The Golden Circle Route in Iceland
Iceland might be a remote island close to the Arctic Circle, but it has become a destination known for being the most picturesque and has a wide-ranging landscape all packed onto an island. With only 103,000 km², the island’s terrain is made up of towering fjords, grand waterfalls, black sandy beaches, lava fields, and overgrown mossy plains, geysers, and glaciers. With so much ground to cover, a road trip is an essential part of visiting Iceland. This road trip embarks from Reykjavik, passing through the Golden Circle, offering nature highlights in National Parks, outstanding waterfalls, and endless rainbows. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the elusive Northern Lights.
- Route name: The Golden Circle Route in Iceland
- Distance: 232 KM
- Best time to go: September & October
- Suggested duration: 1 day
- Start and end point: Reykjavik
- Best by car
- Highlights: The heart and soul of Iceland, Reykjavik, Thingvellir National Parks, waterfalls and Crater lakes.
- The North Coast 500 Route in Scotland
- The Ring of Kerry in Ireland
- The Most Scenic Autumn Destination Routes
The Golden Circle Route in Iceland
REYKJAVIK – THINGVELLIR
Welcome to the world’s most northern capital, Reykjavik, also known as Smokey Bay for its geothermal vents that sprout rising steams. Home to the award-winning architectural marvel Harpa Concert Hall, the iconic Hallgrimskirkia, and the colorful Old Harbour Neighborhood. Before embarking on your epic road trip full of stunning nature and the untamed terrains, make sure to fuel up on breakfast before your trip. We suggest having breakfast by the harbor at Kaffivagninn, a coffeehouse and local restaurant that offers an array of pastries, sandwiches, soups, and hearty meals to get you up and running. Onto your first stop – Thingvellir.
THINGVELLIR – BRUARFOSS
The first stop along the Golden Circle is Thingvellir, one of Iceland’s national parks that has an old history dating back to the Vikings. In the 874 AD, Thingvellir was used as the location for the first parliament in Iceland and it is said to be the founding of the country. Witness the geological features of Law Rock, the cracks, and faults of the mid-Atlantic Ridge, Lake Thingvallavatn, the towering Oxara waterfall, and the Nikulasargja Gorge (a.k.a. the Money Gorge which is a wishing gorge if you toss in coins). This is also the perfect location to spot the Aurora Borealis since there is less light population that would interrupt the nightly sky. You can spend the rest of the day exploring the Thingvellir, but there is more to see on the Golden Circle.
BRUARFOSS – GEYSIR
Our next stop is a waterfall that is hidden from the main road of the Golden Circle and has gained much attention from travelers recently, Bruarfoss. Bruarfoss translate to Bridge-waterfall, and the nature feature was only visited by a handful of hikers in the past. The bright, turquoise waterfall flows into one continuous stream, and is accompanied by the mossy green surrounding. Walk the 40-minute path from the main road; you can park your car in the small parking lot beside the river.
Tip: Bruarfoss has become a popular destination in the last year as more and more visitors trek to the place. The locals have become frustrated by the increase in foot traffic that leaves the dirt road impassable at times. There are currently no facilities in the area, so please be mindful of the environment and do not park in the private parking lots.
GEYSIR – GULLFOSS
Along the Golden Circle, you’ll come across another popular attraction Geysir Geothermal Area. It gets its name from one of the biggest geysers in the area, which is now dormant. However, you can catch the skyrocketing eruption from another geyser called Strokker. Watch as the boiling water propels 10-30 meters into the air for an exciting and unexpecting spectacle. The oldest record of Geysir dates back to 1294 due to tectonic movements and earthquakes. The area around the geysers is great to walk around and has many amenities such as the Geysir Center, public washrooms, a restaurant, a hotel, and campsites.
GULLFOSS – KERID CRATER LAKE
You have not experienced nature’s true bliss until you’ve encountered Gullfoss. The water from the ravaging Hvita river flows through the first tier waterfall, then plunges off the second waterfall over a 21-meter cliff into the crevasse below, causing a surge of mist into the air. On a perfect day, the spray from the waterfall creates hundreds of rainbows for visitors to see. It is considered one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland, and that's no understatement since there are many waterfalls to choose from. Start your way from the parking lot and make your way down the stairway that will connect you to a concrete pathway, leading to the Gullfoss Waterfall. At night, Gullfoss is a popular place for photographers to catch the Northern Lights, but make sure you bring waterproof attire! Retrace your route back and head to Kerid Crater Lake.
KERID CRATER LAKE – REYKJAVIK
Kerid Crater is not your ordinary lake. The milky blue water from the bottom of the lake contrasts with the vibrant stripes of black, green and red found on the slopes, making this an incredible and unique spot on the Golden Circle. Scientists believe that the existence of the Crater is due to a collapse of a magma chamber, making it the northernmost crater in the Western Volcano Zone. Walk the circumference of the crater, which is a lined by a footpath, before heading back to Reykjavik.
Suggested reading on European Road Trips: