Visit Golden Circle, Iceland
The Golden Circle is a term used to describe a sightseeing route around a series of natural landmarks in southwest Iceland. Þingvellir National Park with its geological drama and rich history, Geysir’s hot water blowholes, and Gullfoss waterfall all sit within easy reach of Reykjavík, and are generally grouped together for a day trip.
Almost all visitors to Iceland will spend some time in these places, so they can get crowded, particularly in summer. But, stay overnight and you can enjoy the sights at less-busy times of the day and take in a variety of lesser-known attractions in the region.
Þingvellir National Park sits right on the continental divide between Europe and North America. You can clearly see a deep chasm here where the two tectonic plates are slowly shifting apart by about 2 cm (3/4 of an inch) each year. The great Almannagjá rift is lined by a boardwalk that allows you to stroll between the two continents while exploring smaller fissures, chasms and pools.
Just south of Almannagjá, Þingvallavatn is Iceland’s largest natural lake. Here, both snorkelers and divers can sink into glacial waters between the two tectonic plates. Above ground, the Öxará River tumbles off the edge of the North American plate in a series of waterfalls, the most striking of which is Öxarárfoss.
The dramatic clash of continents was noticed by Iceland’s first settlers, and the natural amphitheatre here was used by Icelandic chieftains for their most important meetings. This was the original site of the Alþing – Iceland’s General Assembly and arguably the oldest parliament in the world. Local leaders met here to settle disputes and discuss laws and trade from 930 AD right up until 1798 when the parliament relocated to Reykjavík.
By contrast, in nearby Geysir, geothermal activity is the main draw. In Icelandic, geysir means ‘gusher’ and here, a bolt of hot water driven skywards by elemental forces far below the earth’s surface gave its name to all other hot water blowholes around the world.
The Haukadalur geothermal field is home to several blowholes, vibrant mineral pools and bubbling mud pots. Although Geysir now only spouts sporadically every few years, the Strokkur geyser alongside it erupts every five to ten minutes and spouts water high into the sky.
From Geysir most tours head to Gullfoss. At this site, meltwater from the Langjökull glacier fuels the raging Hvítá River, which tumbles over a set of double falls. You can witness the power of Gullfoss, Iceland’s most visited waterfall, from viewpoints set above and below the falls. Alongside the roiling water, you’ll see clear stripes of volcanic rock in the canyon walls, which chronicle the location’s geological history.
Gullfoss means ‘Golden Waterfall’ and is named after the yellowish spray that hangs in the air and splits into vibrant rainbows when the sun comes out. If you have the time to linger in the area, you can also see natural lagoons and hot springs.
If you’d like to actively explore the circle’s dynamic landscape, we can arrange a variety of excursions, depending on the season. During the winter you can snowmobile on Langjökull Glacier or explore ice caves, and, in the warm summer months, go white-water rafting down the canyon below Gullfoss Falls. You can also bathe in a geothermal hot spring, regardless of the time of year.
Other stops on the may route include the Faxi and Brúarfoss waterfalls, Brúarhlöð Canyon and Kerið Crater, where you can see a brilliantly green lake at the bottom of the rust-red sloping walls of the ancient volcanic crater.
Best time to visit the Golden Circle
The Golden Circle makes a great year-round destination. Long summer days between May and August allow more time to explore at each site, but also see the most visitors. Spring and autumn offer good daylight, while in winter daylight hours are limited but the snow and ice, waterfalls and steaming fumaroles are more dramatic than ever.
Suggested itineraries featuring Golden Circle
Our itineraries will give you suggestions for what is possible when you travel in Golden Circle, and they showcase routes we know work particularly well. Treat them as inspiration, because your trip will be created uniquely by one of our specialists.
Map of Golden Circle
Places & hotels on the map
Places near Golden Circle
- South Iceland 57 kilometers away
- Langjökull 61 kilometers away
- Reykjavík 80 kilometers away
- South Coast 86 kilometers away
- West Iceland 86 kilometers away
- Westman Islands 87 kilometers away
- Blue Lagoon 111 kilometers away
- Southwest Iceland 112 kilometers away
- Snæfellsnes Peninsula 156 kilometers away
- Vatnajökull National Park 162 kilometers away
- Flatey 180 kilometers away
- Akureyri 195 kilometers away
- Jökulsárlón 201 kilometers away
- Lake Mývatn 221 kilometers away
- North Iceland 224 kilometers away
- Troll Peninsula 226 kilometers away
- Dettifoss 257 kilometers away
- Eastfjords 304 kilometers away
Photos of Golden Circle
Accommodation choices for Golden Circle
We’ve selected a range of accommodation options for when you visit Golden Circle. Our choices usually come recommended for their character, facilities and service or location. Our specialists always aim to suggest properties that match your preferences.
An intimate property on the banks of the Varmá River, Frost & Fire Boutique Hotel offers contemporary rooms, two geothermal hot tubs, and an outdoor swimming pool. Reykjavík is just a 40-minute drive away.
Located in the heart of the Golden Circle route, the contemporary Hótel Grímsborgir is an ideal base from which to explore south west Iceland. In spite of its large size, it has a relaxed atmosphere and very attentive staff.
The surrounding lava landscape sets the tone for a rich design scheme at this stylish hotel near the UNESCO-protected Þingvellir National Park. It is also an ideal base from which to explore the Golden Circle route’s numerous attractions.
Ideas for experiencing Golden Circle
Our specialists seek out authentic ways to get to know the places that could feature in your trip. These activities reflect some of the experiences they've most enjoyed while visiting Golden Circle, and which use the best local guides.
Discover some of Iceland’s most renowned geological sites on a full-day tour of the Golden Circle with a private guide. Take in the continental rift and original parliament site at Þingvellir, the hot-water blowholes at Haukadalur geothermal valley and thundering Gullfoss waterfall.
Swim through clear blue waters in a glacial lagoon in Þingvellir National Park, the only place in the world where you can snorkel between two tectonic plates. Take a look at the continents from underwater and learn about Iceland’s geological instability.