You’re planning your Iceland road trip and you’re wondering where to go and what to do. If you’re staying in Reykjavik for a few days, there’s definitely one day trip that you need to make: The Golden Circle. And while there are plenty of guided tours in Iceland, if you’ve rented a campervan you’ll most likely want to do a Golden Circle self-drive tour. This is one of the best ways to explore because you can take as little or as much time as you want at each stop.
This popular tourist route is an oval-shaped circuit of highlights in South Iceland. You start in Reykjavik and make your way around the different stops. The 300 km (190 mile) circuit’s proximity to Reykjavik makes it a great choice for day tours from the capital. While it likes off the Ring Road, you won’t need a 4x4 rental to access it. There aren’t F-roads on the main sight. So while everyone else is doing Golden Circle tours, let’s do one better by creating our own self-drive tour.
When you embark upon your DIY Iceland Golden Circle tour, there are three main highlights that you’ll want to hit. They are þingvellir National Park, the geysers in Haukadalur Valley, and Gullfoss waterfall. These are the sights that I like to call “The Big Three” as they are an absolute must when visiting this region. There are about dozen sights in total, but let’s make sure you get to the main stops first.
The first stop on the Golden Circle is þingvellir (anglicized as Thingvellir) National Park. This is where you’ll find the Silfra fissure, which is a giant crack in the earth’s crust. Iceland rests on the meeting point of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, which explains all of our volcanic activity. Silfra has volcanic rocks and turquoise water where you can scuba dive. This is one of the many locations where they filmed Game of Thrones in Iceland.
The park is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. Besides its geologically interesting landscapes, it was also home to the world’s first parliament. Iceland’s Althing (parliament) began here of the island’s most powerful chieftains who came to decide on the most pressing affairs of the day. This is also the ancient spot where Iceland decided to become a Christian nation, which was a major turning point in their history.
Our second stop is the Haukadalur geothermal valley. With two powerful geysers, Golden Circle visitors come here to ooh and aah at the boiling columns of water that shoot up into the air. This area has hot springs in addition to Strokkur and Geysir geysers. Geysir is known as The Great Geysir and it’s where we get the word “geyser” from in English.
Strokkur is more of the “old faithful” type of geyser. It spews a gush of water into the air every five to ten minutes. If you have children this is a great activity because it leaves you in awe of the power of mother nature and you don’t have to wait around too long until the next “show”.
The last main stop on the Golden Circle route us Gullfoss waterfall. Gullfoss translates to “golden falls” in Icelandic due to its color. On a sunny day, not only will you see rainbows surrounding the cascade, but the water seems to change color. The sediment-filled waters of glacier runoff take on a golden hue as the sun hits them.
When driving the Golden Circle, it’s important to have a good map in order hit all of the main stops along the way. When looking at the Golden Circle Iceland map, provided below, you’ll notice that there are many more stops that just the Big Three.
If you want to make a full day out of exploring the Golden Circle Iceland, make a stop at some of the other things to see and do along the route. Stop off for some homemade ice cream at Efstidalur Farm or take a dip at the Secret Lagoon. Iceland is known for its hot pots and hot springs, so pack your swimsuit and take part in our country’s bathing culture.
Other highlights along the Golden Circle route are Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Baths, Langjökull Glacier, Drumbó River Base for rafting, Friðheimar Farm where you can stop for lunch, Skálholt (Iceland’s first town), the Slakki Zoo, Sólheimar Ecovillage, and Kerið Crater.
A self-drive Golden Circle tour in Iceland is just the way to kick off your campervan road trip around the island. While there are many tours and attractions in iceland, the sights on the Golden Circle will get you started on the right foot.