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Your Complete Guide to the Golden Circle in Iceland


Golden Circle in Iceland

The Golden Circle in Iceland is a favorite amongst those who wish to explore the island via road trip. No wonder why, as this route includes some of the most spectacular attractions Iceland has to offer. Luckily, it’s also short enough that those with extremely limited time on the island. So, you can get to experience some of the must-visit places and activities of Iceland in a short period of time.

If you’ve been planning your Iceland itinerary or have been pondering a road trip in Iceland for some time, this article can serve as your ultimate guide to the Golden Circle route in Iceland. 

What is the Golden Circle in Iceland?

Even if you’ve never heard of the Golden Circle before, you should’ve gathered some information. Such as, that it is a popular route in Iceland that offers spectacular sceneries. And, of course, that it offers some of Iceland’s most amazing and most-visited attractions and activities.

Where is the Golden Circle in Iceland?

As can be deduced from the name, the Golden Circle is a circular route that starts and ends in the capital city of Reykjavík. Although, technically, you can jump on to the Golden Circle route from anywhere on the island. The route stretches all along the southern parts of Iceland.

Golden circle Iceland

How Long is the Golden Circle in Iceland?

The Golden Circle is 300 km long and will take you roughly 3 hours if you are driving the Golden Circle in Iceland without even stopping once. Obviously, that is not the ideal way to explore the island or experience the Golden Circle. So, it is recommended that you book out at least 2–3 days to properly experience and take in everything this route has to offer. Many opt to combine the Golden Circle route into a longer road trip of the Ring Road.

The Best Attractions Along the Golden Circle in Iceland

The following are some of the must-see attractions that can be found on and near the Golden Circle route:

Driving the Golden Circle in Iceland

The Golden Circle is open all year round and a 4x4 is not a necessity on this paved road. But generally, driving in Iceland during the winter months can be challenging.

So, if you are planning on tackling the Golden Circle during the Iceland winter, we suggest that you have a conversation with your rental agency. Ask them which car to choose, which accessories and gadgets are especially handy. Do not forget to discuss the add-on insurance policies that come recommended during the season.

Driving the Golden Circle, Iceland

Just keep in mind that the local saying says that “you can expect all four seasons in a day in Iceland”. So, you may come face-to-face with a sudden road closure due to weather conditions at any time throughout the year. That’s why we always recommend that visitors keep a close eye on the Iceland weather forecast, as well as the Iceland road conditions.

Also, please take note that it is illegal in Iceland to park on the side of the road where there are no designated parking spots. The same goes for driving on the side of the road, or simply “DIY” your own road. This is for your own safety as well as the preservation of Iceland’s ecosystem. Especially in the places one finds Iceland moss. When damaged, it can take decades for it to recover, if it even can.

When to Visit the Golden Circle in Iceland

As we’ve already touched on, you can drive the Golden Circle all year round. However, the winter months can chuck some challenging road conditions into the mix.

When to visit will ultimately boil down to how much time you have on the island and what you have on your Iceland bucket list. For example, if you only have a stopover in Iceland, you will have to forfeit some of the Golden Circle experiences to complete the route in one day. This will be tough to do if you have only 4 hours of daylight mid-winter.

If you want to experience certain phenomena on the island, you’ll also need to opt for the season that they can be experienced. For example, you cannot experience a Midnight Sun in the wintertime. Likewise, you also cannot experience the Northern Lights mid-summer.

The summer months are also the busiest months on the island. So, we’ll advise anyone visiting during that time to always book things (accommodation, activities, car, etc.) well in advance. You'll avoid disappointment and get on the road early morning to avoid the crowds.

Map of the Golden Circle

Helpful Tips for Road-tripping the Golden Circle in Iceland

If this is your first visit to the island, or it’s the first time you’ll be driving the Golden Circle, the following helpful tips will ensure that your trip is a memorable and safe one:

Have Offline Maps Close at Hand

There is generally sufficient mobile phone and GPS signal across the island. Still, as with most places, there are always certain spots where a signal drops. If you don’t want to be left worried that you’ve missed the side road to a waterfall, or you’ve accidentally passed Skalholt Church, you’ll need offline maps. So, download a few offline versions or purchase a hard copy.

Plan Where You’re Going to Fill Up

Gas prices differ between gas stations in Iceland, so if you’re on a budget, you’ll need to do your homework. Have a chat with your rental agency as well as a few locals – they’ll be happy to point you in the right direction.

Always Opt for a Self-drive

We strongly believe that the best way for you to explore the island via the Golden Circle is to drive it yourself. Not only is it less expensive than a multi-day Golden Circle tour or a bunch of guided day tours, but you’ll also be in full control of your time and itinerary.

You won’t need to skip any attractions or activities along the road that the tour simply didn’t add to their trip. You’ll also not be left either waiting on others to get a move on or feel rushed at a place you’d rather have spent more time at.

Plan your Toilet Breaks

Yes, most attractions have toilets, but many will cost you a little something-something to use. It’s also important to note that Kerid Crater has no bathroom facilities, so don’t count on that being your next toilet break.

If you’re someone who regularly needs to stop at gas stations to use the toilets whilst on a road trip, you’ll be happy to know that most gas stations in Iceland also have toilets that are free to use. BUT there are not as many gas stations along the road in Iceland as you might be used to back home. So, plan your toilet breaks properly, or you might end up having to do a balancing act with your water bottle.

Golden circle tour Iceland

Stick to the Speed Limits

The speed limit on the Golden Circle is 90 km, so please ensure that you stick to it.  The Icelanders don’t play around with those who don’t adhere to the rules of the road, and you might end up having to sell a kidney to pay your speeding fine.

Keep a Slow and Steady Pace

Keeping a slow and steady pace will ensure that you don’t end up on the wrong side of the stick when it comes to speeding. It’ll also allow you to properly take in the scenery around you and use less gas, which means saving some much-needed travel money.

Your Golden Circle in Iceland Itinerary

The following are the directions to driving the Golden Circle clockwise from Reykjavík:

  • Take Road 1 towards Borgarnes.
  • After driving through Mosfellsbær, take Road 36 to Thingvellir National Park.
  • After Thingvellir continue on Road 365 to Laugarvatn.
  • Take Road 37 to Geysir.
  • Continue on Road 37 to Gullfoss.
  • From Gullfoss you have 2 options – 1.) Road 30 towards Fludir and Selfoss or 2.) Road 35 to Selfoss (passing Kerid Crater).
  • Rejoin Road 1 to Reykjavik.

*We recommend that you drive the Golden Circle counter-clockwise if you’re planning on diving or snorkeling the Silfra Fissure. This way you don’t need to drive the rest of the day feeling cold, wet, and tired – you can go home, dry off and warm up.

Golden circle stops

Your stops when driving the Golden Circle clockwise from Reykjavík should be:

  • Stop 1: Porufoss Waterfall (40 minutes out of Reykjavík)
  • Stop 2: Thingvellir National Park (this one obviously has numerous attractions and activities such as Oxararfoss Waterfall, the Silfra Fissure, Pingvallakirkja, etc.)
  • Stop 3: Hukadalur Geothermal Field
  • Stop 4: Gullfoss Waterfall
  • Stop 5: Faxi Waterfall
  • Stop 6: Kerid Crater
  • Stop 7: Laugarvatn Fontana or Hrunalaug Hot Spring
  • Stop 8: You can try to fit in a stop at the Blue Lagoon or Sky Lagoon before you finally head back to Reykjavik for the night

Accommodation Along the Golden Circle in Iceland

You will find a wide variety of accommodations along the Golden Circle that will fit anyone’s preferences and pockets. The following are the places that come highly recommended in the various accommodation categories:

Hotels Along the Golden Circle in Iceland

Hostels Along the Golden Circle in Iceland

Guesthouses Along the Golden Circle in Iceland

Golden circle accomodation

Self-catering/Airbnbs Along the Golden Circle in Iceland

Taking a Golden Circle Tour in Iceland

As we already mentioned, we believe the best (and most affordable) way to explore the island via the Golden Circle is by making a road trip out of it. But if you’re dead-set on a tour led by a guide and have spending money just lying around, the following are some of the Golden Circle tours you can consider:

The Golden Circle: an Absolute Must on an Iceland Trip

You cannot visit Iceland and not drive the Golden Circle route in Iceland – literally. Whether you opt to drive the route yourself, go on a Golden Circle multi-day tour or take day tours, chances are that you’ll find yourself on one of the Golden Circle roads sooner or later.

That’s because of the incredible amount of attractions and activities one can find on this route. Things not to be missed. So, be sure to rent your car in Reykjavík and hit the road during your visit to Iceland!