All the popular travel blogs will urge you to hire a car and drive the Golden Circle tour yourself. If you’re travelling with three or more people, it will probably work out cheaper for you to hire a car than to pay for the coach tour, but for two or less, it might not be worth the hassle.
There are four reasons we chose a coach tour rather than driving. 1. I can’t drive, 2. Even if I could, hiring a car under 25 is a nightmare on it’s own, 3. Driving on the other side of the road is scary, 4. Why would we hire a car when it’s cheaper to go by coach?
Well, you’ve got the added advantages of seeing everything in your own time, stopping along the way if you want a selfie with an Icelandic horse, you get to listen to your own music as loudly as you want and you get to skip the crowds therefore avoiding strangers getting in the way of your pictures.The benefits of going by coach tour is that they know exactly what they’re doing. You won’t get lost (although on one big road, you’re unlikely to get lost on a self-drive), you get a running commentary and a brief Icelandic history lesson.
It depends on who you are and what you want. In our case, the coach tour was the right (and the only) choice. So here was our experience, and what you should expect if you choose to do the Golden Circle Tour by coach.
Our first stop was Skálholt Church, right after heading through the greenhouse village of Hveragerði.In Iceland, villages are small and almost everybody knows each other, so as we headed towards the church, they were setting up a for a funeral in which the whole town was invited. If it wasn’t already crowded with the coach tour, it certainly was now. Still, it was a pleasant little church in a beautiful area.At this point in the tour, it was almost 10am, so the sun had risen over the mountainscape creating a beautiful wash of colour over the sky. Only in Iceland can you breathe air this crisp and fresh and see natural sights this beautiful.
Faxafoss WaterfallThe next stop was Faxafoss Waterfall. One of the two waterfalls you’ll see on the Golden Circle tour. This one is particularly special due to the salmon ladder at the side.Gullfoss Waterfall
Step aside, Faxafoss and make way for the main event. Gullfoss. This incredible waterfall has a 32m drop between two valleys with two viewing platforms looking out over the falls.Be prepared, if you’re travelling in winter, make sure you dress warmly, because it can get freezing up there.Geysers
The coach had it’s charming moments. Once we had passed the geysers for the first time on our way to Gullfoss, before circling back to see them again, I watched the geyser from the window, hoping to see it erupt. To my delight, it did, right after most tourists lost interest.
“There it is,” I said, quietly to mum and the lady behind me whipped her head around to see and smashed it against the window. And that, my friends, is one of the delightful moments you’d never get on a self-drive. Watching strangers get mildly hurt is always funny.
When you get to the geysers, the first thing you’ll notice is the stench of sulphur and the smoke rising from the ground looking like the set of a sci-fi film. So what exactly is a geyser? It’s a hot spring in which water continuously boils, occasionally shooting columns of water into the air. ‘Geysir’ literally means spouting and is one of the only Icelandic words that crossed over into our vocabulary. We, however, spell geysir with an E rather than an I.The two main attractions are the Strokkur Geysir and The Great Geysir.
The Great Geysir was the first well known geyser, continuously spouting up until 1916. It has occasionally spouted during earthquakes, but mostly lays dormant. Despite now looking almost like an ordinary hot spring, the Great Geysir is a beautiful phenomenon full of history and magic.The Stokkur geysir is the one I had seen spouting earlier. It usually spouts every five to seven minutes so you’ll see crowds of tourists gathered by, oohing and awing when it goes off. They’re incredible to see and pictures don’t do them justice.And there aren’t just the main two geysers either. There’s plenty of smaller ones, continuously spouting without the awe-inspiring impact of the larger ones and there’s another that was pure blue and looked like something out of a dream world. The geysers were completely phenomenal.Þingvellir National Park
Our last stop on the Golden Circle Tour was a short hike through Thingvellir National Park. This place is special for two reasons.Firstly, it is where one of the first parliaments, Althingi, was founded. Although it seemed like an unusual place these days, miles from the capital city and far away from any civilisation, back in 930AD, this was the perfect place to meet up and people would visit from all over Iceland to discuss laws and politics.The second reason Thingvellir is so great is that it’s situated on the tectonic plate boundaries of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.I really enjoyed the Golden Circle tour. It’s a must if you’re visiting Iceland, as there are so many gorgeous sights to see. You shouldn’t miss out.