The Golden Circle is one of Iceland’s most famous sightseeing routes. Easily accessible from Reykjavík and its simplest form includes Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall, and Geysir Geothermal Area. But if these iconic attractions aren’t enough, you should definitely look out for the lesser known sightseeing spots on the Golden Circle.
The circle usually takes about half a day to a whole day in travel time. Of course, when you rent a camper you can take as long a time as you want. If you are on a tight schedule, you might want to stick to only the major attractions. However, highly recommend you check out these lesser-known sightseeing spots in the Golden Circle area.
The canyon Brúarhlöð lies between the Geysir geothermal area and the small town Flúðir. Hvítá river has dugs its way through the agglomerate and has left in its wake beautiful rock formations. There are two free-standing pillars of rock there that have been named Man and Woman. Hvítá is also the river that is in Gullfoss and runs through the town of Selfoss.
Not far away from Brúarhlöð is the cathedral at Skálholt. It was one of two episcopal sees in Iceland, the other one being in Hólar. There has been a church there since the early 11th century. The first Icelandic school was founded at the same time to educate clergy. The school exists still to this day, albeit in a different form, and is now called Menntaskólinn í Reykjavík. In 1846 it was moved to Reykjavík from Skáholt and serves as a junior college for Icelandic teens.
The Catholic bishop lived in Skálholt until 1550. That year the last Catholic bishop of Iceland, Jón Arason, was executed along with his two sons. The execution was orchestrated by Lutherans as part of the reformation.
Between Þingvellir and Geysir is the town of Laugarvatn – Hotspring Lake in English. The town is famous for its bread baked in hot springs, smoked trout, swimming pool, and the Fontana spa. If you arrive at 11:30 AM or 2:30 PM, you can take a walk with the staff of Fontana and witness the staff dig up a pot they use to bake their rye bread in and then try it with real Icelandic butter. It is ideal to go to the spa afterward for a welcome soak. The spa has three geothermal pools, a sauna, a steam bath that uses steam directly from the hot springs below, hot tubs and you can also take a dip in Laugarvatn lake itself.
The Secret Lagoon is in the small town of Flúðir. The hot spring has been there for ages, but the pool was made in 1891. It is one of the oldest pools in Iceland and was recently renovated. The whole area has been kept as natural as possible, and the water stays at 38-40° C all year round.
Just outside Þingvellir is Nesjavellir geothermal power station. It is Iceland’s second-largest geothermal power station and was opened, and even though we have been boring boreholes there since 1947, the power station was not built until 1990.
The “Nesjavallaleið” from Þingvellir to Reykjavík (or from Reykjavík to Þingvellir) is one of the more spectacular routes near Reykjavík. It is often impassable or closed during the winter months, but during the summer months, it is great.