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11 Hidden Gems On Iceland's Golden Circle

Off The Beaten Track: Discover Top Golden Circle Detours

|July 10, 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.

Get ready to discover Iceland's Golden Circle like never before! You won't want to miss these Golden Circle hidden gems that are just waiting to be explored. These lesser-known attractions are easily accessible along the popular driving route, so start reading now and get ready to be amazed!


Iceland has many brilliant natural wonders, from immense waterfalls to bubbling hot springs. Although Iceland’s Golden Circle and its attractions have become world-renowned for their beauty, some lesser-known locations can be found off the beaten track. We’ll explore these hidden gems, so you can escape the crowds and discover something extraordinary.

People visiting Golden Circle attractions

What Is the Golden Circle in Iceland?

The Golden Circle is arguably Iceland’s most famous tourist route, taking visitors 190 miles across the land. Starting at the capital of Reykjavík, you’ll drive into the southern uplands, visiting attractions such as Thingvellir National Park, the Geysir geothermal area, and the Gullfoss waterfall. The drive can efficiently be completed in a day. However, some may also enjoy the route for two days to allow time for refueling and viewing sights at a more leisurely pace.

Experience the main Golden Circle attractions differently – join a Geysir Buggy Car Day tour!

Buggy Car tour on Golden Circle

The Golden Circle itinerary is full of charm, showcasing Iceland’s otherworldly fire and ice spectacles. Many people hit the road to see all of the famous bucket-list attractions. However, some beautiful hidden gems along the route are just as beautiful and quieter! Here are some lesser-known attractions and the map of Golden Circle Iceland.

Iceland Golden Circle Map

Discover the wonders of Iceland's iconic Golden Circle with this comprehensive map, guiding you through a mesmerizing route of natural landmarks and cultural treasures. Feel free to use this map for your Golden Circle Iceland itinerary!

Golden Circle Iceland Map

Iceland Golden Circle Hidden Gems: Top 11 Detours

1. Faxi Waterfall

Location: Biskupstungnabraut, 806, Iceland

Opening hours: All year

Price: Free

Faxi is a wide waterfall in South Iceland. People often drive right past this view, unknowing of what’s there. The waterfall is just 11 kilometers (7 miles) from popular attractions Gullfoss and Geysir, making it a very easy site to add to your itinerary. Though these attractions are more popular than Faxi, they lack serenity, with far fewer crowds and more opportunities for unspoiled photographs. During the summer months, you will find an array of birdlife and Icelandic horses grazing on the surrounding grass. There are several hiking trails for you to enjoy around here, too.

Faxi Waterfall Panorama in Iceland

Faxi waterfall on the Golden Circle in Iceland

2. Laugarvatn Town & Spa

Location: Laugarbraut, 840 Laugarvatn, Iceland

Opening hours: Open daily 11:00 -  21:00

Price: 4 500 ISK (Around $33; ticket price to Laugarvatn Fontana for an adult)

The town of Laugarvatn consists of around 200 people and is a very quaint spot surrounded by hills, countryside, and lava fields. The area is also characterized by a pleasant lake rich in aquatic life. Featuring geothermal springs, a spa was developed there, and it is a great place to visit when driving the Golden Circle route. The Laugarvatn Fontana Baths are located in the center of the Golden Circle and offer a unique experience quite different from other Icelandic attractions. The outdoor pools vary in depth, size, and temperature and provide the perfect place to enjoy the healing powers of the geothermal springs. The ideal place to relax after a long day of exploring!

Aerial View of Laugarvatn Fontana Baths In Iceland

Birdseye view of Laugarvatn Fontana Baths in Iceland

3. Friðheimar Tomato Farm

Location: Friðheimar, 806 Reykholt, Iceland

Opening hours: 12:00 - 16:00 

Price: Depends on your meal choices; entrance is free

One of the best places to eat on the Golden Circle, Friðheimar is a food experience like no other. This country-style, family-run restaurant showcases tomato dishes on its menu, grown in its onsite greenhouses. Tomatoes are grown here all year round, despite the long cold winters that fall upon the country. There are also many different tourist experiences to enjoy, such as a greenhouse visit, a horse show, or a visit to the stables. If you’re looking for a lunch spot on the Golden Circle to add to your itinerary, we’d recommend looking at their website. It is advised to book well in advance, so be sure to plan ahead. Where to eat on the Golden Circle in Iceland

Aerial View of Fridheimar Farm in Iceland

Friðheimar tomato farm in Iceland

4. Kerið Crater

Location: Klausturholar, 805, Iceland

Opening hours: All year

Price: 400 ISK (Around $3.20) entrance fee

Kerið is a volcanic crater located in the Grímsnes area in south Iceland along the Golden Circle Iceland route. Approximately three thousand years old, scientists believe that the crater was once a cone-shaped volcano, which upon eruption, depleted its magma reserve, causing it to fall upon itself. This has resulted in a magnificent geological structure of vivid red slopes, contrasting against the blue waters of the lake inside. The crater does sit on privately owned land, so there is a small entrance fee of around 3 USD to allow the area to be maintained by the landowners.

Volcanic Kerid Crater Lake in Iceland

Kerið Volcanic Crater Lake in South Iceland

5. Secret Lagoon (Gamla Laugin)

Location: Hvammsvegur, 845 Flúðir, Iceland

Opening hours: From 1st of October to 31st of May: 10:00 - 19:00; From 1st of June to 30th of September: from 10:00 - 20:00

Price: 3 300 ISK (Around $24 for an adult) 

The Secret Lagoon, known in Icelandic as Gamla Laugin, is the oldest swimming pool in Iceland. The lagoon provides a natural bathing experience in warming waters heated by geothermal activity. You can expect a similar pool to the Blue Lagoon, however, without the larger crowds and milky blue waters. The Secret Lagoon’s completely natural surroundings with warm, mineral-rich waters offer a rejuvenating experience like no other. As night falls, during the winter season, the Northern Lights illuminate the sky, creating a magical atmosphere. Relax in this serene oasis or explore the lagoon's nooks and crannies for a truly unforgettable adventure!

Walking Path in Secret Lagoon Iceland

The geothermal area of the Secret Lagoon in Iceland

6. Thorufoss Waterfall

Location: Kjósarskarðsvegur, 276, Iceland

Opening hours: All year

Price: Free

Þórufoss, located near Reykjavik on the Golden Circle Route, is a breathtaking sight plunging 18 meters (62 feet) over a rounded cliff. Featured in Game of Thrones, Thorufoss Waterfall served as a filming location for the home of the Children of the Forest in the series. To reach Thorufoss, you can follow Route 36, and at the location, a short hike leads to a viewpoint offering mesmerizing views of the waterfall. The frozen beauty will enchant nature enthusiasts and fans of the series in winter and the cascading waters year-round, making Thorufoss a must-visit destination in Iceland.

Thorufoss Waterfall, Iceland

7. Helgufoss Waterfall

Location: 5FF9+X8J, 271 Mosfellsbær, Iceland

Opening hours: All year

Price: Free

Nestled in the lush Mosfellsdalur valley along the Golden Circle Iceland route, Helgufoss Waterfall is quietly waiting to be discovered. With its picturesque charm and serene surroundings, this 12-meter (40 feet) waterfall cascades down a moss-covered cliff into a shallow river, framed by ancient lava rock walls. The valley offers a glimpse of rural bliss, featuring rolling fields dotted with Icelandic horses, sheep, and charming barns and churches. Not only is Helgufoss easily accessible and close to Reykjavík, but it also holds historical significance as the home of Iceland's only Nobel Laureate, Haldor Laxness. And here’s an extra-secret tip: embark on the Laxness hiking trail (the Poets Path) from the same car park and explore the cultural heritage of this hidden treasure.

Helgufoss Waterfall, Iceland

8. Hrunalaug Hot Spring

Location: Sólheimar, 846 Flúðir, Iceland

Opening hours: 8:00 - 10:00

Price: 1000 ISK (or $7.50)

Looking for a relaxing break? Nestled in Flúðir, within Golden Circle, Hrunalaug hot spring is a secluded gem for an authentic bathing experience. With stone-walled and concrete pools, it offers soothing waters at a consistent temperature of 38°C. Accommodating 3-4 people in the concrete pool and around 7 in the larger pool, Hrunalaug provides tranquility amidst a scenic landscape of plains, mountains, and trails. Located on private property, a short 2-minute walk from the parking lot, visiting during off-peak hours is recommended for a peaceful atmosphere. Remember to pay the 1000 ISK (USD 7.50) fee in cash to support the local farmer who maintains this cherished Icelandic treasure!

Hrunalaug Hot Spring, Iceland

9. Brúarhlöð Canyon

Location: 7Q6H+35R, Skeiða- og Hrunamannavegur, 846 Iceland

Opening hours: All year

Price: Free

Explore the hidden treasure of Brúarhlöð Canyon, nestled in Golden Circle. Accessible from Route 30, it's approximately 72 miles from Reykjavik, making it an ideal addition to a self-drive Golden Circle tour. This lesser-known attraction boasts extraordinary rock formations carved by the powerful Hvita River over centuries. Despite being close to popular sites like Gullfoss waterfall and Geysir geothermal area, Brúarhlöð Canyon is often overlooked. Embark on a short hike to enjoy panoramic views of the dark rock pillars and unique formations from the canyon’s summit. For a thrilling adventure, experience the Hvita River through a river rafting tour, where the chalky water contrasts beautifully against the canyon's sides. Rich in history and folklore, Brúarhlöð Canyon is also said to be home to petrified trolls!

Brúarhlöð Canyon, Iceland

10. Skálholt

Location: Skálholt, 806 Selfoss, Iceland

Price & Opening Hours: The prices to visit the attractions in Skálholt vary depending on the specific sites and activities you wish to explore. While some areas of Skálholt, such as the cathedral and the outdoor grounds, may be open for public access free of charge, certain attractions like the museum or guided tours might have admission fees. It is advisable to check the official website or contact the Skálholt Information Center for the most up-to-date information regarding ticket prices and any available package deals.

Skálholt, located in the south of Iceland, is a captivating historical site that holds great significance in the country's cultural and political heritage. Once a bustling hub overseen by bishops, Skálholt is nestled between the picturesque rivers of Hvítá and Brúará, near Þorláksbúð. This charming town, although not densely populated with approximately 160 residents, attracts a multitude of tourists who are drawn to its rich history. The magnificent Skálholt cathedral, situated in the lower part of the Biskupstungur valley, stands as a testament to its ecclesiastic past. When visiting  Skálholt, explore various captivating attractions, including the cathedral, the tomb of bishops, a museum, and a 13th-century tunnel. Additionally, the site offers a fascinating glimpse into the archaeological excavations conducted in 1954, where relics such as the sarcophagus of Páll Jónsson and ancient books are on display. As a center of spirituality, culture, and history, Skálholt has timeless allure.

Cathedral of the Skalholt in Iceland

11. Efsti-Dalur II Farm

Location: Efstidalur, 801 Bláskógabyggð, Iceland

Opening hours: Monday to Sunday, 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM *hours can change, contact the farm before visiting +354 486 1186.

Price: Entrance to the farm is free; prices for dairy products and restaurant meals vary.

Efsti-Dalur II Farm is a renowned agricultural establishment in Iceland's beautiful countryside. It is situated near the Golden Circle route and offers visitors a unique farm experience focusing on dairy production. The farm is home to a thriving herd of cows that graze on the surrounding fields, providing fresh milk for their onsite dairy production. Visitors can witness the milking process and even try their hand at milking cows themselves. Additionally, Efsti-Dalur II Farm features a charming restaurant that serves delicious homemade ice cream made from their own milk and other farm-to-table dishes. The farm's cozy atmosphere, picturesque surroundings, and authentic farm experiences make it worth visiting while driving the Golden Circle route Iceland.

Efstidalur with Northern Lights in the background

Driving the Golden Circle

Driving the Golden Circle on your own is like having the keys to Iceland's treasure chest. It's a chance to dive into the heart of this fascinating country at your own pace, with the open road as your guide. If you are generally used to driving, completing the route is a piece of cake. The roads are in great shape, and you'll spot signs pointing you in the right direction to the main attractions.

Speaking of the main attractions, starting from Reykjavik, you're in for a treat as you visit three major attractions that will leave you in awe.

Car driving along the Golden Circle

First up is Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where you can strut your stuff by walking between two continents. It's like playing hopscotch with tectonic plates! And don't miss the Alþingi, an ancient Viking Parliament that'll make you feel like a time traveler.

Next on the list is the Geysir Geothermal Area, where Mother Nature puts on a spectacular show just for you. The Strokkur geyser is the real diva here, erupting on cue and shooting hot water high into the sky. It's like nature's own version of fireworks, and you're front row center.

Saving the best for last, Gullfoss Waterfall steals the show with its powerful cascade into a rugged canyon. Prepare to have your breath taken away as you witness the sheer force and beauty of this natural wonder. You'll be reaching for your camera faster than you can say "cheese!"And of course, if you really want to uncover the hidden gems tucked away along the Golden Circle, be sure to check out our insider tips and recommendations that we shared earlier. They'll take your adventure to the next level!

Our range of self-drive tours include a variety of options to explore the thrilling Golden Circle.

Woman enjoying scenery at Kerid crater, Iceland

Now, while driving solo gives you the freedom to be the master of your own adventure, there's something to be said about joining a guided tour. Our Golden Circle guided tours come with the added bonus of knowledgeable local guides who spill the beans on all the juicy details. Plus, they handle the driving, leaving you free to soak in the sights and snap envy-inducing photos. Not to mention, they often throw in some secret spots and extra stops like Golden Circle, Super Jeep, and Snowmobiling tour! Check out our West to East Tour, covering the whole South Coast combined with a whole lot more.

If you're looking for a bespoke experience of the Golden Circle in a more intimate setting, take a look at our private tour packages.

Conclusion

Hopefully you saved this blog, as we don’t recommend missing out on these secret spots on the Golden Circle! So, whether you choose to go full-on explorer mode or opt for a guided tour, get ready for a Golden Circle experience that will leave you starstruck by Iceland's natural wonders and history. Oh, and don't forget to check out our picks for the best spots to eat on the Golden Circle and note these tips on where to stay on the Golden Circle - it will surely save you time on research. Happy adventures!

 

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