Touring Iceland’s Golden Circle
Our former group sales rep Ben and his girlfriend visited Europe on their way home to Australia. Here is their first tale
When you typically think of visiting Europe in winter you might envisage strolling towards the Eiffel tower in Paris, making a phone call out of the iconic red telephone booths in London or even getting some sun in Portugal. What most people do not think to do is visit the supposed frozen and barren landscapes of Iceland, which at first glance has nothing more to offer than some funky tasting dried shark and a real risk of floating away in a lava pool. This hidden gem in the North Atlantic Ocean has so much more to offer those that like to travel somewhere new and a little bit quirky.
HI Hostels are spread throughout Iceland but we stayed at the one in the heart of Reykjavik, the Icelandic capital and largest city, which offers a great base for travellers looking to explore the Golden Circle, the Blue Lagoon and the city itself.
HI-Reykjavik Downtown is run by a young, friendly and enthusiastic team that are more than happy to help with airport shuttle buses, tours or even car rental. The hostel itself is clean, modern and includes a great complimentary breakfast and free Wi-Fi.
We decided to navigate the Golden Circle by car. We picked up our rental car, a zippy 4 door Volkswagen Polo with assurances that while the name Iceland might imply snow, sleet and unruly weather, it hardly ever happens due to the jet stream which ferries in a somewhat temperate climate, even in winter. With that knowledge we set out with sunshine on the window and nothing but the occasional white fluffy cloud to deter us from one of Iceland’s most iconic drives.
First up was Thingvellir, where you can walk between two tectonic plates on a scenic 5 – 10 minute stroll. These tectonic plates are a dramatic example of how the earth’s plates move and come together to create the world’s deepest oceans and highest mountains. The sun was still shining and while it was -6c it was relatively pleasant if you were wearing gear for arctic expeditions like us.
Next up were the geysers, including the eponymous Geysir, which shoot boiling water some 30m into the air from volcanically heated thermal pools. These sulphur riddled ponds are a little smelly but if you can last the 10-15 minutes out of the car in the winter weather they are well worth it.
Next was the Gullfoss waterfall, which if the sun is shining, displays multiple rainbows. Unfortunately by this time the clouds had firmly set in and snow, sleet and unruly weather were starting to happen. We quickly made our way down to the viewing platform and scuttled back to the café for a hot chocolate before starting the final part of our drive to the Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik.
The 40 minute drive took over 1.5 hours and contained some of the worst driving conditions that I have ever seen a Volkswagen Polo endure! We made our way straight to the Blue Lagoon, bypassing Reykjavik and without too much trouble we were finally relaxing in the warm blue waters surrounded by the newly fallen snow.
Iceland is not on the mass tourist map during the winter, so for those travellers willing to step outside into the cold air and see something completely new Iceland might be just the place for you.
How to get there: Iceland Air offer some great deals direct to Iceland or to Europe with a chance from a stopover in Iceland on the way or way back to Canada.
Where to stay: HI-Reykjavik Downtown