If you’ve begun planning a trip to the land of fire and ice, you’ve no doubt heard of the Golden Circle in Iceland. This iconic route spans 190 miles through Iceland’s unforgettable nature bringing you some of the most spectacular landscapes and adventures, with plenty of opportunities for relaxation in-between.
From the powerful eruptions of the Strokkur geyser and the brilliant blues of Bruarfoss Waterfall to the geothermally heated waters of Hrunalaug and the steam filled valley that makes up the hike to the Reykjadalur hot springs, there’s no shortage of sites that will make you fall in love with the country.
So rent a car, bring enough variations of clothing options to prepare you for any weather condition, and enjoy your trip around the fantastic Golden Circle in Iceland.
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What Is The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle in Iceland is the most popular tourist route in the country covering roughly 190 miles beginning in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital.
Iceland’s not known for its architecture or cityscapes, but rather all the wonders you’ll find out in nature just a short trip from the capital.
The Golden Circle route in Iceland is the perfect introduction to the unique and remarkable natural wonders of the country. This is one of the BEST ROAD TRIPS IN EUROPE so you are in for a real treat and a memorable experience!
The three major highlights on this trip will be the Strokkur geyser that erupts roughly every 5-7 minutes, the Gullfoss (Golden) Waterfall that can often be seen adorned with an arching rainbow overhead in the summer, and Thingvellir National Park where tectonic plates meet and Iceland’s primeval government met.
Though the Golden Circle in Iceland attracts large tourist crowds at most of the locations along its route, they’re well worth a stop particularly if this is your first trip to Iceland.
Map Of The Golden Circle In Iceland
We’ve provided a Golden Circle Iceland Map below showing where each stop is located. This will help you plan your trip in a way that suits you best. In order to see the route that you’ll be driving, click the link below.
How Long To Spend On The Golden Circle
For those of you who don’t have weeks to spare driving the entire Iceland Ring Road around the country, you’ll be happy to know that the Golden Circle in Iceland is the perfect day trip from Reykjavik. It could even be cut down to half a day if you only stop at the 3 major sites.
If you have the time however we highly suggest you make a full day out of it and visit some of the less frequented but equally spectacular spots along the route. Some locations require a short detour, but are well worth the handful of added minutes.
Gullfoss, Geysir, Faxafoss and Kerid Crater can be quick stops if you choose.
The rest of the stops along the Golden Circle route in Iceland require a bit more time such as the hike to the Reykjadalur hot springs or the hike to Bruarfoss. Or in the case of the geothermal baths we suggest setting aside an hour or two to completely relax and take full advantage of the facilities.
Driving The Golden Circle
If you have access to a rental car during your visit, driving the Golden Circle in Iceland can be an ideal way to tackle the popular route.
Though generally speaking, having a 4×4 rental car in Iceland is a wise idea, it’s unnecessary for driving the Golden Circle as the stops we’ve laid out for you don’t require off road driving on gravel roads.
As a result the Golden Circle in Iceland is fairly easy to navigate on your own.
Leaving from Reykjavik you can choose to begin the route either clockwise or counterclockwise. It makes very little difference.
In this case we’ve laid out a clockwise route for you beginning with Thingvellir National Park, but feel free to start in the other direction and/or pick and choose stops as you see fit.
Driving The Golden Circle In Winter
You can absolutely drive the Golden Circle in winter.
The closer you are to Reykjavik the less temperamental the weather tends to be so you’re less likely to experience extreme winter conditions along the Golden Circle in Iceland. Because it’s a major tourist route the roads are also very well maintained.
Though having a 4×4 car is advisable and sometimes necessary when driving through many parts of Iceland, it is possible to navigate the Golden Circle in the winter in just a 2×2. The rental cars should come equipped with spiked winter tires making it safer if you should have to drive on ice.
The biggest limiting factor during the winter will be the significantly decreased daylight hours. In the summer months you can be out exploring all day with the midnight sun lighting your way well into the middle of the night.
In the winter however you might have to adjust your schedule to see the major attractions during the limited daylight hours and perhaps leave the geothermal baths for the evening when it’s less crucial that it’s light out.
Though you should have no problem driving the Golden Circle in winter, you should definitely check the road conditions prior to leaving so you know what to expect during your drive.
Be aware that the road between Hveragerdi and the Hellisheiði power plant can occasionally close in the winter due to snowstorms, but if there is a temporary closure it never lasts for long.
Best Golden Circle Tours
If you’re not keen on navigating the Golden Circle in a rental car on your own, you might want to consider booking a Golden Circle tour in Iceland. We even have an entire post on the Best Golden Circle Tours in Iceland!
Be aware, that most of the tours will only take you to the three major Golden Circle Iceland sites, Thingvellir National Park, Geysir, and Gullfoss. The small group and private tours might include one or two activities beyond that.
The Golden Circle Full Day Tour with Kerid Crater is a great large group tour option for exploring the Golden Circle.
Besides taking you to the three major stops, you’ll also be visiting Kerid Crater for a look at the fascinating volcanic caldera with a stunning blue lake at the bottom.
If you’re looking to tour with a smaller group, the Golden Circle & Silfra Snorkeling Small Group Tour can be an excellent option.
In addition to stops at Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss and Geysir, you’ll be snorkeling the Silfra Fissure between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. This is an activity we highly recommend and have included in our guide as well.
Private tours are much more expensive, but can give you a more personalized experience.
The Golden Circle 8-Hour Private Tour includes the Golden Circle’s three major stops in addition to a stop at the Kerid Crater and Faxafoss waterfall. With a guide that’s more attentive to your specific needs and questions, you can delve deeper into the history of each site.
Best Stops On The Golden Circle
Stop 1: Delve Into Iceland’s History, Snorkel, And Visit The Church In Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir National Park is one of the three main Golden Circle Iceland stops and is a place of historical significance and natural beauty.
It’s also been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and marks the location of Iceland’s first parliament, formed in 930 AD. Easily accessible by horse or foot from all over Iceland, it was a natural choice.
It was here that the country’s laws were shaped by the chieftains. They held meetings here until 1789 before eventually moving the parliament to Reykjavik in 1844.
Þingvallakirkja is another notable site within the national park. This small, white historic church with a black roof and green shutters can be easily spotted from a distance when you enter the park.
Perched in the vast park landscape it stands proudly, but without adornment. A path will take you up to the church door.
It’s worth a quick look at any time of year, but you can take a moment to stop inside from mid-May to early September.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you might want to consider taking a snorkeling tour in Silfra.
Thingvellir National Park is the site of a great rift valley where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet. The plates are pulled ever so slightly apart more and more each year creating the Silfra fissure, an area perfect for snorkeling enthusiasts.
As you explore the fissure, you’ll likely be taken aback by how spectacularly clear the water is allowing you to see a remarkable distance in every direction. And like much of the water in Iceland it’s incredibly clean, so clean you can drink it.
Stop 2: Relax In Pools Of Differing Temperatures At Laugarvatn Fontana
Laugarvatn Fontana is one of a handful of relaxing geothermal baths along the Golden Circle route in Iceland. Located right on the edge of Lake Laugarvatn, you can enjoy the geothermally heated waters of the spa or jump into the refreshing lake water for a thrilling contrast.
Like the Secret Lagoon, also along the Golden Circle, Laugarvatn Fontana is less expensive and less crowded than the Blue Lagoon. It can be a great alternative to the fancy tourist-filled lagoon and allows you to take a load off during your adventurous day.
Outside you’ll find a handful of pool options of varying temperatures as well as steam rooms and saunas. The perfect remedy for a cold Icelandic day. The facilities are also pristine and clearly well-kept.
Though walk-ups are available, you should plan to book a ticket ahead of time.
In addition to access to the pools you might want to try booking their Rye Bread tour for a particularly unique experience.
While explaining the history and process of the geothermally baked bread, staff will dig up finished rye bread that’s been baking underground in the hot earth for 24 hours.
At the end of the tour you’ll be offered a slice to try. Trust us, it’s delicious!
Stop 3: Admire The Unnaturally Blue Waters Of Bruarfoss Waterfall
Bruarfoss is the kind of waterfall where you have to pinch yourself to believe it’s real.
The water is so spectacularly blue that it’s irresistible and captivating. One of the many spectacular wonders of nature.
Though Bruarfoss, when compared to the multi-layered Gullfoss or Dynjandi that spreads itself wide falling in lacy streams, is actually quite small, the unique way it spreads out like fingers from the palm of a hand and the vibrant color make it worthy of any “best of” list.
Bruarfoss isn’t waiting for you by the side of the road like Seljalandsfoss or Skogafoss, so until recently it was more rarely frequented and untouched. Today it has become more popular, though it still tends to only attract the more motivated and adventurous tourists.
As a result of its newfound popularity, a new path that avoids private property has been created to reach the waterfall.
Type in “Bruarfoss Waterfall Official Parking” into Google Maps and it will accurately lead you where you wish to go.
Two miles into your hike that will take you past a handful of smaller waterfalls, you’ll come across the main reason for your journey, the beautiful Bruarfoss. It is one of the best places to see on your Iceland Itinerary!
Stop 4: Witness The Thrilling Eruptions Of The Strokkur Geyser
The Strokkur geyser marks the second of the 3 most popular Golden Circle Iceland Stops.
In the geothermally active Haukadalur Valley you’ll find both Geysir and Strokkur. Once an impressive geyser itself, Geysir sits inactive having only naturally erupted in recent history from the force of earthquakes.
Even at the best of times, its eruptions were unpredictable and sporadic. Don’t hold your breath, as it’s highly unlikely to erupt during your visit, if ever again.
Strokkur on the other hand has stolen the show with a consistent eruption every 5-7 minutes or so.
Its eruptions are a spectacular sight to be sure, luring packs of tourists to its perimeter to witness the explosive movement. Watch the center of the geyser bubble and fluctuate as it prepares to let loose and spring into action.
If your hope is to catch the eruption on camera, we suggest taking a video or photo bursts to best capture it in motion as it’s not just the end result, but the journey to the peak that makes it so spectacular.
If you have time to spare, walk the surrounding landscape draped in steam with holes of boiling water rumbling at every turn. Be careful as you explore, as the water is clearly a dangerous temperature and should be left to admire from an appropriate distance.
Stop 5: Catch A Glimpse Of An Arching Rainbow Over Gullfoss Waterfall
Gullfoss is the third of the three most popular Golden Circle Iceland stops. The iconic waterfall will likely be the first of Iceland’s spectacular waterfalls that you’ll see during the course of your trip to the country.
It is truly impressive as the Hvita river comes thundering down in two sections with the final drop sending the water crashing into a deep crevice.
Gullfoss is nicknamed the Golden Waterfall, and if you’re lucky and visiting in the summer you might spot a rainbow stretching over the length of the falls.
When you gaze upon Gullfoss you’ll find it quite easy to see why it’s found itself among the top of Iceland’s list of spectacular waterfalls. And let us tell you there is tough competition.
If you have the time, take a moment to view the waterfall from both the upper and lower viewing platforms.
The upper will allow you a complete view of the falls whereas the lower will allow you to get right up close to the first drop as it sends a chilling spray over the railing in your direction.
Experiencing such a powerful force of nature up close is an intimate and thrilling experience.
When you’re finished taking in the views, head to the gift shop and café where you’ll find food and drink and plenty of Icelandic products to take home to fill your house with fond memories.
Stop 6: Stand Up Close To Faxafoss Waterfall Before Eating A Satisfying Meal At Fridheimar
Faxafoss is another spectacular waterfall along the Golden Circle Iceland. Though not particularly tall at 105 feet, it’s incredibly wide and still impressively powerful.
It’s not nearly as popular or well-known as its neighbor Gullfoss, but it certainly deserves a stop and allows you to soak in one of Iceland’s many natural beauties away from the overwhelming tourist crowds.
One of the perks to visiting this particular waterfall is that on one side you can get particularly close to the falls. There are also plenty of viewing spots from further away if you’d rather take in the whole waterfall from a distance.
When you’re done exploring the waterfall, you can head down the road for a meal at Fridheimar where you can eat all things tomato in the middle of a tomato greenhouse.
While there are a handful of main course options, we suggest the all you can eat tomato soup buffet served with the most delicious fresh baked bread.
It’s wonderful food in a beautiful setting. Make sure to reserve a table ahead of time because the restaurant can get very busy.
If you’d like a more extensive tour of the greenhouse you can book a tour ahead of time. If you opt out of the tour, your waiter will still offer information on the operations of the greenhouse if you’re interested.
Stop 7: Float In The Geothermal Waters Of The Secret Lagoon With Stream Rising Around You
The Secret Lagoon is the marvelously relaxing man-made neighbor to the Hrunalaug Hot Springs.
Just 10 minutes down the road from Hrunalaug you’ll find this little slice of paradise in Hverahólmi near the town of Fludir, an area abundant in geothermal energy.
Though this pool is man-made, it’s fed by natural hot springs mixing hot and cold water to create the perfect bathing temperature of 38-40°C.
The temperature varies slightly in different spots throughout the lagoon so make an initial sweep of the pool to find the spot that suits you just right.
The Secret Lagoon doesn’t have the grandeur of the Blue Lagoon, but it’s special in its own right and we’re happy to say it’s cheaper as well. For starters, it holds the title of Iceland’s oldest swimming pool.
The pool was renovated to lift it out of a state of abandonment in an effort to make it a place that locals and tourists would flock to for a respite from their day.
It can now accommodate large groups of people while still maintaining its magical charm with steam rising from the perimeter and a petite-sized geyser shooting up around the back of the pool every so often.
The lagoon also offers pool noodles for you to borrow to float around on. It’s a wonderfully relaxing experience and one you won’t want to miss.
Stop 8: Escape To The Relaxing Waters Of The Hrunalaug Hot Springs
You’ll find the Hrunalaug Hot Springs surrounded by the beauty of Iceland’s natural landscape. In the summer, lush green moss and wildflowers wrap themselves around the edges of these pools.
Because of the beauty of the surrounding nature and the fact that the hot springs remain at a relatively consistent temperature, more and more tourists and tour buses have started to flock to its waters causing damage to a site not built to hold large quantities of people.
There are two pools. The small rectangular one behind the turf hut changing room fits roughly two people and resembles more of a bathtub.
The larger of the pools accommodates more people but even then it’s limited to a max capacity of about 8-10.
If you’re looking to escape the ever-increasing crowds, we suggest arriving early in the morning or later in the evening.
Please play your part in keeping this location clean. The owner drops in every now and then to see to its upkeep, but at one point they threatened to bulldoze it all down because things were getting out of control.
We hope tourists will treat it with respect so its relaxing waters can be enjoyed for many years to come.
Stop 9: Walk The Rim Before Heading Down To The Lake At Kerid Crater
Kerid Crater is a volcanic caldera thought to be caused by a collapse in the volcano and depletion of the magma rather than an explosion.
It catches your eye in the summer with a striking combination of reds, greens, and blues. At the center of the caldera is a brilliant blue lake.
The winter brings about an entirely different kind of magical scene as the lake freezes over and snow covers the sides of the caldera with hints of the red sand underneath peaking through.
It may not be the colorful explosion you were hoping for, but it’s a beautiful sight nonetheless.
You’ll want to take some time to walk the rim of the caldera to take in the full impressive expanse of the crater. If you wish, you can also take the path down to the lake for an up-close look at its mesmerizing waters and the reflections within.
Exercise caution though when walking down to the lake in the winter, as the slope can get particularly slippery. You’ll want to wear crampons to feel more secure on the ice.
Be aware that there is an entrance fee of 400 ISK to access the crater.
Though Kerid Crater is not one of the three major Golden Circle Iceland stops, it’s become increasingly popular to the point that it now finds its way into the majority of tourist’s schedules.
Stop 10: Hike Into A Steam Filled Valley To Bathe In The Reykjadalur Hot Springs
Bathing in the Reykjadalur Hot Springs is the perfect mid-hike reward. After 45 minutes to an hour of moderately difficult hiking through a gorgeous steam-filled valley, you’ll find yourself approaching the hot springs.
The hike begins with a relatively steep incline before leveling out. Continue on the well-maintained path past the eye-catching waterfall and the grazing families of sheep.
You’ll pass pools of boiling water. Signage will remind you this water should not be touched. The river water perfect for bathing is just around the corner.
You can change into your bathing suit on any one of the wood platforms with partitions. Don’t expect a lot of privacy, but it’s all just a part of bathing in nature and no one really cares.
Find the deep pockets of water by the piled rocks for the ultimate bathing experience.
Be aware that in the winter you might have to find your way upriver for warmer water. If you’re visiting in the summer you might want to try the hike late at night to take advantage of small crowds and the midnight sun.
Where To Stay On The Golden Circle
The Selfoss Hostel is located between Kerid Crater and the Reykjadalur Hot Springs, your two final stops along the Golden Circle route in Iceland assuming you follow our clockwise guide.
This is a great affordable option with gas stations, grocery stores and a public swimming pool nearby to take care of all your basic needs.
Icelandair Hotel Fludir is conveniently located along the Golden Circle in Iceland just minutes away from the Secret Lagoon and Hrunalaug hot springs.
There’s even a geothermally heated hot tub in the hotel garden (where you might also be fortunate enough to glimpse the northern lights overhead in the winter), as well as a swimming pool down the road.
Roughly 13 miles from the Thingvellir National Park in a geothermally active region, this environmentally friendly hotel can be the perfect home base for a Golden Circle Iceland trip.
With a spa, restaurant, bar, and comfortable modern rooms you’ll be living in luxury in-between Golden Circle adventures.
We’re so thrilled you’ve chosen to visit the Golden Circle in Iceland. It’s an iconic tourist route for a reason and it won’t take you long to see why.
This perfect day trip will have you longing to see the rest of the country.
If you have any questions or have stories about your own adventures around the Golden Circle please don’t hesitate to let us know in the comments below.