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Scattered along a convenient ring route from Reykjavík, the Golden Circle showcases the absolute highlights of Iceland’s wild scenery. From the rocky ravine where the continental plates meet, to the powerful cascade of Gullfoss waterfall and the clockwork eruption of Strokkur geyser, they are some of the greatest hits in a single day
Gullfoss waterfall surrounded by vibrant autumn foliage.
Best time to visit
All year round
Coordinates
64.32694, -20.12481
Distance from Reykjavik
50-120km

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Day Trip Around the Golden Circle

The Route of the Golden Circle

Departing from Reykjavík, the Golden Circle is a 250-kilometre (155-mile) road route that showcases some of Iceland's most breathtaking natural sights, all achievable within a single day. It's the country's most popular tour route.

As you journey through the southern uplands of Iceland, you'll encounter vast lava plains and a national park that's verdant with short birch forests in summer and blanketed in thick snow during winter.

The route offers glimpses of picturesque agricultural areas, unparalleled natural scenery, thundering waterfalls, and visible signs of the geothermal activity simmering beneath the island’s surface.

While embarking on a Golden Circle self-drive tour is a favoured choice, driving conditions in late autumn, early spring, and winter can prove challenging. Being an isolated island in the North Atlantic, Iceland's weather is notoriously unpredictable, with road conditions that can shift rapidly. If you choose to drive yourself, it's crucial to stay informed about road closures and conditions, preferably using the SafeTravel app.

For those wanting to eliminate potential travel hitches, consider joining a guided tour of the Golden Circle from Reykjavík. An experienced driver and guide will not only ensure safe transit between sites but also offer valuable local insights. Additionally, Golden Circle tours can be combined with other activities such as geothermal bathing, horse riding, or exploring surreal landscapes on an ATV.

An aerial view over Þingvellir National park in the golden circle, Iceland.

Þingvellir National Park

Þingvellir, Iceland's oldest National Park, is a standout highlight of the Golden Circle. Here, striking rocky ravines reveal the point where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates drift apart.

Þingvellir is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its geological and historical importance. It's not just where the tectonic plates drift apart but also the location where the world's first democratic parliament convened.

How Much Time Do You Need at Þingvellir?

A leisurely walk through the ravine typically takes between 0.5 - 1.5 hours. If you wish to explore the rock formations, the historical site of Lögberg (also known as the Law Rock), the secluded wooden Þingvallakirkja church, and the scenic Öxarárfoss waterfall, anticipate a walk of about two hours with brief pauses.

You can certainly spend more time at Þingvellir National Park. There are walking trails winding through the rugged landscape, which can take three or four hours to traverse. Alternatively, you might want to snorkel or dive in the pristine waters of Silfra, nestled between the continents.

Gullfoss waterfall in iceland

Gullfoss Waterfall

Gullfoss, often referred to as the "Golden Falls," is one of Iceland's most iconic and beloved waterfalls. This majestic cascade plunges into a deep canyon, creating a breathtaking spectacle that showcases the raw power and beauty of Icelandic nature.

Descending in two dramatic tiers, the waterfall has a combined drop of over 32 meters (105 feet) and spans nearly 20 meters (65 feet) in width, making it one of the most formidable cascades in Europe. Originating from Iceland's second-largest glacier, Langjökull, the waters of the Hvítá River rush towards Gullfoss, creating a thunderous roar and often generating misty rainbows on sunny days.

For visitors, two main viewing platforms offer unique perspectives of this natural wonder. The upper platform provides a panoramic view from a distance, allowing onlookers to appreciate the waterfall's vast scale and its place within the sweeping Icelandic landscape. Meanwhile, the lower platform draws visitors closer to the falls, immersing them in the spray and sound of the cascading waters.

While both platforms are accessible in the summer, offering awe-inspiring views of Gullfoss set against verdant landscapes, winter visits can be a bit more restrictive. Due to icy conditions and snow, the lower platform is mostly closed between November and April due to safety reasons. However, the upper platform remains open, presenting a mesmerizing scene of the waterfall partially frozen, framed by snow-covered terrains.

Whether viewed under the midnight sun of summer or the frozen embrace of winter, Gullfoss never fails to captivate and inspire its visitors.

Geysir hotspring erupting in Iceland.

Geysir Geothermal Area

Another highlight of the Golden Circle is the Geysir Geothermal Area, a hotbed of underground volcanic activity. Here, beneath the verdant terrain, the earth's crust is unusually thin, allowing superheated water from below to surface in spectacular displays of nature's power.

The earth's molten magma heats underground water reserves, and the subsequent pressure buildup results in the geysers, hot springs, and fumaroles seen at Geysir.

Sulphuric hot springs bubble and hiss, releasing pungent aromas that blend with the misty atmosphere. Rivulets of near-boiling water weave through the landscape, creating ethereal clouds of steam that dance above the ground.

While Iceland boasts numerous geothermal springs suitable for a rejuvenating dip, Geysir is not one of them. Given the extreme temperatures, which can soar over 100°C, visitors are firmly advised to admire the scalding beauty from a safe distance.

The crown jewel of the Geysir geothermal park is the Strokkur geyser. This lively hot spring offers a visual spectacle like no other: every ten minutes or so, it propels a towering plume of water high into the air. Anticipation builds as the earth murmurs and photographers jostle for the best position.

With an average eruption reaching between 15 to 20 metres (49 to 66 feet) and occasionally soaring up to 40 metres, capturing Strokkur's magnificence is a photographer's dream. But fret not if you miss the perfect shot; Strokkur is ever-reliable, granting numerous opportunities for that quintessential eruption photo.

Woman in a sauna at sky Lagoon in Iceland.

Geothermal Bathing after your Golden Circle Tour

After soaking in the sights for half a day, unwind in the embrace of nature at the Secret Lagoon or Laugarvatn Fontana, both set amid stunning landscapes and boasting naturally heated waters.

For a touch of luxury, extend your Golden Circle journey with a visit to the Blue Lagoon. Though it lies further on the Reykjanes peninsula, it's a popular finale for many due to its status as a globally acclaimed geothermal spa. Immerse yourself in its iconic milky-blue waters or, if you're returning to Reykjavík, consider a dip in the contemporary Sky Lagoon.

For those keen on a rejuvenating experience closer to the city, the Sky Lagoon offers the ideal solution. Nestled on the city's fringe, it stretches towards the vast Atlantic, providing bathers with panoramic views of the boundless horizon.

Other Sights in the Golden Circle Area

Beyond the renowned attractions of Þingvellir, Geysir, and Gullfoss, the Golden Circle boasts a plethora of lesser-known yet equally captivating sights.

Kerið Crater Lake: This volcanic crater lake is a stunning sight, characterized by its nearly symmetrical form and the stark contrast of its red and brown crater walls against the vivid blue waters. The reflection of the sky on the lake's surface on a sunny day is a sight to behold.

Faxi Waterfall: A less frequented but equally beautiful waterfall, Faxi is located close to Geysir and Gullfoss. It's smaller than Gullfoss but is known for its wide cascade and a peaceful surrounding that is perfect for a short picnic.

Efstidalur II: This is not just a farm, but also an eatery that offers a delightful farm-to-table experience. You can enjoy ice cream, dairy products, and meats that are all sourced from the farm while observing the cows through a glass window.

All About the Golden Circle

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