Many know Iceland as the Land of Fire and Ice – and it’s easy to see why. Towering mountains, soaring waterfalls and bubbling mud are everywhere.
If you’re looking to experience the best of Iceland, or only have a short amount of time to see the country, the Golden Circle is the perfect road trip.
To get to the Golden Circle, you have a few options. Many different tour operators run excursions to the Golden Circle from Reykjavik, either general (such as seeing the whole Golden Circle) or specific (like scuba diving in Silfra).
These can get pricey, but if you’d rather have all the logistics taken care of for you, they’re a great option.
Driving the Golden Circle in Iceland
If you’re more interested in the adventure, it’s best to rent a car or van and drive the Golden Circle yourself.
It can be done in as little as a day, but it’s worth spending more time there if you really want to see and experience everything the region has to offer.
The Rift Between Continents: Pingvellir National Park
The oldest existing parliament in the world first gathered at Pingvellir in 930 AD, and you can see why they were inspired. It opens up into a gorgeous valley ribboned with rivers, streams and waterfalls.
The site where the North American tectonic plate meets the European one is located here, and it’s a great place to brush up on your geology skills (that is, if you can close your open-mouthed jaw after seeing how beautiful it is.)
Snap some photos at the overlook of Pingvallavatn Lake.
While you’re at the park, check out the Oxararfoss waterfall, tucked away from the main trail, and walk or drive down to Silfra, where you can catch scuba divers and snorkelers swimming between the tectonic plates.
Relax in Laugarvatn
Take a dip in Laugarvatn’s famous geothermal spa, Fontana, or the local geothermal swimming pool right next door.
Stop at the geothermal lake. It’s clear blue waters with mountain backdrop will help soothe any aches and pains.
Stop in at Lindin, an upscale bistro and restaurant, for arctic char or lamb, both Icelandic staples.
If you’re splitting the Golden Circle into two days, Laugarvatn is a fantastic spot to break up your trip.
Welcome to Mars: Geysir, Iceland
Stop at Geysir to watch the mighty Stokkur gush every 5-10 minutes or so, but also for the other hot-pots as well, bubbling mud and spurting steam more irregularly.
Tread carefully as the water gets quite hot, well over 125 degrees Celsius (that’s 257 degrees Fahrenheit!) You’ll notice the smell of sulfur here immediately — stay out of the path of the steam and it shouldn’t bother you once you get used to it.
The Golden Falls: Gullfoss Waterfall
Only a short drive past Geysir, head to Gullfoss. At 32 meters high, gallons of water gush over Gullfoss’ mighty falls. Known as the “golden falls,” enjoy its picturesque beauty and walk along various trails to see the power of water.
It has the distinction of being the largest waterfall in Europe by volume. On a sunny day, you’ll likely catch a rainbow.
The Hot Spring Capital: Herveragerdi
On your way back to Reykjavik, take a pit stop in Herveragerdi, full of bubbling hot pots. Stretch your legs and take a break in this geothermal park.
With miles of hiking trails and paths to explore, you’ll enjoy the chance to take in Iceland at its finest.
In June during the midnight sun, the entire town comes alive with a huge flower festival and exhibition, blossoming the town with color overnight.
Whether you spend a day or a week in the Golden Circle, you’ll be amazed at every turn. It’s the perfect way to get a taste of what Iceland has to offer — and you’ll definitely want to come back.
If You Go to Iceland
- Iceland tourism and travel: https://www.visiticeland.com/
- You’ll need to rent a car. In Iceland, they drive on the right: https://guidetoiceland.is/iceland-car-rentals
- Know your road signs before you go: https://www.visitreykjavik.is/travel/driving-iceland
- Food is super expensive in Iceland (it is an island, after all.) Self-cater with Bonus supermarket, but be prepared to be shocked by prices: https://www.bonus.is/
- Currency is Icelandic krona. Convert here: https://themoneyconverter.com/ISK/USD.aspx
- Iceland is cold! Bring lots and lots of layers: https://goscandinavia.about.com/od/icelan1/ss/weathericeland.htm
- Iceland experiences a phenomena called “midnight sun,” each June. Depending on when you go, expect either a ton of daylight or barely any. https://www.icelandguest.com/travel-guide/about-iceland/iceland-travel-faq/
Author Bio: Kayla Lewkowicz hails from Hopkinton, MA, the home of the Boston Marathon. A marketer by day and freelance writer by night, she’s a passionate storyteller, reader, hiker, swimmer, runner, and eater. Like what she has to say? Subscribe to her blog or say hello on Twitter @kllewkow.