Disclaimer: I was welcomed as a guest on EastWest Iceland’s Golden Circle & Waterfalls tour. All opinions, as always, are my own.
By far one of the most popular day trips from Reykjavik is the Golden Circle, the popular tourist route consisting of Þingvellir National Park, the Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss Waterfall. Many people rent cars and drive the route themselves, but going on a guided Golden Circle tour is another common way to experience the trip.
Because of its popularity, there are absolutely loads of tour companies to choose from should you not want to drive for one reason or another (like not wanting to deal with the winter roads) with options for every type of traveler, from the penny-pinching budget traveler who just wants someone to take them from one place to the next to private, luxury tours.
When it came to choosing what Golden Circle tour I wanted to go on (as I was traveling solo and definitely didn’t want to drive in Iceland in the winter on my own), I knew I didn’t want to go on a big bus that only visited the main three sites and was completely impersonal. I wanted to get a little bit off the beaten path–even if that meant having to pay a little bit more.
In the end, I chose to go on EastWest Iceland’s Golden Circle tour and they not only exceeded my expectations but left me with some really beautiful travel memories (I also went with them to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and they were fantastic both times).
Here’s how I spent my day on the Golden Circle with EastWest.
GOLDEN CIRCLE TOUR: OUR OFF-THE-BEATEN PATH GOLDEN CIRCLE ROUTE
PINGVELLIR NATIONAL PARK
We got an early start to the day–I was picked up at 8:30 from my hostel and we were heading out of Reykjavik by 9–and because sunrise during winter in Iceland isn’t until, like, 11, it was still pretty dark when we got to our first stop of the day: Þingvellir National Park.
Þingvellir (pronounced Thing-vell-eer) is best known for two things: being both the location of Iceland’s first parliament and the place where you can walk/snorkel/scuba dive between the North American and European tectonic plates. We stopped off at the perfect place to experience both: Almannagjá gorge. Here, you can look out across at the lit up parliament building, stand on two continents at once, and walk along the gorge which marks the edge of the North American plate. It’s also a perfect stop for Game of Thrones fans, as Almannagjá served as a filming location for the Eyrie!
EastWest’s Golden Circle tour is actually called the Golden Circle and Waterfalls Tour, so it was no surprise that they delivered on that promise. Just down the gorge from where we were dropped off at Þingvellir was our first waterfall of the day: Öxarárfoss Waterfall.
Here’s the thing about Öxarárfoss. I don’t think a single person on the tour had ever heard of this little gem of a waterfall before, which is seriously surprising considering it’s inside of one of the most popular Golden Circle stops. We had the waterfall almost completely to ourselves, which just totally blew my mind. Getting off-the-beaten-path on the Golden Circle? Check.
FONTANA GEOTHERMAL BREAD
After our stop at Thingvellir National Park, we hopped back in the van and headed towards Fontana Wellness Center. Although most people who go to Fontana are likely there for their spa, we were there for another reason: to watch as some bread was buried in the ground to bake.
You read that right. Apparently, the ground surrounding the hot springs in many parts of Iceland is hot enough that you can straight up bake bread in it. And its a culinary specialty.
We stood to the side as Fontana’s Official Bread Baker (at least, I can only assume that’s their title) dug a hole, placed a pot of dough in it, and covered it back up, marking the spot with a rock. 24 hours later, she would come back to dig up the bread. But because we didn’t have time to wait, our guide, Jonas, pulled a tupperware container out and handed some geothermally-baked bread around to the group. I have to admit, it pretty much just tasted like bread. But knowing that it had been baked in the ground, and standing on top of the very type of ground that it was baked it made it an exceptionally special experience.
ICELANDIC ICE CREAM
Obviously not sated by one slice of bread, our next stop clearly had to be food related as well. So when Jonas told us that we were headed for the best ice cream Iceland, we all happily climbed back into the van to drive to Efstidalur Dairy Farm.
Once there, we were greeted by 4 of the cutest dogs I’ve ever met, who, because of the lack of trees in Iceland, seemed to only have one stick to share between them. Honestly, if you only take EastWest’s Golden Circle tour to meet these dogs, it would be worth it. Best surprise ever.
After giving each of the dogs significant pets, I finally joined everyone else inside for ice cream made from milk from the cows on the very farm that we were at. In fact, you could see their stables through the window. Talk about farm to table, am I right? And you guessed it: the ice cream was so good I would eat it even on the coldest day in Iceland.
While we were there I also noticed that the farm has a guesthouse, and made it my mission to stay there the next time I visit Iceland.
GEYSIR GEOTHERMAL AREA
After being ripped away from my new best friends (the dogs), it was time for another of the most popular Golden Circle stops: Geysir Geothermal Area.
Now, here’s the thing about Geysir. It is straight up the geysir that ALL OTHER geysirs are named after. Pretty freaking impressive if you ask me (and, evidently, everyone else who visits Iceland). What a lot of people don’t know, though, is that your chances of seeing Geysir erupt aren’t super high. Although it is, technically, very active, it only erupts every few hours.
However, Geysir itself is actually part of a larger “geyser field”, and the geyser right next to it, Stokkur, erupts every 5-7 minutes, so you can still be guaranteed to see a geyser erupt even if you don’t see the Geysir erupt. I stayed long enough to watch Stokkur erupt twice and it was equally awe-worthy both times. Be ready with your camera while you’re waiting as the eruption really only lasts a few seconds.
The final of the 3 main Golden Circle stops is Gulfoss Waterfall, which is where we went next. Gulfoss is an absolutely HUGE waterfall that totally took my breath away. As you walk along the edge of the falls, droplets of water from them splash against your face and clothes, and you have to be careful not to slip on the wet rocks. The combination of the roaring falls, mist, and crowds of people reminded me a lot of Niagara Falls–though Gulfoss is certainly a lot less developed.
It was about 3 pm when we visited, which, in Iceland in winter, means golden hour. The light of the sunset bouncing off the mist of the falls was that kind of special beautiful you only get every once and a while, and even snap-happy me had to put down my camera for a little bit just to take it all in.
Of course, we couldn’t stop with just two waterfalls, and our last waterfall of the day was the most off-the-beaten-path of all: Faxi Waterfall. Just down the road from Gulfoss, yet there was absolutely no one there. Of course, they’re certainly less impressive than Gulfoss, but beautiful nonetheless, and I see no reason why people shouldn’t see both.
FRIDHEIMAR TOMATO FARM RESTAURANT
Our last stop of the day was for a late lunch at Fridheimar Tomato Farm: a farm that grows tomatoes year round. While this is special in and of it of itself (it is Iceland, after all), they also have a restaurant in one of their greenhouses where absolutely everything on the menu is made out of tomatoes. Yup, even the beer. Now that’s the kind of quirky, offbeat foodie experience that gets my attention.
When we got there, our waiter told us all about the farm and their growing techniques, including the lights they use in the winter and the live bees that fly around to pollinate the plants. We immediately started keeping bee watch when he told us that.
I had their ravioli and it was to die for. You can also treat yourself to their all-you-can-eat tomato soup bar if you’re up for it, and after your meal go for a wander around the greenhouse.
Another highlight of Fridheimar? Saying hello to their adorable Icelandic horse friends (pro tip: don’t call them ponies. They don’t like that). This was the culmination of days of anticipation, as literally my one goal in Iceland was to meet the horses. And yup, they were as fluffy and amazing as they look in pictures.
After saying goodbye to the horses, it was time to head back to Reykjavik with full tummies and happy memories of the best Golden Circle tour ever.
EASTWEST ICELAND’S GOLDEN CIRCLE TOUR REVIEW
Of all the Golden Circle tours there are to take, I firmly believe that EastWest Iceland’s is the best. Why? A few reasons.
- While the 3 main Golden Circle stops were fine, they really weren’t the highlight of the trip–in large part because of how crowded they were. What made EastWest’s Golden Circle tour so special were all the stops in between. From sampling Icelandic ice cream to seeing waterfalls that haven’t yet taken over Instagram to eating at a restaurant where everything is made out of tomatoes, these off-the-beaten-path stops were the highlight of my entire time in Iceland.
- My guide, Jonas, was an absolute joy and taught us so much about the Golden Circle and Iceland in general.
- EastWest focuses on going slow and really taking the grandeur of Iceland in. They also never have groups of more than 15 people, which means that your experience with them is super personal.
Because of these reasons, I really couldn’t recommend EastWest Iceland’s tour more. Definitely go with them if you’re considering taking a Golden Circle tour!
IF YOU GO
EastWest Iceland’s Golden Circle and Waterfalls Tour leaves from Reykjavik every day at 9 am. The tour costs ISK 12,900 for adults and ISK 6,450 for children and includes pick up and drop off from your hotel or allocated bus stop and a small group personal tour to both the top and hidden sights on the Golden Circle. Lunch at Fridheimar and ice cream at Efstidalur Dairy Farm are not included.
If you have any questions about taking a Golden Circle tour with EastWest Iceland, don’t be afraid to ask them in the comments down below!
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