Doing The Golden Circle Iceland The Right Way

Golden Circle Iceland

Golden Circle Iceland ’ are the three most heard words when you are out and about.

Located in South Iceland, the popular route runs across 300 kilometers from Reykjavik into Central Iceland and back. The incredible area encapsulates the best of Iceland and covers four main places of interest.

Thingvellir National Park takes you into the world of stunning valleys and vast farms, the Geysers at Haukadalur – Geysir and Strokkur ooze out boiling water, the spectacular Gullfoss Waterfall will have you gazing at it for quite long and the Kerid Crater Lake will welcome you with vivid colors.

The entire Golden Circle Iceland experience is definitely a must for every traveler who wants to soak in the true essence of the country.

Here’s the entire Golden Circle in a 2 minute video.

The Golden Circle Summary

Thingvellir National Park visit
Explore Geysir and Strokkur geysers (The Geysers at Haukadalur)
Witness the Gullfoss Waterfall
Kerid Crater Lake Visit

Ways to explore the Golden Circle

The Iceland Golden Circle can be experienced in different ways. You could drive yourself to explore the region or you could take a guided tour on a bus. Both are interesting ways to discover this spectacular place.

If you like to have your freedom to stop anywhere you wish to, then a self driven exploration is recommended. The guided tour has its own positives and helps you gain more knowledge about this exquisite region.

DIY Tour

The Iceland Golden Circle - Self Drive

The Iceland Golden Circle – Self Drive

 

You need to make sure you prepare yourself for a long drive if you want to explore the Golden Circle’s picturesque 300km stretch. This kind of journey gives you the liberty to stop from time to time and gaze at the scenic beauty around. Also, you can stop and take pictures wherever you want. You can travel at your own pace and spend as much time as you want at each of the stops.

Driving is a hassle free experience in Iceland because traffic is almost non-existent. Just be sure you keep an eye on the road because sometimes you will witness herds of sheep crossing the road! The roads can get a little icy in winters but you could always keep yourself updated on the weather conditions on your Smartphone.

Another point to keep in mind is that gas in Iceland is expensive but a full tank is usually enough for the Golden Circle tour. Icelandic horses are not only a visual delight but quite friendly too. You could surely stop on the way and click some pictures with them!

If you’re planning to do this trip on your own, we suggest you get a copy of the Lonely Planet Iceland Guidebook from Amazon.

You can rent a solid car at upto 30% OFF here.

For hotel bookings, we really like the verified reviews for hotels on Booking.com

If you want to take the hassle out of making multiple bookings for hotels, car rentals, flights and tours, we recommend the services of Footloose Tours.

Guided Tour

Golden Circle Iceland - Guided Tour

Golden Circle Iceland – Guided Tour

 

A guided tour will help you explore the magnificent Golden Circle with guided information.

The tour can be completed in 10 days or even in 7-8 hours and includes experts that provide guidance in various languages like English, French, German, Scandinavian and Spanish.

Besides visiting the four main sites of Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal area and Gulfoss waterfall, your bus will also halt at Fridheimar Greenhouse cultivation centre where pesticide free tomatoes and cucumbers grow with the help of geothermal heat.

Reykjavik Excursions is one of the best for one day Iceland Golden Circle tours.

For multiple day, small group tours, we recommend the following tours.

4 Days Iceland Tour by Contiki

7 Days Explore Iceland by G Adventures

10 Days Iceland Discovery by Intrepid

 

A Note About Public Transport

Since the population of this country is low, there is hardly anybody that needs to be transported between towns and villages! Hence the country lacks a good network of transport between places.

If you are someone who is used to boarding a bus to any destination you wish to visit, get ready to leave that habit behind when in Iceland.

The popular places like Gullfoss, Geysir, Þingvellir, Dettifoss, Ásbyrgi, Krafla area, Hljóðaklettar, Dimmuborgir, and many other places don’t receive any public transport.
If you visit in the summer, you might find the Summer Bus system suitable. Visit these sites to see if it suits your agenda:

http://www.sba.is/en/scheduled-bus-service/summer-schedule

www.sternatravel.com/summer-bus-schedules

http://trex.is

If these options don’t work for you, opt for day tours. For some tourist destinations, there is a summer bus system. Mostly, there is only one bus a day which means that you will have to stay overnight and take another bus the next day to return.

 

Reykjavik – The starting point

Golden Circle Iceland - Reykjavik

Golden Circle Iceland – Reykjavik

 

The capital city of Iceland is not only the starting point for your adventurous Iceland tour, but is also a wonderful city that deserves your attention.

With uncountable accommodation options and friendly locals who give you all the information you need, you will face no hindrances to the fun that you anticipated for this trip! The lively city is also known for its night clubs and bars.

You have plenty of time to explore Reykjavik before you choose to venture out into the Golden Circle. Take up a walking tour by ‘I heart Reykjavik’ to get the essence of the beautiful city. You will be able to explore its unique local sites and will get to eat at the best of places.

You can also go in for a local SIM card which gives you 2000 ISK worth of credit, if you will be staying for long in Iceland. You will be able to post all the amazing pictures online, real time! Then choosing one of the above mentioned options for the Golden Circle tour, start your journey either with the rented car or the guided bus tour of your choice.

Get ready to explore one of the most popular destinations of the world!

Places to stay
Luxury over budget : Among plenty of good places to stay in Iceland is 101 Hotel.

It is located in the heart of Reykjavik and provides every comfort you wish for. A four star property, 101 Hotel lets you enjoy Wifi, a bar , spa and many more facilities.

The rooms are well equipped too. You can find the best prices at Booking.com

There are many activities you can pursue around the property like golfing and bicycling. You can rent bicycles nearby.

Budget over luxury : Travelers’ choice 2016 winner , Hotel Fron is very popular and is the right choice for someone who is looking for a good time in Iceland without spending much on the stay.

The hotel is clean and comfortable and is just 5 minutes away from Reykjavik downtown. The staff is friendly and there is no hassle when it comes to checking in and out.

A very comfortable experience makes this hotel one of the most sought after for accommodation in Reykjavik, especially for those who are here for Iceland Golden Circle tour. Check prices on Booking.com

A must-visit place to eat 

Before starting your Golden Circle tour, you would definitely want to fill your stomach and with something good. There is one restaurant which is one of the most popular restaurants in Reykjavik and you must not miss having a meal here.
Fridrik V : This is a very famous restaurant, especially known for its 5 course tasting menu. There is nothing that you will not like from appetizers to the desserts.

The food is in abundance and is friendly to the taste buds. Incredible taste combined with warm hospitality makes this a perfect place to eat in.

You can pair wines with your food if you want to! It is a little pricey but definitely worth it.

Address in Reykjavík – Laugavegur 60

Open: Tuesdays to Saturdays from 17.30
Closed Sundays & Mondays

Please make a reservation via e-mail:
fridrikv@fridrikv.is

Information about the menu:
http://fridrikv.is/en/page/matsedill_en

In 2016, the restaurant is closed during these dates:
February 23rd and 24th 2016
May 17th, 18th and 19th 2016

 

Stop 1 : Thingvellir National Park

Golden Circle Iceland - Thingvellir National Park

Golden Circle Iceland – Thingvellir National Park

 

Best time to visit : May- September

Located 50km to the east of Reykjavik near the Hengill volcanic area, this spectacular site is of historic and cultural importance and is known as the national shrine of Iceland.

Thingvellir literally means ‘parliament (Thing) + meadows(vellir)’. This National Park was founded in 1930 to preserve the remains of the parliament. The environment of the first national park in Iceland is volcanic and tectonic. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A prominent feature of the national park is the Oxara river. It forms a stunning waterfall, Oxarafoss at the Almannagja.

Another beautiful place is the Thingvallavatn Lake which is the largest lake in Iceland. It flows into river Sog which has blue water and is a famous salmon river.

The lake has sulfur and salt in large quantities making its water lighter than other lakes. It also offers the Silfra rift to those who love snorkeling and diving. It is one of the top dive sites in the world. It is a crack between the Eurasian and North American continents. The pristine water is clear and you can see up to 100 meters from the surface.

With so much natural beauty and history to explore, Thingvellir National Park is a must visit. Extreme Iceland (https://www.extremeiceland.is/en/information/about-iceland/thingvellir-national-park) offers you tours to the national park every day of the year.

Things To do

Snorkeling and diving : The clarity of the Thingvallatn Lake makes it a perfect site for snorkeling. You could go in for a diving day tour for around ISK 44,900 (https://www.dive.is/diving-snorkeling-tours/diving-day-tours/silfra-diving-day-tour/) or for a snorkeling day tour for around ISK 17,990 (https://www.dive.is/diving-snorkeling-tours/snorkeling-day-tours/silfra-snorkeling-day-tour/)

Caving in Lava Tunnels for around 69 pounds. An interesting activity if you are not claustrophobic! (http://www.secretearth.com/attractions/558)

Places to stay

If you have developed an immense liking for the place and would like to spend a night or two to explore more before going to the next stop then there are some really good hotels nearby where you can stay.

Budget over luxury : For those of you who are looking at spending less, Hotel Edda – ML Laugarvatn is a good option. The rooms are not fancy but it is a comfortable stop over option. You can click here to check the prices for your dates.

There are more such options in the vicinity. However, this particular hotel has garnered good reviews and hence is a safer bet.

Click here to check the other top rated hotels on TripAdvisor.

In the middle of nature : If you are looking at a quieter, more isolated option with a chance to spot the northern lights, then Hotel Borealis is the right option for you. It is located approximately 18 km away from Thingvellir National Park.

The staff is friendly and the salon’s hot tub is quite famous, the one they let you use at any time. A perfect choice for someone who loves nature and wants to experience home away from home.

Find more details here

Click here to check the other top rated hotels on TripAdvisor.

Luxury over budget : For those who are looking for a private and luxurious affair, there are exquisite cottages available on rent near Thingvellir National Park.

The cottages are also a very good option for those who are travelling in large numbers. The abundance of rooms, space and privacy makes them a perfect choice for those who don’t mind shelling out extra dough for a larger than life experience.

Below are some of the breathtaking options.

A luxury home in Thingvellir, owned by Olafur G, is located near Lake Thingvellir. The house has well furnished 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a fully equipped kitchen, a patio and living room. The stunning house also has a gas barbecue on the patio. With excellent reviews, this place is certainly one of the best and hence, is steeply priced.

Find more details here.

Another holiday cottage in Thingvellir is just a 3 minute walk away from the Thingvellir Lake. It is 40 minutes drive away from Reykjavik and offers 3 bedrooms and 1 bathroom. Everything you have to see in your Iceland Golden Circle tour is barely 10-30 minutes away from this cottage.

It combines luxury and comfort, giving you an unforgettable experience.

Find more details here

Please note that these luxury cottages are available only in some months through the year.

Click here to check the other top rated hotels on TripAdvisor.

Getting there

If you are on a DIY driving tour then you already have your means of transport and can explore the area as you please.

If you are on a guided tour then you have the bus and the tour guides for the experience.

There is one more way to do this trip to the national park – Helicopter! Yes. Looking at the incredible landscape with a bird’s eye view is fascinating and is a treat to the eyes. You could go in for one with NordurFlug Helicopter tours at ISK 125,900.

 

Stop 2 : Geysir and Strokkur Geyser (Haukadalur)

Iceland Golden Circle - Geysir

Iceland Golden Circle – Geysir

On the outskirts of the volcanic zone lies the Haukadalur Geothermal region, approximately 48 kilometers from Thingvellir National Park; the place which is second on our visit list on the Iceland Golden Circle tour.

The sustained geothermal activity in this region is because the magma that that forces itself out of fissures has formed intrusions. No recent volcanic activity has taken place in the 3 square kilometer field. The northernmost springs like the Geysir are the oldest and worth exploring.

Geysir, also popularly called The Great Geyser, the boiling water eruptions here can be up to 70 meters high but the place has been dormant for years now with eruptions taking place only once in every few days. If you are lucky, you will be able to see one!

The word geyser means ‘to gush’ and the smell of sulphur fills the air in this region. Once you are here, you will witness multiple bubbling hot pools around. Strokkur, meaning churn, erupts every 4 to 8 minutes and is a spectacular sight to witness. Located just 50 meters away from the Great Geyser, it is an easy walk.

Iceland Golden Circle - Haukadalur

Iceland Golden Circle – Haukadalur

The different stages of the pool boiling and churning and then erupting at the Strokkur are an incredible experience to capture on your camera.

Things To do

Besides being camera ready to capture the activity without missing it, there is a lot more you can do in this unique place.

Hike up the mountain to get a better view of the eruptions!

All you have to do is, take a short hike up Mt. Laugafell which is not a difficult one to climb. On one side is the geothermal area while on the other is a valley.

Not only will you get incredible views of the eruptions but will also find a sun dial on your way, the one that was designed in 1965.

Konungshver

This means king’s hot spring which releases steam from time to time. It has a fine blue hue and erupts from time to time. Remember not to touch the water under any circumstances lest you wish to be scalded.

Places to stay

If you are on your own on a DIY driving tour, then you have the option of staying at Geysir if you wish to spend a day or two more exploring the picturesque region! There are some good hotels where you could check in and relax.
Budget over luxury : For those of you who don’t want to splurge, Hotel Litli Geysir is a good option. It is right opposite Geysir on route 35. Gulfoss waterfall being only a ten minute drive from the hotel gives it an edge over other hotels. The rooms are good and so are the restaurants and coffee shops around.

Click here to check prices on Booking.com for Hotel Litli Geysir
Luxury over budget : For those who are looking for a privacy in luxury, there is a villa that you can take up on rent. Located in Laugaras, the whole villa is well equipped including the kitchen. It is a good option for big families and can easily accommodate 10 people. You can check the availability and price here – Booking.com
Places to eat
There is a café in the souvenir shop at Geysir which offers fries, burgers and pizzas among other regular food options. The food is average and is good to fill your stomach after a long walk along the Strokkur. You could also pick up some souvenirs here to take back with you.
Another very good option is the restaurant that goes by the name Skjol. It offers Iceland’s most delicious pizzas at reasonable prices. A great stop for your hunger pangs that will leave you happy with warm hospitality in the cold region!

Getting there

If you are on a DIY driving tour then you already have witnessed the Thingvellir Park and drove yourself to the Geysir.
If you are on a guided tour then you have the bus and the tour guides for the experience.

Fun tips and facts :

  • The place is not difficult to locate. Keep your GPS navigation device/phone handy and you will not face any confusion.
  • There is no entrance fee to the geothermal area.
  • Try out the soups at the Café. They warm you up!

Stop 3 : Gullfoss Waterfall

The Iceland Golden Circle - Gullfoss Waterfall

The Iceland Golden Circle – Gullfoss Waterfall

Gullfoss translates to ‘Golden Falls’ and the meaning perfectly aligns with the majestic status of the falls. They are in the river Hvita, which originates from Langjokull Glacier.

In the beginning of 20th century, the falls were owned by Sigridur Tomasdottir, the daughter of Tomas Tomasson. The waterfall was thought to be a potential source of electricity. It was rented out by the owners to some foreign investors who wanted to build a hydroelectric power plant.

If this was to be executed, Gullfoss would have been destroyed forever. Thankfully Sigridur Tomasdottir rejected the idea that would’ve destroyed one of the most naturally beautiful places on earth.

At the top of the stunning falls is Sigridur’s memorial site. The magnificent canyon is lengthened by 25 centimeters each year due to constant erosion. It was created by flood waves at the end of Ice age.

You will find lavas and moraines in an alternating fashion in the canyon. Witnessing the awe inspiring power of the falls is a humbling experience.
The Gullfoss falls are 120 kilometers away from Reykjavik

Things To do

Of course, the first thing to do is to gaze at nature’s beauty and have an extremely breathtaking experience. Soak in the heavenly atmosphere and get lost in the glory of these picturesque falls.

When you are done looking at the falls from all angles and capturing the best pictures on your camera, you can visit the museum which was built in remembrance of Sigridur Tomasdottir. It is by the upper parking lot and will give you a glimpse of Gullfoss’s history.
Places to stay

The options to stay near Gullfoss are the same as the ones close to Geysir and Strokkur. The hotels are right in the middle of both the places and apt for those who wish to spend some days exploring both these incredible places in Iceland Golden Circle.

You can check out some deals on Booking.com by clicking here.
Places to eat

There is a shop and restaurant (Gullfoss Kaffi) for visitors here. It is located on the upper car park level. You can feed yourself to lunch and coffee and also use the toilets.

The restaurant offers the best Icelandic lamb soup that costs approximately 1350 Krone.
Getting there

If you are on a DIY driving tour then you already have explored the Geysir and Strokkur geyser before driving yourself to the Gullfoss waterfalls.
If you are on a guided tour then you have the bus and the tour guides for the experience.
Fun tips and facts :

  • Keep your eyes peeled for a rainbow when the sun is out!
  • Fill up on petrol along the way if you need to. There are plenty of gas stations on the way.
  • Make sure you get a bottle of water because all the walking might make you thirsty.
  • Do not forget to carry raincoats as you might get soaked.

 

Stop 4 : Kerid Crater Lake Visit

The Golden Circle Iceland - Kerid Crater

The Golden Circle Iceland – Kerid Crater

This 3000 year old lake is actually a volcanic crater which is 55 meter deep. The steep slopes and hilly surroundings make this site worth capturing on your camera. The region is unique and many concerts have been held in the lake on a floating raft!

The circular slopes look similar to an amphitheatre (Caldera) and the whole place is nothing short of breathtaking. It is a must visit in your Iceland Golden Circle tour and if you are on your own, you can also take your time to hike down the crater. It is definitely an experience to cherish on your Iceland trip.
TripAdvisor gives some interesting reviews of this picturesque region.

Places to stay

Hjardarbol, a guesthouse located 17 kilometers from Kerid is ideal for someone who is looking for good amenities with comfort. It offers views of Ingolfsfjall Mountain. You have the luxury of using free wifi in public areas. The rooms are well equipped and clean.

You can prepare your own meals in a shared kitchen and watch TV in the common lounge area. The friendly staff here also helps in organizing activities like horse riding and hiking for you. Find more details here

Another interesting place to accommodate yourself in is Guesthouse Selfoss. There are 22 rooms in the wooden bungalows along with a private kitchen. For luxury lovers, they have fully equipped summerhouses where 2 to 6 people can stay and enjoy home-like privacy.

The guesthouse is barely a few minutes away from restaurants, shops, banks and the swimming pool. Find more details here

Getting there

Follow the route of your map or navigation device if you are on your own. It is an easy drive and Kerid Crater is not difficult to find.

If you are on a guided tour then you have the bus and the tour guides who will bring you here for a wonderful experience.

Fun tips and facts :

Kerid Lake is a collapsed Volcano! The water in the lake neither comes from rain nor from any other source of water. It is at the level of ground water and hence is an indicator of the water table.

There are some really interesting tips and tricks that you will need to know of if you are going to be visiting Iceland.

Find some useful tips below:

  • Tipping is offensive in Iceland! So while you think you are showing generosity and culture to your waiter, remember it is not customary in Iceland to tip for services.
  • Do not buy bottled water. The naturally available cold water is probably the cleanest in the world! Be careful of the hot water from the tap though. It comes from a volcano and is full of sulfur which will taste quite odd.
  • Always check the weather forecast before heading out. The climatic conditions are very unpredictable in Iceland. Yes, it may be a nice day at 11am and turn out to be absolutely blizzardly at 12 noon. Be sure you are up to date on that front. You definitely want to hike back and not be rescued on your trip!
  • Every place in Iceland, yes EVERY place in Iceland accepts credit cards.
  • Be wary of speeding fines which are as steep as $500. Also, you need to have your headlights on 24X7, an order by law.

Keep all these points in mind and your incredible Golden Circle Iceland tour will be one of your best memories in life.

The aurora, the power of nature, the surreal feeling, just about everything will make you not want to leave the place. After you have explored the entire region, you will have made yourself some unforgettable memories to pick out from time to time.

After all, the best places remain etched in our hearts forever. Isn’t it?