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Best Golden Circle Tour for Avoiding the Crowd | Hidden Iceland

by Viola
Best Golden Circle Tour for Avoiding the Crowd | Hidden Iceland

The Golden Circle is the most classic tourist route in Iceland. It contains three popular attractions: the Geysir Geothermal Area, Gullfoss Waterfall, and Þingvellir National Park. Herds of people visit the Golden Circle every day, either via bus tours or self-drive. As a traveler who likes to avoid popular tourist hours as much as possible, but who also sucks at driving (not economical anyways since I’m solo), I faced a dilemma. Luckily, I found Hidden Iceland, a small group travel agency whose mission is to “take you where crowds aren’t, without missing the must see places along the way.” After my experience, I can agree that Hidden Iceland is indeed the best Golden Circle tour if you want to enjoy an off-the-beaten-path feeling even when you are on the beaten path.

This post follows our day visiting several key landmarks. For the official itinerary, visit Hidden’s Iceland page: Golden Circle Platinum Tour.

 

*Big thanks to Hidden Iceland for sponsoring this experience. All opinions expressed in this post are my own.

 

Hidden Iceland Pickup

Our day started with a pick up at 8:30 AM in Reykjavik. Since I enjoyed the South Coast tour with Hidden Iceland the day before, I was extra excited for the Golden Circle tour today. The minivan was right on time to pick me up outside my hostel Hlemmur Square (psst, highly recommend this awesome hostel). I met our guide Ryan, who is actually one of the co-founders of the company. After our introduction, we drove to pick up the other passengers and went on our way.

The tour had 10 guests for the day, a nice small group. As we drove out of the city, everyone in the van got to know each other a little bit. Ryan was a great conversation starter and made the atmosphere fun and comfortable. He also explained our itinerary, which contained 5 main attractions. First stop: the Secret Lagoon.

 

The Secret Lagoon

We arrived at the Secret Lagoon when it just opened. This natural hot spring is not usually a part of the classic Golden Circle tours, but Hidden Iceland added it to their itinerary. Since I love hot springs, I really looked forward to this experience. Comparing to the extremely popular and commercialize Blue Lagoon, the Secret Lagoon retained an old-time authentic feel. Besides the new and modern changing room facilities, the pool area has been kept just as it was like it first opened in 1891. In fact, this it is the oldest swimming pool in the country. The water is of course heated naturally by the geothermal activity in the area. Next to the pool, there is a little geyser that erupts every five minutes or so, emitting steam into the air. Apparently, on a good weather day, you can even see the sunrise over the water.

For us, there were only a handful of other people around since it was early in the day. The mood was serene, magical and perfect. I would definitely come to the Secret Lagoon again if I return to Iceland in the future.

Tip:

  • You can rent a towel and swimsuit if you don’t have them, but it is best to bring your own.
  • There is also a charming little cafe on site if you feel like a coffee/snack.

 

Lunch at Friðheimar

restaurant in a greenhouse

After our relaxing soak, we were all pretty hungry. Lunch was included as a part of the tour. With anticipation, we headed to a tomato Greenhouse farm named Friðheimar. This unique restaurant is tomato-themed. It was a pleasant surprise to walk into a beautiful dining area literally set amongst the greenhouse plants. The restaurant had just opened for the day, so once again we were the only guests. Our waiter seated us at a pretty table and gave us an interesting introduction about Friðheimar. We learned that four different kinds of tomatoes are grown on the property, and the process of cultivation is an impressive combination of nature and technology.

ravioli pasta with tomato and cucumber

On the menu, every item has tomatoes in it, including drinks and desserts. I’m talking tomato draft beer, tomato ice cream, tomato cheesecake, tomato everything! I chose the tomato ravioli pasta as my main. The other recommended option was the tomato soup buffet, accompanied by unlimited homemade bread.

Everyone concluded that the food was delicious. My pasta was very filling and I loved the fresh chunky veggies that came it.

two horses in a pen

Friðheimar also has horse breeding program. So once we filled our bellies, we went searching for some Icelandic horses. We spotted these cuties in a pen right outside the greenhouse. A couple of them were in a hyper mood. While I was busy petting one horse, another snuck up on me from behind and started chewing on my jacket and hair. It was a hilarious playtime.

 

Gullfoss Waterfall

gullfoss waterfall

Our next stop was Gullfoss, one of the most iconic waterfalls in Iceland and a major attraction on the Golden Circle route. For me, the first sight of the falls was jaw-dropping. Gullfoss is absolutely huge. Watching the powerful cascade is a moment that reminds all how awe-inspiring nature can be. In the winter, the white snow adds an extra layer of beauty, making the scene a photographer’s dream.

Tip:

  • It can be extremely windy at Gullfoss. Minimize your belongings such as hat, scarfs, and gloves as they can be blown away. Take caution while walking near path edges.

 

Geysir

geysir geothermal area

From Gullfoss, the famous Geysir geothermal site is not too far away. Did you know that the English word “geyser” originated from this particular Geysir in Iceland? This landmark is another must-see on the Golden Circle. You know you’ve entered the activity zone when you notice yellow sulphuric stains on the ground and steam gas in the air.

Strokkur is the most active geyser in the area and erupts every ten minutes or so. The eruption usually blasts boiling water into the air about 15 to 20 meters, but it can go up to as high as 40 meters when it really feels like showing off. We had a front and center spot as it was not crowded when we got there.  After a couple of minutes wait, we witnessed nature’s spectacle as promised.

Tip:

  • The eruption can happen at any time with no warning, so be ready with your camera if you want to capture the moment.
  • Stand on the side of the geyser that is facing away from the wind to avoid getting huge whiffs of the pungent sulfur smell.

 

Þingvellir National Park

Þingvellir National Park

Our last stop of the day was Þingvellir National Park. This UNESCO world heritage site is special for many reasons. First of all, the park is a geographic wonder as it lies in the rift valley of the diverging North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. It is fascinating to see the crack where the two plates are coming apart, and you can actually walk between the boundaries. Where else in the world can you say you’ve done that? Secondly, Þingvellir holds historical and cultural significance as it is the place where the first known parliament in the world was established. Here, many important decisions were made for Iceland as a country. And lastly, this park was the site for the filming of a little show you may have heard of, Game of Thrones! (I just had to throw that fun fact in there 🙂 ) So GOT watchers, see how many familiar sceneries can you find.

By the time we pulled into Þingvellir, it was the late afternoon and the park was very quiet. Ryan explained that Hidden Iceland visits this stop last because people are usually leaving the park at this time. This strategy obviously works as we had no distractions while enjoying the views. The tranquil, grand, marvelous views…

 

 

Hidden Iceland Golden Circle Tour Summary

I give Hidden Iceland two huge thumbs up for being the best Golden Circle Tour at avoiding crowds. We encountered minimal people at many of our stops thanks to their impeccable timing. In fact, we were the only ones at Friðheimar and Þingvellir (and both places are very popular). Kudos to our guide Ryan, who took good care of us. We got caught up in the storm for awhile on the way back to Reykjavik. However, Ryan stayed calm and handled the situation very well. He even bought us extra snacks! With such a small group, everyone got to chat with each other, and the vibe felt more like a bunch of friends traveling together rather than a tour company. It was especially cute when we shared peanuts and cookies while listening to Christmas jams in the car. 😛 I would definitely travel with Hidden Iceland again and check out some of their other tours if I return to Iceland one day.

 

You may also like:  Unique South Coast Iceland Tour | Hidden Iceland

 

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8 comments

Brianna January 16, 2019 - 7:29 pm

Wow this sounds like an amazing tour! You hit all the main sights of the Golden Circle and you got to visit the Secret Lagoon! The tomato restaurant sounds really interesting, now I am wondering what tomato cheesecake is like. I love finding smaller tours because they just offer a way more relaxing day so its great to read the good reviews on the Hidden Iceland tour.

Reply
Federica January 16, 2019 - 10:51 pm

I truly enjoyed reading your post and collecting so helpful tips to plan my Iceland trip. In which period of the year have you been to and when would you suggest to go. Are there age limits to enter the hot springs (as I am thinking of going with my young daughters). Thanks for the info!

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Umiko January 17, 2019 - 3:37 am

Just by reading your post, I would give the Hidden Island two big thumbs ups, too! Organized and took Tik you to those places at the right time. That tectonic plates sounds really cool! My family will enjoy it a lot!

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Paige January 17, 2019 - 4:49 pm

It sounds like this tour has it down – it’s all about timing with most popular places like this. I love seeing other people who visit in the winter. I’ve done both summer and winter now, and Gullfoss in the snow is one of the most spectacular sites I’ve ever seen! Secret Lagoon sounds like a great alternative to the Blue Lagoon and it looks even more beautiful!

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Cristina - Memories of the Pacific January 17, 2019 - 6:09 pm

What an amazing tour! Iceland is on my bucket list. I’m not a fan of cold weather but it’s such a beautiful country!

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Samantha January 17, 2019 - 6:46 pm

It seems like you chose a really great tour- you still got to hit many of the popular spots, but timed perfectly so that you missed the crowds. I love that you started the day off with a hot spring, it must have been a great start to the tour!!!

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Izzy January 18, 2019 - 3:11 am

You had me at tomato themed restaurant. I mean, the whole experience just sounds amazing but as a diehard gourmand and tomato devotee, eating at Friðheimar just speaks to me. Did you try the tomato ice cream or the tomato cheesecake? Omg, unlimited tomato soup buffet? Amazinggggg!

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Nicky January 19, 2019 - 7:45 pm

I’m LOVING your photos!! I’m hoping that this might be the year that I finally get to Iceland, and I’m definitely going to use this guide – it looks so dreamy, so magical. And you’re looking as fabulous as ever!!

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