Are you planning a road trip on the island or visiting any of the most popular attractions? Well, the odds of you ending up on the Golden Circle in Iceland at least once are high. Whether you intend to drive the Golden Circle in Iceland, going on a Golden Circle tour in Iceland, or just happen to find yourself on the Golden Circle by happy accident – this article is for you.
We dive into everything from what the Golden Circle is to what you can expect from the Golden Circle. We'll also see where to stay, and what the perfect Golden Circle in Iceland itinerary looks like. So, without further ado, let’s jump right into it!
The Golden Circle in Iceland
The Golden Circle in Iceland is one of the most popular routes to drive on the island. Many of Iceland’s famous attractions and activities can be found along this route. The Golden Circle is also incredibly convenient as it can be explored via a guided tour, as a self-drive day outing, or a proper Iceland road trip. That makes it a go-to irrespective of how much time you have available on the island.
Where is the Golden Circle in Iceland?
The Golden Circle is, as the name suggests, a loop road that goes around the South western part of the island. It allows visitors to go as far into the Highlands of Iceland as possible without having to rent a 4x4 vehicle.
Most start their Golden Circle tour from Reykjavík. Although you can, technically, link up to the road from various places across the island. The Golden Circle route is also often included or forms part of other popular road trip routes, such as the Ring Road in Iceland.
How Long is the Golden Circle in Iceland?
The Golden Circle in Iceland is 230 km long and can actually be driven in just 3 hours if you don’t stop at all (obviously this is not recommended). If you add the most notorious Golden Circle stops along the way, it’ll be roughly 300 km long. It is generally recommended that you put aside at least 2–3 days to properly experience everything the route has to offer.
How to Drive the Golden Circle in Iceland
As we’ve already mentioned, most prefer kicking off their Golden Circle drive from Reykjavík or having it as part of a much longer road trip route such as the Ring Road. You can also decide whether you would like to take the route on in a clockwise fashion, taking Road 36 northeast.
Alternatively, you can opt for driving the route counterclockwise. It is, perhaps, a wise choice during the busier summer season. Simply, start the drive off by taking the Ring Road 1 southeast and onto Road 35.
The Road Conditions of the Golden Circle in Iceland
As one of the main routes on the island, the Golden Circle is a route that is mostly paved and that you’ll find in excellent condition the majority of the time. The Golden Circle is also a route that remains open all throughout the year. In contrast, road closures in the Highlands region are pretty prevalent during the winter season.
Driving the Golden Circle in Iceland during the winter will also generally be just as challenging as most other road conditions on the island. You will have to compete with those legendary Iceland winds. Those that threaten to take over the driving on your behalf. You’ll also need to compete with the possibility of getting stuck in the snow and also need to navigate icy conditions that turn normal roads into ice rinks.
So, if you consider yourself not very experienced in driving in colder weather, we’d recommend visiting during the warmer months.
When is the Best Time to Drive the Golden Circle in Iceland?
As we’ve touched on, the Golden Circle route remains open all year round. Still, driving on the Iceland roads during the colder months might not be advisable if you don’t feel comfortable enough. But the other big factor that needs to be taken into consideration here on the island is daylight hours.
Luckily, the Golden Circle is one of the few road trip routes that are short enough compared to other routes. Even the drastically diminished daylight hours of the colder months might not impact your daily activity as much. It might still be wise to extend a Golden Circle trip when you reach a point where you’re trying to squeeze too much. Such as driving along with all sorts of sights and attractions within a mere 4 hours of daylight mid-winter.
Things to See and Do Along the Golden Circle in Iceland
As we already mentioned, there are plenty of popular things to do and see directly along, or on a short detour from, the Golden Circle route. These include:
Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir National Park is not just one of Iceland’s national parks, but also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As can be expected, it is a beautiful place, and it has many popular attractions and activities. The most demanded ones are diving or snorkeling the Silfra Fissure. That's the crack where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates are pushing each other apart.
But, if you are planning on diving the Silfra, you will need to have sufficient experience and have your diving license with you.
The island boasts 10.000 waterfalls, and you can see a few of the most popular Iceland waterfalls on a Golden Circle drive. These include:
The Secret Lagoon
The Secret Lagoon (aka Gamla Laugin) is the oldest swimming pool in Iceland. We use the term swimming pool very loosely – expect a natural hot spring rather than a Blue Lagoon or Sky Lagoon.
The Secret Lagoon got its name because people seemingly completely forgot about its existence for a certain period of time. Then, it was discovered anew and enjoyed by the public to this day.
Geysir Geothermal Area
Geysir is essentially the precursor of all geysers. It was Geysir that established the very name. Geysers are like little water volcanoes, erupting every once in a while by spewing hot water meters into the air. Although Geysir itself is no longer active, it’s still worth the visit to see this legend up close and personal. If you walk just a couple of meters on, you’ll find Stokkur which is still a very active geyser and erupts every 5-10 minutes.
Kerid Crater is exactly what it sounds like; a volcanic crater. But when you visit this site today, its claim to fame is no longer a possible eruption. Still, the bright green-blue murky waters of the lake that now fills the crater are worth checking out.
Just keep in mind that Kerid usually freezes over during the winter months. So, if you want to see what’s depicted in your tourist pamphlet, you’ll need to come during the summer months.
If you consider yourself a foodie or simply love things that are out of the ordinary, Fridheimar is not to be missed. Fridheimar is a working greenhouse that treats visitors to dishes at its restaurant that are made from its local ingredients.
These meals are more than just delicious. When you swallow them down with a nice, big gulp of tomato beer, you’ll understand why Fridheimar is such a unique and special place. If you’re lucky, you might even catch one of the horse shows.
This is yet another fascinating stop. It is one of the oldest eco-villages in Europe, and has actually been a self-sustainable and environmentally friendly village for almost a century! Especially interesting if you have an appreciation for environmentally friendly architecture.
Where to Stay Along the Golden Circle in Iceland
All sorts of accommodation can be found along the Golden Circle in Iceland. Rest assured that you will find accommodation to suit your needs and your budget. Some of the popular options are:
A 2-day Golden Circle Itinerary
Below you will find a detailed 2-day itinerary for driving the Golden Circle in Iceland. Please note that this itinerary runs clockwise from the capital city of Reykjavík and is easily extended by simply spreading out the various Golden Circle stops across another day or two:
Day 1: Reykjavík – Geysir Geothermal Area – Gulfoss – Fludir
You will start this road trip drive by driving 50 km (or about 50 minutes) from Reykjavík to Thingvellir National Park.
From there, you will drive 61 km (or about 50 minutes) to Geysir Geothermal Area.
From Geysir, it’s a short 10 km (about 9 minutes) drive to Gulfoss Waterfall.
From Gulfoss Waterfall you’ll be driving about 30 km (roughly 30 minutes) to your chosen accommodation in Fludir.
*If you still have some time left today, add a quick stop and a soak in the Secret Lagoon (also conveniently located in Fludir).
Day 2: Fludir – Hrunalaug – Gjain Viking Area – Haifoss – Pjodveldisbærinn Stöng – Kerid – Reykjavik
The second leg of your Golden Circle road trip will begin with just a short 6 km drive (or roughly 10 minutes) to Hrunalaug Hot Spring. Just keep in mind that you need to place $10 per person in the box attached to the fence. This is what allows the owner to keep the hot spring maintained and open to the public.
From Hrunalaug you will head out towards Gjain Viking Area which is about 55 km (or about 54 minutes) away.
After you’re done exploring Gjain, you will drive 11 km (or roughly 50 minutes) to Haifoss Waterfall along a dirt road. Don’t worry, it can still carefully be driven with a 2-wheel drive.
From Haifoss Waterfall you will continue on the dirt road 332 to join the main road 32 again and head to your next stop. It will be Pjodveldisbærinn Stöng aka The Common Wealth Farm aka “one of the places Game of Thrones was shot”. This drive is 19 km long (or about 54 minutes).
After Pjodveldisbærinn Stöng, you will take a 70 km long drive (or roughly 55 minutes) to your last stop; Kerid Crater. Just remember that there is an entrance fee applicable of $2.75 per person here. There are also no toilets, so it’s best to get that side of things in order before your arrival.
Once you’ve done all your Kerid exploring, it’s time to take the 70 km (or hour-long) drive back to the capital city.
Some of the Best Golden Circle Tours in Iceland
We believe that the best (and most affordable) way to thoroughly explore the Golden Circle is by driving it yourself with your camper or motorhome rental. But if you prefer a guided tour and have some money to burn, the following Golden Circle tours in Iceland come highly recommended:
The Golden Rule; Never Leave Iceland Without Experiencing the Golden Circle
With so many sights and activities conveniently located near to one another, it very much is an unspoken rule that you cannot go to Iceland and not drive the Golden Circle.
Whether you rent a campervan in Reykjavik and start a dedicated Golden Circle drive, or it forms part of your bigger Iceland road trip adventure as part of the Ring Road or South Coast Way route. Or, perhaps, you’ll be visiting the Golden Circle as part of a guided tour. Whichever you decide on, the Golden Circle and all its marvelous discoveries are just waiting for you – only a few kilometers at a time.