Complete Golden Circle Iceland Travel Guide [Tips, Attractions, and Tours]

Want to explore the Golden Circle Iceland? This comprehensive travel guide contains all the information you need for the perfect Icelandic adventure.

Golden Circle in Iceland

If you’re looking for a guide about the Golden Circle in Iceland, I hope this post helps!

Is Iceland on your travel bucket list?

It’s been on mine for a while now, and it’s not hard to understand why.

With its geysers, waterfalls, volcanoes, and rugged coastline, Iceland is a country of unique (and completely breathtaking) beauty.

I’ve been hard at work researching one of the most famous destinations — the Golden Circle Iceland — and I thought it was high time to share my findings with you.

In this post, we’ll discuss what to see in the Golden Circle, how to get there, and some helpful tips to help you plan your adventure.

With a little luck, you and I will both get there soon to see these incredible natural wonders for ourselves!

Golden Circle Iceland

Ready to discover all about the Golden Circle Iceland? There’s no better place to start than knowing what is it!

Interested in driving the Golden Circle? You might also like these posts…

What Is the Golden Circle Iceland?

The Golden Circle is a popular day-trip route from the capital city of Reykjavik. Its relatively short distance (190 miles or 300 km) makes it easily accessible for tourists exploring the region. 

It takes about four hours of driving time to complete the circle, not factoring in stops to see the incredible sights along the way.

Most experts suggest allocating at least 6-10 hours to complete the circuit without feeling rushed.

The combination of historical significance, geological wonders, and gorgeous natural landscapes makes the Golden Circle an essential part of many travellers’ experiences in Iceland.

In fact, if you only have time to see one thing in Iceland, this is definitely it!

The Golden Circle includes three major attractions located in the southwestern part of the country: 

  • Thingvellir National Park

  • Geysir geothermal area

  • Gullfoss waterfall

Don’t worry — we’ll discuss each of these major attractions in more detail below.

Tips for Driving the Golden Circle

Before we dive into the incredible sights on the Golden Circle, let’s talk about planning your trip.

Considering these factors before you book those tickets will ensure you get the Iceland experience you’ve always dreamed of!

When to Go

With four very distinct seasons and extremes in both temperature and daylight length, the first thing to consider is when to plan your Iceland adventure.

Here are some pros and cons of visiting in the summer, winter, and shoulder seasons.

Summer (June – August)

A major advantage of visiting in summer is the Midnight Sun phenomenon, where the sun barely sets, providing extended daylight hours for exploration. 

The weather is also relatively warmer, with average temperatures ranging from 50-60°F (10-15°C).

Many highland areas, which are otherwise inaccessible in winter due to snow and ice, can safely be explored during summer.

However, summer is the peak tourist season in Iceland, so popular attractions (like the Golden Circle) can be crowded.

Prices for accommodations, tours, and activities tend to be higher.

And — very important note — the extended daylight hours means you can’t see the Northern lights during the summer months!

Winter (November – February)

Winter is the prime time for witnessing the stunning Northern Lights, as the long nights provide ample darkness for their display. 

Tourism is at its lowest during winter, meaning popular attractions are less crowded and you’ll find better deals on accommodations and tours.

Iceland’s landscapes transform into a winter wonderland, offering opportunities for snow-based activities like ice caving and snowmobiling.

Of course, temperatures can drop significantly during the winter months, often ranging from 20-30°F (-6 to -1°C).

You’ll need to be prepared for cold, windy weather and challenging driving conditions. 

The winter days are also extremely short, with as little as 4-5 hours of daylight, limiting your exploration time.

Fall/Spring (September – October and March – May)

Similar to summer, fall offers relatively mild temperatures and fewer crowds compared to the peak summer months.

Towards the end of fall, you might have a chance to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights, especially as the nights grow longer.

In the spring, as the weather starts to warm up, you’ll experience fewer tourists compared to summer.

Days gradually become longer, allowing for more daylight hours to explore.

The weather in the fall can be very unpredictable, often with rain and even snow.

Early spring can still be quite cold, and melting snow might make certain areas muddy and challenging to navigate.

Ultimately, the best time to visit Iceland depends on your preferences and the experiences you want to prioritize. 

If you’re interested in the Midnight Sun and vibrant landscapes, summer is ideal. For the Northern Lights and cheaper prices, winter is the season to consider.

Spring and fall offer a balance between mild (if unpredictable) weather and fewer tourists.

Driving the Golden Circle

When driving the Golden Circle, the best way to get around is by renting a car…

How to Get Around

Renting a car is one of the most popular and flexible ways to explore the Golden Circle.

Iceland has well-maintained roads, and having your own vehicle allows you to go at your own pace and explore off-the-beaten-path locations.

There are also numerous guided tours available that cover the Golden Circle (more on these later).

These tours are a great option if you prefer not to drive yourself or want to learn from a knowledgeable guide.

Some companies offer “self-drive” tour packages that include a rental car, accommodations, and an itinerary for the Golden Circle and other nearby attractions.

This gives you the freedom to drive while having some logistics taken care of.

And, while less common, there are public bus services that operate along the Golden Circle route.

However, these have limited schedules and might not provide as much flexibility as other options.

Essential Items to Pack

Packing for a vacation to Iceland requires careful consideration due to the country’s unique (and often volatile) climate. 

Here’s a quick list of essential items to pack for your trip:

  • A variety of warm clothing layers, including thermal underwear, sweaters, fleece jackets, and a waterproof, windproof outer layer

  • A good quality waterproof jacket with a hood and waterproof pants

  • Sturdy, waterproof, and insulated boots

  • Gloves, a warm hat, and a scarf

  • Swimsuit and quick-drying towel

  • Reusable water bottle

  • Travel adapters for Type C and Type F electrical outlets

  • Camera

  • Binoculars

  • Portable power bank

  • Polarised sunglasses (even during the winter)

  • Physical map and navigation tools (for areas with limited connectivity)

What to see in the Golden Circle

If you are in search of what to see in the Golden Circle, Here they are…

What to See in the Golden Circle

Now that you know when you’re travelling to Iceland and what to pack, let’s get to the fun part — your Golden Circle itinerary!

Thingvellir National Park

This UNESCO World Heritage Site holds important historical and geological significance. 

It’s where the Althingi, an open-air assembly representing the early Icelandic parliament, was first founded in 930 AD.

It was then used for parliament meetings from the 10th to the 18th centuries! Today it marks the site of what is now the world’s oldest existing legislature.

History is cool, but what about the landscape? Fear not — this national park is incredibly beautiful and offers a one-of-a-kind geological experience.

It straddles the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, marking the official boundary of the two continents.

Visitors can walk in the rift valley created by the separation of the plates, something you can do virtually nowhere else on Earth!

Along the way, you’ll pass surging rivers, dramatic cliffs, breathtaking gorges, and Iceland’s largest lake, Lake Thingvallavatn.

If you’re feeling especially brave, you can snorkel or scuba dive in Silfra Spring.

This ravine (formed at the junction of the tectonic plates) is filled with crystal-clear water offering perfect visibility down as far as 330 feet (100m).

Silfra never freezes — even in the dead of winter — thanks to a constant flow of spring water.

However, it remains a bone-chilling 35 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celcius) year-round, so you’ll need a thermal wetsuit and other protective equipment before you take the plunge!

Geysir Geothermal Field

This area is famous for its geothermal activity which includes spouting hot springs and geysers. In fact, the most famous geyser here, called Geysir, has given its name to all other geysers worldwide. 

Although Geysir itself doesn’t erupt frequently, the nearby Strokkur geyser is highly reliable and shoots water high into the air every 5-10 minutes.

It shoots a powerful column of hot water and steam to heights of about 49-66 feet (15-20m), making it a popular attraction for visitors.

The area is also dotted with numerous hot springs, mud pots, and geothermal pools.

The vibrant colours of these hot springs are due to the presence of minerals and microorganisms.

The intense blues, greens, and oranges create a surreal and captivating landscape.

In the designated geothermal pools, visitors can enjoy a relaxing soak in the warm, mineral-rich waters.

There are also well-marked walking trails to enjoy the geothermal features up close — but for your own safety, never wander off the trail or enter unmarked hot springs!

On the way in or out of the area, the Geysir Center offers information about the geothermal area’s history, geology, and significance. It also provides cafes, restaurants, and souvenir shops.

Gullfoss Waterfall

Gullfoss, or the “Golden Waterfall,” is a stunning two-tiered waterfall located on the Hvítá River. The waterfall is one of Iceland’s most iconic natural attractions and is known for its sheer beauty and power. 

The poetic name comes from the shimmering golden hues that the waterfall can take on when the sunlight hits the water.

The surrounding landscape is equally stunning and dramatic. The waterfall is nestled within a deep canyon, which was formed by the gradual erosion of the Hvítá River.

The water flows in two distinct stages, with the first one dropping 11 meters (36 feet). The second one drops another 69 feet (21m) into a narrow canyon with walls that can reach up to 230 feet (70m) in height.

There are multiple viewing points for visitors to enjoy the wonders of Gullfoss. Visitors can approach the waterfall from different angles, with marked pathways and raised platforms that allow for various perspectives.

Pro tip: Be sure to have your waterproof jacket and pants, because you’re almost certain to get wet!

tours for the golden circle in iceland

Visiting Iceland soon? Here are some tours for the Golden Circle in Iceland you’ll want to try!

Available Tours for the Golden Circle in Iceland

Are you as eager as I am to visit Iceland? If so, you might want to consider joining a group tour for at least part of your adventure.

Options range from half-day and full-day tours in buses, minivans, and private vehicles.

Some are transportation only, while others include meals and extra excursions (such as horse riding or diving in Silfra).

Here are a few reputable tour companies to consider:

  • Gray Line Iceland: Gray Line offers a variety of Golden Circle tours, ranging from basic sightseeing trips to more comprehensive tours that might also include additional stops or activities.

  • Reykjavik Excursions: This company is one of the largest tour operators in Iceland and offers multiple Golden Circle tour options. They often have both group and private tour options available.

  • Super Jeep Tours: If you’re looking for a more adventurous experience, there are companies that offer Super Jeep tours, which allow you to explore the Golden Circle in modified off-road vehicles.

  • Extreme Iceland: This company specializes in adventure tours and offers Golden Circle tours that might include activities like snorkelling in Silfra, exploring ice caves, or snowmobiling.

  • Icelandic Mountain Guides: This company focuses on outdoor adventures and offers tours that allow you to experience the Golden Circle while also engaging in activities like hiking, snowmobiling, or glacier walking.

Most tours begin and end in Reykjavik, and some might include pick up and drop off at your hotel.

Always check the exact tour itinerary to ensure it covers the sites you want to see within the Golden Circle.

Some people prefer smaller group tours for a more personalized experience, while others don’t mind larger groups.

It’s always a good idea to look for recent reviews and ratings from other travellers to get an idea of the company’s quality of service.

Ready to Explore Iceland’s Golden Circle?

So, are you ready to pack your bags and jet off to Iceland?

I hope these tips will help you plan your getaway so you can discover the Golden Circle Iceland (and everything else this amazing country has to offer)!

Now that you know what to see in the Golden Circle, what comes next? Iceland isn’t the only place that belongs on your travel bucket list — check out this post for more outrageous dream destinations.