The Golden Circle is the most popular and attractive tourist route in Iceland
This route is covering about 270-300 km distance from Reykjavik to central Iceland and back. The three main stops on the route are the national park Thingvellir, the waterfall Gullfoss (golden falls) and the geothermally active valley of Haukadalur, with world known geysers Geysir and Strokkur. Thingvellir is a National Park which is part of UNESCO heritage list and has both historical and natural sights. Nowhere else the continental tectonic ridge is more visible than in Thingvellir. Gullfoss is a spectacular waterfall that is a must see. The Geysir has given its own name to all hot springs in the world of that type.
Here is a map of the basic Golden Circle Map / Route
Geysir in the Haukadalur valley, Iceland, is the oldest known geyser. The English word geyser to describe a spouting hot spring derives from Geysir. (The name Geysir itself is derived from the Icelandic verb gjósa, meaning to erupt. The English verb gush is probably related to that word.) Geysir lies on the slopes of Laugarfjall hill, which is also the home to Strokkur geysir about 50 metres south. Eruptions at Geysir can hurl boiling water up to 70 metres in the air. However, eruptions may be infrequent, and have in the past stopped altogether for years at a time. The oldest accounts of a geysir at Haukadalur date back to 1294. Earthquakes in the area caused significant changes in local neighbouring landscape creating several new hot springs. Changes in the activity of the Geysir and the surrounding geysirs are strongly related to earthquake activity. In records dated 1630 the geysirs erupted so violently that the valley around them trembled. In recent times earthquakes have tended to revive the activity of Geysir which then subsides again in the following years. Before 1896, Geysir was almost dormant before an earthquake that year caused eruptions to begin again, occurring several times a day, lasting up to an hour and causing spouts of up to 60 metres in height. In 1910, it was active every 30 minutes; five years later the time between the eruptions was as much as six hours, and in 1916, the eruptions all but ceased. In 1935 a hand made channel was dug through the silica rim around the edge of the geyser vent. This ditch caused a lowering of the water table and a revival in activity. Gradually this channel too clogged with silica and eruptions again became rare. In 1981 the ditch was cleared again and eruptions could be stimulated, on special occasions, by the addition of soap. Following environmental concerns the practice of adding soap was seldom employed during the 1990s. During that time Geysir seldom erupted. When it did erupt, it was spectacular, sending boiling water sometimes up to 70 metres into the air. On the Icelandic National Day authorized government geologists would force an eruption. A further earthquake in 2000 revived the geysir again. Initially eruptions were taking place on average eight times a day. By July 2003 this activity had again decreased to around three times per day. The nearby geysir Strokkur erupts much more frequently than Geysir, erupting to heights of up to 30 metres every five minutes or so. Strokkur´s activity has also been affected by earthquakes, although to a lesser extent than the Great Geysir. There are around thirty much smaller geysirs and hot pools in the area, including one called Litli Geysir (Little Geysir). Descriptions of the Great Geysir and Strokkur have been given in every travel guide to Iceland published from the 18th century onwards. Today the geysir remains an essential element of almost every tourist´s itinerary. The place is, together with Þingvellir and the Gullfoss waterfall, part of the most famous sights of Iceland, the Golden Circle tour. Until 1894 the Geysir area was owned by a local farmer. In that year the area was sold to James Craig (later Lord Craigavon), a whisky distiller and future Prime Minister of Northern Ireland. Initially he erected large fences around the site and an entrance fee was charged for visitors wishing to view the geysirs. The following year, however, Craig appeared to tire of his project and gave the area as a present to a friend, E. Craig, who dropped the entrance fees. Later Craig´s nephew Hugh Rogers inherited the site. In 1935 he sold the site to film director Sigurður Jonasson who subsequently donated it to the Icelandic people in perpetuity.
Gullfoss (English: Golden Falls) is a waterfall located in the canyon of Hvita river in southwest Iceland. Gullfoss is one of the most beautiful and without a doubt most popular waterfall in Iceland. The wide Hvita rushes southward from the glacier lake Hvitavatn (English: White River Lake) at Langjokull glacier about 40km north of Gullfoss. About a kilometer above the falls it turns sharply to the left and flows down into a wide curved three-step "staircase" and then abruptly plunges in two stages 11 and 21 meters into a crevice 32 meters deep. The crevice, about 20 meters wide, and 2.5 km in length, is at right angles to the flow of the river. The average amount of water running over this waterfall is 140 m³/s in the summertime and 80 m³/s in the wintertime. The highest flood measured was 2000 m³/s. During the first half of the 20th century and some years into the late 20th century, there was much speculation about using Gullfoss to generate electricity. Foreign investors who rented Gullfoss indirectly from the owners wanted to build a hydroelectric powerplant, which would have changed and destroyed Gullfoss forever. Sigridur Tomasdottir, the daughter of Tomas Tomasson who owned the waterfall in the first half of the 20th century must have felt the same. She lived at a farm nearby and loved Gullfoss as no one else. She was determined to preserve the waterfall´s condition and even threatened to throw herself into the waterfall. However, the investors attempts were unsuccessful, partly due to lack of money and today everyone can see the memorial site of Sigridur that depicts her profile at the top of the falls.
Þingvellir. No single place epitomizes the history of Iceland and the Icelandic nation better than Þingvellir. At Þingvellir – literally "Parliament Plains" – the Alþing general assembly was established around 930 and continued to convene there until 1798. Major events in the history of Iceland have taken place at Þingvellir and therefore the place is held in high esteem by all Icelanders. Today Þingvellir is a protected national shrine. According to the law, passed in 1928, the protected area shall always be the property of the Icelandic nation, under the preservation of the Alþing. In the last few decades, research has made it clear that Þingvellir is a natural wonder on a international scale, with the geologic history and the biosystem of Lake Þingvallavatn forming a unique entity, a magnificent showcase. Being able to witness the evolution and formation of new species in a place like Lake Þingvallavatn is of immense value. The Þingvellir area is part of a fissure zone running through Iceland, being situated on the tectonic plate boundaries of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The faults and fissures of the area make evident the rifting of the earth´s crust. Þingvellir was declared a national park in 1930. A law was passed designating Þingvellir as "a protected national shrine for all Icelanders, the perpetual property of the Icelandic nation under the preservation of parliament, never to be sold or mortgaged." Preservation measures at Þingvellir were modelled on the national parks that had been established somewhat earlier in the United States to stem changes to the natural environment there resulting from encroachment by settlers. National parks conserved large uninhabited areas, which people could visit and enjoy - but not settle or develop. Iceland identified a similar need to preserve certain natural and historical sites for future generations to enjoy them in their original state. Today, Þingvellir is one of the most frequently visited tourist sites in the country. Each year, thousands of visitors go there to become better acquainted with Iceland´s greatest historical site and jewel of nature. Þingvellir is on the World Heritage List.