I found that being based in Reykjavik and taking day trips from there was a good strategy, so I didn’t have to keep moving, packing and unpacking, and I could always go back to my cozy flat at the end of the day (then literally through my stuff on my bed and go out again to see the Northern Lights, but this is another story!).
If you don’t have a car rented on your stay in Iceland, or if you don’t feel comfortable driving too much (especially in winter) then day trips are the thing for you.
Also, for solo travelers, taking day trips is a good way to meet people.
When in Reykjavik, you will find there are many tourist information offices offering a wide range of day trips and excursions, so it may be hard to pick a tour operator over another when they offer a similar itinerary. For me, Sterna Travel was the perfect choice because I don’t like to be on big buses especially when it comes to visiting natural landmarks.
The first day trip I took, on my day #5 in Iceland, was the “classic” Golden Circle. Why classic? Because this is the part of Iceland that every traveler will visit, on any season. In other words, this is a route you can’t miss!
300 km among volcanoes, geysers, waterfalls, continental drifts… this is the Golden Circle!
The Hellisheidavirkjun Geothermal Power Plant
One of Iceland’s many beauties is the fact that basically all energy is sustainable, and comes from the underground volcanic hot waters. The steam is used to produce energy, and the water is pumped back into the ground so that it heats up again and the perpetual circle can go on. This is the most powerful power plant in the world, and Icelandic people are fittingly proud of it.
I admit I didn’t grasp every single technical aspect of the power plant processes (hey it was early in the morning and I didn’t even have a coffee!), but for sure I was impressed with its architecture: it represents the two tectonic plates where the geo-power is harnessed from directly beneath your feet.
The Kerið Volcano
When you visit this, you can say you climbed a volcano! Well it’s not tall at all, almost on the street level, but once you reach the top it’s a great surprise! The 55m deep crater has a lake in it… which was frozen when I visited it. So beautiful!
Jona, our guide, told me that Björk the singer once had a concert inside this crater, with a stage mounted over the little lake, and people sitting on the sides as in a Roman Theater. How cool is that?
The Faxi Waterfalls
When in Iceland, expect to visit countless waterfalls. For me, this was something I wasn’t used to, because well, the Middle East doesn’t have many waterfalls! It was exciting to see the Faxi Waterfalls, which is defined as a “small one” but didn’t seem small at all to me. The sun was rising and in backlight, so the light conditions were not the best for photography, but definitely a beautiful sight.
The Gullfoss Waterfalls
This place is incredible. The Gullfoss Waterfalls originate from the Hvítá river, made of glacier water. What makes Gullfoss so unique is that the water falls into a deep gorge.
It looks like the water is just falling into the Earth because you can’t see the bottom of the canyon. The scenery is surreal, misty, majestic.
The Geysir Area
I was so excited to finally see the geysers! I would say that the Northern Lights and the geysers were the things I was looking forward to see most. And I wasn’t disappointed, in both cases!
The Geysir Area is a valley full of geyser activity. The name “geyser” comes from one of these hot water springs in particular, which is not the one that erupts though! Or better, it used to but it doesn’t anymore. Geysers are not predictable and they can start and stop erupting whenever they want to. I like them, because it’s as if each geyser has its own personality…
The geyser that does erupt is called Strokkur and the water can reach more than 20 meters, sometimes even up to 40 meters. Impressive! Every few minutes there’s a new eruption, it’s both fascinating and scary at the same time.
The Þingvellir National Park
The Þingvellir National Park, just outside of Reykjavik, is the oldest national park in Iceland. It’s also a beautiful and special one. Why special? Because it lays over the two tectonic plates (Eurasian and North American), and the drift between them is visible in the canyons it formed.
Þingvellir is also where the first Icelandic Parliament was established and remained there until late 1700’s.
The beautiful Golden Circle tour gives you a taste of Iceland’s nature. No matter how short your stay in the country is, go for it!
What I liked about doing it on a tour instead of on my own was that:
- As a solo traveler, I could meet some people and especially solo travelers like myself, and eventually plan something together for the upcoming days.
- For the same amount of money I would have spent on gas, I had a full tour without having to drive and check maps (=no stress).
- The motto at Sterna Travel is “Avoid the Rush Hour“, and I like their concept because they try and avoid the busy times of the day to make your tour more enjoyable.
- The driver and guide took care of the (small) group and gave information about the sites we visited, answered the group’s questions, and told us interesting and funny stories about the Icelandic folklore on the way.
Did you know Iceland has 13 different characters for Santa Claus?
Thanks Sterna Travel for having me on your Golden Circle Tour!
Info: tickets are available online with a discount, or you can buy them at the Harpa Concert Hall in Reykjavik.