The Golden Circle route, covering approximately 200km, is probably the most well-known routes to tourists visiting Iceland. It can be done as a day trip from Reykjavik, for those unable to participate in the Ring Road (which takes at least a week).
The “official” Golden Circle route covers three main attractions; Þingvellir National Park, Geysir and Gulfoss. If you’re deciding between a tour(there are many available), or driving it yourself, I’d definitely recommend the latter. Why? Because doing it yourself allows you to stop anywhere at anytime, for however long you want. There will be no one rushing you, no glares if you’re the last one on the bus, no picture opportunities missed, and to me at least, that just sounds like so much more fun, wouldn’t you agree?
That’s exactly what we did, and we started off on the route early in the morning:
The views out of Reykjavik, on our way to our first stop; Þingvellir National Park!
1) Þingvellir, Thingvellir National Park (N.A & Eurasian tectonic plates)
Straight off the bat, check a UNESCO world heritage site off your list! Thingvellir National Park holds a great historical significance in the hearts of the Icelandic population – it’s the location of the country’s first Parliament, which started back in 930AD, and many great, important decisions were made right here in those days.
This is also where the North American & Eurasian tectonic plates are slowly splitting apart from each other, creating deep fissures in the ground. One of these fissures, called Silfra, is full of icy glacier water and they offer a unique opportunity to go snorkeling or scuba diving if you’re so inclined.
There are many parts to the national park, so be prepared to spend a few hours here walking around, taking it all in. It’s a great introduction to the beauty that is Iceland.
As we left and headed over to the next attraction, we made a quick stop when we spotted these horses near the fence of the horse farms. They’re so beautiful and docile, these lovely creatures. It was my first encounter with Icelandic horses, and I wanted to bring one home, immediately.
Remember what I said about renting your own car? This is a great reason why!
2) Haukadalur Geothermal Area
After lunch, we headed over to the geothermally active valley of Haukadalur to see the two famous geysers; Geysir and Strokkur. Geysir has been dormant for many years now, and looks like a bubbling hot spring:
But fret not, you’ll get to see Strokkur sprouting steaming water every 6-8 minutes if you’re patient!
On the trail towards the other geysers, a cute little house caught our attention – seems like someone came up with the cute idea of building a little roof for one of the smoky geysers!
3) Gulfoss Waterfall
Next on our list, Gulfoss! This is the most famous waterfall in Iceland, located in the river Hvita, and it’s probably the first of many waterfalls you’ll see in Iceland. Standing in front of it was magnificent, the mist on your face as you bask in its beauty is oh-so-refreshing!
By the way, “foss” means “waterfall” in Icelandic – the more you know!
4) Kerid Crater Lake
BONUS: If you have the time, this is definitely worth a visit. The lake contains clear, turquoise water amidst a magma chamber distinguished by strongly coloured red volcanic rock. The colours alone make this place a must see!
From the lake, we headed to Selfoss for the night to rest at an AirBnB. However, if you’re planning on doing just a day trip, head back to Reykjavik instead.
You will not need a 4×4 vehicle on the Golden Circle route. It’s a route full of tourists and the roads are well-paved, so don’t worry! Do make sure you have snow tires on though if you’re travelling during the winter season.