Quick tour from Reykjavik
This tour is the most popular tour in Iceland, often done by those on a short layover as this road trip is very near Reykjavik. The golden circle is a popular name for a circle that allows you to stop and see Pingvellir National Park, Gulfoss waterfall and geyser. To get there take Rt 49/ Route 1 out of town, and then Route 36 to Pingvellir. All these attractions are free, you will only have to pay to use the bathroom, or if you want to buy some snack.
Pingvellir (Thingvellir): Pingvellir's claim to fame is that this is the sight of the first parliament, and a place where the European and North American tectonic plates meet. Despite popular belief, the plates do not meet in close proximity but are 7 km apart. Interestingly, even though we were in Europe, we were actually standing on the North American tectonic plate, watching the European plate few kilometers away. In the valley between these plates is where Icelandic parliament met in the X century, and once a year all court cases were heard and decided there during a big festival. This is around the time Christianity became official religion, although pagans were allowed to continue practicing their religion. Historians began to document the nation's history in books referred to as Sagas (Icelandic word of story or history- another famous word originating from Iceland). As usual, the internal struggles weakened the country, and it was first ruled by Norway, then Denmark, until the period of national awakening that swept through Europe in the XIX century. Iceland only became fully independent after WWII.
Gullfoss: Your next stop will be the waterfall Gullfoss. It is a nice waterfall, which allegedly looks golden when sunny, with a wonderful rainbow that appears. We were not that lucky to confirm that, as it was constantly raining. All day. Did I mention the wind? If you go down closer the waterfall, it is a very nice view. This will probably be one of the first waterfalls you will see, and you will feel so small compared to the grandeur of nature, and so impressed and in awe of these waterfalls. As your time in Iceland progresses, and you continue seeing many more beautiful waterfalls, they will start to look the same and your amazement will sadly diminish. There was a lot information available at site about the efforts of previous landowners to prevent the power plant being built here harvesting the water energy, before the land was donated to the state and declared a national monument.
Geysers: The highlight on this rainy day was the visit to the geysers- the most popular geyser (an Icelandic word btw), the Great Geysir, by now has very infrequent eruptions. Fortunately, you can always count on the Strokkur Geysir right next to it, it erupts every 5-8 minutes gushing the water 30 meters high.... Watching the geyser tremble before the eruption may be even more fascinating than the actual event.
Another thing you can see while there is the Kerid Crater Lake that is not too far away. We skipped this because we were completely wet, tired, and cold, and decided to go straight to our hotel, i.e. bed and breakfast place.
If you are driving on and not returning to Reykjavik, you may want to sleep somewhere along the way. We chose the cute Mengi B&B in Kjarnholt off route 30 (which is basically a dirt road, so that full car insurance comes in handy). If you end up staying here, print very detailed map or do a screen shot of the directions to it when you have internet. Or just ask for directions if you see someone. This little B&B was fabulous, with a a wonderful hot tub looking over the gorgeous Icelandic scenery, shared bathrooms on each floor, and the best breakfast we had all trip (amazing bread, home made orange jam, and smoked trout from a local lake, among other delicatessen).