Amazing Golden Circle Iceland (Highlights & Tips)

The Golden Circle is an absolute must when you visit Iceland! Follow this famous scenic route along the south coast to see many of the country’s most spectacular natural wonders. Here’s what to expect along the Golden Circle in Iceland.

Gullfoss Falls in Iceland
Gullfoss Waterfall (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

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1. Thingvellir National Park

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Thingvellir National Park is a geological wonder on the Golden Circle Iceland route. This first stop straddles the Eurasian tectonic plate and the North American tectonic plate. That means you can walk on two different continents at this national park! Plus, the divide between these two plates has created beautiful gorges to explore from hiking paths.

Thingvellir National Park in Iceland's Golden Circle
Thingvellir National Park (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Thingvellir National Park is also historically significant. One of the world’s oldest surviving parliaments, the Althing, was established here in 930 AD. Not long thereafter, paganism was abolished at Thingvellir, and the country adopted Christianity as Iceland’s national religion. Christianity remains the dominant religion in Iceland today, but freedom of religion was granted in 1874.

Selfie at Gullfoss Falls
Selfie at Gullfoss Falls (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

2. Gullfoss Falls

Gullfoss, meaning “Golden Waterfall” in Icelandic, inspired the name of the famous Golden Circle Iceland sightseeing route. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot one or more rainbows at the top, created by the fall’s abundance of mist. I was not so lucky, but I found the massive rushing waterfalls to be breathtaking nonetheless.

Formed during the last Ice Age, Gullfoss Falls features two drops, which total 105 feet (32 meters) in height. It’s not the tallest waterfall in Europe but it may be the biggest by volume.

Geothermal activity at Geysir Hot Springs
Volcanic activity at Geysir Hot Springs (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

3. Geysir Hot Springs

The next stop on the Golden Circle tour is the Geysir geothermal area in the Haukadalur Valley. The largest of the geysers here is called the Great Geysir, which was the inspiration for the English word, geyser.

In recent years, this huge geyser has remained mostly dormant but it erupted for two days straight following an earthquake in 2000, reaching heights up to 400 feet (122 meters).

There are 20+ dormant and active geysers in this area. The most active, named Strokkur, erupts every 3 to 10 minutes, with the boiling water reaching heights up to 98 feet (30 meters).

Strokkur Geyser, the most active geyser in Iceland's Golden Circle
Strokkur Geyser (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Gather with the crowds to watch nature’s explosive display. For safety’s sake, stay on marked paths to avoid the hot water.

The Geysir Center is home to an expansive gift shop plus a sit-down restaurant and fast food outlet. This makes a perfect place to pause for lunch during a Golden Circle day trip. If you’re touring on your own, then you could also book an overnight stay at the onsite Hotel Geysir.

Ice cream flavors at Efstidalur in the Golden Circle
Ice cream flavors at Efstidalur Farm (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

4. Bonus Stop: Efstidalur Farm

If you drive the entire route on your own, make sure to add Efstidalur Farm to your schedule. You may even want to book a horseback riding excursion in summer months, or stay a night or two at Efstidalur Farm Hotel for a relaxing getaway. Some Golden Circle guided tours stop at this dairy farm for handmade ice cream and to see darling animals like cows, horses, and friendly dogs.

Horses at Efstidalur Farm Hotel
Horses at Efstidalur Farm Hotel (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Try Icelandic favorite ice cream flavors like licorice or salted caramel. Look for options made with local ingredients, too, like fresh blueberries. Yum!

Our guided tour was not officially supposed to stop at this farm hotel, but the weather was warm, and our guide/driver said she was in a good mood. Thank goodness for sunny days!

Kerid Crater in Golden Circle near Reykjavik
Natural beauty of Kerid Crater (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

5. Kerid Crater

Surrounded by red volcanic earth, Kerid Crater is filled with an otherworldly, bright aquamarine lake. Geologists believe the crater formed 6,000 years ago when a magma chamber collapsed following a volcanic eruption. Today, the volcanic lake is dormant but is still fascinating to view.

Swimming is not allowed in Kerið Crater Lake, but you can hike down to its shores and touch the chilly water in summer. In winter months, the lake freezes over, and intrepid travelers can walk across the ice.

The Kerid Crater Path encircles the lake. The loop trail is less than 1 mile long (1.4 kilometers) and should take about 25 minutes to complete.

Swimming under a warm waterfall at Sky Lagoon
That’s me, swimming under a warm waterfall at Sky Lagoon (Photo credit: Kim Tate, Stuffed Suitcase)

6. Blue Lagoon or Sky Lagoon (Optional)

While in Iceland, you must visit at least one of the country’s geothermal pools. You can book a Golden Circle guided tour with a visit to Sky Lagoon or Blue Lagoon, the most popular geothermal spas.

I have visited both of these famous tourist attractions. While I enjoyed each for different reasons, I definitely have a favorite. Read my review of Blue Lagoon vs. Sky Lagoon to decide which is best for you!

Blue Lagoon view
Blue Lagoon view (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

How Long Is the Golden Circle

Iceland’s Golden Circle is 186 miles long (or 300 kilometers). This distance could be easily driven in a single day, or you could spread out the journey if you want extra time in specific spots for hiking, horseback riding, or birdwatching.

Golden Circle small group tour from Reykjavik
Golden Circle small group tour from Reykjavik (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Rental Car vs. Guided Tour

You could rent a car and drive Iceland’s Golden Circle on your own. This enables you to go at your own pace and add extra stops if you like. When traveling with a partner or as a family, this may be a fun and affordable choice.

However, a guided tour provides more Icelandic history and is an easy, stress-free option. Many tour guides pick up in Reykjavik and take just one day. Plus, all entrance fees are usually included.

I liked learning about the Land of Fire and Ice from an entertaining (and singing!) local during a Golden Circle Small Group Tour with optional geothermal pools. I was traveling solo and liked experiencing southwest Iceland with a group of other travelers.

 

Besides, I could enjoy the scenery of Iceland’s south coast without having to worry about navigating to find each amazing stop along the way. My tour of the Golden Circle even offered free WiFi on our shuttle bus.

I booked with GetYourGuide, a trusted tour group that works with local guides in destinations around the world. I have booked tours with them in Mexico, Spain, and Arizona. Their tours are always informative and entertaining.

View from Thingvellir National Park
View from Þingvellir National Park (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Golden Circle Iceland Main Attractions

  • Thingvellir National Park
  • Gullfoss Falls
  • Geysir Hot Springs
  • Efstidalur Farm Hotel Ice Cream (Bonus Stop)
  • Kerid Crater
  • Sky Lagoon or Blue Lagoon (Optional)
Hand Dived Scallops with green apple pearls at OTO Restaurant in Reykjavik, Iceland
Hand Dived Scallops at OTO Restaurant in Reykjavik, Iceland (Photo credit: Colleen Lanin)

Learn More

Discover what to eat in Iceland, from famous hot dogs to fine dining and adventurous eats.

Explore the best things to do in Reykjavik, Iceland’s vibrant capital city.

My family loved our guided tour and the flamenco dinner show we booked with GetYourGuide in Seville, Spain. Read about these experiences and more in my guide to Sevilla with kids.

Viking River Cruises includes incredible guided tours with its European cruises. Read my review of Viking Rhine River Cruise ports and excursions.

Golden Circle Iceland Highlights & Tips

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Which of these stops on the Golden Circle route in Iceland appeals most to you? Let us know in the comments below!

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18 Comments

  1. The breathtaking landscapes and fascinating geological wonders, like the Thingvellir National Park, truly make it a must-visit destination for any traveler.