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Iceland The complete route guide of the Golden Circle in Iceland + Map

The complete route guide of the Golden Circle in Iceland + Map

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This post is also available in: Nederlands

Exploring Iceland is something you won’t regret. Unspoiled landscapes, massive waterfalls, active volcanos and thermal areas with geysers are all part of the land of fire and ice. A lot of these highlights are spread out around Iceland, but in the Golden Circle, you’ll find a lot of highlights within short distances from each other.

No wonder, the Golden Circle is one of the most traveled routes in Iceland. It is close to Reykjavik and can be explored during a weekend trip. Also, a lot of tours go there, so you don’t necessarily have to drive yourself.

The complete route guide of the Golden Circle in Iceland + Map

What is the Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is a route in the highlands of Western Iceland that leads you past several of the most famous highlights. It is very close to Reykjavik, which makes it possible to explore this route during a weekend trip.

The name is derived from the main attraction on the route: Gullfoss, which means Golden Waterfall. Besides Gullfoss, there are more famous attractions on this route, like Geysir and Thingvellir National Park.

Because of the many highlights on this route, with only small distances between them, the Golden Circle is one of the most popular routes in Iceland. In a short period of time, you can see the many different landscapes Iceland has to offer.

Map of Golden Circle Iceland

Map of Golden Circle Iceland

Driving the Golden Circle

The Golden Circle route is easy to drive. Roads are in good condition. Mostly, the route exists of paved roads but sometimes it is interrupted by gravel roads. These gravel roads are in good condition as well, so it is not necessary to rent a 4WD. A 2WD will bring you to every highlight on the Golden Circle.

The Golden Circle is around 250km long, which includes the route from and back to Reykjavik. The route can be extended a bit, to visit several highlights which are slightly further away from the road.

As the distances are small, the route can easily be driven in 1 day’s time. It will just not give you plenty of time to get out of the car to have a walk around the beautiful highlights. That for I would highly recommend taking a 2 or even 3 days trip into consideration. This gives you plenty of time to enjoy hiking paths, thermal baths and to really take in the stunning Icelandic nature.


Car rental Iceland


Golden Circle Iceland Road

If you prefer not to drive yourself, you can also book one of the many tours that will lead you around the most famous highlights on the Golden Circle.

Where to stay at the Golden Circle

There are plenty of accommodations along the Golden Circle. So, if you decide to make it a multiple-day trip, you can always sleep somewhere along the route.

Accommodations can be like hotels, guest houses, B&B’s or hostels. There are also several campsites along the route, which you can use to set up your tent or park your camper Van.



There are also various lunch and dining options along the route. Some are very interesting, like inside a tomato greenhouse or on a dairy farm. More about this later on in the article!

Difference between winter summer

Iceland looks different in winter than it does in summer. Both seasons have their charms! Although average temperatures are never really high in Iceland, during the summertime you are more likely to have some good weather.

Below you can see how different the Gullfoss waterfall looks like in winter and summer!

Gullfoss waterfall Iceland winter on Golden Circle

Gulfoss waterfall Iceland summer

Summer

During summer there are more tours available. It will also be busier at the highlights, as it is peak-season and a lot of tourists come to Iceland to explore all the beauty. Some days you might have really good weather and temperatures can rise up to 20ºC. Also, be prepared for more winter-like weather. The average day temperature is only 13ºC, so don’t forget to bring a hat and gloves to stay warm.

During summer you have the chance to see everything along the Golden Circle. During this season, all hotels and campsites will be open, even like restaurants.

Winter

In winter you should take more driving time into consideration, as roads can be slippery due to snow and ice. During extreme circumstances, like snowstorms and heavy winds, some roads might even be closed.

Winter is a beautiful time of the year to do some winter excursions along the Golden Circle, like snowmobiling on the nearby Langjokull glacier.

Winter is also a cheaper time to explore the Golden Circle than in the summer. There are fewer tourists around and you will enjoy the highlights in more peace.


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From Reykjavik to Thingvellir

Distance: 50km
Driving time: 40 min

Leave Reykjavik via route 49 to make your way to the Ringroad #1. Follow this route North until you can turn right onwards route 36.

Thorufoss (Þórufoss)

Sightseeing time: 20-30 minutes
Opening hours: All day, all year
Costs:
Free

After 18 kilometers on route 36, there is a junction on your left with route 48. This route will take you via an 11km detour (10 minutes), to Thorufoss. This is a lesser-known waterfall in the area of the Golden Circle. This waterfall is situated in a beautiful surrounding.

Thingvellir (Þingvellir)

Sightseeing time: At least 2 hours, but it is easy to spend multiple days in this park
Opening hours: Park: All day, all year / Visitor Centre: 9 am – 6 pm
Costs:
Entree fee to the park and visitor center is free (exhibition: Adults: US$8 / Kids under 18: Free)

Thingvellir is a national park that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A very special phenomenon that you can see here are two tectonic plates. Iceland is divided by the Eurasian Plate and the North American Plate and is the only place in the world where this crack can be seen above sea level.

The fissure between the plates is called Silfra and in Thingvellir national park, it is possible to snorkel or dive between the two tectonic plates. It is the most unique snorkel and diving site in the entire world! A tour lasts between 2 and 4 hours.

Besides the possibility of being in two places at the same time, Thingvellir has more to offer. The landscapes are picturesque and the many hiking routes will take you deeper into nature.

Tectonic Plates Iceland on Golden Circle

Thingvellir National park on Golden Circle

Oxararfoss (Öxarárfoss) is a waterfall in the Thingvellir national park. This waterfall is unlike many others in Iceland, handcrafted. It is thought that this is done to provide inhabitants of Thingvellir national park with drinking water.

You can also find the Thingvellir Church. It is a small church that dates back to 1859. The wooden interior gives you a warm welcome. And although it has had several updates to prevent it from falling, you’ll see the past in it.

From Thingvellir to Geysir

Distance: 60km
Driving time: 50 min

From Thingvellir follow route 36 towards the East and take the gravel road 365 to cross over to route 37. At the junction follow the signs for Geysir on route 35 to the North East.

Laugarvatn Fontana Spa

Sightseeing time: At least 1 hour, but you’ll enjoy a longer stay
Opening hours: Summer (Jun-Aug): 10 am – 10 pm / Winter (Sep-May): 11 am – 10 pm
Costs:
Adults: US$38 / Youth (13-16 years old): US$16 / Kids up to 12 years old: Free

The Fontana Spa is a thermal pool located on the Golden Circle, next to the ice-cold lake of Laugarvatn. You’ll reach Laugarvatn Fontana after a couple of minutes’ drive on route 37.

The spa has 3 different mineral pools, with temperatures between 32ºC and 38ºC. They are situated next to the lake and give you some beautiful views. There are also saunas available. After the hot sauna, you can cool off in the cold lake to get that beneficial effect on your vascular muscles!

Apavatn

Sightseeing time: 30 minutes up to a day
Opening hours: All day all year
Costs:
Free

Apavatn is a much bigger lake, situated south of Laugarvatn Spa. To get here follow route 37 towards the South. It is a 15-kilometer detour which takes you about 15 minutes to drive.

This lake is often visited during the summer months when Icelandic people like to go swimming during warm summer days. It is also known as a fishing lake, where several fish species can be caught.

Apavatn Lake Iceland

Icelandic Horses

Efstidalur farm

Sightseeing time: 30 – 60 minutes
Opening hours: Restaurant: 8 am – 8 pm / Ice saloon: 10 am – 9 pm
Costs:
Sightseeing is free / food and drinks need to be paid for accordingly

You’ll find the Efstidalur dairy farm on your left-hand side along route 37. When you hear the cows roar and see the horses running through the fields you know you are on the right spot.

This farm offers a unique experience for every meal of the day. All the food is prepared fresh daily with dairy products and meat from the farm. Vegetables are gathered from organic farms nearby and ice creams are all home-made!

Besides a wonderful place to have a look around and a unique place to eat, they also offer horse rental and accommodation.

Bruarfoss (Brúarfoss)

Sightseeing time: about 30 minutes
Opening hours: All day, all year
Costs:
Free

Only 2 kilometers down the road, you’ll find the parking lot for the Bruarfoss waterfall on your left-hand side. It is relatively small but very scenic. People say it is the bluest waterfall of Iceland and a true hidden gem on the Golden Circle.

The color of the water is formed due to a chemical reaction between the rocks and the surrounding soil in combination with the water from the falls. The dark volcanic rocks are in high contrast with the blue water, which makes the total picture very picturesque.

Bruarfoss waterfall Iceland

Geysir

Sightseeing time: 30-60 minutes
Opening hours: All day, all year
Costs:
Free

Geysir, or the so-called great Geysir, is a geyser in the thermal area of Haukadalur. Unlike a lot of people think, this is not the active geyser. It used to be, but researchers think it is clogged and only a major earthquake can solve this.

Nevertheless, there is another geyser on site, which is called Stokkur. This geyser erupts every 8-15 minutes and spouts hot boiling water up to 30 meters into the air.

Besides geysers, there is a lot more to see, and to smell in this area! Walk around and see the boiling hot pots, different colored minerals and don’t forget to take a look at the surrounding mountains.

Geysir exploded

Geysir ready to explode

From Geysir to Gullfoss

Distance: 10 km
Driving time: 10 min

Follow Route 35 and in less than 10 minutes you arrive at Gullfoss after leaving Geysir.

Gullfoss

Sightseeing time: 45-60 minutes
Opening hours: All day, all year
Costs:
Free

Gullfoss is one of the most massive waterfalls in Iceland. The melting water from the Langjokull glacier flows with high speeds through the river and falls down into the lower situated lake. This waterfall is the main attraction on the Golden Circle and is visited each year by thousands of people.

When you have a sunny day and the sun shines into the splashing drops, a rainbow can be seen just above the waterfall. No wonder this waterfall is called Gullfoss, which means Golden falls.

There are several viewpoints situated around the waterfall, all of them give you another perspective. Gullfoss falls down into two steps. The first step is 11 meters deep and the second step is 21 meters deep. The viewpoints let you take a look at the waterfall from the different levels and also let you take a look into the deep canyon.

NOTE: During winter time some viewpoints might be closed because the walking paths get very slippery due to snow and ice.

Gullfoss waterfall Iceland

From Gullfoss to Kerid Crater Lake

Distance: 56 km
Driving time: 45 min

Drive back to the junction with routes 35 and 37 and keep following route 35. This is the lesser-traveled track of the Golden Circle, with a lot of lesser-known stops along the way.

Faxafoss

Sightseeing time: 30 – 60 minutes
Opening hours: All day, all year
Costs:
Free

After about 20 kilometers on your way to Kerid Crater Lake, you’ll find Faxafoss on your left-hand side. This waterfall is easy to access all year round as it is situated close to the road.

The Faxi waterfall is 80 meters wide and 7 meters high. The cool thing about this waterfall is that you can come very close to the fall itself. So close, that you are able to feel the waterdrops that splash up from the fall. Be careful with strong winds! The water is cold and you can better not fall in there!

In summer you can go wild water rafting in this area. This is a nice tour on a warm summer day. But on a less sunny and misty day, you might feel some extra adrenaline flowing through your veins!

Secret Lagoon (Gamla Laugin)

Sightseeing time: At least one hour, but you’ll enjoy a longer stay
Opening hours: Summer (Jun-Sep): 10 am – 10 pm / Winter (Oct-May): 11 am – 8 pm
Costs:
US$24 / Kids up to 14 years old: Free

To get to the secret lagoon, you’ll need to take a little detour of 18 kilometers, which will take you around 20 minutes to drive. Follow your way along route 35. On your left-hand side, you’ll see route 359. This is a gravel road that leads you towards route 30. In fludir (Flúðir) you only have to follow the signs to get to Gamla Laugin.

The secret lagoon thanks its name to the wonderful place hidden in pure Icelandic nature. You’ll see the steam coming off the warm water rising between the small hills that are covered with green moss.

You can bath in the swimming pool, which is the oldest swimming pool in Iceland, which dates back to 1891! The water temperature is between 38ºC and 40ºC all year round and there are also several walking tracks around the thermal areas. Small geysers can be seen that erupt every 5 minutes.

Fridheimar (Friðheimar)

Sightseeing time: Sightseeing on your own will take around 30 minutes. If you want to grab some food count on an hour.
Opening hours: 12pm – 4 pm
Costs:
Sightseeing on your own is free of charge, food and drinks need to be paid for accordingly

You’ll find this greenhouse along route 35 on your way to the Kerid Crater Lake. It gives you a unique lunch experience. The tables are set inside the greenhouse between the tomato plants. How green would you like it!?

3 different species of tomatoes grow inside the greenhouse, which are used in every dish you can order. You’ll also find a horse stable on-site and during the summer season (May-Sep), you can see a horse show with Icelandic Horses.

Fridheimar Greenhouse Iceland

Skalholtskirkja (Skálholtskirkja)

Sightseeing time: 15 – 30 min
Opening hours: all day, all year
Costs:
Free

Driving on Route 35 on the Golden Circle, you’ll see route 31 on your left-hand side. Take this detour of 6 km (5 min driving time) to see this special cathedral.

Special, because you can see old and new on the same site. Before the new Cathedral was built, there have been several other churches in the exact same place. They didn’t survive the weather or they burnt down during a fire. One old wooden church is still standing with a beautiful mossy roof. It really stands out next to the new cathedral which is built in a newer style.

The inside is also worth a look. The interior is modern and quite colorful.

Slakki petting zoo

Sightseeing time: up to 2 hours
Opening hours: 11 am – 6 pm
Costs:
US$8 for adults, teens and small kids half price or free

Follow Route 31 (same detour as Skalholskirkja) 3 km further south and it will lead you to the Slakki petting zoo.

It is a wonderful place for kids to see orphaned little foxes, goats, bunnies, kittens and parrots. You can also enjoy a miniature golf course.

Solheimar (Sólheimar) Ecovillage

Sightseeing time: 20 minutes up to 2 hours
Opening hours: 12 pm – 5 pm (Sunday 2 pm – 5 pm)
Costs:
Free

To reach the Solheimar Ecovillage you leave route 35 and continue your way on route 354. It is a detour of 15 kilometers which takes you about 15 minutes driving time.

Solheimar means “Home of the Sun”. It is an ecovillage with a community of about 100 people. This village is famous for its devotion to community living, artistic ethics, and sustainability.

Have a look around and visit the sustainable local businesses and workshops, where you find handcrafted products, like candles, soap, weaved accessories, arts and crafts.

Solheimar is Iceland’s largest provider of organic fruits and vegetables and there is also a shop where you can buy these products.

Kerid (Kerið) Crater Lake

Sightseeing time: 1 – 2 hours
Opening hours: all day, all year
Costs:
US$3

You’ll find the Kerid crater lake along route 35. This is one of the famous highlights on the Golden Circle. It is a young volcano, which is the reason that the iron in the soil is still fresh. This gives the volcano walls their red color instead of black which you might expect.

The walls are 55 meters high and the lake is 7-14 meters deep. The water in the lake has an intense blue color which is caused by the minerals in the stones.

You can walk all the way around on top of the crater walls and you can also make your way down to the lake. The Kerid crater colors beautiful in autumn when the mossy soil gets the autumn colors.

Kerid Crater Lake Golden Cirlce Iceland

Kerid Crater Lake Iceland

From Kerid Crater Lake to Reykjavik

Distance: 70 km
Driving time: 60 min

To head back to Reykjavik, keep following route 35 until you are back on the ring road #1. Go North and take route 49 back into Reykjavik.

Reykjadalur hot springs

Sightseeing time: at least two hours (includes the hiking time to get there), but you’ll enjoy a longer stay
Opening hours: all day, all year
Costs:
Free

Just after you pass the little town Hvergerdi (Hveragerði), you’ll see a parking lot for the Reykjadalur hot springs. Park your car and hike 3 km into the Reykjadalur valley. You can book a tour with a guide that leads you there, but the trail is well signposted and you can easily walk there by yourself. This will save you a lot of money.

Once in the valley, you’ll understand why they call it the ‘steam valley’. Steam is coming out of the ground and hot mud pools are simmering. You can bath in the river that carries the hot water coming from Mount Hengill, an inactive volcano. Enjoy the nice water temperature and feel the minerals cleaning your skin!

Reykjadalur hot springs Iceland

Nesjavellir power plant

Sightseeing time: driving by
Opening hours: all day, all year
Costs:
Free

If you have some time left, you can also take a detour via some smaller roads. This detour, via route 35, 36, 435 and 431 will take you along the Nesjavellir power plant. This route takes 5 extra kilometers and takes 20 minutes extra from your time.

Nesjavellir is the second-largest power plant in Iceland and generates electricity and hot water by utilizing geothermal water and steam.

This power plant is not open for tourists, but you can drive past it and see the impressive area where the steam comes out of the ground. You can also smell the large thermal area.

If you are interested to learn more about geothermal power plants, you can visit the Hellisheidi (Hellisheiði) power plant, which is only a 20-minute drive away from Reykjavik. Both the power stations derive their energy from the volcanic mountain Hengill. But the Hellisheidi power plant has a visitor center and you can book guided tours to learn more about this way of gaining electricity.

Icelandic power plant


Diamond beach near Jokulsarlon in Iceland


Create your own Golden Circle trip

As said at the beginning of this post, it is very possible to drive the Golden Circle in one day and see the main highlights, like Thingvellir national park, Geysir, Gullfoss, and the Kerid Crater Lake.

If you want to enjoy more stops on your Golden Circle trip, make sure to plan some more time to get out of the car and explore. The original Golden Circle route which starts and ends in Reykjavik is 250 km long and takes about 3.5 hours to drive.

Below is a table with all the above-mentioned highlights and their visiting times to keep in mind. You’ll also find the extra driving time if a detour is needed. In this way, you can create your own Golden Circle trip!

Create your own Golden Circle route with these Golden Circle highlights and stopping time copy

We love to hear from you!

Thanks a lot for reading our blog post. Hopefully, it inspired you to visit more highlights on the Golden Circle than ‘just the famous ones’. Iceland is beautiful and really deserves your time to explore all the natural beauty! If you visited the Golden Circle and want to share your story, or if you have a question, please leave a comment below!

And don’t forget to check out what you can explore in Iceland!

Nanet Moesman
Nanet is a full time world traveler ever since May 2017. She writes with passion about the destinations where she has been. You'll always find a personal touch in her blog posts when she talks about her own experiences. A pleasure to read!
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