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Going on the Golden Circle Tour in Winter

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Did you know that there are only about 5 hours of daylight during the darkest winter in Iceland? I certainly wasn’t expecting it, but it happened that I was in London during the winter months of 2018/2019, and I spontaneously decided to visit and tick off the top destination on my bucket list. After all, the flight on EasyJet, a budget airline, was ridiculously cheap.

The funny thing about the trip, though, was the fact that I was trying to avoid doing the Golden Circle tour. It was every agency’s top thing to do, and as a result, I quickly passed it off as touristy, assuming it would be overrated for its actual worth.

But then I had a free day in my itinerary. It was initially planned for an exploration of Reykjavik, but I had seen the small city in one afternoon. I mulled over my options the night before, before tossing caution to the wind and booking the tour with Gateway to Iceland, a company specializing in small group tours.

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.

Wintry charm

I was very lucky. The weather had been unpredictably awful during the first few days of my trip. However, on the day of the Golden Circle tour, 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 absolutely stunning for avid photographers.

The van picked me up from my hotel in the dark, and we arrived at Þingvellir (read as Thingvellir) National Park at dawn. 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 stunning. I don’t even know if stunning is the word to describe the otherworldly beauty of the park. There wasn’t any greenery; it was the low sun casting golden rays across the landscape that earned it praises.

Þingvellir National Park was too big to explore entirely on foot, so we were given ample time to spend at this stop. If I had it my way, I would spend the entire day here, simply admiring the wondrous landscape.

Steaming grounds

After Þingvellir, 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 rise to the term ‘geyser’ in the dictionary. However, capturing a photo of the geyser eruption was challenging due to the crowd of tourists. Despite this, it was an amazing experience for me, as I had never seen a geyser until then.

A little icy

At this point, I became fascinated by some icy patches on the ground. Winter was still a foreign season to me, and London, being a city with heavy footfall, didn’t have ice on the floor, even if it were colder.

Here in Iceland, with its small population, I could experience winter in its rawest form. Unfortunately, during my stay, the temperature was unusually high for the season, so I couldn’t witness true snowfall.

This pretty piece of ice I picked up from the ground was the only thing that could satisfy my fascination at this time. To think, this was a puddle in warmer days!

The golden name

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, and for a chance to see a rainbow.

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!

A dip in the warmth

As the day quickly darkened, 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.

With that, I learned to not dismiss popular sights so quickly. Of course, I might consider different options to get there, such as driving (if I dare). For now, I can’t stop singing praises of the amazing views I saw out there. They are worth a return—yes, I must return one day!

Behind the trip

I’m Angie, a traveller, web developer and blogger behind A Head Full of Travel. I’m here to document my adventures through words and photography, kindling a love for life. You can trust that all content and advice shared here is genuine and from my own experiences.


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