Welcome to the Golden Circle, an immersive route through the natural wonders of Iceland! From impressive waterfalls to active geysers and secret hot springs, this comprehensive travel guide covers the 13 best stops and attractions along the road.
The Golden Circle is a circular route starting from Reykjavik and enfolding three of the most well-known attractions: Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area and Gullfoss Waterfall.
Due to its accessibility from the Icelandic capital and short distances, the Golden Circle is perfect for day trips and a first self-drive experience on the island. However, this popularity and easy access have also significantly impacted the environment and locals, so be mindful when visiting this part of Iceland! – At the end of this article, you will find some eco-advice to visit the Golden Circle responsibly and reduce your impact.
My Iceland's Golden Circle experience: Season Spring & Winter
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- Overview: Golden Circle stops & hidden gems
- What is the Golden Circle?
- Iceland travel tips: things to know before you go
- Iceland Golden Circle Map
- The best Iceland Golden Circle stops
- Popular Golden Circle stops (main route)
- Less visited Golden Circle stops (detours)
- Best Iceland Golden Circle tours
- How to travel around the Golden Circle
- Where to stay around the Golden Circle
- Best time to visit the Golden Circle
- Sustainable travel in Iceland Golden Circle
- Iceland travel planning guide
- Iceland Golden Circle – FAQ
Overview: Golden Circle stops & hidden gems
Popular Golden Circle stops (main route)
- Þingvellir National Park
- Geysir Hot Spring Area & Strokkur
- Gullfoss Waterfall
- Kerið Crater Lake
Less visited Golden Circle stops (hidden gems)
- Thjorsardalur Valley
- Brúarfoss waterfall
- Sólheimar Eco-Village
- Thorufoss Waterfall
- Fridheimar Tomato and Horse Farm
- Faxi Waterfall
- Secret Lagoon
- Reykjadalur Valley
Iceland Golden Circle stops
Planning your road trip in Iceland and not sure where to start? Here is an outline of the 13 best stops in the magical Golden Circle. Enjoy! 🇮🇸
What is the Golden Circle?
The Golden Circle is a 190-mile (300-kilometre) circular route in southern Iceland starting from Reykjavik and covering three breathtaking natural attractions: Thingvellir National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage site), the Geysir geothermal area with a frequent erupting geyser and the impressive Gullfoss waterfall.
Filled with incredible scenery and stunning sights, it is no wonder why the Golden Circle is on the bucket list of many. It is a perfect day trip from Reykjavik and a must-do when travelling to Iceland.
Looking for an epic ring road itinerary? Check out this article: 9 Perfect Days in Iceland: Ring Road Itinerary
Iceland travel tips: things to know before you go
1- Plan your trip early
Iceland is extremely popular, and the attractions and accommodations fill up quickly. If you plan your trip with a tour operator, remember to book as soon as possible.
2- Map your itinerary in advance
But leave room for the unexpected! Iceland is full of beauty, and getting off the beaten tracks to visit less-known areas is one of the best things to do.
3- Prepare for unpredictable weather conditions
Whenever you decide to visit Iceland, always be ready for all types of weather – it can change several times a day in the blink of an eye (even in summer).
4- Choose your car rental wisely
Be aware of the car you select and the options it has. For example, can it drive on the F-roads? Adapt your rental to the season and to what you plan to visit.
5- Be mindful of your budget
A trip to Iceland can quickly become expensive. If you want to save money, plan your trip early, stay in local guesthouses and cook for yourself as much as possible.
6- Do not use cash
Paying with a credit or debit card is possible everywhere in Iceland.
7- Learn some Iceland words
Most locals speak English, and you will have no problem communicating with them. However, it is always a good idea to learn a few Iceland words to understand better and deepen the connection with the culture.
8- Buy food from a farm
A great alternative to eating out or buying at a gas station is to buy quality local produce directly from farmers.
9- Sleep in a farmhouse
Are you looking for an authentic experience? Spend a night or two at a farm around the Golden Circle to get a personal and unique feel for Icelandic culture.
10- Bathe in natural hot springs
There is nothing better than relaxing in a natural hot spring surrounded by nature after a long day of exploring. You will find plenty of them along the Golden Circle – keep an eye out!
Iceland Golden Circle Map
Click on the pin to display more information & top left of the map to display the list of locations.
The best Iceland Golden Circle stops
Please, remember that Iceland has a fragile ecosystem that requires extra care. Drive and walk only on parked paths and roads, and avoid places if they are too crowded. Finally, feel free to venture down gravel roads and discover hidden and unknown gems!
Need help planning your road trip in Iceland? Check out this article: How to Plan the Ultimate (Eco-Friendly) Road Trip
Popular Golden Circle stops (main route)
Here are the main highlights for your self-driving tour along the Golden Circle, accessible as a day trip from Reykjavik. This main circular route will take you through stunning landscapes and spectacular attractions you will never forget!
Thingvellir National Park
Þingvellir (Thingvellir) is a National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage site blending history and geology. It is where the Alþing (Althing), an open-air parliament representing all of Iceland, was established in 930 and continued to meet until 1798.
As for geology, Thingvellir National Park is the only place where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates encounter. Over time, the two plates moved apart, creating a rift valley, which you can see on land or underwater.
My experience – Walking around this National Park is ideal for the first time in Iceland and gives you a great insight into what the island has to offer. Unfortunately, I did not have the chance to dive between the plates, but I would love to try next time.
I would recommend at least 2 hours minimum to have time to see some of the best highlights. But, of course, you can stay as long as you want.
Things to do & see in Þingvellir National Park
- Wander through the National Park
- Snorkel or dive in Silfra fissure
- Walk between the tectonic plates at Almannagja
- Stop at the Hakid Visitor Center
- Go horse riding
- Discover Oxarafoss waterfall
- Explore Lake Thingvallavatn
Geysir Hot Spring Area & Strokkur
Geysir, the geysers and hot springs area, is a bustling centre of geothermal activity along the Golden Circle. And another favourite stop for an immersive Icelandic experience.
The geothermal area is full of boiling mud pits, exploding geysers and the active Strokkur geyser, which sprays water 30 meters into the air every 5 to 10 minutes.
The entrance to Geysir is free. However, remember to stay on the marked paths and step back when a geyser erupts, as the hot water can be dangerous and burn.
My experience – I find this area extremely fascinating. I visited the site twice, once in January and once in May, and both times were incredible. I could not help but stare at the boiling water and steam rising from the ground. It is the perfect natural attraction for a taste of Iceland.
An hour should be enough to stroll around and see Stokkur Geyser.
Gullfoss is an impressive waterfall in the canyon of the Hvítá River and is a must-see sight on your Golden Circle itinerary.
In Icelandic, Gullfoss means Golden Falls because, on a sunny day, the water takes a golden colour.
Parking here is free, and there is no entrance fee to view or walk around the waterfall. However, try to keep the place as clean as possible and follow the marked trails, especially if you go hiking. Additionally, be careful in winter as many paths are closed due to snow and ice.
My experience – I was lucky enough to visit this waterfall twice, in spring and winter, and both times were unbelievable! I loved the contrast between the black of the rock and the blue of the water. Bonus in winter: the surroundings are beautifully white, and part of the waterfall is frozen. I preferred it to my visit in spring. The only downside was the super strong wind: I was freezing!
The waterfall is very close to the car park. It only takes a few minutes to reach Gullfoss and enjoy the view.
Kerið Crater Lake
Kerid, a volcanic crater lake, is another fantastic spot on your Golden Circle tour. It is the perfect way to finish your circular route before returning to Reykjavik.
You will be amazed by the incredible colours of this crater, as the difference between the red volcanic rock (the caldera) and the turquoise-blue water is stunning.
Be aware that there is a small entrance fee of 400 ISK to enter the site and walk around the crater. It is to help the landowners preserve and protect the place, as it is private land.
My experience – I visited Kerid in the spring of 2017, but at the time, this place was not popular at all. I had even never heard of it. We came across the crater whilst driving to our accommodation for the night. We were intrigued and decided to stop. And we were not disappointed. What a surprise! It perfectly highlights what I love most about Iceland – you never know what is around the corner!
It takes about one hour to walk around the edge of the crater. But allow more time for photo breaks!
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Less visited Golden Circle stops (detours)
Now that we have covered the most famous Golden Circle stops, it is time to look at the less-visited areas and hidden gems. If you have more time and decide to drive the circle yourself, there are many detours you can take to breathtaking sites along the way. Most of them are lesser known, and you can easily combine the traditional Golden Circle route with stops at these secluded attractions.
Thjorsardalur (Þjórsárdalur) is a peaceful and secluded valley and oasis in the Southern Highlands of Iceland with many natural wonders.
Some of its highlights include Háifoss, one of the highest waterfalls in the country, the fascinating woods of Búrfells and the hot springs of Þjórsárdals, where you can bathe and relax.
Brúarfoss Waterfall is a glacier-fed waterfall known for its striking bright blue colour. It is one of the most beautiful natural attractions along the Golden Circle and a stop not to miss on your trip.
The trail to Brúarfoss is approximately 3.5 km or 2.2 miles. It takes about an hour each way. But be sure to allow plenty of time for the hike, sit and admire the waterfall once there – and take plenty of photos!
Sólheimar is an eco-village in Southwest Iceland and is renowned for its ecological, artistic and international community ethos.
Every year, Sólheimar welcomes volunteers to help the community in their diverse eco-responsible projects by harvesting crops or supporting inhabitants in their daily life. It is a great place to stop by to connect with locals and give back to our beautiful planet.
Thorufoss (Þórufoss) is a tall waterfall located east of Lake Þingvallavatn on the Laxá í Kjós River, used as a filming location in the “Game of Thrones” series. It is a short detour from the ring road and a scenic waterfall full of beauty and contrast – well worth the stop!
You can access the river by descending steep terrain over loose rocks, so be careful! Once down, you can get close to the falls and appreciate the scenery – a great experience for adventure lovers.
Fridheimar Tomato and Horse Farm
Located along the Golden Circle, Fridheimar (Fríðheimar) is a family-run tomato farm offering lunch in a unique setting – right in the middle of their greenhouse. Whilst Icelandic weather can be cold, wet or windy, Friðheimar tomatoes grow all year round under artificial lights imitating Mediterranean conditions.
Guests at the Fríðheimar also have the opportunity to visit the greenhouse, sample fresh produce, take home delicious food (made of tomatoes and cucumbers), and admire a horse show.
Faxi is a serene, wide waterfall on the Tungufkjót River in Southern Iceland. It is a modest but beautiful waterfall worthwhile detour on your Golden Circle route.
Even though the Faxi Waterfall is not as powerful as many, its incredible and tranquil setting makes it a unique and fascinating natural attraction. Plus, it is possible to walk closely to the falls on a lower level and feel the sprinkling from the water. A wonder for the ears and eyes!
Skálholt is a historic site in Southern Iceland and another great stop for your Golden Circle trip. The present Cathedral was consecrated in 1963 and was an episcopal see, a school, a centre of learning and administration for over 700 years and a place of pilgrimage in medieval times.
Today, the Cathedral is renowned for its Summer Music Festival, which started in 1975 and has attracted many talented musicians and music lovers.
Do not miss this hidden gem along the Golden Circle! The Secret Lagoon is the oldest natural pool in Iceland, established in 1891 at Hverahólmi, a geothermal area near Flúðir.
It is located in a beautiful and peaceful setting and is the perfect place to stop and relax for an hour and enjoy a drink in warm water from the surrounding hot springs. In addition, you will have the chance to enjoy a small active geyser on the side that erupts every few minutes.
However, do not forget that the entrance to this natural pool is not free. Check out the website for more information.
Reykjadalur, or the Steam Valley, is located north of the town of Hveragerði. Reykjadalur is perfect for hiking in a stunning geothermal area with plenty of hot springs and mud pools.
You will also find a river that runs through the valley with some warm parts where it is possible to swim, relax and appreciate breathtaking landscapes.
The hike to Reykjadalur Hot Springs is about 45 minutes but allow yourself plenty of time to wander around and soak in the river. The trail is an easy to moderate level, starting with a relatively steep climb but levelling out at the top as you walk through the valley.
So do not forget your swimsuit – this kind of natural hot spring is unique to Iceland.
Planning a winter road trip in Iceland? Check out this article:
5 Days in Iceland: Epic Winter Itinerary
Best Iceland Golden Circle tours
How to travel around the Golden Circle
Small guided tour
The first option to travel around the Golden Circle is to join a small guided tour. It will allow you to connect with a group of like-minded people and experience the unique Icelandic culture without worrying about the itinerary or timeline.
Please be mindful and choose a small and local tour operator who cares about the local communities and environment. Check out their website for green practices and ask questions.
Also, prioritise a guided tour with a small number of individuals to ensure you are not contributing to overtourism.
However, if you like the freedom of going and stopping wherever you want on the road, then self-driving will be your best option.
You can easily hire a car from Reykjavik Airport and start your journey on the ring road (road 1). Icelandic roads are in good condition but always check the weather before setting off as it can be unpredictable and powerful winds are dangerous, especially in winter.
I recommend using Rentalcars.com to search and compare which car is best for you. From affordable to luxury, they make it easy to choose and have a great selection of rental agents.
The type of car you want will depend on the season. I believe a 4×4 is the best choice for gravel roads and F-roads, and it will be easier to move around. However, the Golden Circle is easily accessible to small cars, and if you do not plan to go off-road, you will not need a 4×4 or SUV.
Regarding petrol, be careful, there are not many stations. We made a mistake once and had to turn around (which was a bit scary, considering Iceland has mostly big, empty spaces).
Driving the Golden Circle in winter
Visiting the Golden Circle in winter is absolutely possible! I had the chance to experience it in January, and the road conditions were good – there was snow and ice on most of them, but it was never a problem.
Either way, do not drive fast! The maximum speed on the whole island is 90km/h and 80 on gravel roads. Again, always check the weather and road conditions before you travel, and in the event of a snowstorm, do not panic and go slow.
Clockwise or counterclockwise?
The best way to experience the Golden Circle is to drive it clockwise, starting from Reykjavik towards Thingvellir National Park.
But, you are more than welcome to try something else and experience it the way you prefer! It might even be better to avoid the big coaches full of tourists.
How long does it take to travel the Golden Circle?
It takes over 3 hours to drive the entire Golden Circle route, which you can easily do in one day, as this classic trip covers around 230 kilometres. However, consider your impact on the environment and local economy and try to spend more time around the area (a few days to a week).
This region has so much to offer, yet, we often underestimate it because of the big three natural sites. Therefore, venture further afield, get off the beaten track and look for authentic experiences.
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Where to stay around the Golden Circle
You will find several accommodation options around the Golden Circle, ranging from hotels and guesthouses to cabins and farm stays.
Here are some areas where you can find good places to stay:
- Reykjavík: as the capital city, Reykjavík offers a wide range of accommodations and is a convenient base for exploring the Golden Circle, allowing you to easily start your trip.
- Selfoss: Selfoss is a town along the Golden Circle route and provides a central location for exploring nearby attractions. It also offers various accommodation options for all budgets.
- Laugarvatn: Laugarvatn is situated between Þingvellir National Park and the Geysir Geothermal Area. This location offers a tranquil setting with access to nearby natural wonders.
- Flúðir: Flúðir is known for its geothermal hot springs and is ideally located for exploring attractions like the Secret Lagoon and the Golden Circle.
- Hveragerði: Hveragerði is a small town known for its hot springs and botanical gardens. It is close to the Golden Circle and offers a variety of accommodation options.
When exploring the Golden Circle on my two visits to Iceland, I stayed once at an Airbnb in Selfoss (which was perfect for its location and affordable) and another time at the Hotel Rangá in Hella, a stunning hotel especially in winter (work partnership).
Best time to visit the Golden Circle
I had the chance to visit Iceland and the Golden Circle in spring and winter, and both times were incredible. Therefore, the season you choose is up to you!
Summer will be sunnier, and the days will be longer (especially around June 21st when the sun never sets, I experienced it in Finland – it was a unique experience). In addition, you can better access the centre of the island. However, summer is also the busiest season, with large crowds at each attraction. Plus, it will be the most expensive time to visit the island.
On the other hand, winter will be cold. The weather will be unstable with unpredictable snowstorms, and some roads may be closed. The days will be shorter, BUT you will have the chance to see the Northern Lights! Moreover, it will not be touristy, and the landscapes and colours will be breathtaking especially the frozen waterfalls.
Looking for the best coat to keep you dry and warm? Check out this article: 10 Best Ethical Coats for Iceland in Winter
Sustainable travel in Iceland Golden Circle
Sustainable travel means exploring the world whilst being aware of your surroundings and having a positive social, environmental and economic impact on the places you visit.
Want to know more? Check out this article: 15 Travel Books to Inspire Your Next Eco-Adventure
Iceland is the country that opened my eyes to the negative impacts of tourism. During each of my trips, people were not respecting the fragile environment of some places by going over fences to take perfect photos or using their cars on protected land to access remote sites, destroying flora and fauna.
How to reduce impact whilst exploring the Golden Circle?
As you may know, Iceland has become overpopulated in the past few years and has significantly suffered from overtourism.
Overtourism, or mass tourism, is a phenomenon especially accentuated by social media when popular places are visited by an excessive number of tourists, causing undesirable effects on the destination. And unfortunately, this phenomenon is particularly noticeable in Iceland.
That is why thinking about sustainable travel and adopting green practices is essential. And if you are planning a trip to Iceland but want to learn more about reducing your impact and how to preserve the unique landscapes and culture of the island, here are some eco-tips.
Iceland’s Golden Circle: 9 eco-tips
- Visit the island off-season (which is quite rare, I know). But it is one of the responsible ways to visit Iceland. As summertime is particularly overcrowded, try to prioritise spring or autumn.
- Book direct flights to Iceland and offset your carbon footprint. But, do not use carbon offsetting as a complete solution. Combine it with other sustainable practices, like avoiding single-use plastic on the plane and mindfully packing your suitcase to be ready for your green adventure.
- If you self-drive and rent a car, choose the smallest vehicle adapted to what you want to do and see. And to go even further, you can rent an electric one. Many charging points are accessible along the Golden Circle route.
- When visiting the Golden Circle, treat the landscapes and wildlife with respect! Do not come close to animals, do not feed them and respect their home. Iceland has a fragile ecosystem, so always pay attention to where you drive, park your car and walk.
- Try to avoid crowded places, and get off the beaten track. In this article, I gave you less visited areas as beautiful and impressive as the top three main highlights, so try adding them to your itinerary!
- Stick to official routes and gravel roads – a rugged landscape of lava or ice is so fragile that the wheels of a 4×4 can damage the land and leave scars for decades.
- Prioritise slow travel. This approach allows you to take more time to get to know a country and its culture on a deeper level, which can also mean travelling less but staying longer = quality over quantity. Therefore, try spending a few days or a week in the Golden Circle area. And even better, you can go beyond this region and explore lesser-known parts of the island, such as the North or West Fjords.
- If it is easier, you can travel on an organised small group tour, which is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint and protect the vulnerability of the surroundings.
- Always respect the local heritage. Treat people and their surroundings with respect. Sustainable travel is not only about the environment but also about the local communities. So, always be respectful and try to learn a few Icelandic words!
Here is how you can calculate the carbon footprint of your road trip: carbon footprint calculator. It will link to local carbon-capturing projects you can support to compensate for your travel-related emissions.
Want to know more?
- The Complete Guide to Sustainable Travel
- 8 Best Filtered Water Bottles for Travel & Hiking
- 10 Best Travel Apps for Exploring Sustainably
- Best Ecotourism Activities Around the World
- 10 Best Sustainable Backpacks for Travel & Hiking
Download your FREE sustainable travel checklist ↓
Want to surprise a friend or loved one? Check out this article: 15 Best Eco-Friendly Gift Ideas for Travellers
Iceland travel planning guide
Yes, buying insurance is always valuable when travelling abroad. Enjoy your Golden Circle road trip stress-free with one of my favourite providers, Nomad Insurance.
Yes, tap water is safe to drink all over Iceland, unless advised otherwise. However, I also recommend travelling with the UltraPress Purifier Bottle, a lightweight filtered water bottle perfect for reducing plastic and staying hydrated.
Yes, renting a car in Iceland is easy and is a great way to explore the country freely. I recommend booking yours with Rentalcars.com – they offer a variety of operators for all budgets.
The best way to book your accommodation in Iceland is with Booking.com – my favourite platform to compare and reserve places to stay each night, from affordable guesthouses to luxury resorts.
I recommend booking your plane with Skyscanner. It has been my favourite platform for years, as it allows me to book the cheapest flights whilst lowering my carbon emissions.
Iceland Golden Circle – FAQ
The Golden Circle is a popular circular route, known for showcasing some of the most stunning and iconic natural attractions of the country, including Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area and Gullfoss. The route starts in Reykjavík, covering a distance of around 300 kilometres.
Yes, it is possible to do the Golden Circle in one day as it takes over 3 hours to drive the entire route, and many travellers opt for a day trip from Reykjavik to explore the main attractions. However, keep in mind that the area has more to offer, so if you can, I would recommend staying longer.
It takes over 3 hours to complete the entire Golden Circle route with stops, which you can easily do in one day. However, consider your impact on the environment and try to spend more time in the area, especially if you plan to visit other sites along the way or take part in activities.
Yes, it is possible to see the Northern Lights in the Golden Circle region of Iceland, especially during the winter months when the nights are long and dark. To increase your chances of seeing them, choose the right season, avoid full moon nights and stay away from city lights.
And you, have you ever visited Iceland’s Golden Circle? What were your favourite stops?
Let me know in the comments below!
With love ♡