Il Golden circle is one of the most popular routes for those visiting theIceland: it is in fact a route of about 300 km, feasible in a single day starting from the capital Reykjavik and which covers 3 of the major points of interest on the whole island.
Golden Circle, nice encounters along the streets of Iceland
- Map and route of the Golden Circle in Iceland
- How to travel the Golden Circle?
- What to see on the Golden Circle
- 1 - Thingvellir National Park
- 2 - I Geyser in Haukadalur
- 3 - Gullfoss, the Golden waterfall
- 4 - Geothermal Baths
- 5 – Secret Lagoon
- 6 - Skálholt
- 7 - The Crater
- Tour da Reykjavik del Golden Circle
- Drive along the Golden Circle
- Where to sleep along the Golden Circle
Map and route of the Golden Circle in Iceland
THEitinerary along the Golden Circle it is easy to travel and although it is only three hours by car (it is about 230 km), it could take all day to visit it, up to 10 hours, it just depends on how much time you decide to dedicate to the points of interest or how many times you stops on the street to stroke the beautiful Icelandic horses.
If you have little time available in Iceland but you want to fully enjoy the beauties, the bursting nature and the energy that characterize the whole island , the Golden Circle it's a great option.
The Golden Circle has many attractions, but it is mainly known as the path that connects:
- Thingvellir National Park
- Il Grande Geysir and Strokkur Geysir
- Gullfoss waterfall.
Before going more specifically, below is an idea of the stops you could do on your itinerary:
1 - þórufoss - the first suggested stop on your trip to the Golden Circle is þórufoss. It is a beautiful waterfall and is usually not too crowded. You don't need more than 10 minutes to visit it so I recommend you drop by.
2 - Thingvellir National Park - where you can walk through two tectonic plates.
3 – Laugarvatn Fontana - where you can swim in geothermal pools and steam baths powered by Iceland's natural hot springs.
4 - Cascata Brúarfoss - a stunning bright blue waterfall, which is something of a hidden gem compared to its distant relative: Gullfoss.
5 – Geysir Hot Spring Area - where you will find hot hot springs on every corner and the almighty Strokkur Geysir, which erupts every few minutes and over 20 meters each time.
6 - Gullfoss - one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland and from which the Golden Circle takes its name (Gullfoss = "Golden Falls").
7 - Secret Lagoon: completely natural hot spring where you can swim and much cheaper than the Blue Lagoon.
8 - Skálholt Cathedral - historic church with picturesque surroundings.
9 - The Crater - where you will find a deep volcanic crater filled with blue water.
To help you understand the itinerary along the Circolo D'Oro and plan your route, I have created this map. This is the standard itinerary with the main points to visit and other attractions marked. You can also see it on Google Maps HERE
How to travel the Golden Circle?
For anyone who is thinking of organize a trip to Iceland and like us he has little time, for example just one week, to rent a camper or a car e walk the Golden Circle it's a perfect choice.
There are so many organized tours from agencies and departing from Reykjavik, but renting your own vehicle can be a good choice: you have the freedom to take your time and follow your own pace, stopping whenever you want along the way to admire breathtaking views, staying in the points of interest for longer and lingering to take photographs of the numerous herds of Icelandic horses encountered along the way.
On the other side tours also have their pros: you will in fact be guided by expert guides who know how to correctly assign the time to each stop and still see everything, and who will explain everything to you, also answering your questions.
See HERE all the Golden Circle tours from Reykjavik
Going by motorhome alone is what we decided to do: from Reykjavik we left with the motorhome rented by CamperIceland and we drove along the Golden Circle stopping countless times and returning to town in time for dinner time.
You can in fact make the route the route in less than three and a half hours (if you don't stop).
That said, with the right stops and enough time to take your time to see everything, you can finish your ride in just one day.
WARNING! Driving in Iceland in winter may not be the ideal choice. Plus, if you decide to base yourself in Reykjavik, tours are definitely the perfect choice.
What to see on the Golden Circle
The views you see as you drive along the Golden Circle are beautiful.
Whether you've hired a car or decided to take a tour departing from Reykjavik, you're sure to be stuck on the window!
1 - Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir National Park: the dividing line between the two continental plates
We left the capital early in the morning, along state road 36 towards our first stop: the Thingvellir National Park (Thingvellir National Park). We drove all the way with our noses stuck to the window, amidst beautiful valleys and snow-covered mountains, stopping numerous times to take photographs.
Thingvellir National Park is also one of the most important places in Iceland's history: one of the first, if not the first, parliament in the world was founded here in 930 and continued to play its role until 1798. The its very name derives from this: the name Þingvellir in fact derives from the Icelandic "Þing", parliament, and "vellir", plain.
This park, almost idyllic for its beauty, is also very interesting from a geological point of view (as a good geologist I certainly could not miss it): here, in fact, gorges and faults appear before our eyes that testify to the natural phenomenon of continental drift. .
La fault of Almannagjá, a real canyon between two rock walls is a point of great geological interest: it is the point where the American and European plates move away from each other.
For lovers of diving and snorkelling the National Park also offers a unique possibility.
In Silfra fault in fact it is possible, in all seasons of the year, to dive swimming in crystal clear waters between the two continental plates: on one side Eurasia, on the other America.
In fact, you can plan diving or snorkeling here. I recommend that you book these activities in advance and expect to dedicate at least 2-3 hours to them if you choose to do them, which will affect what you can see for the rest of the day.
SEE HERE all the Silfra Fault Snorkelling Tours
Le best things to do:
- Let yourself be enchanted by Þingvallavatn, Iceland's largest natural lake
- Snorkel between the tectonic plates a Silfra, one of the 10 best dive sites in the world
- Hike along the North American plate and through Game of Thrones scenery in gola di Almannagjá
- Observe the waterfall of Oxarárfoss
2 - I Geyser in Haukadalur
The Geysir geothermal area
The second stop on the Golden Circle is to see the Geyser at Haukaladur, a geothermal area about 60 km away from Thingvellir National Park and where, surrounded by numerous fumaroles, there are two geysers: Geysir e Strokkur.
In fact, the general term "geyser" derives from the name of this jet of incandescent water, here in Iceland.
To access the geothermal area, just cross the road from the large Visitor Center. Here we begin to see the first crowds of tourists who descend in waves from the big busses of the agencies, pouring like a river into the large souvenir shop.
This whole area is characterized by streams of boiling water that come out of the earth, fumaroles, pools of water and mud and mineral deposits while the air is acrid with the classic smell of "rotten egg" typical of sulfur.
The Geysir, from which the area takes its name, no longer erupts. Its history was in fact fluctuating, awakening following an earthquake and then returning to "sleep".
Despite various attempts to "bring him back to life", including pouring soap and water into his room, nothing has been successful. While Geysir still sleeps, within walking distance Strokkur is full of life, spraying jets of water up to 20 (sometimes even 40!) meters high boiling every 4-8 minutes and arousing cries of amazement in visitors.
3 - Gullfoss, the Golden waterfall
Gullfoss, the Golden waterfall in winter looks like this ... almost completely frozen!
Continuing on the Golden Circle, from Geysir it takes about twenty minutes (15 km) to get to Gullfoss, the Golden waterfall. Here, too, the parking lot is full of campers and jeeps from tourist groups.
The waterfall arises from the great Hvítá River which suddenly disappears into a large crack in the earth, producing thick fog and frequently large colorful rainbows. In winter, most of the waterfall is frozen and since the area is often very windy it is advisable to dress beautifully covered if you do not want the visit ruined by the bitter cold.
A path of wooden walkways and platforms has been set up around the waterfall from which you can admire the dramatic scenery of Gullfoss from different points of view which is what makes it one of the most popular attractions in Iceland.
4 - Geothermal Baths
“Immortalized” as I relax in a geothermal pool at the end of the day… Bye Bye tiredness!
To finish in style, after a tiring but full of excitement day on the Golden Circle, a good choice is to stop at one of the geothermal systems and SPA that are located along the road.
Another experience not to be missed to enjoy the nature of this wonderful island.
We have chosen Laugarvatn Fontana, a small but interesting complex located on the river bank (in which if you are brave you can also dive and then return to the hot tubs).
Read also the 15 best spas in Iceland
The water of the swimming pools naturally flows warm from the ground and each one is at a different temperature; even the saunas and steam baths are powered by totally natural hot springs.
In the evening, an excellent buffet of vegetables, smoked salmon and different types of salads is served.
5 – Secret Lagoon
About 40 minutes south of Gullfoss is the Secret Lagoon.
This is your second chance within this particular Golden Circle itinerary to bathe in geothermal water. This time it is shaped like the Secret Lagoon, a totally natural hot spring and the oldest of all pools in Iceland.
The Secret Lagoon has no timed entrance, so once you're inside, you can stay as long as you like (until 20pm in winter, 00pm in summer).
There is an entrance ticket, and you can see the opening hours and prices on the official site here.
You can also buy tickets in advance online here.
Your admission ticket includes access to the locker rooms, lockers and segregated showers. Towel and swimwear rental is available at an additional cost, so we recommend that you bring your own.
Once you're done relaxing, take a stroll along the trails and see the surrounding hot springs and even a small miniature geyser.
6 - Skálholt
This small village is steeped in history and is considered by some to be the first Icelandic city.
Skalholt it hosted the first bishop and the first school in the country. It is worth stopping to admire its characteristic cathedral or visit the nearby Secret Lagoon.
7 - The Crater
Driving for only 20 minutes from Skálholt Cathedral you will find the crater Kerið, the last stage of this itinerary of the Golden Circle.
Kerið Crater, also called Kerid Crater, is a delightful volcanic crater and volcanic lake just off the Golden Circle and is a super recommended stop on the way back to Reykjavik.
The crater is one of the best examples of its kind in Iceland. It only formed about 3000 years ago, so weathering and erosion didn't have a very strong impact.
At the bottom of the crater you will find a delightful lake of bright blue water. If you walk all the way, you'll find benches dotted along the lake - perfect for taking epic Instagram photos.
Tour da Reykjavik del Golden Circle
Being the most popular tourist route in Iceland, there are many different ways to see the Golden Circle.
You will find hundreds of different tours from dozens of suppliers that combine your Golden Circle with extra activities or more tourist spots.
Some tours allow you to see it in a unique way, like a helicopter tour o under the midnight sun.
Of course, it is possible to rent a car and drive from one attraction to another, without the time and itinerary constraints that come with a guided tour.
This way you can take as many detours as you want in the lesser-known vicinity.
There is a wide variety of Golden Circle tours to choose from and taking a tour means you can just enjoy the sightseeing without having to worry about driving or other logistics.
Here are some suggested tours of the Golden Circle to consider, all departing from Reykjavik.
One tour 8 hour tour which includes the three highlights of the Golden Circle plus the Kerid crater. One of the cheapest tours of the Golden Circle.
Un 9,5-hour year-round tour that covers all highlights of the Golden Circle and also includes time at the Secret Lagoon (admission is included). This is a similar tour which goes instead to Laugarvatn Fontana.
Un full day tour of all the highlights of the Golden Circle, which includes the possibility of visiting the blue Lagoon.
Un 10-hour full day tour to the Golden Circle which also includes snorkeling in the Silfra fissure.
Drive along the Golden Circle
Our RV, renamed the Polar Bear, on the way to the Golden Circle
As with all of our Iceland itinerary too driving along the Golden Circle, despite it being winter, was very easy. It is true that snow and ice storms can be encountered in winter, but this route is so beaten that the roads are clean and in excellent condition.
The biggest dangers we encountered were the wind, which if you are not careful, the doors can slam badly when they open to get on and off and the pebbles that "shot" by other cars running in the opposite direction can crack the windshield, which fortunately did not happen to us.
For the rest, our camper was also very well equipped for this season, with spiked wheels and a low roof for the wind and we had no problem, on the contrary we were able to stop for lunch in wonderful places away from restaurants full of tourists, observing the bursting nature of Iceland outside our window.
As for gasoline, the price is about the same as in Spain and a full tank of fuel is enough to travel the entire Golden Circle and get some more left over. There aren't many gas stations, so it's best to fill up your tank in Reykjavik before you leave.
Where to sleep along the Golden Circle
Most travelers who visit the Golden Circle do it as a day trip from Reykjavik or as the start of a longer tour of Iceland.
Even if the whole itinerary is feasible in just one day, you could also decide to stay there for two days and enjoy more calmly all the things there are to do and see.
You will have more time for side attractions, day trips and thermal baths!
You may simply decide to stop by when you are tired, but I advise you to look for a hotel to take a look at these 3 countries:
- He's dead
While hotels typically provide the most comfortable sleeping accommodations, hostels are great for meeting locals or other travelers.
During the summer, you might even think about camping around the Golden Circle and then look for a campsite in these 3 destinations:
- Lago Laugarvatn
- Lago Úlfljótsvatn
- Thingvellir National Park
Among the hotels, I can give you some advice on the best ones to choose from:
Héradsskólinn Historic Guesthouse - A great value and well reviewed hostel close to the Laugarvatn Spa. There's an on-site restaurant, and rooms range from dorms to private quarters.
Farm Hotel Efstidalur - A great option close to both the Haukadalur geothermal field and Gullfoss. There's an on-site restaurant and bar, an outdoor geothermal hot tub, and they offer horseback riding in the summer.
Icelandair Hotel Fludir - very comfortable, with a restaurant on site.
Park Stay Inn by the Secret Lagoon - This is a well reviewed property which is highly recommended near the "Secret Lagoon"
Midgard Base Camp - in Hvolsvöllur, this highly rated hostel is a great budget option with a hot tub