Tips For Golden Circle Route in Iceland

The Golden Circle is a popular day trip from Reykjavik. The 250 km route features some of Iceland’s most stunning natural landmarks, all within a day’s drive. Since it’s accessible, completing the circuit as part of a group tour is easy, or you can drive the route independently.

The route goes by an interesting mix of sites, including historic and natural, that are representative of the best Iceland has to offer. In this guide, we share the stops, and you can determine whether it’s worth visiting on your trip to Iceland.

Stops On the Golden Circle

Þingvellir National Park

Natasha Stands In Front Of Öxarárfoss Waterfall In Thingvellir National Park Iceland

The first stop on the Golden Circle is Iceland’s first National Park, Þingvellir. Not only is it the first national park, but it’s also the location of Iceland’s first Parliament, which started in 930 AD. Back then, an assembly of 48 chieftains would gather to discuss Viking law and hold court. It’s regarded as the founding of Iceland as a nation and historically important to Icelanders.

Most notably, this is also where the Eurasian and North American plates are slowly splitting apart. The drifting continents have created deep fissures and volcanic activity. One of the fissures is famous as it is filled with shimmering glacier water. For an incredible day out, tourists can wear wetsuits and brave the glacier water for an out-of-this-world diving and snorkeling experience between two continents.

Þingvellir is located 40km NE of Reykjavik and takes about 40 minutes from the city center. The countryside is wonderfully filled with farms, mountains, and valleys. Once you arrive you will have to pay for parking. However, it’s well worth the small fee.

Geysir Hot Spring Area

Cameron Looks Up To Geysir on the Golden Circle

After Þingvellir, you head to the Geysir Hot Spring Area, a geothermal area roughly 60km to the East. You can view two famous geysers in the area, Geysir and Strokkur. After an earthquake, the original Geysir no longer erupts, but its neighbor Strokkur erupts regularly.

An impressive gift shop/cafe is perfect for a pit stop. Just be prepared for Icelandic prices; a sandwich and drink will cost almost $30. We drove the Golden Circle in our camper van and cooked lunch off the road away from crowds. We recommend packing a picnic lunch either way. If you’re wondering where to stay in Iceland while driving the Goldene Circle, try Icelandair Hotel Fludir.

Gullfoss Waterfall

A Sunny Day At Gullfoss Waterfall

This is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland. Watching the Hvítá River drop down a deep ravine is a mesmerizing sight. It’s an amazing sight and one of Iceland’s most popular attractions.  Bring a camera and rain jacket as the waterfalls produce a thick mist and frequent rainbows.

The waterfall is accessed from a large parking lot with a pathway and steps that allow visitors to walk along the edge of the mighty waterfall. Standing at the edge of Gullfoss is a wet and amazing experience. Once you finish up at Gullfoss, you need to backtrack a bit to head on to the Golden Circle.

Kerið Crater Lake

Natasha Sits Along Kerid Crater In Iceland

The Kerid Crater is a worthy stop on the Golden Circle that not everyone makes. It’s a former cone Volcano that has since collapsed. It’s also the only stop on the Golden Circle that does charge an entrance fee. However, it’s not much at 400 ISK or $3.50 USD.

The bottom of the volcanic crater is a deep sapphire blue that is a sharp contrast to the red rock of the crater. It’s a marvelous sight along the Golden Circle. It’s also quick as it only takes a five-minute climb.

Hveragerði – Sundlaugin Laugarskarði

Hveragerði - Sundlaugin Laugarskarði On Cloudy Day

Most people pass right through this town on their way back to Reykjavik. However, we suggest stopping and heading to one of Iceland’s historic pools. Unlike the tourist traps of Secret Lagoon and Laugarvatn Fontana, the swimming pool in Hveragerði an authentic Icelandic experience.

The pool is one of the first of its kind constructed in Iceland. It’s entirely fed by geothermal water and features a 50-meter Olympic-length outdoor pool, diving board, steam room, hot tub, and cold tub. It’s also a place where locals and tourists truly intermix. Icelandic pools typically charge between 700 ISK and 1,000 ISK for a dip. This doesn’t include a towel, so pack a towel that folds well.

For those with plenty of time in the summer, you can also take a 45-minute walk out of town to find the Reykjadalur hot spring thermal river. It’s a free hot spring in Iceland! There’s no need to pay $45 to hang out in a crowded hot tub with other tourists’ sweaty bodies. Rivers are moving water; lagoons are stagnant.

Golden Circle Tips

How long does it take to drive the Golden Circle?

Parking Lot At Kerid Crater On The Golden Circle In Iceland

It takes just under three hours to drive the Golden Circle. So, a reasonable amount of time would be about five hours with stops, or you could spend the whole day along the route. We spent the night in our campervan along the road. There is a campsite at Thingvellir National Park. It’s not the best campsite and was a bit of a mud bog when we visited—it would have been a problem in a tent.

If you’re not on a Golden Circle tour, you have a lot of flexibility with time. There are a plethora of detours, and Icelandic horses are to be petted! It’s easy to do during the summer months, any time of day. You could even leave at 10:00 p.m. chasing the midnight sun. Either way, we suggest going early or late in the day to avoid peak crowds at midday.

Driving in Iceland

Cameron Driving In Iceland With GPS View Out Front Windshield

If you visit Iceland outside of the winter months and drive the Golden Circle, you’ll have no problems. However, come winter, the roads are icy, and caution should be taken. If you’re interested in the weather and about the best time to visit Iceland, we have a post. To stay up to date on road conditions, check out Vegagerdin, run by Iceland’s road authority.

When driving the Ring Road, we suggest you download an offline Google Map and save the points of interest along the route. That will make moving between stops painless. It is easy as there isn’t much traffic once you leave Reykjavik. Car rentals are not cheap in Iceland, and gas is just as expensive. When we drove the Golden Circle, it was around $2 a liter or $8 a gallon. You do not need a 4×4 vehicle to drive the Golden Circle.

Car rental insurance does not cover F-roads. We opted for a tour with Moonwalker to explore Landmannalaugar; however, we still saw many tourists off-road in their vehicles. We would not recommend this unless you’re specifically renting from a specialized 4×4 company that is aware of your travel plans.

Plan For Your Trip

About Cameron Seagle

Cameron Seagle is one of the principal writers and photographers for The World Pursuit. He is a travel expert that has been traveling the world for the past decade. During this time, he established a passion for conservation and environmental sustainability. When not traveling, he's obsessed with finding the best gear and travel products. In his free time, you can find him hiking, mountain biking, mountaineering, and snowboarding. His favorite countries are Scotland, Indonesia, Mozambique, Peru, Italy, and Japan.

You can learn more about Cameron on The World Pursuit About Us Page.