Iceland’s most-visited sights are known collectively as the Golden Circle, a loop of three popular natural landmarks within 45 minutes to an hour’s drive out of Reykjavik. The Golden Circle was our first drive out of the capital, on our first day, and it was a great teaser of what to expect for the rest of our four days on the road.
Our first stop, however, technically wasn’t on the Golden Circle, but on the way and worth a quick look. Kerið is a crater that was formed by the inward collapse of an underground magma chamber (magma! Flashback to third-grade science!). More notably, Kerið is the venue of a yearly concert by Bjork, where she performs on rafts set afloat on the lake. Awesomeness.
Our next stop was the Þingvellir National Park, the site where the first Icelandic Parliament, or Alþingi, was founded in 930.
Þingvellir is big—we didn’t cover all of it, but pretty much decided to park the car at a random spot and walk from there. Most of what we saw was a massive wall of rock that stretched far longer than what we could see.
Part of this wall included the Lögberg, or Law Rock, the main gathering place of early Icelandic parliament, chosen because all the chieftains could reach it by some overland route or another. This natural formation of rock also looks seriously impressive, like a place of power should. From Lögberg, the view of the surrounding landscape made it all too easy to picture these powerful chieftains of old coming from all over Iceland, riding across the landscape to converge at the rock… like the Riders of Rohan galloping across the plains in Lord of the Rings. Goosebumps.
Another spot that lent itself to powerful imagery was a waterfall and pool called Drekkingarhylur, where the Law Council carried out ritual executions by drowning… particularly of women. Eighteen women were known to have been executed here from 1618 to 1749.
Of course, if you want plain and simple natural beauty without the history, there’s lots of that too—from long scenic walks…
… to the first of many waterfalls dotting the Icelandic countryside.
Þingvellir is also famous for being the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet… and are drifting apart ever so slowly. Parts of the ridge are sectioned off, so it’s hard to pinpoint exactly where continents are being torn apart. However, the many cracks and fissures in the earth are clear evidence of Mother Nature doing some heavy pushing and pulling.
From Þingvellir, it was on to Geysir, the first geyser ever recorded in printed material (and the source of the word “geyser”).