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Discover Iceland's Golden Circle in Winter

|March 1, 2023
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Planning on visiting Iceland this winter? Explore Iceland's natural wonders on the Golden Circle route. Learn more about Iceland’s magical winter.

If you're planning a trip to Iceland, one of the most popular tours to take is the Golden Circle. It's an unmissable opportunity to see some of Iceland's most stunning natural wonders, including geysers, waterfalls, and national parks. This tour will surround you with breathtaking scenery and give you the chance to take some truly unforgettable photos. An added bonus is that the Golden Circle is accessible during the winter, meaning you don’t have to comprise on taking these sights in no matter what time of year you plan to visit Iceland.

The Golden Circle is a great way to spend a day or two exploring Iceland's rugged beauty. It's a well-established route that takes you to some of the country's most iconic sites. With most landmarks only a couple hours from Reykjavik, there is no easier way to explore Iceland - even in the winter.

Why Visit the Golden Circle in Winter?

A clear road in Iceland with a snowy mountain landscape

Winter in Iceland is a magical experience: Imagine thick snow, black volcanic rock and frozen waterfalls. It takes the already beautiful scenery and elevates it. Coming to Iceland in winter is exciting but can leave some visitors worried about adventuring. Not to worry - there are so many reasons to get wrapped up and ready to head out and explore Iceland.

The winter season is typically quieter than the summer months. This means there are fewer crowds, and prices can be more affordable as it’s not peak tourist season. At this time of year, heading out on an Icelandic road trip can actually be easier in some ways, as car parks will be emptier and roads will be quieter.  Driving or touring the Golden Circle in winter also gives visitors a chance to catch a unique phenomenon on their travels: the Northern Lights.

Top Attractions Along the Golden Circle in Winter

In the winter, the top attractions to see are the same as in the summer. The well-maintained paths and roads make it easy to explore these areas all year and witness the magic that each season brings. During the colder months, these iconic natural landmarks can showcase a frozen, breathtaking landscape. If you like to wander off the main trail onto smaller paths, consider that some areas can be icy and plan footwear accordingly.

Be sure to make the most of daylight hours and weather forecasts when planning your trip and bear in mind that there are fewer hours of daylight in the winter. Whether you're hiring a car, booking a tour or doing a self-drive tour, here is some information about the top landmarks you will want to visit.

Þingvellir National Park

Snow-covered rock formation in Iceland

Nestled in the heart of Iceland lies the stunning Thingvellir National Park, a nature lover's paradise with the beauty that stops you in your tracks. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to incredible geological landmarks like Almannagjá, Öxarárfoss waterfall and the Silfra Fissure.

In addition to its geological wonders, Þingvellir National Park is also steeped in history. The park is home to the historic Alþingi site - the site of Iceland's first parliament in 930 AD. Visitors can still see the remnants of this ancient site, including the Lögberg, where the Lawspeaker would recite the laws and settle disputes.

During the winter months, visitors head to these top locations within the park.


Almannagjá geological formation in Thingvellir National Park during winter

Almannagjá is a breathtaking geological formation created by the shifting of tectonic plates. The 7-kilometer long, up to 64-meter-deep rift creates a unique landscape of jagged rock formations and towering cliffs.

It was also once a major route between the north and south of the island and is home to the historic Law Rock (Lögberg), where the Icelandic parliament met to make important decisions and settle disputes.

Silfra Fissure

A diver diving in Silfra Fissure’s crystal clear water

The Silfra fissure is a mesmerizing destination formed by the separation of tectonic plates. It's filled with crystal-clear glacial water and is considered one of the purest on the planet. The water is filtered through underground lava for decades before emerging in Silfra, creating a unique environment for a diverse range of algae and fish species.

The fissure is a popular destination for divers and snorkelers, providing unparalleled visibility of up to 100 meters and the unique opportunity to swim between two continental plates. If you are hoping to get in the water during the winter, you can book a diving or snorkelling tour. If you are short on time, you can also book a snorkeling & Golden Circle tour, which means you can make the most of everything the area has to offer in just one day.


Strokkur, a geyser, on a sunny day with visitors watching as it blasts

Visiting hot springs in Iceland is always a must, especially one that gushes hot water into the air. The most visited Geysir in Iceland is Strokkur. Located in the Haukadalur Valley, Strokkur is in the heart of the Geysir Geothermal Area. Strokkur erupts more regularly than the famous and inactive Great Geysir, with blasts of water every five to 10 minutes.

Once you've seen a blast, exploring this geographically impressive area is a must. Haukadular Valley is shaped by its hot spring and dyed with natural elements: Sulfur, copper and iron.

Gullfoss Waterfall

A large two-tiered waterfall in the winter and snowy landscape

Gullfoss waterfall is a breathtaking two-tiered waterfall. During the winter, it cascades 80-110m2 of water every second into a dramatic canyon below. It is easy to see why this stop is popular for Golden Circle tours in winter.

The waterfall's name means "Golden Falls" in Icelandic, and it's easy to see why - on sunny days, the mist from the waterfall creates a shimmering rainbow that seems to dance in the air. Visitors to Gullfoss can get up close and personal with the waterfall and feel the power of the water as it crashes down into the canyon.

Best Places to See the Northern Lights

The northern lights in the night sky

Seeing the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) is on most people's bucket lists. The Golden Circle in winter provides a perfect opportunity to spot them. The remote locations of Thingvellir National Park and Gullfoss Waterfall offer prime locations with clear skies that avoid any light pollution.

However, solar activity is unpredictable, so finding an Aurora guide is a great option. Tours generally drive you to the best location for northern lights, which is away from light pollution and the most solar activity. Many run from Reykjavik, the final destination in the Golden Circle, each offering a unique experience. Discover our South Coast Tour which includes a chance to see the northern lights and many other top attractions over 5 days.

Practical Tips For Visiting the Golden Circle in Winter

When exploring and driving the Golden Circle in winter, it's vital to prepare for the weather, conditions, and caution.

  • Prepare for the cold: The winter months in Iceland can be chilly, with temperatures ranging from -1°C to 4°C. While out exploring, make sure to dress in layers and bring warm clothing.

  • Be mindful of daylight hours: It's also important to keep in mind that daylight hours are limited during the winter. Plan your trip carefully to ensure you have enough time to see everything you want to see and stay safe on the roads.

  • Rent a 4x4: Renting a 4x4 vehicle can be a good idea, as it provides better traction and control in slippery conditions. However, if you don't want to drive yourself, you can also book a 3-day Golden Circle and South Coast tour, which allows you to explore the area at a more relaxed pace.

  • Book tours in advance: Even though winter is quieter for visitors, some tours are more limited during the colder months. It's a good idea to pre-book a Golden Circle day tour or multi-day tour to avoid disappointment. An action-packed adventure such as the 8 day Iceland Ring Road tour will allow you to experience the best of the Golden Circle, as well as many of the most unforgettable Icelandic attractions without the hassle of booking individual tours.

For more information about the Golden Circle, like where to eat, and how to get the most out of it, or to book a tour, explore Arctic Adventures.

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