Geysers, Waterfalls, and Glaciers, Oh My! The Golden Circle Tour (+Northern Lights)
Golden Aurora Circle Tour with Solstice Tours
With only 3 days to explore the entire country of Iceland, I had to pack as much into each day as humanly possible to try to see it all. When I decided a tour was the best option for me, I chose a small company called Solstice Tours, featuring a smaller group size. Because, who wants to be herded around in a grey hound bus with 100 other tourists? That sounds God awful. I chose the Golden Aurora Circle Tour, a combo of the Golden Circle Tour and Northern Lights Tour.
The Golden Circle covers approximately 300km and is the most popular day tour in Iceland. So what exactly do you see on the Golden Circle Tour? Here goes (it’s a lot!):
Golden Circle Tour
On Power Power Plant
The first stop was to the On Power power plant. Not too excited about it at first, but then I learned some very interesting facts about Iceland. Some extremely freaking cool things I learned:
- the power plant is near an active volcano
- magma under the ground is heating up the water (2km underground)
- power plant adds sulfur to water to protect the pipes (hence the bad smell)
- power plant extracts the geothermal liquid and it is separated into water and steam
- steam is used for electricity (resulting in extremely low electricity bills in Iceland)
- pipes run 27km to the city of Reykjavik
- 16,000 tons per hour can be pumped to Rekjavik at highest capacity (woah)
- Reykjavik uses underground hot water to heat the streets (I was wondering why there was no snow on the streets!)
- 90% house in Iceland use geothermal hot water
I had no idea this was part of the tour but Jon, the tour guide and owner of Soltice tours, pulled over on the side of the road near a green pasture. He hopped out and told us it was time to feed the horses. What? How exciting! He gave us some bread, and I was extremely hesitant to feed them, thinking I might lose a finger or two. But he calmly informed us that the Icelandic horses are some of the tamest horses in the world. Why? Because they have never had any known predators. I thought that was cool.
What else is really cool about Icelandic horses? They have 5 different gaits, as opposed to the average horse with 3 gaits, making them extremely unique. The more you know…
I had never heard of this place, but this turned out to be one of the most unexpectedly awesome stops of the whole tour. I felt like I was on Mars walking around the periphery of this huge volcanic crater. I cant deny that it took me 30 minutes to walk around as I kept stopping for selfies. No shame.
Random Cherry Tomato Plant
On this random stop, we quickly visited a cherry tomato plant where Jon brought us endless cups of local cherry tomatoes. I’m so not a tomato person at all, but these were the best cherry tomatoes I had ever tasted! Hands-down. So sweet and juicy! Who would have thought, in Iceland?
Geyser Geothermal Area
Just like it sounds, it’s an area filled with geysers everywhere you turn. The most famous Strokkur Geysir is very active and erupts every 5-10 minutes, making it a popular spectacle. The famous geyser sprouts up to 30 meters! But don’t stand too close or you will most definitely get sprayed!
The Magnificent Gulfoss Waterfall
Gulfoss waterfall is one of the most magnificent waterfalls in all of Europe. Formed by 2 waterfalls smoothly cascading into the next, this is certainly the highlight of the Golden Circle. We were however, greeted by an intense hail storm upon arrival. The hail was so powerful I couldn’t even open my eyes, so I had to run like a bat out of hell back to the van for shelter. Very characteristic of Iceland’s weather, 5 minutes later the sky opened up magically with a bright blue tint, making you forget what had just happened. It was just enough time gawk at this beauty of nature, snap some pics, and be on our way!
Here I am 5 minutes earlier trying to snap a photo. Not exactly what I was expecting.
Stop at a Glacial Spring
With a quick stop at the glacial springs, we were able to actually taste the glacier water straight from the source. It was some of the purest, freshest water I have ever tasted! I can now officially say I’ve literally tasted natural glacier spring water.
Þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir National Park was one of my personal favorite stops on the tour! It is home to the Silfra fissure, where you can snorkel and dive in between the Mid-Atlantic ridge separating the 2 continents, North America and Eurasia! Where else in the world can you do that? It was January, so I decided to pass on this. I know, lame. We still were able to spot many areas where you could visibly see the fissure between the 2 continents.
Another huge highlight for me was getting to see some of the filming sites for the upcoming Game of Thrones season! Yes, they were filmed in Þingvellir National Park!! I felt like a giddy school girl knowing that I could be walking on the same grounds as Jon Snow. I’m a dork, I am fully aware of this fact.
Observatory between North America and Eurasia Tectonic Plates
This was really cool as we could visibly see the cracks in the ground separating the 2 continents. Jon took us to the North American side so we could feel “at home”.
Interesting fact: The plates in this Mid-Atlantic Ridge shift apart 2cm each year!
Northern Lights Tour
Ok, this is why I really decided to come to Iceland in the dead of winter. The Northern Lights are high on my bucket list, as they should be. The great thing about this tour is that Jon allows you to go along on the Northern Lights chase up to 3 TIMES, on the day of the tour, and also on the day before and day after, increasing your chances of a sighting.
Jon had a plethora of knowledge about photography and shared some of his helpful tips as we sat in the van waiting for the perfect timing. It was a windy and frigid evening and it seemed like we would go home empty handed, but Jon pepped us up to go out..
He informed us that sometimes you cant see the lights with your naked eye, yet they are still visible through the camera lens. And he was right! We were able to see a slight glimpse of the lights through the viewfinder. If only faintly, we were able to see the Northern Lights. However, I can still say that I have not seen the lights with my naked eye. So it still remains on my bucket list! I guess it just wasn’t in the cards for me; although I did enjoy the chase!
What I really liked about Solstice Tours?
- small group size (about 8 people) allowed for getting to know other travellers
- wifi on bus (huge bonus!)
- knowledgable and kind tour guide (I’m talking about you Jon!)
- pick up outside of the city (at my Airbnb apt)
- extra stops along the tour
- good lunch options
- so many sites visited (bang for your buck)
What I didn’t like?
- My only complaint is that I wish we could have spent more time at certain sites such as Þingvellir National Park. But with the short daylight time in winter, this wasn’t possible.
Disclaimer: special thanks to Solstice Tours for hosting me. As always, my opinions are my own. If I don’t like something, I will definitely speak my mind! No bullsh*t.
Have you done the Golden Circle Tour or Northern Lights Tour? Would you rather go on a tour or go solo? I want to hear your thoughts!
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