The Golden Circle Iceland is one of the most popular things to do while in the land of fire and ice. Its close proximity to the capital city of Reykjavik makes it accessible for visitors who are traveling through Iceland for any duration of time.
On your Golden Circle tour in Iceland you will get a small taste of what the country has to offer. Iceland is filled with geothermal landscapes, powerful waterfalls, volcanos and so much more. If your first stop is the Golden Circle tour then you will definitely end the day excited about the rest of your trip!
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What is the Golden Circle in Iceland?
While not part of Iceland’s main Ring Road, the Golden Circle route contains some of Iceland’s most famous sights. The Golden Circle is a 190 mile (300 km) circular route in central Iceland.
The Golden Circle loop is easily accessible from Reykjavik and can be circumnavigated on a day trip. You can do a self driving tour of the area or book one of the many Golden Circle tours that are available.
The main sights along Iceland’s Golden Circle are Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, Stokkur Geysi and the Kerid volcanic crater lake.
Golden Circle Iceland Map with Stops
This is the map of the Golden Circle route Iceland that you can easily follow if you choose to do your own self driving tour. If you don’t have data during your time in Iceland you can save it as an offline map or download an app such as maps.me.
During my trips to Iceland I always followed the Golden Circle route clockwise and continued on towards Selfoss after visiting the Kerid crater. I would also recommend doing your self driving tour this way if you are continuing your journey in Iceland along the Ring Road.
Going back to Reykjavik would be out of the way and heading to Selfoss brings you right back to Route 1 which is where you will start your tour around Iceland’s Ring Road.
How to Get to the Golden Circle Iceland
When driving the Golden Circle Iceland you’ll find it is actually quite easy. This route is well traveled by foreigners and locals with well paved roads that are easy to follow. You will find signs leading to the popular spots and established visitor’s centers at each location.
Once you leave Reykjavik head east on Route 49. Continue driving until you reach the outskirts of town and arrive at the Route 1 intersection. From there head north by taking a left on Route 1. Soon after you pass the town of Mosfellsbær you will take a right on Route 36 and continue driving east until you’ve reached Thingvellir National Park.
These directions work if you are departing from Reykjavik and are visiting the Golden Circle route clockwise. If this is not your intended route then just follow the map I posted above!
How to Rent a Vehicle in Iceland
Preferring the flexibility and freedom to explore on our own, we always forgo the group tours and rent our own vehicle. It is honestly so easy to do your own self-driving tour in Iceland since the roads are pretty straightforward and they drive on the right.
During two of my trips to Iceland we rented a 4wd SUV from Reykjavik Rent a Car. On two additional trips back to the land of fire and ice we rented a camper van and had a blast exploring the country that way.
However, if you do not wish to do a self-driving tour there are Golden Circle tours offered out of Reykjavik. English tours are offered every day, last about 8 hours and costs around $55-60 USD per person. If you end up doing a tour with an agency it is best to base yourself out of Reykjavik.
Golden Circle Tour Iceland: What to See
There are many sights to see along the Golden Circle route in Iceland so make sure you start your day early. During your trip around the Golden Circle you’ll see a variety of unique and incredible landscapes. Make sure that you stick to the designated paths for your own safety and to protect the land.
Please note that drones are not allowed at many of the popular sights. Therefore, you will see signs posted prohibiting the use of any drones. Be respectful and abide by these rules or deal with the consequences.
Þingvellir National Park Iceland
If you are driving the Golden Circle Route Iceland clockwise from Reykjavik then you will begin at Þingvellir National Park. Also known as Thingvellir National Park, this area of the Golden Circle is a site of historical and geological importance in Iceland.
The Alþing General Assembly, which is the national parliament of Iceland and the oldest in the world, was first established at Þingvellir in 930.
The Alþing played a large role in passing and approving laws in Iceland and most of the major events in the country have happened at this location. Þingvellir National Park was founded in 1930 to protect the land of Parliament and was the first established National park in Iceland.
Today, Þingvellir National Park is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. When you first enter the Thingvellir National Park area you can stop at the visitor’s center where there is a small cafe, restroom and shop. From here you can walk to the other sites within Thingvellir National Park or drive if you have a car.
The major significance of Thingvellir National Park Iceland is that it’s situated where the North American and Eurasian continental plates are being pushed apart.
This happens by volcanic forces called the Mid Atlantic Ridge. The outcropping of rocks, faults and fissures of the area remind us that the earth is still continuing to move.
This is proved as scientists measure a growing distance between the North American and Eurasian continental plates over the years. These rifts are filled with crystal clear water allowing the adventurous visitor to snorkel or scuba dive in Silfra and Davíðsgjá.
Silfra is one of the best diving spots in Iceland due to the unparalleled clarity of the glacier water and the ability to swim between the cracks in the submerged continental plates.
Because Iceland sits at the northern end of the mid atlantic ridge, you are literally swimming between two continents when snorkeling at Silfra!
Snorkeling Silfra isn’t the only thing to do in Thingvellir National Park. There are many amazing spots which can be reached by car and by foot. Nearby the Silfra fissure you will find a small parking area and the beginning of a wooden path leading to the Öxarárfoss waterfall.
This hidden waterfall is formed from the river Öxará as it crosses through the National Park and descends into one of the parks rifts.
Strokkur Geysir Iceland
After visiting Thingvellir National Park drive the 45 minutes to the Strokkur Geysir in Haukadalur Valley. This is the next stop along Iceland’s Golden Circle Route is you are driving it clockwise.
Geysir is the name given to exploding water spouts that occur all over the world. The Great Geysir, or Stori-Geysir, was one of the first documented geysirs sometime during the 13th century.
Although the Great Geysir, which used to reach astonishing heights of 200 ft, is no longer active there is still plenty to see in the geothermal area. Luckily for visitors to Iceland, Strokkur geysir (the churn) erupts and blows its boiling hot water every 6-8 minutes.
The reliable Strokkur geysir is located a close 100 meters from where the Great Geysir remains sleeping. It can be easily spotted by the large groups of visitors surrounding the bubbling crater waiting for its inevitable eruption.
Surrounding the Strokkur geyser are roped off areas indicating where it is safe for visitors to stand. You’ll watch the water churn and boil, anticipating the initial moment when the boiling pool starts to form its bubble.
Only for a second you can see the bright turquoise bubble until it inevitably explodes and bursts into a column as high as 20-30 meters. It is quite a sight to see and you’ll probably want see it burst at least a few times.
The entire surrounding area is geothermically active. There are small pools of boiling sulphurous mud pots, vegetation, and billowing steam vents lining the marked walking trails. Along the paths there are signs advising visitors to refrain from touching the hot streams of water. While it may be tempting to test the temperature, don’t be that person!
A less than 10 minutes drive from Geysir Iceland and a short walk down a wooden path you will arrive at the spectacular Gullfoss waterfall. Even before you approach the falls, you can hear the powerful crashing of water.
Gullfoss, meaning Golden Falls, is one of Europe’s most popular waterfalls. This is partially due to its convenient location along the Golden Circle route. From the visitors center, the canyon is initially obstructed from view, appearing to be only the river Hvítá.
However, once you continue along the misty path you will begin to see the first level of the mighty Gullfoss. Keep walking down to the lower path and you’ll see the second level appear. Here you’ll be able to witness how enormous Gullfoss actually is.
Spanning the entire length of the river Hvítá, Gullfoss’ double-cascade plunges 105-feet into the ravine below. There are paths all around the falls allowing you to get within an arms reach. Just make sure to wear waterproof clothing to avoid getting completely soaked!
In the winter, the Gullfoss waterfall is often iced over and can be a pretty amazing sight as well!
The Kerið volcanic crater lake is another stop along the Golden Circle. It was also our last stop before continuing on towards Sellfoss. Turning off of the main road, the small sign pointing to Kerid crater is somewhat hard to see.
The Kerid volcanic crater lake blends into the surrounding flat plains until you get closer. Approaching the 180-foot deep crater the red rocks of the caldera and aquamarine lake water appears exposing the grandeur of this collapsed volcano.
The majority of the walls that surround Kerid crater are quite steep. However, there is one spot where you can carefully climb down to the lake.
If you have the time it is worth while to go down. However, if not you can still walk around the entire circumference of the crater from and view it from above. During certain hours of the day there is a 350 ISK or €2 fee to enter, otherwise you can enter for free.
Important Tips for the Golden Circle Iceland
1. I also snorkelled Silfra during one of my trips around the Golden Circle route Iceland. Silfra is a crack between the North American and Eurasian Continents where the water is crystal clear! This was such an incredible experience and one that I recommend if you have the extra time! In fact, it is the only place in the world where you can do this. To book your excursion check out DIVE.IS if you are interested!
2. I highly recommend packing a water proof jacket, quick dry pants and Gortex hiking boots. The mist from the waterfalls will definitely get you wet. Plus it’s nice to zip up your camera into your jacket when your not taking your photos. Waterproof pant covers are also a great addition to your packing list to help stay dry!
3. The Golden Circle route takes about 3 hours driving time without stopping. Therefore with the added stops you can easily spend 8-10 hours exploring all the sights. You could easily visit the entire Golden Circle route in one day if you are visiting during spring, summer or fall. Unfortunately if you are visiting during the winter you will have limited daylight and it may not be possible to see in one day.
4. Since we were circumnavigating Iceland’s mainland we decided to continue on towards Selfoss after our visit to the Kerið volcano crater lake. We stayed at the centrally located Fosstún Apartments Hotel in Selfoss to continue our journey around the Ring Road the next day. Fosstún Apartments Hotel has a friendly staff and usually includes a nourishing breakfast where you can even make your own waffles! If you are in town for dinner head over to the popular Kaffi Krús and enjoy a delicious meal.
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