Above: Skógafoss drops about 200 feet but is nearly twice the width of Seljalandsfoss - NICO CALANDRA / GETTY IMAGES

Iceland Sightseeing

Skógafoss drops about 200 feet but is nearly twice the width of Seljalandsfoss - Nico Calandra / Getty Images

The land is alive in Iceland, and there is evidence of that everywhere one turns: Lava flows from erupting volcanoes, steam rises from hillsides, hot-spring geysers burst forth, and waterfalls roar from above. Many of the country’s most beautiful sites are also extremely accessible. Here are seven stops that every first-time visitor should see.

Thingvellir National Park

Split-level view of a fissure, Thingvellir National Park - Wildestanimal / Getty Images

The first stop on the Golden Circle itinerary is Thingvellir National Park, 30 miles northeast of Reykjavík. Located on the northern shore of the largest body of water in Iceland, Lake Thingvallavatn, this 57,000-acre park is set between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Dramatic fissures cut through the landscape, and visitors can even snorkel or dive between them in the clear waters of the lake. Not only is the park notable for its geologic history, but it also holds a place in the history of Iceland: It was the site of the country’s first open-air parliament from 930 to 1798. Tour the visitor center before taking a self-guided walk to see Öxarárfoss crashing over a 39-foot cliff, and then pass an adorable white-clapboard chapel built in 1859. Thingvellir was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2004.

Geysir Geothermal Area

Strokkur erupts every four or five minutes, Haukadalur Valley - Nikolay Pandev / Getty Images

The Geysir geothermal area is another well-known stop along the Golden Circle. This Haukadalur Valley site is free to visitors and contains bubbling mud pots, sulfur-laden fumaroles and gushing geysers. The word “geyser” comes from Geysir, the name (meaning “the spouter”) of a currently inactive geyser that was known to spew almost 260 feet in the air. Today, the showstopper is Strokkur (“a churn”), which erupts every four or five minutes. Have your camera ready and set it on “slo-mo” to capture the best shot. 


Gullfoss - Getty Images

Just 6 miles from the Geysir geothermal area is one of Iceland’s most iconic sites. Visitors can park in the dedicated lot and walk a mere 10 minutes before being overwhelmed by the sight and sound of Gullfoss, a thundering waterfall that draws water from the Langjökull glacier and crashes in two stages 105 feet into the Hvítá River canyon. In the early 20th century, this natural wonder was under threat of being used to power a hydroelectric plant, but locals vociferously fought the plan, and today the falls are protected and belong to the people of Iceland. Sigrídur Tómasdóttir gets the most credit for saving the falls, and you can see a plaque in her honor high above them. (Be sure to wear a rain jacket and hiking boots, and prepare to get wet.)

Kerid Crater

The Kerid Crater - wjarek / Adobe Stock

The Kerid Crater is a 3,000-year-old volcanic crater located almost at the center the Golden Circle, north of Selfoss. It is possible to take a walking path around the top of the crater and then descend 180 feet into it. When the sun is shining, the blue waters of the crater lake and the iron-rich red rock form a striking contrast. Note that there is a small entrance fee of $2.75.

Above: Skógafoss drops about 200 feet but is nearly twice the width of Seljalandsfoss - NICO CALANDRA / GETTY IMAGES

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