The Golden Circle, is an area of Iceland of significant importance in the culture, history and growth of not only the nearby city of Reykjavik but the whole country.
When we talk about the Golden Circle what we are discussing generally is a collection of three major locations to the east of the city that group together loosely to form something of a circular route. These locations are the national park at Þingvellir (Thingvellir), the golden waterfall Gullfoss and finally the erupting hot spring of Geysir. Day tours or trips to the Golden Circle will all include these major stops as a part of their itinerary however the area is also home to many other locations of natural beauty or cultural significance so many tour providers may include additional stops to help make their trip more unique. Additional stops may take place at places such as Kerið volcanic crater or Freiðheimar horse farm to name but a few of these additional locales.
Þingvellir (Thingvellir) is a large national park to the north east of the city of Reykjavik. It covers an area of roughly 36 square miles and sits within a rift valley that marks the crest of the midatlantic ridge and therefore the boundary between the North American and Eurasian Techtonic plates. The nature here at Thingvellir mostly consists of moss covered lava rock, grassy stretches and sparse foliage that creates scenes of dramatic contrast. Vibrant greens clash with ashy grays interlaced with the calm blue of the water and the occasional brush stroke of deep red plant life. For those used to countryside in countries like England that consists largely of sprawling fields and countless trees this scenery can seem somewhat alien but it quickly grows on you with every direction offering a new stunning view.
Beyond its stunning nature Þingvellir has a rich history that is also associated with the area. The most notable way in which Þingvellir is historically significant to Iceland is the fact that from 930 AD right through to 1798 this was the location of the Icelandic parliament, which was in fact the first parliament of its kind in the world. Initially this parliament was a yearly event in which the leaders of the various Viking tribes would meet to discuss the matters of the land and discuss any laws or disputes that needed to be discussed. They sat in stone seats that were carved into the side of the rocks and these seats can still be seen today. As time went on the nature of the parliament at Þingvellir changed, for example during the time where Denmark claimed ownership of Iceland this was the area in which the leaders would address the Danish king. The sessions here were formally discontinued in 1800 and had a 44 year break before the parliament was reestablished in 1844 and moved to Reykjavik where it resides to this day. The movement of the Parliament to Reykjavik was also what cemented the city as the capital of Iceland.
Gullfoss is one of the largest waterfalls in Iceland, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland and a prominent feature of the Golden Circle tour. This Iconic cascade is fed from the Hvítá river (the white river) that has its origins in the Langjökull glacier that can also be found in this region of Iceland. The waterfall drops over two stages, the first being a 36 feet drop which is then quickly followed by a second 69 feet drop into a 105 foot deep crevice below where the river then continues onward joining the Atlantic ocean. When you first approach the waterfall, the edge is obscured from view producing a view that looks like the water simply falls into an endless abyss.
Walking around the Gullfoss area you are likely to eventually come across a stone memorial to a young girl called Sigríður Tómasdóttir daughter of Tómas Tómasson. In the early 20th century foreign investors approached Tómas who was one of the land owners with a plan to use the waterfall as a way of generating electricity due to the immense power of its flow with plans progressing to a point where the land was even rented out to these investors. Sigríður, who was very fond of the waterfall, was thought to have helped guide the first tourists who visited the area along with her sisters when the area finally became easily accessible. The legend of Sigríður has a few variations with some claiming that the girl walked all the way to Reykjavik to get assistance from the King in preventing this plan from going ahead and other versions saying that she threatened to throw herself into the water should the investors succeed in their plan. Regardless of Sigríður the investors plans did infact fall through due to a lack of funding at which point the land was sold to the state of Iceland who later protected the site. While the story of Sigríður is hotly contested and believed to be untrue it still stands as a reminder to all about the preservation of nature and why it is so important.
Geysir, often referred to as "The Great Geysir", is a geyser and popular geothermal area located along the famous Golden Circle route. This geyser in particular has a prominent significance as its name 'Geysir' is where we derive the English word 'Geyser' from and this is the case due to the fact that Geysir is the first geyser of its kind to be mentioned in print media accessible to Europeans. In Icelandic the name comes from the the word 'geysa' which simply means "to gush". While Geysir herself has, in recent years, been unable to erupt of her own power the nearby Strokkur geyser still erupts frequently and is the geyser that most tourists will in fact see. Strokkur manages to produce an eruption that reaches heights of 30 meters every 5-10 minutes. After changing hands a large number of times, ownership of the lang in which Geysir resides is in the care of the Icelandic people whom film director Sigurður Jónasson donated in perpetuity.
Research suggests that Geysir has been active for something in the region of 10,000 years and the activity levels of the geyser seem to be linked with earthquake activity in the area. It seems that whenever there are large earthquakes in the area Geysir seems to spring to life briefly before becoming dormant again within the following few years. During its life various attempts have been made to try and maintain the eruptions of Geysir artificially with strategies going as far as to employ the use of soaps to trigger an eruption. Environmental concerns quickly ceased the use of soap in these eruptions.