Welcome to the land of fire and ice, a mystical realm where nature’s extremes coexist in an ethereal harmony. Iceland, known for its geothermal lagoons, volcanic landscapes, and the ethereal Northern Lights, is a paradise for adventure seekers and nature lovers alike. Among the many treasures it holds, the iconic Golden Circle route stands out as a must-experience journey. This well-trodden path, which covers around 300 kilometers and loops from Reykjavík into central Iceland and back, offers a stunning showcase of the country's diverse and unique geological features.

In this comprehensive guide, we'll delve into the heart of Iceland's Golden Circle, exploring its key attractions, hidden gems, and the best ways to navigate this popular route. Whether you're planning a self-drive tour or considering a guided excursion, this guide will help you plan your trip and ensure you don't miss any of the highlights. So gear up, set your sights on the horizon, and get ready to explore the unforgettable Golden Circle.

What is the Golden Circle?

The Golden Circle is a popular 300-kilometer tourist route in Southern Iceland, offering a mesmerizing journey through some of the country's most stunning natural wonders. The term "Golden Circle" is symbolic of the golden opportunities to explore Iceland's geothermal marvels, historical sites, and breathtaking landscapes. As per data from the Icelandic Tourist Board, more than 80% of all visitors to Iceland choose this route, underscoring its appeal and importance. This route is easily accessible from Reykjavik, making it an ideal day tour for those who want to experience the enchanting beauty of Iceland at their own pace.

Gullfoss Waterfall Iceland
Gullfoss Waterfall Iceland

  • Thingvellir National Park: A UNESCO World Heritage site, it is geologically significant as the meeting point of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.
  • Gullfoss Waterfall: Often hailed as one of Iceland's most beautiful waterfalls, it boasts an average water flow of 140 cubic meters per second.
  • Geysir Geothermal Area: Home to the famous Strokkur geyser that erupts approximately every 10 minutes, reaching heights up to 30 meters.

Beyond these major attractions, the Golden Circle also includes other natural wonders and activities such as the volcanic crater Kerið, the Faxi waterfall, and traditional Icelandic farms like Efstidalur and Friðheimar.

Its proximity to Reykjavik, the capital city, coupled with the diversity it offers, makes the Golden Circle an ideal choice for travelers wanting to experience the best of Iceland within a short time frame. The Golden Circle route is indeed a microcosm of Iceland's unique landscapes and rich cultural heritage.

Golden Circle Iceland Map With Highlighted Attractions

The Golden Circle is a must-see route in Iceland that takes you through some of the most amazing sights near Reykjavik. This 300-kilometer loop is perfect for a day trip and lets you see incredible places like the Gullfoss Waterfall, the Geysir geothermal area, and the historic Þingvellir National Park.

It's a simple drive, but the views are out of this world! You'll see exploding geysers, huge waterfalls, and beautiful landscapes. The Golden Circle is great for anyone who wants to see the best of Iceland's nature in just one day.

Golden Circle Iceland Map
Golden Circle Iceland Map

Major Attractions on the Golden Circle Route

The Golden Circle Route in Iceland is a journey through some of the most iconic and mesmerizing natural attractions the country has to offer. Among these, Thingvellir National Park, the Geysir Geothermal Area, and the Gullfoss Waterfall stand out as must-visit landmarks.

Thingvellir National Park

Thingvellir National Park holds a special place in Iceland's golden circle due to its rich historical and cultural significance. The park is recognized as the birthplace of the Althing, an open-air assembly established in 930 AD that represented all of Iceland. This assembly played a pivotal role in the country's journey towards independence in the 19th and 20th centuries, making Thingvellir a symbol of national unity.

The geological features of Thingvellir National Park are as compelling as its history. The park lies in a rift valley caused by the separation of two tectonic plates, the North American and Eurasian plates. This unique location allows visitors to walk between two continents. Its geology isn't only significant for scientific reasons; it's also deeply intertwined with Iceland's spiritual history. It was at Thingvellir that the shift from paganism to Christianity became official.

Thingvellir National Park
High angle view over the seismic rift valley between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates in Thingvellir National Park

Things to Do at Thingvellir National Park

Thingvellir National Park, a jewel in Iceland's golden circle, is a haven for nature and adventure enthusiasts. Here's a list of must-do activities that you can enjoy at the park:

  1. Hiking: The park offers various hiking trails that cater to all levels of hikers. Whether you're an experienced hiker or a beginner, you'll find a trail that suits your skills. Some trails lead you to the stunning Öxarárfoss waterfall, a sight not to be missed on your golden circle adventure. Remember, the best route can depend on the season, with some paths more suitable for a Golden Circle trip in winter.
  2. Snorkeling or Diving in the Silfra fissure: The Silfra fissure, a rift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, is filled with crystal-clear glacial water. Snorkeling or diving here lets you swim between two continents, a truly unique experience. The water in Silfra is known for its exceptional clarity, offering visibility over 100 meters.
  3. Explore the Historical Sites: For history buffs, Thingvellir offers an insightful journey into Iceland's past. Explore the remnants of the Althing, one of the world's oldest parliamentary institutions. The site includes the Lögberg, or Law Rock, where laws were proclaimed, and the booths where assembly attendees stayed.
  4. Photography: Thingvellir's natural beauty offers endless opportunities for photography enthusiasts. Capture the vibrant green moss covering lava rocks, the shimmering northern lights in winter, or the stunning landscapes of the park.

Read More: Hiking in Thingvellir National Park

Geysir Geothermal Area

Iceland is renowned for its geothermal activity, a result of its location on a volcanic hotspot. Geothermal activity refers to the significant heat stored beneath the Earth's surface. In geothermal areas like the Geysir, this heat fuels the eruption of hot springs and geysers. The Geysir Geothermal Area is home to a variety of geothermal features. Bubbling hot pots, fumaroles emitting steam and gases, and mineral-rich deposits are common sights. However, the most spectacular phenomena in this area are the geysers, particularly the active Strokkur geyser, which regularly erupts every 5-10 minutes.

Geysir Geothermal Area
Geyser Park in Iceland. Stokkur eruption with sunstar in a beautiful sunny day in winter

Highlights of the Geysir Geothermal Area

The most famous attraction in the Geysir Geothermal Area is undoubtedly the Strokkur geyser. As one of the few geysers in the world that erupts regularly, it offers visitors an unforgettable spectacle as it spouts water 15-20 meters into the air.

When planning your golden circle adventure, ensure you allocate ample time to witness this natural wonder. The best times to visit are early morning or late afternoon when the area is less crowded, ensuring a prime viewing spot for Strokkur's next eruption.

Gullfoss Waterfall

Gullfoss Waterfall, also known as the Golden Falls, is one of the most popular natural attractions in Iceland. Standing at an impressive height of 32 meters and consisting of two major drops, this waterfall is a remarkable sight to behold. The upper tier of the falls drops 41 feet and stretches almost 800 feet in width when measured along the crest of the falls. This waterfall's powerful cascades are a testament to the raw natural beauty of Iceland's Golden Circle.

Gullfoss Waterfall
Icelandic Waterfall Gullfoss - Golden

The Gullfoss Waterfall doesn't just impress with its physical features but also with its significant role in Icelandic folklore. In local stories, it's said that the waterfall was once owned by a farmer who had a daughter named Gudrun. She was so attached to the waterfall that when her father wanted to sell it, she threatened to throw herself into the falls. Thankfully, the deal fell through, and today, Gullfoss remains a treasured part of Iceland's landscape.

Best Views and Photo Opportunities at Gullfoss

When visiting Gullfoss, there are several vantage points from where you can capture stunning views of the waterfall. One of the best viewpoints is from the upper viewing area. From here, you can get a panoramic view of the waterfall's cascades and the rugged canyon into which the water plunges. Another great viewpoint is from the lower trail that leads you closer to the falls, allowing you to feel the mist on your face and hear the roar of the water up close.

For those interested in photography, Gullfoss provides ample opportunities to capture the waterfall's majesty. Whether you're shooting the wide cascades from the upper viewing area or capturing the power of the falls from the lower trail, you're sure to get some amazing shots.

Remember to take into account the time of day and the weather conditions for the best lighting. Early morning or late afternoon, when the crowds are smaller, can be ideal times for photography.

Also See: Complete Guide To Gullfoss Waterfall

Best Golden Circle Tour Itinerary for Travelers

Best Golden Circle Tour Itinerary
Beautiful Gullfoss waterfall at sunset. Iceland

One-Day Golden Circle Itinerary

A one-day tour of the Golden Circle is a popular choice for many visitors to Iceland. Starting your day early, you can begin with a visit to the Þingvellir National Park. Spend a couple of hours here exploring the walking paths and soaking in the natural beauty. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is known for its historical significance and geological wonders.

Next, head to the Geysir geothermal area, which is about a 50-minute drive from Þingvellir. Here, you can marvel at the hot springs and watch the Strokkur geyser erupt every few minutes. After lunch, make your way to the majestic Gullfoss waterfall, just a 10-minute drive from Geysir. Spend an hour or so here, enjoying the views and taking photographs. Finally, end your day with a relaxing dip in the Secret Lagoon or the Blue Lagoon before heading back.

Book Now: Full-Day Best Golden Circle Tour From Reykjavik

Two-Day Golden Circle Itinerary

If you have more time to spare, a two-day itinerary allows you to explore the Golden Circle at a more leisurely pace. On the first day, visit Þingvellir National Park and the Geysir geothermal area, spending more time at each location to fully appreciate their beauty. Consider having lunch at one of the local restaurants near Geysir for a taste of traditional Icelandic cuisine.

On the second day, start with a visit to the Gullfoss waterfall, taking the time to hike the surrounding trails and enjoy the stunning views. Next, drive towards the South Coast, exploring other attractions along the Ring Road.

Consider staying overnight at one of the charming guesthouses or hotels in the area. For dinner, try a local restaurant and savor some fresh Icelandic seafood. The next morning, conclude your tour with a visit to the Blue Lagoon or Secret Lagoon, where you can relax and reflect on your Icelandic adventure.

Embarking on Your Golden Circle Tour: Self-Drive vs Guided Tours

Whether you're visiting Iceland for the famous waterfalls, geothermal hot springs, or the chance to drive around the Golden Circle, choosing the right tour option can significantly enhance your experience. Travelers generally opt for either self-drive tours or guided tours, each offering its unique advantages.

Golden Circle Tour
Golden Circle road trip in Iceland

Self-Drive Golden Circle Tours

A self-drive tour allows you to explore all the highlights of the Golden Circle at your own pace. You have the freedom to visit the main attractions when you wish, stay for as long as you like, and even deviate from the standard route to discover lesser-known sights. This option is ideal for those who prefer having control over their itinerary and enjoy the adventure of driving in a new country.

Planning Your Self-Drive Tour

When planning your self-drive tour, several factors should be taken into consideration:

  • Car Rental: Renting your own car is a crucial part of a self-drive tour. Ensure you choose a vehicle that suits the terrain and weather conditions. In winter, a 4x4 is recommended due to icy roads. Also, make sure to familiarize yourself with Iceland's driving laws before embarking on your journey.
  • Golden Circle Map: Having a detailed Golden Circle map will help you navigate the route more efficiently. This map should highlight all the main attractions, including Þingvellir National Park (where you can see the North American tectonic plates and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge), the Geysir geothermal area, and the Gullfoss waterfall.
  • Time of Visit: The best time to visit the Golden Circle depends on what you want to see. If you're interested in witnessing Iceland's famous golden circle under the midnight sun, summer is the ideal season. Long daylight hours allow for extended exploration. However, visiting the Golden Circle in winter offers a completely different experience, with the possibility of seeing the Northern Lights.
  • Itinerary Planning: Plan your itinerary carefully to make sure you can cover all the attractions within your available time. A typical self-drive tour might take half a day, but if you want to spend more time at each location or explore additional sights, consider spreading your tour over two stages or even two days.
  • Prepare for the Weather: Icelandic weather can be unpredictable. Dress warmly and in layers, even in the summer. Always check the weather forecast and road conditions before heading out.

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Tips for Driving in Iceland

Driving the Golden Circle clockwise or anticlockwise doesn't make a significant difference as the route is circular. However, some travelers suggest that driving the golden circle clockwise helps in avoiding the tour bus crowds.

Remember to respect the surrounding nature while enjoying your self-drive trip. Stay on the designated walking paths, don't litter, and keep a safe distance from any natural attraction, especially the geysers where hot water and steam are constantly rising.

Guided Golden Circle Tours

If you prefer to sit back, relax, and enjoy Iceland's famous Golden Circle without the hassle of driving or planning your route, a guided tour might be the perfect choice for you. Guided tours offer an array of benefits, from local knowledge and insights to the convenience of pre-arranged transportation.

Guided Golden Circle Tours
The view through the window of the golden circle route tour bus in Iceland.

Why Choose a Guided Golden Circle Tour?

Opting for a guided tour has several advantages:

  • Expert Guides: Your tour guide will not only navigate the route but also provide fascinating insights into the history and geology of the Golden Circle attractions, enhancing your overall experience.
  • Convenience: With transportation and itinerary handled by the tour operator, you can focus solely on enjoying the breathtaking landscapes and natural attractions.
  • Safety: During winter or harsh weather conditions, driving in Iceland can be challenging. Guided tours eliminate this concern, as experienced drivers are well-versed with the terrain and prevailing conditions.

Other Things to Do in the Golden Circle, Iceland

Apart from its iconic attractions like Þingvellir National Park, the Geysir geothermal area, and Gullfoss waterfall, the Golden Circle also offers a variety of other exciting activities. From exploring volcanic craters to relaxing in geothermal baths, here are some additional experiences you might want to add to your itinerary.

1. Kerið Crater Lake

Kerið Crater Lake is a dramatic sight that's often added to Golden Circle tours. The crater, formed around 3,000 years ago, is home to a stunning lake whose striking blue color contrasts beautifully with the red volcanic rock.

Walking around the rim of the crater offers panoramic views of the landscape, while a path also leads down to the lakeside for a closer look. Visiting Kerið Crater Lake provides a unique opportunity to appreciate Iceland's volcanic history up close.

2. Snowmobiling on Langjökull Glacier

Boost your Golden Circle adventure by adding a snowmobiling experience on Langjökull Glacier. As Iceland's second-largest glacier, Langjökull provides an ideal terrain for this thrilling activity.

Guided tours usually include all necessary equipment and safety instructions, ensuring a fun and safe experience even for beginners. As you zoom across the icy landscape, take a moment to appreciate the sweeping views of the surrounding mountains and valleys.

3. Relax in the Secret Lagoon

Add a touch of relaxation to your Golden Circle tour with a dip in the Secret Lagoon. Located in the village of Flúðir, this geothermal pool is one of the oldest in Iceland.

The warm waters of the Secret Lagoon offer a tranquil spot to unwind and soak in the stunning scenery. With temperatures staying around 38-40°C year-round, this natural hot spring is a delightful stop regardless of the season.

4. Horseback Riding

Experience the Golden Circle from a different perspective by going on a horseback riding tour. Icelandic horses are small, sturdy, and known for their unique gait called the tölt, which provides a smooth ride over various landscapes.

Horse riders in the Skogafoss waterfall
Horse riders in the Skogafoss waterfall in the summer in Iceland

Riding tours generally cater to all experience levels, making this a fun activity whether you're an expert rider or trying it out for the first time. As you trot through fields, along rivers, and past geological wonders, you'll gain a deeper connection with Iceland's spectacular nature.

5. Snorkeling or Diving in Silfra

For a truly unique experience, consider snorkeling or diving in the Silfra fissure. Located within Þingvellir National Park, Silfra is a rift formed between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.

The glacial water that fills Silfra is incredibly clear, with visibility often exceeding 100 meters. This allows you to see the stunning underwater landscapes in vivid detail. Whether you choose to snorkel on the surface or dive deeper into the fissure, exploring Silfra is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

6. Hiking and Bird Watching

The Golden Circle offers ample opportunities for hiking and bird watching. The diverse landscapes, from lava fields to lush valleys, provide a variety of trails for all fitness levels.

Bird enthusiasts will be delighted with the variety of species found in the area, particularly during the summer months. Bring your binoculars and keep an eye out for birds like the Arctic Tern, the Red-Throated Loon, and the White-Tailed Eagle. Always remember to respect the wildlife and keep a safe distance.

7. Northern Lights Hunting

A visit to the Golden Circle in winter could give you a chance to witness the spectacular Northern Lights. The area's remote location away from city lights provides ideal conditions for viewing this natural phenomenon.

Northern Lights Hunting
Aurora Borealis or better known as the The Northern Light in Golden Circle, Iceland

However, sightings are never guaranteed, as they depend on solar activity and clear weather. It's recommended to check the forecast and plan your Northern Lights hunt on a night with little to no cloud cover. Despite the unpredictability, the potential reward of seeing the aurora borealis makes the hunt worthwhile.

Plan Your Golden Circle Adventure with Us

Experience the breathtaking beauty of Iceland with a meticulously planned tour through the iconic Golden Circle. At "Golden Circle Day Tour," we ensure you don't miss out on any of the must-see sights; from the geological wonders of Kerið Crater Lake and Silfra fissure to thrilling adventures like snowmobiling on Langjökull Glacier, your adventure is our priority.

Ready to create unforgettable memories in the heart of Iceland? Start planning your Golden Circle adventure with us today. Visit our website or contact us to book your tour. Let's embark together on a journey that will stay with you forever!

How long does it take to do the Golden Circle in Iceland?

Completing the Golden Circle in Iceland can vary depending on how much time you spend at each location. The driving distance itself is around 186 miles (300km), and if you were to drive non-stop, it would take approximately three to four hours. However, considering the various attractions along the route, visitors typically spend anywhere from 6 to 8 hours to fully experience the Golden Circle.

What is special about the Golden Circle in Iceland?

The Golden Circle is one of Iceland's most popular tourist routes, renowned for its unique and diverse natural beauty. It covers three primary attractions: Þingvellir National Park, the Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss Waterfall. Each site offers a distinctive glimpse into Iceland's stunning landscapes, from geysers and waterfalls to historic sites and geological wonders.

Is Golden Circle Iceland worth it?

Absolutely! The Golden Circle is considered a must-visit for anyone traveling to Iceland. It offers a unique blend of history, culture, and awe-inspiring natural beauty. Plus, its proximity to Reykjavik makes it an accessible day trip for those based in the city.

Why is it called Golden Circle?

The name "Golden Circle" refers to the circular route that covers some of Iceland's most iconic attractions. It is not known exactly why the term "Golden" was chosen, but it might be due to the golden hue of the grass surrounding the Gullfoss waterfall, one of the main stops on the route.

Is Iceland very expensive?

Yes, Iceland is often considered one of the more expensive countries to visit. The cost of living and services, including food, accommodation, and activities, can be higher compared to other destinations. However, the unique experiences and natural beauty that Iceland offers make it a worthwhile destination.

How cold is it at the Golden Circle?

The temperature at the Golden Circle can vary greatly depending on the season. In winter (December to February), temperatures can drop below freezing, while in summer (June to August), they can rise to around 10-15°C (50-59°F). It's always recommended to check the weather forecast before your trip and dress appropriately.

How far is Reykjavik from the Golden Circle?

The starting point of the Golden Circle, Þingvellir National Park, is approximately 49 kilometers (30 miles) away from Reykjavik, making it an easily accessible day trip for those staying in the city.