Your Ultimate Guide to the Golden Circle in Iceland

March 11, 2022

Your Ultimate Guide to the Golden Circle in Iceland

March 11, 2022

The Golden Circle is perhaps the most unforgettable destination in the so-called Land of Ice and Fire. From boisterous geysers and gaping tectonic trenches to one of Iceland’s largest glaciers, Golden Circle tours in Iceland will bring you up close to the volcanic island’s most iconic sights.

So, what do you need to know about this most popular of Iceland tours? In this post, we’ll tell you everything—from the essential things to do to the best way to get there.

What is Iceland’s Golden Circle?

The Golden Circle is the nickname of one of the most captivating tour itineraries in all of Iceland. Home to volcanic landforms, surprising history, and some of the country’s most picturesque locations, the route makes for a truly unmissable journey.

That’s great, because , located in south-west Iceland, the Golden Circle is only a stone’s throw from the charming Icelandic capital, Reykjavik. That means you can easily cover the area’s three major sights in a day’s journey from the city:

  • Gullfoss Waterfall
  • Geysir Geothermal Park
  • Þingvellir National Park

A classic Golden Circle tour will take you to each of these three destinations throughout the day. Let’s take them one by one.

The main attractions of the Golden Circle

So what makes the Golden Circle so famous? Here’s what you need to know about the area’s three key sights:

Geysir Geothermal Park

goldencircleblog t03

The Golden Circle’s Geysir Geothermal Park is where Iceland’s thrilling volcanic activity takes centre stage. It’s known primarily for its geysers—a rare form of hot spring that erupts under pressure. But there’s so much else for you to see too.

The park is home to Europe’s first ever documented geyser, known as the Great Geysir or, simply, Geysir. As you may have guessed, this Icelandic hot spring gave the geological phenomenon its name—which appropriately means “gusher” or “the one who gushes”.

These days, the Great Geysir has stopped erupting. Luckily, the more reliable geyser, Strokkur, is there to keep you entertained. Strokkur erupts every 5 to 10 minutes and can shoot water as high as 40 metres. It’s an awesome, euphoric thing to witness, not least because it’s one of the few active geysers you can see in the world.

While you’re here, explore the rest of the geothermal Haukadalur Valley on foot. You’ll find other hot springs and geysers, including Smiður and Litli-Strokkur.

Geology buffs shouldn’t miss the fumaroles. Like geysers, these are holes in the ground that release steam, liquid, or volcanic gases. They’re just a little less violent than their more famous cousins. But these steaming cavities and bubbling pots of mud are incredible to see. Their changing colour gives you an insight into the chemicals at the centre of the earth.

Gullfoss Waterfall

goldencircleblog t0

Not far from Geysir is one of Iceland’s best-known waterfalls: Gullfoss. It’s one of the largest waterfalls in Europe by volume—and it’s certainly one of the most beautiful.

Here, the icy waters of the Hvítá River roar down two dramatic steps before surging through a tight crevasse. With the Langjökull glacier in the distance, the scene encapsulates the wild beauty that central Iceland offers. To feel the spray on your face and watch the colours of the rainbow dance in the mist is an inspiring experience. Meanwhile, during the winter, Gullfoss offers a magical location for you to glimpse the ethereal northern lights.

Really, it’s astonishing to imagine that this whole scene was once under threat. In the first decades of the twentieth century, the landowners discussed building a hydroelectric dam in the Falls.

Yet, as you’ll learn on your visit, this plan met firm resistance. The heroic Icelandic environmentalist Sigríður Tómasdóttir intervened and dedicated years of her life to defend this beloved waterfall. In the end, she succeeded—and Gullfoss ultimately became a national park. Look out for a statue of Sigríður when you arrive.

Þingvellir National Park

goldencircleblog t04

The third major site in the Golden Circle is Þingvellir National Park, a place of momentous natural and historical importance for Iceland and the world. It was Iceland’s first national park and it remains a UNESCO World Heritage Site for good reason—so you’ll have lots to explore.

First, a bit of history. On a visit to Þingvellir, you’ll be standing on the site of the oldest parliament in the world.

The word Þingvellir actually translates as “assembly field”. This site was chosen back in the year 930 to be the location for different Icelandic communities to come together to make political decisions and resolve disputes. This way, Þingvellir is at the centre of Icelandic history.

But you’ll find much more than fascinating history here:

See the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Iceland was created when two tectonic plates—the Eurasian and the North American plates—began to move apart. Between these massive slabs of the Earth’s crust, bubbling magma emerged. Today, Þingvellir is the only place in the world where you can see the Mid-Atlantic Ridge on land. It’s spectacular.

Visit Þingvallavatn. In the rift valley that separates the two tectonic plates is Þingvallavatn. Make sure you visit, as it’s the largest natural lake in Iceland.

Dive into Silfra. Deep in Þingvallavatn, you’ll find Silfra. It’s a favourite spot for diving, thanks to its crystal-clear waters and jaw-dropping location. Yes, the water is cold! But the dry-suits provided for free by our snorkelling tour partner, DIVE.is, will keep you warm. While you’re in the area, a snorkelling tour or diving tour is not something to be missed.

Witness the Öxarárfoss waterfall. It’s not as famous as Gullfoss, but Öxarárfoss is definitely worth the visit. Its waters drop from the cliffs of the Almannagjá gorge between the tectonic plates.

What else can you see in the Golden Circle?

While Geysir, Gullfoss, and Þingvellir are the best-known destinations in the area, many Golden Circle day tours will offer you the chance to explore further. Here are some of the extra opportunities you really shouldn’t miss.

Fontana Geothermal Spa

goldencircleblog t08

At the centre of the Golden Circle is the Fontana Wellness spa. After an active day exploring natural wonders, a Golden Circle and Fontana spa tour offers the chance to relax and enjoy the restorative powers of Iceland’s geothermal springs.

Unwind in the saunas overlooking the lake, or take the plunge into the lake itself. Cold bathing is known to support healthy circulation and muscle recovery. It’s also just a beautiful location for a dip!

Langjökull Glacier

goldencircleblog_t11

Visible from Gullfoss and a moment’s drive from Þingvellir, the Langjökull Glacier boasts the title of the second-largest glacier in Iceland. But don’t be content with simply seeing it from a distance. There’s no better way to explore the vast expanse of snow than by snowmobile.

Why not combine a tour of the Golden Circle with a snowmobile adventure? With the glacier’s permanent snow, it’s possible all year round—and it promises an unforgettable ride.

Friðheimar

goldencircleblog t06

Friðheimar is a family restaurant and farm that specialises in food that you might not expect to see in Icelandic cuisine: tomatoes. The twist? The fruit is cultivated entirely using geothermal heat.

On a tour of the Golden Circle and Friðheimar, you can taste for yourself the delicious results of this science experiment. These fascinating modern methods stand in stark contrast to the ancient landscapes on the rest of your tour.

Raufarhólshellir Lava Tunnel

goldencircleblog t10

Alternatively, why not add an extra geological curiosity to your Golden Circle tour? In the Lava Tunnel, Raufarhólshellir, you can experience one of Iceland’s most beguiling natural wonders—but, this time, below ground.

Created by lava flows thousands of years ago, the Lava Tunnel is a system of caves that reach up to 30 metres wide. It’s a breathtaking scene, with an array of different colours caused by the mineral content of the rocks.

Learn more: The Golden Circle & Lava Tunnel tour

ATV riding

goldencircleblog t11

On a Golden Circle and ATV tour, you’ll combine the sights of the Golden Circle with an exhilarating ride on an all-terrain vehicle (ATV).

We’ll ride up the mountain of Hafrafell, a short distance from Reykjavik. On clear days, you can enjoy views over the city and beyond to the Reykjanes peninsula. It’s the perfect start to an action-packed day.

Kerið Crater

goldencircle blog t13

Kerið is one of the most popular extras to see on a Golden Circle tour in Iceland. Known for its impressive mineral richness, Kerið is a feast for the senses and a destination for any time of year.

During the winter, you can walk on the frozen surface of the lake at the centre of this 3,000-year-old volcano. Or in summer, enjoy its splendid display of colour.

How long does it take to do the Golden Circle in Iceland?

The Golden Circle can be easily done on a day trip from Reykjavik.

Part of what makes this route so popular is that it’s only a skip and a jump from the capital. Þingvellir National Park is a 25-mile (40 kilometre) drive from Reykjavik, while Gullfoss waterfall is 72 miles (115 km) away. In total the loop covers 142 miles (230 km).

This means that, typically, an 8-hour tour is enough to cover all of the main sights. And if you want to add any extra destinations to your trip, they are doable in a day too .

When is the best time to do the Golden Circle?

The Golden Circle is an incredible destination at any time of year—but the landscape changes dramatically depending on the season.

During the winter, the landscape will be covered in a gorgeous blanket of snow and ice. For the darkest period of the year, you might even witness both the arctic sunrise and sunset during your tour.

In the spring, summer, and autumn, temperatures raise themselves into double digits and the snowline recedes to reveal Iceland’s rich Nordic greens. At this time, the Land of Ice and Fire also transforms into the Land of the Midnight Sun. There’s no “right” time to visit the Golden Circle. The choice is all yours.

Do I need to book my Golden Circle tour in advance?

It’s always recommended to book your Golden Circle tour in advance. This way, you’ll guarantee your seat without running the risk of your favourite Iceland guided tour selling out. And you’ll make the most of your time in Iceland by not waiting in a queue.

But we understand that plans change. If you need to change or reschedule your booking with Reykjavik Excursions, you can do it free of charge up until 24 hours before your tour.

Book your Iceland tour with Reykjavik Excursions

There’s so much to see on your journey around Iceland’s Golden Circle. And at Reykjavik Excursions, we can provide you with a comfortable and easy way to enjoy all the sights in a day.

If you prefer the classic Golden Circle route through Gullfoss, Þingvellir, and the Geysir Geothermal Park, we run tours all year round. Or we can help you choose the perfect unique adventure to add to your Iceland day tour.

Alternatively, if you want to journey further afield, we can take you on other Iceland tours, including to the Blue Lagoon and the South Shore. And we can handle airport transfers too.

So, wherever your trip to Iceland takes you, we’ll be there to take care of the journey. View our tours and start your Icelandic adventure today.

REYKJAVIK EXCURSIONS BLOG

Get inspired! Information and tips and must see places in Iceland, fun facts, customs and more.

Dream a little dream of us

There is a meditative practice that teaches us to picture the dark clouds on a rainy day and then realise that the clouds are just there for the moment, but above them is always a clear blue sky.

Read Blog

Your Ultimate Guide to the Golden Circle in Iceland

March 11, 2022

Your Ultimate Guide to the Golden Circle in Iceland

March 11, 2022

The Golden Circle is perhaps the most unforgettable destination in the so-called Land of Ice and Fire. From boisterous geysers and gaping tectonic trenches to one of Iceland’s largest glaciers, Golden Circle tours in Iceland will bring you up close to the volcanic island’s most iconic sights.

So, what do you need to know about this most popular of Iceland tours? In this post, we’ll tell you everything—from the essential things to do to the best way to get there.

What is Iceland’s Golden Circle?

The Golden Circle is the nickname of one of the most captivating tour itineraries in all of Iceland. Home to volcanic landforms, surprising history, and some of the country’s most picturesque locations, the route makes for a truly unmissable journey.

That’s great, because , located in south-west Iceland, the Golden Circle is only a stone’s throw from the charming Icelandic capital, Reykjavik. That means you can easily cover the area’s three major sights in a day’s journey from the city:

  • Gullfoss Waterfall
  • Geysir Geothermal Park
  • Þingvellir National Park

A classic Golden Circle tour will take you to each of these three destinations throughout the day. Let’s take them one by one.

The main attractions of the Golden Circle

So what makes the Golden Circle so famous? Here’s what you need to know about the area’s three key sights:

Geysir Geothermal Park

goldencircleblog t03

The Golden Circle’s Geysir Geothermal Park is where Iceland’s thrilling volcanic activity takes centre stage. It’s known primarily for its geysers—a rare form of hot spring that erupts under pressure. But there’s so much else for you to see too.

The park is home to Europe’s first ever documented geyser, known as the Great Geysir or, simply, Geysir. As you may have guessed, this Icelandic hot spring gave the geological phenomenon its name—which appropriately means “gusher” or “the one who gushes”.

These days, the Great Geysir has stopped erupting. Luckily, the more reliable geyser, Strokkur, is there to keep you entertained. Strokkur erupts every 5 to 10 minutes and can shoot water as high as 40 metres. It’s an awesome, euphoric thing to witness, not least because it’s one of the few active geysers you can see in the world.

While you’re here, explore the rest of the geothermal Haukadalur Valley on foot. You’ll find other hot springs and geysers, including Smiður and Litli-Strokkur.

Geology buffs shouldn’t miss the fumaroles. Like geysers, these are holes in the ground that release steam, liquid, or volcanic gases. They’re just a little less violent than their more famous cousins. But these steaming cavities and bubbling pots of mud are incredible to see. Their changing colour gives you an insight into the chemicals at the centre of the earth.

Gullfoss Waterfall

goldencircleblog t0

Not far from Geysir is one of Iceland’s best-known waterfalls: Gullfoss. It’s one of the largest waterfalls in Europe by volume—and it’s certainly one of the most beautiful.

Here, the icy waters of the Hvítá River roar down two dramatic steps before surging through a tight crevasse. With the Langjökull glacier in the distance, the scene encapsulates the wild beauty that central Iceland offers. To feel the spray on your face and watch the colours of the rainbow dance in the mist is an inspiring experience. Meanwhile, during the winter, Gullfoss offers a magical location for you to glimpse the ethereal northern lights.

Really, it’s astonishing to imagine that this whole scene was once under threat. In the first decades of the twentieth century, the landowners discussed building a hydroelectric dam in the Falls.

Yet, as you’ll learn on your visit, this plan met firm resistance. The heroic Icelandic environmentalist Sigríður Tómasdóttir intervened and dedicated years of her life to defend this beloved waterfall. In the end, she succeeded—and Gullfoss ultimately became a national park. Look out for a statue of Sigríður when you arrive.

Þingvellir National Park

goldencircleblog t04

The third major site in the Golden Circle is Þingvellir National Park, a place of momentous natural and historical importance for Iceland and the world. It was Iceland’s first national park and it remains a UNESCO World Heritage Site for good reason—so you’ll have lots to explore.

First, a bit of history. On a visit to Þingvellir, you’ll be standing on the site of the oldest parliament in the world.

The word Þingvellir actually translates as “assembly field”. This site was chosen back in the year 930 to be the location for different Icelandic communities to come together to make political decisions and resolve disputes. This way, Þingvellir is at the centre of Icelandic history.

But you’ll find much more than fascinating history here:

See the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. Iceland was created when two tectonic plates—the Eurasian and the North American plates—began to move apart. Between these massive slabs of the Earth’s crust, bubbling magma emerged. Today, Þingvellir is the only place in the world where you can see the Mid-Atlantic Ridge on land. It’s spectacular.

Visit Þingvallavatn. In the rift valley that separates the two tectonic plates is Þingvallavatn. Make sure you visit, as it’s the largest natural lake in Iceland.

Dive into Silfra. Deep in Þingvallavatn, you’ll find Silfra. It’s a favourite spot for diving, thanks to its crystal-clear waters and jaw-dropping location. Yes, the water is cold! But the dry-suits provided for free by our snorkelling tour partner, DIVE.is, will keep you warm. While you’re in the area, a snorkelling tour or diving tour is not something to be missed.

Witness the Öxarárfoss waterfall. It’s not as famous as Gullfoss, but Öxarárfoss is definitely worth the visit. Its waters drop from the cliffs of the Almannagjá gorge between the tectonic plates.

What else can you see in the Golden Circle?

While Geysir, Gullfoss, and Þingvellir are the best-known destinations in the area, many Golden Circle day tours will offer you the chance to explore further. Here are some of the extra opportunities you really shouldn’t miss.

Fontana Geothermal Spa

goldencircleblog t08

At the centre of the Golden Circle is the Fontana Wellness spa. After an active day exploring natural wonders, a Golden Circle and Fontana spa tour offers the chance to relax and enjoy the restorative powers of Iceland’s geothermal springs.

Unwind in the saunas overlooking the lake, or take the plunge into the lake itself. Cold bathing is known to support healthy circulation and muscle recovery. It’s also just a beautiful location for a dip!

Langjökull Glacier

goldencircleblog_t11

Visible from Gullfoss and a moment’s drive from Þingvellir, the Langjökull Glacier boasts the title of the second-largest glacier in Iceland. But don’t be content with simply seeing it from a distance. There’s no better way to explore the vast expanse of snow than by snowmobile.

Why not combine a tour of the Golden Circle with a snowmobile adventure? With the glacier’s permanent snow, it’s possible all year round—and it promises an unforgettable ride.

Friðheimar

goldencircleblog t06

Friðheimar is a family restaurant and farm that specialises in food that you might not expect to see in Icelandic cuisine: tomatoes. The twist? The fruit is cultivated entirely using geothermal heat.

On a tour of the Golden Circle and Friðheimar, you can taste for yourself the delicious results of this science experiment. These fascinating modern methods stand in stark contrast to the ancient landscapes on the rest of your tour.

Raufarhólshellir Lava Tunnel

goldencircleblog t10

Alternatively, why not add an extra geological curiosity to your Golden Circle tour? In the Lava Tunnel, Raufarhólshellir, you can experience one of Iceland’s most beguiling natural wonders—but, this time, below ground.

Created by lava flows thousands of years ago, the Lava Tunnel is a system of caves that reach up to 30 metres wide. It’s a breathtaking scene, with an array of different colours caused by the mineral content of the rocks.

Learn more: The Golden Circle & Lava Tunnel tour

ATV riding

goldencircleblog t11

On a Golden Circle and ATV tour, you’ll combine the sights of the Golden Circle with an exhilarating ride on an all-terrain vehicle (ATV).

We’ll ride up the mountain of Hafrafell, a short distance from Reykjavik. On clear days, you can enjoy views over the city and beyond to the Reykjanes peninsula. It’s the perfect start to an action-packed day.

Kerið Crater

goldencircle blog t13

Kerið is one of the most popular extras to see on a Golden Circle tour in Iceland. Known for its impressive mineral richness, Kerið is a feast for the senses and a destination for any time of year.

During the winter, you can walk on the frozen surface of the lake at the centre of this 3,000-year-old volcano. Or in summer, enjoy its splendid display of colour.

How long does it take to do the Golden Circle in Iceland?

The Golden Circle can be easily done on a day trip from Reykjavik.

Part of what makes this route so popular is that it’s only a skip and a jump from the capital. Þingvellir National Park is a 25-mile (40 kilometre) drive from Reykjavik, while Gullfoss waterfall is 72 miles (115 km) away. In total the loop covers 142 miles (230 km).

This means that, typically, an 8-hour tour is enough to cover all of the main sights. And if you want to add any extra destinations to your trip, they are doable in a day too .

When is the best time to do the Golden Circle?

The Golden Circle is an incredible destination at any time of year—but the landscape changes dramatically depending on the season.

During the winter, the landscape will be covered in a gorgeous blanket of snow and ice. For the darkest period of the year, you might even witness both the arctic sunrise and sunset during your tour.

In the spring, summer, and autumn, temperatures raise themselves into double digits and the snowline recedes to reveal Iceland’s rich Nordic greens. At this time, the Land of Ice and Fire also transforms into the Land of the Midnight Sun. There’s no “right” time to visit the Golden Circle. The choice is all yours.

Do I need to book my Golden Circle tour in advance?

It’s always recommended to book your Golden Circle tour in advance. This way, you’ll guarantee your seat without running the risk of your favourite Iceland guided tour selling out. And you’ll make the most of your time in Iceland by not waiting in a queue.

But we understand that plans change. If you need to change or reschedule your booking with Reykjavik Excursions, you can do it free of charge up until 24 hours before your tour.

Book your Iceland tour with Reykjavik Excursions

There’s so much to see on your journey around Iceland’s Golden Circle. And at Reykjavik Excursions, we can provide you with a comfortable and easy way to enjoy all the sights in a day.

If you prefer the classic Golden Circle route through Gullfoss, Þingvellir, and the Geysir Geothermal Park, we run tours all year round. Or we can help you choose the perfect unique adventure to add to your Iceland day tour.

Alternatively, if you want to journey further afield, we can take you on other Iceland tours, including to the Blue Lagoon and the South Shore. And we can handle airport transfers too.

So, wherever your trip to Iceland takes you, we’ll be there to take care of the journey. View our tours and start your Icelandic adventure today.

REYKJAVIK EXCURSIONS BLOG

Get inspired! Information and tips and must see places in Iceland, fun facts, customs and more.

Dream a little dream of us

There is a meditative practice that teaches us to picture the dark clouds on a rainy day and then realise that the clouds are just there for the moment, but above them is always a clear blue sky.

Read Blog