Iceland’s Golden Circle is one of the country’s most popular routes for visitors, taking in three of the country’s most famous attractions: the Gullfoss waterfall, Thingvellir National Park, and the Geysir Geothermal Area. A loop of the Golden Circle takes under 4 hours to drive, so even adding in time for exploring the sites visited along the way, it’s certainly manageable over the course of a day. In this blog, we’ll discuss some of the practicalities of a self-guided driving tour of the route, followed by a few of the amazing highlights you’ll get to enjoy on your journey!
If, however, you think you would prefer to take a guided tour of the Golden Circle, why not explore our Iceland Day Tours, two of which are focused on this stunning route.
Choosing the Right Car and Packing for the Trip
The Golden Circle’s 240 kilometres of road are generally very well maintained and the weather conditions in this region tend to be milder than other parts of Iceland, meaning a two-wheel-drive car is likely to be sufficient for your trip. The exceptions to this would be for those considering making the trip in winter or for those planning on extending their driving tour into the country’s wild highlands, where a four-wheel-drive vehicle may be necessary. But it’s the accessibility of the Golden Circle that is one of its most appealing traits, so you will likely only need to focus on choosing a car that is comfortable for you and anyone else travelling with you. Just be sure to remember to check local weather reports during your stay as the weather in Iceland can be changeable. To get the most from your days, travel in the summer when the sun only sets for 3 hours. Those wishing to see the Northern Lights would be best organising a wintertime holiday.
The other main consideration before setting off on your journey is what to pack. Again, the Golden Circle is unlikely to present travellers with the more extreme conditions common elsewhere in the country — the terrain is well-managed and you will normally see other people while exploring. With this in mind, pack your car for comfort. Bring with you waterproof clothes in case of rain, a comfortable pair of hiking boots for seeing the natural beauty spots, warm clothing, and enough snacks and drinks to keep your energy levels up.
Now that you’re ready to hit the road, let’s look at the highlights of the Golden Circle.
Thingvellir National Park
If travelling clockwise from Reykjavik, the first major stop on your Golden Circle adventure will be the Thingvellir National Park (or Þingvellir as written in Icelandic). Birthplace of Iceland’s parliament, the Althing, in 930 AD, the Thingvellir National Park is often regarded as the spiritual home of the Icelandic nation. Granted a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004, the Thingvellir National Park represents the glorious beauty we often associate with the Land of Fire and Ice. There are a great many activities that can be enjoyed within the park, including otherworldly scuba-diving into tectonic fissures and riding Icelandic horses. However, for those touring the Golden Circle for a day, the best way to explore the park is to simply put on your hiking boots and wander across this majestic landscape. A highlight is the walking through the canyon where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet — this is the only place on earth where you can observe the coming together of two tectonic plates above the surface in this way, it’s breathtaking. At the end of this walking route, you can also enjoy the splendid Öxarárfoss waterfall. At Go to Joy Iceland, we explore Thingvellir on our Iceland Golden Circle Waterfall Tour.
Geysir Geothermal Area
The next major attraction you will want to stop at on your driving tour of the Golden Circle is the site of two geysers: The Great Geysir and Strokkur. The English word Geyser is taken from Iceland’s Geysir, which has been erupting with thermal waters for around 10,000 years, sometimes blasting water as high as 70 metres into the air. The Great Geyser, however, does go through periods of inactivity, so visitors are not guaranteed to see this particular geyser erupt. The good news is that Iceland’s most active geyser is close by, spraying hot water into the air every 6 to 7 minutes. The Strokkur geyser has been consistently active since 1798 when an earthquake caused underground channels to open, kickstarting Strokkur into life. The geyser is one of Iceland’s most beloved natural wonders and its tower of water can sometimes rise 40 metres in height. The conditions needed for an active geyser make them extremely rare, so this is not an attraction to be missed!
The final stop of the Golden Circle’s ‘big three’ is the Gullfoss (Golden Falls) waterfall, perhaps the most famous waterfall in all of Iceland. Located in the canyon of the Hvítá river, Gullfoss is often said to be the birthplace of environmentalism in Iceland. At the beginning of the 20th century, this area of extraordinary beauty was sold to developers who planned on using the falls as an energy source. The activist Sigríður Tómasdóttir staged several protests against the developers and challenged them in the courts, eventually preventing development in the region. Today, the falls are enjoyed by travellers from across the globe and Sigríður Tómasdóttir is memorialised on a sculpture located near the top of the waterfall. Enjoy the striking beauty of these falls as the flowing water cascades 32 metres to the depths below. Travellers who love waterfalls may also wish to consider joining our Iceland South Coast Tour From Reykjavik, which pays visit to several of the country’s most magnificent waterfalls.
This brings to a close our guide to driving the Golden Circle. We hope we’ve inspired you to begin planning your next trip to the Land of Fire and Ice! If you have any comments or questions for us, we would love to hear from you, contact us here.