Renting a car and driving in Iceland is one of the best ways to see the country. Sure, there are buses and tours, but nothing gives you that same freedom and sense of adventure as driving yourself to Iceland’s attractions. Iceland’s Golden Circle is one of the most popular places to visit due to its proximity to Reykjavik and its stunning natural features. If you’ve got your rental car and are ready to hit the road, here is the best Golden Circle Self Drive Itinerary!
þórufoss (Thorufoss) Waterfall is only about 40 minutes from downtown Reykjavik and makes an excellent first stop on the Golden Circle. It’s actually not a common stop for most Golden Circle itineraries, so you’re likely to only have to share the site with a handful of people. The powerful falls and moss-covered lava landscape is the perfect introduction to the incredible sites you’re going to see on the rest of your
Important Info: þórufoss Waterfall is just about 5 minutes off Road 36 (the main road). There are no fees for parking or viewing the falls, and there are no other facilities available here.
Just about a
Definitely take the time to read the informational signs at this site. The area has played an important, though dark, role in Iceland’s history. It’s pretty interesting!
Important Info: The parking lot off of Road 36 is free parking. However, there are no restrooms or facilities on this side of the falls.
Þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir National Park (Thingvellir) is a highlight for many visitors to the Golden Circle. This area was once the seat of government in Iceland, dating back to the year 930. It became a protected National Park in 1928 and was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2004. The site is also home to many interesting geological features, such as the large rift that runs through it, which demonstrates the concept of continental drift.
Important Info: Depending on where you want to go
One of the most popular sites to visit in Þingvellir National Park is the Flosagjá Fissure. This is another area where the Eurasian continental plate has drifted away from the North American continental plate. The Flosagjá Fissure is much like the Bridge Between Two Continents site that can be found near Keflavik Airport,
Important Info: Please do not throw coins into the water.
Efstidalur Ice Cream
Undoubtedly one of the tastiest spots on your Golden Circle
Just off the main road and up a dirt hill is this adorable family-run Icelandic cattle farm. On the farm, there is a large public building with a cute ice cream shop and a large restaurant on the second floor. The ice cream is made in-house with milk from the farm’s cows. There are many different flavors to choose from, and the best part is that you can watch the cows from inside the ice cream shop!
Important Info: Efstidalur’s ice cream shop is open from 10am to 10pm. Parking is free, and there are also free restrooms for customers. The price for one heaping scoop of ice cream is 450ISK.
Strokkur & Geysir
After filling yourself with delicious Icelandic ice cream, it’s time to continue your Golden Circle drive. The next stop you’ll come to is the fascinating geothermal Geysir Hot Spring Area. Here, water from deep beneath the Earth’s crust heats and bubbles up to the surface. This area is full of hot streams, bubbling mud pits, and two of Iceland’s most interesting geysers.
Geysir became active more than 1000 years ago, spurting hot water and steam into the air for centuries. Unfortunately
Important Info: Across from the geothermal field is a large parking lot where you can park for free. There is also a visitor’s center where you can grab food, browse the gift shop, use free restrooms, and take a rest from all the driving. There is no entry fee for this site.
If you loved the first two waterfalls on your Golden Circle
There is an upper lookout area and a lower lookout area. At the upper lookout, you can look over the top of the waterfalls and get an overall view of Gullfoss. But the lower look out is much cooler. You take the stairs down and follow the muddy dirt track to the lookout, which is built right alongside the water. Please do exercise caution at the lower lookout. One wrong step and you are totally done-zo, my friend.
Important Info: There is free parking both at the upper and lower lookouts. The lot at the upper lookout is larger though. There are toilets available, but they do have a small fee. This is a very popular stop, so expect there to be a good amount of people.
Congratulations! You’ve reached the furthest point on your Golden Circle adventure! Time to start looping back around towards Reykjavik. The next stop is another waterfall that many people miss. It’s not right along the main roads, so most organized tours don’t stop here.
Faxi waterfall is admittedly a bit underwhelming after coming from Gullfoss, but the lack of crowds is what gives this site its charm. In fact, when I visited, my friend and I were the only ones there! If you’re craving a people-free break, Faxi is the place to go!
Important Info: There is no fee for this site. No restrooms or other facilities.
At this point, you’re probably getting tired of driving. Perhaps you’re even a bit chilly from Iceland’s windy and unpredictable weather. Maybe you’ve even been hoping for a chance to check out some of the famous hot spring pools in Iceland. Well, this is just the perfect stop!
The Secret Lagoon is a popular alternative to the
Important Info: The Secret Lagoon is open from
Kerið Crater is another spot on the Golden Circle that demonstrates Iceland’s fascinating landscape. This crater is an old volcanic caldera that dates back over 3000 years ago. It is believed that when this volcano finally erupted, the empty magma chamber collapsed and turned into this crater. Rather than the black lava rock you find around most of Iceland, Kerið gleans a more reddish tint, from the abundance of iron in the earth here.
Visitors to Kerið Crater can walk the path that goes completely around the upper edge. You can also walk into the crater and put your feet in the lake that has formed within.
Important Info: Kerið crater does have an entrance fee of 400 ISK per person. Parking is free. There are no other facilities available.
Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River
Visiting the Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River was one of my favorite things in Iceland. While not technically part of the Golden Circle, you can still make this stop on your way back to Reykjavik from your Golden Circle drive, or you can easily add it to a South Iceland day trip.
The river is fed by natural hot springs in the Reykjadalur Valley. The hot water is perfect for enjoying in the cool air
Important Info: The path to Reykjadalur is gravely and can be loose. It’s best to wear shoes with decent traction to avoid falling. There are no restrooms along the path or at the thermal river. There is a small restroom in the parking lot near the coffee shop. Parking is free, and there is no entrance fee for the thermal river.
Tips For the Golden Circle Self Drive in Iceland
When to Visit the Golden Circle
Summer is the best time to visit, as you get 24 hours of sunlight, and you have the maximum amount of time to visit all the sites! However, summer is the busiest time with tourists, so visiting in the late spring or early fall can help with crowd size.
If you have time, I recommend splitting the Golden Circle drive into two days. This way you don’t have to
Golden Circle Weather
Weather around the Golden Circle can vary a bit more than in Reykjavik. Be prepared for pretty much anything from rain to cloud to
Golden Circle Driving Tips
The Golden Circle is made up of both paved and loose gravel roads. Some of the smaller roads will also be riddled with potholes. Between the unpredictable weather and winds, and the gravel roads in Iceland, extra car insurance is a good idea. It will
There are a few gas stations out on the Golden Circle, but it’s best to start the day with a full tank of gas. The gas prices tend to be higher as you get further outside of Reykjavik.
As you drive, you’ll find many small turn off areas where you can pull to the side and park your car if you’re interested in taking photos of the scenery. Take advantage of these spots to rest and enjoy Iceland’s incredible landscapes.
General Tips for the Golden Circle
- Bring a packed lunch to save money. There are several places to stop and have a meal, but if you’re trying to do Iceland on a budget, packing a lunch is always the way to go!
- Stay on the designated paths. PLEASE! Iceland’s terrain is beautiful but fragile. The more people who stray off the paths, the more damaged the land becomes. Please be respectful of the land and walk only where you’re allowed.
- Save money on a GPS system by downloading the map of the Golden Circle on Google Maps. This will allow you to use the navigation feature to get to each spot without using any expensive data while abroad. There are also many other apps that have offline maps of Iceland you can use.
- Keep an eye peeled for the loop-square. This symbol marks points of interest and
areprobably worth pulling over for. I don’t know if it’s actually called that, but that’s what I named it.
- There are lots of horses and sheep fields in the area. You can pull aside and pet the horses if they let you. There was a small farm on the Golden Circle that encouraged visitors to stop by. The horses were happy to exchange pets for treats.
- Some sheep may be loose outside of their fields. For the most part, they stick to the sides of the roads. But keep an eye out and don’t run over them.
Iceland’s Golden Circle is a fantastic introduction to everything amazing in Iceland. The waterfalls, the volcanos, and the incredible landscape can all be enjoyed in just this one small section of Iceland! With such an easy drive from
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