Long before you book your flight to Iceland, you probably already know there is one thing you can’t miss. Iceland’s most iconic sight and most popular route outside of the ring road itself, the Golden Circle.

While nothing can beat the Northern Light tours during the night, the Golden Circle is the most popular day tour in Iceland, and for a good reason. It combines three beautiful stops that offer a variety of unique landscapes, Thingvellir national park, Geysir geothermal area and Gullfoss waterfall.

If you are going to drive the Golden Circle yourself, check out our guide.

Map of the Golden Circle

On this map, you can see all the stops on the popular route.

Þingvellir (Thingvellir)

About 40 kilometres east of Reykjavík, you find Þingvellir National Park, a site of historical, cultural and geological significance. The park is part of the UNESCO World Heritage list since 2004.

The first stop of the Golden Circle: Þingvellir
Þingvellir National Park

About 40 kilometres east of Reykjavík, you find Þingvellir National Park, a site of historical, cultural and geological significance. The park is part of the UNESCO World Heritage list since 2004.

The site is of geological interest. At Þingvellir, you can walk between a fissure caused by two tectonic plates that are slowly moving away from each other – the Eurasian and North-American plate. It’s also possible to dive or snorkel in between the plates. A walk through the rift valley is something else. Next to this, you will find waterfalls, a beautiful lake and lava fields in the area.

History of Þingvellir

It has historical and cultural significance because this is where the parliament (Alþingi) first gathered around 930 AD. Þingvellir translates to Parliament Plains. The assembly was an open-air gathering, during which disputes were settled, and laws were made. During meetings, the area was visited by chieftains and citizens. It was a place of trade, commerce and people looking for work.

It was the main social event of the year, and people from all over the country made their way to Þingvellir. Sometimes travelling for two weeks, all the way from the most isolated parts of the country! Þingvellir was the site of these assemblies until 1798. After that, it was moved to Reykjavík, where the Alþingi has been ever since. It was also the site where Iceland declared independence from Denmark on the 17th of June, 1944.

The second stop of the Golden Circle: Geysir
Strokkur geyser

Geysir

The second stop is the great Geysir hot spring area. This area is mostly known because it has one active geyser, Strokkur.

Strokkur erupts every 6 to 10 minutes and spurts hot water 50-65 ft into the air (15-20 metres). Geysers erupt because water in side chambers underground starts to boil, and the jet of water is a way to release pressure. It’s an impressive sight!

We can only imagine what it would be like to see Strokkur’s big brother, and the namesake of the area, Geysir, erupt. It used to spout water 80 metres up into the air, but unfortunately, this geyser has not erupted since 1916. Strokkur and various other hot springs and smaller geysers in the area still make this a great place to visit.

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The third stop of the Golden Circle: Gullfoss
Gullfoss Waterfall

Gullfoss (foss is waterfall in Icelandic)

Gullfoss is the last stop. This is a spectacular two-staged waterfall, that is in total 32 metres tall. It splashes through a gorge with walls of up to 70 metres high. It’s located in the Hvítá river, that originates from the meltwater of Langjökull glacier. You can view Gullfoss from several viewing platforms, and it’s possible to walk very close up to it in the summertime .

Short history of Gullfoss as a hydroelectric plant

We are lucky that we can enjoy the majestic waterfall up to this day. Gullfoss was almost turned into a hydroelectric plant at the beginning of the 20th century. At that time, Gullfoss was privately owned by a farmer named Tómas Tómasson. He was contacted by an Englishman known as Howells, who wanted to buy the waterfall from him to use it to generate electricity. Tómas initially declined, but later leased Gullfoss to him. Tómas’ daughter, Sigriður, wanted to stop this rental agreement to protect nature. With her savings, she hired a lawyer and walked several times all the way to Reykjavík to get updated on her case.

Sigríður even threatened to jump into the waterfall if Gullfoss would be turned into a hydroelectric plant. She didn’t win the case, but the contract was terminated because Howell did not pay his rent. In 1940, an adopted son of Sigriður inherited the waterfall, who later sold the land to the Icelandic government. In 1979, the area was turned into a nature preserve. These days, Sigriður is honoured as Iceland’s first environmentalist for her efforts to save the waterfall.

Alternatives to the Golden Circle: The Blue Lagoon
Blue Lagoon Spa

Alternative tours to the Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is the most popular day tour in Iceland, and therefore it is a very frequently travelled route. If you would like to avoid crowds, you might want to try a different tour. Next to a visit to the Blue Lagoon, the Reykjanes peninsula is often overlooked. The peninsula attracts fewer crowds but has a lot to offer. You can quickly fill a day with visits to Kleifarvatn lake, geothermal areas Krýsuvík and Gunnuhver, the bridge between two tectonic plates and a visit to Reykjanesviti lighthouse.

Places to eat at the Golden Circle

Friðheimar Greenhouse

The theme of Friðheimar cuisine is tomatoes. Lunch is served among the plants and it gives you a rare food experience.
Location: Friðheimar, Reykholt

Flúða Sveppir, Farmers Bistro

The only mushroom farm in Iceland. Presenting the fascinating world of mushroom and bell-peppers.
Location: Garðastígur, Flúðir

Efstidalur

Get a glance of the farm life in Iceland. They offer a variety of products straight from the farm, such as the famous ice cream, skyr and feta cheese.
Location: Efsti-dalur II, Bláskógabyggð

Ölverk, Pizza and Brewery

Wood fired pizza and fine craft beer.
Location: Breiðamörk 2, Hveragerði

Quick Q&A

What is the Golden Circle and what are the Golden’s Circle’s main attractions?

It’s three amazing locations that are all near each other: Þingvellir National Park, Geysir the geyser and Geysir geothermal area and Gullfoss, the majestic waterfall.

Should I go to the Golden Circle?

Of course. If you are staying in Reykjavík, it’s just a short distance away.

Should I go on a tour or drive myself?

Depends on you. You can rent a car easily and drive the Golden Circle route, but for a worry free experience, we recommend going on a guided tour. Many of the tours combine other things like snowmobiling.

What kind of tours can I go on?

There are bus tours, helicopter tours, super-jeep tours, combo tours… We could go on.

How long does the tour take?

Depends really. The average time is about 6 hours, but tours are from 2 to 12 hours.

Need more convincing?

Check out our Golden Circle video!

Book your tour here.

What's On locations in downtown Reykjavík

  • Laugavegur 5 (Main Office)
  • Laugavegur 54 (Trip)

Opening Hours (Main Office):

  • April-May: 8:30 - 20:00
  • June-March: 8:30 - 22:00

Contact What's On

The official source for safe adventure in Iceland is safetravel. It’s located in our Laugavegur 54 location.