 

Glacial water from neighbouring Langjökull—Iceland’s second largest glacier—fills this strange underwater canyon, allowing for visibility of up to 150 m. 

There is little fish life in the fissure itself—Brown Trout and Arctic Char prefer to spend time in the wide open waters of adjoining Þingvallavatn—but the deep shades of royal blue and dramatic rock walls more than make up for it.

A number of operators run tours at Silfra Fissure, using a nearby parking area to adorn their guests in the thick dry suits, fins, neoprene hoods and gloves, and a mask and snorkel. It would be insincere to claim that exploring here is not cold, but with the right protection and only forty minutes or so in the water, the experience is more than worth it. 

After all, how often does anyone get to swim between our planet’s tectonic plates? 

Officials of the national park describe Þingvellir as ‘the heart of Iceland’. Given all this location has seen, not mentioning the impact it has had on Iceland’s national identity, it is impossible to argue with such an assessment. 

Öxarárfoss Waterfall

The auroras over Öxarárfoss Waterfall
 Photo: Golli. Northern lights over Öxarárfoss Waterfall

At a diminutive 13 m [44 ft] high, Öxarárfoss waterfall cascades over Almannagjá gorge, and is considered a must-see spot in Þingvellir National Park. 

Unlike most waterfalls in Iceland, Öxarárfoss is actually man-made, the water having been channelled into Almannagjá many hundreds of years before.

According to legends, the waterfall was named after a mythic axe that was used to slaughter a female troll infamous for killing weary travellers passing through the area. 

Öxarárfoss’ pure glacial water falls into a rocky pool filled with different-sized boulders, creating picturesque plumes of mist. Depending on the season, the volume and flow rate can change dramatically, making it a worthwhile stop for repeat visitors.  

In the wintertime, the waterfall completely freezes over, offering beautiful photography opportunities of a rare anomaly in nature. 

Geysir Geothermal Area

A couple at geysir geothermal area
Photo: Golli. A couple watches Strokkur explode!

The Geysir geothermal area not only provides a fantastic spectacle for visitors, but it will always be known for having offered its name to all geysers across our planet. 

Today, the Great Geyser (as it is sometimes known) is considered rather dormant, with only infrequent eruptions. The last time Geysir blasted its geothermal water was in 2016, following a 16-year hiatus. 

However, earthquakes and other underground changes are known to precede it, so there can be no telling when it might explode once more.

Strokkur is the star attraction here thanks to its reliable eruptions. Guests wait at the roped-off border, well away from the exceedingly hot water, and wait for the eruption to occur. 

Thankfully, this never takes long. 

As if following a schedule, it blasts its liquid plume up to 20 m [66 ft] into the air every five to ten minutes, providing constant chances for dramatic photographs.

There are a number of less impressive, but no less interesting hot spots that dot the surrounding area. These include Litli Geysir and many other smaller hot pools and geysers. 

On June 17, 2020, the site was granted protected status by the Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources. 

Gullfoss Waterfall  

Visitors at Gullfoss waterfall
 Photo: Golli. Gullfoss waterfall in the wintertime.

There are many splendid waterfalls in Iceland, but Gullfoss is something special. Situated on the Hvítá river canyon, this dramatic cascade is 32 m high in total, dropping over two craggy tiers. 

It has a variable, but powerful rate of flow. In the summer, 141 cubic m (5,000 cu ft) each second. In the winter, 80 cubic m (2,800 cu ft) each second. There was, for a long time, discussions about whether Gullfoss could be used to generate electricity. 

Having fun at Gullfoss waterfall
Photo: Golli. Taking a selfie at Gullfoss waterfall.

In the late 20th century, the waterfall’s owners, Halldór Halldórsson and Tómas Tómasson, rented the site to foreign investors who were ultimately unsuccessful in their efforts to transform it into a hydro-dam. Today, Gullfoss is a protected area and owned by the state.  

Given its iconic status, it should come as little surprise that Gullfoss has made itself known in pop culture. 

Fans of the UK band Echo and the Bunnymen might recognise it as the album cover of Porcupine, while avid watchers of the historical-drama show Vikings will know it as the final resting place of one of the story’s characters. 

How long does the Golden Circle route take?

If you’re hoping to speed through the Golden Circle, know that it can be done in three hours. 

Of course, this does not take into account that you should spend ample time at each of the main attractions. Dare we say… anyone who completes the Golden Circle in three hours is not truly appreciating the sites on offer. 

It is far better to allocate a full day to enjoying this splendid driving trail. That way, you can fully enjoy each attraction as it comes without feeling the pressure of having to rush on to fight lady time. 

What other attractions are on the Golden Circle route?

Kerið Crater
 Photo: Golli. Kerið Crater in Summer

Noone likes to rush through pleasurable activities, so you may be happy to know that there are a great number of stops you can take during the Golden Circle to break up your day. 

If you’re feeling a little sluggish, the Fontana Geothermal Baths are sure to make you feel fresh once more. Iceland’s geothermal baths are known to be rich in minerals, and Fontana is no different. Not only are they good for aching muscles, psoriasis, and promoting healthy skin, but they provide a dose of psychological well being. Who could resist such soothing waters during a full day of adventuring? 

Another lovely and interesting site is Kerið Crater, offering insights into the region’s volcanic history. Guests will walk around the crater’s edge, peering down its blood red slopes towards the gentle pool within. Note that there is a parking-fee in place, so only stop by if you’re willing to part with the cash. 

What cultural stops are on the Golden Circle?

Then there is the quaint hamlet of Skálholt. If history is to be believed, Skálholt is one of Iceland’s oldest villages, and was for eight centuries, a major religious centre in so much as it was a centre of Catholicism. 

Catholicism in Iceland came largely to an end when Jón Arason, the bishop of Hólar, was executed there with his two sons in 1550. Today, the town’s lakeside cathedral is one of the larger churches in Iceland. 

Speaking of populated settlements, there is one that differs greatly from any other in Iceland. Travellers interested in sustainability and alternative living will want to stop at Sólheimar eco-village. Home to around 100 or so people, community leaders have placed a particular focus on ethical agriculture, artistic expression, and balance with the environment.  

For those with some extra time, pay a visit to the steep canyon walls of Þjórsárdalur Valley, located along the river Þjórsá. This secluded gorge is home to Háifoss, one of the tallest waterfalls in Iceland, standing at 122 m (400 ft). 

An adjacent viewing area allows for a great perspective of this feature. On top of that, Búrfells woods is found closeby; a veritable Eden of wildflowers and cushiony moss. 

Is the Golden Circle route free? 

Cliffs on the Golden Circle route
Photo: Private Golden Circle Day Tour with Friðheimar Tomato Farm Lunch & Kerið Crater

Unfortunately no, sightseeing on the Golden Circle is not completely free of expenditure. For one thing, the route is popular among tour operators eager to drive you from site-to-site themselves. Naturally, this comes with a price-tag attached. 

Even those who drive themselves will have to shell out on gas money. And, in all likelihood, snacks en route. As we’ve mentioned, there are numerous other stops along the way that require a bit of cash to enjoy fully. 

With all this said, enjoying the Golden Circle is quite cheap compared to many of the other excursions. On top of that, it is somewhat mandatory, so thus should be ranked highly on your itinerary, however long you’re planning on staying. 

Where to eat on the Golden Circle sightseeing route? 

Friðheimar farm
Photo: Golden Circle — Platinum Tour | Small group. Visitors to Friðheimar farm.

Exploring Iceland’s favourite sightseeing locations can be hungry work. Thankfully, there are plenty of places you can stop to grab a bite to eat on the Golden Circle, making it something of a foodie tour, as well as a journey of discovery. 

The restaurant, Glíma, is located closeby to Geysir geothermal area, and is named after the ancient style of wrestling. 

Aside from the soup and salad bar, Glíma is a fantastic choice for those sampling classic Scandinavian dishes, be they fish or lamb based. There are also paninis, pizzas, sandwiches. And many other varieties of other light meals, as well as cakes and ice cream afterwards.  

A delicious meal served on the Golden Circle route
Photo: The Elite Golden Circle with lunch at farm & luxury hot sea baths

Another option is Friðheimar farm. It is a family-run establishment that centres around producing tomato-based meals from their very own greenhouses / dining area. And it is capable of growing fresh vegetables all year round. 

You can take time to explore these geothermally-fuelled facilities before sampling their rustic menu. Surrounded by lush plant life, try their classic tomato soup—a bonafide favourite among travellers! 

Restaurant Mika is located in the historic town of Reykholt. It specialises in creating delectable lobster dishes, oven-baked pizzas, and sweet desserts. Mika places real emphasis on chocolate confectionery, so make sure to sample some during your time there. 

To top off this list, the farm-to-table restaurant Hlöðuloftið – part of Efstidalur II farmstead – allows guests to eat stunning homemade dishes in simple, stylish surroundings. Sourcing vegetables from nearby farms, producing their own meat and dairy, they also create beautiful batches of ice cream. 

Conclusion 

Geysir geothermal area in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Guests at Geysir geothermal area in winter.

The Golden Circle is such a mainstay of the Iceland tourist experience, it’s defunct suggesting you need to prioritise it. 

You, dear reader, already know as much. 

So much has been said and written about the Golden Circle over the last decade. One could be forgiven for thinking that it has been overhyped. 

Coming to such a conclusion would be a major error. While it’s true that the Golden Circle is the definitive sightseeing trail in Iceland, it’s famous for good reason. Every site mentioned on this circuit is utterly enthralling and worthy of however much time one chooses to spend there. 

Make sure not to miss it during your time in Iceland. Heavily inspired by the Norse sagas, J.R.R Tolkien once wrote, all that glitters is not gold, but the Golden Circle dazzles in such a way that no other sightseeing route on Earth can quite compare. 

Golden Circle Driving Itinerary

Gullfoss waterfall Iceland

One of Iceland’s top-rated and most popular attractions is the Golden Circle. As the name implies, it is a journey that takes visitors on a circle from and to Reykjavík, stopping at three locations along the way. 

These three stops are Þingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal area, and Gullfoss waterfall. Each location has its own wow factor, whether due to its rich history or captivating nature. 

The whole route is just over 230 km [145 mi], which can be driven in about 3.5 hours without stops. Needless to say, each location should be enjoyed and explored, taking in nature’s beauty, making it the perfect full-day trip from Reykjavík city. 

 

First Stop: Þingvellir National Park

The journey’s first stop is Þingvellir National Park, a captivating sight, rich in Icelandic history ranging beginning in the 10th century. 

The drive from Reykjavík’s centre to the National Park is about 45 km [28 mi], taking approximately one hour to drive. 

The National Park’s historical richness comes from the general assembly, or Alþingi, established there around 930, which continued to convene until 1798.

Þingvellir National Park is also an incredible natural sight, standing on the continental divide between North America and Eurasia. Therefore, the area is divided between the two continents, and visitors can easily walk between them. This divide is due to Iceland sitting on two tectonic plates, leading to a crack forming between the continents, creating a no-man’s land in a way not belonging to either continent. This crack formed Silfra fissure, a spectacular sight and a popular diving and snorkelling spot. 

 

How Much Time Do I Need at Þingvellir National Park?

In order to explore Þingvellir National Park’s main sights, 1 to 2 hours is recommended. That way, visitors can walk around, explore the fissure and the park and soak in its history. 

 

Second Stop: Geysir Geothermal Area

The second stop is the famous Geysir geothermal area. The drive from Þingvellir National Park to there is just over 45 km [28 mi], which also takes about one hour to drive. 

The famous Geysir belongs to the geothermal area, which is also the home to its more active counterpart, Strokkur. Strokkur usually erupts every 6 to 10 minutes, and its height can reach 40 metres. However, it usually goes up around 15 to 20 metres. 

The area’s erupting geysers and bubbling mud pots create an environment so unique it resembles another planet but is, in fact, just one of Iceland’s unparalleled locations. 

 

How Much Time Do I Need at Geysir Geothermal Area?

The geothermal area in itself is not very large, so walking around the main sights takes little time. However, as the geyser eruptions are a fascinating experience, visitors might want to stick around and see the hot water explosion a few times. Therefore, spending around one hour at the Geysir geothermal area is recommended.

Strokkur geysir erupting in the geysir geothermal area Iceland
Photo: Golli. Strokkur erupting

 

Third Stop: Gullfoss Waterfall

The journey’s last but certainly not least stop is the Gullfoss waterfall. The drive from Geysir geothermal area to Gullfoss is a short one as it is only 10 km [6 mi], which takes about 15 minutes. 

The waterfall cascades down two tiers, where its upper waterfall has a drop of 11 metres [36 ft] and the lower one 21 metres [69 ft]. Gullfoss derives from Hvítá river and plunges into a deep canyon. The waterfall’s name means golden waterfall, describing the golden-toned mist that can often be seen glazing over the water. 

From the car park, a short path leads visitors to a viewing platform, allowing them to enjoy the view over the breathtaking waterfall. The glory of Iceland’s second-largest glacier, Langjökull, can also be enjoyed from the viewing point. 

 

How Much Time Do I Need at Gullfoss Waterfall?

To enjoy the breathtaking views of Gullfoss waterfall, factor in about 30 minutes up to one hour. 

Gullfoss waterfall in the Golden Circle by summer
Photo: Golli – Gullfoss waterfall

 

Other Golden Circle Activities

Besides the three main Golden Circle stops, many attractions and activities are around.

Laugarvatn Fontana and the Secret Lagoon offer a spa-like experience for visitors to enjoy Iceland’s warm, geothermally heated water. Laugarvatn Fontana is located by Laugarvatn lake where visitors can also jump into the cold water before enjoying a warm sauna. The Secret Lagoon is located in Flúðir village and is Iceland’s oldest swimming pool. Either lagoon is perfect to include in the itinerary, possibly at the journey’s end, before heading back to Reykjavík.

 

Skálholt is a historical place in Iceland, a former school, monastery, cathedral and dormitory for over 700 years. Today, it serves as a Lutheran church and an education and information centre for the Church of Iceland.

 

Kerið is a stunning volcanic crater lake and is truly a hidden gem. The crater is one of Iceland’s youngest volcanic craters, only 6.500 years old, formed by a collapsed volcano. 

Kerið Crater seen from above
Photo: Golli. Kerið Crater

 

Where to Eat When Driving the Golden Circle

When driving the Golden Circle, there are many spots to enjoy a good meal along the way. 

Geysir Restaurant is located in Geysir geothermal area in Hotel Geysir. The hotel and the restaurant were designed to blend the building into the environment by using materials reflecting the surrounding nature. The restaurant offers a wide variety of dishes, ranging from lighter dishes to Icelandic seafood and international dishes with ingredients sourced directly from regional farmers.

 

Located in the Bláskógabyggð region is Friðheimar, a restaurant and tomato farm. Friðheimar is a family-run business that grows delicious tomatoes year-round and serves guests tomato soup with freshly baked bread. Stopping at Friðheimar would be convenient after visiting Þingvellir before heading to Geysir.

 

Efstidalur is a farm, cafe and restaurant offering a variety of products straight from the farm, such as ice cream, skyr and feta cheese. The restaurant also offers beef from the farm and other local food. Eftidalur is conveniently located on the way from Þingvellir to Geysir, making it a perfect stop on the way.

 

Farmers Bistro is located in Flúðir village and is Iceland’s only mushroom farm. It also encompasses a restaurant serving food made from ingredients grown on the farm. The restaurant is located by the Secret Lagoon, so visitors can conveniently combine the two at the journey’s end before heading back to Reykjavík.

 

How Long Does the Golden Circle Take?

Driving the Golden Circle takes about 3.5 hours in total, without stops. Therefore, including stops at each location, visitors should factor in at least 6 to 7 hours to get the full experience. More time should be factored in if other activities are added to the tour, such as visiting the Secret Lagoon or others.

 

Can I drive the Golden Circle on My Own?

Yes, travellers can undoubtedly do the Golden Circle route in their own car. It should always be kept in mind that driving conditions can vary depending on time of year and weather, so driving with caution is essential. 

However, many Golden Circle tours are offered where visitors can enjoy the convenience of experienced guides and a driver, taking the group to the main attractions. Many tours combine other activities, such as snorkelling in Silfra fissure, visiting Friðheimar tomato farm, entering the Blue Lagoon or others. 

Available Golden Circle tours can be seen here.  

Scuba Diving and Snorkelling in Silfra fissure

Two people scuba diving in Silfra Fissure

Nested in the heart of Iceland’s unique landscape, more specifically in Þingvellir National Park, is Silfra fissure. Þingvellir National Park is a remarkable sight on its own as it has a rich history and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Further, the national park’s area is divided between two continents, North America and Eurasia, letting visitors check two continents off the list. Scuba diving and snorkelling in Silfra fissure has become a popular tourist activity, where visitors can swim between the two continents. 

 

How did Silfra fissure form?

The rift of the Silfra fissure was formed in 1789 when earthquakes accompanied the movement of the tectonic plates, forming a crack between the two. As the ice from Langijökull glacier melts during the summertime, it flows down towards Silfra and gets filtered through the lava field on the way. By the time the water from Langijökull glacier reaches Silfra, it has been travelling for about 70-100 years. The fissure only keeps getting bigger and better, as it grows about 2 cm each year with the tectonic plates drifting apart. 

People snorkelling in Silfra fissure taken from above
Photo: Silfra fissure snorkelling

 

Plunging into the crystal clear water of Silfra

In addition to being able to easily walk between two continents, it is also possible to swim between the two. Silfra has become a mecca for scuba diving and snorkelling enthusiasts around the globe and is an extraordinary experience unlike any other. Visitors can choose to either dive or snorkel in the fissure, which is possible during both winter and summer. 

Taking a dive into the crystal-clear glacial water of Silfra, divers and snorkelers can expect to see captivating underwater landscapes with visibility exceeding 100 metres [328ft].

 

Snorkelling in Silfra 

Snorkelling between the two tectonic plates is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience.  Anyone above the age of 12 can participate and therefore there is no need to have any sort of certifications. The only thing needed is to fill out a medical form online before arrival. 

Clad in drysuits to make the experience less chilly, snorkelers float effortlessly on the water’s surface, taking in the breathtaking underwater world beneath. The slow glide through the Silfra Fissure allows participants to enjoy the sight of the colourful underwater landscape, marine life, and geological formations. Snorkelers can even drink the water as it is filtered through lava field capillaries, making it a refreshing drink at around 2°C – 4°C [25-35°F] year-round. 

 

How long is the Silfra Snorkel experience?

The snorkel trip is about 2.5 hours from the meetup at the diving spot. If participants choose to add the pickup and drop off from Reykjavík’s centre, the total trip is around 6 hours. Participants are in the water for about 30 minutes. 

 

What’s included in the Silfra Snorkelling?

The Silfra snorkel experience is for those who can swim and want to embark on a unique adventure. Participants are provided with a dry or wet suit, full snorkel gear and an introduction to the fissure and Þingvellir National Park’s history. The experienced guides explain the wonders of the lagoon and take you on a journey through the main Silfra Big Crack, Silfra Hall, Silfra Cathedral, and Silfra Lagoon. 

Some tours include a pickup from Reykjavík’s centre for an additional fee; however, choosing a tour with meetup on the spot is also available. 

At the end of the tour, participants receive images from the snorkel adventure, which the guide will snap on a GoPro underwater. So make sure to bring your largest smile and smile through the coldness.

See the Silfra snorkel tours available here.

A snorkeller at Silfra Fissure in Iceland
Photo: Golden Circle and Silfra Snorkelling Tour

 

Scuba Diving in Silfra 

For certified scuba divers, Silfra offers a unique opportunity to explore a unique geological underwater wonder with unmatched visibility of over 100 metres [328ft].

National Geographic has described Silfra fissure as one of the top dive sites in the world. Therefore, Silfra is  a must-visit for divers. 

The underwater landscape is a blend of deep crevices, caves and fascinating rock formations. The environment below thus resembles another world. Divers exploring Silfra can navigate the four main parts of the fissure. Those are the big crack, Silfra hall, Silfra Cathedral and the Silfra Lagoon.

The maximum depth of the dive is 18 metres [59 feet], but the average is around 5 metres [16 feet].

 

How long is the Silfra Dive experience?

The total trip is about 3 hours from meetup at the diving spot. If participants choose to add the pickup and drop off from Reykjavík’s centre, the whole trip is around 5 hours. 

 

What’s included in the Silfra Scuba Diving?

The experience is for those holding a scuba dive certification, PADI Open Water or an equivalent one, and a dry suit certification. Upon arrival, divers are equipped with drysuits to withstand the cold glacier water, ensuring a comfortable and safe experience. 

Before heading in for the dive, participants get an introduction to the unique history of the Silfra fissure and the national park before getting briefed on the dive site. The guide will provide you with all needed diving equipment before exploring the unique wonders of the fissure. 

Some tours include a pickup from Reykjavík’s centre for an additional fee. However, tours with meetups on the spot are also available. 

The surreal beauty, the geological significance, and the sense of exploration make diving in Silfra an unforgettable adventure.

See the Silfra Scuba Diving tours available here

A photo of Ants Stern and Jóna Kolbrún Sigurjónsdóttir diving in Silfra fissure in Þingvellir national park Iceland
Photo: Ants Stern and Jóna Kolbrún Sigurjónsdóttir – Diving in Silfra

 

The Diving and Snorkelling Experience

The Silfra Fissure brings about an adventure that lets participants step into a unique world where boundaries between continents blur. Whether snorkelling or scuba diving, the Silfra experience is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and testament to Iceland’s eccentric and contrasting landscape. Despite the chilly glacier water, the experiences’ rewards outweigh the challenges when participants get to explore the magic of Silfra. 

 

How do I get to Silfra Fissure in Þingvellir National Park?

Þingvellir National Park is located about 45 km [28 mi] from Reykjavík’s city centre. Driving to the National Park by car takes about 50 minutes via Þingvallavegur road. 

Once arriving to Þingvellir National Park visitors will need to park their car at parking lot P5. From the parking lot the cars and huts market with diving and snorkelling should be visible.

Many tours to the Silfra fissure do offer transportation from Reykjavík such as Silfra Snorkel Tour with Transfer and Golden Circle and Snorkeling Tour

Here is a map of the car park in Þingvellir National Park to get to the Silfra meeting point.

 

Tours to Þingvellir National Park and Silfra Fissure

For those wanting to explore Þingvellir National Park and the Silfra fissure, many tours can be embarked on. 

The Silfra Snorkel Tour with Transfer is a tour to Silfra fissure including drive from Reykjavík, a guided explanation of the national park, all equipment and the snorkel tour itself.

 

The Hot and Cold Snorkeling and Spa Tour combines the Silfra snorkelling with an Icelandic spa experience. After snorkelling between the two tectonic plates, participants can warm up in Laugarvatn Fontana geothermal spa.

 

The Hot and Cold Diving and Spa Tour is a scuba diving tour in the Silfra fissure combined with an Icelandic spa experience at Laugarvatn Fontana geothermal spa.

 

The Private Silfra Snorkeling Tour lets a private group snorkel between the two tectonic plates for a more intimate and immersive experience.

 

For those wanting to visit Þingvellir National Park and exploring the Silfra fissure without diving or snorkelling, Golden Circle Tours are a great option. The tours take participants on a journey to the three locations, Þingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area and Gullfoss waterfall.

 

Golden Circle and Snorkelling in Silfra can also be combined with the Golden Circle and Snorkeling Tour

The Best Summer Tours in Iceland

Travellers in Iceland's south

The Icelandic landscape is vastly diverse, showcasing natural contrasts in every area of the country. These diverse landscapes can be seen with variations, including Iceland’s glacial wonders, volcanic plains and lava fields, forests, rivers, cliffsides, and geothermal treasures. Therefore finding the best summer tours in Iceland can be done with ease.

Visiting Iceland in the summer months can be a vastly different experience from when visiting during the winter. Nonetheless, many tours can be experienced both during the summer and the winter, such as visiting the Golden Circle or bathing in the Blue Lagoon.

To fully appreciate the variations and contrasts that Icelandic nature has to offer, we recommend that visitors embark on one or more of the many available tours of Iceland. In this guide, we will go over the best summer tours in Iceland, which allow travellers to witness Iceland’s extraordinary beauty in the 24-hour daylight of the summer months.

 

Explore Iceland in the Summer by Hiking

Iceland offers an abundance of hiking trails and treks throughout the country, where hikers are often captivated by dramatic landscapes and untouched wilderness. There are a lot of different hiking variations available in Iceland, so whether you are looking for a short day-hike or a longer multiple-day hike, you have found the ideal spot for your hiking experience. 

 

Day-Hikes in Iceland 

In Iceland, a great variety of day hikes are available, both in the vicinity of Reykjavík and all around the country. Many popular day-hikes are the Esjan and Úlfarsfell mountains, both located in or just outside Reykjavík. Hiking either Esja or Úlfarsfell mountain takes about 2-3 hours, depending on how many stops are taken along the way.

Another popular day hike is in Reykjadalur valley, located close to Hveragerði town, about 50 km [31 mil] from Reykjavík city. The path takes hikers to a hot spring, making it a perfect two-in-one activity. 

 

Multi-Day Hikes in Iceland

 

Laugavegur Trail

In addition to the many day hikes in Iceland, many multi-day hikes are available for hikers to explore. One of Iceland’s most famous multi-day hikes is the Laugavegur trail in the southern highlands. Hikers usually trek in 3-4 days, which is about 52 km [32 mil] and is generally considered challenging. The trek takes you through lava fields, black sand deserts, geothermal springs, glaciers, lakes, rivers, and forests, making it a perfectly diverse and contrasting hike. The best times to visit the trek are from June through September.

Woman hiking Laugavegur trail
Photo: Berglind – Laugavegur Hike

 

Fimmvörðuháls Trail

Another popular hike is the Fimmvörðuháls trail, which is also located in the southern highlands of Iceland. The trail is 23.8 km [14.8 mil] and is a challenging one. It takes an average of 8 hours to complete, which can be done in a day but is quite common to split over a couple of days. The area is famous for birding and camping, making it ideal to explore wildlife and encounter other people while hiking.

 

Hornstrandir Trail

Located in the Westfjords in Iceland is the Hornstrandir trek, which is about 86 km [53 mils] long but can be split into shorter trails. The trek lets hikers experience breathtaking views where the landscapes of the Westfjords are one of Iceland’s most unique and dramatic ones. The area is quite remote, where you can expect to see untouched wilderness and experience various weather conditions. Due to the area’s remoteness, no infrastructure is in place for backpackers, so bringing enough food, water, clothing and gear to the hike is essential.

 

Glacier Hikes in Iceland

Iceland offers many glacier hikes where hikers can experience a once-in-a-lifetime journey and enjoy the astonishing views of Icelandic glaciers. Though it might sound like it, these tours are meant not only for winter but can be enjoyed all year round. Glacier tours can be embarked on at any of the many glaciers of Iceland, for instance, the Sólheimajökull glacier or the famous Eyjafjallajökull glacier. 

Find more information about the available glacier tours here

 

Water activities in Iceland

 

Snorkel or dive between two continents at Silfra Fissure

Snorkelling or diving in Silfra offers a unique and captivating experience by taking participants on a journey between two continents, making it one of the best summer tours in Iceland. Silfra is located at Iceland’s national park Þingvellir, a fissure between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. By diving into the crystal-clear glacial water, you can expect to see stunning underwater landscapes with visibility exceeding about 100 metres [328ft].

Explore the available tours to Silfra here

People diving in Silfra fissure in Þingvellir National Park Icelande
Photo: Ants Stern and Jóna Kolbrún Sigurjónsdóttir Diving in Silfra Fissure

 

Kayak and paddle tours in Iceland

Whether you are looking for a calm evening paddle tour, a breathtaking kayaking tour through the Icelandic glacier water or a thrilling river ride, there are many options to choose from. One of Iceland’s most popular kayaking tours is the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon tour, which takes participants to a breathtaking view of the ice caps and the dome of ice that rises above it. During the summer, it can also be a great option to enjoy a night of paddling under the midnight sun and watch how it never sets. 

See more information about the kayak and paddle tours available here

 

Get the Perfect Catch in an Icelandic Fishing Tour

Embarking on a fishing tour in the summer in Iceland promises an unforgettable adventure filled with excitement, natural beauty, and the thrill of reeling in a catch amidst stunning landscapes.

As the long days of summer bathe the island in golden sunlight, fishermen and enthusiasts flock to Iceland’s rivers, lakes, and coastal waters in pursuit of the perfect catch. For those that want to get the taste of fishing in Iceland, many tours are offered that are both informative, fun and hands-on.

The Sea Angling Tour sets off from Reykjavík Harbour out to the fishing areas of Faxaflói bay, where the experienced crew are able to spot fish in a blink of an eye. 

The Private Fishing Tour offers participants exclusive fishing trips in both a river and a lake, equipped with all fishing gear. The tours can be set up with short notice and can be specialised to fit all needs participants might have. 

The Whales and Sea Angling Tour combines exploring the majestic whales of Iceland with the fishing experience. So whether participants are experienced fishermen or simply want to relax, enjoy the landscape with a fishing rod on their hand, the tour is a perfect option. 

Embarking on a fishing tour in Iceland is a perfect opportunity to connect with nature, get insight and knowledge of fishing in Iceland and have some fun meanwhile. 

See available fishing tours here

 

Wakeboarding and Waterskiing tours 

Wakeboarding and waterskiing tours can be a great option to enjoy some fun while exploring the surrounding landscape. However, you must be quick as the boat goes fast. Western Iceland offers the perfect conditions for combining the two as it has one of the most breathtaking views of Iceland and plenty of water to go about. Whether you are a premier league professional, or a courageous beginner, the wakeboards and water skis will welcome you. 

See some of the wakeboarding and waterskiing tours of western Iceland here

 

Visit Iceland’s famous Golden Circle

The well-known Golden Circle is one of Iceland’s must-visit and most-visited tourist destinations. The journey takes travellers through some of Iceland’s most iconic natural wonders by stopping in three destinations: Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall and the Geysir geothermal area. 

 

Þingvellir National Park

The journey’s first stop is Þingvellir National Park, a natural marvel and historical site in southwestern Iceland. Its historical status comes from the general assembly, or Alþingi, being established there around the year 930, which continued to convene until 1798. The national park is one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites and offers visitors a unique experience of standing on the continental divide between North America and Eurasia. 

Geysir Geothermal Area

After visiting Þingvellir, the second stop of the journey is the Geysir geothermal area. The area is home to the famous Geysir and its more active counterpart, Strokkur, which typically erupts every 6-10 minutes. Strokkur’s usual height goes up to about 15-20 metres. However, it occasionally erupts up to 40 metres high. The surrounding area is vibrant and full of unique colours and landscapes, making this part of the journey remarkable. Close by the erupting geysers and bubbling mud pots are Hotel Geysir, where you can enjoy the beautiful view from the privacy of your room. 

Gullfoss Waterfall

The final destination of the journey, completing the Golden Circle, is Gullfoss waterfall. The majestic and powerful waterfall derives from the Hvítá River and plunges into a deep canyon. The name Gullfoss means golden waterfall, and the golden-toned mist that can be seen above the water a lot of the time gave the waterfall its name. 

Many choose to finish the tour at one of Iceland’s geothermal baths, Fontana. Fontana is located by Laugarvatn Lake, where visitors can relax in the warm water and even go for a dip in the lake. 

See many of the available Golden Circle tours here

gullfoss waterfall golden circle
Photo: Golli – Gullfoss Waterfall

 

Experience the Icelandic Midnight Sun 

The Icelandic midnight sun is a phenomenon that fascinates locals and visitors worldwide. In the summer months, from approximately May to August, the days are incredibly bright, but in the month of June, the sun can be visible nearly 24 hours a day. That is a result of Iceland’s high latitude, where the earth’s axis tilts towards the sun for six months during the summer, and therefore, the country gets to bask in the glow of the midnight sun periodically. 

The longest day of the year in Iceland, the summer solstice, takes place between June 20 and 22 and is often celebrated, for example, with the music festival Secret Solstice Iceland. 

In summary, visitors can enjoy the unique and breathtaking sight of the midnight sun in Iceland during the summer and cross that off their bucket list. 

For booking a midnight sun tour, see more information here

 

See the Majestic Whales of Iceland on a Whale Watching Tour

The large and captivating creatures we call whales can be found all around the island of Iceland. In Iceland’s surrounding ocean, multiple species of whales can be found, such as the Humpback Whale, Killer Whale, Blue Whale and many more. Each species has different characteristics and behaviours, which can be fascinating to explore. 

By embarking on a whale-watching voyage, you can experience the beauty of the wildlife and view the majestic ocean creatures just off the coast of Reykjavík. 

See available whale-watching tours here

A fin of a whale during a whale watching tour in Iceland
Photo: Golli – Whale Watching

 

Ride into the Sunset on an Icelandic Horse 

Even though you might not be able to ride into the sunset with the never-setting Icelandic summer sun, you can still enjoy horseback riding on a majestic Icelandic horse. 

To some, the Icelandic horse might seem relatively small. However, the Icelandic horse is a very elegant and beautiful creature with a lively temperament. 

Riding an Icelandic horse in the summertime can be a very entertaining experience where you can learn more about the horses whilst enjoying the beautiful landscapes of the surrounding area. 

See available horseback riding tours here

Enjoying a horse riding tour in Iceland
Photo: Horseback riding tour

 

Ride in the Icelandic nature on an ATV

There are more ways to ride in Icelandic nature than on a horse, as you can get the adrenaline flowing in an ATV or a quad tour. 

There are multiple types of ATV or quad tours, and you can choose from riding in a lava field, on a black sand beach, taking a midnight sun tour, or other. You can even combine the tour with other tours, such as visiting the Golden Circle, visiting the Blue Lagoon or going caving, and therefore getting a full Icelandic experience. 

See the available ATV or quad tours here.

 

Summer tours in Iceland summary

The best summer tours in Iceland are diverse and offer varied experiences such as hikes, wildlife exploring, thrilling rafting or calming midnight sun watching. Moreover, the experiences all have a common thread of enjoying the captivating Icelandic landscapes showcasing the country’s geological diversity in a compact space. To make the most of your summer in Iceland, we recommend taking any of the tours mentioned above and experiencing the treasures Iceland has to offer! 

Kerið: A Volcanic Crater Lake in South Iceland

iceland tourism private land

Kerið is a volcanic caldera in the Grímsnes volcano system in southern Iceland, formed as a result of an inward collapse of a volcano about 6,500 years ago. The caldera is about 270 m [886 ft] long and 170 m [558 ft] wide, with a depth of 55 m [180 ft]. Its lake’s depth varies between 7-14 m [23-46 ft]. Kerið is known for its visually attractive palette. The lake has a distinct teal colour due to the soil’s minerals. Its surrounding hills are composed of low bushes, moss and red lava; the red colour is due to the oxidation of the magma’s iron (hematite). 

Visiting Kerið

Kerið is located on a private property owned and managed by Arctic Adventures. As of 2024, the entry fee is ISK 450 [$3.25, €3], and it is open all year. Swimming or drinking the water is not allowed. It is one of the destinations on the famous Golden Circle route, which includes stops such as Gullfoss waterfall, Haukadalur geothermal area and Þingvellir National Park. 

It is easily to get to if you are on a self-drive tour and it is also a featured stop in many of the best Golden Circle Tours. Below you will find a list of recommended Golden Circle Tours with a stop at Kerið:

How to get to Kerið

Via Route 1 and Route 35, Kerið is a 67 km [42 mi] drive from Reykjavík city centre. From the capital, drive south on Route 1 for about 55 km [34 mi] before turning left on Route 35 towards Laugarvatn lake. Drive for about 13 km [8 mi], and you will see the parking area on your right. Kerið is right by the parking lot, so hiking is not required; however, there is a 1.4 km [0.9 mi] trail around the caldera for added vantage points.

Climate and weather conditions

Kerið is accessable all year round. Overall, Kerið experiences relatively cool temperatures throughout the year, with precipitation occurring in all seasons. Visitors should be prepared for variable weather conditions and dress accordingly, especially if visiting during the colder months.

For photography, the best times to visit Kerið will differ by season:

  • Summer (June-August): Early morning or late evening during the golden hour for soft, warm light.

  • Spring (April-May): Aim for golden hours to highlight the thawing landscape and contrasting colors.

  • Autumn (September-October): Early morning or late evening for warm foliage tones, with midday clear days offering crisp light.

  • Winter (November-March): Daylight hours, especially late morning to mid-afternoon on clear days, for stark contrasts between snow and volcanic rock.

Remember, Iceland’s weather is variable, so stay flexible and consider how light affects your composition.

In summary, Kerið is a scenic volcanic crater lake, ideally located on the Golden Circle Route. It is very easy to access, it’s photogenic and suitable for kids, seniors and anyone in between.