The Land of Fire and Ice: The Golden Circle

My dream of traveling to Iceland finally came true. For years I have been fascinated by the wild and unique Icelandic geography. The beautiful land of fire and ice. A place where half the population believes that trolls very much exist. The capital of the Atlantic Ocean. I am going to give a brief recap of my time in Iceland here, but stay tuned for future posts with more tips about traveling in Iceland. I didn’t have enough time to do half the things I wanted to while I was there, so I will certainly be traveling back in the near future. (I’m looking at you, Sara).

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I arrived to Iceland in the afternoon on a chilly but sunny day. (Turns out it would be my only sunny day in Iceland.) I picked up the rental car and drove to downtown Reykjavik. As I drove along those quiet roads and glanced to my left and right I  could see massive volcanoes in the distance and a unique landscape in every direction. The radio played the complicated language and music of the Icelandic people. It was a surreal experience. About 40 minutes later, I arrived to the flat we rented via Airbnb. It was adorable. I highly recommend using Airbnb, it felt like I had a home away from home and the host was the absolute sweetest woman I have ever met. I spent the next few hours walking around the neighborhood, got something to eat, and exploring my surroundings. Before too long, it was time for me to head back to the airport to pick up my cousin and our friend.

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Our flat in Reykjavik

That evening, after everyone was settled in, we grabbed dinner at a nearby restaurant and bundled up to go chasing northern lights. The roads were dark and the night was cold. We looked up the weather forecast and drove to an area that supposedly had very little cloud coverage. It was a foggy (and a little scary) drive out in the wilderness, but we finally arrived to a spot we thought looked good for spotting the aurora. We parked the car and waited. The moon was gorgeous. It looked larger than usual and shone brightly in the Iceland sky. After a few minutes of waiting we began to see some movement. And then before we knew it, the northern lights had appeared. They were a little dim due to how bright the moon was, but we could definitely make them out. They gently danced in the night sky. We felt so lucky to have caught a glimpse of them. (I will be adding photos of this once I get them from my friend who captured them, so keep an eye out for a future Iceland post to include the Northern lights!)

The Golden Circle

The next morning we prepared ourselves for a roadtrip along the famous route in Iceland, The Golden Circle. If you have only one day in Iceland, this is the thing to do. You get to see a lot of the major sites of Iceland via this route.

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Stop 1: Icelandic Ponies

Iceland is full of wild ponies. They are well known to be friendly and they are very easy to come across if you drive just a few minutes outside of Reykjavik. So naturally our first stop was pulling over on the side of the road, ditching our jeep, and running down to go pet the ponies. We didn’t realize a mud ditch separated us from the ponies, but we didn’t let that stop us. There were so cute and hungry! We ripped handfuls of long grass to feed them. It was definitely one of the highlights of the day.

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Stop 2: Thingvellir Valley

One of the most exciting and interesting facts about Iceland is that it is slowly moving apart in opposite directions. Iceland is a volcanic island and is the newest body of land on Earth. The North American and European tectonic plates are moving apart from one another at 2.5cm a year — and they can be seen in this valley. It is an incredibly unique experience knowing that you are standing on what is invisible to most of the world.

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Stop 3: Geysir

Next stop on our road trip was a visit to see the exploding geysers. Hot springs and boiling water bubble and erupt at this location. It smelled like sulfur (which smells like eggs) and the biggest geyser there erupted every couple of minutes. We had the chance to see three eruptions in addition to small bubbling geysers and pools. I am so glad I had the chance to witness these Earth farts–I had never seen anything like this in person before.

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Stop 4: Gulfoss

Next up were the waterfalls. Gulfoss is the second largest waterfall in Europe. It was a booming waterfall that is so large, we couldn’t even see the bottom of it from where we were standing. We made this a quick stop since the afternoon light was beginning to fade, but one of my favorite things about this stop was that we were able to see a glacier and a volcano off in the distance.

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Stop 5: Seljalandsfoss

On our way to the second waterfall, we passed beautiful scenes: glaciers and mountains to our left with the cold Atlantic ocean to our right. The GPS in our car took us down a rocky gravel road in the middle of (literal) nowhere. Sheep were crossing the road and a gate stopped us at the end of this “road.” My cousin had to open it so we could get through. I am certain it was someone’s property. Or maybe the trolls put it there? Either way, we made it out alive.  We stopped off at the Seljalandsfoss waterfall and decided to have some fun since we had been driving for nearly two hours. We frolicked in the field and visited the cute souvenir shop run by a family.

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Stop 6: Vik Black Sand Beaches

Our final stop of the evening was the Black Sand beaches in the southern part of Iceland in a small village called Vik. The beaches were spectacular, a winding road through the cliffs led us to the beach just in time for the last light of the day. As I have mentioned before, Iceland is a volcanic island, and yes, it is full of very active volcanos. There are about 150 of them throughout the island. Due to the volcanic explosions, lots of ash has been blasted out, causing these stunning black sand beaches. We had a great time exploring, before wrapping up our roadtrip and heading back home to Reykjavik.

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The ride home was dark, as the sun made its final descent. We were road weary, but felt satisfied with the stunning sights we had visited. Iceland truly looked like another world and it didn’t disappoint. You can read about Reykjavik and the Blue Lagoon here. Click here for even more photos of Iceland.

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Erin founded the Wonderlost Travel blog in February of 2015 after her experience of studying abroad in Europe. Erin has had the opportunity to travel throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, and parts of South America and Asia. She enjoys writing about and photographing her travel experiences in order to inspire others to get out and follow their travel dreams. She has collaborated with tourism departments, restaurants, and other travel bloggers to share reviews and travel advice with readers in over 100 countries. Erin has a passion for traveling the world to experience other cultures and explore nature!

10 thoughts on “The Land of Fire and Ice: The Golden Circle

  1. I visited Iceland in January this year and it is one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen! I didn’t get to see the black sand beaches as it was winter and covered in snow but it looks awesome! Great Pictures!

    Liked by 1 person

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