A useful guide to Iceland’s Golden Circle highlights

Last Updated on November 3, 2023 by

early golden circle tour

When it comes to Icelandic adventures, the “Golden Circle” stands out as the most well-trodden tourist route in this breathtaking country. Whether you’re planning a short stay or an extended visit to Iceland, exploring Reykjavik and embarking on the Golden Circle route will undoubtedly be some of the best highlights of your journey. In this comprehensive guide, I will unveil a valuable Iceland Golden Circle itinerary that will empower you to traverse Icelandic roads with confidence, ensuring you’re well-prepared to discover the main attractions of the Golden Circle.

Table of Contents

Information about the Golden Circle in Iceland

early golden circle tour

Why is called Golden Circle?

Before embarking on your epic drive along the Icelandic Golden Circle, you might be interested in some background information about this incredible route. The original name of the route, “ Gullni hringurinn ,” refers to the path that leads from Reykjavik to Gullfoss, creating a circular journey. In fact, the term “gold” specifically refers to the Gullfoss waterfall, which translates to “Golden Waterfall.”

What is the difference between Golden Circle and Ring Road Iceland?

For people who never been to Iceland or are unfamiliar with the nation’s geography, it’s easy to confuse the Golden Circle route with the Ring Road. Nevertheless, these are two completely different itineraries (despite overlapping in two or more points).

In fact, as said before, the Golden Circle is the road that loops from Reykjavik to Gullfoss. Differently, the Ring Road, (otherwise known as Route 1), is the route that encircle the entire country starting from Reykjavik but excluding the Vestfirðir (the West Fjords region), a large peninsula in northwestern Iceland.

One of the main differences between the two roads is that you can easily complete the Golden Circle in one day (or two if you want to go slower), the Ring Road usually requires 5 to 7 days to complete.

What is the length of the Golden Circle?

Despite including many beautiful natural attractions, the Golden Circle’s route is relatively short. In fact, the whole itinerary loops from Reykjavik for about 300km (186 miles).

How many days should I spend in the Golden Circle?

Due to its relatively short length, the Golden Circle is ideal for a day trip or a short stay lasting 1 to 2 days, especially if you don’t want to rush through the experience. Since my husband and I have planned an entire week to explore the main Ring Road, we made the decision to dedicate just one day to visiting the key attractions on the Golden Circle.

Tips for visiting the Golden Circle

Here are some valuable tips for your visit to the Golden Circle:

  • Start Early at Þingvellir National Park: Begin your journey early at Þingvellir National Park. Places tend to fill up with people quickly, and experiencing Þingvellir without a crowd is an entirely different experience.
  • Allow Sufficient Time for Exploration: Ensure you have ample time to explore each location, especially if you’re there for photography. Budgeting around 1.5 hours per spot should be sufficient.
  • Bring Waterproof Clothing and Gear : Be prepared with waterproof clothing and camera gear, as you’re likely to get wet at Geysir. Wear comfortable waterproof shoes, as you’ll be doing a lot of walking, and Icelandic weather can be unpredictable.
  • Plan your Lunch stop in Advance : Plan ahead for lunch, as there aren’t many dining options along the way. Therefore research in advance your lunch stop and make a reservation if necessary to avoid any disappointment.
  • Parking Fees: Keep in mind that while the natural attractions on the Golden Circle, with the exception of the Kerid Crater, are free, you may have to pay for parking if you’re traveling by car.

These tips will help you make the most of your Golden Circle adventure and ensure a comfortable and enjoyable experience.

Iceland golden circle itinerary highlights

The map above provides a detailed overview of the exact itinerary my husband and I followed for our Golden Circle route. As I mentioned earlier, our route covered the primary highlights, as we were planning to continue south to start Route 1 after the last stop, rather than returning to Reykjavik. We independently organised and executed this itinerary, opting not to go with an organised tour operator.

The primary highlights of the Golden Circle include Þingvellir National Park (or Thingvellir), the Geysir Geothermal Area, and the Gulfoss Waterfall. Even if you choose an organized tour, these three destinations will likely be the main stops on your journey. Any additional stops are usually included if there is extra time available. Further information about these additional stops can be found at the end of this blog.

For our personalised itinerary, we added a bonus stop to interact with the friendly Icelandic Horses along the way. This was our first stop because the farm was conveniently located near Reykjavik. If you’re not particularly interested in horses, you can simply skip this step and head directly to Þingvellir National Park.

The total length of our route covered 117 km, making it a manageable and rewarding day trip.

First stop – meeting the Icelandic horses!

early golden circle tour

Photographing the Icelandic Horses was a highlight on my own itinerary, and I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Iceland. These unique horses can be found all over Iceland, but along the Golden Circle route, you’ll come across numerous farms where they graze by the side of the road, making it much easier to get up close and spend some time with these beautiful creatures. A nice place to stop if you have some spare time is the Laxnes Horses Farm (first stop on the map). They also organise some day tours. The photos above have been taken from the side of a road shortly after Reykjavik. There was not farm sign but there were some fences which, of course, we didn’t cross.

Icelandic Horses and Norse Mythology

Iceland golden circle itinerary

Icelandic Horses were originally brought to Iceland by the Vikings during the early Middle Ages. While the current breed is slightly different from the horses of that time, they still represent a symbol of that special traditional heritage. The Vikings held horses in high regard and considered them sacred animals, as they played significant roles in Norse mythology. Some were protectors, while others were symbols of fertility. Perhaps the most famous mythological horse is Sleipnir, the eight-footed horse beloved by the god Odin.

Today, most Icelandic horses are used by Icelanders for agricultural work or in competitions. They are treated with great care and affection. From what I’ve observed, many farmers and owners consider them an integral part of their families.

So, don’t miss the opportunity to interact with these remarkable horses during your Golden Circle adventure. It’s not just a chance for photography but also to connect with a piece of Iceland’s rich history and culture.

Tips for your Icelandic Horses meeting

Icelandic horses are known for their friendly and sociable nature, as they are accustomed to human company. However, there are a few important considerations when interacting with them:

  • Beware of Electric Fences: Be cautious when approaching Icelandic horses near fences. Some of these fences are electric, which can be a danger both to you and the horses. Keep a safe distance.
  • Don’t Feed Them: While horses may approach you in anticipation of food, it’s advisable not to feed them. You might not be familiar with their usual diet or any special dietary requirements they have.
  • Respect Private Farms: Many Icelandic horses are kept on private farms, even though they may appear to roam freely in open landscapes. It’s essential to be respectful of the boundaries and the lives of local people. While Icelanders are generally patient with tourists petting and photographing their horses, it’s important to maintain a considerate and respectful approach.

Second stop, Þingvellir National Park

early golden circle tour

If you choose to skip the horse meeting along the way, Þingvellir can be regarded as the first “official” stop of the Golden Circle for all tours departing from Reykjavik. The distance from the capital to Þingvellir is approximately 40 kilometers, and it takes about 36 minutes to reach the main car park. This makes it a convenient starting point for your Golden Circle adventure. Please note that despite the entrance to Þingvellir is free, the parking slot is chargeable. The price for the parking space is between 400-600 ISK.

Some information about the Þingvellir National Park

Iceland golden circle itinerary

The Icelandic word “Þingvellir” translates to “Parliament.” In historical terms, when the Vikings first arrived in Iceland around 874 AD, they established their parliamentary assembly in what is now a National Park known as Þingvellir. Today, Þingvellir remains a significant location for events of national importance, such as the declaration of Iceland’s independence in 1944, as well as for hosting summer concerts.

Geographically, Þingvellir is situated in a rift valley formed during the separation of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. This unique geological setting adds to the site’s historical and natural significance, making it a must-visit destination on the Golden Circle route.

Indeed, Þingvellir National Park is situated precisely between two continents, making it an extraordinary and unique geological wonder. The constant movement of the tectonic plates, drifting apart at a rate of approximately 2 centimetres per year, adds to the park’s allure, showcasing the dynamic forces shaping the Earth’s surface. It’s truly awe-inspiring!

Walking through the Almannagjá Gorge, as pictured, can take around half an hour, provided you don’t (like me) stop every two steps to capture the incredible scenery on camera.

While many visitors tend to explore this side of the park, I highly recommend taking a little detour in the surrounding area if you have the time and don’t mind a walk. The natural beauty of the surroundings is beyond words.

If you’re a fan of “Game of Thrones,” you’ll be delighted to know that Þingvellir National Park served as one of the locations for the TV series, particularly the area near the Öxarárfoss waterfall. It’s a treat for both nature enthusiasts and pop culture enthusiasts alike.

Enhance your Þingvellir visit with a diving experience

If you have some extra time to spare during your visit to Þingvellir, one experience you absolutely shouldn’t miss is the opportunity to go diving at the Silfra fissure. Silfra is an extraordinary geological feature—a fissure in the Earth created by the movement of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. This unique location is renowned for its crystal-clear glacial water, offering over 100 meters of underwater visibility.

Please note that in order to do this experience, you must have a PADI certification course. If you don’t have a PADI certification, you can opt for a snorkelling tour, which doesn’t require any certification.

Tour prices for diving starts at £200 per person for a 40 mins dive. While snorkelling tours starts at £115 per person. Most of the divings and snorkelling tours are organised by Diving.is.

Third Stop – See the geysers at Geysir

early golden circle tour

After dedicating most of your early morning to exploring the tectonic plates of Þingvellir, it’s time to head to the third major stop on the Golden Circle: the Geysir Geothermal Area. This is undoubtedly one of the most famous and iconic destinations on the Golden Circle, located in the Haukadalur Valley and easily accessible from Þingvellir.

During the spring and summer, you’ll immediately notice the area from the road, thanks to the vibrant minerals that lend the valley a multicolored appearance. As you get closer, the fumaroles emitting steam on the sides of the road will signal your proximity to the geysers. Yes, you read that correctly! This is one of the few places in the world where you can witness active geysers up close.

The Geothermal Area is approximately 60 kilometers from Þingvellir, and the drive takes about an hour to reach from the National Park. It’s important to note that this area can get quite crowded during peak seasons, and you may find yourself queuing for a parking spot, so plan accordingly.

Geysir and Strokkur

Iceland golden circle itinerary

Icelandic geysers hold a unique place in history. Indeed, they are among the oldest known in literature. The Geothermal Area has been active for over 10,000 years, and it’s significantly influenced by the island’s seismic activity. Until 1845, the Great Geysir, from which the area derives its name, was highly active. There are reports of eruptions reaching up to 170 meters in height. However, after that period, Geysir became largely dormant due to the seismic activity on the island.

So, if you come across people waiting for more than 5 minutes by the side of the Great Geysir in hopes of witnessing its activity, you can safely disregard their efforts. That particular geyser is no longer active, and they are spending their time in vain. Instead, use that time to explore the valley and experience the area from different perspectives.

Conversely, the only active geyser you can observe today is Strokkur. It erupts approximately every 10 minutes, reaching a maximum height of around 30 meters. There are typically two types of eruptions: the first is quick and less powerful, which might initially leave you slightly disappointed. However, I strongly recommend patience. Indeed, after this initial outburst, you will likely witness the powerful and robust eruption you were anticipating. It’s well worth the wait!

When observing the geyser, be mindful of your position. If you stand too close, you run the risk of getting drenched during the eruption. To fully appreciate the landscape and the stunning colors of the valley, take some time to explore the other geysers in the area. The scenery is truly remarkable. Moreover, it’s an opportunity to witness the natural beauty of the region beyond just the geothermal activity.

Fourth stop, Gulfoss Waterfall.

Iceland golden circle itinerary

Gulfoss, meaning “Golden Waterfall” in Icelandic, marked our final stop before continuing our journey to Southern Iceland. This magnificent waterfall is situated at the top of the canyon on the Hvita river.

Gulfoss stands out as one of the most powerful waterfalls I’ve encountered in Iceland. Its might is not only due to the substantial volume of water flowing through it, averaging between 80 and 140 cubic meters per second, but also because of its sheer immensity. Indeed, the waterfall plummets from a height of approximately 32 meters. I realise the photos I’ve taken of this waterfall don’t make justice to this stunning location. Indeed, one has to see it in person to truly admire its power.

During our visit in late April, we discovered that Gulfoss was still partially frozen. This added a unique and captivating element to the experience, despite the challenges. However, it’s worth noting that the pathway running along the lower side of the waterfall was closed to visitors for security reason. If you visit during summer, this is an additional pathway you can take to explore the waterfall up-close.

Gulfoss brief history

Iceland golden circle itinerary

Gulfoss indeed had an interesting history. Until 1940, it was privately owned. Initially, there were plans to transform it into a local hydro-electric plant, but these plans were ultimately abandoned, thanks to the determined efforts of Sigríður, the daughter of the owner at the time, Tómas Tómasson. She vigorously advocated for preserving the untouched natural beauty of Gulfoss and, in the end, succeeded in protecting it. When the last owner eventually decided to sell the land and the waterfall, the government purchased it and established the present-day natural reserve, ensuring the continued preservation of this spectacular natural wonder. Sigríður’s dedication played a crucial role in safeguarding Gulfoss for future generations to enjoy.

Additional information for your Gulfoss visit

Gulfoss is located approximately 10 kilometers from the Geysir area, a short 10-minute drive by car. Surprisingly, despite the relatively short distance, I discovered that the climate and landscape in the two locations were remarkably different.

While the Geothermal Area offered a more pleasant temperature with a partially sunny sky, Gulfoss presented a starkly contrasting atmosphere. It was extremely cold, with strong winds and a partially overcast sky. Additionally, there was still snow and ice in the area, making it challenging to navigate around the waterfall. This highlights the variability of weather and climate conditions in Iceland, even during the spring season. It’s always a good idea to be prepared for a range of temperatures and weather patterns (I was wearing three jackets in the photos above!).

For those who haven’t stopped at the Geothermal Area’s services, you can find a smaller tourist center at Gulfoss. Here, you’ll discover a souvenir shop and a small cafe to replenish and warm up before continuing your journey.

Where to eat in the Golden Circle

Iceland golden circle itinerary

The Geothermal Area is likely to be one of the most crowded places you’ll encounter on the Golden Circle, and for good reasons. It not only features the fascinating geysers but also serves as the first stop on the route with available services. Right across from the geysers, you’ll find a Tourist Centre equipped with three restaurants, souvenir shops, and parking facilities.

We initially intended to have lunch at Friðheimar during our journey. Nevertheless, we ended up spending so much time taking photos of the incredible landscapes that it became quite late. Consequently, we opted to have lunch at the Tourist Centre, and we were pleasantly surprised. Not only did we find the food to be satisfying, but it was also unexpectedly affordable for Iceland. It’s a convenient option for a meal on the Golden Circle route.

Iceland golden circle itinerary additional stops

As mentioned earlier, our approach was to avoid rushing and focus on the main highlights of the Golden Circle. However, if you have more time to spare, you can certainly incorporate additional stops into your itinerary.

The map below illustrates my original, and admittedly ambitious, itinerary for exploring the finest spots on the Golden Circle. This includes also the additional spots you can consider for your visit. There are numerous beautiful places along this route that deserve a visit. I look forward to the opportunity to explore them during a second journey around Iceland. The country offers an abundance of natural wonders and scenic landscapes, making it a destination worth revisiting for a more comprehensive experience.

Golden Circle extensive itinerary suggested stops

  • Kerið Crater – This is a volcanic crater lake located in the Grímsnes area. The Entrance fee is 450 ISK . More info here.
  • Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Baths. Less crowded than the Blue Lagoon with stunning view on the lake. Entrance fee starts at 4.990 ISK for 2 hours experience. You can book your tickets here.
  • Skálholt Cathedral (free entrance)
  • Friðheimar Tomato and Horse Farm (restaurant – local cuisine). Booking in advance is mandatory.
  • Secret Lagoon Hot Springs – Gamla Laugin. This places is famous as the oldest pool in Iceland. Enrance fee starts at 3300 ISK plus towel rent 900 ISK. Booking is recommended.
  • Faxafoss ( or Faxi Waterfall). It’s a smaller version of Gulfoss. The waterfall is 80 m wide and 7 m high. The entrance is free.
  • Sólheimar Eco-Village . Hosting about 100 people, this is the only eco-village in Iceland.
  • Western Þjórsárdalur Valley . This is one of the most beautiful hiking routes in Iceland. It includes one of the highest waterfalls in the country, Háifoss (dropping at 122 mt) and several other natural attractions. It is recommended to explore this area on a separate day as it is quite extensive.
  • Gjáin Waterfall (free entrance). Set on a scenic valley background this waterfall appears in Game of Thrones.
  • Langjökull Glacier. I s the second largest glacier in Iceland. There are various view points and for a deeper exploration, tours are recommended.
  • Rafting in Hvita river . This is an exciting activity to do at the foot of the Gulfoss waterfall. However, it is organised only during summer and via organised tours.

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Driving Iceland's Golden Circle: All You Need to Know

Imagine coasting through stunning countryside to see spouting geysers, thundering many-tiered waterfalls, and dramatic cliff faces. All at your own pace. If that sounds incredible, then you're ready for an iconic adventure with a  driving tour  of Iceland’s Golden Circle.

This iconic route represents one of Iceland’s most popular day tours , where you can discover landscapes rich with history and folklore. And inbetween attractions you can find reasons to stop at any number of fascinating locations. Think photogenic Lutheran churches, Icelandic horse farms, and restaurants dishing up Icelandic cuisine.

  • Relax and let someone else book your hotels and plan your itinerary: choose from these  Golden Circle self-drive tours
  • Prefer someone else to take the wheel instead? Consider a private tour , a small group tour or a multi-day tour

When you're ready to hit the road, bookmark this handy guide to the route. It’s packed with insider tips on must-see attractions and handy local restaurants to help you make the most of your trip.

What is the Golden Circle?

In the strictest sense, Iceland’s famous Golden Circle is a popular route between 3 of Iceland’s most visited attractions. Starting in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik, you’ll drive into the southern uplands and back, visiting Þingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal area, and Gullfoss waterfall.

You’ll find, though, that many tour routes take in extra attractions along the way. You could visit a geothermal greenhouse on one trip, or a natural hotwater spa with another.

Golden Circle map

Golden Circle map

Can you drive it in one day? How many miles is it?

The whole Golden Circle route can easily be done in one day, as the classic journey covers around 230 kilometres (140 miles to you and me). You can actually drive the route in just over 3 hours. But, of course, you need to factor in time to enjoy the attractions, take photos and stay fuelled as well.

Many guided coach tours will take the best part of a ‘9-to-5’ day to visit most stops on the route. But if you’re going self-guided, then you can choose exactly how long you want to stay at each attraction. And you can even start early or finish later for quieter sightseeing.

How to drive the Golden Circle in Iceland

While you can join a group tour of the Golden Circle, you may prefer to explore at your own pace and in your own style with a self-drive. For this, you’ll need to rent a car, or even a 4x4 if you’re planning to drive onward to the Icelandic Highlands.

Hiring a car puts you in control of your trip. You can start early (or late) and explore at times that suit you best. In summer, you could even use the long daylight hours to avoid the crowds often created by larger coach tours.

  • Find out more about our friendlier take on coach tours,  small group minibus tours , with 16 travellers at most

When you go with self-drive, though, how you experience the Golden Circle in Iceland is totally up to you.

What to see in the Golden Circle

The Golden Circle has many attractions, but it’s mainly known as the route that connects:

  • Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park
  • The Great Geysir and Strokkur Geysir
  • Gullfoss Waterfall.

Each has its own special charms, which we've highlighted below.

Þingvellir National Park

Discover a fascinating mixture of Icelandic history and natural beauty. Þingvellir (pronounced ‘Thingvellir’) is one of the most famous stops on the Golden Circle. It’s also Iceland’s first National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site , too. If you’re travelling the Golden Circle clockwise from Reykjavik, it’ll be your first stop.

Rosnarfoss Waterfall in Þingvellir

Þingvellir is a keystone of Icelandic cultural history. The first settlers put down their roots in South Iceland in the 9th century CE. As their society developed, they decided an assembly could help ease disputes and create a fairer society. Þingvellir was chosen as the assembly site because the region was accessible from all the most peopled areas.

In 930, it became Iceland’s -- and the world’s -- first parliament. And the nation's shared cultural heritage has grown ever since.

Then there's the landscape. Geology buffs should note that Þingvellir National Park is also the meeting point of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, which creates some stunning geological sights. You can admire its deep valley, the only place in the world where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge is visible on land, or the sheer cliff face that’s actually the corner of the North American continent.

Indeed, Iceland's land mass was formed from the magma that bubbled up as these two plates moved away from each other. That's why you can still see volcanic activity and landscape throughout the country. You could say these factors make Þingvellir National Park a natural starting place for your tour of Iceland.

Here's the top things to do in Þingvellir National Park:

  • Marvel at Þingvallavatn, Iceland’s largest natural lake
  • Witness Langjökull glacier
  • Snorkel between the tectonic plates at Silfra, one of the world’s top 10 dive sites
  • Hike along the North American plate and through Game of Thrones scenery at Almannagjá gorge
  • Watch the thundering waters at Öxarárfoss waterfall

Geysir geothermal area

Continue driving clockwise, and you’ll arrive at Geysir geothermal area, within the Haukadalur Valley. Your drive will take you past more volcanic landscapes of steaming vents and chimneys. As you get closer to the Geysir geothermal area, the activity becomes more dramatic.

Strokkur geyser in Haukadalur Valley

Here, against a vivid landscape, you’ll find 2 bubbling geysers of note – Great Geysir and Strokkur Geysir. Great Geysir (or simply 'Geysir') is the earliest documented geyser in European literature, and has been active for around 10,000 years! Don't expect much from it now, though: Geysir is considered all but inactive, stirring only when earthquakes inspire bursts of activity for a few months at most.

For action, though, look no further than nearby Strokkur. This geyser erupts every 6–10 minutes, shooting hot water as high as 40 metres (131 ft) into the air. Just make sure you (and your camera) are waterproofed. As you walk through the surrounding Haukadalur Valley, you can also admire the many hot springs, smaller geysers and bubbling mud pots.

Gullfoss waterfall

A short drive away lies Gullfoss, one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls. Watch as water thunders over 2 drops, falling a total of 32 metres (105 ft) and admire the rainbows that shoot from the spray. From your viewpoint, you can admire the Langjökull ice sheet.

During the summer months, when there’s no ice on the ground, you can walk up to the edge of the falls and feel Gullfoss’ spray on your face. It's an incredible, invigorating experience.

While you’re here, you could also raft the Hvita river, an exhilarating experience that allows you to experience the power of the falls up-close. Or, learn about Sigridur Tómasdóttir, known as 'Iceland's first environmentalist'. This local woman campaigned to protect the falls from property development, and ultimately paved the way for the falls to be forever protected as a national conservation area.

Other Golden Circle attractions 

While Þingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal area and Gullfoss waterfall may be the most well-known Golden Circle attractions, there are some noteworthy detours too.

  • Fontana Geothermal Baths . Located in the town of Laugarvatn, between Þingvellir and the Geysirs, you can truly relax and unwind at the Fontana Geothermal Baths. Fontana spa uses the natural waters from the area’s hot springs to create 3 steam rooms, traditional Finnish sauna and shallow kid-friendly bathing pools
  • Kerið Crater . Kerið Crater forms a complete oval and has a small lake at the bottom. The rocks surrounding the crater have fiery reds and oranges combine with bursts of black and green while the lake below adds to the pallet with its sky-blue waters. You could take a thousand photos of this beautiful site.
  • Langjökull Glacier . For the adventure of a lifetime, head to Langjökull Glacier on a snowmobile. You can experience Langjökull Glacier at any time of year as there’s always snow. If you’re on a self-drive, you can get picked up from and returned to Gullfoss waterfall.
  • Sólheimar . On the drive from Þingvellir and the Geysir Geothermal Area, stop off at the ecovillage of Solheimar. Visiting this village allows you to learn more about how the community maximises the potential of every resident, regardless of their age or disability, and supports their cause.
  • Þjórsárdalur (Thjorsardalur) Valley . While not officially part of the Golden Circle, Thjorsardalur allows you to get off the beaten track. Here, you’ll find thundering waterfalls like Hjalparfoss, Haifoss, Glanni and Pjofafoss.
  • Skálholt . This little village is rich with history and is considered by some as Iceland’s first town. Skalholt was home to the country’s first bishop and school. It’s worth stopping to admire its quaint cathedral or visit the nearby Secret Lagoon.

Where to eat when driving the Golden Circle

Driving the Golden Circle provides plenty of photo opportunities. And if you're a fan of Instagramming your food as well -- no judgment here, honest! -- you may want to get a few pictures of some traditional and contemporary Icelandic cuisine while you're there. Along the way, eats such as Skyr yoghurt, fresh seafood like lobster tails, and locally grown farm produce could be a real feast for your senses.

Bowl of Icelandic soup

Our travel consultants recommend the following places to eat:

  • Skyrgerðin . Try traditional sky yoghurt at Skyrgerðin, housed in Hveragerði´s former Skyr yoghurt factory.
  • Friðheimar Farm . Get a light lunch of special tomato soup and home-baked bread at Friðheimar Tomato and Horse Farm. The tomatoes are all grown on-site, pollinated by imported Dutch bees in a greenhouse powered by the earth's internal heat. Non-drivers can even sample a geothermal Bloody Mary at the greenhouse bar. 
  • Efstidalur . This family farm is in the heart of the Golden Circle, on the way from Haukadalur (Geysir) to Þingvellir. Stop by for a special 'farm to table' experience, where dairy, meat and veg from the farm is served up in the farm restaurant.
  • Lindin . Indulge in chocolate desserts in a cosy setting at Lindin, located in the quaint village of Laugarvatn. Lindin also serves home-cooked Icelandic meals too.
  • Gallerý Laugarvatn . Roughly halfway between Geysir and Þingvellir, this cafe and handcraft gallery offers magnificent mountain views and the chance to pick up a handmade souvenir after you've had a snack.
  • Tryggvaskáli . Whether you like authentic Nordic dishes, seafood or burgers, this restaurant comes highly rated. Head over the bridge and into Selfoss, when you're at the southernmost point of the 'circle'.
  • Kaffi Krús . If you're thinking of a casual bite in Selfoss, rather than a restaurant meal, try Kaffi Krús. Here you'll discover warm, hearty dishes like pizza, pasta and burgers. Perfect for satisfying kids and parents alike.
  • Fjöruborðið . If you're willing to make a slight detour, Fjöruborðið in Stokkseyri is a Nordic Visitor staff favourite. Delight in langoustines in garlic butter (prepare to get a bit messy!), creamy tomato and langoustine soup, or traditional homemade cakes.

How much is the Golden Circle? Is it free?

While it doesn’t cost anything to enter the Golden Circle, you will need to rent a car and pay entrance fees at some of the sites. The total cost will depend on how long you rent a car for, the type of accommodation you stay at, how many ticketed sites you visit, and where you eat.

Where should you stay?

As noted before, you can do the whole Golden Circle in one day. Most journeys start and end in Reykjavik, where you can find hotels and guest houses to suit all budgets. With so many options to choose from, the only trick will be finding the right place to launch each day of your stay in Iceland.

At Nordic Visitor, we’ll sort all the lodgings for you. So, you don’t have to worry about researching and planning your route. We’ve carefully vetted and tested all of our chosen hotels and guest houses , which means you’ll always have a comfortable stay at competitive rates.

As a local travel agency, we have special relationships with our accommodation providers and tour organisers. So we will craft a personalised itinerary that provides a seamless getaway, with each day's activities and accommodation organised for you. We do all the heavy lifting so you can just enjoy dreaming of your Iceland trip.

When should you visit the Golden Circle?

The Land of Fire and Ice is a year-round destination, so it's really down to personal preference. Tour Iceland in the summer and you'll enjoy longer days. For a time, the sun barely sets at all, so you don’t need to worry about squeezing everything in before dark.

Top tip : self-drive in summertime means you can time your visits to avoid any coach tour crowds.

On the other hand, driving the Golden Circle in winter means you could see the northern lights or the jaw-dropping beauty of icy cliff-walls created by the freezing spray of Gullfoss. Decide how you’d like to spend your time in Iceland before you book a winter or summer break.

  • Book one of our self-drive tours with the Golden Circle included
  • Related: Driving the Diamond Circle in North Iceland

Is the Blue Lagoon part of the Golden Circle?

Technically the Blue Lagoon is not part of the Golden Circle, but you can easily visit both. Many tour companies offer a two-in-one day tour. But personally I feel this is a little demanding on your time: a trip to a spa experience should not be rushed.

Blue Lagoon in Iceland

A trip to the Blue Lagoon probably takes at least 4 hours including drive time, and you could easily spend a bit longer there. When self-driving the Golden Circle, meanwhile, you should spend at least 8 hours on the route and attractions. It just gives you more time to enjoy each attraction at your own pace. 

That's why I suggest that you'd be better off spending one full day on the Golden Circle, and another half-day enjoying the Blue Lagoon. It can often a good idea to spend half a day relaxing at the Blue Lagoon as a bookend of your trip. That is, either go there after your arrival at Keflavik, or before heading to the airport for an afternoon or evening flight home.

  • Thinking about not driving? Take a look at our Golden Circle and Blue Lagoon multi-day tour

Arrange your Golden Circle self-drive trip with us

Our dedicated travel consultants will arrange all the fine details of your self-drive Golden Circle adventure. We’ll plan your route so that driving time and sightseeing time are perfectly balanced.

When you book with us, your car rental comes with basic insurance, 2-driver allowance, a hand-drawn map, and unlimited Wi-Fi and mileage. All this, plus our 24/7 helpline, means your drive is stress-free.

  • Save time on planning: book one of our self-drive tours with the Golden Circle included  and let your own travel consultant manage all the paperwork
  • Explore a summer self-drive option with the  Golden Circle and South Coast .
  • View the winter self-drive alternative,  Golden Circle and South Coast - Winter .

We’ll also satisfy any special requirements on request. You can add extra destinations from your wishlist to your self-drive tour. Why not spend one final day indulging in the mineral-rich waters of the Blue Lagoon, or cap off your trip with a city tour of chic Reykjavik, finishing with a five-star dining experience?

Check out our driving tours -- they all feature the Golden Circle.

greg blog profile

Greg Perkins is from Edinburgh, Scotland, but he adopted Iceland as his second country when Scotland (typically) managed not to qualify for football's Euro 2016 tournament. His passions include travel, English literature, and board games. Among his top travel experiences are sailing along Geirangerfjord with classically trained singers providing the soundtrack, seeing Sólheimajökull glacier up close in South Iceland, and witnessing the unspoiled beauty of New Zealand's Doubtful Sound fjord.

Find Greg on LinkedIn .

Getting there

We'd love to give you the same amazing travel experiences as you read about in our blog! To visit the destinations and attractions mentioned in this post - and to discover a few new highlights along the way - check out these recommended Nordic Visitor tours.

GOLDEN CIRCLE & SOUTH COAST

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Golden Circle Travel Guide

The Golden Circle is a 190-mile (300 kilometers) route of Iceland's three most popular natural attractions: Thingvellir National Park, the Geysir geothermal area and Gullfoss waterfall.

With its popularity, the trail is featured in many guided packages, including this immersive 6-Day Winter Package , and self-drive tours, such as this 10-Day Road Trip . It is easy to do within half a day by those who join a  Golden Circle tour or  rent a car . 

Many of these excursions have additional activities, such as snorkelling or snowmobiling, or are conducted in a unique style, such as by helicopter, or under the midnight sun.

Within the three locations of this iconic route are some of the clearest examples of Iceland’s fascinating geological forces, magnificent landscapes, and rich culture. If you want to stay close, make sure to book accommodation in the Golden Circle and find your place to stay.

The Geysir Geothermal Area

Strokkur blasts off in the sunset.

The Geysir geothermal area is a hot-spring paradise in Haukadalur valley . The area is most famous for being the home of the geyser from which all other geysers derive their name: Geysir.

Though Geysir itself is currently in a phase of inactivity, its neighbor Strokkur more than makes up for it. Every five to ten minutes, it bursts a column of boiling water to heights that can reach over 130 feet (40 meters). Strokkur's reliable activity guarantees a picture-perfect shot of the hot spring in action when you visit the valley.

The surrounding area is dotted with various fumaroles, hot springs, and mud pits. There are also two other smaller geysers, Smidur and Litli-Strokkur, that can be easily visited, as well as a hotel, restaurant, cafe, and gift shop across the road. The geothermal area has free admission and is always open to visitors, so you could even marvel at the erupting hot springs under the northern lights.

Gullfoss Waterfall

Gullfoss, the Golden Waterfall, gave its name to the Golden Circle

The 'Golden Falls', Gullfoss , is one of the most beautiful and powerful waterfalls in Iceland, plummeting 105 feet (32 meters) in two tiers into the river gorge of the popular rafting river Hvita . It is just a ten-minute drive from Geysir and is the furthest point on the Golden Circle from Reykjavik.

Unbelievably, Gullfoss was almost lost in the early 20th century when British developers sought to harness its incredible force for hydroelectric power. But with help of the arduous work of Sigridur Tomasdottir, the daughter of the landowner of the farm adjacent to the waterfall, the British developers eventually withdrew their plans.

This makes her Iceland's first environmentalist and helped establish a mindset within the country to protect the natural beauty of Iceland. A memorial was raised in dedication to Sigridur in 1978 on the cliff overlooking the waterfall for her effort to protect Gullfoss.

Thankfully we can now enjoy the majestic sight of Gullfoss at any time, whether it's during winter when it's surrounded by snow and ice with the northern lights in the sky above. Or during the summer when it's crowned with a near-permanent rainbow as the midnight sun shines on.

Thingvellir National Park

The National Park is the only UNESCO site on Iceland's mainland.

The largest attraction of the Golden Circle is Thingvellir National Park . Iceland's national assembly, which eventually evolved into a parliament, was founded at this site in 930 and remained there until the year 1798 before moving to Reykjavik. That makes it the original site of what is now the world’s oldest legislature in existence. It was also the ceremonial site of Iceland's declaration of independence in 1944 and the appointment of Iceland's first president.

Thingvellir is located in a rift valley between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. This means the area is full of dramatic cliffs, flowing rivers, and deep gorges, as the area has been slowly torn apart for millions of years by the tectonic plates that drift away from each other at a pace of one inch per year. It is one of the few places in the world where you can walk between the continents in the Mid-Atlantic Rift .

The most daring visitors even have the opportunity to snorkel or scuba dive in this no-mans-land, in a ravine filled with crystal-clear spring water called Silfra . The visibility here can exceed 330 feet (100 meters), revealing incredible geological sites. Though it never freezes over due to the constant flow of water into it, it has a temperature of 35 F (2 C) throughout the year therefore, explorers are always equipped with protective suits.

Other sites of note are the magnificent Almannagja gorge , which you can walk down into to reach the rift valley from the North American tectonic plate, and the beautiful lake Thingvallavatn , the largest lake in Iceland, which is to the south of the National Park.

Surrounding sites

Due to its convenient location in southwest Iceland, it is easy to visit the Golden Circle alongside many other sites. Those seeking relaxation could head to the Secret Lagoon in Flúðir or Fontana Spa in Laugarvatn . The adventure seekers could book a trip to the glistening ice tunnels of Langjökull glacier . If you're looking for a more laid-back time, you can visit the unique  Solheimar ecovillage . For more natural beauty along the route, you can also visit the nearby Kerid crater lake .

There are many Golden Circle tours that include some of these sites as additional stops along the way, but if driving yourself, you should check out this guide to great detours off the Golden Circle .

Popular Tours to Golden Circle

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Iceland’s Golden Circle: A Detailed Guide, Itinerary and Map for Your Trip!

Last updated: May 31, 2023 . Written by Laurence Norah - 11 Comments

One of the most popular scenic routes in Iceland is the Golden Circle. This is a fantastic introduction to the country, and it lets you see many of the natural wonders that Iceland has to offer.

These include waterfalls, geothermal activity, spas, volcano craters and even a UNESCO world heritage site!

Even better, Iceland’s Golden Circle is an easy day trip from Reykjavik , making it accessible even if you’re on a short trip to Iceland.

In this post, we’re going to share with everything you need to know about Iceland’s Golden Circle, based on our time travelling in the country in both summer and winter.

This post includes what to see on the Golden Circle, the best ways to travel around the Golden Circle, other nearby attractions and lots more besides! Let’s get straight into it.

What is the Golden Circle in Iceland?

The Golden Circle is a circular route in southern Iceland that stretches for around 300 km / 186 miles and starts and ends in Reykjavik.

The route is popular, either as a day trip from the city, or as a precursor to exploring Iceland’s south coast. Often, instead of returning to the city, travellers continue along the south coast and then on around Iceland’s Ring Road .

The popularity is largely down to the easy accessibility of the route from the capital, and the fact that many of Iceland’s top attractions can be found along the route. We definitely recommend the Golden Circle to anyone visiting Iceland.

Geysir Iceland

Why is it called the Golden Circle?

The Golden Circle gets its name from Gullfoss, one of the major waterfalls on the route. Gullfoss means Golden Falls in Icelandic. The circle part of the name is simply down to the route that you follow being roughly circular.

The name is also a clever bit of marketing as it sounds pretty cool. In the north of Iceland you can also find the Diamond Circle, another circular driving route which visits a number of popular attractions.

How Long Does it Take to Drive the Golden Circle?

The total driving time for the Golden Circle is just under four hours if you start and end in Reykjavik. Of course, this doesn’t include any stopping time or sightseeing.

For most visitors to Iceland, the Golden Circle is done either as a full day trip or a half day trip from Reykjavik, and we suggest allocating between 6 and 10 hours to the circuit.

Can I do the Golden Circle as a Day Tour from Reykjavik?

The Golden Circle is one of the most popular day tours from Reykjavik, so yes, you absolutely can.

We recommend some more tours at the end of the post, but here are a few quick examples to give you an idea of what’s available.

  • An 8 hour tour of the Golden Circle which includes the major highlights plus Kerid Crater.
  • A full day tour of all the highlights of the Golden Circle , which includes the option to visit the Blue Lagoon as well.
  • A private full day tour of the Golden Circle which includes all the highlights as well as Kerid Crater, Faxi waterfall, and time for ice cream at Efstidalur II.

As you can see, there’s no shortage of choice, whether you want a private tour or a group tour.

When to Visit Iceland’s Golden Circle?

The Golden Circle can be visited year round. Most of the attractions here are open year-round and the roads are open and well-maintained in both summer and winter.

It’s also one of the most popular day trips from Reykjavik, meaning it can get quite busy.

Most of the tours from Reykjavik depart in the morning between 8am and 10am. Some half-day tours also depart in the afternoon, between midday and 2pm. The majority of all the tours are back in Reykjavik in the early evening.

The three most popular stops for tours are of course the highlights, which are Thingvellir, Geysir, and Gullfoss. Expect these locations to be busy from 10am until 6pm. In winter, due to the reduced hours of daylight, these locations will likely be busy from 10am until around 4pm.

If you want to avoid the crowds on the Golden Circle, the best option is to drive yourself, and to visit outside of the busy times. If you are visiting Iceland in summer, you will have almost unlimited hours of daylight at your disposal, so if you toured the highlights before 9am or after 6pm, you are likely to be visiting with fewer people.

However, we would say that you shouldn’t let the possibility of crowds put you off. The attractions are all fairly large with plenty of space, and are all worth seeing even if they are a bit busy when you visit.

Highlights of the Golden Circle in Iceland

The Golden Circle has three major highlights that you should visit, as well as a number of other attractions. We’re going to go through the three major highlights in the order you might visit them, and then share an example itinerary for visiting the Golden Circle.

Almost all Golden Circle day tours will include all three of these sites.

Þingvellir National Park

The first attraction you will come to on the Golden Circle, assuming you are driving it in a clockwise direction, is Þingvellir National Park (Thingvellir in English).

This is a UNESCO world heritage site, and was Iceland’s first national park. It’s important from both a cultural point of view, and also from a geological point of view.

Suffice to say, you won’t want to skip it!

Thingvellir was the location for Iceland’s first parliament, known as the Althing, which first met on this site in 930 AD. This was around fifty years after Iceland was first settled. Thingvellir continued to be used as the parliament’s meeting location until 1798.

Thingvellir was chosen as the location for the parliament as it was deemed to be relatively easy to reach from all the different regions of Iceland. Parliamentary meetings were held over the warmer summer months, and it was a major focal point for the Icelandic people.

Laws were passed, judicial hearings took place, and the basis for Iceland’s present day cultural roots and heritage were essentially formed.

Thingvellir National Park Iceland

This would make Thingvellir National Park worth visiting alone, but there’s more to see here.

As you may know, Iceland sits right on the middle of two continental plates, the Eurasian Plate and the North American Plate. These plates are slowly drifting apart from each other, and Thingvellir is found in the rift valley of these two plates.

This means that you can see and even walk in the cracks that have opened up in the earth as these massive plates move apart from each other. You can even go snorkelling or diving in these fissures , for a truly unique experience.

Fans of Game of Thrones will also be excited to visit Thingvellir, as a number of scenes from the show were filmed in the park.

Most recognisably, the so called Bloody Gate, which forms a part of the path to the Eyrie, was filmed here for Season 4 of the show. More on this, and lots more other locations for the show, in our guide to Game of Thrones locations in Iceland .

Thingvellir National Park is also home to a lovely waterfall, Oxararfoss. This is a ten minute walk from the parking lot, and is a gorgeous waterfall that is well worth the visit.

As you can see, there is plenty to see and do at Thingvellir, so expect to spend at least an hour to 90 minutes here. There are also more walking trails and sights to see if you want to extend your visit.

Visiting Thingvellir is free, however if you are driving yourself there is a small parking charge. This is valid for all the parking lots for the day, and payment is accepted by credit or debit card. Read more on the fees and how to pay here .

Haukadalur Geothermal Field

The next major highlight after Thingvellir National Park on the Golden Circle is the Haukadalur Geothermal Field,  also referred to as the Geysir Geothermal Area.

This is around an hours drive from Thingvellir, and is home to a range of geothermal wonders. These include mud pots, fumaroles and hot springs, as well as two of Iceland’s most famous geysers – Strokkur and Geysir.

Geysir (the name means “to gush”) is where our modern day word geyser comes from, and Geysir was the first geyser ever to be described in print.

Strokkur Geyser erupting Iceland

If you want to see geothermal activity in Iceland, then the Haukadalur Geothermal field is a must-stop on the Golden Circle.

The two main geysers are Strokkur and Geysir. Of late, Geysir has been fairly dormant, although as he’s believed to have been erupting for at least 10,000 years, we think taking a break from time to time is only natural. When he does go off though it’s spectacular, with eruptions of boiling water and steam reaching over 400ft.

The good news though is that Strokkur, which is around fifty metres from Geysir, is far more reliable, usually erupting every five to ten minutes. This eruption is not quite as big as Geysir, generally averaging around 50ft in height, but it is still very impressive.

It’s free to visit Haukadalur Geothermal Field, and there’s free parking on site too.

Just be aware that this is an active geothermal area with thousands of gallons of boiling water pouring out of the ground, so take care when visiting and stay to the marked paths. Keep a close watch on children.

Gullfoss Waterfall

The last of the three major highlights of the Golden Circle is Gullfoss waterfall. Gullfoss, which means golden falls, is where the name of the Golden Circle comes from.

Gullfoss is a truly spectacular waterfall, and is one of our favourite waterfalls in Iceland .

The waterfall, which is on the Hvítá river, is found around ten minutes drive from Haukadalur. There are two main parking areas which offer different views of the falls, one at a lower elevation, and one at a higher elevation.

The views from both locations are worth seeing, and a set of steps links the two. It’s also possible to walk along the edge of the river above the falls for different views.

Gullfoss waterfall Iceland

The falls themselves are across two stages, with the first around 36 feet in height, and the second around 70 feet in height. Before these stages there’s a wide three-step drop that spans the width of the river. The falls are impressive due to their large volume of water, with approximately 4,900 cubic feet of water passing over the falls each second in summer.

Gullfoss is beautiful in both summer and winter. In summer, it’s surrounded by lush green vegetation, and there’s a good chance of seeing rainbows in the spray if you visit in the afternoon, as we did. In the winter, it’s a whole different scene, with snow covered landscapes stretching off into the distance.

The Falls have a visitor centre, shop, and cafe on site. It is free to visit and park here.

As well as being an impressive sight in of itself, Gulfoss is also the starting point for a number of experiences that many visitors to Iceland are interested in doing.

For example, you can book a tour to an ice cave and glacier , or you can take a snowmobiling tour on a glacier . These are seasonal tours, but might be worth considering if these activities are on your wishlist.

Other Attractions On or Near the Golden Circle

As well as the three major attractions along the Golden Circle, there are a number of other stops that you might consider. Some tours will include some of these locations, whilst others will require you to drive your own car, and even to do a short hike.

These attractions are listed in the order that you would encounter them if you depart from Reykjavik and drive the Golden Circle in a clockwise direction. Some of them do require taking a small detour from the main Golden Circle route.

þórufoss, or Thorufoss, is just a five minute detour from the Golden Circle route, and we think is a detour that is very much worth doing.

The waterfall is just off Route 48, and there’s a small parking lot off the road. Note that you can’t see the falls from the roads, and there’s not much in the way of a sign, meaning many visitors miss it.

Thorufoss waterfall Iceland

From the small parking area, it’s a five minute walk across flat ground to a viewpoint, where you can see the falls. You can also descend down the fairly steep path to the pool at the base if you are so inclined, but we thought the view was just fine from the viewing area.

The falls are not huge, but they are very picturesque. They have around a 54ft drop and are around 100 ft wide. They were also used as a Game of Thrones filming location . A good stop if you have an extra 15 minutes or so.

Laugarvatn Fontana

When you visit Iceland, the chances are high that you will want to take a soak in some sort of geothermal spring. Iceland has no shortage of these, from the famous Blue Lagoon , to hot rivers, and everything in between.

On (or near) the Golden Circle, there are at least three places for you to stop off for a refreshing soak, and the first of these is Laugarvatn Fontana .

The natural geothermal springs here have been a popular attraction since 1929. There are a series of experiences you can have here, including steam rooms, and warm pools that overlook the lake. There’s also a hot tub and sauna.

Laugarvatn Fontana

Those of you feeling brave can even take a refreshing dip in the lake itself, which is accessible from the bathing area.

Another reason to visit Laugarvatn Fontana, even if you aren’t planning on using their spa facilities, is for their famous lava bread. They bake their own bread using geothermal heat (a process that takes around 24 hours) and the end result is delicious.

Laugarvatn Fontana is in the town of Laugarvatn, which is on the Golden Circle between Thingvellir National Park and Haukadalur Geothermal Field. There’s free parking on site, but entry to the spa itself does have a fee, which you can see on their website here .

Towels are available for hire, so we recommend packing a travel towel like this to save on that fee.

They also have a nice on-site cafe which serves traditional Icelandic fare and snacks, including that delicious lava bread.

If you’re looking for a tour that includes time at Laugarvatn Fontana, this is a good option .

Faxi (also known as Vatnsleysufoss) is another beautiful waterfall on the Golden Circle, found on the Tungufljót river. It’s not a very high waterfall at around 22 ft, but it is 300ft wide, and is unusual enough to warrant a visit we think.

Faxafoss waterfall Iceland

You can either view the falls from the road above them, or drive down to the parking lot at the base. It’s a popular place for salmon fishing, so expect to see fishermen during the fishing season.

The falls are around a five minute detour off the Golden Circle route, and if you have the time are worth visiting for some photos. There’s also a restaurant on-site here, Vid Faxa, which offers meals with nice views.

This private tour includes a stop at Faxi.

Secret Lagoon Hot Spring

The Secret Lagoon Hot Spring is the second of the geothermal baths you can visit whilst travelling the Golden Circle. Despite the name, it must be said that the secret is definitely out on this one.

The Secret Lagoon dates from 1891, making it the oldest man-made swimming pool in the country. However, it fell into disuse until around 2005, when the present owner started to use it himself as a private pool, and hence it got its name.

Secret Lagoon Iceland

Today the pool is open to all for a fee, and offers a lovely bathing experience. It’s part of a larger geothermal area, so you can also see a baby geyser (Litli Geysir) as well as boiling pools.

It’s around a 10 minute detour from the main Golden Circle route to get to the Secret Lagoon, which is found in the town of Flúðir. There’s a fee to use it, and you can opening hours and prices on the official website here . You can also buy your tickets in advance online here .

Your entry ticket includes access to the segregated changing rooms, lockers and showers. Towel and swimsuit hire is available as an extra charge, so we recommend bringing your own .

Note that in Iceland it is required to shower fully naked prior to bathing, and whilst the changing rooms and showers are normally segregated, there are not usually private shower cubicles. So do keep this in mind prior to booking any spa experience.

The Secret Lagoon can be visited on a self-drive trip.

Kerið Crater

Kerið Crater, also called Kerid Crater, is a lovely volcano crater and crater lake just off the Golden Circle as you return to Reykjavik.

The crater is one of the best examples of its type in Iceland. It only formed around 3,000 years ago, so weathering and erosion have not had too great an impact, meaning it’s very visually recognisable.

Kerið Crater

When you visit, you have the option of walking around the crater, and you can also descend the approximately 200 feet down to the lake itself if you wish. It’s a lovely colourful red color with a fairly circular lake inside it, and makes for a great stop.

There’s a small entry fee of 400 ISK (as of June 2019) to visit the crater and park here. It’s also included on this tour , or this private tour .

Bobby Fischer Center

Those of you with an interest in chess will likely be interested in visiting the Bobby Fischer Center , one of the few museums in the world dedicated to a world champion chess player!

This is found in the town of Selfoss, and would be around a five minute detour from your Golden Circle route.

Here you can learn all about Bobby Fischer, often regarded as one of the greatest chess players of all time. Bobby was originally from Chicago in the USA, but lived the last years of his live in Iceland, largely as a way to avoid deportation to the USA following his violation of US sanctions in Yugoslavia.

There’s a small entry fee, and the museum is open from mid-May to mid-September. See the official website for opening times.

Horse Riding

Iceland is home to the beautiful Icelandic horse, a tough breed which has a wonderful flowing mane.

Many people want to meet, take photography with, learn about, and of course, ride, an Icelandic Horse when in Iceland.

When driving the Golden Circle, one option is to visit Friðheimar . You can pre-book a visit to the stables, and in the summer months they also run a horse show.

It’s also possible to take a tour of the Golden Circle which includes visiting a horse stable , or a tour of the Golden Circle which includes horse riding .

Icelandic Horse

Reykjadalur Hot Spring

Last, but by no means least, on our list of attractions near the Golden Circle, is the Reykjadalur Hot Spring. Unlike the other geothermal springs in this guide, this one is entirely free to visit, and is also a largely natural feature.

This one is just off the Golden Circle, with the parking lot for the hike around a five minute detour through the town of Hveragerði.

Hot water bubbles out of the ground and joins a natural river, and you can get into the river at different points and relax in the pools. To adjust the temperature, you’ll just want to go up or downstream!

There are of course a few caveats to this natural attraction. First, it’s about a 1 hour walk each way from the parking area to the bathing area. The path is well marked and fairly easy to follow, but it does go uphill for quite a while.

Reykjadalur Hot Spring

Second, there are no formal changing areas, showers, toilets, or anything like that. There is just a wooden boardwalk area with wooden modesty panels, but they are not enclosed.

So if you are nervous about getting undressed in public, you may want to put your swimsuit on underneath your clothing before you start the hike.

There’s also no shelter here for your or your stuff. So if it’s raining, you’ll want to be sure to have some sort of waterproof cover for your gear.

We advise against visiting in winter or when there is a lot of snow or ice on path as it can be more difficult to follow the path and to distinguish safe and unsafe areas.

All that said, this is a really wonderful natural bathing experience, especially in nice weather. If you are driving the Golden Circle in the summer months when you have lots of light, it would make a great last stop on your adventure!

Itinerary for Iceland’s Golden Circle

If you are planning on hiring a car and driving the Golden Circle, we’ve put together this quick suggested 1 day Golden Circle itinerary that departs from Reykjavik in the morning and returns to Reykjavik in the afternoon / evening.

It could also be used as the starting point for a longer trip in Iceland, and for some inspiration in that department, see our itineraries for 3 days in Iceland , 7 days in Iceland , and the Iceland ring road .

Þingvellir National Park Iceland

Stop 1: þórufoss

Our first suggested stop on your Golden Circle trip is þórufoss. It’s a pretty waterfall and it’s not usually too crowded. Depending on the traffic out of the city and where you are leaving from, expect this to take you around 40 minutes of driving. You shouldn’t need more than 10 – 15 minutes here.

Stop 2: Thingvellir

From þórufoss it’s about a 20 minute drive to Thingvellir National park. There’s a lot to see and do here. Don’t forget to pay for your parking! Highlights include Þingvallakirkja (the church), Lögberg (rock formations), the various fissures, and the Öxarárfoss waterfall.

You can also book snorkelling here . You’ll want to book this in advance and expect to allocate at least 2 – 3 hours to them if you choose to do those, which will impact how much you can see over the rest of the day.

Otherwise, we’d suggest scheduling around 90 minutes for Thingvellir.

Stop 3: Lunch at Efstidalur II.

By now you might be getting hungry. Our suggestion for lunch is the restaurants and farm shop at Efstidalur II, which is around a 40 minute drive from Thingvellir.

They have delicious food made from locally sourced ingredients, and we really enjoyed their burger. They are also famous for their ice cream, so even if you are travelling on more of a budget and are rocking a packed lunch, we highly recommend indulging in some ice cream anyway!

Expect to spend 45 – 90 minutes here if you have the full lunch, or a 15 minute break for ice cream.

Efstidalur II. Icecream

Stop 4: Haukadalur Geothermal Field

After lunch, it’s a 15 minute drive to Haukadalur Geothermal field where you can see the bubbling mud points, steaming fumaroles, and erupting geysers.

This is a wonderfully photogenic location and is a lot of fun to visit. Expect to spend around 30 minutes – 45 minutes on site.

Stop 5: Gullfoss Waterfall

From Haukadalur it’s just a short 10 minute drive to Gullfoss, which is often the major highlight for most visitors touring the Golden Circle.

It’s not hard to see why, and this waterfall is truly impressive. There are a plethora of photo opportunities here, so expect to spend at least 30 – 45 minutes on site. There’s also a gift shop, cafe and restrooms here.

Stop 6: Faxi waterfall

It’s time to turn around and start heading back to Reykjavik. If you’re still keen on seeing some waterfalls, then a stop at the quieter Faxi waterfall, 20 minutes drive from Gullfoss, is worth it.

It’s just off the road, and shouldn’t take up more than 10 – 15 minutes of your time.

Stop 7: Kerið Crater

From Faxi, continue on Route 35 for around half an hour until you come to Kerid Crater. This is another very worthwhile stop on the Golden Circle, giving you the opportunity to explore a real volcano crater up close.

You can spend a fair amount of time here if you choose to hike around the crater and go down to the crater floor, or you can just swing by and take a few photos. We’d suggest allocating between 15 minutes and an hour here, depending on your interest level.

Stop 8:  Choose a Hot Spring

If you are interested in visiting a hot spring in Iceland, the Golden Circle provides three options for you.

The two hot springs on the way around the Golden Circle, Laugarvatn Fontana and the Secret Lagoon, are very easy to visit as you travel round, and there are tours available which stop at one or the other.

See this tour which includes Laugarvatn Fontana..

Another option, if you are driving the Golden Circle over the summer months and want a bit of a hike to end out your day, then we definitely recommend taking the time to visit Reykjadalur Hot Spring.

It will take you around 25 minutes to drive to the parking lot here from Kerid Crater, after which you’re looking at at least an hours hike each way to reach the bathing area.

After all that hiking, you’ll likely want to enjoy the pools, so expect to spend around an hour lazing around. We’d not recommend doing this in winter, or if you need to get back to Reykjavik to return your hire car by a certain time.

From Reykjadalur to Reykjavik it’s about a 45 minute drive.

Another option is to add on a visit to the Blue Lagoon or Sky Lagoon at the end of your trip. The Blue Lagoon is closer to the airport, whilst the Sky Lagoon is closer to Reyjkavik city centre. If you are driving yourself, neither are too great of a detour.

The Blue Lagoon makes for a good option if you are flying out the following day as the Blue Lagoon is close to the airport, and there are hotels in this area you can overnight at.

It’s also possible to take a Golden Circle tour which includes a trip to the Blue Lagoon at the end of the trip.

early golden circle tour

Total driving time on the Golden Circle: ~ 4 hours Total sightseeing time on the Golden Circle: 3 – 8 hours, depending on sights and activities

Overall time for the Golden Circle 7 – 12 hours.

Map of Iceland’s Golden Circle

To help you visualise the Golden Circle and plan your route, we’ve put together this map. This has the standard Golden Circle Driving Route, as well as the major highlights and other attractions marked. You can see also see this on Google Maps here .

Iceland Golden Circle Map

Where to Stay on the Golden Circle

The majority of travellers driving the Golden Circle do it either as a day trip from Reykjavik , day tour, or as the start of larger trip around the country.

However, you can also stay on the Golden Circle too, and thus not feel rushed to get back to the city.

If you have more time in Iceland, you can easily split it up into 2 much more manageable days and have more time to explore this route, with plenty of time for side attractions, day-hikes and thermal baths!

Skyr Guesthouse

We’ve stayed at a few properties on the Golden Circle itself, as well as in Reykjavik, and wanted to share some options to help you plan.

Accommodation on the Golden Circle

  • Héradsskólinn Guesthouse – A great value and well reviewed hostel close to the Laugarvatn Spa. There’s an on-site restaurant, and rooms range from dorms to private accommodation.
  • Efstidalur Farm hotel – A lovely option that is close to both Haukadalur Geothermal Field and Gullfoss. There’s an on-site restaurant and bar, a geothermal outdoor hot tub, and they offer Icelandic horse riding in the summer
  • Fludir Icelandair Hotel – We stayed here once during a trip around the Golden Circle and it was very comfortable, with an on-site restaurant.
  • Garður Stay Inn by the Secret Lagoon – This is a well reviewed property which is very handy for the “Secret Lagoon”
  • River Hotel – Located by the Ranga River next to the town of Hella, this hotel offers dining, an open-air hot tub, bar and free wifi.
  • Midgard basecamp – Found in Hvolsvöllur, this highly rated hostel is a great budget option with a hot tub
  • Skyr Guesthouse – An excellent option just a couple of minutes drive from the Reykjadalur Hot Spring hike start point. We stayed here for a night and enjoyed the comfortable rooms and delicious food in the on-site restaurant

Accommodation in Reykjavik

  • Galaxy Pod Hostel – A well located hostel offering dormitory accommodation with a twist – each bed is in a self-contained pod, offering more privacy than a normal hostel. Pods vary in standard, but most come with TV’s, power and WiFi.
  • Reyjkavik Natura Icelandair Hotel , this hotel offers free parking, a free city bus pass to all guests, on-site restaurant and spa facilities. We stayed here on our first visit to Reykjavik.
  • Guesthouse Galtafell  – A good value option around ten minutes walk from the city center and quick walk from the BSI bus station. Offers both guest rooms in the main house as well as apartments that come with a small kitchenette. We’ve also stayed here.
  • Grand Hotel, around 1.2 miles from the city center, offering four star accommodation, free wifi, spa & fitness center and free parking. We’ve also stayed here.
  • Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina – a very central 4* hotel right on the Marina within a short walking distance of the highlights of the city. Rooms are all en-suite, some have balconies, and there’s a gym and restaurant on site.

Options for Visiting the Golden Circle

You have two main options for visiting the Golden Circle – you can drive yourself, or you can take a guided tour.

Guided tours are a very popular option, and because so many companies offer them, prices are competitive so you can get a full day tour at a good rate. See the next section for some of the tours and companies we suggest you look into for touring the Golden Circle, which includes both group and private tours.

The closest guided tour we found to the itinerary we put together is this full day tour .

The other option is to rent a car and drive yourself. There are a number of options for car rental in Iceland, but we recommend you check either Discover Cars here or on Northbound here .

Discover Cars compare a number of providers in the country so you can find the best price for you.

Northbound is based in Iceland, and they also search a range of providers with the added advantage that you can add the various insurances that are unique to the country should you so choose. This can help avoid the hard sell that you will otherwise likely get for these insurances at the checkout counter when you pick up your car.

See more on insurance in Iceland, plus general advice for driving in the country, in our tips for driving in Iceland post .

The Golden Circle follows good paved roads, so you won’t need a 4×4 for the Golden Circle. However, if you are doing it as part of a longer trip and are driving in winter, or are planning any time in the highlands in summer, you might consider a 4×4 vehicle.

At around 300 kms, the Golden Circle is easily driveable as a day trip from the city. Whilst gas is expensive in Iceland, you won’t need more than a tank to drive the whole distance.

That said, if you are travelling on your own or even as a couple, and budget is a consideration, you might find that a tour works out to be more cost effective than the cost of vehicle rental, insurance, and gas. This is because Golden Circle tours are really well priced in Iceland.

For budget tips, see our guide to travelling Iceland on a budget for more lots of tips on saving money in the country.

Þingvellir National Park Iceland

Best Tours of the Golden Circle

As already mentioned in the post, one of the most popular ways to experience the Golden Circle is on a tour. There’s a wide variety of Golden Circle tours to choose from, and taking a tour means you can just enjoy the sight-seeing without having to worry about the driving or other logistics.

Here are some suggested tours of the Golden Circle to consider, all of which depart from Reykjavik.

  • An 8 hour tour which includes the three highlights of the Golden Circle plus Kerid Crater. One of the lower cost Golden Circle tours.
  • A year round 9 hour tour which covers all the Golden Circle highlights and also includes time at the Laugarvatn Fontana.
  • A 10 hour full day tour of the Golden Circle which also includes snorkelling in the Silfra Fissure
  • An 11 hour tour of the Golden Circle which includes all the highlights, as well as an Icelandic Horse Riding experience

See many more tour options on  GetYourGuide here and Viator here .

Further Reading

That summarises our guide to Iceland’s Golden Circle. We’ve visited Iceland a number of times in both summer and winter, and have put together a number of detailed guides to help you plan your own trip. Here are some we think you will find useful:

  • We have a detailed guide to the best day trips from Reykjavik , if you choose to base yourself in the city and explore from there
  • We also have a guide to the best group tours of Iceland , if you want a longer guided experience. These range from a few days to a few weeks and cover all budgets
  • For overall planning, see our guide to planning a trip to Iceland
  • If you are looking for a self guided road trip in Iceland, we have some suggested itineraries. These include a 3 day stopover itinerary , a 5 day Iceland itinerary , a 7 day Iceland winter itinerary , and an Iceland ring road itinerary
  • Iceland has lot of attractions to suit different types of traveller! For some specific advice on different sights, see our guides to finding puffins in Iceland , Game of Thrones filming locations in Iceland , and waterfalls in Iceland
  • If you’re visiting Iceland in winter, we have a winter packing list for Iceland , suggested winter activities in Iceland , and tips for driving in Iceland in winter
  • A popular attraction in Iceland is the Blue Lagoon – we wrote a whole guide to visiting the Blue Lagoon to help you plan your visit and make the most of your time there
  • Iceland is a fairly expensive country to visit. To help you save money, we put together a guide to visiting Iceland on a budget
  • If you’re lucky, you might see the northern lights in Iceland if visiting in winter. See our guide to photographing the Northern Lights for some tips on getting great shots
  • Speaking of photography, we have a guide to the best photography locations in Iceland , as well as a guide to finding the Iceland plane crash , which is a popular photography location

And that’s it for our post on visiting Iceland’s Golden Circle! As always, we’re happy to hear your feedback and answer any questions – just use the comments section below and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can!

A detailed guide to exploring Iceland's Golden Circle. Covers the highlights, tips for side trips, a suggested itinerary + tour & accommodation options

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There are 11 comments on this post

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Anne Campbell says

11th February 2023 at 1:01 pm

Thank you so much for this excellent post about the Golden Circle! I haven’t found anything else online that compares to it. My husband, 15 year old son and I are going to be visiting Iceland on a 2-day layover to London in May and we have the Golden Circle planned for our second day in Iceland. With this post, I feel confident that I know what we will see and do, and we can’t wait!

Laurence Norah says

12th February 2023 at 10:32 am

Thanks very much Anne! Have a great time in Iceland and let me know if you have any questions!

Roy Hays says

23rd July 2022 at 2:58 pm

When is the best time to visit the golden circle?

24th July 2022 at 7:25 pm

If you mean by time of the year then honestly it depends! Summer you get lovely long days and green landscapes, whilst in winter you get shorter days but lovely snow covered landscapes. We’ve been at both times of year and they are both lovely, but it really just depends on whether you prefer a summery experience or a wintry experience!

Let me know if you have any more questions!

Neil Swinyard-Jordan says

12th August 2021 at 8:33 am

Good morning, I’ve just finished reading your website pages and so far it’s the best I’ve come across for details and things to do in Iceland and I’ve sent the address to several friends who are also planning trips to Iceland. Personally, I’ve booked a trip with my wife and two older parents in October, for 9 days. Keen to see the Golden Circle, our first 2.5 days will be staying to the south west of the circle at the Fire and Ice Hotel. I’d love to do the snorkelling at Silfra, perhaps the afternoon after we arrive in the morning but then wondered what you recommend for the best route to see the areas you write about above (clockwide /anti-clockwise, half one day, half the next)? We want to do the hot river soak, get to the far north for Gullfoss and see the main sights. Is it all doable in the time we have? Many thanks Neil.

12th August 2021 at 12:50 pm

Thanks very much, it’s great to hear from you.

So the hotel you have picked, (which I think is the Frost & Fire hotel in Hveragerði), is definitely well located, and just a four minute drive or 30 minute walk to the start of the Thermal River walk. It is definitely all possible in the time you have. I’d suggest:

The hot spring soak on the day you arrive. This isn’t time sensitive and doesn’t need a booking, so you don’t need to feel rushed about getting here should you have a flight delay. It’s about an hour’s walk each way from the start point, plus however long you choose to stay, so this could easily take up most of that afternoon if you choose.

The following day I would recommend the Silfra snorkelling experience and time exploring Thingvellir, including þórufoss. On the way back you could stop at Kerid Crater.

For your third day you could do the highlights around Gulfoss, including Faxi and Geysir.

This will give you plenty of time to see everything without being rushed at all. You could in theory do everything quicker (many people do the Golden Circle in a day), but going at a more leisurely pace will let you really enjoy everything.

I hope I’ve interpreted your request correctly in terms of the number of days you have, but do let me know if not and I can offer a revision 🙂

Have a great trip!

12th August 2021 at 6:18 pm

Laurence, That’s great and you interpreted everything exactly as I’d hoped. Your ‘programme’ will work for us and to do it at a leisurely pace will be ideal for the two parents… Many thanks, Neil

Kelly Brennan says

8th August 2021 at 2:08 am

Wonderful and very helpful article. I was wondering if you could give some advice? We are travelling with our kids (21&18) on the Disney cruise. (August 2022) We plan on renting a car. We would like to see the Golden Circle, Hike the Steamy Valley to the river hot-springs and go to the Blue Lagoon. We would like to see a bit of Reykjavik as well. We arrive at 1:00 pm and depart the next day at 5:00 pm. We can leave/return to the ship at anytime. Is this possible?? Thank you in advance. Kelly.

8th August 2021 at 12:39 pm

Great to hear from you and thanks for your kind words. I’d be happy to help. Sounds like you have an awesome trip coming up. So I would say that your plan might be pushing it a little in terms of getting everything in, although it depends on how fast you move and how early / late you are willing to travel. As you are visiting in August and the sun doesn’t set until around 10pm, you do have lots of daylight time to play with!

The drive out to Reykjadalur Hot Spring (I’m assuming this is what you mean for the steamy valley) is about 45 minutes each way from the city, and then it’s about a 1hr walk each way to the bathing area, plus however long you want to spend in the river itself.

The drive out to the Blue Lagoon from Reyjkavik is about 40 minutes each way.

I think you might have to decide between the Blue Lagoon and the Reykjadalur Hot Spring, unless you are planning some early starts or a late night.

An itinerary could look as follows:

Day 1: Spend a couple of hours sightseeing in Reykjavik on Head out to the Reykjadalur Hot Spring OR the Blue Lagoon between 3pm and 4pm.

Day 2, focus on the Golden Circle.

Alternatively, if you don’t want to be out too late, you could do the hot spring or the Blue Lagoon on day 1, then do the Golden Circle in the morning of day 2, followed by spending the remainder of your time sight seeing in Reyjkavik.

I hope this helps!

8th August 2021 at 3:27 pm

Thank you! I thought we were pushing it. The plan looks great. Have a fantastic day. Kelly.

8th August 2021 at 3:30 pm

My pleasure! Have a great trip 😀

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Experience true Nordic winter with these Iceland and Canada tours!

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Golden Circle Tours

Golden Circle Complete - Classic Minibus Tour

See iceland's top attractions - small groups - personal service.

early golden circle tour

This classic day tour will take you to four of Iceland's most popular attractions, Gullfoss, Geysir, Thingvellir National Park, and Kerid crater lake . Additionally, we'll visit the geothermal town of Hveragerði.

  • Great value - Multiple stops
  • Operated in a minibus
  • Thingvellir National Park

Geysir Geothermal Area

  • Gullfoss Waterfall

Hveragerði

  • Kerid Crater Lake
  • Pick up and drop off in Reykjavik
  • Professionally guided English tour in a minibus

What to bring

  • Warm clothes
  • Sturdy shoes
  • Camera (optional)

Tour Snapshot

  • Expert Guides
  • Small Group Experience
  • Free Cancellation
  • No Booking Fees
  • Best Price Guarantee

Along the way, we will make stops at other interesting places such as Kerid Crater lake and the geothermal town of Hveragerði. It's about time to open your sense of adventure!

We'll visit many exciting places but they are all close by so don’t worry, we'll have enough time to enjoy everything!

group of people in Geysir watching eruption

We'll head over to the geothermally active valley of Haukadalur, where we'll see the famous Geysir and many hot springs. Witness Strokkur Geyser , which spouts every five minutes and projects steaming water up to 30 m (100 ft) high! 

After hitting the road again, we'll make a short stop to look at Icelandic horses, which are a common sight in the countryside of Iceland.

Gullfoss Waterfall (The Golden Falls)

Gullfoss waterfall side view on Golden Circle tour

Next up is Gullfoss , the most famous waterfall in Iceland in the river Hvíta. Stand close to the cascade and feel the mist of glacial water on your face. The power of Gullfoss is simply inspirational. Around this time, it should be lunchtime, so we'll stop at a local place for food.

Thingvellir National Park and Öxarárfoss waterfall

Oxararfoss and Thingvellir hiking path in Iceland

To complete the Golden Circle, we end our tour with a visit to Thingvellir National Park . The area holds great historical importance and has many remarkable geological features. The Eurasian and American tectonic plates meet here, and Althingi (the Icelandic parliament) was formed on these rocks in 930 AD, making it the oldest parliamentary site in the world. Thingvellir was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.

Hveragerdi town view from a mountain

The geothermal town of   Hveragerði   is   best-loved   for its countless hissing hot springs and greenhouses. Sometimes called "the earthquake town,"   Hveragerði   experiences minor tremors   once in a while . Take a short walk and check out an earthquake exhibition in   Sunnumörk   Shopping   Center   free of charge.   

PICK-UP INFORMATION

Your Golden Circle small-group sightseeing tour starts with pick-up from your selected location in Reykjavik at 8:00 a.m. Please note, that the pick-up can take up to 30 min.

Check out our list of designated pick-up points here .

KERID CRATER LAKE

early golden circle tour

Another unforgettable attraction on the Golden Circle route is Kerid crater lake, formed 3000 years ago. Once you get to see it from above, you'll understand why it's sometimes referred to as "The Eye of the World." This name was given to the lake because of its appearance: the aquamarine-colored lake enclosed by red volcanic rocks creates a surreal view that might remind you of an eye.

early golden circle tour

What our Travelers are saying about Golden Circle

How should i prepare myself for a pick-up for tours.

The pickup time is stated on your voucher and therefore we recommend you to review your voucher carefully. We ask all participants to be ready from the start of the pickup time indicated as you may well be the first pick up of the day. Please be at your assigned location at the right pick up time that you chose when booking the tour. Wait for your guide at your assigned pick up location. Have your email and phone number listed with us so we can contact you if we run into any trouble finding you. View our pick-up locations in Reykjavík.

Am I allowed to drink alcohol before or during the tours?

Alcohol is prohibited on all of our tours before and during activities. If we find the participant to be intoxicated, we will prohibit them from taking part in the activity. After the activities of the day are finished then you are more than welcome to have a drink and relax.

Are there any family friendly tours, for younger children?

Yes, we do have a tour into Langjökull Ice Cave that has no minimum age and it is a fantastic option for the whole family. As a Whale Watching with our partner company Special Tours, enjoyable tour for a family traveling with young children, these guys have an enormous success rate in seeing whales (upwards of 98% in the summertime). If you want to explore parts of Icelandic Highlands than we have our magnificent Landmannalaugar Safari tour that also offers you to bathe in natural hot springs. Almost all of our jeep tours are suitable for children over the age of 6 years old. Then we also have a relaxing experience that we highly recommend, our Golden Circle & Secret Lagoon tour.

Can the tour itinerary change?

We reserve the rights to adjust the itinerary and/or take different routes depending on conditions. Your safety is our number one priority. Please read more information in our terms and conditions in regards to this matter.

Do you have a guide on each tour?

Yes, we have specially trained and certified guide on all of our tours, expect on our self-drive tours. All of our tours are English guided.

Can the guide advise if I am eligible for rescheduling the tour and/or a refund?

No, for all your questions and concerns you would need to contact our customer service .

Are your tours rated in terms of difficulty?

We have four different categories that help participants to get a better understanding of what to expect from the tour. The categories are Easy, Moderate, Challenging and Demanding. All of our tours are rated to make it easier for you to find a tour that suits you. For further information about the difficulty ratings and descriptions.

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Contact us for more information about this tour.

Adventures.com offers pick up service from selected Reykjavík pick up points. Note that you can always update your pick-up / drop-off location through our customer portal: https://my.adventures.com You can press the login button in your confirmation email for an easy login to the customer portal. If you experience an error with logging into the customer portal or can't find your booking, please contact us on Facebook Messenger, or send us a message here below. Chat with us on Facebook Messenger

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Golden Circle Iceland: Ultimate Guide

Home » Blog » Europe » Iceland » Golden Circle Iceland: Ultimate Guide

The Golden Circle is one of the top attractions in Iceland, and for a good reason. It’s easily accessible to all travelers whether you’re visiting the island for just a few days or staying much longer. This travel guide is everything you need to plan your own self-driving tour of the Golden Circle, plus some secret spots off the beaten path that you’ll want to check out.

Golden Circle Iceland | Bruarfoss

One of the most popular attractions in all of Iceland is the route known as the Golden Circle. It’s one of those “must things to do in Iceland” that appears on just about every itinerary. 

So what is the Golden Circle exactly?

In short, it is a famous driving loop that passes by three main sights:

  • Thingvellir National Park:  the place where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet
  • Geysir:  a geothermal valley with a frequently-erupting geyser
  • Gullfoss:  a massive waterfall

These three attractions are well-developed and easily accessible for people of most ages and abilities, making it a good addition to most visitors’ first trip to Iceland, even if you’re only in the country for a short time.

Golden Circle Iceland Guide

Where is the golden circle.

  • How to plan your route

Golden Circle map

  • How long does it take?

Golden Circle main attractions

  • Off-the-beaten-path attractions on the Golden Circle
  • Bonus stops  near  the Golden Circle
  • Golden Circle itineraries
  • Tour vs. Self-drive
  • Recommended Golden Circle tours
  • Best time to visit the Golden Circle

Golden Circle FAQs

Where to eat on the golden circle, where to stay on the golden circle.

  • What to pack

Want to save time and energy on planning?

We’ve traveled to Iceland 3 times now and spent weeks living in a campervan, traveling around the country. We’ve been able to explore a lot of what Iceland has to offer!

We’ve complied our experience to create the  perfect Iceland itinerary . Our itinerary is for 7-9 days and meant to be explored while traveling in a campervan. It includes the  highlights of the southern coast of Iceland. 

We’ll send you our complete 7-9 day customizable itinerary, filled with tips and advice. Just click below to get your  perfect Iceland itinerary  today!

Iceland South Coast Itinerary Banner

This popular driving route in southwest Iceland loops from Reykjavík past three major attractions and back to Reykjavík.

How to plan your Golden Circle route

We’ve driven the Golden Circle route twice and have gathered all sorts of tips for the main attractions. Plus, we’re sharing some off-the-beaten-path stops you’ll miss out on if you don’t know what you’re looking for. (And in our opinion, some of these hidden gems are even cooler than the big names!)

In this article, we’re going to break down everything you need to know about planning your Golden Circle trip while in Iceland.

early golden circle tour

How long does the Golden Circle take?

  • Golden Circle distance:  246 kilometers (153 miles)
  • Golden Circle drive time  (return trip to Reykjavík): 3.5 hours (this does not include time at stops or additional attractions along the way)
  • Our recommendation:  allocate between 6-10 hours, depending on how many additional stops you’d like to include

In short, you can easily drive the Golden Circle as a day trip from Reykjavík, and get back to town in time for dinner. Alternatively, you can take your time and stretch it out over two days if you’d prefer.

The total drive time from Reykjavík to the three main attractions and  back  to Reykjavík is just about 3.5 hours. That said, you’ll need to account for the time spent at each stop as well as any additional stops you’d like to make along the way.

We’d recommend allocating between 6-10 hours for this route so you don’t feel too rushed. 

If you really want to take your time and see some of the lesser-known sights, you may even want to plan to spend the night along the Golden Circle route so you have ample time for exploring. (This is what we did!)

The loop to just the three main attractions is roughly 153 miles (247 km). If you add in time spent at each attraction, it can add up to a good portion of your day. Plus, you’ll need to add on more driving distance and time if you want to include more stops along the way (which we’d highly recommend!).

Distances between main attractions

  • Reykjavík to Thingvellir: 47 km (29 miles) / 40 minutes
  • Thingvellir to Geysir: 60 km (37 miles) / 50 minutes
  • Geysir to Gullfoss: 10 km (6 miles) / 10 minutes
  • Gullfoss to Reykjavík (via Selfoss): 130 km (80 miles) / 1 hour 50 minutes

Good to know: Another factor to consider is whether you will be doing the Golden Circle as part of a longer road trip, or whether you need to return to Reykjavík. Personally, we  continued along the Ring Road route  after completing the Golden Circle, so we did  not  need to drive back to Reykjavík.

The Golden Circle truly only encompasses three main attractions, which we’ve listed below. 

However, there is much more in this area that is worth seeing. If you have the time, we’d highly recommend looking at our list of “off the beaten path” attractions to add to your route to make it more interesting.

Thingvellir (Þingvellir) National Park

Thingvellir National Park Iceland

Located 47 kilometers (29 miles) east of Reykjavík, this is most visitors’ first stop on the Golden Circle, and for good reason. 

Thingvellir was Iceland’s first national park, and it is also recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Centre. In addition to these titles, Thingvellir held an important role throughout history and has great geological importance.

Thingvellir National Park throughout History

  • Þingvellir translates to “parliament plains” because this was originally where lawmakers met to settle disputes and put laws into place. While these meetings took place outdoors instead of in a fancy building, this is actually recognized as the oldest parliament in the world. The first recorded meetings took place as early as 930 A.D., which was during the age of the Vikings. 
  • In 1930, Thingvellir was established as Iceland’s first National Park. 
  • Thingvellir National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Centre in 2004.
  • When Iceland gained its independence from Denmark on June 17, 1944, there was a huge gathering and celebration at Thingvellir.
  • In modern history news, Thingvellir was a filming location for several  Game of Thrones  scenes.

Geology at Thingvellir National Park

Silfra Fissure Iceland

  • This is the spot where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet, creating a rift. Thingvellir is the only place in the world where you can see these two plates meeting above ground.
  • Each year, these tectonic plates are drifting apart at a rate of 2 centimeters (about three-quarters of an inch).
  • Silfra is the name of the fissure between these two tectonic plates, and it’s filled with glacial water that has been filtered through an underground lava system. This is the only place in the world where you can snorkel (or dive, if you have drysuit certifications)  between  two tectonic plates!

How do you pronounce Þingvellir?

I had the same question, and it’s kind of a tricky one.

While the first character in the word, “Þ”, looks like a “P” it most definitely is not. This character is known as  thorn  and has a “th” sound, so it is acceptable to spell Þingvellir as  Thingvellir .

Double Ls are another tricky one in Icelandic, as they sound more like “ti” or “til”.

My best phonetic spelling attempt of  Þingvellir  would be “thing-vet-ir”. 

Here’s a video pronunciation of Thingvellir.

Things to do in Thingvellir

Oxararfoss Falls Iceland

  • Almannagjá Gorge:  A path through this gorge quite literally brings you past the two tectonic plates, and offers up some pretty awe-inspiring views.
  • Oxararfoss waterfall:  A short walk from the parking lot will lead you to this waterfall which has some interesting basalt column features.
  • Lake Þingvallavatn:  Glimpse the largest natural lake in Iceland.
  • Silfra Fissure:  This is the only place in the world where you can snorkel (or dive, if you have dry suit certification) between two tectonic plates! Even if you’re not getting in the water, it’s worth walking to this point where you can see the fissure from above the ground. More on this activity below!
  • Þingvallakirkja:  The Thingvellir Church is situated in a beautiful setting and is fun to see while in the national park. You can even walk inside if you’d like. 
  • “Heart of Iceland” exhibit:  Thingvellir has a deep history and has some of the most interesting geological features in the entire country. If you’d like to learn more about both, consider visiting the “Heart of Iceland” exhibit in the Thingvellir visitors center. It costs 1,000 ISK for adults.
  • Optional stop near Thingvellir:  If you’re a waterfall buff and just can’t get enough of ‘em,  Þórufoss  is located just a short detour from the park entrance and makes a good quick stop on your way to Thingvellir. This waterfall tends to be less crowded than many others along the Golden Circle. 

Snorkeling in Silfra Fissure

Silfra Fissure Iceland

This rift between the North American and Euroasian tectonic plates is one of the top-rated dive and snorkel sites in the world. It’s the only place on earth you can dive (or snorkel) between tectonic plates, so it truly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

The water is just above freezing and stays 2-4ºC / 35-37ºF all year round. Thankfully, the tour companies provide drysuits, which should keep you pretty warm. Being that the water originates at the Langjökull glacier and filters through volcanic rock, it is incredibly clear. We’ve heard that visibility is virtually limitless! 

Good to know:  It used to be possible to dive in the Silfra Fissure without much scuba experience. However, recent regulations have made it so divers must possess either a dry suit certification or have 10 logged drysuit dives within the last two years. 

Our personal experience:  Diving (or snorkeling) in the Silfra Fissure has been on our bucket list for years, but during our first trip to Iceland we were on an incredibly tight budget. Being that this is definitely a splurge activity, we didn’t include it in our itinerary. And on our second trip to Iceland, I was 6-months pregnant which barred me from participating. Next time we’re in Iceland, we’re definitely going!

Important Info:

  • Facilities on site: Restrooms, visitors center, cafe, souvenir shop
  • You can  pay for parking online

We’d recommend parking in  lot P2 , as it’s close to many of the trails

Geysir on the Golden Circle Iceland

Next up on the Golden Circle route is a stop at Geysir, a geothermal field known as Haukadalur Valley. This area is famous for its boiling mud pits and geysers that erupt frequently.

On this site, there are two large geysers: Geysir and Strokkur.

Geysir is the larger of the two and documentation of its activity dates back to the thirteenth century. Apparently in its heyday, water would shoot up as high as 170 meters (230 feet). That’s taller than a 20-story building! However, today Geysir is more or less dormant. And when it does erupt, it’s not nearly as high as it once was.

But don’t worry, Strokkur is still very much active and you’ll definitely have the chance to see it erupt with boiling water in all its glory. 

As soon as you get out of your car, you’ll notice the scent of sulfur in the air and you’ll see steam in the distance. Follow the well-marked paths past bubbling mud pits and you’ll likely see a crowd gathered at one point. This is Strokkur. 

Like clockwork, this famed geyser erupts every 5-10 minutes or so, shooting a stream of boiling water 20-40 meters into the sky (65-130 feet). Think of Yellowstone’s Old Faithful, but on a smaller scale.

Geysir Iceland

Fun Facts about Geysir

  • Of the two main geysers at this site, Strokkur is the only one that is active. Geysir had been quiet since 2000, but suddenly erupted in 2016. However, it hasn’t erupted since then (yet!).
  • Strokkur erupts very regularly, about every 5-10 minutes.

Things to do at Geysir

  • The main attraction here is to walk the short path past boiling mud pits on your way to Strokkur. Depending on how long you want to spend here, you can watch this geyser erupt a few times. 
  • View the pool where Geysir, which is now-dormant, sits.
  • Follow the path up on the hill behind Strokkur to get a view of the Haukadalur geothermal valley from above.
  • If you’re into rustic (aka undeveloped) hot springs, you may want to check out  Kualaug  which is located not far from Geysir. We haven’t personally been, but we’ve read it can get quite hot and the water is on the muddy side. If that doesn’t bother you, it looks like a unique stop on this popular path.

Important Info

  • Facilities on site: restroom, visitors center, cafe
  • Cost: free to enter and park

Gullfoss Falls Iceland

Translating to “golden falls”, this attraction is responsible for giving the Golden Circle its name. 

Gullfoss is one of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls and is one of the top 3 most-visited sights in Iceland, for good reason. 

Originating at the base of the Langjökull Glacier in Iceland’s highlands, the Hvítá River flows southbound where it forms the mighty waterfall known as Gullfoss. The falls itself has two cascading sections, dropping 32 meters (100+ feet) in total.  

While not the tallest nor the largest waterfall in Iceland, this unique 2-tiered beauty is truly a sight to behold. 

This powerful waterfall engulfs visitors in a heavy spray of mist and rewards them with rainbows on sunny days.

Insider Tip: If you have a camera with you, stick it inside your rain jacket or a dry bag when you’re walking through the mist to protect it.

Fun facts about Gullfoss 

  • The falls is 32 meters tall (105 feet), and has two tiers
  • When filming  Game of Thrones,  there were scenes filmed at this waterfall, but they were never released
  • Gullfoss  translates to “golden falls”, as it is said to have a golden hue on bright, sunny days. This is also said to be how the Golden Circle gets its name.

Visiting Gullfoss

Visiting Gullfoss Falls Iceland

There is a paved path from the parking lot that is a short and easy walk to the falls. There is also a staircase leading to a lower viewpoint, which will bring you closer to the falls (and in turn, the mist!).

Interesting history about Gullfoss

Gullfoss was at the center of some drama back in the early 1900’s that includes deceit, corruption and an unlikely hero. If you want a short history lesson, keep reading (it’s pretty interesting!)…

In the early 1900’s, the world was just learning about hydropower and in 1907, an English businessman attempted to begin the creation of a hydroelectric plant at Gullfoss.

At the time, the land was owned by a sheep farmer, Tómas Tómasson, who declined the businessman’s offer. His reasoning,  “I will not sell my friend,”  has famously gone down in history, but he didn’t quite stop the businessman’s plan. 

Here’s the catch: Even though Tómasson declined to sell the land, he did agree to lease it to the land to the businessman, unaware that he was still plotting to carry on with building a hydroelectric plant through a loophole in the contract.

Gullfoss Falls Iceland

Tómasson’s daughter, Sigríður Tómasdóttir, is the real hero here. She realized what was happening and saved up her own money to hire a lawyer to take on her case and fight to protect her beloved Gullfoss. It is said that Sigríður made the 120 kilometers (70+ miles) on foot several times to meet with officials in Reykjavík to discuss this matter. 

This legal battle was long and at times looked bleak. At one point, Sigríður threatened to throw herself into the waterfall if construction began. Even though she lost her legal case, Sigríður’s efforts were declared a success in 1929 when the businessman withdrew from the lease due to lack of funding. Gullfoss was then donated to Iceland, and remains protected to this day. 

Sigríður Tómasdóttir is hailed today as Iceland’s first true environmentalist and is one of the most beloved figures in Icelandic history. She was lucky enough to live a long life where she was able to see several ground-breaking environmental laws passed. Oh, and remember that lawyer who represented her? Well, his name was Sveinn Björnsson, and he went on to become the first president of Iceland once the country gained independence in 1944.

Okay, history lesson complete! When you’re at Gullfoss, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for a plaque that is dedicated to Sigríður Tómasdóttir because now you’ll know the full, drama-filled story.

  • Facilities on site:  visitor center, restrooms, gift shop, and cafe
  • Cost:  free to park and enter

Want an extra dose of adventure?

Add “snowmobiling on a glacier” to your Iceland bucket list! There are tours that depart from the Gullfoss parking lot that will bring you to the nearby Langjökull Glacier. Here, you’ll suit up and hop on a snowmobile for an unrivaled experience. You’ll also explore the natural ice cave near the glacier, for a very different Golden Circle experience!

Off-the-beaten-path stops on the Golden Circle

While the Golden Circle technically just refers to the three attractions listed above, there is plenty more to see in this area. 

We’re going to go over some additional attractions you may want to add to your Golden Circle itinerary:

Walk the rim of colorful Kerið Crater

Kerid Crater Iceland

Perhaps the most colorful stop along the Golden Circle, this aquamarine lake sits inside a volcanic caldera and is flanked by red volcanic rock and bursts of lime green moss in a shocking display of Mother Nature’s artistic side.

Good to know:  Kerið Crater is pronounced “kair-ith”, as the “ð” symbol in Icelandic has a “th” sound.

After purchasing a ticket for 400 ISK ($3) at the trail entrance, you can walk the gravel trail that encircles the rim of Kerið Crater. This loop trail is just under a mile long and is relatively flat and easy and shouldn’t take much more than a half hour in total (including photo stops). You can also descend on a staircase down towards the water for a different perspective. 

Find the stats and trail notes here.

Kerið Crater Golden Circle Iceland

Interesting geology:  Most of the volcanic rock you see in Iceland is black, so why is the rock surrounding Kerið Crater red? Geologically speaking, Kerið Crater is quite young and therefore the iron deposits in the rock are, for lack of a better term,  fresh.  Geologists believe that this was once a volcano, and after its eruption the lava drained out, causing it to collapse and eventually fill with water. The water level fluctuates throughout the seasons and gets its piercing hue from minerals that seep from the surrounding into the water.

Fair warning:  Many of the pictures you’ll see of this crater on the Internet have been heavily edited – with the colors being enhanced to an unnatural level of saturation. While still very beautiful and colorful in real life, just beware that it may not look quite as vibrant as some photos may have you believe.

Cost:  400 ISK ($3) per person to enter, pay at the ticket booth at the trail entrance (this was the only natural attraction along the Golden Circle we visited where we had to pay an entrance fee)

Taste Rye Bread that has been baked underground at Laugarvatn Fontana

Rye bread tasting in Iceland

We first heard about this place from Zac Efron. Yep, that’s right, the studly star of  High School Musical  can do more than sing and dance.  But we all knew that, right?

In Netflix’s original series,  Down to Earth,  Efron explores sustainability in different places around the world, and it just so happens that the first episode takes place in Iceland and includes a visit to Laugarvatn Fontana.

Situated on the shores of Lake Laugarvatn this resort is most well-known for its lakefront baths that are heated by geothermal energy. While the hot pots looked nice enough, we had a packed day planned and passed on a soak (though if you have a flexible itinerary, go for it!). 

Instead, we opted to experience geothermal energy in a different way: by tasting bread that has been baked underground using the power of the hot springs that lie just below the earth’s surface.

Real Icelandic rye bread is definitely a  food you should try in Iceland . And if you can learn about geothermal energy while eating unlimited amounts of yummy bread, how can you pass the opportunity?!

Geothermal Rye Bread in Iceland

The “rye bread tour” is just 30 minutes, but you’ll learn about geothermal cooking and get to help bury rye bread that’ll be tasted by visitors the following day. You’ll also unearth two large pots that have been cooking underground for the last 24-hours – yes, this is what you’ll get to eat! And no, even though the boiling springs have a slight sulfur smell to them, the bread doesn’t taste like it at all! 

Once the pots have been dug up, the tour finishes inside with the opportunity to sample as much bread (with Icelandic butter and smoked fish, if you’d like) as your tummy desires. I’m not ashamed to say we went back for fourths (as did most other guests!), it was  that  good. Kinda like a hearty fall cake, sweet but not  too  sweet. Warm and topped with a generous spread of butta and  ohhhh yeah…  

Eventually, we had to stop ourselves (it was difficult!) and continue on our Golden Circle route.

Do it yourself:  Book your Rye Bread Tour here . Tickets cost 2,300 ISK ($18) per person and you must make a reservation. Tours happen twice daily, at 11:45 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., so be sure to plan your Golden Circle route accordingly if you want to stop here.

Have lunch in a Greenhouse at Friðheimar Tomato Farm

Friðheimar Tomato Farm Greenhouse in Iceland

Imagine eating lunch in a greenhouse surrounded by tomato vines and watching bees buzz pass on their way to pollinate. Even if it’s a typical chilly Icelandic day, the greenhouse is a welcomed retreat from the elements as it stays a balmy and consistent temperature year round. 

Did we mention that the tomatoes that surround you are the same plants that produced the food you’re currently enjoying? A true farm-to-table experience, if you ask me.

Having lunch at Friðheimar Tomato Farm is definitely a memorable experience to add to your Golden Circle itinerary. 

Friðheimar Tomato Farm Greenhouse in Iceland

Friðheimar is famous for their “Peace Tomato Soup”, which is served buffet style (aka unlimited refills!) alongside homemade artisan breads, butter, sour cream, cucumber salsa (so good!) and fresh herbs. In addition to the soup (which you should definitely try!), there is an entire tomato-themed menu, boasting items like:

  • fresh ravioli with homemade tomato sauce and pesto
  • handmade Icelandic burrata served with fresh heirloom tomatoes, sea salt, basil and olive oil
  • a wide assortment of twists on a classic Bloody Mary (some alcoholic and some non-alcoholic)
  • green tomato and apple pie with whipped cream
  • cheesecake topped with green tomato jam, lemon and cinnamon

What did we order?

  • 1 “peace tomato soup”
  • 1 burrata and heirloom tomatoes dish
  • 1 cheesecake with green tomato jam (tastes like a tart kiwi jam!)

Total cost of lunch for two: 6,580 ISK ($55)

It was all fantastic, and we would go back again in a heartbeat. 

Fun Facts about Friðheimar Tomato Farm

As we were seated, our server gave us a brief overview of the facility, which is quite impressive. We even took notes so we could share with you!

  • The farm has 9 greenhouses on site
  • They produce 40% of all tomatoes in Iceland
  • Staff at the greenhouses pick more than 1 ton of tomatoes per day.  That’s crazy!
  • Bees inside the greenhouse are used to pollinate the plants naturally
  • Leftover tomatoes are donated to social causes instead of being exported
  • The greenhouses are completely run on geothermal energy
  • The energy required to run this greenhouse is the equivalent of what it would take to power a town of 7,000 people! Since they solely use geothermal energy, it is totally free.

Do it yourself:  Friðheimar Tomato Farm is open year round from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. each day  and it is recommended that you make a reservation in advance.

Good to know:   Friðheimar Tomato Farm  is no secret. This restaurant is only open for lunch and is popular with both self-driving visitors as well as some tour companies. It is important that you make a reservation if you’d like to include this on your Golden Circle route. You can easily make a reservation using  this link . If you don’t make a reservation, it’s likely that your wait time will be an hour or more in peak season.

Hike to Brúarfoss, “Iceland’s Bluest Waterfall”

Bruarfoss Golden Circle Iceland

Known as the “bluest waterfall in Iceland”, we really enjoyed this stop on the Golden Circle. 

That said, the 2-hour+ round trip hike isn’t for everybody. If you’re pressed for time or just don’t feel like walking too far from the comforts of your car, this is a stop you can skip. But for those who want to stretch their legs and get away from tour buses, the hike to Brúarfoss makes a worthwhile addition to your day trip.

Important note:  There used to be a much shorter path to Brúarfoss, but it was on private property and has been closed due to tourists being disrespectful. Be sure to park in the proper lot ( here’s the location on Google Maps ) and follow the path so you don’t trespass. And for the love of all things, PLEASE clean up after yourself and do not leave trash behind. On a related note, there are no restroom facilities here, so if you think you’ll need to relieve yourself along the way,  follow Leave No Trace guidelines  and pack everything out with you. 

Visiting Bruarfoss Golden Circle Iceland

Brúarfoss Hike

  • Distance: 7 km (4.4 miles) round trip
  • Type: Out and back
  • Elevation gain: roughly 500 feet* 
  • Level: Easy

*Good to know:  Alltrails is one of our favorite  apps for traveling in Iceland , as it is super helpful with showing distance and elevation of hiking trails. However, the trail stats for Brúarfoss are incorrect. It is far less steep (thank goodness!) than Alltrails would have you believe. 

The hike itself is roughly 7 kilometers in total (4.4 miles) and is relatively flat as it follows the banks of the Brúará River. The source of this river is the Langjökull Glacier, which gives it a striking milky sky blue color.

Insider Tip:  Depending on the time of year you visit and the recent rainfall, there is a portion of this trail that can get very muddy. We recommend you wear hiking boots for this reason.

You can read more about what to expect at Brúarfoss and all the falls listed in this article in our  guide to the best waterfalls in Iceland .

Enjoy an ice cream cone at the source at Efstidalur II Creamery

Ice cream from Efstidalur II Creamery, Iceland

Any other ice cream addicts out there?  Good, I knew I liked you!

Even though Iceland is objectively cold 90% of the year, ice cream is kind of a big thing here. And I’m here for it.

While there are some great ice cream shops in Reykjavík, we’d encourage you to stop at a creamery (or two!) as you road trip through the country to sample the creamy goodness from the source.

Along the Golden Circle route,  Efstidalur II Creamery  makes a good stop if you need a sweet treat and a bit of fresh air (well, air that smells a bit like cows, but still!). 

Choose from flavors like blueberry, salted caramel and even black licorice (it’s super popular in Iceland and the ice cream flavor is surprisingly mild and delicious!). Enjoy your cone or bowl of homemade dairy goodness while saying hi to the bovine ladies that were responsible for your midday treat.

  • Faxi Waterfall

What  Faxi Falls  lacks in height it sure makes up for in width! This short and squatty waterfall stretches across Tungufljót River in a powerful cascade. 

Located just 18 kilometres (11 miles) south of its far more famous neighbor, Gullfoss, Faxi receives far fewer visitors. This makes it a great quick stop for waterfall lovers looking to have a peaceful moment on the Golden Circle.

See the Grave of Chess legend Bobby Fischer

If you’re a chess fan, seeing the grave of Bobby Fischer might be an interesting last stop to add to your Golden Circle route before heading back to Reykjavík. (It’s located just outside Selfoss which is on the way so it’s a quick detour.)

Not a chess fan?  Give this stop a miss (we skipped it). 

Did you know that Bobby Fischer spent the later years of his life living in Iceland? I had no clue. Apparently, he fled the United States because he was facing criminal charges for tax evasion as well as participating in a competition that violated executive orders. When Fischer passed away in 2008, he was buried in a quiet ceremony in Selfoss, Iceland. 

Do it yourself:  Here is the  location of Bobby Fischer’s grave . If you’re a real chess nerd (more power to you!), there’s a  museum nearby  dedicated to this famous chess champ.

Bonus stops  near  the Golden Circle

These places aren’t exactly along the Golden Circle route per se, but they are pretty darn close! 

We think they are well worth adding to your itinerary if you have time, especially if you plan to continue on a longer  road trip around Iceland .

Secret Lagoon

Don’t let the name fool you – the Secret Lagoon is no secret, but it is certainly less crowded than, say, the Blue Lagoon.

Said to be the oldest natural swimming pool in Iceland, the Secret Lagoon makes a relaxing stop at the end of your Golden Circle loop. 

Tickets cost 3,000 ISK ($23) per adult and it is recommended that you make reservations in advance

Good to know: In Iceland it is considered good hygiene to shower naked before entering a public pool or hot spring. Some of the more touristy (and expensive!) hot springs have private shower stalls, but the Secret Lagoon does not. Just know that it is expected that you shower naked (not in a swimsuit) prior to entering the pool and it is considered rude not to do this. Just wanted to warn ya!

Our recommendation:  Unless you have lots of extra time (aka 2 full days for the Golden Circle), we’d recommend choosing either the Secret Lagoon  or  Hrunalaug Hot Spring. They’re both very different, so continue reading to see which you’d enjoy more.

Hrunalaug Hot Spring

Hunalug Hot Spring Iceland

If you prefer your hot springs a little more on the  rustic  side, you are going to love Hrunalaug. Nestled in a picturesque valley, this small pool has a charming hut that can be used for changing. While Hrunalaug Hot Spring can apparently get quite crowded, there weren’t too many others at the time of our visit in the early evening hours. 

It was cleaner and more beautiful than I was expecting, but do know that the water won’t be as pristine or clear as the nearby Secret Lagoon. If you’re looking for more of a resort experience, that may be more your style.

Good to know: This hot spring is on private land, and at the entrance there is a box that requests 1,000 ISK for donations, as the land owner surely has to clean up after unruly tourists and spend their own time and money maintaining this pool.

Gluggafoss Falls Iceland

Now, this little-known waterfall is not on the Golden Circle, but it makes a pretty convenient stop if you are continuing along the  Ring Road .

The waterfall is a very short walk from the small carpark, and if you’re like us, you may even have it completely to yourself (definitely a perk being that it’s so close to the Golden Circle).

Walk up the short set of stairs to get a better view of the falls, and take pleasure in the fact that you’re seeing a sight that most tourists never see.

Reykjadalur Hot Spring River

Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River

This thermal river was one of our favorite  hot spring experiences in Iceland , and making a visit here is a great addition to your Golden Circle route. That is, only if you are self-driving and have more than one day to see all the sights.

This is pretty much just like it sounds – a steamy thermal river nestled in a lush Icelandic valley. Yep, pretty much what dreams are made of.

Getting to the Reykjadalur thermal river requires a 1-hour hike each way (with a healthy dose of elevation gain). So this stop is not for those in a hurry. Your efforts will be rewarded with magical views and clean water that gets progressively hotter upstream. 

Insider Tip:  Pack a cold beverage to enjoy in this slice paradise!

Psst!  Are you interested in more hiking?? We have a whole guide to the  best hikes in Iceland  with photos, details and insider tips to help you plan your trip. 

Golden Circle Itineraries

Below, we’ll give you two different Golden Circle itineraries. 

  • The first is meant for travelers who are limited on time and will be starting and ending in Reykjavík. This still packs in MANY more sights than the typical “Golden Circle loop”.
  • The second itinerary is intended for travelers who will continue on a longer road trip after their Golden Circle trip, thus packing in a little more adventure!

Be sure to check out our  top things to do in Reykjavík  so you can plan your stay before and after exploring the Golden Circle!

Itinerary #1: Golden Circle Day Trip from Reykjavík

Thingvellir Iceland

If you are doing the Golden Circle as a day trip and will return to Reykjavík at night, the itinerary below is what we’d suggest following. It is a twist on the classic Golden Circle loop, bringing you to many more destinations in order to pack a big punch in just one day.

  • Thingvellir National Park
  • Fontana Rye Bread @ 11:45 a.m.
  • Friðheimar (reservations necessary)
  • Burafoss (optional, as this entails a 2-hour round trip hike)
  • Efstidalur II Creamery for ice cream
  • Kerið Crater

Itinerary #2: Golden Circle with more time (1.5 days)

Oxararfoss Falls Iceland

If you plan to include the Golden Circle as part of a longer road trip around Iceland and don’t intend to return to Reykjavík on the same day, this is the itinerary we’d suggest following. This is the route we personally followed, and we saw so much more than a typical Golden Circle tour. 

Good to know: Note that some of the stops on this itinerary are  not  actually part of the Golden Circle, but since they are nearby we think it makes sense to group them together into one route.

This route can be started midday, or you can get an earlier start 

  • Hot spring river
  • This seaside restaurant is known for langoustines, and it was one of our  most memorable meals in Iceland ! Definitely put this on your itinerary if you love seafood like we do!
  • Kerið Crater at sunset
  • Thingvellir Camping (or a nearby guesthouse)

This will be a packed day. 

  • Friðheimar for lunch (reservations necessary)
  • Burafoss waterfall hike (optional, as this entails a 2-hour round trip hike)
  • Hrunalaug Hot Spring or Secret Hot Spring (chose one!)
  • Gluggafoss Waterfall
  • Camping at Hamragarðar*

*Choose a campground based where you will be headed next on your Iceland road trip. We personally chose this campground because it is very well-located (more on that below). The facilities aren’t quite as nice as many other campgrounds in Iceland, but we think its proximity to some of the best sights in the country makes up for it. 

Hamragarðar Campground

  • This campground is situated just beside the stunning  Seljalandsfoss  waterfall, which is well worth seeing (especially at sunset if possible). 
  • It is also a good place to begin sightseeing the following day as there are many nearby attractions. 

Additionally, if you plan to do the  Fimmvörðuháls hike , this makes a good place to start your day.

Golden Circle Tour vs. Self-drive

Golden Circle Iceland drive

Are you debating whether you should book a guided Golden Circle tour or rent a car and do it yourself?

In our opinion, self-driving is without a doubt the best way to go. Driving yourself will allow you to go at your own place and stop at places along the way if you want. It also lets you customize your route to be exactly what  you  want to see. 

That said, we know it can be overwhelming to drive in another country. We have all sorts of information about  renting a car in Iceland  (with some essential tips!) plus a huge guide to  Iceland campervan rentals  you can check out for more info.

However, if the thought of self-driving is too overwhelming to you, know that there are many companies that offer organized tours around the Golden Circle.

Our Golden Circle tour recommendations

Golden Circle Iceland Tour Buses

Full-Day Small Group Tour with Secret Lagoon

This budget-friendly tour includes the 3 main attractions on the Golden Circle as well as entrance to the Secret Lagoon. It earns rave reviews, includes pick-up and drop-off at your hotel in Reykjavík, and at just over $100 per person, it won’t take too much of a toll on your budget. Plus, it is a small group tour, meaning the group size will be from 4-19 people.

Budget Golden Circle Tour

If you’re looking for the absolute cheapest tour, this one is very popular. At just under $60 per person, it’s a great value. That said, you won’t

Golden Circle + Silfra Snorkeling

If you want to be sure to experience snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure, this guided tour would be our pick. It includes all the “regular” Golden Circle stops, plus, it includes this unique snorkeling experience.

Adventurous Golden Circle + Glacier Snowmobiling

If you want a super unique Golden Circle experience, this tour includes snowmobiling on the nearby Langjökull glacier. Talk about a once-in-a-lifetime experience! It is a bit of a splurge, so this option is a good choice for adventurous travelers with a bit of wiggle room in their budget.

Best time of year to visit the Golden Circle

Thingvellir National Park Iceland

One of the major draws to the Golden Circle is that it is accessible all year round and the three main attractions are open during all seasons. 

The roads are paved and well-maintained, so it shouldn’t be too difficult. Just be cautious if there has been a recent freeze or snowfall. Additionally, some of the restaurants mentioned in our article are only open seasonally, so be sure to check their hours before your visit.

If you have more questions, we did a deep dive for our article on  the best time to visit Iceland  and included all sorts of info on the seasonal changes, weather, and what you can expect in each season. 

Still have questions about the Golden Circle? Chances are we’ve answered it in the FAQs below.

Do you need a 4×4 to drive the Golden Circle?

Iceland Car Rental

Not at all! There are some roads in Iceland that are known as F-roads and require 4×4 vehicles. Luckily, the Golden Circle route does not include any F-roads. The entire loop is very easy to navigate and the roads are in good condition. 

That said, you’ll definitely want to read up on our  tips for driving in Iceland  so you feel prepared to conquer this route on your own. 

How can I avoid the crowds on the Golden Circle?

Crowd at Strokkur in Iceland

The Golden Circle is popular, and you’ll find crowds just about every day of the year. Honestly, the main attractions are pretty large and shouldn’t feel too packed even in peak season. However, there are a few ways you can avoid being in throngs of people:

  • Drive the Golden Circle on your own instead of going with a tour. This will allow you to go at your own pace and avoid arriving to the attractions alongside a crowd of people. If you really want to do a guided tour, specifically choose one that is a small group instead of a coach bus.
  • Go early or stay late, as most of the large tour groups are on the routeduring midday. If you’re visiting in the summertime, you can take advantage of long daylight hours. We found that before 10 a.m. and after 5 p.m. tended to be the least crowded times.
  • Stay along the route. This will allow you to see the sights early in the morning and in the evening.
  • Hit the main attractions, but also visit some of the lesser-known spots as they tend to be far less crowded.

How much does the Golden Circle cost?

Good news: All of the main attractions along the Golden Circle are free!

Bad news: Gas in Iceland ain’t cheap! If you’re self-driving, this will likely be your largest cost (along with your car rental, of course). 

You’ll also need to factor in money for food (whether you cook your own meals or eat at restaurants) and any entry fees for the off-the-beaten-path attractions that strike your fancy, like the rye bread tasting experience, visiting Kerið Crater, or soaking in a nearby hot spring. For each attraction that has a fee, we’ve included a price in the description so you can plan accordingly.

If you choose to do a Golden Circle tour, expect to pay between $60 and $200 per person, depending on the type of tour. 

Why is it called the Golden Circle?

This route gets its name from Gullfoss, as it translates from Icelandic to mean “golden falls”. It is said to have a golden hue on sunny days. While not the most creative of names for this loop, it was created mostly as a way to market these attractions to visitors.

Is the Golden Circle worthwhile?

Thingvellir National Park Iceland

This is a pretty subjective question, and the answer will vary from person to person. 

Being that it’s one of the most popular attractions, we’d say it’s definitely worth putting on your  Iceland itinerary  as there are some incredible sights on this route that are famous for a reason. 

However, if we’re totally honest, the Golden Circle wouldn’t be included in our personal list of favorite places in Iceland. 

Here are our honest opinions on each of the three major attractions: 

  • Gullfoss is a seriously impressive waterfall and well worth seeing if you can. That said, there are other waterfalls in Iceland we enjoyed much more.
  • Thingvellir National Park is a really unique place geologically, as it is where the Euroasian and North American tectonic plates meet. Visually, it’s not as interesting (in our opinion) as some of the other sights in Iceland.
  • Geysir is a pretty short stop for most visitors, and while it’s cool to see, it likely won’t make it into your top memories in Iceland. 

In short: If it’s your first time visiting Iceland and want to see as much as possible, do it. I think you’d regret leaving it out. However, if you are really limited in time or are only looking for unique, off-the-beaten-path experiences, you could potentially leave it out of your itinerary.

Restaurants in Reykjavik

Friðheimar : Warm up from the chilly Icelandic temps inside this tomato greenhouse where you can enjoy all sorts of dishes from their tomato-focused menu. Be sure to get an order of their famous “Peace Tomato Soup”, which is fantastic. While you’re eating, be sure to take in the whole experience – from the tomato plants that surround you to the bees that buzz around as they pollinate. Dining inside a greenhouse is an experience you can’t have every day, after all! 

Farmers Bistro : Dine at Iceland’s only mushroom farm for a unique foodie experience. In addition to mushrooms, they cultivate bell peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, carrots, kale and more – all of which make appearances on their menu. Enjoy their “gourmet buffet”, which includes mushroom soup (lactose and gluten free), homemade garlic bread, bell pepper jam, sautéed mushrooms with butter and  thyme, bell-pepper & mushroom tapenade, marinated mushroom, mushroom butter, garlic butter & butter. It’s truly a mushroom-lover’s fantasy!

Efstidalur II Creamery : Make a quick stop here during your Golden Circle route to stretch your legs, see the resident cows, and enjoy an ice cream cone, of course! They also have a food menu, which is said to be good, if you’re feeling a bit more hungry at this point.

Restaurant Minilik : If you’re looking for food other than Icelandic options, this Ethiopian joint in Flúðir will surely impress. With authentic dishes, vegetarian options, and a cozy setting, this place earns rave reviews. Who knew you could get stellar Ethiopian food in the middle of Iceland?!

Fish & Chips :  This casual stand in Flúðir serves up one thing – fish & chips (with yummy housemade garlic sauce). If you’re looking for an inexpensive and quick dining option, this is a great choice, especially before or after a soak in one of the nearby hot springs.  

Fjöruborðið : While not on the Golden Circle route, we’ve include this seaside restaurant in Itinerary #2 because it is not too far out of the way. If you’re a seafood lover (like we are!), you’ll love this place. Their menu is focused on one thing – langoustines (also known as “Icelandic lobsters”). Do yourself a favor and order both the grilled langoustines (large size!) and the langoustine soup. We ordered one of each for the two of us and were super satisfied, but you can also order a 3-course menu which includes both dishes as well as dessert. This is definitely a “splurge meal”, but oh so worth it!

Thinking about taking your time along the Golden Circle? Good for you! If you have room in your itinerary, it’s nice to not be too rushed.

We drove the Golden Circle in our  campervan rental , which made it easy for us to find places to stay along the way. We have an entire  guide to camping in Iceland  with our best campsite recommendations. 

If camping is not your thing, here are our top recommendations for places to stay in the region:

early golden circle tour

Héradsskólinn Historic Guesthouse

A top-rated hostel located within the Golden Circle Iceland and overlooking Lake Laugarvatn, Hekla Volcano and the Eyjafjallajökull Glacier. Set in a former 1920’s school building, Héradsskólinn offers both private rooms and dorm-style accommodation, and an onsite bistro and cafe. 

Efstidalur Farm Hotel

Efstidalur Farm hotel

A beautiful farmhouse turned bed and breakfast in Laugarvatn, Iceland, perfectly situated within the Golden Circle region. They offer horseback riding during the summertime, traditional cooking and a geothermal outdoor hot tub. 

Airbnbs in Iceland | Breidablik

Airbnb: Breidablik Cabin

A beautifully decorated 3 bedroom home with all kinds of amenities like a fireplace, in-home laundry and home theater set up. Outside on the large deck you’ll find a BBQ grill and private hot tub. One of the best deals for families or small groups and perfectly located to explore the Golden Circle. 

If you’re looking for more options, we have an entire article on the  best Airbnbs in Iceland  with stays in locations all around the country, including the Golden Circle.

What to pack for visiting the Golden Circle Iceland

Packing for a trip to Iceland is tough (the weather changes all the time!). But don’t worry, we’ve got you covered with a  super detailed packing list  so you know exactly what to bring. 

In this  free Iceland packing list PDF download , we’ve provided packing checklists for everything from clothing and toiletries (for both women  and  men!) to what shoes to pack and extra medicines you may want to have on-hand just in case.

Plus, we’re sharing tons of packing hacks and tips for traveling in Iceland that you won’t find anywhere else!

Iceland packing list

Are you planning a trip to Iceland?

We have TONS of resources on travel in Iceland and how to make the most out of your trip. Check out our  Ultimate Iceland Travel Guide  for all the answers to your most burning questions, or read some of our favorite articles below.

  • Perfect Iceland Itinerary
  • Actually Cool Things to Do in Reykjavík
  • Iceland Campervan Rental Guide (+ Exclusive Discount!)
  • Best Airbnbs in Iceland (+ Top Rated Experiences!)

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Golden Circle Iceland | Two Wandering Soles

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early golden circle tour

Iceland Golden Circle Tours

Thingvellir national park, gullfoss waterfall, and geysir geothermal area.

Golden Circle Tours of Iceland

  • EXCLUSIVE TOURS
  • ACTIVE TOURS
  • MULTI-DAY TOURS
  • TOURS NEARBY
  • OTHER TOURS
  • About Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is among the most popular tourist routes in Iceland. It encompasses three of the country’s most spectacular natural attractions: Þingvellir National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss Waterfall. Golden Circle tours are the best way to experience all 3 of these attractions and more!

GOLDEN CIRCLE EXCLUSIVE TOURS

 Golden Circle Aurora Surprise

Golden Circle Aurora Surprise

Golden Circle Superior

Golden Circle Superior

Golden Circle, Super Truck & Snowmobiling

Golden Circle, Super Truck & Snowmobiling

Golden Circle & Secret Lagoon

Golden Circle & Secret Lagoon

Golden Circle Afternoon Tour

Golden Circle Afternoon Tour

Golden Circle & Hvammsvík Hot Springs Tour

Golden Circle & Hvammsvík Hot Springs Tour

Golden circle active tours.

Golden Circle & Snorkeling

Golden Circle & Snorkeling

Golden Circle & Caving

Golden Circle & Caving

Geysir Buggy Car Day Tour

Geysir Buggy Car Day Tour

Golden Circle & Blue Lagoon Tour

Golden Circle & Blue Lagoon Tour

Golden Circle & Horse Riding

Golden Circle & Horse Riding

Golden Circle & Buggy Riding tour

Golden Circle & Buggy Riding tour

 Golden Circle & Whale Watching Tour

Golden Circle & Whale Watching Tour

Golden Circle & Puffin Tour

Golden Circle & Puffin Tour

Golden Circle & Rafting

Golden Circle & Rafting

Golden circle on multi-day tours.

6 Days Around Iceland Adventure

6 Days Around Iceland Adventure

 3 Day South Coast & Golden Circle Tour

3 Day South Coast & Golden Circle Tour

7 Day Complete Iceland

7 Day Complete Iceland

8 Day Iceland Ring Road Tour

8 Day Iceland Ring Road Tour

Golden circle and northern lights.

 Golden Circle Aurora Surprise

Golden Circle, Secret Lagoon & Northern Lights

Other tours near the golden circle.

Snorkeling In Silfra Fissure

Snorkeling In Silfra Fissure

Glacier snowmobiling from Skjól or Reykjavik

Glacier snowmobiling from Skjól or Reykjavik

Snowmobile & Ice Cave Tour In Iceland

Snowmobile & Ice Cave Tour In Iceland

Black & Blue - Caving & Snorkeling Tour

Black & Blue - Caving & Snorkeling Tour

Gullfoss Canyon Rafting

Gullfoss Canyon Rafting

Check other popular tours.

2 Day South Coast, Ice Cave, Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon Tour

2 Day South Coast, Ice Cave, Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon Tour

Into the Glacier Experience

"Into the Glacier" Experience

Crystal Ice Cave Tour with Super Jeep Ride

Crystal Ice Cave Tour with Super Jeep Ride

About golden circle tours in iceland.

A Golden Circle tour is a bucket list activity for many of the tourists that visit Iceland. With three fascinating attractions to enjoy on one route, it really is a great way to maximize your sightseeing in just one day. The best part is, with so much to see and do around each attraction, you can select a tour that packs in even more adventure.

Inside the Golden Circle Tour | Arctic Adventures

Take a look inside our famous Golden Circle tour and visit the incredible Thingvellir, Geysir, and Gullfoss. At the same time, our excellent and charismatic guide Audbjorg will walk you through the main points of history related to those places. Golden Circle is among the most popular touristic routes in Iceland. It includes a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss Waterfall.

Take a look inside our famous Golden Circle tour and visit the incredible Þingvellir , Geysir, and Gullfoss. Listen to our excellent, charismatic guide, Audbjorg, as he walks you through the main points of history related to these mindblowing places.

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR GOLDEN CIRCLE TOURS

While each of our Golden Circle tours offers something different, there are 3 main attractions that you will have the opportunity to explore.

map of golden circle activities

Thingvellir National Park

Walking Path in Thingvellir National Park Iceland

Þingvellir , often spelled Thingvellir, is one of the most prominent places in Iceland. It is not only a geological wonder but also a place of democratic importance, where one of the earliest parliaments in the world was founded during the Viking Age in 930 CE. People have been gathering here for hundreds of years to settle arguments. 

Thingvellir is located in a unique place between the drifting Eurasian and North American tectonic plates , which is home to Iceland’s Silfra Fissure . In Silfra , you can even go on guided tours snorkeling or diving in between the continental plates - this is the only place in the world where this is possible .

Geysir Geothermal Area

The Great Geysir and Strokkur | Haukadalur, Iceland.

The Great Geysir was the one to put Iceland on the map. When travelers first started visiting Iceland, they would always come to see it. Geysir in Iceland also gave the name to all the other geysers worldwide. The name "Geysir" is taken from the Nordic verb "að geysa," which means “to gush." This name was very fitting when Geysir was at its most active and spouted water 170 meters (557.7 feet)!

Gullfoss Waterfall

Gullfoss Waterfall on Summer in Iceland

Gullfoss , also named "The Golden Falls," is usually the last stop on the Golden Circle tour. This mesmerizing two-stage, 32-meter (104.9 feet) high waterfall originates at Langjökull Glacier, the second-largest glacier in Iceland. You can view Gullfoss from a viewpoint above or by walking down to the platform on the first drop. We recommend seeing it from different angles as it all serves incredible vistas!

Geysir Geyser Eruption in Iceland

Strokkur , Geysir's "little brother," is the most active geyser in the Haukadalur Valley. It erupts every 4 to 10 minutes! The boiling water jumps 15-20 meters (49.2 to 65.6 feet ) into the sky, leaving the crowd in awe . It also happens extremely fast, so make sure to always have your camera ready!

CAN’T FIND WHAT YOU’RE LOOKING FOR?

Check what else we have to offer:

Magical Auroras - Northern Lights Tour

Magical Auroras - Northern Lights Tour

Glacier Explorer - Moderate Glacier Hike in Skaftafell

Glacier Explorer - Moderate Glacier Hike in Skaftafell

Katla Ice Cave (Under The Volcano) Tour

Katla Ice Cave (Under The Volcano) Tour

Blue Ice - Ice Climbing Adventure

Blue Ice - Ice Climbing Adventure

Golden circle tour faqs, how long does it take to drive the golden circle in iceland.

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. 

early golden circle tour

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 Secret Lagoon.

Can you drive the Golden Circle in winter?

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 here before you hit the road 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. Of course, there are many other winter tours available if you simply can’t decide which attractions you want to see the most.

What do you see on the Golden Circle tour?

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. The amount of attractions and activities you want to see and experience on the Golden Circle is completely up to you!

Is the Blue Lagoon in the Golden Circle?

early golden circle tour

The Blue Lagoon is slightly west of the Golden Circle. However, all of these destinations are located close together in Southwest Iceland. Choose the combination of the Golden Circle and Blue Lagoon Tour and visit the most popular locations in Iceland in one day!

Is the Golden Circle free?

No fee is required to drive on the Golden Circle route. All sites on the Golden Circle are free to visit.

Why is the Golden Circle called the Golden Circle?

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.

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Golden Circle in Winter (Iceland) – tips + Map + photos

Last updated on November 1, 2023 by Claire Robinson - this article contains affiliate links. If you purchase through them, I get a small commission ( more )

Let’s discover the highlights of Iceland’s Golden Circle in Winter.  The famous touristic loop remains accessible during the Winter months and offers stunning landscapes,  including:

  • ​   the geyser of Haukadalur,
  • Thingvellir National Park
  • and the Gullfoss waterfall.

Below is my guide to help you plan your Golden Circle stops and visits with map, tips and photos.

Before my tips + photos, here are my favorites for Iceland:

early golden circle tour

My favorite platform to rent a car in Iceland: DiscoverCars

The unmissable boat tour: Whale Watching

Fun activity: Swimming in Silfra Fissure

My favorite places to stay:

  • Reykjavik: see best rated hotels – e.g. Vintage Boutique Hotel
  • Lake Myvatn: see best rated hotels – e.g. Hotel Laxa
  • Vik area: see best rated hotels – e.g. Hotel Vik i Myrdal

What are the best stops of the Golden Circle in Winter?

In Winter, as in Summer , the Golden Circle is a circuit for tourists taking you to 3 main attractions :

  • The Thingvellir National Park with its giant fissures in the Earth’s crust
  • The geothermal area of Haukadalur with the Strokkur geyser erupting every 3 to 8 minutes
  • The giant and powerful waterfall of Gullfoss

Below are pictures of the 3 highlights of the Golden Circle in Winter:

Golden Circle in Winter - highlights

If you are planning a trip in Summer, better to check out my other article .

Below is a video introducing those 3 locations in Winter. It is much better to see the geyser and waterfall in action.

You can understand what it is often considered one of the top things to do in Iceland , especially in Winter. This is a must stop for most people as they plan their itinerary .  More photos after the planning tips.

Planning Tips & Map – Golden Circle Iceland, in Winter

Can you drive the golden circle in winter .

  • Yes, you can drive the Golden Circle in in Winter. It is a very touristic area and roads are frequently cleared of snow.
  • The access road, carparks and walking paths are also cleared for visitors
  • Of course road closures can always happen due to snow and wind – check out the status on  road.is
  • Note that if you visit early, you will enjoy the attractions with much less tourists, but the roads might be icy as not many vehicles will have driven on them yet.
  • You can find the GPS coordinates and visit tips of my favorite locations in my eBook to facilitate the planing of your road trip :

Plan your dream trip in Iceland thanks to my guide

Small Mainland Portugal Algarve ebook cover

  • 6 maps to easily plan your itinerary
  • 75+ pre-selected locations
  • GPS coordinates direct to the carparks
  • Winter tips to make the most of your time
  • 115+ original photos to help you choose

Can you do the Golden circle in one day in Winter? Map & Driving times

  • Yes, you can easily do the Golden Circle in one day from Reykjavik
  • Reykjavik to Thingvellir = 1h drive
  • Thingvellir to Haukadalur = 1h drive
  • Haukadalur to Gullfoss = 10min drive
  • Gullfoss to Reykjavik direct = 2h drive
  • Gullfoss to Reykjavik via the Kerid crater = 2h drive

Map Iceland Golden Circle - Winter attractions

Need to rent a car in Iceland?

  • Compare prices on my favorite platform:   Discovercars.com – one of the best rated comparison sites!
  • Prefer a  compact car  for the narrow streets in villages
  • Consider their full coverage option – it for peace of mind! 
  • Book early to have a large choice of vehicles!

See all my tips

early golden circle tour

How to get to the Golden Circle – Day trips if you don’t want to drive

  • If you do not want to drive on the snow, there are plenty of options to enjoy a day trip around the Golden Circle from Reykjavik
  • I recommend choosing a small group tour to have more time to spend at each location and also because they can stop at more locations
  • Some combine the 3 main attractions either with the Kerid crater, the Secret lagoon, the Blue lagoon, snowmobile or with the Northern lights
  • See some options  

Visit Tips 

  • Considering these are a very touristic spots, the marked walking paths are maintained – but it can always get icy, so carry spikes ( see options ) that you can add on your shoes at any time
  • There are visitor centers at all 3 major attractions with food courts and toilets
  • Some carparks require paiement
  • The famous Silfra dive or snorkeling (e.g. inside a fissure in Thingvellir) is also possible in Winter – check out the details
  • Note: most tours start with Thingvellir, so if you want to avoid crowds you could start with the further location: Gullfoss

Geysir visitor center in Winter

Accommodations – Where to stay around the Golden Circle

  • You can stay overnight on the Golden Circle. This is allow you to enjoy the sunset or sunrise at those famous locations. Sunrise with the Strokkur geyser is a wonderful combination – Check out the available accommodations around Haukadalur
  • If you are on a road trip and making your way to the South Coast, you can sleep at Fludir, where you will find the Secret Lagoon – Check out accommodations
  • Selfoss is another practical option:  it has a large choice and it is on Road 1 – Check out accommodations
  • If you are on a road trip and heading to the Snaefellsnes peninsula , the town of Borgarnes is a practical option – Check out accommodations

Accommodation in Fludir - Icelandair hotel

Iceland’s Golden Circle – Winter driving

As I said, the area is very touristic. The roads are cleared quite quickly after a snowfall. However a snowstorm or strong wind can change conditions abruptly, so roads may be closed for short period. If you are driving yourself, always check the status of the roads before heading anywhere. The official website is road.is .

Below are a couple of shots taken while driving around the Golden Circle. All roads have one lane in each directions and are identified with yellow poles on both sides:

Driving the Golden circle in Winter 3

For more tips check out my article about driving in Iceland in Winter

Thingvellir National Park in Winter 

Your first stop will probably be the Thingvellir National Park. In Winter is is also a great place to visit. The main path is well maintained and you can easily walk in the fissure and admire the view over the area. The site is famous for its geology but also for its historical importance, considered to be where the nation of Iceland started (this is where the parliament wad established in 930). This is a Unesco site.

Thingvellir National Park in Winter 1

Iceland is created by the drift between the North American and the European plates. This area is where the fault lines are the most visible. In Winter the contrast of the dark rock with the white snow is wonderful. You will find boards with explanations along the track.

You can see more photos of Thingvellir in Winter in this article

Thingvellir National Park in Winter 2

Thingvellir Winter accessibility:

  • Carparks well indicated 
  • P1 has a visitor center and a viewing platform. 
  • The main path is between P1 and P2 in the canyon
  • The paths to the platform and down the canyon are clearly marked, maintained an easy
  • Plan 1h for a return walk between P1 and P2, including the side viewing platforms
  • Longer if you go on the less maintained trails such as the Oxararfoss one

Thingvellir National Park in Winter 3

I don’t drink coffee

But I also like other drinks and sweets! Do you like the free content you find on my blog? All my tips and practical information, without intrusive advertising…

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Geysir / Haukadalur geothermal area in Winter 

The geothermal area of Haukadalur is often a highlight for visitors. It was made famous by the geyser called Geysir. However it is not very active anymore. But don’t be sad. The Strokkur geyser is very active. It erupts every 3 to 8 minutes. And if you stand above it, you can see the blue bubble forming before the explosion.

Haukadlaur geothermal area in Winter 1

A little tip though – if you have one, take a tripod and a remote. Waiting for the geyser to splash while holding your camera is hard on the arms… Plus, don’t stop at the geyser! I know this is fun to watch… but there are a few other features to go see with transparent boiling water and wonderful views of the area.

Haukadlaur geothermal area in Winter 3

Haukadalur Winter accessibility:

  • Carparks well indicated along the road
  • Large visitor center with foot court, toilets and souvenirs
  • Thanks to the heat, the walking paths are mostly cleared – however there are a few locations where there is ice. Be careful!
  • Plan 1h for your visit and to take many pictures of the geyser 🙂
  • Try visiting early or late. There are not that many paths, but there are many visitors
  • Don’t miss the view from just above the geyser to see the bubble

Haukadlaur geothermal area in Winter 2

Gullfoss waterfall in Winter 

The mighty waterfall of Gullfoss falls in 2 stages: the top section cascades on rocks over 11m (36ft) while the second section drops 21m (69ft) into a canyon. The average amount of water running over this waterfall is 140 m³/s in the summer time and 80 to 110 m³/s in the winter time. Quite impressive… This is why it is worth visiting it!

Gullfoss waterfall in Winter 1

My favorite view is the one aligned with the canyon. Do not miss it. I have seen many people go to the upper lookout and the lower one, but not walk past the upper lookout (yet, the path is cleared). So head a little further and you could see the view as the picture below.

You can see more photos of Gullfoss in Winter in this article

Gullfoss waterfall in Winter 2

Gullfoss Winter accessibility:

  • Upper carpark next to the visitor center and lower carpark both accessible
  • Toilets and food at the upper level
  • Easy marked paths to the viewing platforms and easy staircase between both levels
  • Plan 45 minutes to enjoy the 2 upper viewpoint and the lower one
  • One path is closed: the one going close to waterfall at the lower level

Gullfoss waterfall in Winter 3

Other Golden Circle stops and activities

Those are the 3 main stops you can enjoy if driving around the Golden Circle during the Winter months. Below are a few other stops or activities you could enjoy while in the area.

Silfra Dive in Winter

As I mentioned before, you can still dive or snorkel in the Silfra fissure in Winter. It is a famous activity in crystal clear water inside one of the of the giant fault lines in Thingvellir. Check out the details

Laugartavn in Winter

On the drive between Thingvellir and Haukadalur you will notice a lake. This is Laugarvatn. It is getting more and more attention because hot water flows into it. A spa is established on its shore. It is a fun stop to see the fumes rising from the lake.

Laugartavn in Winter

Icelandic Horses

You can find Icelandic horses in many parts of the country. A few farms have set up feeding stations where you can buy a little bit of food to feed them. This is the case not far from Haukadalur on the road to Gullfoss.

Icelandic Horses

Kerid crater in Winter

Another stop is the Kerid crater. You can climb to the top. It is famous in Summer for the colors on the slopes inside the crater and the small lake at the bottom. It can be a good stop if there is not much snow. But if it has snowed a lot, the view will be mostly white.

Kerid crater in Winter

Secret lagoon

If you are heading to the South Coast after, you can spend the night in Fludir. This way you can finish the day soaking in the warms waters of the Secret Lagoon (similar to the Blue lagoon but much smaller and quieter). Pre-purchase your ticket in your own currency

Want to see more of Iceland in Winter ?

  • Best things to do in Iceland in Winter – read article
  • 35 pictures of Iceland in Winter – read article
  • Iceland Ice Cave Tours and tips – read article
  • Planning an Iceland Winter Road Trip – read article
  • Iceland Winter itinerary suggestions – read article
  • Driving in Iceland in Winter – read article

Planning a trip to Iceland in Winter

Check out my travel guide to help you plan:

And keep track of your own trip!

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Golden Circle & Secret Lagoon Tour

early golden circle tour

We are very proud to announce that this tour is a  Viator Experience Award Winner 2023 ! BusTravel Iceland’s  Golden Circle & Secret Lagoon Tour  has been chosen as one of Viator´s Top 20 tours in Northern Europe for 2023, reflecting its excellent reviews, popularity with travellers who have joined the tour over the past year, and the quality of the overall experience.

During this exciting full-day tour, you not only get the chance to explore all major highlights of the Golden Circle but also to immerse yourself like a local in the healing hot springs of the  Secret Lagoon of Iceland . A wonderful experience that can’t be missed! This well-paced classic Golden Circle full-day tour combines the most popular attractions and activities in Iceland, allowing you to experience the best that Iceland has to offer.

A visit to the Golden Circle in Iceland is on the top of many travelers’ bucket lists. The scenery is diverse and the activities that result from it are exciting. During our complete  Golden Circle day tour , enjoy early admission to the Secret Lagoon , to enjoy the serenity and relaxation of the oldest geothermal pool in Iceland – without the crowds!

Our classic Golden Circle day tour with Secret Lagoon entrance covers all of the main stops on the Golden Circle Route, with our first sight of the day being the multicolored  Kerið Volcanic Crater Lake , a fascinating landmark formed some 6500 years ago. Next up, we will stop at the Secret Lagoon , of which the geothermal hot spring remains between 38 – 40 degrees celsius. After some relaxing time, we will head to Geysir Geothermal Area , the astonishing  Gullfoss Waterfall , and the  Thingvellir National Park .

early golden circle tour

Tour highlights & itinerary

early golden circle tour

  • Professional Guide
  • Entrance fee to the Secret Lagoon
  • Entrance fee to Kerið Crater
  • WiFi on board
  • Pickup and drop off
  • Food or drink
  • Pack you swimsuit and towel. You can rent both at the Secret Lagoon for an extra fee
  • All tickets are e-tickets so there is no need to print them out
  • Disclaimer: The duration of the tour around 10 hours. Please be aware that the tour duration and route can be affected by bad weather and unforeseen circumstances
  • Cancellation Policy: Cancellation fee of 100% if cancelled 1 day or less before departure

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Meet the tour at Tour Bus Stop #12 or opt for pickup from various other central locations for an additional fee.

Please note that the pickup process can take upto 30 minutes in total.

early golden circle tour

Kerið is a 6500-years old, varicolored volcanic crater on the Golden Circle Route. Many visitors go there to admire its perfect conical shape with a beautiful appearance, decorated with maroon volcanic rock and black sediment stripes. The blue lake at the bottom of the crater is the center of attention.

Paved walking paths are available for close exploration, as you can either walk around the rim of the crater for a panoramic view and its sense of vicinity, or you can follow the path to the bottom of the crater for a nice walk around the crater lake. Its perfect conical shape is due to a collapse of the magma chamber onto itself after the lava depleted during its  eruption.

Bathing at the Secret Lagoon

As the oldest geothermal swimming pool in Iceland, the Secret Lagoon has been a local hot-spot since its establishment in 1891. Located on the Golden Circle of Iceland region, the Gamla Laugin , which translates into the ‘ old pool ,’ is a favorable place to enjoy some relaxing time.

Now a  popular tourist attraction, the pool has been renovated to welcome more visitors, with steam vents contrasting against the fascinating panoramic landscape views nearby. You can take your time relaxing in the warm water and serene ambiance before we hop on our bus, for our next destination.

Strokkur geyser erupting

It’s safe to say that Iceland is powered by geothermal energy, and the Geysir Geothermal Field is the best example to demonstrate that! As you step on the walking path, your senses come alive as you are immediately greeted by the sulfuric smell, and bubbling mud pools in a land of mysterious steam vents, and dynamic, gushing hot springs.

The star of the show is the  Strokkur Geyser  which erupts every 5 to 10 minutes, reaching up to 20 meters in the sky. The nearby  Great Geysir  used to be active, until its underground conduit was blocked. Now it is a peaceful depth of blue water, with a unique, serene beauty in contrast to the dynamic Strokkur. The English word, geyser, is coined because of the Great Geysir.

You can also find a visitor center close by with nice lunch options and a great selection of souvenirs.

After a 5-minute drive, we will reach Iceland’s most famous waterfall, aka Gullfoss, the Golden Falls. The astonishing waterfall’s wide cascade drops in two stages, the first 11 meters (36 ft) then 21 meters (69 ft), roaring and tumbling down to the canyon, splashing up a massive screen of mist. Power from the waterfall can be felt even from a distance.

There are walking paths in the upper and lower level, allowing visitors to admire the waterfall from different levels and angles. Gollfoss’s voluminous water is from  Hvítá , the White River, which originates from Iceland’s second-largest glacier,  Langjökull .

Thingvellir is famed for its unique landscape and geology

Thingvellir is a unique location, home to multiple highlights of Iceland,  significant in both Iceland’s culture and geology. Alþing, Iceland’s parliament, was established by the Vikings here in 930 AD, and is also the world’s first parliament.

In 2004, Thingvellir was listed on the  UNESCO World Heritage Site , as it holds the unique ability to allow people to walk through a rift valley that sits on the divergent edge between the  Eurasian  and  North American tectonic plates . The splitting part is the  Mid-Atlantic Ridge , and its only visible section is found in Iceland, with the rest submerged in the ocean.  Öxaráfoss waterfall  cuts through the walking path with its beautiful drop streaming down the deck.

Almannagjá  is the largest fissure in Thingvellir National Park, which will guide you through the path of the Vikings, to the parliament site, and then reach the panoramic  viewpoint of Hakið . In winter after darkness drops, if you are lucky you can see the Northern Lights dancing over the national park, a unique natural live show!

After the tour is complete, you will be dropped back to the place you were picked up from in the morning.

early golden circle tour

  • Highlights & itinerary
  • Useful information
  • Airport Transfer
  • Private Tours
  • Groups & Coach Rental
  • Special Offers

Golden Circle Tours

Golden Circle Iceland Tours

The powerful Gullfoss, the explosive Geysir, and the historic Thingvellir National Park. Choose from a wide variety of Golden Circle tours and visit Iceland's most popular destinations featuring incredible waterfalls, breathtaking tectonic plates, and bursting geysers. Rich in culture, riveting history, and spectacular nature, a visit to the Golden Circle will create memories that last a lifetime. See below for all of the essential information on the Golden Circle .

Golden Circle Tour

Visit the essential sights and learn about the riveting history of the Icelandic Golden Circle with our best professional guides.

Golden Circle & Northern Lights Tour

Come for the Golden Circle and stay for the Northern Lights. Join us on this day-and-night combo tour and discover the essence of Iceland.

Golden Circle & Glacier Snowmobile Tour

Make the most of your day on this popular tour that combines our best-selling Golden Circle day tour with an amazing snowmobile tour.

Golden Circle, Ice Cave and Glacier Tour in Monster Truck

Journey along the Golden Circle with its outstanding sights of Þingvellir National Park, where the first parliament was held in Iceland and the continental drift is visible. From Gullfoss, start your ultimate Glacier and Natural Ice Cave adventure in one of the Largest Glacier Trucks!

Golden Circle Classic & Glacier Ice Cave

Get ready for an adrenaline-pumping adventure like no other on the Golden Circle Tour and Glacier Ice Cave Tour. Prepare to be blown away as we venture through Iceland's awe-inspiring landscapes, immersing ourselves in the raw beauty and untamed power of nature.

Golden Circle & Sky Lagoon Bathing Experience

Combining the Golden Circle and Sky Lagoon, this breathtaking tour takes you on a wondrous journey through Iceland’s staggeringly raw beauty. It ends with the ultimate Icelandic indulgence: a luxurious soak in Sky Lagoon, a geothermal spa where the ocean meets the sky. Go on a journey that brings you the experiences of walking among geologic marvels, witnessing an erupting hot spring, discovering a magnificent waterfall, and unwinding in an outdoor geothermal spa.

Golden Circle & Secret Lagoon Tour

An adventure-packed day is discovering the legendary sights of the Golden Circle followed by a soak in the spring-fed Secret Lagoon under the open sky.

Golden Circle & Fontana Geothermal Bath Tour

Explore Iceland‘s most popular landmarks on the Golden Circle Tour and enjoy a relaxing visit to the natural Icelandic steam baths at Laugarvatn Fontana Spa.

Golden Circle & Viking Horseback Riding Tour

Ride an Icelandic Viking Horse in an idyllic landscape before visiting Thingvellir park, Gulfoss waterfall as well as Geysir and Strokkur hot springs on our Golden Circle & Viking Horseback Riding Tour.

Golden Circle Super Jeep & Snowmobile Tour

Experience the highlights of the Golden Circle in a Super Jeep, travel up to the isolated highlands of Iceland, and try out snowmobiling on a glacier!

Golden Circle Private Tour

Visit some of Iceland’s most significant landmarks along the Golden Circle with a knowledgeable Iceland Tour Expert leading the way and your friends & family besides your on this private tour.

Golden Circle & Blue Lagoon Tour

Head on the classic Golden Circle tour and end this amazing trip with a soak in warm milky blue water at the Blue Lagoon Iceland.

All About Iceland's Famous Golden Circle Tours

The golden circle tour— þingvellir national park (a unesco world heritage site), gullfoss waterfall, and geysir geothermal area—no visit to iceland is complete without touring the main sites along this famous route. if you have questions about iceland's most popular and most visited places, look no further. this is your complete guide to the golden circle route., what is the golden circle tour in iceland.

The Golden Circle Tour is the name given to the route taken to the most popular sites in Iceland — Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss (Golden Falls), and Geysir geothermal area. Hit all these spots, and you’ve done the Golden Circle Iceland Tour. Keep reading to learn more about the history of Golden Circle Route and all the main attractions!

Þingvellir National Park (Thingvellir) stop on the Golden Circle Tour

Thingvellir National Park became Iceland’s first national park in 1930. It is also a designated UNESCO world heritage site due to its historical, cultural, and geologic significance to the Icelandic people and the world. To walk through Þingvellir National Park is to walk the fields where one of the oldest parliaments in the world first convened in 930 AD. Þingvellir National Park lies in a rift valley created by the tectonic plates of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, slowly drifting apart. It is also home to Iceland’s largest natural lake, Thingvallavatn. It is a must see attraction in Southwest Iceland.

Geological Features of Þingvellir National Park

Apart from its historical significance, Þingvellir National Park is also a geological wonderland. The park is located in the rift valley between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. These plates are constantly shifting, creating a unique landscape that is both mesmerizing and awe-inspiring.

As you explore Þingvellir, you'll encounter dramatic cliffs, deep canyons, and vast lava fields. The Almannagjá gorge, with its towering walls, is a testament to the powerful forces of nature. Walking through the park, you can literally step between two continents, as the rift valley provides a clear visual representation of the ongoing tectonic activity.

One of the park's most famous geological features is the Silfra fissure. This underwater canyon is filled with crystal clear glacial water, making it a popular spot for snorkeling and diving. The visibility in Silfra is unparalleled, allowing you to see up to 100 meters ahead. It's a surreal experience to swim between the continents, surrounded by the pristine waters and vibrant marine life.

Gullfoss Waterfall on the Golden Circle tour

Gullfoss (Golden Falls) is a waterfall and gets its name from the golden color of its water as it churns up silt and sediment. The magnificent waterfalls lie in the Hvita River and are fed by Langjökull, Iceland’s second-largest glacier. In total, Gullfoss is 32 meters high, falling two tiers that are 11 and 21 meters high, respectively. Gullfoss is also at the center of one of Iceland’s most famous acts of environmental activism. Back in the early 20th century, developers wanted to damn the mighty waterfall to generate electricity, but through the will and determination of Sigriður Tómasdóttir, Gullfoss was saved. Thanks, Sigriður!

The significance of Gullfoss Waterfall in Icelandic culture

Gullfoss Waterfall holds great significance in Icelandic culture, not only for its natural beauty but also for its historical and mythical associations. The waterfall has long been regarded as a sacred site, often referred to as the "Golden Falls" due to the golden-hued mist that is frequently seen rising from the cascading water.

According to local folklore, Gullfoss has a fascinating origin story. It is said that a farmer's daughter named Sigríður Tómasdóttir fought to protect the waterfall from being exploited for hydroelectric power in the early 20th century. Legend has it that she threatened to throw herself into the waterfall's depths if her pleas to preserve the waterfall were ignored. Her bravery and determination ultimately led to the preservation of Gullfoss, making her a national hero and an inspiration for environmental conservation efforts in Iceland.

Today, Gullfoss Waterfall stands as a symbol of Iceland's natural heritage and the country's commitment to preserving its pristine landscapes. It serves as a reminder of the importance of safeguarding our natural wonders for future generations to enjoy.

Geysir Geothermal Area

Geysir geothermal area is located in the Haukadalur Valley and is the scenic home of the infamous Geysir hot spring. To visit is to pay your respects to the progenitor of all geysers as Geysir is the geyser for which all others are named. Geysir doesn’t erupt often but is surrounded by bubbling cauldrons of superheated mud, steaming pools, and Strokkur, a geyser that erupts every 6-10 minutes. The smells, colors, and eruptions at this popular destination are a window into all the geothermal activity happening across (and beneath) Iceland, making all those hot tubs, swimming pools, greenhouses, and geothermal energy possible.

Exploring the Surrounding Hot Springs and Mud Pots

The Geysir Geothermal Area is not just about geysers; it is also home to a variety of hot springs and mud pots. These natural wonders add to the overall beauty and uniqueness of the area.

One of the notable hot springs in the area is the Great Hot Spring, which boasts crystal clear turquoise water. The vibrant color is a result of the minerals present in the water, creating a visually stunning contrast against the surrounding landscape.

Mud pots, on the other hand, provide a different kind of experience. These bubbling pools of mud are formed when hot water mixes with clay-rich soil, creating a thick, viscous substance. The sight of mud pots bubbling and gurgling is both intriguing and slightly eerie.

Exploring the hot springs and mud pots in the Geysir Geothermal Area allows you to witness the diverse range of geothermal activity in the region. Each hot spring and mud pot has its own distinct characteristics, making it a fascinating adventure to discover them all.

Unique Flora and Fauna in the Geysir Geothermal Area

Despite the extreme conditions created by the geothermal activity, the Geysir Geothermal Area is home to a surprising variety of flora and fauna. The area's unique ecosystem has adapted to thrive in this geothermal environment, creating a harmonious balance between nature's power and delicate life forms.

The hot springs and geothermal pools provide a habitat for a variety of algae and bacteria, which contribute to the vibrant colors seen in the water. These microorganisms play a crucial role in the ecosystem, forming the basis of the food chain for other organisms.

Visitors to the Geysir Geothermal Area may also encounter various bird species, including ducks and geese, which are attracted to the warm waters and abundant food sources. The surrounding vegetation, although sparse, showcases resilient plant species that have adapted to the harsh conditions.

Exploring the unique flora and fauna of the Geysir Geothermal Area offers a glimpse into the incredible resilience and adaptability of life in extreme environments.

geyser-strokkur-erupting

Where is the Golden Circle in Iceland?

The Golden Circle route is in southwest Iceland, just outside of the city of Reykjavik. The nearest site Thingvellir National Park is only 43 minutes (47.4 km/29.4 miles) away from Reykjavik, and Gullfoss waterfall is the furthest out at 1 hr 44 min (125 km/77.6 miles) away. The site's proximity to Reykjavik makes touring the Golden Circle a perfect day trip.

How to get to Iceland´s Golden Circle?

Getting to the Golden Circle is easy, thanks to the various tours offered by Gray Line Iceland. They have a range of Golden Circle tours that will take you to the main attractions, allowing you to sit back, relax, and enjoy the stunning Icelandic landscapes. With knowledgeable tour guides who are experts on the Golden Circle, you'll receive insightful commentary and interesting facts about the region throughout the tour. Whether you're a solo traveler, a family, or a group of friends, Gray Line Iceland has a Golden Circle tour that suits your preferences and ensures a memorable experience. Gray Line Iceland has several Golden Circle tours to choose from that will take you to the main attractions, so you can sit back and enjoy the scenery instead. We’ll get you there and back again, and all of our tour guides are Golden Circle experts—full of stories and fun facts on the region.

Instagram Alert! Get your camera ready for the Golden Circle!

Iceland´s Golden Circle is a photographer’s paradise. Everywhere you turn, there’s another stunning vista. But if you want to really be in the moment and only take out your phone or camera for the best shots, we’ve compiled a list of the most Instagram worthy photo ops on the Golden Circle tour.

Highlights of the Main stops on the Golden Circle Route

Þingvellir national park.

●    Almannagjá gorge leading down to the fields of parliament ●    Thingvallakirkja, the church at Thingvellir ●    The Icelandic flag flying in the middle of the areas of parliament ●    Öxarárfoss waterfall

Gullfoss Waterfall

Gullfoss is a broad tiered waterfall, falling two “steps” before plummeting into the gorge below. But thanks to viewing platforms and a path that goes from the top of the falls to the bottom so you can hit all the angles. 

●    View from the top ●    View from the bottom ●    Rainbows on top of rainbows (if it’s a sunny day)

●    Steaming Geysir (Geysir last erupted in 2016, but you might get lucky) ●    Strokkur erupting (every 10 minutes or so) ●    The mineral deposits in this geothermally active area can come in some pretty exciting colors and make for cool abstract photos.

When is the Best Time to Do Iceland´s Golden Circle Tour?

Anytime! But many visitors like to make several trips around the Golden Circle tour Iceland at different times of year to bear witness to the changes in the Icelandic landscape throughout the seasons. Thingvellir National Park, in winter, is often snow-covered. In the spring, its trees are budding, and its wildflowers are in bloom. Come summer, everything turns green, and in fall, the trees put on their fiery autumn colors. Just don't forget that Icelandic weather can change three times in 10 minutes, and so, always have a good and warm clothes with you.

All the seasons bring out something uniquely beautiful in the Golden Circle sites. When to visit is really up to your personal preference. Please note that daylight is limited at the height of the midwinter, and there is 24-hour sunlight in midsummer.

Preparing for the Golden Circle Tour Iceland

What to wear on the golden circle tour.

Wearing layers is rule number one for dressing on Iceland´s Golden Circle. You can experience all the seasons in one day, that is just as the weather in Iceland is. A good rule of thumb is always to wear three layers: 

Long-sleeved shirt 

Warm fleece 

Waterproof parka 

Those more susceptible to cold may want to add wool leggings and a thermal undershirt. Warm socks, waterproof hiking boots, gloves, and hat are also a must.

What to Bring on the Golden Circle Tour

Snacks . You will be doing a fair amount of walking and a little bit of climbing. You don’t want a rumbling tummy to get in the way of getting the most out of your trip.

Water bottle . Fill up your reusable water bottle from the tap before you begin your trip and keep it handy to refill when you can. In Iceland, the bottled water and the water from the tap are the same. Stay hydrated.

An adventurous spirit and the ability to adapt . Icelandic weather is unpredictable and doesn’t always cooperate. Remember, you are in Iceland getting to see spectacular natural wonders. Enjoy it!  

●     Maps . If traveling with a Gray Line Iceland tour, you won’t need a golden circle map, but if you venture out on your own, it’s a good idea to have a good road map. Mobile phones die (especially in the cold), and you don’t want to be without backup.

The Perfect Guided Golden Circle Tour for You from Reykjavik

Looking for a Golden Circle tour that includes extra attractions? Want to add a little more excitement or relaxation to your Golden Circle Adventure? Gray Line Iceland has a variety of Golden Circle tours to choose from, making it easy to find the one that’s perfect for you. All of our Golden Circle tours include a tour guide to tell you about the rich history of all the natural beauties that you will see along the way and off the beaten track.

Golden Circle Classic is perfect for families.

Nature lovers & honeymooners will enjoy soaking in a geothermal pool out in the Icelandic landscape on the Golden Circle & Sky Lagoon Tour

Whale Watching & Golden Circle Tour and Viking Horse & Golden Circle Tours are ideal for animal lovers who want to get to know the animals of Iceland.

Bundle up couples, and get a dose of the ethereal Northern Lights with your Golden Circle experience on the Golden Circle Classic & Northern Lights Tour

Golden Circle Private Tour is great for groups wishing to visit the Golden Circle.

Combine the Golden Circle Tour with a visit to the World Famous Blue Lagoon in the Golden Circle and Blue Lagoon Tour . The Perfect way to add a Blue Lagoon stop to your Iceland Holiday! Admission is included in the tour price.

Relax at the Secret Lagoon with our Golden circle and Secret lagoon tour . The Secret Lagoon is the oldest pool in Iceland. Break up your Golden circle tour with a stop at the Secret Lagoon and soak in the warm water!

Traveling Iceland´s  Golden Circle is an exciting way to get to know Iceland. We offer pick up locations across Reykjavik, Iceland´s Capital City. Book your Golden Circle Tour today with Gray Line Iceland, one of Iceland´s oldest tour operators. If you have already experienced the Golden Circle, we highly recommend exploring more of Iceland´s South Coast with one of our South Coast Tours .

FAQs: Everything You Need to Know about Iceland Golden Circle Tours

To provide you with even more information about the Golden Circle and the tours offered by Gray Line Iceland, we've compiled a list of frequently asked questions:

1. What is the duration of the Golden Circle tour?

The duration of the Golden Circle tour varies depending on the specific tour you choose. It can range from approximately 6 hours for the Classic Golden Circle Tour to 10 hours for tours with extra activities. This includes transportation from Reykjavik and stops at the main attractions—Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, and the Geysir geothermal area.

2. Are Gray Line Iceland tours guided?

Yes, all Golden Circle tours offered by Gray Line Iceland are guided. Their knowledgeable tour guides are experts on the Golden Circle and provide insightful commentary throughout the tour, sharing interesting facts and stories about the attractions and Iceland's history.

3. Are stops made for food and restroom breaks during the tour?

Yes, there are designated stops along the Golden Circle tour for food and restroom breaks. The tour guides will inform you about the available facilities and ensure that you have ample time to refresh and refuel.

4. Can I combine the Golden Circle tour with other experiences?

Absolutely! Gray Line Iceland offers various combination tours that allow you to enhance your Golden Circle experience. Some options include combining the Golden Circle tour with whale watching, horseback riding, or a visit to Reykjavik city. These active tours golden circle and combination tours provide an opportunity to explore multiple aspects of Iceland's beauty and culture in one outing.

5. Can I customize a private Golden Circle tour?

Yes, Gray Line Iceland offers private Golden Circle tours that can be customized according to your preferences and group size. It's a great option for families, groups of friends, or those seeking a more personalized experience.

6. What languages are the Golden Circle tours conducted in?

The Golden Circle tours conducted by Gray Line Iceland are primarily conducted in English. However, depending on the specific tour and availability, some tours may also be available in other languages. It's recommended to check with Gray Line Iceland for language options when booking.

7. Can I book a Golden Circle tour online?

Yes, you can easily book your Golden Circle tour online through the Gray Line Iceland website. They provide a seamless booking process, allowing you to secure your spot in advance and guarantee a hassle-free experience.

8. Is hotel pickup available for the Golden Circle tours?

Yes, Gray Line Iceland offers hotel pickup and drop-off services for their Golden Circle tours. When booking your tour, you can select your hotel from the provided list, and the pickup details will be provided to you.

9. Is the Golden Circle tour suitable for children?

Yes, the Golden Circle tour is suitable for children. Gray Line Iceland offers family-friendly tours that cater to the needs and interests of all age groups. The tour guides are experienced in engaging with children and ensuring an enjoyable experience for the entire family.

10. Can I see the Northern Lights on a Golden Circle tour?

While the Golden Circle tour does not specifically include the Northern Lights, Gray Line Iceland offers combination tours that include both the Golden Circle and a Northern Lights experience. These tours provide a chance to witness the mesmerizing dancing lights in the Icelandic sky, adding an extra touch of magic to your Golden Circle adventure.

Embark on an Unforgettable Golden Circle Journey

The Golden Circle tour in Iceland is an incredible adventure that takes you through a land of unparalleled beauty and natural wonders. From the historical significance of Þingvellir National Park to the majestic power of Gullfoss Waterfall and the geothermal spectacle of the Geysir area, each stop on the Golden Circle route offers a unique and awe-inspiring experience. With Gray Line Iceland as your tour operator, you can sit back, relax, and immerse yourself in the captivating landscapes, fascinating history, and unforgettable moments that await you along the Golden Circle. So, pack your sense of adventure and get ready to embark on a journey you'll cherish forever. Join us on the Golden Circle tour and create memories that will last a lifetime. We know that there are many tour companies in Iceland and we appreciate the chance to be your tour operator!

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The Golden Circle of Iceland: a Detailed Guide and a Map of 22 Top-rated Attractions

  • Last Updated: November 2, 2022
  • Norbert Zohó

Although a fairly small island nation, Iceland is packed with stunning natural beauty and exciting adventures.

Think of traveling through spectacular countryside to admire multi-level cascades, powerful geysers, bubbling pools, lava fields, and rugged cliffs. Over time, locals and visitors alike have created the perfect route around some of Iceland’s natural highlights: The Golden Circle. The looped route takes in many of Iceland’s best bits, for a memorable experience in the Land of Fire and Ice.

We’ve put together a comprehensive guide to help you on your exciting journey. You’ll find tons of recommendations and tips, covering famous attractions and thrilling activities, so you can really experience the best of Iceland.

What is the Golden Circle?

Map of the golden circle – attractions and detours, how long does it take to drive the golden circle, getting around the golden circle, when should you visit the golden circle, thingvellir national park, geysir geothermal area, gullfoss waterfall, thingvallakirkja church, gjabakkahellir cave, silfra fissure, laugarvatn fontana geothermal baths, sólheimar eco-village, faxi waterfall, kerid crater, slakki petting zoo and family park, the secret lagoon, helgufoss waterfall, brúarfoss waterfall, hvítá river and drumbó base camp, fridheimar tomato and horse farm, reykjadalur valley, the historical town of skálholt, thorufoss waterfall, efstidalur farm, bobby fischer center, langjokull glacier, thjorsardalur valley.

Iceland’s Golden Circle is one of the most famous and most popular routes for tourists. The circle reference is because it follows a loop, although you may also hear it referred to as the Golden Triangle. This stems from the fact that the route encompasses three particularly gorgeous destinations. You can visit a regularly spouting geyser, a thundering waterfall, and a UNESCO-listed site .

If you’re wondering about the golden part of the Golden Circle, it’s not just because the area is full of natural treasures. It actually takes its name from one of the main waterfalls along the loop: Gullfoss. In the Icelandic tongue, the name Gullfoss translates as Golden Falls.

There’s another cool driving loop in northern Iceland with a similar name: the Diamond Circle.

Unique features and dramatic landscapes are abundant throughout the region, and hotspots are so close to each other that it’s perfectly possible to hit them all up in just a day. Not to mention the fact that it’s tough to find such an area of geological wonder elsewhere across the globe.

Almost all travelers to Iceland want to experience the marvels along the Golden Circle. Combining natural splendor, picturesque scenes, traditional cuisine, and friendly local hospitality, it’s no wonder that the route is so popular. Within easy reach of Reykjavik, the Golden Circle is an ideal day-trip destination from the capital.

To simply drive the Golden Circle takes around four hours. This is, however, without stopping. The whole point of the loop is to experience a number of Iceland’s beautiful natural sites—so you would definitely want to plan at least a few stops and allot extra time to your adventure.

Many organized tours take a full day, around seven or eight hours, including a break for lunch. We would recommend you plan to spend the same amount of time exploring the Golden Circle, perhaps even longer if you have the independence and flexibility that comes with driving yourself.

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There are two main options for enjoying a trip around the Golden Circle: hiring a car or joining a private- or bus tour.

There are no public transport connections between the major attractions. Many are fairly remote, so it looks unlikely that this situation will change in the future.

In our opinion, driving yourself around the Golden Circle is the best way to fully enjoy your day. There’s no need for 4WD or any modified or specialized vehicles; you can explore the route in a regular 2WD car or campervan. Driving yourself gives you all the flexibility to tailor your day to your tastes. You can spend as much or as little time at places as you wish, break for lunch and restroom stops at any time, follow interesting detours, and really make the day what you want it to be.

Top tip: Although you should have no problem finding gas stations along the route, always begin your adventures with a full tank of gas.

If you don’t feel comfortable driving yourself around Iceland, or if you want to sit back and relax while somebody else does the driving, there are numerous Golden Circle tours to choose between. You can leave Reykjavik in the morning with a guide and hit the highlights before returning to the city in the evening.

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You can visit Iceland at any time of the year, so the best time to visit the Golden Circle largely depends on your tastes and preferences.

In the summertime, you can enjoy longer hours of daylight and bright, sunny days. You can spend longer enjoying the sights without having to rush back to the city before darkness falls. In the winter, you can enjoy the icy landscapes and might even spot the wondrous Northern Lights. Each time of year offers a different, but amazing, experience.

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Must-visit Attractions on the Golden Circle Route

Assuming you start the Golden Circle loop traveling clockwise, you’ll come to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Þingvellir National Park. Written in English as Thingvellir, it was the country’s first national park. It has cultural as well as geological significance.

The Althing, Iceland’s first parliament, was located at Thingvellir. The parliament first met here in the year 930 AD, some half a century after the country was first settled. Meetings took place during the warmer summer months with Icelandic people coming from all around the country.

Parliamentary sessions covered various matters, including judicial hearings and implementing legislation. The parliament played a huge role in shaping the cultural heritage that can be experienced in Iceland today.

Thingvellir was specifically chosen as the location for the Althing because it was fairly convenient to access from different parts of Iceland. Parliament continued to sit at Thingvellir up to the late 1790s.

Thingvellir isn’t just a special historic and cultural place though; it also has lots of fascinating geological aspects and nature.

The island of Iceland sits across two continental plates: the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate. As the two plates gradually move away from each other, a gaping rift is created on the Earth’s surface. Thingvellir is in the rift valley, and visitors can not only see the huge cracks, but it’s also possible to go walking in the unusual fissures. Some areas have water, and it’s possible to snorkel and dive in the chasms.

Don’t miss visiting Oxararfoss waterfall while in the national park. The pretty cascade is around a 10-minute walk from the carpark. A number of walking trails lead through the park if you have longer to spend here.

You may recognize some spots as you explore, especially if you’re a Game of Thrones fan. Several scenes were filmed around the national park. See the Bloody Gate from Season 4, marking the path to the Eyrie. If you want to discover even more GOT locations, check out our Game of Thrones guide for Iceland.

There are no entry charges for Thingvellir National Park, though small parking charges apply if you’re driving yourself. With so much to see and do, plan to spend at least an hour (perhaps longer) at the national park.

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Continuing clockwise for about an hour from Thingvellir National Park, the next must-see attraction is Geysir Geothermal Area / Field.

The name Geysir means to gush, and it’s where the word geyser (a hot spring that sometimes spurts hot jets of water and steam) originates from. Indeed, the first written record of a geyser is the one at Geysir.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that you’ll find plenty of geothermal magic at Geysir Geothermal Area. There are hot springs, bubbling pools of heated water, warm mud pots, fissures that belch steam and gases (fumaroles), and, of course, geysers. You’ll find two of the most famous geysers in Iceland here, the namesake Geysir and the frequently erupting Strokkur.

Thought to have been erupting for some 10,000 years, Geysir is fairly inactive these days. If you are lucky enough to catch the famous geyser in action, though, you’re in for a real treat—boiling water shoots more than 120 meters into the air, surrounded by a cloud of steam.

Sitting close to Geysir is Strokkur, the area’s main star for most visitors today. Eruptions occur every five to ten minutes, with the reliable and frequent jets a marvelous sight to behold. Water and steam typically reach between 15 and 20 meters high, though they can sometimes be as high as 40 meters.

Do take care when exploring the area, as there’s lots of boiling water leaking from the ground in many places. Additionally, steam can be scalding too. Stick to the marked walking paths and don’t go beyond safety ropes; it’s for your own safety and wellbeing!

There are no charges to enter Geysir Geothermal Area, and there’s also free onsite parking.

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The third major destination along the Golden Circle is Gullfoss Waterfall (golden falls), the beautiful falls after which the Golden Circle is named. One of the most spectacular cascades in the whole country, it’s definitely worthy of a place on any Iceland bucket list.

Just a short drive of around ten minutes from Geysir, Gullfoss sits on the Hvítá River. The falls are split into two levels. The first tier is around 11 meters high, while the second level is almost twice as high, at around 21 meters. The two stages are broken by wide steps that completely cross the river’s width. Around 138,753 liters of water gushes over the immense falls every single second during the summer.

The falls are truly amazing when viewed from any vantage point. You can see the cascades from two main areas, with higher and lower observation points. Follow the steps that link the two main areas for different views. With more time to enjoy the mighty falls, you can also follow the river at the top of the waterfall for yet another perspective.

Gullfoss is spectacular at all times of the year. In the summer, the falls are surrounded by verdant foliage and you may catch rainbows sparkling in the spray. Over the winter, snow-covered landscapes engulf the falls for as far as the eye can see.

The site has a visitor center, cafe, and shop. There are two parking areas, one at the top of the falls and one at the bottom. There’s no charge to park and it’s free to visit the stunning waterfall.

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Other Recommended Attractions and Things to Do Near the Golden Circle

A church has stood at Thingvellir since Christianity arrived in the area. The present church dates back to 1859. It’s a quaint church with attractive interiors. Thingvallakirkja Church is open daily from 9 am to 5 am during the summer.

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Another attraction to add to your list if spending more time in Thingvellir National Park is the fascinating Gjabakkahellir. It’s a 364-meter-long lava tube that was created during a volcanic eruption around 9,000 years ago. You can enter the lava tube from either end, and it’s just a short walk from the road. An unusual sight, the lava tube is especially enchanting in the winter when ice sculptures form in the darkness.

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Silfra Fissure is a relatively new chasm between the North American and Eurasian continental plates. The fissure was formed after a large earthquake in the late 1780s. The gap in the Earth’s surface is filled with meltwater from one of Iceland’s biggest glaciers, Langjökull.

It takes around a century for the meltwater to travel 30 miles via a lava field to fill up the fissure. The water is, therefore, incredibly pure. It’s possible to see up to 100 meters under the clear water. Snorkeling and diving here is certainly unique and exciting.

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There are numerous geothermal springs and pools around Iceland, including the renowned Blue Lagoon near the capital to warm rivers and hot pools in various parts of the country. Many visitors dream of soaking in Iceland’s hot springs.

There are several places where you can relax in geothermal waters around the Golden Circle, including the popular Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Baths. The naturally warm water at Laugarvatn Fontana has been attracting visitors since 1929.

You can soak up the glorious lake vistas while bathing in relaxingly warm pools, soak in hot tubs, and rejuvenate in steam rooms and the sauna. You can also brace yourself and take a dip in the shimmering cold waters of the lake.

Don’t miss trying the local lava bread too. The facility bakes its own bread, taking around 24 hours from start to finish using geothermal heat. The time is well worth it, though, as the bread is super tasty!

This tour takes you around the essential sights of the Golden Circle and includes admission to Fontana spa: The Golden Circle & Fontana Wellness

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Established in 1930, Sólheimar is the oldest eco-village in Europe. It’s also among the oldest such villages across the globe.

With a permanent community of around 100 people, the village was created using a combination of Christian teachings and the musing of Rudolf Steiner, a famous philosopher.

The unique sustainable village is one of Iceland’s biggest suppliers of organic produce. Pop into the cafe, situated inside a greenhouse heated by geothermal energy, for healthy refreshments. You can also pick up locally grown organic vegetables and delectable baked goods in the shop. The shop also sells terrific souvenir items, such as artisan wooden toys, handmade soaps and candles, pottery, arts, and crafts.

Visit the exhibition area to learn more about sustainable living and eco-friendly architecture. There are regular events, including art workshops, music recitals, sporting events, and informative lectures. The village is also home to a couple of guesthouses if you fancy experiencing the eco-lifestyle for longer.

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Located on the Tungufljót River, Faxi Waterfall is sometimes said to be a mini version of the more famous Gullfoss Waterfall. Although the water only falls around seven meters in total, the waterfall’s main beauty is in its 80-meter width. The flow of water is said to be like that of Gullfoss, although Faxi definitely isn’t as thunderous!

Sometimes also known as Vatnsleysufoss, Faxi Waterfall’s name is thought to come from the Icelandic word fax, which is a horse’s mane. The cascades do seem to take on a flow rather like that of a mane as the horse gallops through the wind.

Peaceful and scenic, Faxi Waterfall has another interesting aspect; there’s a man-made ladder for fish at the side! The ladder was constructed to assist salmon when trying to swim upstream. The river is teeming with salmon and is a popular spot for fishing.

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The stunning Kerid Crater is a common stop on Golden Circle day trips. Located close to Selfoss, just off Route 5, the beautiful caldera was created around 6,500 years ago.

The water-filled crater shimmers in the sunlight, the aquamarine waters contrasting perfectly with the colorful rocks around the edges. The rocks are hues of deep orange and red, with green and black streaks breaking up the fiery tones.

The oval shape of the crater creates wonderful acoustics, and a number of performers have held concerts in this magical place.

There’s a small charge to enjoy the crater, and there’s a car park close by.

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A terrific family-friendly stop along the Golden Circle, Slakki Petting Zoo and Family Park has plenty to keep little ones happy. Come face to face with a range of small creatures, including rabbits, dogs, cats, cows, and sheep. There are fish in the aquariums and birdlife includes chickens, ducks, and geese. Call into the restaurant for a tasty meal, and escape the weather with a game of indoor mini-golf.

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Located in Fludir, the Secret Lagoon is Iceland’s oldest swimming pool. Built in the early 1890s, it is known locally as Gamla Laugin. Filled by the nearby hot springs, the pool’s water maintains a pleasant year-round temperature of 38-40°C (100-104°F).

After a period of disrepair and disuse, the pool opened to the public again in 2014. Facilities include bathrooms, changing rooms, and a cafe.

Feel your cares simply drifting away as you unwind in the warm waters and enjoy the views. You can also follow the walking trail around the pool for great views of the geothermal landscapes.

The Secret Lagoon isn’t so secret these days and is rapidly growing in popularity among tourists. It’s highly recommended to book your tickets in advance to avoid disappointment.

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While Gullfoss Waterfall is the most famous waterfall around the Golden Circle, the route boasts a number of other superb falls too. Tucked away from the main road, these hidden jewels are well worth a stop when driving yourself around the loop.

Helgufoss Waterfall is one such cascading beauty. Situated in the Mosfellsdalur Valley, it lies just a short distance from Route 36 between Reykjavik and Thingvellir. Water tumbles 12 meters down a moss-covered cliff, with pastoral scenes stretching into the distance.

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This magnificent waterfall is like many other waterfalls in Iceland, something you should not miss. It is often called Iceland’s bluest waterfall. Brúarfoss is part of the Brúará river, which is composed of meltwater from Langjökull glacier. It runs wide above the waterfall and then the water falls into a narrow crack in the middle of the riverbed.

The waterfall is located between Geysir Geothermal Area and Laugarvatn on road no. 37.

The hiking trail starts from the carpark by the river and the distance to the waterfall is around 3 km one way. During this trail, you will also see two other beautiful waterfalls: Hlauptungufoss and Miðfoss .

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The Hvítá River is sourced from Hvítárvatn, a glacial lake created by meltwater from the large glacier of Langjökull. It is the Hvítá River that flows through Iceland’s famous Gullfoss Waterfall.

It’s one of the country’s most beloved rivers for rafting and tours by river jet, and locals often enjoy fishing for salmon in the beautiful milky-blue waters. River tours lead through eye-catching scenery, with soaring basalt columns and impressive rock formations surrounding the canyon.

Whitewater rafting in Hvíta river on Golden Cirlce

The family-operated Fridheimar Tomato and Horse Farm is situated around half an hour’s drive from Gullfoss Waterfall. Something of an unusual attraction in Iceland, tomatoes thrive in the greenhouses, with heat and light to replicate conditions in the Mediterranean region. It’s certainly rather strange to experience such a farm, especially when the weather outside is cold and wet.

The farm uses eco-friendly energy and modern technology, with naturally heated geothermal waters providing the necessary heat for the plants. Computerized climate-control systems monitor the temperature, lighting, humidity, and gas emissions inside the greenhouses to ensure the perfect growing conditions for the three varieties of tomatoes. The farm produces around 370 tons of tomatoes each year. Cucumbers are also grown here.

Learn more about the farm and taste the fruits of its labor in the restaurant. Set amid the plants in a toasty warm greenhouse, the eatery dishes up a variety of tomato-based dishes. From steaming bowls of tomato soup and mussels in a tomato seafood sauce to sweet treats like green tomato and apple pie and tomato-flavored ice cream, there’s something to suit any tomato-lover’s palate. You can even sip on tomato beer while dining!

Often a hit with younger visitors, the farm is also known for its horses. The farm breeds and shows horses, with several having proudly won first prize in events. Fridheimar Farm holds its own horse showing event each summer, called “A Meeting with the Icelandic Horse”. Attendees can learn all about the Icelandic horse, first brought to the island in the first century AD by early Scandinavian settlers.

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The picturesque Reykjadalur, AKA the Valley of Steam, is a geothermal area near to the southern town of Hveragerði. A warm river flows through the area, perfect for bathing. Hot springs feed the river with boiling water, which is then cooled with rainwater and glacial meltwater. The result is a river that varies in temperature depending on the location—move up or down the flow to find your ideal temperature before plunging in.

Reykjadalur is also a popular spot for summertime hiking. Colorful wildflowers and lush greenery fill the valley and hills, and the natural chemicals from underground stain the soil in striking shades of red, yellow, green, and blue.

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During the medieval era, Skálholt was one of Iceland’s major towns. Between the 1050s and 1780s, it was a significant hub for political matters, education, religion, and culture. In times gone by, it was the largest town in the whole of Iceland.

In the past, the area was surrounded by farms, smithies, and workshops, and there was also a monastery. In 1056, Iceland’s first official school was created in Skálholt, set up to provide an education for the clergy.

Tourists visit Skálholt today to learn more about the town’s important history and heritage. Over the summer months of July and August, the cathedral hosts a weekend music festival.

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Thurufoss Waterfall is another attractive waterfall on the Golden Circle. Located on the Laxá í Kjós River, water flows over a few rocks and steps before crashing down a larger cascade. The final drop is wide and the waterfall has a rather unusual shape. Surrounded by raw, natural scenery, the offbeat waterfall is certainly worth a quick detour and photo stop if you’re driving yourself along the Golden Circle route. Follow Road 48 after Helgufoss Waterfall to reach a small parking area, from where you can enjoy Thorufoss.

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The family-run Efstidalur Farm is a great stopping place on the Golden Circle. See the farm’s dairy cows and enjoy ice cream made using milk from the quaint farm. The homemade organic ice creams come in a variety of flavors. There’s also a restaurant where you can savor fresh, local tastes if you want something more substantial.

Situated in Selfoss, the Bobby Fischer Centre, known locally as Fischersetur, is one of just a few global museums in honor of a chess player. Learn all about the museum’s namesake—Bobby Fischer—who was a famous American chess player that spent three years living in Iceland.

In 1972, Bobby Fischer won the World Chess Championship. You can also visit the chess legend’s final resting place at the nearby Laugardaelir Church.

The museum opens from mid-May to mid-September. There’s a small admission cost.

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If you’re looking to combine a thrilling activity with your Golden Circle tour, try exciting snowmobiling at the dazzling Langjokull Glacier. On clear days, the sweeping views are incredible. There’s plenty of beauty to enjoy through the windows simply driving to the starting point too!

You can book a snowmobile tour on its own or add on a visit to a spectacular ice cave for even more adventure. Tour organizers collect participants from the nearby Gullfoss Waterfall.

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Fans of off-the-beaten-track explorations should consider taking a detour to the remote Thjorsardalur Valley. Part of the Southern Highlands, visiting the valley on your excursion will add on an extra couple of hours. With a myriad of stunning natural attractions, the extra drive is well worth it!

Marvel at superb waterfalls that see few visitors, and enjoy the tranquil ambiance far from the crowds. Haifoss, Hjalparfoss, and Granni are just a few of the splendid cascades to visit in the picturesque Thjorsardalur Valley.

You can also enjoy hiking in the expansive Burfells Wood, something of an Icelandic forest rarity for its large size. Spot an array of flora, such as vibrant wildflowers, verdant trees, and various species of grass and moss.

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Which of these amazing spots would you love to visit for your holiday? Get in touch  with our travel experts to start planning your  tailor-made vacation in Iceland .

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Gullfoss waterfall on Golden Circle Tour

14 Best Golden Circle Tours In Iceland Worth Your Money

June 28, 2020 //  by  Iceland Trippers //   Leave a Comment

Golden Circle Tours are a great way to see Iceland and take the stress out of driving. If you are thinking of taking a guided tour you have come to the right place. In this article, we will walk you through the best Golden Circle Tours in Iceland so you can make the best decisions for your circumstances and budget.

The Golden Circle is a 190 mile (approx) route that takes in some of the most spectacular landmarks Iceland has to offer.  The classic route takes in the three most popular tourist attractions; Gullfoss Waterfall, the Geysir Geothermal Area, and Thingvellir National Park. However, there are lots more things to see off the popular tourist route. 

Planning your Golden Circle visit at the last minute?

Make sure to book ahead! The Golden Circle is popular and hotels and tours often sell out the closer you get to your trip. Here are our top picks for the Golden Circle!

Top Golden Circle Experiences And Tours:

  • Golden Circle Full Day Tour From Reykjavik (Likely to sell out!)
  • Golden Circle + Kerid Crater + Blue Lagoon Tour (Likely to sell out!)
  • Glacier Snowmobile And Golden Circle Tour (Unique experience)
  • Secret Lagoon, Golden Circle, And Kerid Crater (Local hot spring!)

Top Golden Circle Hotels:

  • Blue Hotel Fagrilundur (Amazing Golden Circle location!)
  • Hotel Gullfoss (With traditional Icelandic restaurant)
  • Hotel South Coast (Close to the Ring Road)
  • Hotel Geysir (Steps from the famous Icelandic Geysir)

The Golden Circle is named after its main attraction, the Gullfoss (Golden) Waterfall which is an awe-inspiring sight, especially if you are lucky to see a rainbow arch over it in the Summer.

The Thingvellir National Park is Iceland’s only UNESCO World Heritage site. As well as being the birthplace of the world’s oldest parliament, thanks to the Vikings, it’s where the tectonic plates of America and Europe collide.

Geysir Geothermal Area contains Strokkur Geyser, which erupts every few minutes up to heights of 35 meters.

Going on one of these Golden Circle tours allows you to walk in the footsteps of Vikings, see the ground gurgle and bubble and experience a glacial river cascade 32 meters into a narrow canyon.

The Golden Circle is a great way to get a glimpse of the sights of Iceland and experience the majestic scenery this country is known for. 

A Golden Circle Tour in Iceland is well worth it and you will be left with memories to last a lifetime. Get a FREE printable “Hidden Gems In Iceland” E-book by joining our private  Iceland Facebook Group  and share your photos and ask for tips and tricks.

The Blue Lagoon in Iceland on the Golden Circle Tours

Why Take A Tour Of The Golden Circle?

There are many reasons you may prefer to take one of the Golden Circle tours rather than drive.

Firstly the obvious is that you don’t have to drive and you can relax and let someone else do all the work while you just sit back and enjoy the scenery. You are likely to also learn more and see more as the experienced guides escort you around the various locations.

Golden Circle tours often tend to not work out that expensive when you add up the cost of renting a car and fuel. Most of the tours leave from Reykjavik and you can often get picked up from your hotel.

Golden Circle Iceland tours are the best way for you to enjoy your holiday with none of the stress and pressure of having to organize and plan.

The Iceland weather is also very unpredictable, especially in winter and traveling on a guided tour will mean you are safe at all times and don’t have to worry about driving in bad weather or worry about exploring places that might be dangerous in slippery conditions.

Participating in one of The Golden Circle Tours will allow you to see what you need to in a relaxing, comfortable, and informative environment.

Make sure to check out our post about Where To Stay In The Golden Circle if you are planning your trip!

Geysir Geothermal Area in The Golden Circle Area of Iceland

We have listed below the best Golden Circle tours in Iceland for your perusal, some just take in The Golden Circle and some combine the Golden Circle with other attractions.

Whichever tour you decide to take we know you will have an incredible time and we can’t wait to hear all about it on your return. These are truly some of the Best Tours In Iceland!

Please note that most of the Golden Circle tour Iceland do not include food, so be prepared for that and bring some form of payment.

Also, make sure you read all the information linked to each tour. Some require you to bring particular items, such as a swimming suit, or have certain conditions for those bookings. We want you to enjoy your Golden Circle tours, so please plan ahead. 

Thingvellir National Park in Iceland visited on a Golden Circle Tours

From Reykjavik: Golden Circle Full Day Tour (6.5-7 hours)

This Golden Circle full day tour takes in all the main sites of The Golden Circle. It’s one of the best Golden Circle tours in Iceland if you want to take in the main attractions.

You will visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Thingvellir, see the spectacular Gullfoss waterfall and visit two geothermal geysers, Geysir and Strokkur.

You will be able to marvel at the breathtaking tectonic plate scenery of Thingvellir, feel the mist of  Gullfoss and see spouting hot springs

Transportation is on a first-class bus, starting and ending in  Reykjavik and you will have English speaking commentary throughout.

A great way to see the main sights of The Golden Circle.

Book Here: From Reykjavik: Golden Circle Full Day Tour

Female traveler at Gullfoss Falls in Iceland on Golden circle tours

Golden Circle Afternoon Tour (8 hours)

Another variation on the classic Golden Circle Tour. On the Golden Circle Afternoon Tour , you can see where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet at Thingvellir, visit Gulfoss and see the Geysir area.

You will visit the geothermal area of Geysir first and see the spouting hot springs. Then make your way to the Golden Falls, Gullfoss before finishing up at Thingvellir.

This tour offers hotel pickup and commentary.

Book Here: Golden Circle Afternoon Tour

Great Geysir lies in Haukadalur valley

Reykjavik: Golden Circle, Blue Lagoon, and Reykjanes Tour (11 hours)

On the Golden Circle, Blue Lagoon, and Reykjanes Tour you visit Thingvellir, Gullfoss Waterfall, and the Geysir area. You then head on to the Reykjanes Peninsula.

This small group tour takes in the classic sights of The Golden Circle but adds on an optional stop at The Blue Lagoon (costs extra) and a visit of the often-overlooked alien landscape of Reykjanes peninsular.

Those that have tickets for the Blue Lagoon depart the bus to spend 2-3 hours at the Lagoon. The others explore the Reykjanes area on a sightseeing tour; this area is known for old craters, fissures, and bubbling, geothermal mud pools.

You will visit the lava rock pool Brimketill, the mud pools at Gunnuhver, and the area around Reykjanesvit. If time allows a drive towards the “Bridge Between Continents” the boundaries between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. You then return to the Blue Lagoon and head back to Reykjavik.

This tour picks up from the hotel and there will be no more than 19 people on your tour.

Book Here: Golden Circle, Blue Lagoon, and Reykjanes Tour.

Thingvellir National Park on a Golden Circle tours

Golden Circle Small Group Tour with Secret Lagoon Experience ( 8 hours)

This Golden Circle Small Group Tour with Secret Lagoon Experience allows you to see the main sights of the Golden Circle and bathe in a secret lagoon, so make sure you bring your swimsuit.

This tour departs at mid-morning, which often means you can visit theses natural wonders without the crowds.  

You will visit Gulfoss waterfall, one of Europe’s largest waterfalls and Iceland’s pride, stand next to Strokkur geyser as it spouts water 30 meters high, and walk between tectonic plates in Thingvellir National Park.

On this relaxed tour, you visit these attractions after the morning crowds have gone. 

After you have taken in The Golden Circle you will visit the hot spring pool where you can relax in the warm waters of a natural bath. It’s a great way to finish off this more relaxing way to see the sights.

This tour offers local hotel pick up. The secret lagoon admission is included and you will be on a small tour with no more than 19 people.

Book Now: Golden Circle Small Group Tour with Secret Lagoon Experience.

girls swimming in The Secret  Lagoon Iceland

Small-Group Premium Golden Circle Tour from Reykjavik (8 hours)

This Small-Group Premium Golden Circle Tour from Reykjavik comes with a professional guide and a 300km loop from Reykjavík to central Iceland and back.

This tour promises spectacular natural formations, geysers, waterfalls, lakes, and more. Just a normal day in Iceland, then. Of coarse you visit the iconic Golden Circle places but you also get to visit a traditional Icelandic horse stable and enjoy a unique show.

The tour takes in Thingvellir before a stop at Fríðheimar farm. The farm, besides growing tomatoes and cucumbers, is passionate about horses. And you get to visit the Icelandic horses close up.

After having lunch ( at your own expense) you move on to visit Geysir and it’s brother Strokkur, which erupts every 3-4 minutes with spouts as high as 30 meters. You then move onto the majestic Gullfoss and get a glimpse of Kerid, a crater filled with a lake of milky blue/green water surrounded by black and red slopes, an awe-inspiring spectacle.

Admission to all attractions is included. This is one of the Golden Circle tours with some amazing added extras. 

Book Now: Small-Group Premium Golden Circle Tour from Reykjavik .

kerid crater with the vivid blue pool

Reykjavik: Golden Circle and Waterfalls Small Group Tour (9 hours)

If you like your Golden Circle tours with added waterfalls then this one is for you.

This Golden Circle and Waterfalls Small Group Tour goes off the beaten track a little taking in the Friðheimar tomato farm and Kerid crater mentioned above.

You also discover some hidden gems like Efstidalur Farm and the Laugarvatn area of Bruarfoss, Oxararfoss, and Fax.

This intimate small tour makes a great family day out.

Book Now: Reykjavik: Golden Circle and Waterfalls Small Group Tour

Oxararfoss waterfall in Iceland

Golden Circle & Silfra Snorkeling Small Group Tour (9 hours)

If you like your Golden Circle tours with some added extras this Golden Circle & Silfra Snorkeling Small Group Tour might be for you.

You will explore the Geysir, the stunning rivers, and lava fields of Thingvellir National Park and see Gullfoss but you will also get to snorkel in the crystal clear waters of the Silfra Fissure.

The Silfra Fissure really is an experience.  Silfra is a rift formed in the divergent tectonic boundary between the North American and Eurasian plates and the water is such a vivid blue color. It’s like nowhere else. Drysuits are provided and they will keep your warm in the 2 degrees Celsius water. A real experience for those wanting a bit more.

Book Now: Golden Circle & Silfra Snorkeling Small Group Tour

People Snorkeling swimming diving in the blue cold glacier water in famous fissure Silfra between two tectonic plates in the national park Thingvellir in Iceland. Blue transparent water, deep colors.

Reykjavik: Golden Circle Tour with Blue Lagoon Visit & Entry ( 13 hours)

If you want your Golden Circle tour to be on the more relaxing side the Golden Circle Tour with Blue Lagoon Visit & Entry is maybe what you are looking for.

This tour includes all the popular sights of the Golden Circle followed by a dip in the healing relaxing waters of the Blue Lagoon.

You get at least 45 minutes at the major stops, Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss, and Strokkur Geyser. You then get a 30-minute break in Reykjavik before hitting the road to ride to The Blue Lagoon where you get to spend 3 hours relaxing in the mineral-rich water while enjoying the view.

A perfect way to end an enjoyable day. All admission included and hotel pick-up, you will also get a silica mud mask and a drink at The Blue Lagoon.

Book Now: Reykjavik: Golden Circle Tour with Blue Lagoon Visit & Entry .

The Blue Lagoon in Iceland

From Reykjavik: Golden Circle and Glacier Snowmobile Tour ( 11 Hours)

Visit the Golden Circle and ride a snowmobile through what is known as one of Europe’s last great wilderness areas.

Golden Circle and Glacier Snowmobile Tour leaves Reykjavík early to catch the morning sun on a bus that has computer tablets in each seat. First, you visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Thingvellir National Park then move onto Geysir Hot Springs. You then drive to snowmobile base camp at the foot of Langjökull Glacier where you will ride across the ice fields on one of the biggest glaciers in the world.

This tour is a real gem and a great way to experience Iceland at its best.

Hotel pick ups available and all necessary equipment included.

Book Now: Golden Circle and Glacier Snowmobile Tour

snowmobile at Vatnajokull Glacier

Reykjavik: Golden Circle & Ice Cave Super Jeep Tour ( 10 hours)

A real once in a lifetime experience. You travel in a specially modified super truck and visit the famous Golden circle and a natural ice cave.

Your Golden Circle & Ice Cave Super Jeep Tour starts when you meet your jeep driver. You stop at the Geysir geothermal area, Gullfoss waterfall, and the jeep allows you to adventure off the beaten track. You then visit the ice cave in Langjokull glacier. The colors on the cave walls are breathtaking and this experience is incredible.

You can have an optional snowmobile ride to the glacier. Then if daylights and time permits you make a short stop at Thingvellir National Park on the way back to Reykjavik.

This tour is a small group and admissions are included.

Book Now: Golden Circle & Ice Cave Super Jeep Tour

Inside the Langjökull glacier, Iceland

Golden Circle and South Shore by Luxury Jeep ( 11 hours)

Golden Circle and South Shore by Luxury Jeep really does cram a lot in.

This Golden Circle tour takes in the Golden Circle and more including Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss, Eyjafjallajokull, Solheimajokull, and the black beaches at the South Shore.

Leaving from Reykjavik you head off to The South Shore seeing farmlands and a recently-erupted volcano.

You see a lot on this tour including Eyjafjallajökull, an ice cave with a volcano at the summit and Solheimajökull, a blue ice-colored glacier in Myrdalsjokul . Also marvel at the waterfalls of Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss, the black beach of Sólheimasandur, and all the Golden Circle Sights. One of the Golden Circle tours that really does offer a lot.

Book Now: Golden Circle and South Shore by Luxury Jeep.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall during the sunset, Beautiful waterfall in Iceland. Visited on a Golden Circle Tours

Reykjavík City Sightseeing & Golden Circle Express ( 10 hours)

If you are short of time then this Reykjavík City Sightseeing & Golden Circle Express might be the one for you. You get to see the sights of  Reykjavik city and the stunning scenery of Iceland’s Golden Circle.

You start your tour in Reykjavik visiting the Presidential Residence at Bessastaðir and Hafnarfjörður. Take in the incredible view over Reykjavík from the Perlan Restaurant 360° observation deck. You’ll also visit Hallgrímskirkja Church, the University area, and the Old Town Center, where you can see the Alþingi–Iceland’s Parliament.

After some free time in Reykjavik you go on your Golden Circle tour taking in all the sights and the incredible scenery.

Save time and see the sights of Reykjavik city and the stunning volcanic scenery of Iceland’s Golden Circle with this combined tour.

Book Now: Reykjavík City Sightseeing & Golden Circle Express

Reykjavik, Iceland city scape - lake quay in city center.

Reykjavik: Golden Circle and Black Beach ATV Tour ( 10 hours)

The Golden Circle and Black Beach ATV Tour what’s not to love. 

You will see the erupting geyser and a variety of hot springs. Learn about Vikings in the Thingvellir National Park and experience the magnificence and power of the Gullfoss Waterfall.

After seeing the must-see attractions you get behind the wheel of an all-terrain vehicle for an unforgettable ride along Iceland’s South Coast black sand beaches and dramatic volcanic landscapes.

This is a tour filled with views and adrenaline.

Book Now: Golden Circle and Black Beach ATV Tour

Black Sand Beach Reynisfjara in Iceland. Windy Morning. Visited on a Golden Circle Tours

Iceland’s Golden Circle & Whale Watching Full-Day Tour ( 10 hours)

The Golden Circle and Whale Watching Full-Day Tour has to be a tour made in heaven.  In the morning take a cruise to observe humpback whales, harbor porpoise, and white-beaked dolphin before taking an afternoon express tour of The Golden Circle.

This incredible tour shows you whales in their native environment and if you are lucky you may also see puffins, arctic terns, gannet, and many varieties of gull.

You are then picked up at the harbor for your Golden Circle Tour taking in Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, and the spouting hot springs of Geysir and Strokkur.

This really will be an unforgettable experience.

Book Now: Golden Circle and Whale Watching Full-Day Tour

Humpback Whale breaching in deep blue sea at Iceland in the morning on a Golden Circle Tours

We do hope you have found the perfect tour for you in these golden circle Iceland tours. Whichever one you pick you won’t be disappointed and the scenery is breathtaking. Taking one of these Golden Circle tours truly is an unforgettable experience.

You might also be interested in The Complete Guide To The Blue Lagoon Iceland and 7 Helpful Things To Know About Money In Iceland

crescent godafoss waterfall in north iceland

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The Golden Circle

Golden circle iceland, geysir, gullfoss and thingvellir.

The Golden Circle is by far Iceland's most famous attraction. A short drive from the capital city, you see the most stunning sights at Thingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal area, and Gullfoss waterfall - all in one day!

Reykjavik Excursions offers a great selection of Golden Circle tours with extra options to please every traveller, such as a visit to Friðheimar greenhouse, a snowmobile ride on Langjökull glacier, horseback riding, a relaxing visit to Fontana Geothermal Spa, and much more. Find your Golden Circle tour from the list below.

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GOLDEN CIRCLE

Golden Circle Direct

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The Golden Circle & Friðheimar Greenhouse

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SNOWMOBILING

Golden Circle & Glacier Snowmobiling

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COMBO OFFERS

Golden Circle & Northern Lights

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Golden Circle & Fontana Wellness

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Golden Circle & Lava Tunnel

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SUPER JEEP TOURS

Golden Circle and Glacier Super Jeep Tour

Super-Jeep-Snowmobiling

Golden Circle Super Jeep & Snowmobiling

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SMALL GROUP

Small Group Golden Circle with lunch and Hvammsvik Hot Springs

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Golden Circle & Sky Lagoon

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Golden Circle & ATV Adventure

Golden Circle & Horse Riding

Golden Circle & Horse Riding

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Golden Circle & Buggy Adventure

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Golden Circle & City Sightseeing - Hop On Hop Off

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MULTI-DAY TOURS

3 Day - Golden Circle, South Coast, Ice Cave & Jökulsárlón

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6 Days Around Iceland Adventure

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HOLIDAY TOURS

Reykjavík Christmas Walk & Golden Circle

The World Was Here First

Complete Guide to Iceland’s Golden Circle Stops (with Map!)

Last Updated on February 6, 2024

by Michael Rozenblit

Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links. That means if you click a link and make a purchase, we may make a small commission. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases. For more information, see our privacy policy.

early golden circle tour

Only a short distance from the capital of Reykjavik, taking in the Golden Circle stops is one of the top things most travellers want to do on a short trip to Iceland. Boasting incredible biodiversity and jaw-dropping scenery, the Golden Circle in Iceland is truly one of the most spectacular areas in this already stunning country.

Though it is a popular route for visitors and many sites can attract large crowds, there are several stops that are lesser-known but nonetheless impressive. So if you’re looking for a holistic tour around the Golden Circle that includes the well-known highlights along with some more off-the-beaten-path stops, this is a great list for you!

Table of Contents

The Popular Golden Circle Stops

The best way to get around on the Golden Circle is by hiring a car. We recommend browsing on Rentalcars.com to find great deals as they aggregate prices across many major providers.

If you don’t have a car or aren’t keen to try driving in Iceland but still want to visit the highlights of the Golden Circle, then you need to organise a guided tour. As Iceland is an extremely popular tourist destination, we strongly recommend booking a tour in advance, particularly if you only have a couple of days in Iceland.

I suggest either this this full-day tour that includes the top Golden Circle attractions along with the Kerid Crater or this day tour which includes Þingvellir National Park, the Strokkur Geysir Geothermal Area and Gullfoss Waterfall. Both are excellent Golden Circle tours if you can’t go independently.

1. Þingvellir National Park

The first stop on most tour operators’ Golden Circle route is Þingvellir National Park, located about 40km from Reykjavik.

The national park can feel quite crowded near the entrance as many tour operators only stay here for an hour or so, however, it’s quite easy to get away from the crowds by walking further into the national park.

You could easily spend a full day just in the national park, walking one of the main hiking trails, going horseback riding or even scuba diving! If you do plan to only make a short stop here, I suggest arriving early as the front of the national park can get quite busy throughout the day.

Entrance to the park is free of charge however you do need to pay a parking fee and to use the bathrooms at the entrance of the park. There is also a small exhibition called ‘Heart of Iceland’ in the Visitor Centre that explains some of the history of the national park.

Þingvellir National Park on Iceland's Golden Circle

2. Strokkur Geysir

One of the most popular sites to visit if your doing the Golden Circle in one day is the Strokkur Geysir which is located in the geothermal pools of the Haukadalur Valley.

The geyser erupts every 10 minutes or so and shoots boiling water over 70 metres into the air! It only takes a few minutes to walk here from the car park and there are also a number of smaller geysers that erupt in the area.

It’s an amazing site to see however you don’t need to spend a long time here if you only want to see the geyser erupt once!

 Strokkur Geysir

3. Gullfoss Waterfall

Located just a short drive from the Strokkur Geysir, is the powerful and massive Gullfoss Waterfall.

Gullfoss falls in two stages at a total height of 32 metres and combined with the large gorges that surround it and the deep valley below, provides travellers with a spectacular site! There is a reason why Gullfoss is the most popular waterfall in Iceland and it’s certainly worth seeing despite its popularity.

There several wooden paths that you can take around to get great views of the waterfalls and you can easily spend an hour or two walking around and taking in the sheer power of Gullfoss!

Gullfoss Waterfall

4. Kerið Crater Lake

While probably not as popular as the above three stops, the Kerið Crater Lake still receives countless visitors due to its easily accessible location on the Golden Circle route.

The crater lake is surrounded by red volcanic rock and is over 55 metres deep, giving travellers a great vantage point from above. I recommend spending about an hour here as it’s worth walking both around the crater lake as well as taking the stairs down to the bottom of the lake to give yourself another perspective on this amazing site.

There is a small entrance fee of 400 ISK (approximately €3) to enter the crater lake.

Kerið Crater Lake

The Less Visited Golden Circle Stops

5. bruarfoss waterfall.

Located between Þingvellir National Park and Strokkur Geysir, Bruarfoss Waterfall is a great off-the-beaten-path stop if you’re self-driving the Golden Circle. These bright blue waterfalls are some of the most spectacular on the driving route and it doesn’t attract nearly the number of crowds as Gullfoss.

To reach Brurafoss, simply direct yourself to the “Brurafodd Parking” on your maps app. Note that entry to the falls is free, but there is a 750 ISK (roughly €5) parking fee. From the car park, it’s only about a 5-minute walk to be able to view the falls.

Like elsewhere in Iceland, the short trail can get muddy or slippery, so it’s essential that you have good shoes when visiting!

Bruarfoss Waterfall

6. See Icelandic horses

If you self-drive the Golden Circle then there will be a number of opportunities to stop along the route and say hello to some beautiful Icelandic horses!

Some of the stops even have food that you can buy for a nominal amount to feed the horses! Don’t worry if you don’t have time for this however as if you drive further along Iceland’s South Coast there are no shortage of opportunities to see these magnificent animals!

Patting Icelandic Horses!

7. Faxi Waterfall

Another one of the less visited stops on the Golden Circle is Faxi Waterfall located only 20km from Gullfoss.

While certainly not as spectacular as some of the other waterfalls you can see in Iceland there is something about its surrounding peaceful landscape that makes this a lovely stop along the Golden Circle route.

Faxi Waterfall is also easily accessible from the car park meaning it’s an easy stop for all travellers!

Faxi Waterfall

8. Town of Skálholt

The town of Skálholt is a short detour from the Golden Circle and about a 15-minute drive from Faxi Waterfall.

The town has historical importance as the centre of Christianity in Iceland for over 700 years until the 18th century. Today, the town is visited to see the newly built cathedral and traditional turf roof huts.

During summer there are also often free concerts and other cultural events that travellers can attend.

Turf roof huts in Skálholt

9. Reykjadalur Hot Springs

If you don’t fancy paying a small fortune to visit the Blue Lagoon, then a great alternative is to hike to the Reykjadalur Hot Springs. The hiking trail begins about a 40-minute drive from Reykjavik and can make for a great last stop on your Golden Circle itinerary!

It’s approximately a 3km hike to the natural hot springs and there are great scenic views along the way. There are no changing facilities at the hot springs however there are spots where you can find some privacy before or after taking a dip in the hot springs.

Reykjadalur valley

Golden Circle Iceland Map

Check out the map below to see all the popular and less visited stops plotted on a handy map of the Golden Circle!

How long does it take to drive the Golden Circle?

If you want to see all the stops listed in this article then I suggest allocating at least 1.5 days and preferably 2 full days to experience the route at a leisurely pace. If you only have time for a day trip, then I suggest picking about 4-5 stops.

That being said, some stops take a lot longer than others! For example, you could spend a whole day hiking through Þingvellir National Park as there are so many hiking trails to choose from. Alternatively, something like Faxi Waterfall can be seen and experienced in about ten minutes as you can see the waterfall from close to the car park.

When we visited the Golden Circle, we spent 1 full day visiting Þingvellir National Park, Strokkur Geysir, Gullfoss Waterfall, Bruarfoss Waterfall and Faxi Waterfall. We then visited the remainder of the attractions on the way to see some of South Iceland’s other attractions!

Places to eat on the Golden Circle

There aren’t many options to stop for lunch along the Golden Circle, particularly if you’re trying to minimise your Iceland trip cost , so it’s best to buy groceries and snacks from Reykjavik.

If you do want to stop somewhere for lunch then Friðheimar Farm  serves its famous tomato soup, as well as other dishes. It is located quite close to Faxi Waterfall so make sure to plan your day accordingly if you want to stop here for lunch! It’s advisable to book ahead to make sure you get a table.

What to wear when visiting the Golden Circle

In order to make sure you can enjoy all of the Golden Circle stops to the fullest it’s important that you are adequately dressed! Some of the important gear you should have includes:

  • A warm and waterproof coat or jacket suitable for Iceland . The type of jacket you need will vary depending on whether you are visiting in winter or summer however a waterproof rain jacket like the North Face Resolve  should always be in your luggage
  • Solid and durable hiking boots or shoes  – the Merrell Moab hiking shoes  are a great option as they have fantastic grip and are waterproof which is a must for travelling in Iceland!
  • Waterproof gloves  – the MCTi Ski gloves are a great option, particularly if travelling in winter.
  • Plenty of layers including good quality thermals and waterproof pants !
  • Click here to see our full guide on what to pack and wear in Iceland!

early golden circle tour

Where to Stay Along the Golden Circle

Héradsskólinn Guesthouse – Located between Þingvellir National Park and Gulfoss, this guest house is perfect if you want to visit those sites before the day trippers arrive. Rooms are clean and basic and there is the option of staying in rooms with shared bathroom to reduce costs.

Úthlíd Cottages – These cottages are located within a 15-minute drive of the Strokkur Geysir and offer guests rustic cottages complete with their own hot tub! Staff here can help arrange tours and there is also an optional breakfast.

Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse other hotels along the Golden Circle!

Don’t let the popularity of the Golden Circle stop you from experiencing the amazing sites in this part of Iceland. Not only are the popular attractions worth visiting and busy for a reason but there are many great lesser-visited places that make it possible to get off the beaten path! 

Are you driving the Golden Circle? Have any questions about this route? Let us know in the comments!

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About Michael Rozenblit

Michael is a co-founder and writer for The World Was Here First. Both solo and with his partner, Maggie, he has travelled to over 50 countries across the globe and has a particular affinity for the Balkans and Eastern Europe. He’s lived in numerous countries worldwide but currently resides in his hometown of Melbourne, Australia. Read more about Michael

Thank you for this very informative article!

Glad you found it helpful!

Can I do golden circle in the first half of the day and while retuning back can I go to blue lagoon and enjoy at least 2-3 hrs . Is it possible in same day ?

Hi Sandip, Unfortunately, I think this is would be too rushed.

Hi Michael Firstly, let me say how much we enjoy your site with all of the tips and recommendations! We are reading everything you have on Iceland, Croatia, Slovenia, and Montenegro for our upcoming vacation. Should we drive the Golden Circle clockwise, or does it not make any difference – scenic wise? Thankyou, Colleen

Hi Colleen, thank you for the kind words! I don’t think it makes much of a difference which way you drive the Golden Circle – hope you have a great trip!

Hi Michael, I need your honest opinion on this timeline: We will be staying in Reykjavik (center) and are thinking of heading out on the Golden Circle at 7:00am (morning after the day we arrive), arriving at Thingviller national Park then leaving there by 9:00; Next head to Bruarfoss falls, leaving there by 11:00am; next to Strokkur Geysir, then on to Gullfoss Falls by noon; Leave there by 1:00-1:20 and head to Feidheimer Farm by 2:00 (making reservations). Leave there by 3:30 then head to Kerid Crater; leave there by 5:00 then on to Reykjadalur Hot Springs. Leave there by 7:00 and head back to Reykjavik. Is this schedule doable or would you advise taking some things out? Am I trying to cram too much into one day? We’re hoping on a cruise ship the next day. We do have a rental car already lined up. This will be in June 2023.

Hi Susan, I think it’s probably too much to do all in one day and I would suggest cutting out at least one of Thingviller or Bruarfoss Waterfall if you want to have a more relaxing trip and time to explore each place.

Are there enough toilet stops on this golden circle trip

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Taylor Swift Not Performing at 2024 Grammys, Set to Fly Immediately to Japan Afterwards for 4 Back-to-Back Shows

The next leg of Swift's Eras Tour kicks off Feb. 7 with four back-to-back shows in Tokyo, Japan

Melody Chiu is an Executive Editor at PEOPLE overseeing music, events and emerging content. She has been with the brand since 2009, editing, writing and reporting across all entertainment verticals. She has written cover stories on Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, Melissa McCarthy, Blake Shelton, Jordan Turpin and Sandra Oh. The Los Angeles native graduated from the University of Southern California and has appeared on Extra! , The Talk, Access Hollywood and Good Morning America .

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Sorry Swifties — Taylor Swift won't be performing at the 2024 Grammy Awards .

While the pop superstar, 34, is expected to attend the annual music awards show on Sunday, PEOPLE has learned she won't perform at the ceremony because she must immediately travel to Japan for the next leg of her Eras Tour.

Swift is scheduled to perform four back-to-back shows at the Tokyo Dome from Feb. 7-10, before continuing the Eras Tour in Australia, Asia and Europe through the end of the summer. The tour is currently set to conclude with concerts in the United States and Canada this fall.

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The "Cruel Summer" musician's boyfriend, Travis Kelce, recently confirmed he won't be able to attend the Grammys alongside Swift during an interview on The   Pat McAfee Show .

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"I wish I could go support Taylor at the Grammys, and watch her win every single award that she’s nominated for," said the Kansas City Chiefs tight end, whose team will play in Super Bowl LVIII on Feb. 11.

"But I think I've got practice on Sunday," Kelce, 34, coyly added, uncertain if his team would use Saturday as a practice day and Sunday as a travel day. However, he explained that his schedule just won't allow for him to attend the show while staying focused on Kansas City's fourth Super Bowl in five years.

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Swift's Eras Tour has been a massive success since its launch in March 2023, grossing over $1 billion and becoming the most lucrative concert tour of all time, according to Pollstar .

"I knew this tour was harder than anything I’d ever done before by a long shot," she told Time of the 3-plus-hour-long concert, which sees Swift perform tracks from nearly all of her 10 original studio albums as well as two surprise songs each night.

She started training for the tour six months before it kicked off. "Every day I would run on the treadmill, singing the entire set list out loud," Swift told the outlet. "I wanted to be so over-rehearsed that I could be silly with the fans, and not lose my train of thought."

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    Opening hours 09:00 - 17:00 Distance from center 24.3 km High season Winter Family-friendly Yes Average rating 4.6 Number of reviews 5277 The Golden Circle is a 190-mile (300 kilometers) route of Iceland's three most popular natural attractions: Thingvellir National Park, the Geysir geothermal area and Gullfoss waterfall.

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    This travel guide is everything you need to plan your own self-driving tour of the Golden Circle, plus some secret spots off the beaten path that you'll want to check out. One of the most popular attractions in all of Iceland is the route known as the Golden Circle.

  14. Iceland's Golden Circle Guide: 13 Epic Stops

    25 August 2022 · In: Iceland, Road Trip, Travel Welcome to the Golden Circle, an immersive route through the natural wonders of Iceland! From impressive waterfalls to active geysers and secret hot springs, this comprehensive travel guide covers the 13 best stops and attractions along the road.

  15. Iceland Golden Circle Tours

    The Golden Circle is among the most popular tourist routes in Iceland. It encompasses three of the country's most spectacular natural attractions: Þingvellir National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss Waterfall. Golden Circle tours are the best way to experience all 3 of these attractions and more!

  16. Golden Circle in Winter (Iceland)

    In Winter, as in Summer, the Golden Circle is a circuit for tourists taking you to 3 main attractions : The Thingvellir National Park with its giant fissures in the Earth's crust. The geothermal area of Haukadalur with the Strokkur geyser erupting every 3 to 8 minutes. The giant and powerful waterfall of Gullfoss.

  17. Golden Circle Direct

    This abridged version of the Golden Circle tour, with a duration of 5½ hours, is ideal for early morning arrivals and those with a busy travel schedule, providing an excellent overview of Iceland's two most famous natural wonders, the Gullfoss waterfall and Geysir geothermal area, plus the beautifully expansive and historically significant ...

  18. A Guide To Iceland's Golden Circle Stops (+ Map)

    Early in the construction of Iceland's Route 1, the so-called Golden Circle, the engineers hit a snag. The road went slap-bang through the elves' habitat. ... However, if like me, you are less comfortable about driving in all weathers, there is no shortage of Golden Circle organised tours departing Reykjavik. What you lose in flexibility ...

  19. Golden Circle & Secret Lagoon Tour

    5/5 Read reviews Grab this chance to experience all the Golden Circle hits as well as hot-spring bathing View gallery We are very proud to announce that this tour is a Viator Experience Award Winner 2023!

  20. Gray Line Iceland

    Journey along the Golden Circle with its outstanding sights of Þingvellir National Park, where the first parliament was held in Iceland and the continental drift is visible. From Gullfoss, start your ultimate Glacier and Natural Ice Cave adventure in one of the Largest Glacier Trucks! Duration: 10 hours From: € 245 Easy Cancellation Select

  21. The Golden Circle of Iceland: a Detailed Guide and a Map of 22 Top

    Built in the early 1890s, it is known locally as Gamla Laugin. Filled by the nearby hot springs, the pool's water maintains a pleasant year-round temperature of 38-40°C (100-104°F). ... If you're looking to combine a thrilling activity with your Golden Circle tour, try exciting snowmobiling at the dazzling Langjokull Glacier. On clear ...

  22. 14 Best Golden Circle Tours In Iceland Worth Your Money

    The Golden Circle is a 190 mile (approx) route that takes in some of the most spectacular landmarks Iceland has to offer. The classic route takes in the three most popular tourist attractions; Gullfoss Waterfall, the Geysir Geothermal Area, and Thingvellir National Park. However, there are lots more things to see off the popular tourist route.

  23. Golden Circle Tours in Iceland

    101 Reykjavík. Iceland. Phone: +354 580 5400. The Golden Circle tours visit Iceland's most famous attractions. A short drive from Reykjavik, you will see the most stunning sights at Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir geothermal area, and Thingvellir National Park - all in one day!

  24. Complete Guide to Iceland's Golden Circle Stops (with Map!)

    Entrance to the exhibition costs 1000 ISK. Þingvellir National Park. 2. Strokkur Geysir. One of the most popular Golden Circle stops is the Strokkur Geysir which is located in the geothermal pools of the Haukadalur Valley. The geyser erupts every 10 minutes or so and shoots boiling water over 70 metres into the air!

  25. Taylor Swift Won't Perform at 2024 Grammys Due to Eras Tour Schedule

    The tour is currently set to conclude with concerts in the United States and Canada this fall. Taylor Swift at the Golden Globes on Jan. 7, 2024. Monica Schipper/GA/The Hollywood Reporter via Getty