The Golden Circle Iceland is a classic driving loop with impressive attractions: waterfalls, national park, geyser…
Below is my guide to help you plan your trip including:
- a Golden Circle Iceland map,
- the best attractions, stops and hidden gems,
- tips to make the most of your time,
- self drive itinerary suggestions,
- and Golden Circle Tours options.
Note: if you are visiting in Winter, check out my specific article about the Golden Circle in Winter.
Before my tips + photos, here are my favorites for Iceland:
My favorite platform to rent a car in Iceland: DiscoverCars
The unmissable boat tour: Whale Watching
Fun activity: Swimming in Silfra Fissure
Why visit the Golden Circle in Iceland?
What is the Golden Circle?
The Golden Circle is one of the most famous drives in Iceland.
It is a short loop that can be started from Reykjavik or from Selfoss.
It includes a combination of very impressive attractions. The 3 most famous are:
- Thingvellir National Park with the earth fissures
- The Haukadalur geothermal area with the Strokkur geyser (and the dormant Geysir)
- The giant waterfall of Gullfoss which you can admire from many angles.
Is it worth it?
Yes, it is a great loop to appreciate to power of mother Nature with a large waterfall, giant fissure and a geyser.
However, if you have very limited time in Iceland (only 2 days for example), my preference would go to the South Coast and the Snaefellsnes peninsula.
Do not mix names up!
There is the Golden Circle which is a small loop near Reykjavik.
And there is the Ring Road, the main road 1 circling the island.
However, there is no Golden Ring Road…
More photos and attractions after the planning tips.
The Golden Circle Iceland Map + Planning tips
Where is the Golden Circle located? How far is it from Reykjavik?
The Golden circle is close to Reykjavik.
It is an easy day trip East of the capital city.
The furthest attraction is Gullfoss which is 116km (72 miles) ways from Reykjavik
Map of the Golden Circle
So, the Golden Circle Iceland is actually not a circle… Look at the Golden Circle Iceland Map I have drawn for you below. The 3 main attractions 1,2 and 3 are what officially constitute the Golden Circle and they are not doing a loop…
However, there are many roads that you can take around with other things to do on the Golden Circle Iceland thus creating a round itinerary. I will tell you more about each in the next sections.
All my favorite locations are included (with GPS coordinates, map of region and planning tips) in my travel guide eBook to help you easily plan your Iceland road trip (for 5 days, 7 days, 10 days, 14 days…)
Plan your dream trip to Iceland with my guides!
- 8 easy-to-plan maps
- 100+ pre-selected locations
- GPS coordinates
- Useful planning tips
- 130+ large photos
- 2 easy-to-plan maps
- 30 stops, 10 detours
- GPS coordinates
- Useful planning tips
- 70+ large photos
Best time to visit the Golden Circle
The sites of the Golden Circle are accessible all year round even if the roads can be a bit more difficult in Winter.
This is a popular road, so if you want to avoid crowds, go early or late.
See my article on When to travel in Iceland
Golden Circle in the rain
The weather should never stop you from exploring Iceland.
It does change quickly as you move location or even as you stay in the same place. So, take your chance!
And even if it rains, it can even make the scenery even more dramatic.
Golden Circle Self-Drive – tips + itinerary
How long to drive around the Golden Circle?
The exact driving time from Reykjavik and returning to Reykjavik with the top 3 attractions is 4 hours.
And with some extra detours it is 5 hours.
It can easily be done with just one day (some tours even cover the top 3 attractions in half a day).
However planning 2 days allow you to walk more, enjoy more stops and take advantage of sunset and sunrise.
How difficult is it to drive around the Golden Circle
It is a very easy drive as all roads have one lane in each direction and are fully paved.
Attractions are well signposted.
- Can you drive the Golden circle in Winter?
Yes. Even in Winter, this is one of the roads that is cleared the quickest (see my article about the Golden Circle in Winter).
- What type of car do I need?
The roads around the Golden Circle are all normal roads and paved. No F-roads. A 2WD is enough
- Check out my articles about how to rent a car in Iceland and Driving in Iceland
Need to rent a car in Iceland?
- Compare prices on my favorite platform: Discovercars.com – one of the best rated comparison sites!
- Prefer a compact car for the narrow streets in villages
- Consider their full coverage option – it for peace of mind!
- Book early to have a large choice of vehicles!
#1 – Order
Almost everyone does to circle the Golden Circle clockwise, starting with the attractions closest to Reykjavik:
- then Haukadalur
- and then Gullfoss.
So if you do it the other way around, you would have fewer people.
#2 – Start early
This is a very popular driving loop. To enjoy the attractions even more, I recommend starting early. Or starting late afternoon on the first day and early morning on the second, if sleeping on the circle.
#3 – Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is not on the Golden Circle. It can be added to end your day trip, but it is a detour – Gullfoss to Blue Lagoon = 2h drive
However, if you are looking for a closer geothermal pool, the Secret lagoon is only 30min drive from Gullfoss. Book your entry
Golden circle Iceland itinerary – 1 day
With just one day, you should focus on the top attractions:
- Drive all the way to Gullfoss – enjoy the upper and lower views
- Explore Haukadalur and watch the Strokkur Geyser erupt
- Hike around Thingvellir – at least the main path
- And add an extra activity based on your taste:
- Extra idea 1 – Second hike in Thingvellir to Oxararfoss
- Extra idea 2 – Do something unique by snorkeling in the Silfra fissure in Thingvellir – See availability and Book your spot
- Extra idea 3 – Wal around the rim of the Kerid crater
- Extra idea 4 – relax at the Secret Lagoon at the end of the day before driving back – Book your entry
Golden Circle in 2 days – suggestion
Day 1 –
- Thingvellir hikes
- (extra) – snorkeling in the Silfra fissure in Thingvellir – See availability and Book your spot
- Views of Laugarvatn
- Secret Lagoon – Book your entry
Day 2 –
- Sunrise at Hukadalur with Strokkur Geyser
- Hike to Bruarfoss
- Walk to the Rim of Kerid crater
- Drive back
Where to stay on the Golden Circle
Best areas to stay on the Golden Circle
Depending on your interest you could choose:
- To stay near Haukadalur to enjoy a sunrise with the geyser – see options
- To stay in Laugarvatn, where you can find a few accommodations by the lake and its hot springs – check out options
- To stay in Fludir, a little out of the way, to be able to soak in the hot waters of the Secret Lagoon at the end of the day – check out best rated accommodations
- If road tripping anywhere – Selfoss is another practical option: it has a large choice and it is on Road 1 – Check out the best rated accommodations
- If you are on a road trip to the Snaefellsnes peninsula – the town of Borgarnes is a practical option – Check out the best rated accommodations
- Or stay in Reykjavik and visit as a day trip – check out the best rated accommodations
Best Golden Circle Accommodations
I stayed at two different accommodations in the area:
- I had a really great stay at the Geysir Cottages (part of Hotel Geysir). The location was perfect to go check out the eruption of the Strokkur geyser when no big tourist busses were around – see photos and availability
- I stayed at the Icelandair Hotel in Fludir which was really nice, modern and clean – see photos and availability
Otherwise consider :
- The Ion Hotel – Contemporary style – see photos and availability
- Skyggnir Bed and Breakfast not far from Fludir, but in nature – see photos and availability
- Litli geysir hotel, not far from the geyser – see photos and availability
- Hotel Gullfoss, just 3km from the waterfall – see photos and availability
- Hotel South coast in the heart of Selfoss – see photos and availability
Where to stay in Iceland?
- Reykjavik, capital city: see best rated accommodations – or my article on where to stay
- Selfoss, between Golden Circle and South Coast: see best rated accommodations
- Vik, near waterfalls and glaciers: see best rated accommodations
- Höfn, gateway to the East fjords: see best rated accommodations
- Egilsstadir, between fjords and North Iceland: see best rated accommodations
- Reykjahlid, for the wonders of Lake Myvatn: see best rated accommodations
- Akureyri, capital of the North: see best rated accommodations
- Grundarfjordur, on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula: see best rated accommodations
Day Trips – The Golden Circle Iceland Tours
If you don’t feel like driving or want to feel free to admire the scenery, you can join one of the many Golden Circle Iceland tours departing Reykjavik.
I recommend booking a full-day tour.
There is quite a lot of driving, so a half-day tour will be rushed.
You can find options:
- Large and small group tours – they are different programs – choose what suits you – see options
- Private tours – see options
- Tours with snorkeling in the Silfra fissure – see options and availability
- With horse riding – see program and availability
#1 to #5 – Best Golden Circle Iceland attractions
#1 to #3 – Explore Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir National Park (in Icelandic written Þingvallavegur) is a Unesco World Heritage site for its geological and historical importance.
It is a series of huge fissures in the Earth’s crust caused by the rifting of the North American and Eurasian plates.
It is a 45min drive from Reykavik via Road 1 and Road 36.
- #1 – Enjoy the view over the valley and walk down the main path to learn more about the history of the place: geological and human history.
- #2 – Hike another fissure to admire the 20m high drop of Oxararfoss waterfall
- #3 – The most famous one is the Silfra fissure where you can dive and snorkel – people rave about this experience, which sadly I have missed. Something about the surreal effect of the rock walls and the transparency of the water – Learn more and book
For more photos and planning information, check out my article dedicated to Thingvellir National Park Iceland.
#4 – Discover the Haukadalur geothermal area and watch the geyser erupt
The Haukadalur Geysir geothermal area is located close to Road 35. It is a 50 minutes’ drive from Thingvellir.
Haukadalur is a geothermal area, home of the famous Geysir (which does not erupt nowadays).
However, the geyser that you will see erupt is Strokkur. It displays its power every 5 to 8 minutes, sending water 20m high (and sometimes up to 40 meters).
You can also walk around and discover mud pools and fumaroles.
For more photos and planning information, check out my article dedicated to Haukadalur Geothermal area.
#5 – Admire Gullfoss Waterfall
Gullfoss is one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland. Located on the Hvita river, it rushes and falls 32m (105ft) in two stages. Its flow is impressive, reaching 140m3/s in the summer.
You can reach Gullfoss on Road 35. It is a 10 minutes’ drive from the Haukadalur Geothermal area. It will take you 1h30 to drive back to Reykjavik via the same road or 1hour to drive to the town of Selfoss.
For more photos and planning information, check out my article dedicated to the Gullfoss Waterfall Iceland.
Below is a short video to admire those top 3 locations in action:
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Below are other places to see if you loop around the Golden Circle, Iceland. Sadly, with pictures for you to help you decide if you include them on your itinerary. They correspond to the places listed on the Golden Circle Iceland Map at the beginning of the article, plus detours.
#6 – Laugarvatn
Laugarvatn is a small lake not far from Thingvellir National park. The population is mainly on the west side. The lake as a geothermal spring. So, it is a great swimming spot with warm water all year round.
There is also a spa Laugarvatn Fontana taking advantage of the spring.
#7 – Bruarfoss
Bruarfoss is one of the most photogenic waterfalls in Iceland. It has a delicate shape and intense blue water. The only problem is to find it…
The waterfall is located between Laugarvatn and Geysir.
#8 – Apavatn
Apavatn a 13km2 lake, a large flat area good for fishing. It is not the most photogenic.
#9 – Faxifoss
Near the town of Faxi is the waterfall of Faxifoss. A gravel road will take you to this waterfall where you can admire and fish salmons. On its side is a salmon ladder to help them move upstream.
#10 – Secret Lagoon
For those looking to escape the crowds of the Blue Lagoon, you can try the secret lagoon. The facilities are not as extensive, but you could have more peace and quiet to enjoy the place.
#11 – Kerid Crater
Kerid crater is appreciated for its contrasting color. With the turquoise of the pond in the caldera, the red of the volcanic rock and the green in summer or white in Winter.
#12 – Thorufoss
Just off Route 48, a short 5-minute walk from the carpark allows you the face a charming waterfall.
#13 – Efstidalur Ice Cream farm
If you need a refreshing stop, enjoy an organic and home-made ice cream, direct at the farm!
#14 – Visit Fridheimar tomato farm
And to learn more on farming using geothermal heat, check out the Fridheimar Tomato farm!
Located on Road 35, close to Reykholt.
Book in advance a farm tour – website
And don’t forget to taste their tomatoes or tomato soup!
Golden Circle Iceland in Winter
For those visiting the Golden Circle Iceland in Winter, the roads to the 3 main attractions are normally well maintained. However, this is still Iceland in Winter, so make sure you understand the basics of driving on snow and ice (no hard breaking, no turning sharp turns…). If you don’t feel like driving in those conditions, pick one of the Golden Circle Tours.
Note that access to get closer to the top of Gullfoss would be very slippery and dangerous and can be closed. However, the waterfall is stunning with those iced area mixed with flowing water. Because of the volume of water, this one does not freeze entirely.
Due to the heat from the geothermal activity, the access to the Strokkur geyser remains easy.
More infos and photos on my article about the Golden Circle in Winter.
Want to see more of the best Iceland has to offer?
- 45 Most beautiful landscapes in Iceland in pictures – read article
- The best stops on the Ring Road – read article
- The best locations off the beaten path around Iceland – read article
- 21 Most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland – read article
- Top 5 places to see around Myvatn – read article
- 5 best Lava Fields in Iceland – read article
- The 5 most beautiful black sand beaches in Iceland – read article
Planning a trip to Iceland?
Check out my travel guide to help you plan:
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