This post was originally published on A Globe Well Travelled in 2016. The content has been revised and updated with fresh information.
Iceland is renowned for its otherworldly landscapes, cascading waterfalls, and geothermal wonders.
The Golden Circle is a popular tourist route that takes you through some of Iceland’s most iconic and awe-inspiring attractions, all within a day’s drive from the capital city, Reykjavik. This one day itinerary offers a taste of the country’s diverse landscapes, including geysers, majestic waterfalls, and a national park filled with geological wonders.
Buckle up, fellow travelers, as we embark on an adventure driving Iceland’s Golden Circle. Prepare to be mesmerized by the sheer natural beauty that awaits you at every turn. So grab your camera and let’s hit the road!
Road trip around Iceland’s Golden Circle:
The Golden Circle is the most popular day trip out of Reykjavik, and for good reason. The round-trip is only about 3 hours driving time, but you’ll be constantly stopping along the way to take photos of the adorable Icelandic horses and the spectacular Icelandic scenery.
If you’d prefer not to drive the route yourself, you also have the option of doing this itinerary on a Grand Golden Circle Day Trip from Reykjavik.
Iceland’s Golden Circle one day itinerary:
Kerið (Crater Lake)
The first stop on this Golden Circle itinerary is Kerið (Crater Lake) which was formed over 6,000 years ago through a volcanic eruption. Today, it stands as a deep, vibrant blue lake surrounded by steep red volcanic walls.
As you approach the edge of the crater, you’ll be greeted with panoramic views that showcase the contrasting colors and textures of the landscape. You can take in the sheer magnitude of the crater by walking along the rim as well as descend to the lake’s edge for an up close look at the turquoise water. Note that there is a small entrance fee to access this natural attraction.
Established in the 11th century, Skálholt was once the religious and cultural center of Iceland, serving as the seat of the bishops for centuries. The present-day church, built in the 1950s, boasts stunning stained glass windows that depict scenes from Icelandic history and biblical narratives. As you wander through the cathedral, you’ll discover intricate woodwork, ancient artifacts, and memorial stones, all of which reflect the rich heritage of Skálholt.
The landscape around this cathedral was really lovely and a pleasure to drive through, though I personally didn’t find the cathedral itself to be as interesting as Hallgrimskirkja in Reykjavik. Still, it was a nice place to get out and stretch our legs during our Golden Circle road trip in Iceland.
As one of the most active geysers in the country, Strokkur delights visitors with its regular eruptions. Standing on the viewing platform, the anticipation builds as you witness the geyser rumble and release a powerful burst of steam and water reaching heights of up to 30 meters (98 feet).
Unfortunately my camera battery went dead right as I arrived so I didn’t manage to get any photos of it erupting, but this geyser is guaranteed fun – who wouldn’t enjoy watching large amounts of boiling water shoot into the air every 6-10 minutes? You also get to hear a hundred or so people make an ‘Ooohh!’ sound at the same time. Classic.
Gullfoss, also known as the “Golden Falls,” is a magnificent waterfall that stands as one of Iceland’s most captivating natural wonders. It’s absolutely huge, and the walking paths to the viewpoints will get you exceptionally close. As you approach, the sound of thundering water and the mist in the air create an atmosphere of raw power and beauty.
This place can get pretty busy with tourists, but it’s definitely worth visiting. The falls are particularly striking during sunny days when rainbows often arch over the misty waters, adding a touch of enchantment to the scene.
Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a geologically significant destination where you can walk between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. It has some awesome landscapes with a giant gorge and fissure stretching for miles along the terrain.
Marvel at the park’s crystal-clear lakes, admire the lush greenery, and explore the dramatic rock formations. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can also go snorkeling or scuba diving in the Silfra fissure! Be sure to set aside a few hours to explore this unique and captivating place.
Laugarvatn Fontana is a hidden gem nestled in the Icelandic countryside, offering a rejuvenating experience for travelers wanting to visit one of Iceland’s geothermal pools. Located on the shores of the picturesque Lake Laugarvatn, this spa is a great alternative to the Blue Lagoon as the entrance fee is significantly cheaper.
One of the highlights at Laugarvatn Fontana is the chance to experience the traditional Icelandic steam baths, where you can relax and detoxify in the steam rooms that are naturally heated by the earth’s geothermal energy. Be sure to take your swimsuit!
Tips for driving Iceland’s Golden Circle:
- Hiring a car is the easiest way to get around while you’re in Iceland. You can rent a car from the airport, or do what we did and collect one from the city for a few days of exploring.
- The type of car you’ll need will change depending on where/when you’ll be driving around Iceland. We had a little Chevrolet Spark from Sixt, but if you are planning on taking any of the highland roads or travelling during winter, you’ll probably need a 4WD.
- Fill up on gas before you leave the city. Gas stations are sporadic, and if you’re unlucky then you’ll end up in the situation that we were in when you’ve been on the lookout for a gas station and are freaking out because there has been literally nothing but sheep on the side of the road for 45 minutes straight. We made it back without running out of gas, but we definitely cut it close!
- Leave early in the day. This road trip with fill up an entire day, so push through and start early! There’s so much to see, and you definitely don’t want to miss out on something because you didn’t have enough time.