Complete Guide to the Golden Circle
What is the Golden Circle?
The Golden Circle is Iceland's most famous tourist route, with three must-see attractions. At Þingvellir National Park, you can enjoy the park and learn about Iceland's rich history and unique geology. Next, travelers can check out Iceland's bubbling geothermal activity at Geysir, which shows Iceland is very much alive under the surface. The third main attraction of the Golden Circle is the roaring multi-tiered waterfall of Gullfoss. These classic sites are postcard perfect and give one of the best overviews of Iceland.
Where is the Golden Circle?
The Golden Circle is in southwest Iceland, just outside of the city of Reykjavik. The closest site Þingvellir National Park is only 43 minutes, about 30 miles away from Reykjavik, and Gullfoss waterfall is the furthest out at 1 hr 45 min (77.6 miles) away. The site's proximity to Reykjavik makes touring the Golden Circle a perfect day trip. Gray Line operates several Golden Circle day tours year-round.
Golden Circle Attractions
While there are several attractions in the Golden Circle region, three main sites encompass the Golden Circle—Gullfoss, Geysir, and Þingvellir National Park.
Gullfoss's thundering, roaring waterfall tumbles into the Hvíta (White) River, a perfect name given the turbulent white water. Three water levels at the falls, ranging from 36 to 69ft, meet at a 230 ft gorge. Due to Iceland's changing weather, you have an excellent chance to see a rainbow over the falls, making for a perfect snapshot of your visit. Plan to walk around the site, enjoying the wonder of the falls and the beautiful surrounding landscape.
Iceland's geysers powerfully demonstrate the island's natural geothermal energy, and historically, Geysir is the country's most famous example of the phenomenon. Geologists theorized that in the 13th century, earthquakes stirred the natural hot springs' underground workings, causing them to gush, releasing pressure, steam, and water up to 66 feet into the air. Visitors to the site today, unfortunately, aren't going to see the dormant Geysir erupt—it hasn't blown since 2005. But don't fret; Geysir's nearby cousin, Strokkur (Churn), erupts every seven minutes.
Þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir National Park is a geological wonder and the birthplace of democracy in Iceland. Translated to "Parliament Plains," Þingvellir was the site of Iceland's first general assembly, which was said to have been established in the year 930, and was the meeting place of the Icelandic parliament until 1798. Visitors also come to the area for its geological significance, as it is the site of a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. It's also home to Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake on the island, with a surface area of 84 square kilometers (32 sq mi).
Attractions near the Golden Circle
The Kerið crater is a great place to stop and take a photo due to the sheer size of the crater lake. The collapsed scoria cone is 230 ft deep and is used for farming fish. There's a nice path along the rim (about a 30-minute walk) with good views; use caution and stay on the trail.
Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Baths
Laugarvatn Fontana's sauna captures the steam as it escapes from the earth. You can bask in the natural sauna and hot springs, enjoying the geothermal energy up close and personal. Towels, bathing suits, and bathrobes can be rented at the spa. For an experience unique to the region, there is a walk from the reception area to the on-site geothermal bakery each day. Visitors can watch as the staff digs out rye bread that's been buried in the ground, left to bake naturally in the geothermally heated earth. You can try the bread, served hot from the ground with some butter—it's delicious!
The Secret Lagoon is located in the tiny village of Fluðir, offering travelers a slightly more intimate, less touristy bathing experience than the Blue Lagoon. The surroundings are beautiful, with farmland and a geothermal area lush with moss-covered lava stones and natural springs bubbling and steaming, just past the water's edge.
Friðheimar is home to tomato greenhouses, a restaurant, and a horse-breeding operation. It's an ideal place to have lunch to enjoy the freshest tomatoes in Iceland. The menu takes advantage of this with items like tomato soup and creative Bloody Marys. It's an excellent opportunity to learn how Iceland has used greenhouses for local produce.
When is the best time to visit the Golden Circle?
The Golden Circle is a year-round destination. While the summer offers milder temperatures, long days of sunlight, and lush green landscapes, the winter promises soft light and a moodier landscape. Attractions can look quite different based on the time of year, the weather, and the time of day. Iceland always surprises never disappoints.
Golden Circle tours
Gray Line offers numerous Golden Circle tours, from visiting the classic three attractions to combining tours with outdoor activities. There's also the possibility of taking a private tour of the Golden Circle. If you are up for some adventure, book a combination tour with horseback riding, super jeep tours, ATV riding, or snowmobile tours. Are you instead looking for some relaxation? Add a visit to the Sky Lagoon, Blue Lagoon, Fontana Geothermal Baths, or the Secret Lagoon to soak in the soothing warm waters.
Is the Golden Circle worth it?
The Golden Circle is the most well-known tourist route on the island. If there is just one tour you have time for, many recommend the Golden Circle. On a Golden Circle tour, you get a taste of natural beauty, history, and geology.
What activities can I combine with a Golden Circle tour?
There are many options to add to your Golden Circle tour. For instance, you can combine sightseeing with whale-watching, ATV trail riding, horseback riding, super jeep and snowmobile rides, and a northern lights tour in the winter. It's also possible to add on a bathing experience at the Blue Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Sky Lagoon, and Fontana Geothermal Baths.
Where is the Golden Circle?
The Golden Circle route is in southwest Iceland, not far from Reykjavík. The first stop on a Golden Circle tour is Þingvellir National Park, about an hour's drive from Reykjavík. Next, reaching the Geysir geothermal area will take about 45 minutes. The last stop is Gullfoss Waterfall, only another 10 minutes from Geysir. The entire route is about 80 miles in each direction, making it the perfect day tour.
What can you see on the Golden Circle?
The three classic Golden Circle attractions are Þingvellir National Park, Geysir, and Gullfoss. Depending on the tour, you could visit other attractions like the Secret Lagoon, Kerið Crater, and Friðheimar greenhouses.
How long is a Golden Circle tour?
Gray Line's classic Golden Circle tour is 7.5 hours door-to-door, with pick-up and drop-off in Reykjavík. It’s an ideal day tour for a trip to South Iceland.