The Golden Circle: The alternative stops
The Golden Circle tour, with its mandatory stops at Þingvellir, Gullfoss waterfall and the Geysir hot spring area, is by far the most popular excursion for anyone visiting Iceland. These destinations are only a little over an hour’s drive away from Reykjavík and therefore make for the perfect short sightseeing tour. As a result, theses places tend to get a bit too crowded and a bit too “tourist-y” if you will. However, in the general area around Þingvellir, Gullfoss and Geysir there are many other very interesting places to visit that are fortunately mostly overlooked by the big bus companies. So without further ado, Iceland Mini Campers-our motorhome rental company-proudly presents The Golden Circle Alternative Stops, with or without the more mainstream stops.
Þingvellir – National Park
When heading from Reykjavík it is best to take the highway 1 main road straight out of Reykjavík and through the neighboring village of Mosfellsbær, then take a right turn at highway 36 or Þingvallavegur (all these roads should be clearly marked but for better information such as roadmaps, distances and gasoline costs etc., refer to the websites vegvisir.is, vegagerdin.is and vegasja.vegagerdin.is). Highway 36 takes you straight through the Þingvellir national park and has some beautiful scenery along the way such as lake Þingvallavatn and the surrounding mountains.
After passing through the Þingvellir area you should take a left at highway 365. If you stay on this road you will see a sign pointing left towards the Laugarvatnshellar caves. These are two sandstone caves that were people used to live until 1922. Interestingly enough, the last people who lived there had two children while living in the caves, one of whom is alive and well and reportedly has her own Facebook page. That in itself says a lot about the fast development of Iceland in the past century or so: being born in a cave and being on Facebook can happen within the space of a single lifetime. After Laugarvatnshellar take a left at highway 37 which takes you the small village of Laugarvatn. There you can find a swimming pool, some shops with local design and produce and a couple of restaurants. If you proceed towards Geysir there are a number of interesting places in the surrounding area. First of all is the farm Efstidalur, which is on the left hand side 15 minutes after passing Laugarvatn village. This cow farm has set up a restaurant on top of its barn and makes delicious ice-cream (more info here).
Further down highway 35 (highway 37 changes to 35 between Laugarvatn and Geysir) you will reach the Geysir hot spring area. A little further on the left hand you find Haukadalsskógur, a beautiful forest with many marked hiking paths of various distances and a facility for barbecuing.
If you continue on highway 35 (past the road to Gullfoss) you will end up in the small village of Reykholt, which has an excellent swimming pool with a waterslide and hot pots. In this general area there are many greenhouses that produce a wide range of vegetables and berries. Often these are sold in little boxes by the roadside. Some greenhouses welcome visitors such as the tomato growers at Friðheimar, which offer delicious tomato soup and a wide range of juices, jams and sauces made from tomatoes. Nearby you can also find the waterfall Faxi which has camping facilities right next to it (information and coordinates here).
The closest village to Reykholt is Flúðir which has a grocery store and a very good Ethiopian restaurant, called Minilik. To finish the Golden Circle, people typically drive through the Grímsnes and stop at the picturesque Kerið crater (see here) and to the small town of Selfoss and from there back to Reykjavík via highway 1. The route from Selfoss to Reykjavík takes circa 45 minutes and offers a view of mossy lava fields and other strange landscapes. Along these places mentioned above there is a wide selection of places to camp, with or without service (these can be explored better here).
To conclude, this general area offers great many locations, shops and stops not mentioned here above so our advice is to drive slowly, have plenty of time and make discoveries on your own.
Have a safe trip!