Discover Iceland's magnificent Golden Circle, a magical journey through some of the nation's most sublime natural attractions. Marvel at majestic waterfalls, feel the heat from volcanic activity and geothermal spas, explore craters and even visit an UNESCO world heritage site! Plus all this beauty and natural attraction is just a leisurely day trip away from Reykjavik - perfect for those with limited time in Iceland.
Are you ready to discover Iceland's spectacular Golden Circle? Then read on! We'll take you through the essentials of this incredible Nordic journey, from what to expect along the way, how best to explore it and other nearby attractions. Plus, we've got plenty more tips for every season so your visit is perfect no matter when you go. Let’s venture into a lifetime of memories with our insights about traveling around The Golden Circle in Iceland!
What is the Golden Circle in Iceland?
Embark on a timeless journey through southern Iceland with the Golden Circle – an iconic 300 km/ 186 mile route that begins and ends in Reykjavik. Experience the best of what this region has to offer, from taking it easy as day trips from the city or embarking on more adventurous excursions along South coast and Ring Road. The possibilities are endless!
With the effortless access from Reykjavik and many of Iceland’s must-see attractions along its path, it is no surprise that the Golden Circle has gained immense popularity. We highly recommend this route to anyone visiting beautiful Iceland!
Why is it called the Golden Circle?
The Golden Circle got its moniker from the best route to the majestic Gullfoss, an Icelandic waterfall translating to 'Golden Falls'. True to its name, this route follows a roughly circular trajectory.
Not only is the name "Diamond Circle" cool, it's also a brilliant marketing decision. Situated in northern Iceland, this circular route provides travelers with an abundance of amazing attractions to explore!
How Long Does it Take to Drive the Golden Circle?
If you begin and conclude your journey in Reykjavik, the total time to cover while driving the Golden Circle is slightly over four hours without any sightseeing or breaks. To really appreciate its beauty though, we recommend setting aside between 6-10 hours for this remarkable golden circle adventure tour from Iceland's capital city!
Some Important things to check
- Distance: appr. 250 km from and back to Reykjavík
- Travel Days: 1-3 days
- Combinations: South Coast, Snæfellsnes, Ring Road
- Best travel time: all year-round
- 4 & 4 required?: no
When to Visit Iceland’s Golden Circle?
Whether you're travelling in the heart of summer or right during winter, The Golden Circle is open year-round and its major attractions remain accessible at all times. Plus, it's one of Reykjavik's most beloved day trips - so expect lots of crowds! Most tours from Reykjavik start between 8am to 10am in the morning but if you're looking for a quicker visit there are some half a day tour full-day options departing mid-morning until 2pm. And no matter which tour you take, your last stop will be back home in Reykjavik by early evening.
If you want to explore the top three Golden Circle tourist attractions, Thingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss, expect them to be clamoring with activity from 10 am until 6 pm in hot springs and summer. During wintertime when daylight hours are shorter these places will probably have visitors from 10am till 4pm. To evade the bustling crowds on your tour of the Golden Circle route, it's best for you to drive yourself and visit outside peak times.
When you explore Iceland during the summer months, daylight is plentiful and if your sightseeing commences before 9am or concludes after 6pm, chances are that tourists will be fewer. Keep in mind though that even with a little crowding here-and-there, all of the highlights still have enough space for viewing pleasure and should not be missed!
Highlights of the Golden Circle in Iceland
To get the most out of your journey to the Golden Circle, you should definitely make sure to visit its three main attractions. Let's discuss each of these highlights one-by-one in order so that you can create your own pace and an itinerary tailored just for you. Almost all tours will include all three destinations on their tour and they usually follow this same sequence when taking a group tour of visitors around the area.
Þingvellir National Park
As you travel the Golden Circle in a clockwise direction, your first stop is Þingvellir National Park. This historic landmark was Iceland's initial national park and has become an esteemed UNESCO world heritage site. It doesn't matter if your interests lay within culture surrounding nature or geology; this spot should not be passed up!
Thingvellir's historical significance speaks for itself; it had the esteemed honor of hosting Iceland’s original governing legislative body, the Althing. In 930 AD, evidence showed that these meetings took place in its beautiful landscape—nearly five decades after settlers first arrived. This trend continued up until 1798 when Parliament relocated elsewhere—but Thingvellir remained a gathering point for Icelandic citizens during warmer months and became an important symbol to them all. Its advantageously accessible position among different regions of Iceland made it a great choice as well!
After various laws were passed and judicial hearings held, Iceland's modern-day culture was ultimately established. Its cultural foundation has since served as the roots of Iceland's present heritage.
Venturing to Thingvellir National Park offers an abundance of attractions, so anticipate dedicating at least one and a half hours here. For instance, embark on a short ten-minute journey from the parking lot for the chance to witness Oxararfoss waterfall - it's divinely beautiful! Moreover, if you wish to linger longer, there are numerous walking trails plus other remarkable sights and natural wonders awaiting your discovery.
Haukadalur Geothermal Field
After exploring Thingvellir National Park on the Golden Circle, your next major highlight should be Haukadalur Geothermal Field, also known as the Geysir Geothermal Area. At just a one hour drive away from Thingvellir, this destination is home to some truly wondrous geothermal features like mud pots, fumaroles and hot springs—not to mention two of Iceland's most renowned geysers: Strokkur and Geysir! From whence our modern day word "geyser" originated - yes indeed; it was derived from 'Geysir'. In fact, it remains the first ever geyser described in print.
The two most renowned geysers in the region are Strokkur and Geysir. Lately, Geysir has been slumbering; however, given that it is believed to have been erupting for over 10,000 years, we believe a brief break every so often is deserved. When he does awaken though its grandeur never fails to astound with eruption heights of hot water and steam soaring up almost 400 feet!
Fortunately, nearby Strokkur is considerably more dependable, usually erupting every 5-10 minutes. Though it does not reach the same heights as Geysir (averaging about 50ft), its eruption is still awe-inspiring and well worth the visit!
Visiting the Haukadalur Geothermal Field is totally free, and you can easily park your car on site. Despite this being an active area with hot springs and boiling water emerging from the ground, it's still safe to explore if you follow the designated trails and keep a vigilant eye on children.
Finishing off the extraordinary Golden Circle tour is Gullfoss Waterfall, the famous waterfall from which the circuit derives its name. With a majestic presence and mesmerizing vista of crystal waters cascading over two tiers into a deep ravine below, it's no surprise that this waterfall ranks high for us as one of the most remarkable Golden Circle attractions. You can get to Gullfoss – roughly 10 minutes driving from Haukadalur - where there are two parking areas at different levels allowing you to admire this breathtaking view from various angles.
A flight of steps links the two scenic spots, and it's possible to traverse along the rocks surrounding the riverbank for various perspectives. Both places are worth a visit with their stunning sights!
The impressive falls span two stages: the first is an awe-inspiring 36 feet high, while the second soars to a majestic 70 feet. Before these levels, there's a broad three-step drop and sheer cliff that stretches across the river width. In summertime, a vast quantity of 4,900 cubic feet of water passes over each second — truly spectacular!
Whether you visit Gullfoss in the summer or winter, it is sure to take your breath away. During warmer months, its lush green vegetation offers a picturesque backdrop - and if you're lucky enough to be there during an afternoon shower, rainbows may appear in the misty spray! If visiting during colder times of year however, breathtaking snow-covered landscapes await. When at Gullfoss itself, don't forget to check out the visitor center with its gift shop and cafe afterwards – all completely free of charge!
Not only is Gulfoss a remarkable sight to behold, but it can also be the launching point for an array of experiences that many travelers flock to Iceland wishing they could try. You have the option of booking yourself on both seasonal and year-round tours like glacier hiking, snowmobiling or even exploring ice caves! If these thrills are at the top of your bucket list - make sure you include them in your Icelandic itinerary.
More Highlights Along the Way
There are a lot of other beautiful places that you can visit along the way. Here are some of the most famous places that you should definitely visit during your trip to Golden Circle in southwest Iceland.
- Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
- Vestrahorn Mountain
- The Vatnajökull National Park
- Skógafoss - Waterfall
- Urridafoss Waterfall
- Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon
- Landmannalaugar - Nature Reserve
- Dyrhólaey - Natural Reserve
- Seljalandsfoss waterfall
- Katla UNESCO Global Geopark
- Jökulsárlón Glacier lagoon/ Blue Lagoon
Deep in the heart of Iceland lies the spectacle of the Golden Circle, a destination that is both breathtaking and mysterious. This 300-kilometer loop route is one of the most popular routes among tourists who regularly flock to Iceland - and for good reason.
Spanning over three thrilling destinations of Þingvellir National Park, the Golden Waterfall of Gullfoss, and the Geysir Geothermal Area, the Golden Circle offers a thrilling showcase of Iceland's stunning natural beauty. At Þingvellir, visitors can immerse themselves in a rich cultural heritage while surrounded by pristine natural landscapes.
Meanwhile, the Geysir Geothermal Area is home to the incredibly powerful Strokkur Geysir, which shoots water up to 30 meters in the air. With so much natural beauty packed into one location, the Golden Circle is a sight to behold and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
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 tour and leave the rest to Golden Circle Day Tours!
How long does it take to do the Golden Circle in Iceland?
3 hours, The Golden Circle tours are easily accomplished within an hour and covers around 300 kilometers for you. It's actually possible to walk this distance in a short trip of about three hours. You have to take time to experience all the highlights and attractions, take photos and get fuelled too. August 8, 2023
Is Golden Circle Iceland worth it?
The popularity has largely been due to easy access of the route from the capital, but many Icelandic landmarks are also nearby. All travelers should visit Iceland's famous Golden Circle.
What is special about the Golden Circle in Iceland?
It's framed with large and small highlights that can be extended as necessary. More amazing sights at the Golden Circle include the volcanic crater, lava circle Keri and the historical bishops see Skálholt. The huge amounts of geothermal energy provides for the plentiful geothermal pool & greenhouse in the area.
What are the three main attractions of the Golden Circle?
Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, Haukadalur Geothermal Field. The whole Golden Circle trip is a 3-day journey that takes you to Brassas for two or three hours. GUILLFOSS. Geyser Hot Springs area: Secret lagoons.