Our Golden Circle tour of Iceland takes you to the three most popular sights in the country: Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park, Geysir Hot Spring Area and Gullfoss Waterfall. Travel the 300 km circle from Reykjavik to see Iceland’s most beautiful wonders.
The Golden Circle tour is the most popular tour to do in Iceland — and for good reason. As you explore extraordinary history, gushing geysers and roaring waterfalls, you’ll understand what Iceland’s nature is all about. You can see the Golden Circle yourself on a self-drive tour or join a guided tour to get the most out of this incredible tour route.
The Golden Circle tour consists of three main stops in Southwest Iceland. Tours usually stop first at Thingvellir National park, located only 45 minutes from Reykjavík. The second stop is Geysir and the third is Gullfoss waterfall. Along the circle, you can also stop at Kerid Crater, Laugarvatn Lake, Hellisheiðarvirkjun Geothermal Power Plant and historic Skálholt.
Fun Fact about the Golden Circle: It’s not actually a circle! However, if you add a stop at Flúðir and drive the South Coast back to Reykjavík, you will then make a circle.
The Golden Circle in Iceland offers everything from white water rafting to homemade ice cream. You’re sure to have a blast as you explore this famous part of Iceland.
Þingvellir, which is often spelled Thingvellir and sometimes misspelled Pingvellir, is not only a geological wonder. It’s also one of Iceland’s most historic locations! One of the earliest democratic parliaments in the world was founded here in 930 CE. Vikings gathered in Thingvellir to settle arguments among themselves.
In this breathtaking park, waterfalls plunge down lava cliffs and the continental plates visibly drift apart.
Thingvellir is full of unique natural wonders. As you walk between Almannagjá við Lava Rocks, you’ll feel as if both sides are closing in on you. See Lögberg (“the law rock”), where people used to recite their cases and verdicts. Stroll around crystal-clear lakes like Peningsgjá (“money pond”), Drekkingarhylur (“drowning pond”) and the famous Silfra Fissure. In Silfra, you can go on guided tours snorkeling or diving in between the continental plates.
Thingvellir is a centerpiece of Icelandic culture. Many of the country’s biggest historical events occurred here and they are still taught in the Icelandic school system. If you want to understand Iceland, you need to go to Thingvellir!
The Great Geysir in Haukadalur put Iceland on the map. When travelers first started coming to Iceland years ago, they would always visit the Great Geysir. The first recorded mention of the English word “geyser” is from a 1763 travel description. From there the word caught on and today it’s used for all geysers.
The name Geysir is taken from the Nordic verb “að geysa,” which means “to gush.” This was very fitting when Geysir was at its most active and spout water 170 meters (557.7 ft) into the air.
Geysir is very sensitive to geothermal and earthquake activity and has shut down a few times in living memory. Researchers believe that the Geysir has been active for approximately 10,000 years!
The oldest account of the hot springs in Haukadalur valley dates back to 1294. In the record, the writer describes new hot springs that formed during an earthquake. However, records from 1630 state that Geysir erupted so violently that the region shook like an earthquake.
Geysir is currently dormant. In its place, the explosive Strokkur is getting all the attention.
But what is Strokkur?
Strokkur is Geysir’s baby brother and the most active geyser on the Golden Circle. Strokkur erupts every 4-10 minutes. The jets of water shoot up 15-20 meters (49.2 to 65.6 ft) into the sky, causing synchronized gasps of awe in the crowd. Strokkur’s name means “churn,” like an old-fashioned butter churn.
The first recorded mention of Strokkur is from 1879. An earthquake unblocked the geyser’s channel and it started to erupt.
You need to be careful when visiting Strokkur. The water is extremely hot. At only 1 meter (3,2 ft) in depth, the temperature is 90-95°C (194-203°F).
Gullfoss, or the Golden Falls, is usually the last stop on the Golden Circle tour. The mesmerizing two-story, 32-meter (104.9 ft) waterfall originates at Langjökull glacier, the second-largest glacier in Iceland. Gullfoss then gushes through a rough canyon, creating an awesome scene. The waterfall is one of the most popular attractions in Iceland. The Hvítá river running through it has the best whitewater rafting in the country,
Gullfoss waterfall is extremely powerful. The average volume of water that passes through it is is 140 cubic meters (4,900 cubic feet) per second. The falls plummet down two drops. The first is 11 meters (36 ft) one and the second is 21 meters (105 ft). The two drops make the waterfall even more scenic and photogenic.
You can view the waterfall from a viewing platform above, down by the lower parking lot, or by walking down to the platform of the first drop. We recommend trying them all as each vista is unique!
From certain angles, the water seems to fall and disappear into the ground. The further down you, the more endless the stream of water seems to be.
Driving the Golden Circle from Reykjavík and back, without stops, takes 3 hours and 20 minutes. But we don’t recommend going that quickly! Each stop deserves at least 20-30 minutes of exploration. At Thingvellir, you’ll need even more time to walk through the park and learn about its rich history.
The Golden Circle is usually a half day tour. If you add food stops and other attractions, you will have a full day. To make the most of your Golden Circle tour, add bonus adventures, like snorkeling in Silfra Fissure or relaxing in the the Secret Lagoon.
The Golden Circle is a great day trip all year round! Winter is a magical time to drive the route. Still, it’s important to dress warmly, wear proper hiking shoes (you can also purchase ice grips for your shoes at any gas station) and have experience driving in snow and ice. Check road conditions online at www.road.is and make sure you have good winter tires.
If you’d rather not drive in winter, join a guided Golden Circle tour that brings you directly to the sights.
Iceland’s most famous destinations lie on the Golden Circle. The three most popular stops are Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area and Gullfoss Waterfall. However, you can also add many other stops along the way, such as Kerid Crater, Laugarvatn Lake, Hellisheiðarvirkjun Geothermal Power Plant and historic Skálholt. How much you want to see on the Golden Circle is up to you!
The three most popular stops on the Golden Circle are Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area and Gullfoss Waterfall. You can also stop at restaurants and cafes near these notable attractions and add on stops at Kerid Crater, Laugarvatn Lake, Hellisheiðarvirkjun Geothermal Power Plant and historic Skálholt.
The Blue Lagoon is slightly west of the Golden Circle. However, all of these destinations are located close together in Southwest Iceland. Many Golden Circle tours also stop at the Blue Lagoon.
No fee is required to drive on the Golden Circle route. All sites on the Golden Circle are free to visit with the exception of Kerid Crater.
The name Golden Circle comes from one of the most popular stops on the route: Gullfoss Waterfall, or “the golden falls.” This title perfectly describes the beauty and magic of this special part of Iceland.