A Guide to Geysir: Iceland’s Most Famous Natural Phenomenon

The active geothermal area of Haukadalur valley is located in the southwest of Iceland and is one of the stops along the Golden Circle route. In this area you will find Geysir hot spring, a captivating natural wonder that draws visitors from all over the world. Even though Geysir is the name everyone associates with this natural wonder, it is actually Strokkur who does all the hard work and shows off spectacular eruptions of boiling water into the air. 

In this guide we will provide you with all the essential information needed to make the most of your visit to Iceland’s most famous geothermal sites. 


How to get to Geysir geothermal area

As mentioned above, Geysir is situated on the Golden Circle route, around 116 km [72 mi] from Reykjavík city. The journey takes roughly 1,5 hours from the city and is easily accessible with a private car. Alternatively there are enough guided tour options for those who just want to sit back, relax and enjoy the ride. 

Exploring the area

Upon arrival you might already get a sneaky preview of the erupting hot spring while parking on the other side of the road. The landscape surrounding the many hot springs in the area is dominated by steam, bubbling mud pots and the iconic geysers.

Strokkur Geyser

The star of the show is Strokkur geyser with its powerful eruptions shooting boiling water up to 30 metres [98 ft] into the air. Strokkur erupts every 5-10 minutes so there are plenty of opportunities to watch, be in awe and get that one perfect picture to show everyone at home.

Geysir

The geothermal area is named after the famous Geysir, an old hot spring that has been dormant for decades. The surrounding area is very beautiful and even though only one of the geysers actively erupts, many bubbling ones are to be seen when strolling around the area. Additionally you can see fumaroles and marvel at the clayish brown surroundings merging with the surrounding greenery. Always stay on the designated paths as the ground can be unstable due to the geothermal activity beneath. 


Geysir Visitor Centre

Either before or after walking around the area and seeing Strokkur erupt once, twice or ten times, it can be a fun experience to visit the local visitor centre to learn more about the geology, history and significance of this natural phenomenon. 

Geysir Golden Circle in Iceland
Geysir area – photo by Golli

 

Practical tips and fun facts about the Geysir area

  1. How to dress when visiting Geysir
    Dress according to the weather and wear good shoes. The paths can get a little muddy.

  2. Safety first
    Always stay on designated paths and adhere to all signs and safety instructions. Even though only one of the hot springs is active the whole area is still an active geothermal area and the non-active geysers are still boiling hot.

  3. Why do geysers erupt?
    The reason why geysers erupt is water being heated by bubbling magma underneath earth’s surface. When the water reaches a certain pressure it is forced towards the surface where it erupts with magnificent results. 

  4. When did Geysir first erupt?
    The first mentioned eruption of Geysir hot spring dates back to 1647. The famous geyser was very active back then, shooting water up to 80 metres [262 ft] into the air. In the early 1900s the activity started to decline and it eventually became dormant. After a row of very big earthquakes in the year 2000, Geysir awoke and became active once more. However its last eruption was in 2016 and it has been dormant ever since.

  5. Where does the word geyser come from?
    The English word
    geyser is adapted from Geysir´s name and is now an internationally known word for spouting hot water springs. This is however not the Icelandic word for the phenomenon. In Iceland Geysir is, and always will be, the name of one of the geysers but the word used for this natural wonder is hver [ˈvɛːˀr].

 

 

Even though the Geysir area is probably one of the most hyped up attractions in Iceland it is a remarkable experience for everyone to witness the power of nature in this  explosive way. The geothermal activity is one of Iceland’s most unique attributes and where better to experience it than in the Geysir area? The trip is an easily accessible day-trip from Reykjavík city and well worth your while to witness Iceland’s most iconic natural phenomenon first hand. 

 

The Secret Lagoon in South Iceland

A happy couple at the Secret Lagoon in Iceland

What can you expect from a visit to the Secret Lagoon in Iceland? How does it differ from other spas and hot springs around the country? Read on to learn more about the many joys that come with bathing at the Secret Lagoon in Iceland. 

In Icelandic, the Secret Lagoon is known as Gamla Laugin, meaning Old Pool

It is aptly named, being the first artificially-made outdoor swimming area in Iceland. The first incarnation of the pool was built in 1891, smack in the centre of a geothermal area known as Hverahólmi. It was quite the change given this space had historically been used for washing clothes. 

Since opening, it has become a tradition amongst local people to enjoy bathing in these gently simmering waters. Swimming lessons were held there from 1909 to 1947, at which point the original pool fell into disrepair. 

It was not until 2005 that the pool was given a second chance. On the 7th of June 2014, the Secret Lagoon officially opened its doors. Holiday-makers have been flocking to it ever since. 

When can you visit the Secret Lagoon?

Entering the Secret Lagoon
Photo: Secret Lagoon – Gamla Laugin

There really is no best time to visit the Secret Lagoon. Summer visitors can enjoy the lush beauty of the surrounding nature, as well as the omnipresent sunlight. Winter travellers can expect a welcome source of heat from its waters, helping to break up their day exploring the local area. Opening hours for the Secret Lagoon are as follows:

Winter season

*from 1st of October to 31st of May

Open daily from 10:00 to 19:00

Summer season

*from 1st of June to 30th of September

Open daily from 10:00 to 20:00

 

Where is the Secret Lagoon?

Gamla Laugin
Photo: Golden Circle — Platinum Tour | Small group

The Secret Lagoon is located in Flúðir village, in South Iceland. Home to little more than 800 people, the village is known for its abundance of greenhouses and gorgeous surrounding scenery. Travelling by car is a 1 hr 25 min drive (104.7 km) from the capital city, Reykjavík.  

Thanks to its proximity to many other notable attractions, Flúðir is often included as an extra stop on the Golden Circle sightseeing route. 

 

Why should you visit the Secret Lagoon?

Bathers at the Secret Lagoon
Photo: Private Northern Lights Tour – With Secret Lagoon and Dinner

Visiting the Secret Lagoon allows you to experience the soothing warmth of Iceland’s geothermally-heated water. Slipping under its twinkling surface, you’re sure to feel your troubles melt away. 

Thankfully, there are no seasonal restrictions, meaning you are free to visit during the winter or summer. Each has its benefits; the Northern Lights may very well decorate the night sky for those stopping by between September and March. The Midnight Sun offers eternal light for summer travellers, allowing you to stay out later and fit more into your day.  

A visit to the Secret Lagoon also provides a brilliant opportunity to observe the steaming fumaroles and hot pots that surround the pool itself. Some even have names, such as Vaðmálahver, Básahver, and Litli Geysir, the latter of which is known to erupt every few minutes, offering guests a small spectacle in its own right. 

A steamy fumarole
Photo: Secret Lagoon – Gamla Laugin

In between bathing sessions, step out and take an enjoyable stroll around these fascinating natural features – but don’t step too close! These miniature springs are incredibly hot. This brings us to our next point – not only do these hot springs offer interesting surroundings, but they have a practical purpose too, feeding into the Secret Lagoon, naturally filtering its water and keeping it at a pleasant 38-40 Celsius throughout the year.  

As mentioned, the Secret Lagoon also happens to be the oldest outdoor pool in the country. With that in mind, it is pleasing to know you are taking part in an activity – relaxing in nature – that many Icelandic have done throughout the years prior, adding a real sense of authenticity to your visit. 

 

What amenities does the Secret Lagoon offer? 

A guest at the Secret Lagoon
Photo: The Ultimate Golden Circle Tour with Lunch at the Tomato Farm & Bathing at Secret Lagoon

The Secret Lagoon is more simplistic in its aesthetic and its amenities than many other spas in Iceland. Towels and swimwear are not included in the basic admission, so must be rented separately at 1000 ISK each. Make sure to spend time packing the essentials before visiting to avoid any unnecessary expenses. 

We highly recommend booking your spot in advance, especially during the busiest times of the year. However, it is also possible to buy tickets at the front desk should you decide to stop by on impulse. The ticket prices are as follows:

Adults: 3600 ISK

Children (14 and under): Free 

Seniors (and disabled): 2500 ISK

 

 

There are showers and changing facilities on-site, kept much the same as they always have been. Note that showering before entering the lagoon is mandatory, as it is with all pools in the country. Chastisement can be expected if one tries to skip this step, as a pre-entry shower is considered a foundational aspect of bathing culture in Iceland.

There is also a bistro that serves up refreshing drinks and a variety of delicious snacks. However, the bistro does not serve hot meals, so it is best to stop by the lagoon before or after you’ve had lunch. (We recommend Restaurant Minilik, an Ethiopian eatery nearby.) Exceptions are made when bigger groups make arrangements in advance. 

 

What attractions are near the Secret Lagoon? 

A couple at geysir geothermal area
Photo: Golli. A couple watches Strokkur explode!

On average, visitors tend to spend around 1.5 – 2 hours at the Secret Lagoon, leaving plenty of time to check out points of interest in the area. Fortunately, there are many worthwhile sites nearby that are worth slotting into your schedule. 

The Golden Circle is Iceland’s most popular sightseeing route, covering approximately 300 km (190 mi). It boasts three star attractions; Þingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal valley, and the powerful waterfall, Gullfoss, as well as other extra sites like Kerið volcanic crater and Friðheimar tomato farm. Almost all visitors to Iceland will want to make time to discover the beauty of this exciting drive. There is no better way to close it off than with a little bathing. 

If you were to head in the other direction, you would find yourself on the picturesque South Coast. This lovely journey showcases an eclectic mix of landscapes, from ancient sea cliffs to black sand deserts, craggy shorelines, and sweeping green meadows. Attractions on the western side include the waterfalls, Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss, while exploring further will take you to the dark beach, Reynisfjara.

Driving The Ring Road in Three Days

Iceland’s famous Þjóðvegur 1 highway, or the Ring Road, is a 1322 km long road that circles the country. Technically it can be covered from start to finish in less than 24 hours but rushing the road trip would defeat the purpose of experiencing the beautiful nature and eccentric small towns that Iceland has to offer. The optimal way to travel the Ring Road is in approximately seven days with plenty of pit stops, but it’s also entirely possible to have an enjoyable trip in much less than that. For those who have limited time to travel, here’s a guide to a three day trip around Iceland.

Where to Begin?

At the start of the trip, travellers have two options, driving north or south but for the purpose of this article, the northern route is chosen. Heading north takes travellers through the Hvalfjarðargöng tunnel towards Borgarnes which is a popular first quick stop for gathering snacks or having lunch, but for a little less crowded option we recommend Baulan, a small gas station twenty minutes past Borgarnes. Baulan is perfect for a coffee break and a hot dog before getting back on the road. About 40 minutes from Baulan marks the beginning of the drive through Holtavörðuheiði, a long stretch of road that ascends through barren hillsides. During the summer, Holtavörðuheiði poses no difficulty for drivers but during winter the road can get quite icy and it’s worth staying up to date on road conditions when travelling in the winter months. Coming back down from the hills, travellers are greeted by Staðarskáli, a good sized gas station and restaurant that was originally opened in 1960 and then reconstructed in 2008 under the N1 chain of gas stations. Due to its location right between Reykjavík and the North part of Iceland, it has been one of the most popular rest stops on the Ring Road. Although some of the old time charm was replaced by a more modern look by N1, it’s still a classic stop to restock on drinks and road snacks. Before getting to Akureyri, the road crosses Blönduós, a decent sized town named after the Blanda river that rushes through the area. Blönduós has a number of restaurants and gas stations to drop in, but for people who crave an old fashioned burger joint there is the North West restaurant in Víðigerði, some 39 km from Blönduós.

Photo: Golli. A collection of waterfalls in Borgarfjörður

After that the Ring Road heads into Skagafjörður, a large region known for its dramatic history during the Sturlunga Era and for its rich horsebreeding culture. The last proper stop before Akureyri is Varmahlíð in Skagafjörður, a tiny community that still manages a hotel and a swimming pool along with a restaurant and gas station. From Varmahlíð it’s about an hour drive to Akureyri with no other options for pit stops through the sometimes treacherous Öxnadalsheiði. 

Akureyri, Capital of North Iceland

Akureyri, the second biggest town in Iceland, is nestled at the roots of Hlíðarfjall mountain, a popular skiing area during winter time. It has a more “city feel” than the other smaller towns that are scattered around the country, and is an ideal place to stop for the first night of the trip. Akureyri offers numerous hotels, guesthouses and camping areas along with a diverse restaurant scene and a huge swimming pool with a funky waterslide. The climate in Akureyri is often a lot calmer than in Reykjavík and during summer it’s more likely than not to catch beautiful, sunny days there while Reykjavík has more unpredictable weather. There is no shortage of activities available in Akureyri and it is sure to leave an impression on any traveller passing through. In 2022, a new geothermal bath spot opened right outside Akureyri called Skógarböðin, or Forest Lagoon, a beautifully designed, modern take on the natural bath. It’s a great spot to unwind after the long drive and enjoy the surrounding nature. For breakfast in Akureyri there are a few options, but a great little café called Kaffi Ilmur is a great choice. Kaffi Ilmur serves breakfast all day long and has amazing Dutch specialty pancakes that should not be missed.

Photo: Golli. Akureyri is the second largest town in Iceland

Experiencing East-Iceland

Heading out east from Akureyri, the next stop should be Egilsstaðir, a small town with a big personality and a great natural bath called Vök, which is located on top of Urriðavatn lake. Visitors can soak in the hot pools and then take a dip in the lake to cool off. East-Iceland has a lot to offer and it’s the only part of the country where wild reindeer roam free. Because of the short trip and long drives between destinations, it might not be possible to go on many excursions, but travellers should try to squeeze in a reindeer safari to see these adorable animals in their natural habitat. On the South-Eastern edge of Iceland, close to Vatnajökull glacer is Jökulsárlón, a glacier lake that is a must see on the Ring Road trip. The lake runs directly from Vatnajökull and out to the ocean and carries with it beautiful icebergs from the glacier in all different colors of blue. Close by is the Diamond Beach where pieces of the icebergs have broken off and collected on the shore. It’s a stunning display of the ever changing elements of Icelandic nature.

Photo: Berglind. The Glacier Lagoon in East-Iceland

 For the second night on the trip, Höfn í Hornafirði is a great spot, a small coastal town on the  South-East tip, or travellers can duck into Hotel Jökulsárlón, a cozy hotel close to the glacier lake. About 20 minutes before entering Höfn there are the Vestrahorn mountains, a picturesque range of ragged mountains that seem to rise up from the black, sandy beach. 

The Scenic South Coast

On the third day, driving from Höfn, begins the home stretch, a beautiful, scenic drive along the southern part of Iceland. This part of the country doesn’t have the many hills and valleys of the western and northern parts and so the drive is smooth and peaceful. The southern route also has some of the most popular nature highlights of Iceland, and as travellers get closer to Reykjavík, there are numerous spots to stop and enjoy the views. Three hours from Höfn is Vík í Mýrdal, another small seaside town that is surrounded by dramatic mountain formations. There are a number of food options in Vík, including a craft brewery pub called Smiðjan Brewery that offers a good selection of local specialty beers. Thirty minutes from Vík is the famed Skógafoss, an iconic waterfall that can be seen right from the highway. Continuing west is another, smaller waterfall, Seljalandsfoss, where visitors have a chance to walk up close and get behind the gushing water. Close by Seljalandsfoss is Seljavallalaug, a beautiful natural bath, hidden from the views of the Ring Road. It’s a bit of a hike to get to the pool but the soak is worth every minute.

Photo: Golli. Seljalandsfoss on the South Coast

Getting back on the road from Seljavallalaug, travellers have the option of taking a small detour to see Gullfoss waterfall and Strokkur geysir. As part of the Golden Cirlce, these spots are a popular attraction for tour groups, but it’s easy and fun to get around there on your own. From the Golden Circle it’s a short one hour drive back to Reykjavík where it all started. A short trip like this around Iceland is only able to give a small preview of all the possible things to see and do around the country, but it is a great way to get familiar with driving on the roads and to hopefully get hyped for a longer return trip in the future.

The Golden Circle | Iceland’s Favourite Sightseeing Route  

Geysir Iceland tourism

Iceland is famed far and wide for its astounding natural spectacles. Cascading waterfalls. Bursting geysers. Wide stretches of untamed wilderness. But particular places have become more renowned than most. For instance, the Golden Circle sightseeing route is the most popular sightseeing route in Iceland. 

The route is named after one of its three impressive stops – the colossal Gullfoss waterfall, literally translating to ‘Golden Waterfall.’ From one perspective, this is something of a coincidence as this trail is considered the premium – and thus golden – sightseeing circuit in the country. It offers guests awe, reverence, and appreciation in equal measures.

In total, the Golden Circle covers 300 km (186 mi); a fairly considerable distance, but very manageable within a day, bearing in mind one is prepared to fill it with intrigue and adventure, of course.

Table of Contents

Where is the Golden Circle in Iceland? 

Gullfoss waterfall in Autumn
Photo: Private Golden Circle & Secret Lagoon tour from Reykjavik

The Golden Circle sightseeing route is located in West Iceland, about 45 km northwest of Iceland’s vibrant capital city, Reykjavik. 

For those leaving from Reykjvik towards the route’s most popular starting point – the notoriously unpronounceable Þingvellir National Park – expect to drive for one hour. 

Guests should leave the capital by following the major highway, Route 49, west toward the leafy town of Mosfellsbær. On the outskirts of the city, be aware that Route 49 becomes Route 1 without having to turn off. 

Continue along this main road, crossing four roundabouts as you drive through Mosfellsbær. At the fifth roundabout, swing into the first right turn onto Route 36, otherwise known as Þingvallavegur. There will be clear signs en route, leaving no room for doubt.

This road will take you across wide open wilderness until, eventually, the placid blue waters of Lake Þingvallavatn appear on your right hand side. When you spot what is Iceland’s largest natural lake—a beautiful sight in and of itself—you know you’re heading in the right direction.

Route 36 will take you right up to Þingvellir National Park’s modern Visitor’s centre, complete with its engaging information boards and easily-accessible walkways.

Congratulations – you have now reached your first stop on the Golden Circle route. So, what incredible sites lie ahead of you?

What sites are considered the Golden Circle route?

A map showing the topography of Þingvellir
 Photo: Adam Fagen. Flickr. CC. A map showing Þingvellir.

There are three major sites on Iceland’s Golden Circle sightseeing route – Þingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal area, and Gullfoss waterfall. 

All of them can be visited within the space of one day. The majority of one’s time will be spent at Þingvellir National Park given the wealth of activities available there, but leisurely travellers may want to spread the experience out over a couple of days. 

A gentle approach is especially true for those who want to make extra stops along the way, but we discuss more about them later. 

For now, let’s focus on the main attractions, starting with Þingvellir (pronounced Thing-veck-leer). 

Þingvellir National Park

It is not an easy job, using words to justify exactly how the UNESCO World Heritage site, Þingvellir, is such a special place. 

Why, you ask? Because Þingvellir National Park is many things at once, the least of which being that it is often constituted as the first part of the Golden Circle route. 

The History of Þingvellir National Park

þingvellir national park
 Photo: Páll Stefánsson. þingvellir during the winter.

Þingvellir is a site of immense historical importance, not just for the Icelandic people, but humanity itself. 

For starters, Þingvellir was where the first democratically-elected parliament, the Alþingi, first formed back in 930 AD. It was in that summer that the nation of Iceland was born, marking the beginning of the Icelandic Commonwealth, which lasted until 1262. While the Commonwealth did not last, the Alþingi is still in operation today. 

Anyone with some knowledge of Icelandic would recognise that Þingvellir translates to ‘Assembly Fields.’ In ancient Germanic sites, a thing (Þing) describes the gathering of a government, while the singular vǫllr means ‘field.’

Playing dress-up as Vikings
 Photo: Golli. Festival-goers dressed as Vikings.

Every year since its founding, chieftains (or Goðar) and their clans would travel from across Iceland to assemble at Þingvellir, setting up temporary living quarters amid its craggy walls. 

For two weeks at a time, clans would discuss the law, settle disputes, forge alliances, and hold great games and feasts. Ordinary citizens would also attend, be they sword-makers, farmers, or merchants, using the gathering to peddle their wares, find work, and seek out adventure.      

Þingvellir was established as a national park in 1930. In 2004, UNESCO recognised the area as a world heritage site, lathering even more prestige onto this exceptional locale. 

Þingvellir’s Fascinating Geology & Nature 

Guests at Þingvellir National Park
 Photo: Golli. Walking in Þingvellir National Park

The landscapes of Þingvellir were formed by an eruptive fissure northeast of nearby Mount Hengill. What it left behind was a volcanic paradise composed of lush arctic flora and incredible geology defined by the park’s location atop the Mid-Atlantic Rift

The Eurasian and the North American tectonic plates make up the outer periphery of this protected area, creating what amounts to a shield-wall enclosing a wholly unique rift valley. 

Given that these tectonic plates are drifting apart ever-so slowly each year, the valley basin has been torn apart with fissures and cracks, many filled with water. 

Water filling in a volcanic rift.
 Photo: Golli. A volcanic rift filled with water.

By far, the most impressive rift is Almannagjá (Everyman’s Gorge), better described as a scenic, yet haunting canyon. Guests can walk down Almannagjá as part of the Execution trail, stopping at various display boards within their award-winning interactive exhibition to learn about the history that took place there. 

Visitors can look upon Höggstokkseyri (“the bank of the execution block”), where decapitations took place in the name of the Icelandic law. 

A short while north, they will stumble across Brennugjá (“the Burning Canyon”) where those accused of sorcery were burned alive at the stake.

Volcanic activity has been dormant at Þingvellir for over two millennia, but there is no telling when it will start up again.     

Explore a strange underwater world at Silfra Fissure 

A snorkeller at Silfra Fissure in Iceland
Photo: Golden Circle & Snorkeling in Silfra Minibus Tour | Free Underwater Photos

Þingvellir is where snorkelers and scuba divers discover the glacial beauty of Silfra Fissure. 

Glacial water from neighbouring Langjökull—Iceland’s second largest glacier—fills this strange underwater canyon, allowing for visibility of up to 150 m. 

There is little fish life in the fissure itself—Brown Trout and Arctic Char prefer to spend time in the wide open waters of adjoining Þingvallavatn—but the deep shades of royal blue and dramatic rock walls more than make up for it.

A number of operators run tours at Silfra Fissure, using a nearby parking area to adorn their guests in the thick dry suits, fins, neoprene hoods and gloves, and a mask and snorkel. It would be insincere to claim that exploring here is not cold, but with the right protection and only forty minutes or so in the water, the experience is more than worth it. 

After all, how often does anyone get to swim between our planet’s tectonic plates? 

Officials of the national park describe Þingvellir as ‘the heart of Iceland’. Given all this location has seen, not mentioning the impact it has had on Iceland’s national identity, it is impossible to argue with such an assessment. 

Öxarárfoss Waterfall

The auroras over Öxarárfoss Waterfall
 Photo: Golli. Northern lights over Öxarárfoss Waterfall

At a diminutive 13 m [44 ft] high, Öxarárfoss waterfall cascades over Almannagjá gorge, and is considered a must-see spot in Þingvellir National Park. 

Unlike most waterfalls in Iceland, Öxarárfoss is actually man-made, the water having been channelled into Almannagjá many hundreds of years before.

According to legends, the waterfall was named after a mythic axe that was used to slaughter a female troll infamous for killing weary travellers passing through the area. 

Öxarárfoss’ pure glacial water falls into a rocky pool filled with different-sized boulders, creating picturesque plumes of mist. Depending on the season, the volume and flow rate can change dramatically, making it a worthwhile stop for repeat visitors.  

In the wintertime, the waterfall completely freezes over, offering beautiful photography opportunities of a rare anomaly in nature. 

Geysir Geothermal Area

A couple at geysir geothermal area
Photo: Golli. A couple watches Strokkur explode!

The Geysir geothermal area not only provides a fantastic spectacle for visitors, but it will always be known for having offered its name to all geysers across our planet. 

Today, the Great Geyser (as it is sometimes known) is considered rather dormant, with only infrequent eruptions. The last time Geysir blasted its geothermal water was in 2016, following a 16-year hiatus. 

However, earthquakes and other underground changes are known to precede it, so there can be no telling when it might explode once more.

Strokkur is the star attraction here thanks to its reliable eruptions. Guests wait at the roped-off border, well away from the exceedingly hot water, and wait for the eruption to occur. 

Thankfully, this never takes long. 

As if following a schedule, it blasts its liquid plume up to 20 m [66 ft] into the air every five to ten minutes, providing constant chances for dramatic photographs.

There are a number of less impressive, but no less interesting hot spots that dot the surrounding area. These include Litli Geysir and many other smaller hot pools and geysers. 

On June 17, 2020, the site was granted protected status by the Ministry for the Environment and Natural Resources. 

Gullfoss Waterfall  

Visitors at Gullfoss waterfall
 Photo: Golli. Gullfoss waterfall in the wintertime.

There are many splendid waterfalls in Iceland, but Gullfoss is something special. Situated on the Hvítá river canyon, this dramatic cascade is 32 m high in total, dropping over two craggy tiers. 

It has a variable, but powerful rate of flow. In the summer, 141 cubic m (5,000 cu ft) each second. In the winter, 80 cubic m (2,800 cu ft) each second. There was, for a long time, discussions about whether Gullfoss could be used to generate electricity. 

Having fun at Gullfoss waterfall
Photo: Golli. Taking a selfie at Gullfoss waterfall.

In the late 20th century, the waterfall’s owners, Halldór Halldórsson and Tómas Tómasson, rented the site to foreign investors who were ultimately unsuccessful in their efforts to transform it into a hydro-dam. Today, Gullfoss is a protected area and owned by the state.  

Given its iconic status, it should come as little surprise that Gullfoss has made itself known in pop culture. 

Fans of the UK band Echo and the Bunnymen might recognise it as the album cover of Porcupine, while avid watchers of the historical-drama show Vikings will know it as the final resting place of one of the story’s characters. 

How long does the Golden Circle route take?

If you’re hoping to speed through the Golden Circle, know that it can be done in three hours. 

Of course, this does not take into account that you should spend ample time at each of the main attractions. Dare we say… anyone who completes the Golden Circle in three hours is not truly appreciating the sites on offer. 

It is far better to allocate a full day to enjoying this splendid driving trail. That way, you can fully enjoy each attraction as it comes without feeling the pressure of having to rush on to fight lady time. 

What other attractions are on the Golden Circle route?

Kerið Crater
 Photo: Golli. Kerið Crater in Summer

Noone likes to rush through pleasurable activities, so you may be happy to know that there are a great number of stops you can take during the Golden Circle to break up your day. 

If you’re feeling a little sluggish, the Fontana Geothermal Baths are sure to make you feel fresh once more. Iceland’s geothermal baths are known to be rich in minerals, and Fontana is no different. Not only are they good for aching muscles, psoriasis, and promoting healthy skin, but they provide a dose of psychological well being. Who could resist such soothing waters during a full day of adventuring? 

Another lovely and interesting site is Kerið Crater, offering insights into the region’s volcanic history. Guests will walk around the crater’s edge, peering down its blood red slopes towards the gentle pool within. Note that there is a parking-fee in place, so only stop by if you’re willing to part with the cash. 

What cultural stops are on the Golden Circle?

Then there is the quaint hamlet of Skálholt. If history is to be believed, Skálholt is one of Iceland’s oldest villages, and was for eight centuries, a major religious centre in so much as it was a centre of Catholicism. 

Catholicism in Iceland came largely to an end when Jón Arason, the bishop of Hólar, was executed there with his two sons in 1550. Today, the town’s lakeside cathedral is one of the larger churches in Iceland. 

Speaking of populated settlements, there is one that differs greatly from any other in Iceland. Travellers interested in sustainability and alternative living will want to stop at Sólheimar eco-village. Home to around 100 or so people, community leaders have placed a particular focus on ethical agriculture, artistic expression, and balance with the environment.  

For those with some extra time, pay a visit to the steep canyon walls of Þjórsárdalur Valley, located along the river Þjórsá. This secluded gorge is home to Háifoss, one of the tallest waterfalls in Iceland, standing at 122 m (400 ft). 

An adjacent viewing area allows for a great perspective of this feature. On top of that, Búrfells woods is found closeby; a veritable Eden of wildflowers and cushiony moss. 

Is the Golden Circle route free? 

Cliffs on the Golden Circle route
Photo: Private Golden Circle Day Tour with Friðheimar Tomato Farm Lunch & Kerið Crater

Unfortunately no, sightseeing on the Golden Circle is not completely free of expenditure. For one thing, the route is popular among tour operators eager to drive you from site-to-site themselves. Naturally, this comes with a price-tag attached. 

Even those who drive themselves will have to shell out on gas money. And, in all likelihood, snacks en route. As we’ve mentioned, there are numerous other stops along the way that require a bit of cash to enjoy fully. 

With all this said, enjoying the Golden Circle is quite cheap compared to many of the other excursions. On top of that, it is somewhat mandatory, so thus should be ranked highly on your itinerary, however long you’re planning on staying. 

Where to eat on the Golden Circle sightseeing route? 

Friðheimar farm
Photo: Golden Circle — Platinum Tour | Small group. Visitors to Friðheimar farm.

Exploring Iceland’s favourite sightseeing locations can be hungry work. Thankfully, there are plenty of places you can stop to grab a bite to eat on the Golden Circle, making it something of a foodie tour, as well as a journey of discovery. 

The restaurant, Glíma, is located closeby to Geysir geothermal area, and is named after the ancient style of wrestling. 

Aside from the soup and salad bar, Glíma is a fantastic choice for those sampling classic Scandinavian dishes, be they fish or lamb based. There are also paninis, pizzas, sandwiches. And many other varieties of other light meals, as well as cakes and ice cream afterwards.  

A delicious meal served on the Golden Circle route
Photo: The Elite Golden Circle with lunch at farm & luxury hot sea baths

Another option is Friðheimar farm. It is a family-run establishment that centres around producing tomato-based meals from their very own greenhouses / dining area. And it is capable of growing fresh vegetables all year round. 

You can take time to explore these geothermally-fuelled facilities before sampling their rustic menu. Surrounded by lush plant life, try their classic tomato soup—a bonafide favourite among travellers! 

Restaurant Mika is located in the historic town of Reykholt. It specialises in creating delectable lobster dishes, oven-baked pizzas, and sweet desserts. Mika places real emphasis on chocolate confectionery, so make sure to sample some during your time there. 

To top off this list, the farm-to-table restaurant Hlöðuloftið – part of Efstidalur II farmstead – allows guests to eat stunning homemade dishes in simple, stylish surroundings. Sourcing vegetables from nearby farms, producing their own meat and dairy, they also create beautiful batches of ice cream. 

Conclusion 

Geysir geothermal area in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Guests at Geysir geothermal area in winter.

The Golden Circle is such a mainstay of the Iceland tourist experience, it’s defunct suggesting you need to prioritise it. 

You, dear reader, already know as much. 

So much has been said and written about the Golden Circle over the last decade. One could be forgiven for thinking that it has been overhyped. 

Coming to such a conclusion would be a major error. While it’s true that the Golden Circle is the definitive sightseeing trail in Iceland, it’s famous for good reason. Every site mentioned on this circuit is utterly enthralling and worthy of however much time one chooses to spend there. 

Make sure not to miss it during your time in Iceland. Heavily inspired by the Norse sagas, J.R.R Tolkien once wrote, all that glitters is not gold, but the Golden Circle dazzles in such a way that no other sightseeing route on Earth can quite compare. 

Golden Circle Driving Itinerary

Gullfoss waterfall Iceland

One of Iceland’s top-rated and most popular attractions is the Golden Circle. As the name implies, it is a journey that takes visitors on a circle from and to Reykjavík, stopping at three locations along the way. 

These three stops are Þingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal area, and Gullfoss waterfall. Each location has its own wow factor, whether due to its rich history or captivating nature. 

The whole route is just over 230 km [145 mi], which can be driven in about 3.5 hours without stops. Needless to say, each location should be enjoyed and explored, taking in nature’s beauty, making it the perfect full-day trip from Reykjavík city. 

 

First Stop: Þingvellir National Park

The journey’s first stop is Þingvellir National Park, a captivating sight, rich in Icelandic history ranging beginning in the 10th century. 

The drive from Reykjavík’s centre to the National Park is about 45 km [28 mi], taking approximately one hour to drive. 

The National Park’s historical richness comes from the general assembly, or Alþingi, established there around 930, which continued to convene until 1798.

Þingvellir National Park is also an incredible natural sight, standing on the continental divide between North America and Eurasia. Therefore, the area is divided between the two continents, and visitors can easily walk between them. This divide is due to Iceland sitting on two tectonic plates, leading to a crack forming between the continents, creating a no-man’s land in a way not belonging to either continent. This crack formed Silfra fissure, a spectacular sight and a popular diving and snorkelling spot. 

 

How Much Time Do I Need at Þingvellir National Park?

In order to explore Þingvellir National Park’s main sights, 1 to 2 hours is recommended. That way, visitors can walk around, explore the fissure and the park and soak in its history. 

 

Second Stop: Geysir Geothermal Area

The second stop is the famous Geysir geothermal area. The drive from Þingvellir National Park to there is just over 45 km [28 mi], which also takes about one hour to drive. 

The famous Geysir belongs to the geothermal area, which is also the home to its more active counterpart, Strokkur. Strokkur usually erupts every 6 to 10 minutes, and its height can reach 40 metres. However, it usually goes up around 15 to 20 metres. 

The area’s erupting geysers and bubbling mud pots create an environment so unique it resembles another planet but is, in fact, just one of Iceland’s unparalleled locations. 

 

How Much Time Do I Need at Geysir Geothermal Area?

The geothermal area in itself is not very large, so walking around the main sights takes little time. However, as the geyser eruptions are a fascinating experience, visitors might want to stick around and see the hot water explosion a few times. Therefore, spending around one hour at the Geysir geothermal area is recommended.

Strokkur geysir erupting in the geysir geothermal area Iceland
Photo: Golli. Strokkur erupting

 

Third Stop: Gullfoss Waterfall

The journey’s last but certainly not least stop is the Gullfoss waterfall. The drive from Geysir geothermal area to Gullfoss is a short one as it is only 10 km [6 mi], which takes about 15 minutes. 

The waterfall cascades down two tiers, where its upper waterfall has a drop of 11 metres [36 ft] and the lower one 21 metres [69 ft]. Gullfoss derives from Hvítá river and plunges into a deep canyon. The waterfall’s name means golden waterfall, describing the golden-toned mist that can often be seen glazing over the water. 

From the car park, a short path leads visitors to a viewing platform, allowing them to enjoy the view over the breathtaking waterfall. The glory of Iceland’s second-largest glacier, Langjökull, can also be enjoyed from the viewing point. 

 

How Much Time Do I Need at Gullfoss Waterfall?

To enjoy the breathtaking views of Gullfoss waterfall, factor in about 30 minutes up to one hour. 

Gullfoss waterfall in the Golden Circle by summer
Photo: Golli – Gullfoss waterfall

 

Other Golden Circle Activities

Besides the three main Golden Circle stops, many attractions and activities are around.

Laugarvatn Fontana and the Secret Lagoon offer a spa-like experience for visitors to enjoy Iceland’s warm, geothermally heated water. Laugarvatn Fontana is located by Laugarvatn lake where visitors can also jump into the cold water before enjoying a warm sauna. The Secret Lagoon is located in Flúðir village and is Iceland’s oldest swimming pool. Either lagoon is perfect to include in the itinerary, possibly at the journey’s end, before heading back to Reykjavík.

 

Skálholt is a historical place in Iceland, a former school, monastery, cathedral and dormitory for over 700 years. Today, it serves as a Lutheran church and an education and information centre for the Church of Iceland.

 

Kerið is a stunning volcanic crater lake and is truly a hidden gem. The crater is one of Iceland’s youngest volcanic craters, only 6.500 years old, formed by a collapsed volcano. 

Kerið Crater seen from above
Photo: Golli. Kerið Crater

 

Where to Eat When Driving the Golden Circle

When driving the Golden Circle, there are many spots to enjoy a good meal along the way. 

Geysir Restaurant is located in Geysir geothermal area in Hotel Geysir. The hotel and the restaurant were designed to blend the building into the environment by using materials reflecting the surrounding nature. The restaurant offers a wide variety of dishes, ranging from lighter dishes to Icelandic seafood and international dishes with ingredients sourced directly from regional farmers.

 

Located in the Bláskógabyggð region is Friðheimar, a restaurant and tomato farm. Friðheimar is a family-run business that grows delicious tomatoes year-round and serves guests tomato soup with freshly baked bread. Stopping at Friðheimar would be convenient after visiting Þingvellir before heading to Geysir.

 

Efstidalur is a farm, cafe and restaurant offering a variety of products straight from the farm, such as ice cream, skyr and feta cheese. The restaurant also offers beef from the farm and other local food. Eftidalur is conveniently located on the way from Þingvellir to Geysir, making it a perfect stop on the way.

 

Farmers Bistro is located in Flúðir village and is Iceland’s only mushroom farm. It also encompasses a restaurant serving food made from ingredients grown on the farm. The restaurant is located by the Secret Lagoon, so visitors can conveniently combine the two at the journey’s end before heading back to Reykjavík.

 

How Long Does the Golden Circle Take?

Driving the Golden Circle takes about 3.5 hours in total, without stops. Therefore, including stops at each location, visitors should factor in at least 6 to 7 hours to get the full experience. More time should be factored in if other activities are added to the tour, such as visiting the Secret Lagoon or others.

 

Can I drive the Golden Circle on My Own?

Yes, travellers can undoubtedly do the Golden Circle route in their own car. It should always be kept in mind that driving conditions can vary depending on time of year and weather, so driving with caution is essential. 

However, many Golden Circle tours are offered where visitors can enjoy the convenience of experienced guides and a driver, taking the group to the main attractions. Many tours combine other activities, such as snorkelling in Silfra fissure, visiting Friðheimar tomato farm, entering the Blue Lagoon or others. 

Available Golden Circle tours can be seen here.  

Geysir’s Protected Status Confirmed in Signing Ceremony

iceland nature conservation geysir

Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir and Minister of Environment, Energy, and Climate Guðlaugur Þór Þórðarsson took part in a ceremony yesterday at Geysir, in which they confirmed the area’s management and protection plan.

The namesake of all other geysers, Geysir is a well-known tourist attraction in Iceland and part of the “Golden Circle,” a popular drive near the capital area. However, many natural sites have been overwhelmed by increased tourism, leading to several sites including Skógafoss and Geysir being designated “at risk” in recent years.

nature conservation geysir iceland
Stjórnarráð Íslands

The Geysir area was originally protected by law in 2020, but this status is just now being recognized in a signing ceremony.

In addition to being a popular tourism destination, Geysir is home to many unique geological features, plant life, and microorganisms, meaning that the area is also important for scientific research. In addition to conserving the Geysir area, the new management plan hopes to place increased emphasis on education on Geysir’s significance.

At the ceremony, Katrín Jakobsdóttir stated: “The conservation of the Geysir area is an important step in nature conservation in Iceland, given its unique natural beauty. The conservation plan confirmed today ensures that future generations will be able to enjoy the area as we do today.”

Minister Guðlaugur added: “This management and protection plan presents ways to ensure that the objectives of conservation are achieved. When developing infrastructure, consideration should be given to local planning […] Development should guide visitors around the area and ensure that its conservation value is maintained.”

Þórdís Björt Sigþórsdóttir, manager of conservation and planning at the Environmental Agency, was also present for the ceremony. She stated that this was a necessary step in nature conservation in Iceland, and one that most Icelanders agree with. Indeed, she notes that many Icelanders were surprised to learn that Geysir was not already a protected area.