Everything you Need to Know about the Golden Circle of Iceland
The “Golden Circle” is the name for a route connecting some of the most popular sights to see in southern Iceland, starting and ending in Reykjavik. Traveling the entire circle takes about 3 hours driving non-stop, therefore, making it very doable in one day.
What you'll see
Technically, the Golden Circle includes:
- Thingvellir National Park
- Haukadalur and it’s geysers and
- Gulfoss Waterfall.
However, driving 35 minutes to Kerid Crater you get a great addition to your trip and, honestly, puts the “circle” in Golden Circle.
Also, if you want, you can stop in Hveragardi, a town found in the geothermal location of Reykjadalur Valley on your way back to Reyjkavik. Learn more below!
Thingvellir national Park
Heading east, or clockwise around the circle from Reykjavik, Thingvellir National Park is the first sight you’ll run into. Thingvellir has a lot to offer! While driving through, make sure to see:
- Seljalandsfoss Waterfall– easily accessible and visible from the Ring Road. The path is paved up to the waterfall, making it easily accessible. You can even walk behind the waterfall, if you don’t mind getting wet!
- Almannagja Gorge– This is the only place in the WORLD you can walk between two tectonic plates, therefore you have to visit the Almannagja Gorge. The hike through the gorge is short and easy with a lot of the path paved; however, a portion of the path is rocky and can be wet.
- There is a cafe locate near the visitor center that has a toilet you can ues for free
- Oxararfoss waterfall– found inside the Almmanagja Gorge. The trail is only about 0.7 miles from the parking lot and is an easy walk.
- Bonus: this waterfall is recognizable as a filming location for Game of Thrones.
Note: You may have to pay to park in the park (about 750 ISK or ~$6). There are two parking lots near the Almannagja Gorge and one is free! Look for the parking lot closer to the Oxarafoss Waterfall
Gulfoss is technically a little off the path of the Golden Circle, but is one of the main sights to see on the route. One of the largest waterfalls in Iceland, it is worth the ~10 minute drive from the geysers on the Golden Circle. Gulfoss is located in the canyon of the Hvita river and features two drops in the falls. Keep your eyes peeled for the frequent rainbows that appear at the falls!
- There is a visitor center and a restaurant located at the falls. From there, you can walk down wooden steps to get to a paved pathway to view the falls
- Two viewing locations overlook the falls; the top and lower viewing points with both points-of-view looking down onto the waterfall
- The lower view point is often closed in the winter
- There is a bathroom in the parking lot, however, you have to pay to use it. Inside the restaurant you can find a bathroom to use for free 🙂
Haukadalur geothermal area
Iceland is full of geothermal activity which contributes to its unique geography and adds to the wonders of the country. Among the most impressive geothermal phenomena are two popular geysers, Geysir and Strokkur.
- Geysir is larger and erupts at increased heights
- Strokkur is smaller and erupts every 8-10 minutes, resulting in shorter eruption heights
- Both geysers are located in the same geothermal field and are in walking distance, so look for signs for both
Kerid is a volcanic crater just south of Gulfoss Waterfall on the Golden Circle. The lake was likely formed due to a collapsing of an empty magma chamber rather than an explosion. However, it is unique due to the distinct red volcanic rock mingled with green moss found around the walls of the crater that surround beautiful blue water.
- Kerid is a short, easy walk from the parking lot
- It costs 400 ISK ( $4) to see the crater, with the entrance fee used to preserve and maintain the surrounding area
- No swimming allowed (although you likely won’t want to in the weather 😉 )
- There are no bathrooms located on the premise
Driving from Kerid Crater back to Reykjavik, you will pass through Selfoss for a possible location for lunch or dinner. You will also pass through Hveragerdi which is in the Reykjadalur Valley, full of geothermal springs, mud baths and a geothermal river.
- You can soak in the thermal river
- To get there, you have to hike about 1.8 miles (3km) one way
- There is a restaurant and toilets located in the parking lot where the hike starts
Golden Circle Recap!
The Golden Circle Route is a great day trip from Reyjkavik and one of its best qualities is that you can spend a max of ~$10 a day to see everything!
There are bus tours that take you from Reykjavik around the circle for around $54. Or, you can rent a car to navigate the route on your own time and pace.
Learn more about the logistics of getting around Iceland and your complete travel guide to Iceland!