Iceland: The Golden Circle | My Family Travels

When in Iceland, make sure to set aside a few days so that you can do the “Golden Circle,” a brief tour of Iceland's greatest highlights. Family Travel Forum reports.

After a couple of days in Reykjavík you really should do the “Golden Circle,” a quick look at Iceland’s best-known features. It can be done in a few days, if you return to your hotel in Reykjavík each night and set out again the next morning.

Tour buses leave from the Radisson SAS Hotel Saga (354/525-9920, Hagatorg, 107 Reykjavik, Iceland), a super hotel with 209 rooms that all give a fantastic view of the city, and elsewhere in the Reykjavik. Better still, rent a car. That way you can stay as long as you like at any spot and stop at the many authentic fishing villages that dot the coast. The driving is very civilized, roads beautifully marked and traffic nonexistent.

Your first stop, some 50 miles from Reykjavík, is Gullfoss (foss means “falls,” thus “Golden Falls”). You’ll hear the deafening roar of the double falls well before you arrive. The river Hvita (White River) roars 105 feet into a half-mile ravine. Like so much of the nature in Iceland, you get as close as you want. There are never any billboards to mar your views of nature at its most beautiful, nor are there people hawking coffee, souvenirs and other annoyances. It is just you and the spectacle of nature with nothing in between. Be careful – the ground here can be slippery, so hold little hands – and be sure to have a camera to capture the stunning rainbows that arc across the falls.

The Route of the Vikings

Following along the old Viking trail, you can bypass Geysir (an original Icelandic name) if you’ve seen others. The main geyser started erupting around 1294, then petered out. However, the area is ringed with lesser geysers that erupt frequently and spew forth very hot water. It’s quite interesting, and the eruptions never fail to cause lots of “oohs and ahs,” by those patiently waiting for the next plume of water to burst forth. Here, as everywhere, the land is beautiful. A small hotel sits next to the geysers, and the salmon served there is excellent. So are the small, white boiled potatoes. Fresh fruit is rare, however, and because of the short growing season, vegetables are not in abundant supply.

Continue to Thingvellir National Park (Thing-vet-tler), or Parliament Plains. Allegedly it was here, on this vast, craggy, wind-swept plain, where cliffs and rivers surround a deep depression, that the Western world’s first parliament was formed, or so Icelanders claim. The feuding, warlike tribes decided in 930 AD to band together and try to settle their differences peacefully. It was more carnival than law, with the speaker standing on a stone (logberg) drawing from his store of sagas, traditions, customs and precedent to keep the fractious tribes in line.

The last stop on the Golden Circle is the Blue Lagoon. About 10 miles from the airport on the Reykjanes peninsula, this man-made lagoon may be one of the oddest photographs you’ll ever take. Surrounded by an extensive lava flow, this silica-rich lake is a by-product of a geothermal energy processing plant nearby. It’s some mysterious-looking lake, with mist hovering just above the 104-degree blue water. The only creatures in this blue lagoon are the incredulous visitors (and a few locals) swimming. You really have to try it. There are bath houses and showers for your convenience, and a 10- or 15-minute dunk supposedly does wonders for the skin and whatever ails you. You’ll pass through many small towns and fishing villages en route.

Fishing is the country’s single biggest export. The town of Grindavik, next to the Blue Lagoon, for example, is a town of 100 people and is as genuine as it gets. There’s a small cafeteria for lunch, and a huge warehouse filled with fish, from salmon to plaice.

Iceland Ecotours & Adventures

Iceland has numerous glacial fjords that offer excellent whale watching. Be sure to take advantage of day tours to the famous Westman Islands. Visit the 15 islands that make up the Westman Island Chain, especially Heimaey. Heimaey Island is the largest of 15 islands, about 10 km. off the Southern coast of Iceland. A trip out there makes for a special family excursion.

Swimming pools are everywhere since swimming is the national sport, and ice climbing expeditions can be arranged, as can river rafting, snowmobiling, fishing (disease- and pollution-free rivers) and, of course, skiing and horseback riding. Talk about options for family adventure!

Accommodations range from five-star hotels to backpacking holidays. Most of the time (as with most travel) it makes sense to book through a tour operator since they can negotiate cheaper prices and arrange activities for you without hassle – not that there’s much hassle in Iceland anyway.

Do Your Kids Love Whales?

If you have more time, take a flight north to Akureyri, about 60 miles from the Arctic circle. This sleepy Icelandic town surrounded by fjords boasts some of the best whale watching imaginable. On a recent trip, my boat was literally surrounded by the playful creatures.

In the distance, snow-capped glaciers and endless white mountain chains will doubtlessly inspire awe and respect for a people who not only survive against such odds, but are quite happy doing so.

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