The Golden Circle is a famous driving route in Iceland. It’s popular because it’s absolutely stunning, and it’s conveniently located near the capital city of Reykjavik. Even if you’re only spending a short amount of time there, I highly recommend that you get out of the city and explore Iceland’s natural wonders. After all, it’s the main reason why Iceland is such an incredible destination. One of the easiest ways to see the beauty of Iceland from Reykjavik is to embark on a Golden Circle self drive tour.
Posts may be sponsored. Post contains affiliate links. I may be compensated if you make a purchase using my link.
Renting a Car in Iceland
Traveling around the Golden Circle route is easy to do on your own. All you have to do is rent a car. We highly recommend renting a car when visiting Iceland. It gives you the freedom to travel at your own pace, spending as much time as you like at each spot. You can take a closer look at any attraction you happen to pass on your journey. You can move around the entire country with ease, without any restrictions. Compare car rental prices in Iceland to get the most affordable rate.
Don’t worry about booking a 4WD car if you’re traveling around the Golden Circle route. The roads are all paved and they’re easy to navigate. There will be lots of signs along the way pointing you in the right direction. However, I always recommend downloading an offline version of Google Maps to your phone as there will be moments where you don’t have any cell service on your journey. This likely won’t be a problem on your Golden Circle self drive adventure, but it can’t hurt.
A Golden Circle Self Drive Tour Itinerary
The Golden Circle route consists of three main attractions: Þingvellir National Park (Thingvellir National Park), Geysir, and Gulfoss. Departing from Reykjavik, the first stop on our Golden Circle self drive tour is Thingvellir National Park.
Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s the site of Iceland’s first parliament (AlÞingi) in 930 AD. The first parliamentary proceedings laid the groundwork for a national identity and a united cultural heritage. It also led to the founding of the nation of Iceland.
Iceland’s First Parliament
When the assembly met each summer, people set up temporary buildings called “booths”. These were walls of rock and turf with a temporary roofing. They lived in these booths for two weeks during the meeting. Even ordinary people gathered here during the meetings to sell their wares, perform, look for work, share news, play games, and have feasts. It was quite the annual event. Many major events in Icelandic history occurred at this site.
The Rift Between Two Tectonic Plates
Thingvellir National Park is the only place in the world where two individual tectonic plates are visible above ground. Most tectonic plate boundaries are only seen underwater. At Thingvellir, the ridges of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates tower above the ground. You can walk between them. The rift runs right through Þingvallavatn, the largest lake in Iceland.
At the Silfra Fissure, a crack between the North American and Eurasian plates at Þingvallavatn, you can snorkel or scuba through the middle. Though Justin and I didn’t get in the water this time around, we’ll have to check it out next time. I suggest booking a snorkeling tour at the Silfra Fissure.
Hitting the Trails at Thingvellir National Park
When you arrive at the visitor center, you’ll have to pay a small amount for parking. There’s a pretty big parking lot and you shouldn’t have any trouble finding space for your car. I recommend that you check out the visitor center. You can purchase a trail map there if you wish, or you can wing it like we did.
From the visitor center, we walked down a boardwalk and then a path that winds between the tectonic ridges. Cross the river and check out Þingvallakirkja Church. The original church at this site was one of the first churches built in Iceland. Unfortunately, it collapsed in 1118. The church that you’ll see was built in 1859. You’re able to take a peek inside the church, too.
Visiting Oxararfoss, Thingvellir’s Waterfall
We walked back to the main path. A little further along, there was some water flowing down the river. Even though you can hike the entire way to Öxarárfoss, we decided to walk back to the car and drive to a closer parking lot. Justin and I wanted to make sure that we left enough time to visit the other two sites along our Golden Circle self drive tour.
We drove north on Route 36 from Thingvellir until we saw a small parking lot on the right side of the road. From there, we hiked down a rocky path between the tectonic ridges. At the end of the path, there was a boardwalk that led to Öxarárfoss (the waterfall at the national park).
Afterwards, we did a little more exploring on our own until we were caught in the rain! This was only our first day out of Reykjavik, and we were glad that we brought our rain jackets. Iceland’s weather can be so unpredictable. Thankfully, this was the only day out of two entire weeks that it rained (we were very lucky). Thingvellir National Park is one of those places that looks pretty no matter what. I’m sure it looks gorgeous in the winter, too. If it rains when you travel to Iceland – it probably will – embrace it!
Although we had lots of snacks to keep us going, you can stop for a meal on the way in Laugarvatn. Stop at the restaurant, Lindin, where you can ask about their vegan option. I discovered this restaurant in my personal research for the trip, though I haven’t actually been there myself.
In the Haukadalur geothermal area, you’ll find a site with famous geysers. In fact, all geysers are named after the largest one in the area, Geysir. Unfortunately, Geysir rarely erupts anymore. However, there’s a slightly smaller one called Strokkur that erupts very regularly.
You can see the hot water burst from the surface once every two to ten minutes. While we were visiting, Strokkur erupted a few times. The water shoots anywhere from 15 to 40 meters high. It’s quite the sight!
The Eruption of Strokkur
There’s no telling when Strokkur will erupt. As the anticipation builds and builds, the water bursts into the air loudly and violently. It was my first time seeing anything like this before. It’s definitely one of those bucket list items that you must see in your lifetime.
You can walk around the marked paths to see other bubbling waters and sulfuric hot springs. There’s also a gift shop and restaurant across the street, which is where you’ll park your car for free.
Gullfoss, or the Golden Falls, is a gigantic and stunning waterfall. It was a little too rainy and misty for us, so we don’t have the greatest photographs. I’m sure you can imagine how beautiful it would look on a sunny day. I did enjoy the moody atmosphere as the raging waters plunged over the cliff edge. There are paths along the waterfall so you can get a closer look. We didn’t spend too much time here due to the rain, but it’s quite a magnificent stop.
More Places to Visit
While we enjoyed the casual pace of the day checking out these three attractions on our Golden Circle self drive tour, there are some other places that you can add to your journey. Most notably, the Secret Lagoon is a geothermal pool where you can go for a relaxing soak.
The Secret Lagoon was founded in 1891, and it’s the oldest swimming pool in Iceland. There’s also a walking path around this geothermal site, and Secret Lagoon even has its own little geyser that erupts once every five minutes. You can book your ticket in advance to the Secret Lagoon or include it as part of a Golden Circle Day Tour from Reykjavik.
Rather Visit the Golden Circle on a Tour?
If you aren’t renting a car in Iceland or you find yourself with only a few days in Reykjavik, don’t worry. You can book a day tour of the Golden Circle without having to do any driving yourself. For those with a limited amount of time in Iceland and those who don’t want to drive, this is the perfect option. You’ll get to see Thingvellir National Park, Geysir, and Gullfoss all in one amazing day.
Where to Stay After Driving the Golden Circle Day Tour
After touring the Golden Circle self drive route, we made our way to Selfoss for our overnight stay at Gesthus Selfoss. Relaxing in our own private hot tub at this beautiful cottage was the perfect way to end the day. If you’re making a lengthier road trip around Iceland like we did, I suggest ending your day in Selfoss. Then, embark to the South Coast of Iceland on the following day.
Golden Circle Itinerary Map
Embarking on a Golden Circle itinerary and you’re a visual learner? Looking for some guidance? Here’s our Golden Circle map with all of the attractions that I’ve listed above, visually represented.
|Essential Iceland Travel Guide|
|Getting There: Fly in to the Keflavik Airport near the capital city, Reykjavik. I recommend searching for cheap flights to Reykjavik online to find the best rate. The national airline of Iceland is Icelandair.|
Getting Around: We can’t say enough good things about renting a car in Iceland. It will give you the most freedom to travel at your own pace. Most attractions in Iceland are natural ones that you are free to enjoy when you like. Compare car rental prices here to find the best deal. If you don’t want to drive, there are many guided tours that will take you outside of the city for the day that I’ve listed throughout the blog post.
Fast Facts: Icelandic króna is the currency, and most places accept credit cards. Power voltage is 230 V 50 Hz using Power Sockets F or C.
SIM Cards & Mobile: You can rent a portable Wi-Fi device with unlimited data that works in 130+ countries worldwide. We’ve used our portable device all over the world and love how we’re always connected!
Travel Safety: Don’t forget to get travel insurance before your trip. Whether you have an accident, have a flight delay, experience a theft, or need to return home sooner than anticipated, it’s always best to cover your bases. Get a travel insurance quote now for the best rates.
|Browse all of our Iceland photos and read more of our Iceland travel blog posts.|