The Eleventh-hour Booking to the Golden Circle Tour

During my 5-day solo trip to Iceland in January 2019, I had tours booked every day except for the fourth day. I initially planned to explore Reykjavik, but I had already seen the small city in one afternoon on my first day. I needed something else to do.

I had initially overlooked the Golden Circle tour during my planning phase. It was the most popular tour in Iceland, advertised by every company there was. As famous sights tend to be overrated for its actual worth, I wasn’t keen to take it. But seeing that I had time, I decided to tick off the bucket list and booked the tour the evening before.

I booked it with Gateway to Iceland, a company that specializes in small group tours. I prefer smaller groups as they offer a more personal experience and opportunities to socialize. It would turn out that this tour was not overrated, and was possibly one of the best tour experiences I’ve had as a solo traveller.

I was very lucky on the day of my Golden Circle tour. Despite visiting Iceland in the darkest period of winter with limited daylight (about 5 hours) and unpredictable weather, the sky was clear, the sun was shining at the right height, and the temperature was surprisingly warm (around 17°C but I wasn’t complaining!). This combination made the landscapes absolute stunning for avid photographers.

We arrived at Thingvellir National Park at dawn, where we spent the most time at. Our guide showed us where the tectonic plates meet, and then gave us time to explore the valleys and see the rushing water from melting ice. The views were so beautiful that I could have spent all day here.

The tour continued to the Haukadalur geothermal area, home to some famous geysers. The most prominent are Strokkur, the most active geyser, and Geysir, the largest, which gave the world the word “geyser”. There was a nearby rest stop that gave us a(n expensive) lunch option. But a photo of the geyser eruption was difficult due to the tourists crowding to see it. Despite this, it was an amazing experience to me who had never seen a geyser before until then.

Not far from Geysir is the Gullfoss waterfall, also known as the “golden waterfall”. This majestic ancient waterfall is likely what gave the Golden Circle its name. It is very impressive for its power, but it’s perhaps best visited in  the summer when the water flow is stronger for a chance to see a rainbow in the sun. When we arrived, there was a slight drizzle, although I honestly couldn’t tell whether it was the rain or the spray from the waterfall. It was that powerful!

As the day began to grow darker early, we arrived at the Secret Lagoon, the oldest swimming pool in Iceland filled with hot spring water. Not all Golden Circle tours include this stop, but it’s a great hot spring experience and an alternative option to the more expensive Blue Lagoon. I enjoyed relaxing in the warm water on the dark winter day after a fulfilling tour thus far.

With that, I learned to not dismiss popular tours so easily. They often become popular for a reason. I will still consider other options, such as choosing to drive through the Golden Circle myself (if I feel comfortable navigating the icy roads). But I know that ticking off bucket lists can be an experience in itself, and that’s what matters most.

*All photos featured in this story are taken by the author.

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[…] was to take us to the glacier. The weather wasn’t the best compared to the day I took the Golden Circle tour, but I think it would be pretty here on a good […]