The Golden Circle is a circular route in Iceland that covers a distance of 190 miles (300 km) and includes three of Iceland's most highly-regarded natural attractions. The great thing about this route is that it can be completed in a day, which makes it an ideal choice for a day trip from Reykjavík.
This self-drive road trip itinerary will take you on a tour of Iceland's Golden Circle, where you can experience a geysir erupting with boiling-hot water, see one of Iceland's most impressive waterfalls, and walk between tectonic plates. Keep reading to learn about the best stops on this route.
Time needed: 1-2 days.
When to go: For snowscapes, the best time to visit is from late November to December. For lush green scenery and warm weather, the best time to visit is from June to July.
Weather: Averages of -10°C-5°C in the Winter and 8°C-20°C in the Summer.
Currency: Icelandic króna.
What is Iceland’s Golden Circle?
The Golden Circle in Iceland is a well-known route that connects three of Iceland's most popular attractions. It is conveniently located close to Reykjavík, the capital of Iceland, and is a shorter alternative to driving Iceland's Ring Road, which takes around a week. The Golden Circle road trip can be completed in just one day, unlike the longer Ring Road route.
The entire circuit is only a 3 hour drive, but you may take longer to fully enjoy the stops along the way. The route covers approximately 140 miles (230 kilometers) and you have the option to spend 2 or more days on the trip by staying overnight. The Golden Circle gets its name from one of the primary highlights along its route, Gullfoss Waterfall, which means "Golden Falls" in Icelandic.
Can you drive The Golden Circle yourself?
Certainly! The most commonly preferred way to experience The Golden Circle is by renting a car. This provides you with the flexibility to discover the area at your own pace and convenience and schedule your visits to avoid peak hours.
Can you drive it in one day? How many miles is it?
The Golden Circle route is usually a one-day journey that covers approximately 230 kilometers (or 140 miles). You can complete the drive in just over three hours, but it's important to consider time for sightseeing, taking photos, and making necessary stops for refueling.
Many guided coach tours will take the best part of a ‘9-to-5’ day to visit most stops on the route. But if you’re going self-guided, then you can choose exactly how long you want to stay at each attraction. And you can even start early or finish later for quieter sightseeing.
Hiring a Car vs Hiring a Campervan
To drive the Golden Circle, you'll need to rent a car. A 4x4 vehicle is not mandatory for the Golden Circle, but it might be a good choice for own car if you plan to drive beyond it. If you're traveling in Iceland during winter when the road conditions may be challenging due to rain, snow, and ice, it is generally advisable to rent a 4x4 vehicle.
The roads in Iceland are mostly good, although some of them are narrow and winding. If you venture off the main roads, the surfaces can become gravelly or muddy. Driving in Iceland is safe, but it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with important information before your trip. It's also important to review Iceland's driving laws before driving there.
If you're looking for an adventure, you might want to think about renting a campervan. We love camping and have used this as our mode of transportation in Australia and Costa Rica. Renting a campervan in Iceland is a good option for those who want to explore Iceland without spending too much money. Camping in Iceland is inexpensive and allows you to experience the rugged Nordic scenery.
To rent a campervan in Iceland, it's best to plan your trip during the Spring, Summer, or early Autumn months. During the winter, many campsites close and the weather can make driving on roads more difficult.
Pros And Cons Of A Campervan Rental
Pros Of Iceland Campervan Rental
- You can save a lot of money on accommodation.
- Driving the Golden Circle in Iceland becomes very convenient and flexible with it.
- There are many scenic views to see, and you will probably have an advantage point from your campervan that is elevated.
Cons Of Iceland Campervan Rental
- The initial cost is high.
- Be aware that Iceland can experience inclement weather, so make sure to prepare for potentially stormy evenings while in the van.
- If you're heading up to the highlands, anticipate encountering rough road conditions.
Pros And Cons Of Hiring A Car
Pros Of Hiring A Car In Iceland
- Since the vehicle is small, it's easier to park at popular attractions.
- The cheapest vehicle to rent in Iceland is best for travelers on a budget.
- Renting cars provides greater availability and is more cost-effective in terms of fuel usage.
Cons Of Hiring A Car In Iceland
- You will have to set up a tent for camping.
- You need to rent a 4x4 to access Iceland's F-roads.
- The storage and space available are very minimal.
The Golden Circle Route
The Golden Circle includes 3 main stops:
- Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park
- Gullfoss Waterfall
- Geysir Geothermal Area
If you visit the three main attractions in the Golden Circle, you'll only need to drive on one road to get there and back. You have the option to either take the uplands route to Gullfoss and then return to Reykjavík by visiting the Geysir Geothermal Area and Þingvellir National Park, or you can visit the attractions in order on your way to Gullfoss, which is the farthest point.
You can also make the route a complete circuit by adding additional stops and detours along Reykjavik's southern road, which will allow you to start and finish your journey in the capital.
Golden Circle Iceland Itinerary
The guide will cover five sites on the the Golden Circle map, starting and ending in Reykjavik and going clockwise. The map shows the location of each place, marked with a letter, that we will talk about.
Stop #1: Reykjavik
Stop #2: Thingvellir National Park (B)
Stop #3: Bruarfoss (C)
Stop #4: Geysir (D)
Stop #5: Gullfoss (E)
Stop #6: Kerid Crater (F)
This map of the Golden Circle indicates the beginning and ending points in Reykjavik, which are marked with the letters A and G respectively.
The total driving time for the day is about 3.5 hours, and we will be making several stops along the way. Depending on the site, some stops may be as short as 30 minutes, while others may be a few hours.
Two quick things to note:
"If you have enough time and energy, you can consider adding the Reykjadalur Hot Springs Hike to your itinerary, which is located between the Kerid Crater and Reykjavik and can be done in the morning."
If you're not returning to Reykjavik and plan to continue your journey along the Ring Road, you can make a stopover at Selfoss (near the Kerid Crater) at the end of the day.
Iceland's capital and the largest city in the entire country is Reykjavik, which happens to be the world's northernmost capital.
You can either begin or finish the Golden Circle route from this location, depending on where you choose to pick up your rental car from.
There are many exciting things to do in Reykjavik before you start your road trip. The city is full of art, culture, and stunning scenery.
A must-see attraction in the city is the Hallgrimskirkja Church, which can be seen from any location. The structure is distinct, and if you go to the top, there is a viewing platform that provides a full view of the city.
During your stay, make sure to visit the National Museum of Iceland, Árbæjarsafn, and the Saga Museum.
The top attraction in the city is Perlan, where you can explore an ice cave and learn about Iceland's glaciers.
We also suggest you go for a whale-watching tour if you have some spare time. Additionally, you can check out the 'Whales of Iceland' exhibition if you are interested in marine life.
Thingvellir National Park
At Thingvellir, you will have many options to choose from. Depending on how early you start your day, you can either choose to do just one activity or try to fit in a couple.
One option is to explore the visitor center area, follow the path along the tectonic plate, continue to Oxarafoss, and visit the church and other highlights on the route.
"There are many marked trails in the park that you can follow. Along the way, you will come across a tectonic plate and crystal clear water below."
It's possible to spend a few hours merely appreciating the park and its neighboring areas.
Another option is to go snorkeling or diving between the continental tectonic plates. It's a very unique opportunity that not everyone has experienced.
If you plan on visiting, make sure to book in advance. The experience of being between two continental plates will take about three hours, and you can also explore the park afterward.
Another possibility is to go on a longer hike around the park. There's a 10km hike that follows a mostly flat trail with a view of the tectonic plate in the distance, offering a chance to explore more of the park.
You will walk through the park's green landscape, where you will see abandoned farmhouses, numerous sheep, and the main lake of Thingvellir.
We have a map for hike which starts at the Silfra Diving site on the left. We will head north and south coast then follow the trail clockwise to return to the starting point.
Optional due to closure of access point
One of the best waterfalls during your Golden Circle Iceland itinerary is not commonly included in most itineraries you'll find during your research. However, don't miss out on this stop.
The easy access point to Bruarfoss has been closed, and the only way to reach it now is by hiking for approximately one hour each way from the main road.
To find Bruarfoss Waterfall, type "Bruarfoss Waterfall Official Parking" and hike up the river until you see the beautiful blue water. Are you ready for the hike?
Once you're done with Bruarfoss, make your way to Geysir. If you're new to geysers, Geysir is a great introduction. It's a geothermal area with multiple hot springs, mud pits, and geysers to explore.
The most fascinating thing to see is Strokkur, which erupts approximately every 10 minutes. The water plunges completely into the ground, and then suddenly bursts upwards to a height of almost 100 feet.
You can either wait for just one water spout or stay longer to capture several and get the perfect slow-motion video.
Take a walk and discover the other attractions of Geysir before your time is up. Don't forget to check out the visitors center, where you can grab lunch, drinks and pick up souvenirs.
On the Golden Circle route, the upcoming destination is Gullfoss, which is one of the biggest and most forceful waterfalls that you will witness during your trip.
This waterfall is unique compared to others in Iceland. It is very large and has viewpoints both above and below that offer great views.
The final destination on the Golden Circle route is Kerid Crater, which features a large red rock crater surrounding a lake. However, please be aware that there is an individual entry fee of approximately $3.
There is a great viewpoint at the top of the crater where you can walk along the path on the top ridge or the path close to the lake at the bottom. It is a wonderful place to conclude your long Golden Circle route before returning to Reykjavik or proceeding to your next destination.
OTHER GOLDEN CIRCLE ATTRACTIONS
Although Þingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal area, and Gullfoss waterfall are the most popular attractions along the Golden Circle, there are also some interesting side trips worth considering.
Fontana Geothermal Baths.
You can find the Fontana Geothermal Baths in Laugarvatn, situated between Þingvellir and the Geysirs. This spa utilises the natural hot spring waters of the region to offer visitors 3 different steam rooms, a traditional Finnish sauna, and bathing pools that are suitable for kids. It's the perfect place to kick back and relax.
To have an unforgettable adventure, go on a snowmobile tour of Langjökull Glacier. The glacier is covered in snow year-round, so you can visit anytime. If you're driving yourself, you can arrange for pick up and drop off at Gullfoss Waterfall.
During your drive from Þingvellir to the Geysir Geothermal Area, consider making a stop at the ecovillage of Solheimar. This village offers an opportunity to learn about how the community supports its residents, regardless of age or disability, and helps them reach their full potential.
Þjórsárdalur (Thjorsardalur) Valley.
Although Thjorsardalur is not officially included in the Golden Circle, it is a great opportunity to explore beyond the usual route. This area is home to several magnificent waterfalls such as Hjalparfoss, Haifoss, Glanni, and Pjofafoss.
Skalholt is a village with a rich history and is regarded as Iceland's first town. It was the residence of the country's first bishop and school. Take some time to appreciate its charming cathedral or explore the nearby Secret Lagoon.
Golden Circle Self-drive Road Trip Itinerary Tips
- If you want to avoid crowds, it's best to start your day early. Tours usually depart at 08:00 and arrive at the three main attractions by 10:00. So, try to arrive at the beginning or end of the day.
- In Summer, there will be more daylight but also more visitors to contend with. On the other hand, Winter sees a lot of activity at sites between 10:00-16:00 in the day. However, during the Summer season, sites tend to be busier from 09:00-19:00, but you could possibly visit them in the early morning or evening while still enjoying daylight.
- For those interested in snorkeling or diving at Silfra Fissure, it is recommended to take the anti-clockwise route. This allows for the opportunity to visit Thingvellir last, and return home to dry off and warm up after the activity.
Where to eat along the Golden Circle
- If you're visiting Iceland, I highly recommend trying some of their delicious and unique dishes. You should make sure to try these Icelandic foods: Skyr yogurt, Pylsur (a lamb hotdog), Snúður (a cinnamon-filled bread roll), and Pönnukökur (Icelandic pancakes).
- In Iceland, lamb and dairy are the main ingredients in their cuisine because they have a lot of land for agriculture. Since it's an island, they also have plenty of seafood. Make to try the following Icelandic dishes: plokkfiskur (mashed fish stew), Harðfiskur (dried fish), and Humar (Icelandic lobster/langoustine).
- If you want to be daring, you could give Brennivín a try. It's a type of distilled liquor that's also known as "Black Death" or "Svarti dauði" in Icelandic. Iceland also offers more contentious meat options, such as reindeer, puffin, whale, and shark, but it's important to investigate whether these choices are ethical and sustainable before trying them.
When should you visit the Golden Circle?
Iceland is a great place to visit anytime during the year, depending on your personal preference. If you choose to tour Iceland during the summer, you will have the advantage of longer days. In fact, during this season, the sun almost never sets, so you won't have to rush to see everything before nightfall.
If you visit Iceland during summertime and choose to self-drive, you can plan your visits to avoid crowds coming on coach tours. Conversely, if you choose to drive around the Golden Circle during winter, you might get the chance to witness the incredible beauty of the northern lights or the breathtaking icy cliff-walls formed by the freezing spray of Gullfoss. Therefore, it is recommended that you decide how you want to spend your time in Iceland before booking either a winter or summer break.
Is the Blue Lagoon part of the Golden Circle?
Although the Blue Lagoon is not officially part of the Golden Circle, it is possible to visit both on a combined tour offered by many companies. However, personally, I believe that rushing a trip to a spa for the sake of fitting it into a day tour may not be the best idea.
To fully experience the Blue Lagoon, it's recommended to allocate at least 4 hours including the driving time. If you plan to self-drive the main Golden Circle route, it's advisable to spend a minimum of 8 hours to fully enjoy the attractions at your own leisurely pace.
My suggestion is to spend one entire day exploring the Golden Circle and another half-day unwinding at the Blue Lagoon. It's a good idea to use the Blue Lagoon as a relaxing bookend to your trip by visiting either right after you arrive at Keflavik or before your flight home in the afternoon or evening.
Affordable & Adventurous Golden Circle Day Tours
Each tour comes with its own mix of adventurous activities.
Here are two guided Golden Circle tours.
1 - Golden Circle Atv Day Tour (ISK 30800 Per Person)
2 - Classic Golden Circle Tour Iceland (ISK8990 Per Person)
Simply book your group tour and leave the rest to Golden Circle Day Tours!
How many days do you need in Golden Circle Iceland?
The whole Golden Circle route is easily completed in a day because this classic journey reaches over 230 km. This journey takes just over three hours.
How many hours do you need for the Golden Circle?
Driving through the 230-kilometer Golden Circle is possible in three hours on shortest routes. Ideally the whole golden circle adventure could be completed in five hours without interruption, although most people will prefer to take part. See the diagram above.
Is Golden Circle Iceland worth it?
Definitely one of the best routes to experience during your stay in Iceland, but there are many more fascinating parts in this country but Golden Circle has become very famous due to clever advertising and proximity to Reykkjavik besides the famous tourist attractions.
What should I not miss on the Golden Circle Iceland?
The three must see places in The Golden Circle. The classic Golden Circle tour combines Iceland's three popular tourist sites: Gullfoss Waterfall, Gesir geothermal area and INGVELLELLR (ThingVelli).