The Golden Circle in Iceland is the most visited route in the country year in year out. That is due to the perfect combination of being accessible, adaptable, and full of cool things to see. And the fact that it’s close to Reykjavík is also a big help, since you can drive the route in a day if you want to.
If you are in the mood to see most of what Iceland has to offer but are not in the mood to travel the entire country, the Golden Circle is for you. You can choose to have either a day trip or a multiple-day itinerary. Regardless of what you pick, the Golden Circle of Iceland contains all the different elements you can encounter around the island. Read on to find out which!
What is The Golden Circle in Iceland?
The most popular route for visitors is the Golden Circle Route in Iceland, sometimes referred to as The Golden Ring, Iceland. For a shorter holiday, it is the perfect option. It provides you with all the essential elements of Iceland, and can be made into a short day tour or a week-long trip. This is one of the few routes in Iceland that will provide you with a good mix of Iceland’s history, culture, and impressive nature.
Where is The Golden Circle in Iceland?
The Golden Circle in Iceland is in the western part of the island. It stretches about as far into the highlands as you can go without having to drive a 4x4 vehicle.
Arriving at Reykjavík, you will find the first stop of the Iceland Golden Circle roughly 47 km / 29 miles to the east at Thingvellir.
How long is the Golden Circle in Iceland?
The Golden Circle in Iceland is roughly 300km / 186 miles, but this includes the route to and from Reykjavík, plus all the attractions. If you’re not planning on seeing all the attractions, the distance will be shorter.
If you’re only interested in seeing the “big three” attractions, then your Golden Circle drive time will be cut down to roughly 220 km / 137 miles or 3 hours.
How long will The Golden Circle Route take me to drive?
The Golden Circle will be a minimum of 3 days if you want to visit all the attractions on the route. If you do it as a part of a campervan trip around Iceland, you can take as much time as you want. Spending a day hiking in Thingvellir or having an entire day in and around the hidden warm baths is strongly recommended. With your own campervan, there's no need to rush through your Golden Circle Iceland itinerary. You're not tied to any pre-booked accommodation. It can take as long as you want it to take!
How to get to The Golden Circle?
If you follow Road 36 northeast of Reykjavík for about 46km / 29 miles, you will arrive at Thingvellir National Park. This is usually the first attraction in the Golden Circle in Iceland and will clear the longest part of the route that doesn’t have a stop in it.
Can I drive The Golden Circle Route in Iceland in Winter?
Yes, The Golden Circle is safe to drive in winter time, with roads cleared of snow and ice. We would suggest investing in a 4x4 hire vehicle though and snow tires.
The Best Golden Circle Attractions: The Big Three
All the attractions and sights in Iceland are amazing. Still, there are three that are known to be truly awe-inspiring; these make up the “big three” on The Golden Circle tour.
One of the big three attractions where you will experience the history of Iceland. Thingvellir is where the world’s oldest parliament was founded in the 930s. Viking chieftains in Iceland gathered at this site. They would settle disputes, make connections and agreements, and stipulate laws. It was moved to Reykjavík in the 1800s and has been there ever since.
Like many other areas in Iceland, Thingvellir was used as a shooting location for Game of Thrones.
Most waterfalls you only get to view from below. However, at Gullfoss you can view the crashing waters from above, making it look like the waters are disappearing down into the earth. Gullfoss means “golden falls”, which gave name to the whole Golden Circle route.
Here you can see the massive Geysir, which gave name to all other geysers on earth. Nowadays, Geysir’s little brother, Strokkur, is the one who keeps the show running with an eruption every 5–10 minutes. Geysir is way more laid back and only erupts occasionally, but in its prime, it often erupted and could have 170 metre tall eruptions!
The Best of The Rest: Attractions Near The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is undoubtedly one of Iceland’s most popular destinations. However, what many visitors don’t realize is that there are also some fantastic attractions nearby worth exploring. Here are some hidden gems you can visit while in the area:
What is Iceland without a myriad of waterfalls? Along the Golden Circle in Iceland, you can come across many waterfalls not far from the route.
Taking a bath is nice, but having a 40 °C bath in a naturally occurring warm pool is even better. The well-known and not-so-secret lagoon is a great stop on the southern part of the route for a well-deserved relaxing bath after a tough journey. This is a fun stop if you’re driving the Iceland Golden Circle in winter.
For the one interested in archaeology, history, and religion, this is the place to go. Skalholt used to be one of the most important places in Iceland in the Middle Ages. It became even more influential in 1550 when the last Icelandic catholic bishop got beheaded here with his two sons. From that moment onward, Iceland was considered protestant.
Bringing the family along the Golden Circle in Iceland is always a good idea. You can even use the kids as an excuse to come pet cute goats at Slakki Petting Zoo! It’s also a great stop to replenish some snacky supplies.
Even though it sounds like a waterfall, it’s far from one. Selfoss is the center for trading and a meeting point for the southern part of Iceland. You will be able to find a good restaurant or two as well as a place to sleep if you want to.
Another remarkable hot spring, but this time we go from a stationary spring to a slowly moving river. The Reykjadalur thermal river is a once-in-a-lifetime experience that puts a twist on the normal hot spring bath.
If you have ever wondered what a lava tube looks like, then Gjabakkahellir cave will be a good treat for you. It is in Thingvellir national park, so you can make that a part of your stop in the area.
Visit a real volcanic crater without fearing lava. Kerid crater is believed to be a magma chamber that caved in after a volcanic eruption about 6,000 years ago. Now it’s a beautiful milky, blue-green lake with some striking surrounding nature.
The must-stop for the culinary curious companions! This giant greenhouse is specialized in tomatoes, cucumbers, and horse breeding. It also provides its visitors with a great experience! If you go there in the summer, Fridheimar will have regular horse shows in up to 17 different languages.
Visit the oldest eco-village in Europe. For almost 100 years, this small village has lived as sustainably as possible with environmentally friendly architecture and sustainable teachings.
Tips for Your Iceland Golden Circle Route
Our top tips for the best possible trip around the Golden Circle in Iceland are as follows:
- Plan your route: There are many places to be and many things to see, so make sure to plot out a route to follow before you get in your car.
- Take your time: rushing through these spots is good for crossing them off a list, but not much else.
- Keep an eye on the road and weather: Iceland is notorious for volatile weather and scruffy roads. Driving the Golden Circle in the Iceland winter might be an adventure.
Golden Circle Driving Itinerary
For a day trip, you should visit the big three in this order:
For a longer trip of more than 2 days, we recommend the following stops in this order:
- Gjabakkahellir Cave
- Secret Lagoon
- Slakki Petting Zoo
- Kerid Crater
Obviously, you can pick and choose how you’d like to have your trip, but we suggest you rent a campervan. You can also use one of our itineraries to maximize your experience of the Golden Circle in Iceland!