What are the components of a perfect Golden Circle tour? Hidden Iceland, a company founded by three friends, may have perfected the formula—they show their customers the Iceland they’d show a visiting family member. With a maximum of 12 people per tour, the company schedules visits to the tourist-heavy spots like the Skógafoss waterfall and the geothermal area of Geysir at times when they’re least likely to be busy.
On a Saturday morning, I received a text message from our guide Ryan giving his estimated arrival time for our Golden Circle tour. I don’t know about you, but for me this kind of extra attention to detail is a bonus.
Hot soup and steamy photos
Our trip for the day is the Golden Circle Platinum Tour, which covers several major spots in South Iceland over the course of around ten hours. The tour starts with a visit to the Secret Lagoon, a natural hot pool located in the village of Flúðir. We get there early, and for a good ten minutes, we’re the only people in the water—everybody gets a good chance to relax in peace, and take plenty of those coveted steamy geothermal photos without any crowds in the background.
We emerge from the pool feeling refreshed and ready for what lies ahead. Ryan drives us to the Friðheimar greenhouse, famous for its geothermally grown tomatoes. We’re treated to a tour of the facilities, learning how this Icelandic business manages to produce over a tonne of tasty tomatoes each day, all year round, using geothermal energy. We taste the deliciously fresh tomato soup, with an impressive house-baked bread buffet. My advice? Skip the ravioli and pasta—it’s the soup that you are really here for.
Enveloped in mist
After saying hi to some Icelandic horses at the Friðheimar farm, we’re off to Gullfoss, one of Iceland’s most powerful waterfalls and a popular Golden Circle location. This formidable force of nature crashes down thunderously into the gorge below, filling us with energy. Iceland’s signature persistent wind creates a misty fog that resembles a scene from the Sagas, which only adds to this once in a lifetime experience.
The next stop is the geothermal area of Geysir in the Haukadalur Valley. There are plenty of hot springs and geysers in this colourful region, such as Strokkur, Smiður and Litli-Strokkur. Strokkur is the largest of the consistently active geysers, erupting every five to ten minutes, spouting boiling water as high as 40 metres into the air. If you’re not afraid to get a little wet, standing downwind of the geysir and feeling the warm, pungent mist enveloping you is a truly unforgettable experience (This is not recommended on a windy day. A little spray is nice, but a wave of steaming water in your face is not.)
After getting thoroughly soaked, we headed to the Þingvellir National Park. Located on the rift valley that separates the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, Þingvellir is the site of the first known parliament in the world. If you want to picture how early, pre-Danish rule Iceland governed itself, this is the place to visit. Typically this is the first stop on a Golden Circle tour however Hidden Iceland like to work differently to minimise crowds.
But Þingvellir National Park is also a perfect place to reflect. From the top of the path, there’s a wide view spanning hundreds and hundreds of acres of magnificent and mostly untamed land. This is where it hits me how lucky I am to be able to visit all these amazing and very different places in one day. Several people on the tour hail from metropolitan areas like Beijing and London, and to them particularly, taking a minute to see all that Iceland’s nature has to offer was a rare and priceless experience.
The tour that started bright and early at 8:30am concluded at just after six in the evening—just in time for dinner. Before departing, everyone on the bus exchanged their contacts and shared the photos from the day. And who knows—maybe one day our paths will cross again.
Faces of the tour
Names: Laura and Sara
From: United States
How did you find out about this tour? We did a bunch of research online and we didn’t want to do the Blue Lagoon because we heard it was touristy and man-made. We wanted to do something more natural. I’m a gardener, so I wanted to see the greenhouse. We also wanted it to be a small group—we didn’t want to be in a big bus.
What was your favourite part of the tour? The pool was awesome. We’ve experienced similar things in Canada and Wyoming, but this is better, and you almost can’t smell the sulphur.
Name: Wenjie Kelly Li
Is this your first time in Iceland? Yes. I got a cheap flight last year. I like nature, it’s a good time to see Spring in Iceland. Also I like Game of Thrones, and this is where the North was shot.
What made you choose Hidden Iceland? I went to TripAdvisor and saw the company’s high ranking for this Golden Circle tour. When I went to their website, their design appealed to me, as well as their detailed descriptions and photos. This is a great company to go with.
What was your favourite part of the tour? Þingvellir National Park. I like the green fields, and the waterfall nearby was amazing.
What was something unexpected from the tour? The tomatoes at Friðheimar were above my expectations. I never imagined tomatoes tasting so good, but coming from the plants to the table, they were really delicious.
Name: Ryan, Guide and the co-founder or Hidden Iceland
From: Scotland, living in Iceland for the past three years.
Why did you choose this job? I’m just a bit of a nature nerd. I’ve travelled to all seven continents and seen a lot of terrain, but I love Iceland the most for its glaciers. All our guides are handpicked for their personality, or based on their expertise, whether it’s geology or volcanology.
Why Iceland? I’ve guided in lots of different places, but being on a physical glacier is a very different experience.
What is your favourite part of the job? Besides the glacier, just meeting new people. The experiences they’ve had just lets me add to my knowledge.
What is your favourite spot on this particular tour? It’s got to be the Golden Circle tomato farm.
Read more about our adventures to the Golden Circle here
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