More of a triangle to be fair!
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Yes, The Golden Circle route is very busy, but it’s popular for a reason. Once you read more, we think it’ll be instantly added to your bucket list.
The Golden Circle is an iconic tourist route which covers some of the most famous sights in Iceland. It’s really easy to access from Reykjavik, and can definitely be completed in a day, so don't worry if you don’t have a lot of time.
There’s lots of parking at all of the main sights if you’re completing the route yourself by car, but also a wide range of tour companies that offer guided excursions around the Golden Circle from Reykjavik. Some even add other sights and experiences to the tour that you might not have considered.
The three major stops along the Golden Circle route are not to be missed on any trip to Iceland. They are:
Gullfoss - Literally translating to “Golden Falls” (We honestly wouldn't survive without google translate!) - this waterfall is like something from another universe. Depending on weather conditions, it can be surrounded by rainbows, mist, or even partially frozen!
We found Gullfoss one of the coldest places of our whole trip to Iceland as the cliffs make for a pretty good wind-trap, so if you do visit, make sure to wrap up warm! But there is a really cosy cafe just by the upper viewing platform for the falls, where you can grab a coffee and cake to warm up for a few minutes. We tried the “Swiss Mocha”, which is just like a mocha in the UK but a little bit richer and with whipped cream on top. It’s an absolute must if you want to indulge in an Icelandic hot chocolate but still need that caffeine kick to get over the early mornings!
Geysir - Around 10 km West from Gullfoss, the Geysir geothermal area houses the Great Geysir and the Strokkur geyser. Although you might think you’re there to visit the Great Geysir, as the name would suggest, this hasn’t been very active in recent times (it hasn’t erupted since 2016!). The lively one is Strokkur, which erupts every few minutes, sending a rush of hot water and steam up to 30m into the air! And typically, this always happens at the exact moment you put your camera down for a second because your arm is aching - that’s just how nature works apparently.
Just be careful in the geothermal area and only walk around on marked paths. If you get too close when a geyser erupts, it can burn really severely. Water in geysers can reach up to temperatures of 240 degrees Celsius below the surface!
Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park - The largest attraction along the Golden Circle, Þingvellir National Park is situated in between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. You can actually go snorkelling between the two tectonic plates in Silfra Fissure, which is basically a crack in the Earth’s crust where the tectonic plates are pulling apart. Unfortunately this isn’t something we had the time to try out. The whole Þingvellir area is breathtaking, the landscapes are again like something from another world. We honestly found that Iceland just continues to impress in every place that you visit!
If you aren’t travelling with a tour, try to visit Þingvellir close to sunrise or sunset. The golden sky made the scenery even more incredible in our experience. We managed to catch the sunrise on our tour, as we visited in December when daylight hours are very short. Because of this, in Winter months you tend to find that the sky often has an orange or pink tint to it when you’re admiring the cliffs or lakes that are spread across Þingvellir National Park.
In terms of getting around The Golden Circle, we assumed that travelling by car would be the best option due to flexibility to visit other sights along the way, take the time you want at each area and travel alone from place to place. However, we took a minibus tour with Reykjavik Excursions which also included a stop at Fontana Wellness Baths, and we actually loved the experience of having a guide and meeting other travellers on our way. The time constraints are always difficult to stick to when you’re in such beautiful places - but sometimes it’s helpful to have a timetable to stick to. We were already struggling to fit all of the top experiences into our time in Iceland, so we were actually thankful not to have the option to spend the entire day at one waterfall, or we would’ve missed some other amazing sights.
A lot of the Golden Circle tours also add one other attraction as a part of the excursion. This might be controversial, but we actually skipped the famous Blue Lagoon to visit Fontana Wellness Baths on our tour instead. We didn’t have the time to do both, and the Fontana Wellness Baths experience was significantly cheaper and seemed to include a lot more. Thankfully, it was amazing and we honestly couldn’t recommend these baths enough.
The spa is like something out of a dream. There are saunas, steam rooms and several outdoor pools, parallel to the geothermal spring that heats the water, and facing a stunning view of the mountains. This was the last stop on our guided tour so the sun was setting over the mountains - it was one of those moments when you have to consciously pause and take in your surroundings. Not only is it relaxing, Icelandic people truly believe that the water has huge health benefits because of the minerals it contains.
Included in the Fontana Wellness Baths ticket was a bread baking experience. We buried our dough underground, where it stays and fully cooks in 24 hours! We found this so fascinating, and got to dig up and try the previous day’s rye bread with smoked trout and Icelandic butter. All of the food is local, not to just Iceland, but the small village of Laugarvatn where the baths are situated.
Despite the tours and experiences being pretty pricey in Iceland, everything in this country is definitely more expensive than the UK, even with the cost of living crisis. And for the experiences we got, we think it was more than worth it paying for a guided tour. It’s something to consider when you’re trying to decide whether to hire a car to explore.
So, is the golden circle in Iceland worth it? In summary - we would say 100% YES! Definitely get yourself to the Golden Circle, whatever time of year you are visiting Iceland, it’s worth all of the attention it gets. But don’t stop there, make sure you explore the South coast and as much of Iceland as you can in the time you have, it really is an incredible country. Look at a range of different tours and don’t just go for the first one you see, as there are some really great deals that take you to hidden gems, which might be better for your budget than the huge attractions.
Hopefully this helps you to have as much fun exploring Iceland as I did! - Jess
- Search for somewhere to stay in Iceland on Expedia here
- Look for things to do in Iceland on GetYourGuide here
- This is the tour that we took to experience The Golden Circle, we loved it! - Golden Circle and Fontana Wellness tour with Reykjavik Excursions
- Read our Iceland Inspiration post
- Read our Reykjavik Inspiration post