Pretty much everyone who travels to Iceland to see its natural wonders takes a journey around the “Golden Circle.” At just under 200 miles (300 kilometers), the route begins and ends in Reykjavik as it circles northeast into the interior of Iceland. Along the route, you can view many of the natural wonders the country has to offer, including: waterfalls, geothermal fields and hot springs, an active geyser, a crater filled with the bluest possible water, and walk along the rift where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are increasingly separating. It’s well worth a day to explore.
We began our second day in Iceland around 10:30am local time. Having stopped at a Bonus market in the capital the day before, we had enough food to get us through lunch. After a breakfast of eggs and rye bagels (to my dismay, the favored flavor of bread products in Iceland appears to be rye), we put together a couple of sandwiches (thankfully on wheat bread), packed them alongside apples and trail-mix, filled our water bottles with sulfur-laced water (I know there’s not supposed to be sulfur in the cold water in Iceland, as it comes from a different source, but we could still smell and taste it), packed up our rain gear, and headed out to our tiny rental car.
It doesn’t get dark in the summer in Iceland, so we knew our only limits to the length of our days were our own internal body clocks. Despite our daughter’s repeated insistence (from back home in New Hampshire) that we witness the midnight sunset, we never quite made it to that hour.
We took the clockwise route around the Golden Circle, heading out from the city towards Pingvellir Park. The hour ride to the park is beautiful, as I’m pretty sure all drives are through Iceland. The day offered us a mix of sun, clouds, light rain, and a fair amount of fog on the higher elevations, which only enhanced the other-worldly feel of the landscape. I found myself ever-grateful that I was the passenger in the car, able to peer into the misty mountains to make out the shapes of dragons and other mystical beings. Iceland is a land where one cannot help but believe in magic. It’s my kind-of place where wonder is around every corner.
Unfortunately, I was too busy losing myself in the landscape to capture the mystical beasts that caught my eye (you may get a glimpse of a dragon on the last day of our journey), so you’ll just have to imagine traveling along their green backs as you ascend into the mist. Then, take a pause for a breath and a small gasp as you make your way down their tails and discover their expanse, note the tiny dots of sheep parading up their wings, and the wrap of their tails around houses that look like they belong in the land of Lilliput.
We arrived at Pingvellir close to midday, but easily found a parking space in one of the pay-to-park lots amid the other tourists. Summer in Iceland is busy, but we found the flies that greeted our arrival to the park more bothersome than the crowds. Pingvellir covers many acres, but most people walk along the tectonic rift only as far as the gorge. We carried on quite a bit further to see some of the other natural wonders and views. Click through the slideshow below for sites we saw during our stay at the park.
We probably spent 1.5 hours total in the park, walking the trail that leads down the rift towards the gorge and to the Oxararfoss waterfall, then turning back, meandering through side trails to the gift shop and bathrooms. After purchasing souvenirs of Icelandic chocolate and a deck of rune cards, along with an Icelandic carbonated soda that appeared to be flavored in sulfur instead of elderflower, we made our way to the car to eat our packed lunches.
Pingvellir Park can easily be a day trip in itself, or more, but an hour or two will allow you to see the highlights.
Soon we were on our way to our next stop on the Golden Circle: Geysir.