Golden circle is one of the most favourite locations all over the Iceland, so you should definitely not miss this part, while you travel around Iceland. I will give you the most ultimate guide for travel around Golden circle, tips where to eat, what to see there and example itinerary for one day self drive tour.
What is the Golden Circle?
Iceland’s Golden Circle is a 300-kilometer-long circular path that winds east of Reykjavik and connects natural attractions. Not to be confused with the Ring Road, which runs around the island.
The Golden Circle can easily be completed as a day trip from Reykjavik due to its proximity to the capital. As a result, it is an ideal trip for a short visit or a stopover in Iceland.
There are important Golden Circle stops that should be included in your daily itinerary so that you do not miss any of the main points of the route.
You can join organized paid bus or jeep tour groups, but the management of the Golden Circle alone will allow you to stop whenever you want or even a little off the beaten path.
Golden circle – how long does it take?
Drive time for Golden circle from Reykjavik will take you less than 4 hours to complete the Golden Circle. Of course, this does not include tours or stops.
For most tourists to Iceland, the Golden Circle is usually done as a full-day or half-day ride from Reykjavík, so we recommend devoting 6 to 10 hours to the circuit.
Day trips from Reykjavik
As you can see, if you want a private or community tour, you have plenty of options.
Golden circle – self drive tour
Due to Iceland’s limited public transport infrastructure, you will need to rent a car or book a day trip from Reykjavik to explore the Golden Circle.
For maximum flexibility, Golden Circle self drive tour is the best choice if driving in all weather conditions suits you.
In addition to visiting the basic stops in this Golden Circle itinerary, you can also make several other stops off the road, such as Kerid Crater Lake or Laugarvatn Fontana baths.
But if, like me, you are less comfortable driving in all weathers, there is no shortage of tours organized by the Golden Circle departing from Reykjavík.
I recommend a tour of the Golden Circle Classic with a sightseeing tour of Reykjavik. They offer free cancellation up to 24 hours before departure, which is valuable due to the volatile weather of Iceland.
This 7.5-hour tour costs ISK 8,490; add another 1,5K ISK for pick-up at the hotel (prices in May 2021). Departures are every hour from 8:00 to 12:00.
In addition to an excellent live guide, you will also receive a tablet that provides additional information and audio commentary in ten languages. Bring your own headphones.
What you lose in flexibility you gain in comfort.
Golden circle – what to see
- Thingvellir and Oxararfoss
- Silfra fissure
- Waterfall Gullfoss
Thingvellir was the site of the first Icelandic Althing Parliament, which first met here in 930 AD. It has been about fifty years since Iceland settled. Thingvellir was used as a meeting place for parliament until 1798.
Thingvellir was chosen as the seat of parliament because it was supposed to be relatively accessible from all parts of Iceland. Parliamentary sessions took place in the summer months and great attention was paid to the Icelandic people.
Thingvellir National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has played a significant role in the history of Iceland. Here you will find lakes, waterfalls, natural formations and the most interesting for me is the Silfra crack.
Because it is the meeting point of the American and Eurasian continental plates, Thingvellir National Park is of geological importance. These slabs are constantly separating from each other and cause a large ditch valley.
Iceland is growing at an average rate of 2 cm per year. Hiking in Thingvellir National Park is easy and direct with well-marked trails.
Geysir and Haukadalur geothermal area
You will find the Icelandic geyser about an hour’s drive from the capital Reykjavík, but this geyser is no longer active.
The two main geysers are Strokkur and Geysir. Geysir has been quite dormant lately, although it is thought to have erupted for at least 10,000 years, we think the break is only natural from time to time. When it does, it’s spectacular, with eruptions of boiling water and steam reaching more than 400 feet.
Your journey will lead east, towards the town of Laugarvatn. From here you will head to the area of geysers, where you can watch the Strokur geyser, which is still active and erupts about every 10 minutes.
From here it is only about half an hour to the massive Gullfoss waterfall (“golden waterfall”).
Gullfoss Waterfall is the last of the three main highlights of the Golden Circle. The name Golden Circle comes from Gullfoss, which means golden falls.
Gullfoss is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland and one of our favorites.
The waterfall on the Hvíta River is about ten minutes from Haukadalur. There are two main parking areas, one at a lower altitude and the other at a higher altitude, each with a different view of the falls.
Both locations provide wonderful views and a number of steps connect them. It is also possible to walk along the edge of the river over the falls to get a different perspective.
Hidden gems of Golden circle
Most itineraries on internet does not mention many other highlights, which you can find while driving around Golden circle.
The river Hvítá flows through beautiful canyon Brúarhlod, you can find wide waterfall Fáxi with almost decorative steps for salmons, natural hot springs in Secret lagoon, hot river in Hveragerdi or one of the most massive waterfalls Urridafoss.
þórufoss, or Thorufoss, is just a five-minute detour from the Golden Circle route, and we think it’s worth a detour.
The waterfall is just off Highway 48 and there is a small parking lot off the road. Note that you don’t see falls from the roads and the brand doesn’t stand in the way, which means that many visitors miss it.
Faxi is a majestic waterfall on the river Tungufljót, which is part of the Golden Circle. It’s not too high a waterfall, 22 feet, but it’s 300 feet wide and rare enough to deserve a visit, we believe.
You can either go down to the car park at the foot of the waterfalls, or see them from the road above.
Urridafoss Waterfall is one of the lesser known waterfalls in the south of Iceland, although it is very easy to reach and is only a 2 minute drive from the main road.
The name of the waterfall is based on local trout fish, which are abundant on the river Thjorsa. Urrida is the Icelandic term for “trout”.
Volcanic crater lake Kerið
Kerið is a small volcanic crater lake in the south of Iceland, on the popular Golden Circle hiking trail.
It is one of several crater lakes in the area known as Iceland’s Western Volcanic Zone, which includes the Reykjanes Peninsula and the Langjökull Glacier, created as the earth moves through a localized hotspot, but it is the one that still has the most visually known caldera intact.
Brúarhlöð Canyon is a hidden gem of Iceland and if you are someone who loves to go on short hikes, nature walks to observe and spend hours in the lap of nature, then this place is perfect for you.
Brúarhlöð Canyon is close to the Golden Circle and nearby Hrunamannahreppur, but travelers can miss it.
This place is known for its extraordinary rock formations, which look phenomenal when viewed from above. It was centuries ago when the mighty Hvíta River, meaning the White River, passed through solid rocks that led to the creation of this intertwined gorge – Brúarhlöð.
Bruarfoss Waterfall in Iceland has the most blue waters of all the Golden Circle waterfalls.
It is a hidden gem near the many attractions of the Golden Circle that you must see.
Although the height of this waterfall is not very impressive, the color can take your breath away.
Many people believe that the Bruarfoss waterfall is closed, but only the old short route is closed.
Hot springs in the Golden Circle
- Laugarvatn Fontana
- Reykjadalur Hot Spring
- Secret Lagoon Hot Spring
One-day itinerary for the Golden Circle
If you are planning a car rental and driving the Golden Circle, we have compiled this quick suggested 1-day Golden Circle itinerary that departs from Reykjavík in the morning and returns to Reykjavík in the afternoon / evening.
It could also be used as a starting point for a longer trip to Iceland and for inspiration in this department check out our itineraries for 3 days in Iceland, 7 days in Iceland and the Icelandic circuit.
Stop 1: þórufoss
Our first suggested stop on your Golden Circle journey is þórufoss. It is a nice waterfall and it is usually not too crowded. Depending on the traffic outside the city and where you leave from, expect it to take you about 40 minutes. You should not need more than 10-15 minutes here.
Stop 2: Thingvellir
It is about a 20-minute drive from þórufoss. There are many highlights to see and activities to do. Don’t forget to pay for parking! Among the most important are Þingvallakirkja (church), Lögberg (rock formations), various cracks and Öxarárfoss waterfall.
You can also plan diving or snorkelling here. You will want to book these activities in advance and expect to spend at least 2-3 hours if you decide to do so, which will affect how much you see for the rest of the day.
Otherwise, we suggest planning about 90 minutes on Thingvellir.
Stop 3: Lunch at Efstidalur II.
You may be hungry now. Our lunch suggestions are a restaurant and a farm shop on Efstidalur II, which is about a 40 minute drive from Thingvellir.
They have delicious food made from local ingredients and we really enjoyed their burger. They are also famous for their ice cream, so even if you travel on a larger budget and swing for lunch, we highly recommend indulging in some ice cream!
Expect to spend 45-90 minutes here if you have a full lunch or a 15-minute ice cream break.
Stop 4: Haukadalur Geothermal Field
After lunch, it is a 15-minute drive to the Haukadalur Geothermal Field, where you can see bubbling muddy spots, smoking fumaroles and erupting geysers.
This is a wonderfully photogenic place and is a lot of fun to visit. Expect to spend about 30 minutes – 45 minutes on site.
Stop 5: Gullfoss Waterfall
It is only a 10-minute drive from Haukadalur to Gullfoss, which is often the main peak for most visitors traveling in the Golden Circle.
It’s not hard to understand why and this waterfall is really impressive. There are plenty of photography opportunities, so expect to spend at least 30-45 minutes on site. There is also a gift shop, café and toilets.
Stop 6: Faxi Waterfall
It’s time to turn around and head back to Reykjavik. If you still want to see some waterfalls, then the stop at the quieter Faxi Waterfall is a 20-minute drive from Gullfoss.
It’s just off the road and shouldn’t take you more than 10-15 minutes.
Stop 7: Kerið Crater
From Faxi, continue on Route 35 for about half an hour until you reach Kerid Crater. This is another very useful stop on the Golden Circle, which gives you the opportunity to explore the real crater of the volcano up close.
You can spend a decent amount of time here if you decide to walk around the crater and go down to the crater floor, or you can just swing and take a few photos. We suggest allocating 15 minutes to an hour here, depending on your level of interest.
Stop 8: Choose a hot spring
If you are interested in visiting a hot spring in Iceland, Golden Circle offers you three options.
The two hot springs on the way around the Golden Circle, Laugarvatn Fontana and the Secret Lagoon, are very easy to visit when you travel around, and there are tours that stop at one or the other.
Another option, if you are traveling in the summer months around the Golden Circle and want to take a trip to end your day, then we definitely recommend finding time to visit Reykjadalur Hot Spring.
The journey to the car park here from Kerid Crater takes about 25 minutes, then you look at at least an hour’s hike in each direction to get to the hot springs area.
You’ll probably want to enjoy the pools all that hiking, so expect to spend about an hour lounging. We do not recommend doing so in the winter or if you need to return to Reykjavik and return your rented car within a certain time.
It is about a 45-minute drive from Reykjavik to Reykjavik.
Another option is to add a visit to the Blue Lagoon (or take a Golden circle tour with Blue lagoon) at the end of your trip. This also makes a good choice if you are departing the next day in the Blue Lagoon near the airport and there are hotels in the area where you can spend the night.
Golden Circle – map route
The main stops on the Golden Circle are Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Hot Springs and Gullfoss Waterfall.
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