The Golden Circle Route Iceland – Our Travel Guide

Welcome to our complete travel guide on The Golden Circle route in Iceland. For those of you that aren’t familiar with this famous tourist route, The Golden Circle is made up of several popular tourist attractions that almost everybody visits on their first trip to Iceland. They consist of breath-taking waterfalls, quaint towns and relaxing hot springs, amongst many others. If you’re planning a trip to this Nordic island nation and are wondering what the key sights are in Iceland’s Golden Circle, continue reading for an insight into what to expect. Whether you plan on driving the Golden Circle route yourself or want to join a guided tour, many of the attractions you’ll visit will be the same.

What is The Golden Circle Route in Iceland?

One of Iceland’s most popular day tours amongst tourists, The Golden Circle is a circular road route that’s north-east of Reykjavik. It’s an iconic daytrip that provides you with an array of places to visit as you admire the landscapes and views along the way. The Golden Circle is primarily made up of three main attractions, but depending on your itinerary and your mode of transport, you may want to add a couple of extra sites to your list. These have also been included in this guide below. The top three must see attractions on the tour are Thingvellir National Park, the intriguing geyser, ‘Strokkur’, and the almighty Gullfoss waterfall.

Whilst it’s quite a touristic thing to do and there are cooler places to visit (the South Coast being one), the Golden Circle’s variety of attractions and ease of access makes it a great daytrip for any visitor.

Image showing the landscape of Thingvellir National Park, Iceland in the sunset.

How to visit The Golden circle Route in Iceland

There are several ways to get around in Iceland and to visit The Golden Circle, either by joining an organised group tour, a small private tour or by hiring a car and self-driving the route. We discuss the different options below in detail and include a few recommendations on the best tour companies. 

Shall I move this section towards the end?

Guided Golden Circle tours

Pro’s:

  • Tours are a great option for those who aren’t keen on driving around in Iceland, especially during the winter months when the conditions aren’t the best
  • Tours are an easy option as you are picked up from your hotel/ accommodation and are taken to the attractions in the comfort of a minibus/coach.
  • You don’t have to do much pre-planning, as the tour company will do it all for you. Just turn up on the day and they’ll take you around.
  • There will be a tour guide providing you with detailed information about each site, so you won’t have to worry about looking up the information beforehand.

Cons:

  • Tours can be quite tiring and often start early in the morning. Be prepared for a long day of driving and stop offs.
  • As the tours are organised, you’ll only have a limited time at each of the sites. Consequently, if you want to spend more time in a certain place, you’ll be unable to do this.
  • Tours can be quite expensive in Iceland, so be sure to do your research to compare prices and find the best deals.
  • We wouldn’t recommend a tour for those who don’t like waiting around. There are many other people on the tours, so you may end up having to wait for them to get back to the coach, get off the coach, etc.
Top rated Golden Circle route tours:

Golden Circle Classic Day Trip from Reykjavik

Golden Circle Day Trip with Kerid Volcanic Crater from Reykjavik

Golden Circle, Blue Lagoon Including Admission & Kerid Volcanic Crater

Golden Circle & Glacier Snowmobiling Day Trip from Reykjavik

Hiring a car:

Pro’s:

  • Hiring a car allows you to spend as much or as little time as you like at the different stop-off points on The Golden Circle route.
  • If you decide to self-drive, you can visit additional places that you wouldn’t have been able to do on an organised tour.
  • You can leave as early or as late as you want in the morning and head back when you’re ready.
  • This is a very affordable option compared to tours, especially if you rent a small, budget car and travel with friends.

Cons:

  • Depending on the time of year that you’re visiting Iceland, the roads may be snowy and icy, especially during the months of September to April. If you do decide to rent a car, be sure to monitor road conditions using this website before setting off. Road closures happen often.
  • If you choose to drive to The Golden Circle stops yourself, you’ll need to do a lot of planning ahead of arrival, so be sure to do your research ahead of time (and read this guide 😊).

The top places to visit in Iceland’s Golden Circle

Thingvellir National Park

The first stop on The Golden Circle tour is the magnificent UNESCO World Heritage Site, Thingvellir National Park. This protected nature park is the only place in the world where you get to stand between two tectonic plates; how cool is that? When you get there, head to Sifra for a chance to physically stand in between the two continents; Europe and North America.

You can either just see the divide, or if you’re feeling more adventurous, put on your snorkelling gear and go underwater for a really unique experience. There are various tour agencies at Silfra that operate snorkelling and scuba tours throughout the day.

The national park is also a great place to walk around and take in the breath-taking scenery. Hike 30-40 minutes from the main entrance of the park to see the stunning Oxararfoss Waterfall. Another wonderful attraction is a small Icelandic church called Þingvallakirkja. The church is generally closed to the public but provides an excellent backdrop to your photos. The entirety of Thingvellir Park is a nature lovers dream and it looks completely different in summer compared to winter.

Image of Thingvellir National Park - Golden Circle Tour Iceland
Image of the Öxarárfoss waterfall at Thingvellir National Park.

Geysir – Strokkur and Blesi

The next stop on the Golden Circle tour will be the mighty Strokkur, also known as the Geysir geothermal area. Strokkur is Iceland’s most visited active geyser and receives hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. Geysers are underground hot springs that spout up boiling hot water, and for this reason, you can’t get up close and personal with them.

Top tip: you’ll need to have some patience when visiting the geysers, as they don’t erupt all the time. You’ll have to wait every 15-20 minutes or so to see an eruption that usually reaches 20 metres in height. If you’re really lucky, you’ll get to experience the monster eruptions that reach a whopping 40 metres. Have your camera ready to snap those epic shots!

Image of the geysirs erupting.
Image of Strokkur geysir errupting - Golden CIrcle Route Iceland

Gullfoss Waterfall

Iceland is home to many breath-taking waterfalls that look even more spectacular during the winter months when they’re covered in a frozen labyrinth of icicles and snow. You can’t miss the mighty Gullfoss waterfall when visiting The Golden Circle route in Iceland. It was in fact our favourite of the three main attractions of the tour.

Once you arrive at Gullfoss waterfall, you’ll be presented with a stunning view of the majestic stream of water from up above. There’s also a staircase that you can walk up to get an incredible view from above the falls. There’s also a small restaurant near the waterfall, which is ideal for taking a break from the cold. We personally enjoyed a nice warm drink whilst taking in the wonderful views of Gullfoss.

Top tip: if you’re visiting in winter, temperatures can drop to below -10 degrees at Gullfoss. Be sure to wear a few layers and wrap up extra warm if you’re planning on visiting.

Image of Gullfoss Waterfall Iceland

Skalholt

The next stop on your Golden Circle tour is the historic town of Skalholt, an idyllic Icelanic town that’s around an hour’s drive from Reykjavik. This picture perfect town is home to a large evangelical Lutheran church and an impressive cathedral.

Skalholt is popular amongst tourists and is a definite must see stop-off point on your Golden Circle tour. In the town, you’ll find a handful of cafés and restaurants, concert halls and theatres, and it really comes to life during the summer months.

Whilst there isn’t much to see and do there, if you have time to visit, then we’d thoroughly recommend doing so. Rural Icelandic towns have such a unique feel to them and the surrounding mountain scenery will give you some excellent photo opportunities.

Kerid Crater

Another key attractions in the Golden Circle is Kerid Crater. Kerid is a volcanic crater lake in the Grímsnes area of South Iceland. You’ll get to admire the view from the top as you look down at the volcano, and you can even walk on top of the crater in the winter, as a sheet of ice is forms on the top of the lake.

Top tip: we visited Kerid Crater in February and due to the heavy snow fall, we weren’t able to see it in it’s true beauty, nor were we able to spend long up there due to the powerful wind. If you are visiting during the winter months, please be aware of this so you’re not disappointed.

To visit Kerid, there’s a fee of 400 ISK, which is payable at the entrance. If you’re travelling by car, there are plenty of car parking spaces and parking is free of charge.  

The Golden Circle Route Iceland - Shows Kerid Crater covered in snow

Other attractions on the Golden Circle Route

For those who fancy a bit more of adventure and are planning on renting a car to get around Iceland, here are a couple of extra attractions that are worth checking out.

Laugarvatn Fontana

After a long day of walking around seeing all the sites, you’ll want to take some time out and re-charge for another day of adventure. Laugarvatn Fontana allows you to fully immerse in the Icelandic experience of geothermal waters. You can relax in the geothermal pools and admire the stunning scenery around you. Head to the steam rooms, or even take a dip in the cold lake (if you’re brave enough).

Laugarvatn Fontana is a a relaxing Icelandic spa that’s located between Thingvellir National Park and the Geysir geothermal area. There’s also a café in the area, so you can pick up a refreshing smoothie after you’ve been pampered.

Entry costs 3950 ISK and you have access to the spa facilities for the entire day.

Secret Lagoon

Continuing with the theme of relaxation, another stop to add to your list is the Secret Lagoon. The Secret Lagoon is Iceland’s oldest swimming pool, formed in 1891. You’ll get to spend time in the natural geothermal waters that are constantly around 38-40 degrees Celsius all year round. You also have some amazing scenery to look at as you relax.

Secret Lagoon costs 3000 ISK for the day. We recommend it for those who are looking for a slightly cheaper outdoor geothermal spa experience in the country’s oldest swimming pool!

If you’re visiting the town of Skalholt, then this can be tied in with it, as it’s only a 20-minute drive away by car.

Image of a geothermal spa in Iceland

Faxi waterfall

As you’re already probably aware, Iceland is home to hundreds of waterfalls and each and every one of them has something unique to offer. Whilst Faxi waterfall isn’t as well known with the likes of the mighty Gullfoss, it’s definitely worth stopping off at if you get the chance.

Located around a 7-mile drive from Gulfoss and Strokkur, Faxi Waterfall is a wide, serene waterfall that allows you to get up close for a great view. The waterfall isn’t tall as such, but the constant flow of water that reaches the stream is one not to be missed. You can take a small hike around the waterfall and meet the Icelandic horses along the way.

There is also a small restaurant in the area, great for a spot of lunch or a warm drink.

Top tip: some organised tours may include this as a stop off point along the way, so be sure to enquire directly with the operator directly if it’s something you’d love to see.

Image of Faxi Waterfall - Golden Circle Route Iceland

Bruarfoss waterfall

The next waterfall on our list of additional sites to see on the Golden Circle is Bruarfoss waterfall. If you’re looking to visit Iceland’s bluest waterfall, then this needs to be on your list. Waterfalls don’t necessarily have to be big and powerful to be great, the smaller ones still have their charm too. This is especially the case when they’re not crowded with tourists!

The only down-side of seeing Bruarfoss is that it’ll take you around 2-3 hours to get there by foot, so be sure to wear appropriate footwear. The good news is that you’ll come across other smaller waterfalls along the way to Bruarfoss.

If you’re planning on visiting Bruarfoss waterfall, we only really recommend getting there by car and hiking the remainder of the way. It’s best seen in the summer months, when the weather is less treacherous.

Image of Bruarfoss Waterfall Iceland.

Reykholt (South Iceland)

The final stop off point on The Golden Circle tour is the quaint village of Reykholt. This tiny Icelandic town is home to a scenic trekking trail by the river, a number of cafes and restaurants and a relaxing thermal springs. It’s the perfect place to end your Golden Circle adventure before heading back to your hotel.

The best places to stay when visiting the Golden Circle

There are several towns that we recommend staying in if you’re planning on doing The Golden Circle route Iceland. The towns of Selfoss and Hveragerdi are great options, especially for those who are self-driving around Iceland. They’re less touristy, so you’ll get a real local feel being in these towns, and it’s a great way to explore new areas. Reykjavik is the most popular place for tourists to stay, as there’s a lot to do in the area and makes a great base. However, if you’re looking to explore other areas of Iceland, it can limit you due to the long drives.

We spent 4 nights in Iceland and stayed in 4 different towns (Selfoss, Hveragerdi, Vik and Reykavik). This allowed us to be more flexible and we were able to see more attractions.

Here are our top hotel recommendations for each of the towns we’ve mentioned:

Downtown Reykjavik Apartments

Reykjavik Residence Apartment Hotel

Hotel Borg by Keahotels

Recommended lunch spots on The Golden Circle tour

If you’re wondering what food options are available in Iceland, then fear not, as there are restaurants and cafes everywhere, even out in the wilderness. There’s a lovely restaurant just a few minutes’ walk away from the ‘Geysir’ area that have numerous lunch options, warm drinks and a selection of cakes. In Thingvellir National Park, there’s a small coffee shop where you can grab light bites, before or after looking around. At most of the tourist attractions at The Golden Circle tour, there are various coffee shops and food stands, so you’ll be able to find something to eat throughout the day.

Here are some great restaurants to check out on the Golden Circle route:

Gesyir Glima Restaurant

Efstidalur II

Restaurant Mika

Top tip: We suggest bringing your own packed lunches when you can, because a) it can get expensive buying lunches every day and b) it’s the better option for any fussy eaters, the limited dining options may not cater to your needs. Bring lots of snacks along for the road trip too! Icelandic yoghurt anyone?

Image of outside the restaurant next to the geysir in Iceland - Golden Circle Tour Iceland

FAQS

How long will it take to visit The Golden Circle?

If you visit the main three sites, you’ll spend around 1 hour – 1 hour 30 minutes in each place (depending on if you’re traveling by car or an organised tour). If you’re looking to visit some of the other popular places within the tour, then it’ll take a while longer. Most Golden Circle tours take the entire day, from early morning until around 6pm.

How long will it take to visit The Golden Circle?

If you visit the main three sites, you’ll spend around 1 hour – 1 hour 30 minutes in each place (depending on if you’re traveling by car or an organised tour). If you’re looking to visit some of the other popular places within the tour, then it’ll take a while longer. Most Golden Circle tours take the entire day, from early morning until around 6pm.

Can you do The Golden Circle tour yourself?

Yes, you can absolutely do The Golden Circle tour by yourself. If you’re renting a car, you can save map pins on the locations you wish to visit on Google Maps and make your way to the attractions. It’s a great way to pack in more things and if you have some extra time at the end, you can even pop by to see extra sites you didn’t initially plan on seeing!

When is the best time to do The Golden Circle tour?

As The Golden Circle is one of the most popular attractions to see in Iceland, it can get quite crowded, especially during the warmer months from May – August. To ensure you beat the crowds and experience the beauty and tranquillity of the sites, we recommend heading off first thing in the morning. Generally, the attractions start to get busier from mid-morning, so if you can, try to see a few things before then.

As for the time of year, February – October is best, as you’ll have less daylight in the dark winter months.

Can I do The Golden Circle tour in a day?

Yes you can. If you’re on a guided tour, most excursions are entire one day trips. If you decide to visit the most popular attractions, then this is highly achievable in one day. However, if you’re looking to see some of the other attractions and explore the Golden Circle as much as possible, two days is recommended.

Do I have to pay for The Golden Circle?

Most of the attractions on the Golden Circle tour are free of charge apart from a few like the thermal spas and Kerid crater. Note that some places will require you to pay for parking (if you’re travelling by car).

We hope you enjoyed our complete travel guide on The Golden Circle route in Iceland and can now use it to plan your own adventure. We’d love to hear about your travels to this stunningly unique country and for any future travels, let us know if you have any questions in the comments below 😊

PS: if you want to find out more detailed information about our 4-days in Iceland, then check out our travel guide on our YouTube channel below:

By Susie

Author bio:

I’m a passionate traveller that loves a sunny beach holiday, but also appreciate the cultural side to a trip and checking out undiscovered destinations. I’m the go-to Toucan Traveller for great holiday stories, cool photos and foodie recommendations.

Flying toucan image - World Travel ToucanTHANKS FOR READING! IF YOU LIKED OUR ARTICLE, SHARE WITH YOUR FRIENDS OR PRINT IT OUT FOR YOUR TRIP. FEEL FREE TO CONTACT US WITH ANY QUESTIONS YOU HAVE…

Share with friends

Leave a comment