The Golden Circle Tour with BusTravel is the perfect introduction to Iceland

Golden Circle Tour – The Perfect Intro to Iceland

It has finally happened, I visited Iceland! *waits for the applause to finish* Thank you, thank you! If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that it has always been a dream destination of mine. If not, let me tell you the story of a guy who had to do a paper on Northern Europe in high school and a colleague suggested writing about Iceland. “Pfff, Iceland, what is there to write about?” he asked ignorantly. Well a quick Google search and a hundred pages later, it’s been his dream ever since to see that breathtaking scenery Iceland has. Yes, that guy is me (thank you, Captain Obvious!).

What’s been stopping me all these years was the fact that nor me, nor my friends drive (shocked sounds all around) and everyone recommends driving yourself around the island. When I’d finally decided to go this year, I figured I would take those big tourist buses and at least I’d see the sights I wanted. Wrong! Enter BusTravel. When I found them, I realized they were exactly what I needed: smaller groups and a more intimate tour (not that intimate, jeez!), giving me enough time for photography – just like the one I did last year in the Scottish Highlands.  Luckily, they are one of the few companies that have daily tours so I made a schedule of what I was interested in, considering the time and budget I had. And then came the opportunity to partner with them and I started counting the hours until I set foot in the land of fire and ice (2208 hours to go, 2207 hours to go…)

The Golden Circle Tour with BusTravel is the perfect introduction to Iceland
As you can see, we were perfectly dressed for summer in Iceland. 😉

The first tour I did with them was the Golden Circle tour which turned out to be the perfect introduction to Iceland. It had a little bit of everything and even though I had read about all of the sights, seeing them in person was as thrilling as receiving presents from Santa when you were a kid. That feeling of excitement had only increased during the following days (and the weather got nicer too!), but if you have limited time or it’s your first visit to Iceland, the Golden Circle tour is an absolute must. I’ve bored you enough already, let me show you what I’m talking about.

After a very rainy day in Reykjavik, we left the following morning to mostly blue skies, though, as we would soon find out, extremely windy. While we were leaving the capital behind us, our lovely guide, Hilda*, told us some general information about Iceland and we found out that Iceland has only 330000 people, and two thirds of them live in Reykjavik or the surrounding area, while no one lives in the middle of the country. Icelandic is a very complicated language (I couldn’t remember any of the names, I have stars on Google Maps for each place we’ve visited), but it’s also a very descriptive language. For instance, Reykjavik means smokey bay (reykja – smoke, vik – bay), named by the vikings who saw the geothermal steam and thought it was smoke.

(*not her actual name – which is Ragnhildur Lövdahl – try saying that three times fast! I found it interesting how usually in Iceland there can be more than one last name in the same family, as kids have different last names than their parents, formed from the first name of the father (sometimes mother) and adding dóttir for girls or son for boys)

While we were driving towards our first stop on the Golden Circle tour, I was watching the beautiful mountains rushing behind us, my thoughts ranging from “holy shit, I’m in Iceland!” to “OMG it’s so pretty!”. So yeah, you could say I was pretty excited!

Thingvellir National Park

The Golden Circle Tour with BusTravel is the perfect introduction to Iceland

The Golden Circle Tour with BusTravel is the perfect introduction to Iceland

The Golden Circle Tour with BusTravel is the perfect introduction to Iceland
Brace yourselves, a Game of Thrones post is coming!

The Golden Circle Tour with BusTravel is the perfect introduction to Iceland

The first stop was the gorgeous Thingvellir National Park (Þingvellir, as it’s written in Icelandic), which is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, but also the most important place in the country, where all major events took place, from forming the first parliament in 930, to the declaration of independence from Denmark in 1944. While its history is very interesting, the scenery is even more impressive. The park is home to the largest lake in Iceland, Þingvallavatn, a man-made waterfall, Öxarárfoss, but most exciting of them all, the continuation of the Mid-Atlantic ridge, where you can see the separation between the North-American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Contrary to popular belief, you can’t stand with one foot on each plate, unless you’re a giant with very very large feet. But you can snorkel between them or search for Game of Thrones filming locations (but more about this next week).

Efstidalur Farm

The Golden Circle Tour with BusTravel is the perfect introduction to Iceland

The Golden Circle Tour with BusTravel is the perfect introduction to Iceland

The Golden Circle Tour with BusTravel is the perfect introduction to Iceland

The Golden Circle Tour with BusTravel is the perfect introduction to Iceland
Look at that fabulous hair!

Here’s one that’s not in the guidebooks. After leaving the Thingvellir National Park with our hair ruffled by the ruthless wind, but with little hearts in our eyes, just like that one emoji, our second stop on the Golden Circle tour was the Efstidalur Farm, owned by the same family for over 160 years, where we tried delicious dairy products from the farm, as well as the best ice cream in Iceland. We were told the history of the place, but honestly, I was too distracted by the parrot on the lady’s shoulder. 😆 At the end, I had time either for a coffee or to see the adorable Icelandic horses up close and even though the smell was excellent, you can see in the photos above what I chose 😉

Gullfoss Waterfall

The Golden Circle Tour with BusTravel is the perfect introduction to Iceland

The Golden Circle Tour with BusTravel is the perfect introduction to Iceland

The Golden Circle Tour with BusTravel is the perfect introduction to Iceland

The first of the many waterfalls we’ve seen in Iceland and the one that prove to be the most difficult to photograph, as I had to wipe my lens every 5 seconds. “Foss” means waterfall so Gullfoss means Golden Waterfall (is it because it’s on the Golden Circle tour? Or is it the other way around?). As I’ve said, Icelandic words can be complicated, so we remembered the names of the other waterfalls we’ve seen as something-foss. 😂 With a drop of 31 meters, and a gorgeous gorge that I could barely see because of the steam, it’s one of those places that you need to see with your own eyes.

As much as I wanted to see Iceland, read about it, and seen many pictures, I thought that my hopes might be too high and I might get disappointed. Nope, the country still blew my mind on each step of the way.


The Golden Circle Tour with BusTravel is the perfect introduction to Iceland

The Golden Circle Tour with BusTravel is the perfect introduction to Iceland
Awww, look at the little baby geyser!
The Golden Circle Tour with BusTravel is the perfect introduction to Iceland
The beginning of a nice shower…

Geysir (or The Great Geysir) is actually where the English name geyser comes from. Dormant these days, it still covers the area with steam and a very sulphurous smell. However, its little brother, Strokkur, errupts every few minutes to 20 meters high spouts. It’s very impressive to watch, but you need to be careful where you stand based on where the wind is blowing. I wanted to take better photos so I moved to a different side of it and let’s just say I got a very nice shower that day 😛

This is also where we stopped for lunch, there are three different restaurants and souvenir shops. We tried something traditional for the first time – Icelandic meat soup, which is made with lamb. Very delicious and just what we needed to warm ourselves up (summer in Iceland means average temperatures of 12C). But the funniest thing happened there. We were over 4000 km away from home, we figured there weren’t too many Romanians around. That changed when the guy at the counter answered us in Romanian…. 😂

Faxi Waterfall

But you said all waterfalls are named something-foss, I hear you cry! Oh wait, it’s actually called Faxafoss, phew!. I was pleasantly surprised by this, because I had never heard of this waterfall, there’s no mention of it in my Marco Polo guide, nor was it on the map of the tour, so if it wasn’t for BusTravel, I wouldn’t have seen it (or find out about it). In fact, we were the only ones there! On warmer days you can sit at the picnic table for a meal with a wonderful view, but when I visited, I managed to take literally five photos before rushing back to the car because of the strong wind.

Kerið lake

The Golden Circle Tour with BusTravel is the perfect introduction to Iceland

The Golden Circle Tour with BusTravel is the perfect introduction to Iceland

The last stop on the Golden Circle tour was the Kerið volcanic crater lake, formed over 3000 years ago in a collapsed magma chamber at the end of a volcano eruption. The colors of the red soil around it, mixed with the green of the moss and the blue of the lake will leave you speechless. You can walk around it, until you reach a point where you see its round shape perfectly, then make your way down to the lake, for some great photo ops. There’s a 400 ISK (about €3.6) admission fee, which is included in the tour.

As I’ve said, Iceland has been my dream for so long and now that I’ve actually been there it feels surreal. The Golden Circle tour proved to be the perfect introduction to this beautiful country, visiting places I’ve read about many times, with some surprises along the way. The rest of the tours were more and more impressive and this has been the first post in a series of many and I hope that by the time I finish writing them, you’ll go from “this is nice” to “where can I book a flight to Iceland?”

Would you like to tour the Golden Circle in Iceland?

Disclaimer: We partnered with BusTravel Iceland for this tour, but all views, photography and desire to visit Iceland for the past 10 years are entirely our own. 

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  • Loved reading your post and your sense of humor!! I too am desperate to visit Iceland and I like the sound of that bus tour!! Will have to save this!!

    • I’m sure you’ll love Iceland, it’s impossible not to. Go, go, go 😀

  • World Journeys

    small tour. id love to get there (again) one day and drive around the island at my leisure! but youve done well to see so many beautiful spots on a tour!

    • Well the Golden Circle is only a tiny fraction of the whole Ring Road. I’d love to go back and see the North as well.

  • Anisa Alhilali

    I am one of those people that always talks about wanting to go to Iceland too and I still haven’t been. I don’t really have a good reason either, I really need to make it happen. Your photos are really beautiful! Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

    • I was the same as well and at the end of last year I said “enough, 2017 is THE year when I see Iceland”. And it worked 😉

  • I can relate to your passion for wanting to visit Iceland bc I’m dying to visit too! How surreal it must have been to finally get there. I’ve heard so much about the Golden Circle I hope to make it there some day soon. Your photos are a-mazing. #theweeklypostcard

    • Thank you! I couldn’t believe I was actually there and my eyes were wide the whole time, not to miss anything, haha.

  • hilary

    Lovely photos as always, and so happy for you that you were able to fulfill your dream! That was how I felt about visiting Ireland last year! I’d love to see Iceland, but am also hesitant about driving around the island… this seems like a nice alternative. #theweeklypostcard

    • The weather was mostly good while we were there (no famous Icelandic storms) so driving would have been easier, but I hear that during a storm or heavy snow fall, you can barely see anything in front of you. It was nice to just sit back and no to worry about that.

  • Ohhhhh, you do not drive! Ok, that is a bit shocking. But, in Iceland, you do not only need to know how to drive, you need to know how to drive a car with a manual transmission. That may not be a problem for Europeans but it is difficult for people that visit from the Americas. Luckily, my husband knows how to drive those cars and we saved tons of money. Your photos are gorgeous! I loved Iceland so much. I am already making plans to return. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • I do have a driving license and know how to drive, but I haven’t used it in so long. I hate driving in the city here so I’m out of practice in traffic, I could easily drive in Iceland if I knew there were no other cars anywhere, haha.

  • That’s of of the reasons I did my driving licence and bought a car (to practise) – some people said that certain destinations are best explored by car. I haven’t been to Iceland yet, but I’m planning to go, and I’m happy I’d be able to drive when I finally get there.

    • I need to practice more, as I love road trips and some destinations are indeed easier to explore or even get to by car.

  • Totally love your comprehensive guide and photos. And you are right. The golden circle tour is a must!

    • Thank you, glad you liked them!

  • Iceland looks really beautiful and majestic, although it seems a little cold to me. It may be the light that give me this feeling. I’d love to visit it though. #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • Well the average temperature in summer is 12C (we did have one day with sunshine and maybe 15C) so you’re on to something. But if you’re well dressed, it shouldn’t be a problem. My only issue was the wind, in some places I couldn’t even stay outside for 10 minutes.

  • Haha, your clothing for summer in Iceland looks almost exactly like our clothing for the coldest winter day down here in Australia! And while we also have waterfalls, blue crater lakes, geysers and ice cream down here, the Icelandic versions look so completely different, it’d be interesting to compare them all in person! One day 😀

    • That’s what I say about Australia and New Zealand too: One day! Hopefully that day will come soon enough 😀

  • Gokul

    This is my dream destination too……I would be visiting Iceland when I finally go for that Euro trip. I have read about most attractions there. This place is really amazing. I also wish to see the Northern Lights there.

    • I’d love to see the Northern Lights too, but they say you shouldn’t go just for them, as it could be cloudy the whole time you’re there and miss them. But Iceland has a lot to offer besides them anyway.

  • Leigh

    Awesome photos! This post makes me a little sad…I have a 24-hour layover in Reykjavik this summer so I will be so close, but won’t get to see any of this! I know I will be back for a proper trip soon enough!

    • Well the tour is from 9 AM to 5:30 – 6:00 PM so if you’re there during this time and don’t have to rush to the airport afterwards, you can totally do the tour 😉

  • Sadly, we have yet to visit Iceland. 🙁 We’ve read so much about all the sights on and off of the Golden Circle, that we’re really looking forward to seeing! We just need to make the time now. Great photos, too. Thanks for sharing! #TheWeeklyPostcard

    • Thank you, I hope you get to visit Iceland soon, it’s a gorgeous country.

  • Scott Jennings

    How, might I ask, on earth, I say again, is it possible, for the love of all things holy and made of cheese, have you lived your whole life thus far and never learned to drive???

    • I believe I didn’t say that I don’t know how to drive, because I do know how and even have a driver’s license. What I meant was that I lack practice and wouldn’t feel comfortable driving in a foreign country. Driving in the city where I live is horrible and you don’t really need to, there are plenty of other ways to get around.

  • This is really cool! Iceland has never been my top-tier destination, but one of the things that’s kept it from being on the runner-up/viable list is that it seemed like it’s only suitable for ppl who travel with giant backpacks or decent-sized groups – or those renting a car (not something I am keen on after France, at least for a bit). I’m a huge fan of this bus idea!

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  • Thanks for sharing this Vlad. The places you visited on this trip looked very familiar, apart from the farm of course. I just wanted to mention that hiring your own vehicle out of Reykjavik might be a good idea, and quite reasonably priced. In doing so one is much more independent and flexible. I did.