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The Ultimate Guide to Iceland’s Golden Circle

If you plan to visit Iceland, you must visit the Golden Circle route. It’s a great way to start your journey and the perfect introduction to the fantastic scenery and beautiful natural wonders. 

What is the Golden Circle?

The Golden Circle in Iceland is the most famous route, combining historical places with stunning landmarks. This circular route allows you to see many of Iceland’s famous spots and activities. You have to start your journey from 

You can start your journey from Reykjavik from there the Golden Circle is an easy and accessible drive, which makes it a perfect adventure whether you’re here for a long stay or just a short layover. This route is brimming with must-see attractions like the powerful Gullfoss waterfall, the bubbling hot springs of the Geysir geothermal area, and the historically rich Þingvellir National Park.

Your Golden Circle Full Day Tour Iceland

 

Why Should You Visit the Golden Circle?

The Golden Circle offers stunning natural wonders like geysers, waterfalls, and volcanic landscapes. It’s a compact and easily accessible route that showcases Iceland’s unique geology and beauty. The route also offers many great spots for stunning photographs. Each spot provides insights into Iceland’s geological history. 

This blog will guide you through all of the Golden Circle attractions and help you plan your trip. Before visiting the Golden Circle, you must know the seasons and what every season offers. Furthermore, you will get to know the best food spots on Golden Circle and How you can capture the essence of the attractions. So, let’s get started. 

Golden Circle Sights and Attractions

Iceland’s Golden Circle is the most popular tourist route, and there is no doubt about it. This popular Golden Circle Route Iceland stretches around 186 miles and starts and ends in Reykjavik, making it an easy and accessible option for all travelers. Most of the time, this route is enjoyed during a day trip from the city or at the start of a more comprehensive journey along Iceland’s south coast and Golden Circle. 

This route is named after Gullfoss or golden waterfalls, and it’s approximately a circular path. Thanks to its clever name, this route captures the attention of all tourists who visit Iceland for the first time. If you’re visiting Iceland’s Golden Circle for the first time, it’s a perfect way for you to experience some of the country’s top attractions in a single trip. 

Whether planning a day trip from Reykjavik or starting a longer adventure around the Ring Road, the Golden Circle will surely leave you with unforgettable memories. The Iceland Golden Circle Route surrounds three main sites of interest, which include Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss. Each site offers unique and breathtaking experiences. Let’s discuss each site thoroughly:

Thingvellir National Park

Thingvellir, or Þingvellir National Park, is the first stop on your trip to the Golden Circle Tour of Iceland. This national park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also a special place where history and geology combine in a fascinating way. This place holds a special place in Icelandic history as the site of the Althingi, Iceland’s first national parliament. This parliament was established in 930 A.D., and the chieftains and their followers held annual meetings to discuss and formalize the law of the land and settle any issues between the Icelandic people.

3 Day Summer Minibus Tour: South Coast, Glacier Hike, Golden Circle

 

One of the most notable historical remnants of the Althingi is the Law Rock also known as Lögberg. When you walk through the park, you will see the bustling valley with hundreds of Icelanders living in a festival-like atmosphere and their temporary dwelling set up for this significant event. Furthermore, you can also see some runes of the ancient structures, adding to the park’s historical allure. 

If we see the Thingvellir from a geological perspective, then it’s extraordinary. This is the only place on the planet where you can walk between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. When you are standing in this rift valley, you can literally touch the edges of two different continents.

Geysir Geothermal Area

Next on our route list is the Geysir Geothermal Area, which is an essential stop on the Golden Circle Tour of Iceland. It will offer you a mesmerizing glimpse into Iceland’s geothermal wonders. This area is home to a variety of fascinating spots, including fumaroles, hot pools, and the main attraction, geysers. One of the most intriguing aspects of this area is its namesake, Geysir, which has lent its name to all geysers around the world.

the Blue Lagoon with admission tickets included and Kerid Volcanic Crater

Geysir is the largest geyser in this area, but its eruptions are rare and can cease for years. While the chances of viewing Geysir in action are rare, the site itself remains impressive. Don’t worry; another amazing geyser in the same area is Strokkur. This Geyser erupts every few minutes and shoots boiling water up to 50 meters into the air. The anticipation builds as you watch Strokkur’s surface bubble and steam before it finally releases the powerful burst, a spectacle that never fails to amaze tourists. 

A short walk from Strokkur takes you to Blesi, another fantastic highlight of the area. Blesi doesn’t erupt like Strokkur, but you can still see its stunning turquoise waters and the steam that gently rises from the surface, creating a serene and beautiful scene. You will be instantly captivated when you see the Geysir Geothermal Area for the first time. The landscape of the Geysir is filled with vibrant hues of greens, blues, reds, and yellows. 

Despite the sparse vegetation, the area boasts a unique beauty that looks just like an artist’s palette brought to life. If you want the best view of this colorful terrain, consider a short hike up the hill overlooking the valley. You will not face any problem while climbing but be prepared for strong winds at the top. At the top, you can take in the breathtaking panorama of the geothermal field while appreciating the incredible natural forces at work beneath your feet. 

Gullfoss

The final and most stunning destination of the Golden Circle is Gullfoss, one of the notable Golden Circle Iceland Stops. Gullfoss is located near Reykjavik and is one of Iceland’s easily accessible wonders. Its popularity is well deserved, as this place continuously ranks among the top waterfalls in a country famous for its countless breathtaking cascades. 

South Coast, Glacier Hike, Golden Circle with Optional Ice Cave

Gullfoss is one of the most impressive waterfalls you’ll encounter in Iceland and worldwide. It’s immense in size and ensures that you will hear its powerful roar even before it comes into view from the parking lot. A brief walk from the visitor center can lead you to your first breathtaking glimpse of the falls.

From the vantage point, you will get a full-scale view of Gullfoss. Every second, an impressive 5,000 cubic feet of water cascades down the falls. The upper section of the waterfall has a drop of 36 feet, and the lower section plunges 69 feet before the river flows serenely along the canyon floor. 

After taking the full view of Gullfoss from the upper vantage point, make your way down the stairs to the lower viewpoint. Here, you will get closer to the waterfall itself and get incredible views of both the upper and lower sections. Remember to bring gloves and a jacket because it gets cold and wet the closer you get to the falls. 

1-day and 2-day Itineraries

Here is the guide to the first-day and second-day Golden Circle Iceland Itinerary:

First Day Itinerary

Start your journey from Thinvellir National Park which is located just 50 km from Reykjavik. You will get a unique opportunity to walk between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Then stroll along the Almannagjá rift and explore the lava fields that are covered in Icelandic moss and if you still have the time, then visit snorkel in the crystal clear waters of the Silfra Ravine. 

pexels-photo

Now cover the 61 km distance to the Geysir Geothermal Area and watch the Strokkur geyser which erupts every 5 to 10 minutes. Take a short hike to the viewpoint for a panoramic view of the entire geothermal field. The total time it will take you to reach Geysir Geothermal Area is 50 minutes. Continue your Iceland Golden Circle journey with a visit to the stunning Gullfoss Waterfall. 

Visiting this place at the end of the day often means fewer tourists which allows you to fully appreciate its beauty. It will take only 9 minutes to reach the waterfalls. At the end, you can drive 30 km to Fludir for your overnight stay. This small, beautiful village offers a perfect place to relax and prepare for the next day. Finish your day by taking a dip in the Secret Lagoon, Iceland’s oldest hot spring.

Second Day Itinerary

Begin your second day with a visit to Hrunalaug Hot Spring, just a 6 km drive from Fludir. This hidden gem offers a serene and warm bathing experience in a private setting. Please respect the property by paying the small fee and leaving no trace behind. Next, drive 55 km to the Gjain Viking Area, a picturesque canyon featured in the most popular series, Game of Thrones. 

In the Gjain Viking Area, you can explore the beautiful lava formations, waterfalls, and lush surroundings. This off-beaten-path location is perfect for tourists looking to escape the crowds. Now, head 11 km along a dirt road to Haifoss, one of Iceland’s most dramatic waterfalls. The journey is challenging and takes time, but it will reward you with spectacular views of Haifoss and the neighboring Granni waterfall. You have to be cautious in the slippery and unfenced viewing areas. 

Next, you can visit the reconstructed Viking longhouse and turf church at Þjóðveldisbærinn Stöng. This historic site will offer you insights into Iceland’s Viking past and it is surrounded by beautiful landscapes, including the Hjálparfoss waterfall. End your Iceland’s Golden Circle journey with a stop at the Kerid Volcanic Crater which is 70 km from Stöng. At the Kerid Volcanic Crater, you can walk around the rim and descend to the crater lake for stunning views. This hidden spot provides your journey with a peaceful ending. 

Drive back to Reykjavik to finish your Golden Circle Trip and if time permits then you can visit more places including the iconic Hallgrimskirkja church, and the Sun Voyager sculpture. This comprehensive self-drive Iceland Golden Circle Itinerary ensures you have the best experience of Iceland’s natural wonders and hidden beauties. 

Weather Patterns

When you’re exploring Iceland’s Golden Circle, the changing weather patterns can deeply influence your experience. The changing of seasons dramatically changes the landscape which will offer you unique and breathtaking sights throughout the year. Whether you visit during the vibrant summer months or the snowy winter, the Golden Circle promises a memorable adventure. 

jokulsarlon summer iceland

Golden Circle Iceland Summer Weather

Summer in the Golden Circle starts from late May to August and transforms the whole region into a vibrant paradise. In summer, you will get to experience long daylight hours, lush green landscapes, and mild temperatures. Every area of the Golden Circle route has stunning views. The Þingvellir National Park in summer is a sight you can never forget. The park’s trails are adorned with wildflowers and greenery, and you are invited to hike and explore the area where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. 

The Geysir Geothermal Area is another highlight. The warm weather makes walking through the area more comfortable and you can witness the Strokkur geyser erupt against a clear sunny sky. The most impressive spot is the Gullfoss Waterfall whose flow gets increased from melting glaciers in summer. The surrounding area of the waterfall becomes ideal for picnics and leisurely walks. The summer weather extends daylight hours providing ample time to explore and enjoy these natural wonders.

Iceland Hot Spots Circle Iceland tour

Golden Circle Iceland Winter Weather

The Golden Circle’s winter season starts in late November and ends in March, and it offers a starkly different yet equally mesmerizing experience. In winter, the Golden Circle becomes a serene, snow-covered wonderland. The main attraction, Thingvellir National Park, transforms into a snowy paradise. The snow highlights the park’s geological features, creating a tranquil and almost magical atmosphere. The Iceland Golden Circle winter season is perfect for tourists who enjoy the quiet beauty of nature blanketed in snow. 

The Geysir Geothermal Area in winter shows a dramatic difference between the hot erupting geysers and the cold winter air.  The steam that rises from the geysers creates an ethereal atmosphere which makes it a must-see during the Iceland Golden Circle winter season winter season. Gullfoss Waterfall is particularly striking in winter. Some parts of the waterfall freeze, forming intricate ice sculptures, while other sections continue to flow. The frozen landscape will offer you a unique photographic opportunity and a peaceful setting for winter walks. 

Benefits of Each Season

Both seasons have distinct advantages. In the winter season, you can witness the Northern Lights, which is a spectacular view that draws many people to Iceland. The longer nights in the winter season provide excellent opportunities for aurora hunting. 

Iceland Hot Spots

In comparison, the summer season offers extended daylight hours, which allows you to explore more without any rush. The milder temperatures make hiking and sightseeing more enjoyable, and the vibrant nature offers a picturesque backdrop for photography.  Each season highlights different aspects of this natural wonder, ensuring that your visit is filled with beauty and adventure.

Drive The Golden Circle Like A Local

Driving the Golden Circle like a local means you have to explore the popular sites while also discovering the hidden gems and avoiding the tourist crowds. Start your trip early or late in the day to miss the rush at famous spots such as Thingvellir, Geysir, and Gullfoss. If you want a more authentic experience, then venture to lesser-known areas, including the serene Secret Lagoon, the impressive Hjalparfoss and Haifoss waterfalls, and the colorful geothermal landscapes of Landmannalaugar. 

Take time to hike the scenic trails, relax in natural hot springs, and enjoy local dining at places like Friðheimar Restaurant. This approach ensures a unique and memorable adventure through Iceland’s stunning Golden Circle. 

The Classic Golden Circle Route Map

Next, the Haukadalur Geothermal Area awaits with the erupting Strokkur and the dormant Great Geysir. The journey culminates at the majestic Gullfoss waterfall, offering breathtaking views. Along the way, don’t miss smaller stops like the Secret Lagoon and the charming Friðheimar Restaurant. This comprehensive map ensures you experience the best of the Golden Circle.

For a detailed visual guide, refer to our Golden Circle Self Drive Map to navigate the route efficiently.

Exploring Iceland’s Golden Circle with a well-planned route map can elevate your adventure and help you cover all the major landmarks and hidden gems. This classic route starts with Þingvellir National Park, which is rich in history and geology. In this park, you can marvel at the Silfra fissure and the ancient Althing site. 

How to Drive the Golden Circle in Iceland?

While there are many options available to tour the Golde Circle, you may like to explore the beauty of the spots at your own pace and in your own way of self-drive. To tour the places at your own pace, you will be required to rent a car and if you want to drive onward to the Icelandic Highlands, then you will need to rent a SUV.  

Renting a car puts you in charge of your trip. You can either start early or late and explore the places at times that are best suitable for them. During the summer season, you can even use the advantage of long daylight hours to avoid the traffic which is often caused by coach tours. Driving at your own pace will enable you to experience the Golden Circle in Iceland differently. 

If you’re considering a cruise option, don’t miss our article on Golden Circle Cruise Pickup Options to choose the best departure points and services.

South Coast, Glacier Hike, Golden Circle with Optional Ice Cave

 

Get Off The Beaten Path

When you are exploring Iceland’s Golden Circle, venturing off the beaten path can take you to some of the most enchanting and lesser-known gems of this famous route. While the main attractions like Þingvellir National Park, Geysir, and Gullfoss are undeniably spectacular, there’s a wealth of hidden treasures that are waiting to be discovered if you’re willing to stray from the well from the well-trodden path. Here are the hidden places that you will be able to see when getting off the beaten path: 

  1. Laugarvatn is a retro town known for its geothermal springs and the Fontana Spa. In this town, you can soak in natural hot springs while enjoying the beautiful lake views. It’s a wonderful spot where you can relax and refresh after spending all day exploring. 
  2. Friðheimar Tomato Farm provides you with a unique culinary experience. A family runs this farm and grows tomatoes around the year in their geothermal greenhouse. You can enjoy a delicious tomato soup and a refreshing cocktail that is made from their homegrown produce. Don’t forget to tour the greenhouse for a fascinating glimpse into Icelandic horticulture.  
  3. Kerið Crater is a stunning volcanic crater with vivid red slopes contrasting against a blue lake. This location offers a short hike around the rim and down to the water. You will also get excellent opportunities for photography and a closer look at Iceland’s volcanic history. 
  4. The Secret Lagoon in Flúðir will offer you a more intimate hot spring experience than the famous Blue Lagoon. Here you will be able to enjoy natural surroundings with fewer tourists. You can even watch the Northern Lights during the winter months. 
  5. Hrunaluag Hot Spring is another amazing bathing spot that offers tourists warm and mineral-rich water in a picturesque setting. This small and rustic hot spring provides you more authentic peaceful experience away from the crowdy tourist spots. 

By exploring these off-the-beaten-path locations, you can experience the Golden Circle in a new and more intimate way. You will also discover the hidden beauty and unique experiences that many travelers miss. 

Golden Circle Self Drive Tour

Best Waterfalls and Scenic Views 

When you are exploring Iceland’s Golden Circle, you will be able to witness many majestic waterfalls and breathtaking views. Each offers a unique glimpse into the country’s natural beauty. 

  1. Brúarfoss Waterfall is dubbed the Blue Waterfall for its striking azure waters. It’s a hidden gem that can be seen via a scenic hike. The unique blue color of the waterfall is due to glacial meltwater. 
  2. Faxi Waterfall, also known as Faxafoss, is a tranquil waterfall that spans the Tungufljót River. Its serene setting is complemented by a nearby fish ladder for salmon migration. It offers a peaceful retreat to tourists from the more bustling sites. 
  3. Helgufoss waterfall is situated in the Mosfellsdalur valley. It is a lesser-known area but equally enchanting. A short hike can lead you to this dramatic spot, where the water tumbles over rugged cliffs into a serene pool below. 
  4. Thorufoss waterfall is another amazing place that is also featured in the popular series “Game of Thrones”. This secluded waterfall is the perfect detour for the series fans and those seeking a quiet spot to enjoy Iceland’s natural beauty with the crowds.

Each of these waterfalls will showcase the diverse and dramatic landscapes of Iceland.

Seljalandsfoss-Waterfall.jpg

Where to Eat on The Golden Circle?

You will see many amazing eating points on the Golden Circle route. Here are the main spots:

  • Braud & Co. is an iconic bakery in Reykjavik. It is known for its freshly baked cinnamon buns, which are the perfect snack for a quick and tasty breakfast. 
  • Restaurant Geysir Glíma is located near the Geysir, and this restaurant celebrates Iceland’s wrestling tradition. You can enjoy both Icelandic and Scandinavian dishes in a unique setting.
  • Héraðsskólinn Restaurant And Bistro is halfway between Þingvellir National Park and Geysir. Here, you can find a diverse menu to get trout to reindeer. 
  • Lindin is situated in Laugarvatn. This cozy restaurant is known for its expertly cooked dishes and delicious desserts.
  • Súpa is located at the Geysir service center. This place is for the health conscious people and it serves six delicious soup options. They provide quick and budget-friendly meals. 
  • Drumboddstaðir (Drumbó): Enjoy a BBQ and local beer at this lively spot on the banks of the Hvítá River, known for its river rafting basecamp.
  • Drumboddstaðir (Drumbó) is an amazing place for BBQ and local beer on the banks of the Hvítá River. 
  • Efstidalur II is a farm hotel offering homemade ice cream from local ingredients. 
  • Græna Kannan Organic Café is located in Sólheimar eco-village. It offers a wide range of organic treats and supports a sustainable community.
  • Kaffi Krús is located in Selfoss. This restaurant offers hearty meals like pizza and burgers, with large portions and delicious cakes.

Small Group Golden Circle Tour - Kerið Crater and Friðheimar Farm

Photography Tips and Best Photo Spots

Any professional photographer dreams of photographing the Golden Circle in Iceland. Start your journey from Thingvellir National Park. This place is perfect for capturing the raw beauty of tectonic activity, with fissures and landscapes that highlight Iceland’s geological wonders. 

Next, move towards the Geysir. The geyser itself might be fair but the surrounding geothermal activity provides excellent photo opportunities. End your photography journey at Gullfoss where the best shots can be captured from three main viewpoints. You can play with shutter speeds to capture the water’s movement and stillness. Remember, patience and the right timing are key to capturing the most breathtaking shots on this iconic route. 

Final Words

The Golden Circle tour in Iceland offers tourists an unparalleled adventure through some of the most stunning natural wonders on Earth. From the historical significance and geological marvels of Thingvellir National Park to the Geysir Geothermal Area’s explosive beauty and Gullfoss waterfall’s majestic power, each stop promises you unforgettable experiences.

After you complete your Golden Circle Self Drive, our detailed article on After the Golden Circle Self Drive will help you plan your next steps and explore more attractions.

Iceland's Golden Circle & Secret Lagoon Tour

Whether you’re exploring in the vibrant summer or the serene winter, the Golden Circle delivers breathtaking landscapes and unique attractions. With accessible routes, charming eateries, hidden gems, and ample photography opportunities, this journey is perfect for both seasoned and first-time travelers. Start your Golden Circle adventure to witness Iceland’s captivating beauty and create memories that will last a lifetime.

FAQs

When is the ideal time to visit the Golden Circle?

The ideal time to visit the Golden Circle is from June to August for the best weather, though September and October offer fewer crowds and vibrant fall colors.

What’s the best time of year to explore Iceland’s Golden Circle?

The best time to explore Iceland’s Golden Circle is during the summer months (June to August) for mild weather and long daylight hours.

How far is the Golden Circle from Reykjavik?

The Golden Circle is approximately 230 kilometers (143 miles) from Reykjavik, making it a popular day trip destination.

Where are the best places to stay near the Golden Circle?

Guesthouses and hotels in towns like Selfoss, Hveragerdi, and Laugarvatn are the best places to stay near the Golden Circle.

Which direction should you drive the Golden Circle in Iceland?

You can drive the Golden Circle clockwise or counterclockwise; both routes offer stunning views and easy access to key attractions.

What should you pack for a trip to the Golden Circle?

For your Golden Circle trip, pack warm layers, waterproof clothing, sturdy hiking boots, a camera, snacks, and a reusable water bottle.

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