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Gullfoss waterfall Iceland
Photo: Signe – Gullfoss Waterfall.

Golden Circle Driving Itinerary

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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.  

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