The Golden Circle is a 3-stop day trip that includes Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall and Geysir Geothermal Area. Spend a day exploring top natural wonders along the most popular tour route in Iceland!
The Golden Circle is the most popular tourist route in Iceland and driving the Golden Circle will take you to the most unique and greatly different locations that should definitely be on your Iceland bucket list!
There are three main sites of interest on the Golden Circle tourist route:
Thingvellir National Park is one the most historical sites you will find in Iceland, located in the middle of a lava field it is also where the two tectonic plates meet and where you can actually snorkel or dive in between them. It is a place of great natural beauty and important historical events.
The next stop on the Golden Circle is at the incredible Geysir Geothermal Area, home to the famous Geysir and his active baby brother Strokkur whose fountain bursts into the air every 4-10 minutes. The area is smoke-filled due to geothermal vents, but there are great paths and marked viewing points so it is perfectly safe to explore.
The third stop is the grand finale, nothing like the other stops and truly one of Iceland’s most popular tourist spots. Gullfoss Waterfall or the Golden Waterfall is an exquisite phenomenon to witness. Dropping two stories down into a glacier-carved gully the meltwater changes color often so the waterfall never completely looks the same.
GPS coordinates of Golden Circle 64.2558° N, 21.1299° W
The history of Iceland and the Icelandic nation is not as evident in any location as it is at Þingvellir. It is where the Parliament Alþingi was founded in the year 930 c.e. and where people gathered to make laws and big decisions all the way through 1798.
Many of the nation’s greatest moments have taken place at Þingvellir and for most Icelanders, Þingvellir holds a place in their hearts. Þingvellir is a UNESCO-protected heritage site and in Icelandic laws, you can read that Þingvellir’s land will and should always be a mutual property of the Icelandic nation and under the protection of the parliament.
Hidden away in Thingvellir National Park, this small historic church is a standing testament to the past. The Thingvellir Church, which Icelandic name is Þingvallakirkja, dates back to 1859. This small wooden church, surrounded by peaceful scenery, resembles more a cabin than a house of worship. Next to the church, a small cemetery with just around 30 graves can be found. It is truly a surreal resting place in the middle of the national park.
Studies in recent decades have led to the conclusion that Þingvellir National Park is a natural wonder on a global scale and that Þingvallavatn Lake and Þingvellir's ecosystem form a unique whole. Around Lake Þingvallavatn, Icelanders have watched new creatures come to life, and active earthquakes have completely reformed the area frequently through the centuries.
This is the very spot where two continental plates, the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, meet. The rift between them runs right through Thingvellir National Park.
You can visit the meeting of the tectonic plates in many different locations at Þingvellir and even go snorkeling or diving in between if you join a tour in Silfra Fissure, which was rated one of the top ten activities in the world by TripAdvisor in 2019.
Davíðsgjá (David's Crack) is a 21-meter-deep crack in Lake Thingvellir. It is profoundly deeper, longer, and much spookier than its relative, Silfra. Although it's not as famous as his sibling, it is definitely preferred by the local diver community. At Davíðsgjá, you'd be walking straight into the water and entering the long, deep fissure. Underwater visibility depends on the weather and, on nice days, it can reach up to 100 meters! If you prefer less touristy diving spots, Davíðsgjá is just right for you!
Don't forget to read out detailed guide on diving in Iceland before embarking on an underwater adventure!
Almannagjá, a beautiful narrow gorge located in Thingvellir National Park, marks the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. This outstanding valley marks some of the most important moments in Icelandic history. It is where the first parliament was held, and laws were made. It is also where the final decision to convert to Christianity took place. Icelanders consider Almannagja the nation's birthplace and celebrate their sovereignty and independence here.
Öxarárfoss is a waterfall located within the Thingvellir National Park. Hidden by the small hill, it uncovers the spectacular view of water cascading down the cliffs of the the Almannagjá Gorge. The waterfall is 13 meters (44 feet) high and 6 meters (20 feet) wide. It's not Iceland's biggest waterfall, but certainly one of the most authentic. During the cold winters, the Öxarárfoss entirely freezes over, turning into an astonishing ice sculpture.
Althing, or Alþingi in Icelandic, today is the oldest surviving parliament in the world. The Althing took place at Thingvellir from 930, when it was first founded, till 1798, when the Danish crown abolished it. Althing was organized as the gathering of free people to settle the legislative matters and arguments between neighbors. Today, the Icelandic parliament is gathered in the country's capital, Reykjavik. It consists of 63 members, who are elected every four years.
Logberg, or "The Law Rock," was the place where the Law Speaker proclaimed the laws of the Commonwealth out loud. This person had to memorize all the laws and had three years to recite them. The Legislative Assembly, Lögrétta, picked the Law Speaker. He was the only employee of the Commonwealth and the most influential person at Althing. For the rest of the year, he was officially powerless but still highly respected by the countrymen and countrywomen for his significant role.
For many years, Icelandic people had a tradition of throwing coins into Peningagjá (Money fault) and making a wish. This fault, previously named Nikulásargjá, had its name changed, mainly because of this tradition. Attempting to collect coins is strictly forbidden because it is unethical to steal "people's wishes" and extremely dangerous as the water in the fault is deadly cold.
Drekkingarhylur, "The Drowning Pool," has a dark history, as you could have guessed from its name. This deep pool in the Öxará river was formerly used as a place of execution. Once found guilty of some crime, the men were usually hanged. Otherwise, women were executed in a "more delicate" manner. They were tied in sacks and held beneath the water with sticks till they drowned. The crimes they were punished for were usually adultery, incest, and murdering infants. This type of sentence was carried out up to the early 18th century!
The Þingvellir area is home to a rich history, the fascinating Law Rock and Almannagjá, and a place of great beauty, birch forests, and some of the most enchanting waterfalls in Iceland. You can't and shouldn't miss it!
GPS coordinates: 64.3104° N, 20.3024° W
Geysers and hot springs are among Iceland's most remarkable features, and with more than 700 such sources, there is no shortage of hot water. The heat which shoots up from the earth's molten core creates unique formations in a fascinating array of shapes and sizes, one of them being the Haukadalur Valley and hot spring area, home to both Geysir and Strokkur geysers.
The most famous Icelandic geyser is the Great Geysir, the king of all geysers, and the word geyser in the English language is taken from this particular geyser. The name Geysir originates from the Icelandic verb að geysa or to gush and is very fitting as the Great Geysir has, at some point in time, spouted up to about 170 meters (557.743 ft)!
Today Geysir has gone quiet, but when it did, it seems as if his baby brother, Strokkur, gained the power Geysir lost and now shoots into the sky every four to ten minutes with great applause from the audience present. Strokkur usually erupts from 15 to 20 meters (49-65,6 ft) into the sky.
Kúalaug is a set of two small geothermal pools located next to one another. Both pools, situated in the Bláskógabyggð area, are approximately 40°C (104°F). Even though they are little, there's enough space to fit six people! If you're looking for a more peaceful place to enjoy hot springs, these pools might be just for you!
Haukadalur valley is a geothermal area home to Great Geysir and Strokkur. The area is known for hot springs and boiling mud pots. Even though the hot springs have probably been active in Haukadalur valley for 10,000 years, it wasn't discovered until the late 13th century when the geothermal activity began after an earthquake. In the 18th century, tourists started to come to the area to bathe in mineral baths, benefit from therapeutic mud and watch geysers explode high into the sky.
Laugarvatn Fontana is a geothermal spa located right in the center of the famous Golden Circle. It's a perfect place to experience the healing powers of geothermal springs. You can soak in the natural pools and relax, enjoying the view of the surrounding mountains and peaceful scenery. After bubbling in hot springs, you can dip into a refreshing lake nearby.
Blesi is a hot spring in the Geysir geothermal area above the Great Geysir and Strokkur. It looks like a pair of glasses or two blue eyes from above. It is not currently active, but the series of 2000 earthquakes once awakened it. Even though it is not as popular as other hot springs in the area, it is enjoyable to see its serene blue color, which resembles the Blue lagoon.
GPS coordinates: N64° 19′ 38.220″ W20° 7′ 8.135″
Gullfoss or the Golden Falls is usually the last stop people make on the Golden Circle route. It is a stunning and powerful waterfall located in the glacial river Hvítá, which originates in Langjökull, Iceland's second-largest glacier. It is a true totem of Iceland as it is one of Iceland's best-known landmarks.
In early 190, the plan was to turn it into a power plant, but with the resilient fight of a local farmer's daughter Sigríður Tómasdóttir the projects ended up not going through. For this, we are eternally thankful as the mesmerizing two-story drop fall entertains and truly takes the breath away from anyone who visits.
About one kilometer above Gullfoss Waterfall, the Hvítá river makes a sharp turn to the right. It then flows down into a vast curved three-story gorge that abruptly plunges into a much higher two-story valley that is the home to the actual waterfall. The first drop is 11 meters (36 ft), and the second is 21 meters (69 ft), making the waterfall exceptionally impressive.
The average volume of water falling down the waterfall is 140 cubic meters (4,900 cu ft) per second in the summer and 80 cubic meters (2,800 cu ft) per second in the winter. The most significant flood ever to be measured contained 2,000 cubic meters (71,000 cu ft) per second.
The Golden Circe is easy to travel year-round. Plus, Golden Circle directions are simple, and the distance from Reykjavík to the first stop is only about 45 minutes. You won't have to go far into the highlands, and the roads are pretty good.
The roads are all clear in the summertime, and you can expect to see young lambs and ponies playing in the farm fields surrounding the stops. The grass is beautifully green, and yellow flowers grow all around.
In wintertime, you might have a harder time driving on the roads around the Golden Circle as they can get slippery. Still, the Golden Circle area is a true winter wonderland with snow-covered grounds, furry Icelandic horses, and the arctic fox scoping around.
The overall look is like something out of a Christmas card, and you come to see why we named it Ice-land. You can also hop on another tour to explore South Iceland.
The look of the circle is very different depending on the season, and many have described it as two very different planets. You simply must experience both!
There are plenty of great spots to eat along Iceland’s famous route. Check out our favorite places to eat lunch on the Golden Circle:
Friðheimar Tomato Farm for some tomato soup and an authentic experience
Efstidalur II for some homemade dairy deliciousness
Hérðasskólinn Restaurant and Bistro for some old-school feel and yummy food
Laugarvatn Fontana Spa has a lovely restaurant for you to enjoy – fresh and healthy
The Gullfoss café for some Icelandic lamb meat soup and a warm cup of coffee
Minilik Ethiopian Restaurant for a step into a whole different culture
Þrastarlundur for excellent brunch or pizzas
Restaurant Mika for a great variety of tasty plates
The Golden Circle has plenty of accommodation options for you to enjoy, anything from hotels to hostels to cabins and cottages. For more detail, read our blog on hotels on the Golden Circle. Here we will list the ones with the highest rating:
Cabins and Cottages:
Thingvellir offers two camping grounds. One at Leirar which is divided into 4 different ones and the one at Vatnskot. The facilities include toilets, BBQs, showers, washers, and dryers.
Open from the 1st of June until the 1st of September.
Geysir Camping Ground is within a walking distance from great Geysir. Facilities on-site include showers (500 ISK), WCs, access to electricity, washing machines, WIFI, a golf course, and a playground.
Open from the 15th of May until the 15th of September.
Skjól Camping Ground is located in between Gullfoss and Geysir. Their facilities include a restaurant, showers, WCs, WIFI, washers, access to electricity, a restaurant, a golf course, and walking paths.
Open all year round.
Faxi Camping Ground is a quiet and beautiful location next to the waterfall Faxi. The facilities include cooking facilities, electricity, toilets, showers, a swimming pool, a restaurant, and walking paths.
Open from the 15th of May until the 30th of September.
Úthlíð Camping Ground is a campsite very near Geysir. Facilities include cooking stations, toilets, showers, electricity, a golf course, a playground, and a swimming pool.
Open from May to September but all year round for campers.
Camping in Iceland can be truly an amazing experience. To avoid any surprises, we recommend checking out this comprehensive camping in Iceland guide.
Situated in the center of West Iceland, the Golden Circle is within easy reach of some incredible detours. Take a few hours before or after your tour to explore nearby sites.
Kerið volcanic crater lake -this volcanic crater lake is located in the Grímsnes area, in South Iceland, along the Golden Circle route. It is a unique geological marvel with bright red-colored slopes.
Blue Lagoon - is probably the most famous geothermal pool in Iceland. The water temperature in the lagoon is always around 38 °C (100.4 °F) and the water naturally renews itself every 40 hours!
Thjorsardalur Valley - Þjórsárdalur valley is located on the edge of the Southern Icelandic Highlands and includes several marvels, including waterfalls and hot springs.
Langjökull Glacier - it's the second-biggest glacier in Iceland, covering 935 square kilometers (351 square miles). Langjökull is particularly popular for hiking, snowmobiling, skiing, and other winter activities.
Faxi Waterfall - Faxi is a wide, picturesque waterfall in the Tungufljót River, only 12 km (7.45 mi) away from Gullfoss and Geysir. It makes a perfect stop for a detour when traveling along the Golden Circle route.
Thorufoss Waterfall - Þórufoss is another picturesque waterfall not far from the main Golden Circle route. This 18 m (62 ft) high waterfall can be found east of Lake Þingvallavatn.
The Secret Lagoon - this man-made pool naturally filled with hot springs is located in the geothermal area of Hverahólmi. This lagoon is next to the Flúðir, a village known for its volcanic activity.
Fridheimar Tomato Farm - Fridheimar is one of Iceland's most unique tomato farms. The delicious tomato soup is being served in the greenhouse with freshly baked bread and cucumber salsa.
Skalholt Historical Site - Skalholt was once considered one of the most important cultural and political centers in Iceland. Between 1056 and 1785, it was one of two of Iceland's episcopal seats.
Slakki Zoo - Iceland is home to some of the unique animal species in the world. Your best chance to meet and pet some of them is at the Slakki Zoo!
Flúðir Geothermal Village - Fludir is a small, picturesque town located in the center of South Iceland. Fludir is most famous for its geothermal pool, Secret Lagoon.
Sólheimar Eco Village - Sólheimar ("Home of the Sun") is known for its sustainable values, artistic outlook, and international community ethics. The community of around 100 people, with or without special needs, lives and works together. Their main activity is organic farming. There are also environmental projects, including geothermal energy and recycling.
Nesjavellir Geothermal Plant - Nesjavellir Geothermal Power Plant is the second-largest of its kind in Iceland. Here you can learn how Icelanders transform geothermal power into electricity.
Hellisheiði Power Station (Hellisheiðarvirkjun) - the world's third-largest geothermal power station, is located in Hengill, Southern Iceland. This geothermal power plant generates electricity and hot water for heating houses in Reykjavik's district.
Hveragerði Town - due to the active geothermal activity, Hveragerði has often been nicknamed "the Hot Spring town." Here you will have many hot springs to dip into, which makes a perfect break while traveling through Golden Circle.
Gjabakkahellir Cave - Gjabakkahellir is a 364-meter lava tube in Thingvellir National Park. It formed approximately 9000 years ago, following a volcanic eruption.
Thingvallakirkja Church - behind the Þingvallabær farmhouse, stands one of the first churches in Iceland. It was constructed in the 11th century and reconstructed many times since. Some of the independence-era famous poets, including Jónas Hallgrímsson and Einar Benediktsson, are buried in the cemetery nearby.
Efstidalur - this primarily dairy farm is entirely run by one family, passing from one generation to the next one. People are coming here to see horses or stop by at the restaurant and ice cream barn. There are also hotel facilities for those wishing to stay the night in the middle of the farm's scenery.
About Golden Circle
The Golden Circle includes Gullfoss Waterfall, Geysir geothermal area, and Thingvellir National Park.
The term Golden Circle was adopted as a term by Iceland tourism some years ago. It includes several sites of interest to tourists on an easy drive from Reykjavik.
This will always depend on the weather, if you are looking to do additional activities, and where you are planning to end up (in Reykjavík or at another location). The standard Golden Circle route from Reykjavík and back with a good stop at each location will take about 6 hours.
Yes, there are! The Silver Circle sends you off exploring Borgarfjörður and includes stops like Deildartunguhver hot spring, Hraunfossar & Barnafoss waterfalls, Krauma Geothermal baths and Reykholt. Another circle is the Diamond Circle situated in the North and includes stops like Lake Mývatn, Dettifoss waterfall, Ásbyrgi, and Húsavík.