Tuesday 4 February 2020

Driving the Golden Circle in Iceland with Kids

If you're planning on visiting Iceland then the Golden Circle will most definitely be on your itinerary. Taking in some of South West Iceland's most stunning natural sights, it's easily accessible as a day trip from Reykjavik.

Whilst I was doing our holiday research I found lots of tour operators running Golden Circle tours but I wondered if these would be suitable for children. Although I liked the idea of having a tour guide, we decided that self driving would suit us more. Elliot and Erin are 6 and 2 and I thought it would be much easier and much less stressful doing things at our own pace!

We hired a car through Blue Car Rental and we used Google Maps on our phones to get around. The Golden Circle is very popular amongst tourists though so you could probably get by with just using signs/maps! We found the internet coverage excellent in Iceland and we were able to use it pretty much everywhere we went.

Thingvillir National Park

Our first stop was Thingvillir (ÞingvellirNational Park which is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland. It's the only UNESCO World Heritage site in Iceland and has a past steeped in history. The park is located in a rift valley, created by the movement of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. This makes for some jaw dropping scenery!

There is no entrance fee for the park but if you arrive by car you will have to pay a parking fee of 500 ISK, but this is valid for the entire day and at all parking areas.

There is a large visitor's centre with the usual cafe/shop/exhibits but we skipped this and headed straight for the lookout point. With it being a beautiful sunny morning, we could see for miles and it literally looked like a postcard!

We followed the main path that ran parallel with the cliff and were rewarded with more stunning views. The terrain was perfectly fine for the children however some of the lookout points just had a bar and were not child-friendly at all - Erin stayed on her reins the entire time (much to her disgust!) so we could keep a good grip on her.

There are several carparks dotted around the park so we decided that Paul should go back and get the car and drive onto the next carpark whilst myself and the children followed the path and enjoyed the views. This sounded like a good plan but we didn't realise that the further we got from the visitor's centre, the deeper the snow got on the paths!

We passed lots of people coming down a steep path (and most of them sliding down on their bums!) and my heart sank as it was the only way up to the carpark that Paul was parked in! (Little did I know that he was up top taking photos as you can see from the pic below...)

Can you spot us?!

With a bit of help from some passers-by, a few tears and rather alot of snow we managed to get to the top in one piece..well, maybe not my dignity. That was shattered after I face planted the snow on the clamber up! 

Gullfoss Waterfall

Gullfoss was our next stop on the Golden Circle and it was around an hours drive from Thingvillir. This was a good opportunity for the kids to have a bit of a rest after trudging through the snow - Erin was asleep literally minutes into our journey! 

A top tip if you're travelling along this route is to seek out the cheaper food options. Eating out in Iceland is notoriously expensive but a much cheaper option is to go for hotdogs which you can pretty much find everywhere in Iceland. We stopped at a service station (here) and discovered a really good grocery shop and the all important hotdogs!  We were able to have a quick lunch at a fraction of the price of any of the cafes and restaurants at the Golden Circle hot spots. 

Gullfoss is another of the most popular tourist spots in Iceland and this was evident by the amount of cars and buses in the carpark! There is a large gift shop and restaurant on site, and plenty of viewpoints to see the waterfall. 

If you were thinking about taking a buggy, you would only be able to view from the top as there were a number of steps going down to the lower viewpoints. There are rope fences which weren't really enough to contain a lively toddler so definitely keep little kids on reins if possible! 

The waterfall is impressive, and the roar of the water as we climbed down the steps was deafening! On sunny days you can spot rainbows above the waterfall like we did - although don't let the sunshine in our photos fool you. It was COLD! 

Geysir and Strokkur 

Next on our Golden Circle itinerary was Geysir, home to the famous erupting geysers - chance is if you've ever googled Iceland, you'll have seen a picture of the the water erupting out of the ground! 

Geysir is the original geyser but this one doesn't erupt as much these days. Strokkur however, goes off every 5-10 minutes so you will never have to wait long to see an eruption. The water is blasted to around 30 metres high! I found it so fascinating - it was brilliant to see it afar like in the photo above but once we got up close we could actually see the water bubbling in the ground. It would bubble into a dome and then kind of get sucked in and then at that point you knew the eruption would be any second! 

The kids thought it was brilliant and we spent ages wandering around looking at all the smaller geysers and waiting for the big one to erupt. It did take us by surprise at first though - we thought we'd found a really good vantage point to watch it erupt. Little did we know that the reason no one was stood there was that it was in the splash zone! Poor Erin looked like she'd been in the shower but they thought it was hilarious!

The pathways are mostly paved and definitely suitable for buggies although we left ours in the car and just had the reins. With steaming vents, hot springs and boiling mud pits you definitely need to keep an eye on little ones - there are roped fences but it would be easy for a child to slip under these.

On site opposite the main geothermal area there is a large gift shop, cafe, restaurant and hotel. We stopped for a hot chocolate and ice-cream and it was nice to escape the cold for a bit!

It's free to see the geysers and there is a large carpark but it does get VERY busy. Most bus tours seem to come and go pretty quickly but we actually spent a few hours here and it did get much quieter towards late afternoon. I'd probably say this was our highlight of the Golden Circle!

Kerið Volcanic Crater Lake

Kerið is a 3,000 year old volcanic crater lake located along the Golden Circle route. It doesn't really look much from the road but as you climb nearer the rim, you can look down and see the spectacular colours. The water is usually bright blue although it was iced over when we visited. However we could clearly see the red volcanic rocks of the crater wall beneath the ice and snow. The crater is 270m long, 170m wide and 55m deep and is very impressive! 

There are two options for a walk - you can take the steps down to the bottom of the crater or you can walk up and around the crater rim. We chose to walk around the crater rim - it was quite uneven in places and a little muddy/icy but Erin was on her reins and we managed it with no issues. There are no fences and you are up quite high so I didn't let go of her hand! The views are worth it though and it felt like we were walking on top of the world!

Elliot and Paul took the steps down the bottom of the lake whilst Erin and I headed back to the car to warm up. It looked pretty slippery so I'm glad we left them to it!

Northern Lights

We decided as we were out in the car we may as well try and get a glimpse of the elusive Northern Lights. We had a bit of time before it got dark so we took a slow drive back to Reykjavik, taking in the impressive scenery. Iceland is so beautiful and it was even more special to see if at dusk when the sun was setting. 

The kids fell asleep in the back of the car so we parked up at a quiet spot with little light pollution. As the sky fell darker and darker, we excitedly kept our eyes peeled for any activity.

We did spot some unusual light - it seemed to get brighter and wispy but it came and went within around 20 minutes. It wasn't until I looked more closely at the photo once I got home that I spotted the green tinge!

Our Golden Circle day was mega long and we didn't get back to our apartment until gone 10pm but having our own transport made it so much easier with the kids. It meant we could take our time and not be on someone else's schedule.

We all had a brilliant time and the kids really enjoyed the day - they certainly slept well that night!

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