Driving the Golden Circle: A guide to Iceland’s popular day trip

The Iceland Golden Circle Route can be driven in one day, as an alternative to Iceland’s Circle Road, which takes seven days and circles the country.

What is the Golden Circle? The Golden Circle is a driving loop of 190 miles from Reykjavik to the southern uplands of Iceland and back. The best part? You can complete the entire trip in one day!

This is the perfect solution for those who have a brief layover on their way to Europe and don’t have much time.

You can drive the Golden Circle at your own pace in Iceland.

My friend Kiersten rented a vehicle, and we spent the day driving around the Golden Circle ( Gullni Hringurinn), visiting all the best attractions.

This Golden Circle travel guide will help you make the most of your self-drive experience. Discover how to plan, where to stay, and what to see.

Golden Circle Iceland Map

HOW CAN I USE THIS MAPS: You’ll see a map above of my itinerary to Iceland’s Golden Circle. To find the different layers that mark the route and places of interest, click on the upper left corner of the map. You can toggle between layers or click on icons to view the names of the sites mentioned in the travel guide. You can “Star” the Google Map to save it, or you can open it in a separate window to see a larger version. Enjoy!

Golden Circle Driving Guide

Driving in Iceland can be easy depending on the time of year you visit. Just follow these guidelines. The Golden Circle Road has been well maintained.

The Golden Circle is a popular tourist attraction, and traffic can get busy in the high summer season. To avoid traffic, it’s best to start early.

There are many -guided tours of the Golden Circle. I prefer to drive myself because you can make stops whenever you like or explore somewhere else.

Renting a Car in Iceland

You can find the lowest price on Discover Cars. This site searches both local and foreign car rental companies. It is easy to rent a vehicle in Iceland.

Icelandic roads are slippery in the winter. A sunny morning could easily turn into snowstorms later in the day. Iceland offers a great website called Vegagerdin that allows you to see the road conditions in real-time.

Gas in Iceland is about $7.50 per gallon at USD 2 per liter. However, one tank of gas should be enough to do the Golden Circle. Some foreign credit cards may have to be charged at the station rather than inside.

Thingvellir National Park

As soon as we left Reykjavik, we began driving the Golden Circle, heading NE along Route 36 to our first destination, Thingvellir National Park.

Iceland’s first parliament was established in the Thingvellir National Park back in 930 AD. Logberg was a place where people could speak about important issues. A group of 48 chieftains met to discuss and engage in court proceedings for the citizens of their country.

The North American and Eurasian plates are also slowly splitting apart, creating deep fissures in the ground. Silfra is one of them, and it’s full of ice-cold glacier water. Some people go scuba diving or snorkeling.

Icelandic Horses for Pets

As we drove through beautiful valleys, large farms, and Icelandic sheep and horses lined both sides of our road, a fresh snowfall covered the mountains.

Don’t call the small, fuzzy horses of Iceland ponies! Icelandic horses have a proud and long history that dates back to the 9th Century.

There are many friendly horses on Iceland’s farms.

You can park safely as long as you are not on the road edge. You can pet them by walking up to the fence. Do not forget to take a horse selfie!

Geysers At Haukadalur

The next stop on the Golden Circle was Haukadalur. This geothermal area is about 60km from Thingvellir National Park. Geysir and Strokkur are the two most famous geysers in this area.

It is interesting to note that the term “geyser,” as we know it today, was named after this specific geyser in Iceland. This inspirational quote came to mind.

“Life jumps like a geyser to those who drill into the rock of inertia.” Alexis Carr

Steam rises from vents on the Earth near mud pools, fumaroles, and mineral deposits.

After an earthquake, the original Geysir is no longer active. However, a second geyser called Strokkur continues to erupt with 100-foot-high scalding waters every 10 minutes.

Haukadalur offers a restaurant/gift shop where you can warm yourself up with soup.

Gullfoss Waterfall

The Hvita River abruptly disappears in a ravine to form a spectacular fall called Gullfoss. This is the next highlight of Iceland’s Golden Circle.

Gullfoss is Icelandic for “golden waterfall,” and it definitely fits that description when the sun hits the right spot!

The fast-moving, wide river makes a turn and plunges 100 feet into the crevice of the Earth. This produces a thick mist as well as frequent rainbows. Gullfoss is one of Iceland’s top attractions because of its dramatic scenery.

Visitors can walk along the concrete path and see the cascade of water below after descending the long stairway from the parking area.

Gullfoss is off the main road, so you will have to go back a little to continue on the Golden Circle route to Reykjavik.

Kerid Crater Lake

Kerid Crater Lake was our final stop on the Golden Circle. As the sun began to set, we pulled into the parking area.

The top of the volcano has collapsed, leaving a magma chamber. The bottom of the crater is filled with water in a deep shade of blue that highlights the red and green colors.

The hike to the bottom takes only 5 minutes. Kerid Crater, although not as popular as other Golden Circle attractions, is worth a quick visit if you’ve got the time.

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