I hope you had time to stop in Laugarvatn! It’s a small town gem.
Know your etymology, skip the food
Geysir is the next stop, about 20-25 minutes from Laugarvatn. I’ll be honest: I struggle with this site. It is SO crowded during the day, as it’s much smaller than Thingvellir and busses are constant. The actual geothermal area is interesting and beautiful (and, yes, has a sulfur smell), full of bubbling and steaming vents and water, with beautiful colors from soil and mineral deposits. The word geysir comes from this site! “THE” geysir no longer erupts, but steams, bubbles, and is very colorful on a sunny day. Many miss it completely, as the main attraction is Strokkur (churn), which is a geysir that erupts every 5-8 minutes.
This picture was taken around 10:30pm on June 30! During the day, Strokkur will be completely surrounded by tourists. Please make sure you take note of the wind and do not stand downwind of the erupting geysir. You will likely be burned, it happens regularly. There are paths throughout the area, some areas looking a bit like Mars, the path heading to the road/tourist center has a variety of small geothermal features.
Across the road, there are huge tourist trap buildings. Full of subpar and overpriced food, decent soup, and all the same souvenirs you’ll find on Laugarvegur, use the bathroom at most and move on.
The gold in the Golden Circle
Powerful and dramatic Gullfoss (gold waterfall) is created by the Hvítá (white river) crashes down into a canyon as it flows south on its way to the sea. Just 10-15 minutes inland from Geysir, there are two parking areas. The first is tight, and places you halfway between the top of the plateau and the decent to the viewing platform. The second is much larger, and at the top. There is of course, a building with pay toilets, souvenirs, etc. It is worth going to the top, however, and walking the path above the falls. Please be a responsible tourist and do not go on the roped off areas. I was fortunate enough to explore back further a few years ago, and this is now closed off due to damage.
Take a few minutes to read about Sigríður Tómasdóttir, the woman that tirelessly campaigned to protect the powerful falls from becoming a dammed hydroelectric site and try to wrap your head around the sheer numbers on water passing through here at the info stop on the walkway at the top of the stairs before walking along the upper path. If it’s a clear day, looking in toward the highlands will give you a sliver of a view of a glacier! That’s Langjökull, the second largest in Iceland.
When you are ready to walk down to the viewing platform of the falls, break out anything waterproof you have. The mist from the force of the water is often carried over the path and platform – and protect your camera, too! Be careful of your footing, as it is likely to be at least a little slippery. The platform itself is natural rock, please watch where you step! Trips and falls here are common. You can get nice and close to the falls and feel the vibration in the ground!
Gullfoss is as far inland as you can go unless you have an outfitted four wheel drive vehicle, as just after the top parking area route 35 turns into F35. Any road with the F is forbidden (see what I did there?) to two-wheel drive or low-riding vehicles. For good reasons.
Next up, another hidden gem that’s definitely off the beaten track and down a gravel road…