If you are coming to Iceland, you are probably going to visit the Golden Circle. It’s the most popular day tour in Iceland for a good reason. It crams in everything you would want to see here. Magnificent geyser, a giant waterfall, grand landscapes and what ever else you want. It is in essence three locations: Thingvellir national park, Geysir geothermal area and Gullfoss waterfall and you can either visit them via a tour or drive yourself.
If you are going to follow this guide on how to drive the Golden Circle route from Reykjavík, remember one thing. There are loads of other worthy places nearby them, so remember to check out our list of them on the bottom of this article. You also might want to check out our comprehensive guide to the Golden Circle.
How to drive the Golden Circle Route in 6 steps
If you have already rented your car, it’s pretty simple to find the right way out of Reykjavík city. Drive north. There’s only one way out of town in that direction, route 1 N. To get on that, locate Miklabraut, a.k.a. Route 49, drive due east and stay on the road through many roundabouts and through Mosfellsbær.
Duration of driving: 3 hours and 45 minutes
The First Turn from Reykjavík
Once you’re out of the city and past Mosfellsbær, look for a right-hand turn on route 36. There is literally a road sign that says “Þingvellir” on it. (The funny looking letter “Þ” is pronounced “th”). If you stay on route 1 and get to a tunnel, you went too far, and you have to turn around. It takes about an hour to drive to Þingvellir from Reykjavík.
Þingvellir National Park
Drive past lake Þingvallavatn and locate the visitor centre. There, you’ll be able to find your way into Almannagjá, a massive tectonic fissure where the Viking Parliament used to meet. Iceland’s parliament (Alþingi) was founded in 930 and, aside from a brief hiatus from 1800-1845, has been handling the affairs of Icelanders ever since. The fissure where they met is literally the meeting place of the tectonic plates of Europe and America so Þingvellir should be an interesting stop for everyone, no matter their interests.
Continue east on route 36, it’s pretty obvious which way you go, though the road numbers change a bit. Just look at the map and it will all make sense. Find your way to the town of Laugarvatn, where you have the option of adding in a detour to the Laugarvatn Fontana geothermal pool, famous for its natural steam rooms. From there, follow route 37 which turns into route 35 and leads to Geysir. Don’t worry, there will be road signs.
Geysir Geothermal Area
If you didn’t know, a “geyser” is a hot spring which shoots water up into the air at regular intervals. Geysir is the hot spring from which all geysers get their name. Geysir doesn’t erupt anymore, but the whole area is still named after him.
From Geysir, drive about 5 minutes further on route 35 and you will get to Gullfoss. Gullfoss is a beautiful waterfall, and you can walk along the path until you’re incredibly close to it. Here you’ll find a cafeteria and a visitor’s centre where you can learn about the history of the waterfall.
Back to Reykjavík
To get back to Reykjavík you can turn back around and either follow route 35, or route 30; both will lead you to route 1 South. The way back will take you through the charming town of Hveragerði, which is built on a geothermal area.
If you rather want to take a tour, here are most popular Golden Circle Tours we offer:
- Golden Circle & Secret Lagoon in a small group – Lunch included
- Pearl Tour – Super Jeep Tour & Snowmobiling
- Private Superjeep Golden Circle & Langjökull Glacier
- Golden Circle — Platinum Tour
- Golden Circle & Langjökull Glacier
Map of the Golden Circle Route
On this map, you can see all the stops on the popular route.
Additional stops on the Golden Circle
Since the Golden circle is a relatively short tour, you can either spend the rest of the day in the city or make few other stops along the way. Luckily, there’s no dearth of beautiful stops and fun activities along the way. Generally, if you book an all-day tour they will add some of the things on this list to the above three. You don’t have time to do all of these in one day but you can pick and choose the ones you like.
- Wool works – Stop in Mosfellsbær to visit Álafoss, a wool factory with a long history. It’s a great place to pick up wool wear.
- Nobel Laureate’s house – Before you get to Þingvellir National Park, you can stop by Gljúfrasteinn, home of Halldór Laxness, Iceland’s only Nobel Laureate. (Although, unfortunately, the museum is closed for maintenance until January 2017).
- Horseback riding – There are a couple of good places to go horseback riding along the way.
- Snorkeling or Diving between the continents – Silfra is a tectonic fissure in Thingvellir. It is filled with water which originates in a nearby glacier which is filtered through the volcanic rock around, to become some of the clearest water you can ever experience. The visibility is up to 100 metres on a good day.
- Snowmobiling on a Glacier – Near Geysir, you can ride a snowmobile on a glacier. In the summer you drive yourself on route F35 up to Skálpanes, where you meet a guide with a snowmobile. In the winter, you need a pick up from the Gullfoss café or you can take a day tour from Reykjavik.
- Rafting/river jet – You can either go rafting or ride in a speedboat in the area of Hvítá.
- The Secret Lagoon – On route 30 you will find this geothermal pool in Flúðir. This is one of the oldest pools in Iceland which was recently restored.
- Friðheimar Greenhouse – Friðheimar is a greenhouse which uses geothermal heat and hydroelectricity to grow tomatoes amongst other things.
- Volcano-Lake Kerið – Kerið, or “the tub”, is a collapsed volcanic crater with a lake in it. The soil here is red and purple, and the crater is filled with an unreal acrylic blue lake. This is by route 35, but look out because it’s just a small sign.
- Horse Theater – Fákasel is a Horse Theater (yes, a theater with horses) right outside Hveragerði. Their theater performances are in the evening, so you could end your tour here. They also have a great restaurant.
- Geothermal Energy Exhibition – Between Hveragerði and Reykjavík you can visit the Hellisheiði Geothermal Power Plant and Energy Exhibition, where you can learn about the process of energy creation from geothermal heat.