The Golden Circle in Iceland, all information, tours + hidden spots!
If you visit Iceland you should definitely tour the Golden Circle. It's one of the most famous and beautiful routes in the country. The route is known for its fantastic natural phenomena and waterfalls and can easily be done with the capital Reykjavik as a starting point.
Are you going on your own or with an organized tour? What is there to see?
Tours and excursions Golden Circle Iceland
Are you touring the Golden Circle by yourself or with an organized tour?
View all tours and options online. For more tours, look below:
Map of the Golden Circle Route
Þingvellir National Park and Silfra Gorge
Our first stop along the Golden Circle route is Þingvellir National Park. The National Park is an obligatory stop for those who want to find out more about the country. This is where the Icelandic Parliament (Alþing) was founded in 930 CE. It is also the place where Iceland declared independence from Denmark in 1944. UNESCO made it a World Heritage site.
Alþing an important and mystical place
The Alþing was the place where all those, who held important social roles, met in the summer to discuss differences and settle conflicts. Here, marriages were arranged, business was conducted, processes were implemented, and new laws were adopted. In short, everything that was even slightly important for the country was decided in this mystical place, including proscriptions, death sentences, and executions.
It is therefore no coincidence that Alþing is in Þingvellir. It is a special place because it is located on a fissure or fault line that forms a large gap, known as Almannagjá (the "gap of all people"). This gap provides very good acoustics that carry a voice far away.
Besides the Almannagjá, you can find the Öxarárfoss waterfall, which is on the Öxará River (whose name literally means “tributary”), and lake Þingvallavatn. It has a lot of fish and it is the largest natural lake in Iceland.
Snorkeling between continents
Want to do something special during your Golden Circle tour? Go snorkeling in the Silfra Gorge, between the continents ... in crystal clear but ice cold water. No fear, you will be wearing a diving suit to protect you from the cold water. View the tours here.
The geothermal area, Krýsuvík Seltún, was formed by the gap between the European and North American tectonic plates. It smells like rotten eggs, thanks to the hydrogen sulphide. You can roam the area on wooden walkways that run between the bubbling and boiling mud pools.
The ground is coloured green, yellow, and red. In the neighbourhood, there are several small lakes that were formed by explosions caused by the superheated steam from the groundwater. The largest lake is Grænavatn; it is up to 46 m deep and 350 m wide. It is a beautiful emerald-green colour. In 1999, a borehole exploded, leaving a crater with a diametre of 30 m. The explosion blew up a cafeteria, as well.
Bathing in the Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon (Bláa Lónið) is located in Grindavík on the Reykjanes peninsula in southwest Iceland. This geothermal lagoon, which is an artificial lake, is located in an old lava field overgrown with moss. The water temperature ranges from 37 to 39 degrees Celsius. The lagoon was formed in 1976 when cooling water from the Svartsengi (“black meadow”) geothermal power plant was discharged into the moss field. From the early 1980s, people began to swim in it, and the Blue Lagoon was commercialized in the ’90s.
The water is rich in minerals, salts, and blue-green algae, giving it a light blue colour.
It’s said to have a healing effect on the skin. Alongside the pool are wooden boxes with white mud, which you can rub on your face and the rest of your body. After drying for ten minutes, the mud’s effect is amazing. The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s biggest tourist attractions in Iceland, with more than 600,000 people visiting every year.
At the entrance you will receive a wristband with a chip that you can use to open and close your locker or buy a drink at the bar. Swimwear and towels can be rented, and armbands are available for toddlers.
As with any pool in Iceland, it is mandatory to shower naked before and after bathing. We recommend that you do not wear any jewelry when bathing or while washing your hair afterwards, as the sulphur will discolour it.
The gushing geysers Geysir and Strokkur
The name Geysir comes from the verb "að gjósa" which means bubbling or spraying. The English word "geyser" is derived from this, as well.
Geysir has a diameter of 14 m and is the widest geyser in Iceland
It is estimated that it became active 800 to 900 years ago. In the Oddaverjaannáll (a historical annual dating from 1294), it is mentioned that new hot springs emerged after a series of earthquakes in the region. Geysir was not mentioned by name back then; it got its name later. Geysir once shot water every 30 minutes, which rose as high as 40 to 60 m. Now it’s active a few times a day, and it shoots only 5 to 6 m high.
Strokkur, a small but very active geyser
A smaller but very active geyser is Strokkur. Every 5 minutes it shoots boiling water up to 20 m high. A definite must-do around the Golden Circle tour.
You can climb a hill in the geothermal park from where you have an excellent view over the region and the coloured geysers. There is a lot of power needed to shoot the water straight upwards, and it is quite a rare natural phenomenon. The primal layer must contain water; a source of heat (in this case, the mantle plume of a volcano), and there must be a natural reservoir containing a naturally formed system of pipes.The heat source of a geyser comes from a nearby volcano.
The Golden Gullfoss Waterfall
Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall) is a double waterfall situated on the Hvítá (“white”) river. The two sets of stairs are perpendicular to each other. The entire waterfall is about 32 m high and provides stunning views. When visiting the falls, you will immediately notice a lot of spraying mist which can form rainbows.
Standing eye to eye with this powerful waterfall makes you feel small and insignificant
A while back, there were plans to build a hydroelectric power plant in this enchanting place, but the owners of the Gullfoss waterfall were not interested. They refused to sell the land. The speculators went to the government in Reykjavík to plead their case further.
The government was at first in favour of their idea, but the daughter of one of the owners, Sigríður Tómasdóttir, continued to resist with all her heart and soul. She threatened to throw herself down the waterfall if the plans continued. Fortunately, it did not go that far; the plans were officially taken off the table. When you visit the Gullfoss waterfall, you can see a statue of Sigríður.
Gamla Laugin (Secret Lagoon)
Would you like to swim in a natural geothermal pool? Then make a stop in Gamla Laugin, about 31 km from Gullfoss. Next to the Gamla Laugin, you will also find the Vaðmálahver hot spring, which was formerly used as a sheep-washing place. Can't find it? listen closely: Básahver is the loudest hot spring in the area and therefore hard to miss! Along, there is a mini-geyser too, which sprays regularly. It is fun to see while you’re bobbing in the water.
TIP: Would you like to spend the night in the area? Then we recommend Skyggnir Bed and Breakfast in Fludir. This nice family farm is a 5-minute drive from Secret Lagoon. More info and prices.
At the Friðheimar farm you can taste natural and sustainably grown vegetables. But, since their main crop is tomatoes, you should definitely try out one of their tomato creations! Their most popular dish; tomato soup, which you can eat with an assortment of homemade breads. You can also taste a Bloody Mary made with fresh tomatoes, along with a wide range of tomato desserts. More info on the website.
Skálholt, the first cathedral of Iceland
A little further inland you will find Skálholt, a small historic village. Iceland's first cathedral was built in this village. You can visit the church during a stop in Skálholt, and since the building is on a hill you will have a beautiful view of the village and the nature around the church.
Faxifoss is often forgotten on the road to the larger waterfall of Gullfoss. It would be a shame to skip Faxifoss because it is definitely worth a visit! The Faxifoss waterfall is not one of the highest, but it is very wide. In addition, it is a lot quieter than Gulffoss. An ideal place for a quiet pick-nick during your Golden Circle tour?
The Kerið volcanic crater
The Kerið crater is not the only crater in the region. Other volcanic craters include the Seyðishólar and Kerhóll. However, what makes this one so special is the crater lake that was created after the explosion. Unlike many similar craters, the caldera or boiler is still quite intact. The crater is 55 m deep, 170 m wide and 270 m long. It originated around 3,000 years ago. A small entrance fee is charged to get access to the crater (Private Property).
Hot river of Hveragerði
Hveragerði counts around 2,500 inhabitants and lies on the Varma (“warm”) river. The hot springs (VERY hot springs) near the city are—how could it be otherwise?—of volcanic origin. The activity of the spring can only be called heavy. You will see steam plumes coming out of the ground everywhere.
Take a swim in a real hot river surrounded by steam plumes
The places in town with the hot springs and boiling mud are safely fenced off but easily accessible to be admired by tourists. Usually you need to pay an entrance fee. You can also visit a small geyser, the Grýla.
The Reykjadalur river is a real must during your trip down the Golden Circle. It is a 30 minute walk (hike) starting from the parking lot (you should be in pretty decent shape). It is very relaxing to float around the enjoyable warm water. On site there is a place to put on your swimming attire. We would recommend to bring a plastic bag to put your wet swimwear and towel in after your swim.
13.1. Thermal Springs
You can enjoy the warmth of the hot springs in the local Laugaskarð pool, the largest pool in the country. It is known for its great accommodation, hot springs, landscaped whirlpools, solar lamps, and natural steam baths.
You will also notice that there are greenhouses everywhere in town. The hot springs are in fact also used in horticulture. The region around Hveragerði heats 40% of the greenhouses in Iceland. Here they grow fruits, vegetables, and flowers—things that you would not expect here. You will even find banana trees!
The lighthouses in Garðskagi
The lighthouses in Garðskagi were built in 1897 and 1944. The newer lighthouse is 28 m high and is the tallest lighthouse in Iceland. The Byggðasafn Garðskaga (“City Museum of Garður”) has information on the population and the marine life in the region. It is located in the outbuildings of the lighthouse keeper’s cottage. The newer lighthouse is open during nice weather. To reach it, you have to walk past the museum.
The Bridge of Continents
On the Reykjanes peninsula you can walk from the Eurasian to the North American tectonic plate by walking over the Bridge of Continents, a footbridge in Miðlína. You basically walk from Europe to North America and back again. The tectonic plates float 2 cm farther apart every year.
Inside the Volcano
Do you have some time to spare? Then we advice you to visit "Inside the Volcano". The Þríhnúkagígur crater in southwestern Iceland offers a unique experience, allowing you to descend to the bottom of a 4,000 year-old volcano and discover a unique underground world.
You get to visit a giant magma chamber adorned in all possible colours.
Golden Circle self-drive or organised tour?
17.1. Going on an organised tour?
Many organized tours are offered along the Golden Circle. You have the choice of a simple short tour along the 3 highlights, or a longer multi-day tour where you add extra stops to the route. From May to August you even have the option to book a tour under the midnight sun.
In addition, operators often offer various extras. Going on a snowmobile or a Golden Circle tour with a horseback ride, a trip to the Blue Lagoon or whaling as an extra, the possibilities are endless. View all tours and prices.
In Reykjavik you will find many different tour-operator offices who offer the Golden Circle tour starting from the capital of Iceland. All tour operators can be found online, and it is therefore advisable to book in advance, especially in the summer period, because then it can get very busy.
17.2. Driving the Golden Circle yourself
If you prefer to drive by yourself, it is possible to rent a car and drive the Golden Circle. This allows you to make your own time schedule and take your time as long as you desire. Along, you will have the advantage to avoid certain places at busy moments. By doing so, you will have the opportunity to tailor the tour to your liking.
In Reykjavik you can rent a car for 1 or more days from different rental companies. It is a very easy route to drive yourself and all possible rental cars can handle the route, however, it is advisable to opt for a 4x4 during the winter period.
Tips & practical info
- Even during the summer months you can experience all seasons in 1 day in Iceland. Therefore, it is advisable to always bring a warm waterproof jacket and an extra sweater. It is always handy to hold some spare clothing in the car, in case you are soaked from the rain.
- The sights on the Golden Circle are most likely natural wonders that invite you to go for a walk. Make sure you have good hiking boots, so that you can defy the wild terrain without difficulty.
- Buy food and drinks in the supermarket before starting the tour, so you can choose where you stop to eat or drink.
- Download our free Iceland travel guide with a fully mapped out route along the Golden Circle.
- Always look online which tours you can follow, the Golden Circle is really recommended.
When is the best time to drive the Golden Circle Route?
- The Golden Circle Route can be done all year round.
- In the summer it is very busy as many tourists drive the Golden Circle Route during this period. In the summer you can also drive past the sights in the evening or even at night under the midnight sun.
- In the winter you will have less time to complete the route in one day because of the shorter days, along due to snow, some roads might be blocked. Nonetheless, on a good note, as a result the streets are way less busy and in addition, you will have a chance to see the Northern Lights.
Which car to rent?
- Are you still unsure which car to rent for your road trip?
- Do not rent a car that is too small, go for a comfortable car.
- Be sure to book an all-inclusive insurance policy so you can drive around in peace.
- A reliable car rental company is Rentalcars (very large offer).
- Read more tips about renting a car on vacation.
Where to stay in Iceland? (with discount)
Looking for a place to stay during your time in Iceland? It is best to book your accommodation in advance. It is hard to find one last minute!
Don't miss out on anything during your stay in Iceland, get our travel guide!
Like most of us, you don't want to miss out on anything during your vacation in Iceland. Well, we have some good news, because we already did the research for you! Buy our Iceland travel guide with 99 sights (+ GPS coordinates) and a mapped tour. Prefer to try it out first? Download your free Iceland travel guide here.