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Driving the Golden Circle Iceland Guide

|June 15, 2023
Anhelina is a cat mom with a passion for cycling, adventure, and writing. She spends her days inspiring and educating other travelers through her stories by going down rabbit holes of research.

Iceland's Golden Circle awaits every traveler who wants to see the most of Iceland in a short amount of time. Buckle up and get ready for an adventure filled with minimal effort and maximum rewards.


Everything You Need to Know About Driving Iceland's Golden Circle Route: Directions, Recommendations, & Map

Welcome to the land of fire and ice! Iceland's Golden Circle awaits every traveler who wants to see the most in a short amount of time. This is the most popular sightseeing route on every summer itinerary. Buckle up and get ready for an adventure filled with minimal effort and maximum rewards.

Fear not, even if you may not have done extensive research or planning. We've got you covered with a comprehensive guide to the Golden Circle that highlights the must-see attractions and reveals some unique hidden spots along the way. Let's dive in!

What is the Golden Circle in Iceland?

The Golden Circle is a legendary tourist route in Iceland, and you're about to discover its wonders firsthand. Picture this: vast expanses of rugged terrain, majestic waterfalls cascading into canyons, bubbling geothermal activity, and historical sites steeped in Viking lore. It's like stepping into a fantasy world, with surprises around every bend!

The standard Golden Circle trip consists of three main stops: Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss Waterfall. Each site holds its unique charm and will give you a taste of Iceland's natural beauty and rich history.

View from a car of Icelandic landscape

You can embark on the Golden Circle trip year round and make beautiful memories in any season. However, due to weather conditions, before the trip, make sure to do your research before driving the Golden Circle Iceland in winter.

How Long Does It Take to Drive the Golden Circle

The Golden Circle route is a 300-kilometer (186-mile) loop that begins and ends in Reykjavik, Iceland's capital city. If you only want to drive without stopping, it will take you only 3 to 4 hours to complete the Golden Circle in one day. However, we highly recommend taking your time and soaking up the beautiful sights you'll encounter! There are also plenty of unique places to stay around the Golden Circle.

Driving Map of the Golden Circle

Here you can find the Golden Circle Iceland driving directions and the more detailed map:

 

Cost of Driving the Golden Circle Iceland

Embarking on a budget-friendly adventure along Iceland's Golden Circle is well within reach for most travelers. You can plan your trip while maximizing your budget by considering essential expenses.

Self-driving in Iceland's Golden Circle

Renting a car is popular, with prices ranging from $60 to $150 per day, depending on the vehicle type and season. Keep in mind that fuel costs, which can be higher in Iceland, estimate around $2 per liter. Budgeting for parking fees, ranging from $2 to $10 per vehicle, will ensure you're prepared for minor expenses along the route.

Optional activities and admissions may add to your expenses, so research and compare prices in advance to find affordable options. Food prices in Iceland can also be higher, so consider packing snacks or exploring local grocery stores and smaller eateries for more budget-friendly meals.

With some planning and savvy budgeting, you can embark on a memorable Golden Circle adventure without straining your wallet. Embrace the journey, relish the stunning landscapes, and let Iceland's magic unfold within your budget's boundaries.

Golden Circle Attractions

The Classics: Main Stops on the Golden Circle

Your journey begins with the classics, the must-visit Golden Circle attractions that define the Golden Circle experience:

Thingvellir National Park: This UNESCO World Heritage Site holds immense historical and geological significance. Walk between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates in the dramatic Almannagjá Gorge, and learn about the site's role in Iceland's history as the founding place of the world's oldest parliament.

Aerial view of tectonic plates in Thingvellir National Park

Geysir Geothermal Area: Witness the awe-inspiring power of geothermal activity at Geysir. Here, you can observe the famous Strokkur geyser erupting boiling water up to 30 meters high, thrilling spectators every few minutes.

Geyser eruption in Golden Circle's geothermal area, Iceland

Gullfoss Waterfall: Prepare to be mesmerized by the breathtaking beauty of Gullfoss, one of Iceland's most iconic waterfalls. Feel the mist on your face as you admire the mighty Hvítá River cascading down two tiers into a dramatic canyon.

Famous Golden Circle attraction - Gullfoss waterfall

Off the Beaten Path: Hidden Gems Near the Golden Circle

While the main Golden Circle attractions are incredible, there are also hidden gems and lesser-known spots worth exploring nearby. Let's unveil the secret treasures tucked away near the Golden Circle itinerary.

These hidden spots offer a glimpse into the hidden wonders of Iceland:

Brúarfoss: Prepare to be enchanted by the mesmerizing turquoise hues of Brúarfoss, a hidden waterfall that feels like a view from a fairy tale. Follow the trail and let the sight of this hidden wonder take your breath away.

Brúarfoss is a hidden waterfall in Iceland's Golden Circle

Fontana Geothermal Baths: Picture yourself soaking in geothermal baths overlooking a tranquil lake. Located near the Golden Circle, Fontana offers a relaxing oasis where you can rejuvenate and unwind amidst stunning natural surroundings in outdoor mineral baths, pools, saunas, and steam rooms.

Laugarvatn Fontana Spa geothermal baths

Kerið Crater: Located just off the Golden Circle route, Kerið is a stunning volcanic crater lake. Its vibrant red slopes and azure waters create a mesmerizing sight, perfect for a short hike or photo opportunity.

Kerið Crater in autumn

Faxi Waterfall: Often overlooked, Faxi is a beautiful waterfall along the Tungufljót River. This hidden gem offers a quieter and more intimate experience compared to the larger waterfalls on the route.

Faxi Waterfall along the Tungufljót River

Secret Lagoon: Considered one of Iceland's oldest geothermal pools, the Secret Lagoon (or Gamla Laugin) is a natural hot spring that provides a relaxing and rejuvenating experience. It's an ideal spot to unwind and soak in the magical surroundings and is much less crowded than the famous Blue Lagoon.

Secret Lagoon - Iceland's oldest geothermal pool

Things to Do on the Golden Circle

While driving the Golden Circle route Iceland, there are plenty of activities and experiences that can make your journey even more memorable. Here are some recommendations:

Horseback Riding: Take a horseback riding tour through the picturesque landscapes surrounding the Golden Circle and discover the unique Icelandic horse, known for its friendly nature and five gaits. Whether you're a beginner or an experienced rider, this is a fantastic way to connect with nature and explore the region.

Horseback riding tour in Iceland

Snorkeling or Diving in Silfra: For adventurous souls, don't miss the opportunity to snorkel or dive in the Silfra fissure at Thingvellir National Park. Navigate between the continental plates and witness the mesmerizing underwater world while immersing yourself in the crystal-clear glacial water at Silfra.

Diving in the Silfra fissure at Thingvellir National Park

Exploring Crater Lakes: Apart from Kerið Crater, there are other captivating crater lakes to explore in the area. Hike around Lake Kleifarvatn or Lake Þingvallavatn as both offer stunning views and opportunities for nature photography.

Try Local Cuisine: Along the Golden Circle, you can find charming cafes and restaurants where you can indulge in traditional Icelandic dishes. Don't miss the chance to try local specialties like lamb stew, freshly caught seafood, and the famous Icelandic hot dog.

Try Icelandic local cuisine

Visit a Geothermal Greenhouse: Learn about geothermal agriculture and enjoy a meal surrounded by tomato plants at Friðheimar greenhouse near the Golden Circle, where Iceland's geothermal energy powers much of its infrastructure, including greenhouses where fresh produce is cultivated year-round.

woman watering tomatoes in Fridheimar farm

Friðheimar greenhouse near the Golden Circle

Hike to Reykjadalur Hot Springs: A short drive from the Golden Circle, embark on a scenic hike to Reykjadalur. Trek through stunning landscapes until you reach natural hot springs where you can relax and soak in the warm, geothermal waters surrounded by breathtaking views.

Reykjadalur Hot Springs

Photography Opportunities: The Golden Circle is a paradise for photography enthusiasts. With endless opportunities to capture stunning shots, from dramatic waterfalls and geothermal landscapes to geysers erupting into the sky, be sure to bring your camera and capture the beauty of Iceland's natural wonders.

Mesmerizing landscapes by waterfall near Golden Circle

Cave Tour: Why not explore the hidden mysteries of the Golden Circle through the caves? Delve into ancient lava tubes, encounter unique geological formations, and gain insight into Iceland's captivating subterranean history. Combine the black and blue with our snorkeling and caving tour.

Remember, these are just a few suggestions to enhance your Golden Circle experience. Embrace the spirit of adventure and the unexpected, and indulge in exploring the hidden treasures and unique activities that come your way! You can also book a private tour if you are looking for a more bespoke, intimate experience.

Driving Golden Circle FAQ

How easy is it to drive the Golden Circle in Iceland?

Driving in Iceland is generally straightforward and enjoyable. The roads on the Golden Circle are well maintained and easy to follow, with clear markings. Since this route is popular, you'll come across other travelers. However, it's important to be aware that weather conditions can change rapidly in Iceland, particularly during the winter months. Therefore, it's essential to check the weather forecast and road conditions before beginning your journey. This will help ensure a safe and enjoyable driving experience.

Driving by the ocean in Iceland

Can you drive yourself around the Golden Circle in Iceland?

As for driving yourself around, absolutely! You can explore the Golden Circle at your own pace and have the freedom to stop whenever you please. Renting a car in Iceland is a popular choice among travelers, and it allows you to fully immerse yourself in the beauty of the surroundings. Just make sure you have a valid driver's license and familiarize yourself with Icelandic traffic rules and regulations. It's also worth considering travel insurance that covers your rental vehicle.

Looking for an itinerary with some structure to follow? We offer a variety of self-drive tours around the Golden Circle and beyond. Explore our range of multi-day tours, including the iconic Golden Circle. Don't miss our 6-day Ring Road adventure for an unforgettable journey through Iceland's diverse landscapes.

Do you need a 4x4 for Golden Circle Iceland?

Great news! You won't need a 4x4 vehicle for the Golden Circle route as the roads are well-maintained, and a regular car will do just fine. However, if you plan to go off the main route and explore more remote or mountainous areas, it might be a good idea to go for a 4x4. Either way, make sure to check the road conditions and seek advice from your car rental company for a safe trip.

When Is the Best Time to Visit Iceland’s Golden Circle?

The best time to visit the Golden Circle depends on what you're looking for as the route and its attractions are open all year. If you are planning many outdoor activities and expecting long daylight hours, the summer months of June to August are perfect. Fall and winter have fewer crowds and offer a chance to see the Northern Lights.

Consider your preferences, whether it's vibrant landscapes, fewer crowds, or special seasonal experiences, and plan your visit accordingly. No matter when you go, Iceland's Golden Circle will amaze you with its natural beauty and captivating attractions.

Is It Possible to Do the Golden Circle As a Day Tour from Reykjavik?

Absolutely! It is very common to do the Golden Circle as a day tour from Reykjavik. The Golden Circle route is conveniently located close to the capital city, making it easily accessible for a day trip. You can drive the Golden Circle of Iceland in one day. To make the most of it, consider joining guided tours that depart from Reykjavik and take you on a comprehensive journey through the Golden Circle highlights.

So, there you have it! The Golden Circle awaits you with its awe-inspiring natural wonders and rich history. Get ready to drive through Iceland's stunning landscapes, marvel at geysers, walk between tectonic plates, and witness the power of cascading waterfalls. With some planning, a sense of adventure, and a camera ready to capture unforgettable moments, you're all set for an incredible journey on the Golden Circle!

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