Almost every visitor to Iceland usually does not leave the island before they have visited this area: the Golden Circle. It is located on about an hour drive from the capital of Reykjavik and is one of the most famous and most visited areas of Iceland.
The route of over 250km long brings you along Gullfoss, Geysir and Þingvellir National Park and is so popular with travelers because you can visit all these highlights of Iceland in just 1 day. That is also why the area is called the Golden Circle. Although it can be busy, the area is definitely worth a visit: as a day trip from Reykjavik or as part of your trip across Iceland.
The advantage of the Golden Circle is that you can visit the area all year round. Whether you want to visit the Golden Circle in the summer or in the winter, entirely depends on your own preferences and what you want to see.
In the summer months it is a lot busier, but the days are longer and you can see a lot of the beautiful Icelandic nature along the way.
In the winter, the area is most likely covered under a thick layer of snow and you will see less of the beautiful surroundings. Also the days are a bit shorter because of the less hours of daylight. The advantage is that in the winter it is a lot more quite and you are completely on your own in many places!
December until April: Iceland is covered in a thick pack of snow. Many accommodations and roads are still closed.
June until August: the peak season in Iceland and also the most busy and most expensive months.
Mei & September: The best time to visit. It is not crowded yet and the prices of accommodations / flights are favorable.
Do you want to have the chance to see the Northern Lights? Then travel to Iceland between mid-September and the end of March.
You can choose to go with a Golden Circle Tour, but it is much more fun to rent a car and to explore the area yourself. The Golden Circle is in fact easy to drive on your own and so you can decide yourself what you want to see, what you want to do and how much time you want to spend anywhere. And not entirely unimportant: it is a lot cheaper.
With a tour you do not have to drive yourself, but you travel with a (large) group of people, the program is fixed in advance, you will also visit something that you do not find interesting and at every stop you have to be back at the bus in time.
Golden Circle Tour: adults €75-85 per person, child €36-46 per person.
By rental car: all-inclusive rates from €48 per day.
The Golden Circle is a route that you can drive in one day. It is often done as a day trip during a visit to Reykjavik or you can add the Golden Circle to your itinerary during your road trip across Iceland. In total you will travel (depending on your departure and end point) 250-300 km and you can drive the route in 3.5 hours, excluding stops. Below you can find an overview of all the distances and travel times when you start from Reykjavik.
|Reykjavik||Írafossstöð – Ljósafossstöð||68,0 km||55 min|
|Ljósafossstöð||Kerið crater||14,2 km||11 min|
|Kerið crater||Geysir & Strokkur||46,5 km||35 min|
|Geysir & Strokkur||Gullfoss||9,7 km||10 min|
|Gullfoss||Efstidalur II||27 km||24 min|
|Efstidalur II||Öxarárfoss||41 km||36 min|
|Öxarárfoss||Þingvellir National Park||3,3 km||3 min|
|Þingvellir National Park||Reykjavik||40,3 km||36 min|
|250 km||3h 30min|
TIP: do you want to avoid the tour buses? Then start early, so that you can discover this beautiful piece of Iceland in peace!
The route of the Golden Circle can be done all year round and is not limited to opening hours. However, a number of stops along the route are subject to opening hours.
The most popular attractions of the Golden Circle are the geysers Geysir and Strokkur, the Gullfoss waterfall and Þingvellir National Park (Thingvellir National Park). Below you will find all the information about the stops that you should not miss on the Golden Circle:
In Iceland they gratefully make use of the enormous amounts of water and the volcanic activity that is present. For example, almost 99% of the energy is extracted from hydroelectric and geothermal resources.
Spread over Iceland are 16 power stations, or power plants and some of them are open to visitors. Landsvirkjun is one of the largest producers of renewable energy in Iceland and had a total energy production of 12,485 GWh in 2011. If you find it interesting to see how the Icelanders generate their energy, then you can opt to make a stop at the Írafoss Power Station and / or to the adjacent Ljósafoss Power Station on the way to the Kerið crater.
At these two hydro power plants, energy is generated by means of running water. For example at Ljósafoss Power Station the water from a nearby waterfall is pumped into 3 large turbines via huge pipes. At their turn these turbines convert the hydropower into energy, about 105 GWh per year. From behind a glass wall you can watch the enormous turbines in operation and you can read more about the entire process on the information boards, which can be found inside and outside.
Entrance fees & opening hours Ljósafoss & Írafoss Power Station
Ljósafoss Power Station: free entrance. Opened daily from 08.30-16.30h (08.30am-04.30pm).
Írafoss Power Station: free entrance. Opened daily from 08.30-16.30h (08.30am-04.30pm).
The first stop after your departure from Reykjavik or Selfoss is Kerið (Kerid), an explosion crater of about 3,000 year old. The explosion crater measures 170 by 270 meters and can be seen from the top during a walk along the crater rim or from the banks of the lower situated crater lake. This crater lake can be reached via a path, located on the left behind the building where you have paid your entrance fee. Kerið is also the only attraction on the Golden Circle where you have to pay an entrance fee.
If you want to know more about the volcano and how the crater was created about 3,000 years ago, then definitely check out the information board next to the parking lot.
Entrance fees & opening hours Kerið
Entrance: adult ISK 400 / € 3,20. Children younger than 12 years old have free entrance. Opened 24 hours.
Haukadalur is located 46 km north of Kerið. In this geothermal area you will find Geysir, the original geyser from which the name ‘geyser’ is derived from. Formerly Geysir regularly blew a huge amount of hot water 40-60 meters up into the air. Unfortunately due to small landslides and because many spectators threw rubbish into the geyser (hoping to activate the geyser), Geysir does not erupt anymore. But do not worry!
The Strokkur is still very active and blows a huge amount of water into the air every 5 to 10 minutes. You see that water is sucked into the hole, after which a beautiful clear blue bubble is created and then…. bam! You can watch this spectacle for hours and like the other visitors around you try to predict an eruption. However, an eruption always remains a surprise. Especially for the photographers among us, Strokkur is a very nice object!
In addition to Geysir and Strokkur, there are several other springs located in the area, such as Litli Geysir, Smiður (Smidur), the bright blue colored Blesi and one of the largest hot springs in the area: Konungshver. All hot springs are in a short walking distance from each other. And if you want to enjoy a view of the entire area, then walk to the top of the Laugarfjall Mountain.
Within 10 minutes you are at the top of the mountain and if the weather is good you have a nice view of Haukadalur, the geysers and the rest of the area from here. The hill is fairly easy to spot, because you usually see several travelers walking up the mountain.
Entrance fees & opening hours Geysir & Strokkur
Free entrance and parking. Opened daily from 08.00-22.00h (08.00-10.00pm).
A highlight of the Golden Circle is definitely the Gullfoss waterfall. Once you have arrived at the parking lot, the waterfall is only a few minutes walk away and can be reached via a staircase and a wooden walkway. While walking towards Gullfoss, the sound of the streaming water becomes louder and you see the huge waterfall slowly looming in front of you.
And if you are lucky and visit the waterfall on a sunny day, then you have the chance to see a beautiful rainbow at Gullfoss, because of the large amounts of mist. This is the reason why the waterfall has got the nickname “the Golden Waterfall”.
If you continue to follow the walking path on the left side of Gullfoss, you can walk to the end of the waterfall. From the end of the path you have an amazing view into the 2.5 km long gorge and is clearly visible (and audible) with how much violence the water falls in the gorge. A little further you look out over the Hvítá, the glacier river, and you see how the water flows towards the first and second step in the gorge.
In winter or during bad weather it is not always possible to walk to the end of the path, because the path becomes too slippery due to the stagnant water.
Entrance fees & opening hours Gullfoss
Free entrance and parking. Opened 24 hours.
After your visit to Gullfoss you may have gotten some appetite and you might want to eat something. A very nice place to do this (and especially with children) is at the Efstidalur II, a farm which you pass when you drive from Gullfoss to the south.
At this farm you can enjoy a bite with a view of the cows (luckily behind glass!) or enjoy an ice cream, which is made from the fresh milk from the cows. And if you want to stay longer, you can choose to stay overnight at Farmhotel Efstidalur.
Opening hours Efstidalur II winter
(15 September – 15 May):
Ice bar: 10.00-21.00h (10.00am-09.00pm). Restaurant:
Sun-Thu 11.30-20.30h (11.30am-08.30pm), (kitchen open until 20.00h/08.00pm).
Fri-Sat 11.30-21.00h (11.30am-09.00pm), (kitchen open until 21.00h/09.00pm).
Opening hours Efstidalur II summer
(16 May – 14 September)
Ice bar: daily from 10.00-22.00h (10.00am-10.00pm).
Restaurant: daily from 11.30-22.00h (11.30am-10.00pm), (kitchen is open until 21.00h/09.00pm).
Öxarárfoss is located in Þingvellir National Park. This waterfall is not only located at a historical site to the Icelanders. The story behind the waterfall is also special. The Öxarárfoss, despite being located in the Öxará river, is not natural, but is made by humans. The Öxará river has most probably been artificially diverted to create a waterfall to provide drinking water for Þingvellir, the place where the Icelandic parliament has gathered annually since 930.
The Öxarárfoss can be visited from the Þingvellir National Park Visitor Center during your visit to the national park. However, you can also choose to make a small detour on the way to Þingvellir and turn off to the parking lot along road 36. From here you first walk through the beautiful Almannagjá gorge and via a beautifully constructed wooden walkway you end at the waterfall. A walk that you certainly do not want to miss and a detour which is definitely worth it!
At the start of the walk you already have an amazing view of the gorge and the surroundings. Then you slowly descend and walk along a flat wooden walkway through the middle of the gorge to your final destination: the Öxarárfoss. Here you can take a rest on the wooden deck and you have a good view of the waterfall and the gorge via which the water flows from the Öxará river to the þingvallavatn lake.
Entrance fees & opening hours Öxarárfoss
Free entrance and free parking at the parking lot along road 36. Opened 24 hours.
Þingvellir National Park (Thingvellir National Park) is one of the three national parks which can be found on Iceland and is located on 40km east of the capital Reykjavik.
Þingvellir National Park is a large subsidence of the earth and the place where the North American and the Eurasian continent are slowly being driven apart for about 1-2 cm per year. The national park has not only been on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2004, but is also a historic place for Icelanders. This is where the Icelandic Parliament was founded in 930 and is also the oldest parliament in the world that still exists today.
Every year farmers, landowners and traders gathered at Þingvellir to arrange all sorts of things. From doing business to adopting new laws and from resolving quarrels to carrying out executions for all kinds of offenses.
Today, at Þingvellir National Park meetings are no longer being held and executions are not carried out anymore. But Þingvellir is sometimes used for national events and you can visit this beautiful nature reserve with this special history.
You can take a look at the multimedia exhibition in the Visitor Center and learn more about the Þingvellir National Park, enjoy the view over the area at the Hakið viewpoint and of course a walk along the various (historical) sights is definitely a must do.
Be sure to start walking from the visitor center, because from here you will first walk through the impressive Almannagjá gorge, before you continue your way along the Drekkingarhylur, the historic Lögberg, the two lava hills of Kastalar, the with clear water-filled Flosagjá gorge, the coin-studded Nikulásargjá and Peningagjá gorge, the cute Þingvallakirkja and the largest natural lake of Iceland, Þingvallavatn.
You can not only make beautiful walks through the area. In the Þingvallavatn lake lies the Silfra fissure and here you have the opportunity to dive or snorkel between 2 continents: America and Europe.
After you have hoisted yourself in a dry suit, you will step onto a platform and will walk into the ice-cold water from the Langjökull glacier. Then you will spend 30-40 minutes between the North American and the Eurasian continent. Because of the low temperature (read: 2-4 degrees) and the fact that the water has been filtered by porous old lava for 30-100 years, the water is crystal clear and you can look up to 100 meters under water. A unique experience in this special underwater world!
Are you considering to go diving at the Silfra fissure? Then this is only possible if you have:
- a diving license (minimum PADI Open Diver Water) and;
- proof that you can dive wearing a dry suit or that you have made 10 dives with a dry suit (max. 2 years ago).
Costs diving or snorkeling Silfra fissure:
Snorkeling: from ISK 18.990 / € 139 per person.
Diving: from ISK 29.990 / € 217 per person.
Thingvellir National Park Silfra Fee: ISK 1500 / € 11 per person.
More information about diving and/or snorkeling at the Silfra fissure can be found on: https://www.dive.is/.
Entrance fees & opening hours Þingvellir National Park
Free entrance. Day pass parking ISK 500 / € 4.
Opening hours visitor centre:
1 June – 31 August: 09.00 – 19.00h (09.00am-07.00pm).
1 September – 31 May: 09.00 – 18.30h (09.00am-06.30pm).
Opening hours toilets: 09.00 – 19.00h (09.00am-07.00pm). ISK 200 / € 1,65.
Keflavik International Airport (KEF) is the international airport of Iceland and is located near the town of Keflavik, on the Reykjanes peninsula. The capital Reykjavik is located on a 41 minutes (50 km) drive from the airport.
There are various airlines which offer flights to Keflavik International airport on Iceland. For example, Icelandair and low-cost airline Wow Air operate flights to Iceland. The availability and rates for flights to Iceland can be found via Skyscanner, Tix or for example Momondo.
When you are going to explore the Golden Circle by car, I can definitely recommend to rent a car via Sunny Cars.
They offer all-inclusive rates, without hidden surcharges. When you book your rental car, you immediately see the total rental amount and you therefore have no hassle at the desk with insurances they normally try to sell you. You already book a rental car in Iceland from € 48 per day.
2WD or a 4WD
The route can be done with a 2WD. However, do you consider to visit Iceland in the winter? Then only travel to Iceland if you are sure that you can or want to drive in (heavy) winter conditions and book a 4WD (4×4).
You can drive the Golden Circle in 1 day. But if you would like to stay somewhere on the way, then there are several accommodations along the route of the Golden Circle, such as:
Depending on your other travel plans in Iceland, there are several possibilities to stay near the Golden Circle, namely at:
- Lonely Planet Iceland: €11,99 (The Book Depository).
- Rough Guide Iceland: €14,26 (The Book Depository).
What is your most beautiful spot of the Golden Circle?
The admission prices, parking fees and opening hours mentioned above are subject to changes.