Iceland’s Golden Circle: How to Plan Your Visit
Iceland is a relatively small country, but it is full of beauty and adventure.
Through the years, travelers and locals have come up with the perfect path to experience this beauty in one short loop around the country. Iceland’s Golden Circle allows you to get a taste of all that the country has to offer.
Whether you travel the Golden Circle with a tour or with a group of friends or family, you do not want to miss any of the amazing attractions or hotspots along the way.
What is the Golden Circle?
The Golden Circle is a loop that many roadtrippers and tour groups follow to get the most our Icelandic experience. This path is one of the most popular attractions in all of Iceland because it truly encompasses the essence of the nation.
You can travel this lovely loop with a variety of tour groups or by yourself. Touring your way around Iceland’s Golden Circle is wonderful because you won’t miss a single thing. You’ll see the all of the coolest waterfalls, glaciers and landmarks that Iceland has to offer.
When you drive the Golden Circle on your own, you have a bit more flexibility and room to explore. You can truly get off the beaten path and experience Iceland with the most authenticity.
Road-Tripping Iceland’s Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is jam packed with breathtaking views and exhilarating adventures that will leave an impression in your memory for the rest of your life. Many start their journey on the Golden Circle in Reykjavik and head northeast until they hit the Gullfoss Waterfall. After the waterfall, many turn south and then loop back to the west.
When you travel the Golden Circle on your own, you may want to check out this interactive map that allows you to choose different destinations within the Golden Circle.
One of the biggest benefits to road-tripping Iceland’s Golden Circle on your own or with your buds is that you get to do things on your own time. You can relax and explore at your own pace.
How Long is Iceland’s Golden Circle?
If you simply drive around the Golden Circle, you can finish the most basic route in less than three and a half hours. Once you factor in stops and extra destinations, the driving time becomes longer, but still can be finished in less than a day.
There are a few options that you can choose from to ensure that you are making the most of your time cruising the Golden Circle. If you choose to take a tour, you will be guided by experts who know how to properly allot time at each stop and still see it all.
You can also choose to stretch the Golden Circle expedition out over a couple of days so that you can take your time and do it all. No matter what you choose, your time spent traveling the Golden Circle will be a blast.
What to See Along the Golden Circle in Iceland
The views you see while driving along the Golden Circle are not to be missed. Whether you’re peeking out of a rental car or a tour bus, you should keep your eyes peeled.
Some of these sites will only be sights while others will be stops. The choice is yours.
This geothermal power plant is the oldest power plant on the River Sog. Although it is a source of green energy, it is often seen as a tourist destination because of its history and interesting appearance. Visitors can come learn about how geothermal energy is harnessed in order to create electricity.
Many travelers love to visit Þingvellir National Park when traveling the Golden Circle because of all that it has to offer. This park is described as a “jewel of nature” and has long served as an icon of Iceland.
Great Geysir Geothermal Area
Great Geysir is another one of the hottest destinations on Iceland’s Golden Circle. Its name in Icelandic is “Stóri Geysir,” which means “the great gusher.” This geyser has been erupting intermittently for the past century.
In the past, the eruptions from the Great Geysir rose over 60 meters high, but eruptions of this calibur have slowed. The last large eruption was in 2000 at a whopping 122 meters in height. The cause for the unpredictability is unknown. Perhaps the mystery makes this groovy geyser more attractive to visitors.
The Gullfoss Waterfall is ranked one of the top 10 waterfalls in the entire world and it just so happens to be located on the Golden Circle. The magnificent waterfall is absolutely breathtaking at any time of the year. Whether it is framed by green foliage in the summer or frozen over with ice crystals in the winter, you do not want to miss this beautiful waterfall.
Luckily for you, this lovely attraction is absolutely free of charge all year round! The Gullfoss Waterfall must be included in your trip around the Golden Circle.
Taking this highway tacks an extra half hour to hour onto your journey back to Reykjavik, but the views are like something from a dream. This two-lane highway cuts through a gorgeous rippling valley with views of far-off mountain peaks. This is truly something that you’ll have to experience for yourself.
You’ve got to stop by Hengill, Iceland’s very own volcano. While this volcano hasn’t had an explosive eruption in thousands of years, it is active. Hengill is located just south of Þingvellir National Park. If you ask the locals, you’re sure to hear a few folk tales about this legendary volcano.
Things to Do Along Iceland’s Golden Circle
While you could have an amazing day of sightseeing from your car, you can also get out and enjoy some of the wonderful things that Iceland has to offer
Visit National Parks
Þingvellir National Park is one of the biggest stops on the Golden Circle. This destination offers so much for visitors to do an see. At this park, you can camp, fish, ride horses and more. You’ll never be bored.
This park is not only a great symbol or Iceland’s natural beauty but its rich geological history.
Slow things down and ride around Gullfoss Waterfall, Great Geysir and Þingvellir National Park on the back of a four-legged friend. At Hekla, we offer the best horseback riding tour in all of Iceland’s Golden Circle.
All you need for this two hour tour is your camera and a good attitude.
Bathe in Hot Springs
Hot springs are a huge hit in Iceland. Even when the the air is cold, these beautiful, bath-like bodies of water remain an inviting temperature all year round.
The Iceland hot springs were created by geothermal activity. This same geothermal energy is responsible for many of the natural beauties and landforms that can be found throughout Iceland.
Snowmobile Over Glaciers
If you’re looking a fast and exciting way to spend your afternoon, snowmobiling across Iceland and exploring a variety of glaciers is the activity for you.
Unleash the adrenaline by hopping on a snowmobile and cruising around these spectacular glaciers and landforms:
- Langjökull (The Long Glacier)
- Eiríksjökull Glacier
- Kerlingarfjöll Mountain Range
- Gullfoss Waterfall
You will be wowed by the natural beauty of this magnificent nation. Exploring on snowmobiles is an experience unlike any other.
Experience Fun in the Water
When you think about Iceland, activities involving water (other than in the form of ice and snow) probably are not the first things that come to mind.
Along the Golden Trail, there are plenty of fun activities that involve swimming, diving and more:
- Glacier River Rafting on the Hvítá River
- Snorkel & Cave in the Silfra Fissure
- Jet Boat rides on the Hvítá River
- Bathe in the Secret Lagoon
The low temperatures are bearable with the right wetsuit, but the weather does get a bit chilly, so you should not try these activities without guidance an expert. Afterall, your health and safety are a priority.
Book an excursion or tour with a reputable company that is prepared to handle the cold weather.
Where to Stay Along the Golden Circle in Iceland
Even though the entire Golden Circle can be driven in less than a day, why rush it? You’re on holiday! Extend your drive and enjoy all that Iceland has to offer.
Whether you’d rather rather stay in a comfortable hotel room or on a cozy campsite, the Golden Circle offers many overnight accommodations for travelers who wish to stretch out their journey.
Best Towns to Stay In While Road-Tripping the Golden Circle
Extending your time on the Golden Circle and treating yourself to extra moments and memories is never a bad idea.
When you’re traveling the Golden Circle, you can really stop wherever you get tired or you see a hotel, but locals and past visitors recommend the following towns. Check out these three little towns when looking for a hotel, AirBNB or hostel:
While hotels typically guarantee the most comfortable sleeping arrangements, AirBNBs and hostels are great for getting to know locals or other travelers.
Best Campsites Around the Golden Circle
During the summer, backingpacking and camping your way around the Golden Circle is a blast! Checkout some of the coolest campsites along the Golden Circle.
The summer months offer the perfect whether for camping in Iceland. Book your flight and grab your backpack!
Where to Eat Along the Golden Circle
Travel and adventure sure build a ferocious appetite. Whether you want to grab a snack with the locals or dine in the more famous establishments of Iceland, you’re never far from a hearty bite.
When traveling along the Golden Circle, you will pass by towns upon towns full of delicious food. Iceland truly is a foodie’s heaven.
Come hungry and enjoy some of the best places to eat around Iceland’s Golden Circle.
Stop by Friðheimar for the most famous tomato soup in all of Iceland. This exclusive restaurant is open just a few hours a day and is frequented by celebrities, so be sure to make your reservations in advance!
Friðheimar is also known for their refreshing tomato cocktails. The offer a few Bloody Mary variations that will blow you out of the water.
Specialty: Homemade tomato soup
Contact: +354 486 8894
Minilik serves traditional Ethiopian cuisine. This restaurant is an unexpected delight on the Golden Circle and offers some variety to the typical lamb and fish Icelandic diet. Minilik offers a mix of meat, vegan and vegetarian dishes.
Stay after your meal to enjoy a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony, which is comparable to an English high tea!
Specialty: Ethiopian dishes
Contact: +354 486 6660
If you’re in the mood for some craft beer, specialty pizzas and delicious apps, Ölverk is the restaurant for you. This brewery is perfect for an evening out after a day of hiking, swimming, climbing and more. Stop by for pizza and a brew!
Specialty: Woodfired pizza & craft beer
Contact: + 354 483-3030
Græna Kannan Café
Have you ever dreamed of eating lunch in a cute greenhouse that has been transformed into an inviting cafe? Græna Kannan Café is famous for their organic drinks and cakes that fill the bellies of locals and visitors from around the world.
This little cafe is open seven days a week during the summer months, but it only operates on a limited schedule during the winter.
Town: Sólheimar Eco Village
Contact: +354 422 6000
If you are looking for the magic of sirens and langoustine galore, Fjöruborðið is the restaurant for you. This restaurant offers a variety of langoustine dishes, but their most famous is the langoustine soup, which is said to be magic.
Reserve a table ahead of your visit so that you can ensure your opportunity to try some of this majestic soup.
Specialty: Magic langoustine soup
Contact: +354 483 1550
Finding Privacy Along the Golden Circle
Since the Golden Circle is such a hot destination, you have to plan carefully in order to beat the crowds and to enjoy the stops in privacy. The busiest hours are during the day, so you’ll want to visit the most popular spots either early in morning or later in the evening.
During the summer, daylight stretches much further, so you can see much more for a longer period of time. Some places along the Golden Circle, like the Great Geysir, are really cool to see at since nobody else comes out at that time and the sky does not get completely dark.
From October to February, the days in Iceland are much shorter so finding privacy along the Golden Circle will be a bit more difficult since your window of opportunity is shorter. If you go during these months, just try to choose spots that are a little less popular on the route. They are less likely to be crowded.
What to Know Before Your Road Trip
When traveling to Iceland, there are a few tips and tricks to follow to ensure that you have the best trip possible.
- Get insurance on your rental car. Since you’ll be off-roading and driving in a bit rougher conditions, opt in for the insurance that your rental agency offers.
- Make sure that your car rental agency has service stations along your planned route. In the great outdoors, especially in the winter months, you never know what could happen with your car. Make sure your rental agency provides the means to fix up your car in case of an unfortunate incident.
- Exchange cash before arriving in Iceland. Shop around for the lowest fees or exchange rates. Your bank may be your best bet.
- Check the weather forecast and pack accordingly. For most of the year, you’ll need a winter coat to visit Iceland. Check the forecasted highs and lows during the time of your trip to see whether you need a parka or a windbreaker.
- Learn a few words in Icelandic. While you can probably get away with knowing just English throughout most of Iceland, locals will appreciate the effort if you try to communicate with just a few words in their native tongue. There are free educational resources online!
Following these simple tips will help ensure your safety and enjoyment throughout your trip to Iceland. You definitely want to make the most of your time in Iceland.
The Best Tour of the Golden Circle
If you are looking for the ultimate one-day tour of the Golden Circle in Iceland, look no further. Hekla’s Golden Circle Classic Tour is all you could dream for and more! This eight and a half hour tour departs from Reykjavik and includes lots of amazing destinations for nature- and history-lovers alike.
This amazing Golden Circle Tour will take you through National Parks, historical landmarks, natural treasures and more. You will have the day to enjoy the beauty of Iceland and form friendships with visitors from all around the world.
This tour departs three times a day. All you need for this tour is your camera, weather appropriate attire and a smile. You should also bring some money to buy snacks and souvenirs at stops along the way. With all of the adventure, you’ll surely work up an appetite.
If you want to add some adventure to your day exploring the Golden Circle, book our 12 hour Golden Circle, Super Truck and Snowmobiling tour.
For an extended tour of Iceland that hits some of the same great locations as out Golden Circle Tour, check out our Journey Around Iceland tour! This eight day tour will give you the best experience of Iceland possible
Guides to Similar Destinations in Iceland
Iceland is full of wonderful attractions. We don’t want you to miss a beat, so we’ve thrown together a few guides that cover our favorite spots in Iceland.
Explore all of the possible destinations for your next trip to this lovely country:
- Northern Lights in Iceland – Where and How to See the Aurora
- The Blue Lagoon: The Ultimate Travel Guide
- Top 10 Things to do in Reykjavik
- 11 Best Attractions in Iceland
Which destinations are on your Icelandic bucket list?
Travel Iceland’s Golden Circle
It is time to book your flight and head to Iceland. The Golden Circle will give you a taste of all of the great features of this beautiful nation. From glaciers to mountain ranges and langoustine to craft beer, you will experience it all.