The “Golden Circle” is a 300-kilometre loop of road in southwestern Iceland, driveable in a day, that contains several of Iceland’s most popular sights. Lined up neatly along the mid-Atlantic ridge stand the Þingvellir national park, Iceland’s geysers (known simply as “Geysír,” in Icelandic), and the Gullfoss waterfall. Tour buses shuttle people in and out of their various carparks and visitors centres, day in and day out.
If you mention this route to Icelanders or seasoned travel vets, you should be prepared for some cynicism to rain down upon you. The Golden Circle’s massive popularity, and proximity to Reykjavík, mean there are masses of tourists traipsing around the loop all year round. It’s safe to say that the Golden Circle has become something of a tourist trope in the minds of locals.
Nevertheless, there’s a reason so many people go. Þingvellir is the spot where the first Icelandic parliament was established in 930, and the stunning power of Gullfoss and Geysír are must-sees for first time visitors. With this in mind, Kexland— the tour-operating division of the empire that started with Kex Hostel—is launching an alternative rendition of the Golden Circle tour this year, starting on June 1st. They want to take the experience back to the days—really, only ten or so years ago—when a group of friends would pile into a car together and visit these places without thinking of them just as boxes to be checked on a “best of Iceland” list.
This prototype tour started at 10am, when we were picked up at the hostel by a distinctly old-school bus. The retro feel, it turns out, is central to the road trip theme running through the tour. This also means better snacks, more stops, and smaller, less packed buses. In fact, the tour’s maximum capacity is around 23, while most other coach tours cram in 50-plus.
Kexland have clearly considered the details, and made many choices that deviate from basic tour expectations. Instead of the standard impersonal recorded guide soundtrack, we watched the scenery to a carefully curated playlist of classic and contemporary Icelandic music for the duration of the drive.
Random acts of music
The biggest standout feature of the tour was that, unbeknownst to us, we’d had some Icelandic musicians among us the whole time. As we took several surprise stops—including the volcanic crater lake of Kerið, and former cave residences at Laugarvatnshellar—we were handed blankets, lunch, coffee and Kex Pilsner for a picnic, eaten whilst being serenaded live by none other than Myrra Rós and Indrið.
The tour leader, Rúnar, explained to us: “We wanted to take Kex Hostel and recreate it on a bus—the kind of old school bus that could take you into the Highlands.”
It seemed to have the desired effect. One of our fellow daytrippers was Sam Hosman, who first took the Golden Circle tour a couple years ago. He said the trip was a world away from his previous experience. “The live music is the best touch,” he said, “and I think it really connects the trip to the hostel, because they’re so influenced by good music. They’re able to take a very touristy thing like the Golden Circle, and make it unique.”