Driving Iceland’s Golden Circle is a great option for those travellers on a tighter time schedule or those visiting Iceland for a few days. This trip can be completed in just one day, or if you have time split it up and stay overnight somewhere on Iceland’s Golden Circle. This 300 km route is the perfect way to get a taster of what Iceland has to offer, including: National Parks, waterfalls, natural hot springs, craters, geysers and more!
If you’re planning on visiting Iceland for longer, check out my ultimate 10 day ring road itinerary.
Iceland’s Golden Circle is an easy day trip from Reykjavik, and loops through the southern uplands and back to the capital. While it is the natural points of interest that tend to get the most attention, there are so many breathtaking points along the route, including Icelandic horses!
Although there are plenty of top day tours that visit all the main sites, self-driving Iceland’s Golden Circle allow you to go at your own pace whilst taking in all the impressive views and visiting more of the less touristy sites along this route.
Iceland’s Golden Circle Map
Renting a Vehicle in Iceland
This ultimately depends on the length of your stay in Iceland. If you’re only here for a few days and wanting to rent a vehicle, a basic 2WD will suit your needs (unless you’re visiting during winter, then you’ll want a 4WD). However, if you’re here for a number of days I suggest hiring a camper-van. This will save a lot of money on hotels, as Iceland can be very expensive!
Recommended hire companies:
2WD/4WD: RentalCars – compare hundreds of makes/companies and more for the best price!
Highlights of Iceland’s Golden Circle
1). Þingvellir National Park
Head off in the morning from Reykjavik towards Þingvellir National Park, you’ll most likely be doing Iceland’s Golden Circle in a clockwise direction. Being only 40 km away, you’ll be at the first attraction in no time. The National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and has many attractions including lakes, natural formations, waterfalls and of course the Silfra Fissure.
Thingvellir National Park is also home to a lovely waterfall, Oxararfoss. This is a ten minute walk from the parking lot, and is a gorgeous waterfall that is well worth the visit.
The Silfra Fissure is a crack between the North American and Eurasian plates, every year they are moving apart by around 2cm per year. This is the only place in the world where you can snorkel or scuba dive between two tectonic plate boundaries! Definitely a highlight not to be missed!
This is the tour I went on, it included snorkelling on the Silfra Fissure as well as Lava Caving!
If you have a dry suit diving certification OR 10 logged dry suit dives within two years of the Silfra tour date you can scuba dive it! Here is the tour I recommend for scuba diving the Silfra Fissure.
Top Silfra Fissure Tours
2). Strokkur – Haukadalur Geothermal Field
The next popular highlight on your Iceland Golden Circle itinerary is Haukadalur Geothermal Field, just a short drive from Þingvellir National Park. Strokkur is the most active geyser in the area, erupting roughly every 10 minutes with varying heights and intensities each time. It can reach heights of over 70 meters!
Strokkur is free to visit, and is an easy walk from the parking lot, taking you in a small loop of other dormant geysers. It’ll be hard to miss Strokkur, so make sure you hang around for a few eruptions! This is a fairly short stop on your trip, so allow around 30 minutes for Strokkur.
3). Gullfoss Waterfall
The most famous and visited waterfall on Iceland’s Golden Circle; Gullfoss. Gullfoss means Golden Falls in Icelandic, which is where The Golden Circle originates from.
The wide and fast moving Hvítá river turns a sharp corner and falls over two stages, the first around 36 feet in height, and the second around 70 feet in height. The falls are impressive due to their large volume of water, with approximately 5,000 cubic feet of water passing each second over the falls in summer. In winter, the falls are commonly covered in snow and ice, making it a dramatic yet beautiful site!
There are two main parking lots at Gullfoss, both free and within easy walking distance to the viewing platforms. There are wooden pathways that take you from the lower viewing platform to the higher platform, I suggest spending some time walking round and taking in the sheer power whilst of course some epic photos.
4). Hrunalaug Hot Spring
From Gullfoss, head south towards Hrunalaug Hot Spring. This is still largely unknown to many tourists visiting Iceland, however it is becoming more popular as word of mouth is spreading and Instagram.
This hot spring lies on a private property so make sure you don’t leave anything behind. Sometimes the owner is there collecting the fee of 1000 ISK to visit, whereas other times there is an honesty donation box. Locals do come here to relax as well, so please be mindful of them when visiting this hot spring.
There are two main pools, both with equal temperatures, but what makes this hot spring stunning is the surrounding landscape and view! It honestly feels like something out of the hobbit! There’s a little changing room, but it is very basic.
5). Kerið Crater
The final stop on Iceland’s Golden Circle is Kerid Crater Lake. This gives you a rare opportunity to witness, walk around and walk into a real volcanic crater up close. I recommend spending about an hour here, taking in the stunning views from the top of the crater, as well as walking down into it and around the lake.
There are some great photo opportunities here, and the contrasting red volcanic rock with the lush green vegetation makes for a dramatic setting.
There is a small entrance fee of 400 ISK to enter the crater lake, and is just a short walk from the car park.
6). Pet Icelandic Horses
If you’re self-driving Iceland’s Golden Circle, there will be plenty of opportunities to stroke and say hello to an Icelandic horse! However, if you are stopping, make sure to do so safely and away from the main road.
If you’re driving Iceland’s Ring Road, there is certainly no shortage of seeing wild animals including horses, reindeer and maybe even an artic fox!
Although not technically on Iceland’s Golden Circle, the Blue Lagoon should not be missed on any trip to Iceland. Located just 45 minutes from downtown Reykjavik or a short drive from the international airport, the Blue Lagoon is the most famous hot spring/spa in the country.
If you’re able to, make sure to book in advance and choose the earliest time slot. This means there won’t be too many people here at this time, which is great for photo opportunities! Visiting the lagoon is expensive, but worth it. You do get one free drink and a face mask included in the price and you can spend all day there if you want as there is not time limit.
It does start to get very busy during the midday and early afternoon, so try to avoid booking these time slots if you can.
There are a number of trips you can book to the Blue Lagoon, which include transfers from Reykjavik or just the tickets itself. Click here for all the best prices of different tours here!
Tours of Icelands Golden Circle
If you are short on time, want a hassle free trip whilst seeing all the sites mentioned above (apart from Hrunalaug Hot Springs), then a pre-booked organised group tour is a great option! All these will depart from Reykjavik itself, and you won’t need to worry about renting a car or worrying about the logistics.
Here are some of my favourite tours to see the Golden Circle in all it’s beauty, all departing from Reykjavik:
An 8-hour full day Golden Circle Tour including Kerid Crater – US$56.
Small Group Golden Circle Tour including all four attractions – US$62.
3 day South Coast and Golden Circle Tour – US$727.
8-hour Private Golden Circle Tour – US$813 for 3 people.
There are so many different tours you can do, so I’m sure you’ll find the perfect one that suits your needs. Whether you’re wanting a classic Golden Circle Tour, or whether you want to add on snorkelling in the Silfra Fissure or the Blue Lagoon. You’ll find the right one for you with GetYouGuide!
Where To Stay On The Golden Circle
If you prefer to break up the Golden Circle into a two day trip, this is a great option and will allow you to see more of the sites and at better times when the crowds have thinned out. There are a number of accommodations options, ranging from great value hostels, to luxury retreats.
Budget (Great Value)
Héradsskólinn Guesthouse: Located within the famous Golden Circle, perfect for those wanting to explore the impressive natural wonders along this trail. Héradsskólinn Guesthouse overlooks Lake Laugarvatn, Hekla Volcano and the Eyjafjallajökull Glacier.
There are a number of rooms options ranging from a 14 bed mixed dorm, to a standard 6 bed family private room. Making this place perfect for families, couples and backpackers alike.
Thingvellir National Park and the famous Geysir Hot Spring are within 16 mi. Gullfoss Waterfall is 24 mi away. Laugarvatn Geothermal Bath is right next to the guest house.
Úthlíd Cottages: Just a 15 minute drive from Strokkur and Gullfoss Waterfall, this option is great for families or those wanting a little more luxury at a good price.
These are designed in a rustic nordic style, and some cottages have their own hot tub! There are also a number of activities on site including horse riding, a 9 hole golf course and a number of tours.
Frost and Fire Hotel: If you’re wanting ultimate luxury, at one of the best hotels in all of Iceland, the frost and fire hotel is the perfect option. Featuring an outdoor pool and two hot tubs.
With gorgeous views from all rooms, and luxury decor throughout, this is the perfect luxury retreat if you’re wanting the best out of your trip on the Golden Circle.
Where To Stay In Reykjavik
Only have time or wanting to do Iceland’s Golden Circle in a day, then here are my top picks for hotels in Reykjavik depending on your budget.
Budget (Great Value)
Kex Hostel: Located in an old biscuit factory, it has all the amenities you need in a modern and rustic setting. The whole hostel itself is very edgey, with vintage artwork portrayed around the whole place, floor-to-ceiling library and an outdoor heated patio area.
There’s also a wide choice of room options from private single rooms to 6 bed family rooms as well as 4-16 bed dorms to suit any traveller.
The location is hard to beat, situated right in the heart of Reykjavik you’re close to all amenities, sites, nightlife and buzzing cafes. There’s free WiFi all around the hostel, air transfers and late checkouts are all available here.
Saga Studios: Located near the famous Hallgrímskirkja Church, these studio apartments are a great mid-range option within easy walking distance of all the main attractions in Reykjavik.
With prices at around US$100 per night, and with an average review of 9.1, these are apartments are some of the best value and rated in the city.
Black Pearl Apartment Hotel: These luxury 5 star apartments are located in central Reykjavik are just 400 yards from Old Reykjavik Harbour. Each features free WiFi, contemporary furnishings, an iPad and city-view balcony.
They’re all designed to an incredibly high standard, with heated marble floors around and flat screen TVs. All apartments also feature a balcony.
Driving the Ring Road, but unsure where to stay? Read my ultimate guide to the best hostels in Iceland!
I hope this ultimate guide to Icelands Golden Circle has been helpful in planning your trip! This little itinerary is a great option for those wanting a taste of what Iceland has to offer on a strict time schedule. If you’re wanting to spend longer in this magnificent country, don’t miss out on the Ring Road!
Although this can get very busy during the summer months, there are plenty of lesser known spots on this route, so get off the beaten path and go explore!
Which Golden Circle highlights are your favourite? When are you planning on going? Or have any questions about Iceland’s Golden Circle? Just comment below!
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