Iceland is known for its particular geography, where waterfalls, volcanoes, hot springs, geysers and a lot of beautiful landscapes stand out. You could spend weeks here and probably never get tired of it. But for those who only have 2 to 3 days to enjoy the golden circle in Iceland, in this article we bring you an itinerary for your tour including the best places to visit.
Have fun on the road
If you have enough time to do a road trip of Iceland by the golden circle, we recommend you to take a look at the following article:
Iceland road trip by car (itinerary, tips and costs included for 10 days).
All other articles about Iceland can be found here.
What to know about the Golden Circle in Iceland
The Golden Circle is approximately 38 minutes from its capital, Reykjavik, an interesting fact if you have a stopover in Iceland, as you could enjoy a quick tour of the Golden Circle. But if your stopover is very short, you can enjoy the sights in Reykjavik.
Map of Iceland: Ideal route for touring the Golden Circle
Below, we can provide you with a map to give you a better idea of where the Golden Circle is in Iceland and what are the must-see sights.
If you want to save the map you can share it on social networks or save it by clicking on the star at the top of the map.
Places of Interest in the Golden Circle
Þingvellir National Park (Thingvellir)
Thingvellir National Park is one of the most geographically interesting places in Iceland, as the Eurasian and North American continental plates meet here. As the two plates have separated, they have created a gorge (narrow, elongated opening) called the Silfra Gap. Each year the gorge widens by about 7 mm, so the surface of Iceland grows very slowly.
For the more adventurous, Silfra offers activities such as snorkeling or scuba diving, allowing visitors to experience an impressive underwater landscape while gentle currents of water carry you through the place. Learn more about the tours you can do in Silfra here.
On the other hand, the history of Þingvellir National Park is something to highlight, as one of the first democratic parliaments in Europe was founded here and Christianity was established as the official Icelandic religion.
Silfra Gap and Logberg lie to the north of Lake Þingvallavatn, and to the south is the iconic and picturesque Úlfljótsvatnskirkja Church. In case you want to go to this place keep in mind that there is only one road and parking places are scarce.
Tips for parking in Logberg-Silfra:
1- Parking costs 750 ISK and is paid by credit card in the store or at the machine.
Laugarvatn Fonotana SPA
Admission fee: 3,950 ISK (about 28.08 USD)
Opening hours: 12:00 – 21:00, may vary depending on the season.
If you drive further east of Þingvellir National Park, you will find Lake Laugarvatn. This lake is home to a large Icelandic spa, the Laugarvatn Fontana, which has numerous small thermal pools offering a spectacular view of the lake and a chance to relax.
Here you can do the “Viking challenge” which consists of running from the hot water into the cold lake.
Strokkur Geyser at Haukadalur
Remember the geysers in the second ice age movie? Iceland has many of these and at Haukadalur you can see them. The special thing about Haukadalur is that here is the only active geyser in Iceland, called Strokkur.
The Strokkur geyser is one of Iceland’s main tourist attractions and erupts every few minutes. So, don’t panic if you miss the eruption, the next one will come soon.
Not far from Strokkur is the “great geyser”, which gave its name to geysers all over the world. But in the meantime, this geyser has barely erupted. In this geothermal field are not only the two geysers, but also other springs that can be seen bubbling.
Gullfoss waterfall is one of the must-sees of the Golden Circle. This huge waterfall is one of the most beautiful in Iceland and is about 32m high and 230m wide. The place has a large parking lot for all those who travel by car and are not part of a tour.
Iceland’s Secret Lagoon (Fludir)
Entrance fee: 3.000 ISK (about 22 Dollars)
Opening hours: 13:00 – 19:00 (may vary according to season and day of the week)
In Fludir there are two hot springs that invite you to take a bath. One of them is the Secret Lagoon which is worth a visit for its scenic beauty and authentic location.
Hrunalaug Hot Spring in Fludir
Entrance fee: Voluntary fee
Hrunalaug is the other hot spring in Fludir and is considered to be one of the most beautiful in Iceland, truly romantic and currently still an expert tip. The spring offers several hot baths next to a small hut. In addition, there is only one small changing room. When you arrive at the parking lot, you don’t see the hot spring right away, but just follow the signs for a few minutes. The spring is on private land, the owner charges a small fee on a voluntary basis.
Skálholt was Iceland’s first episcopal seat and longtime cultural center. An attraction of the site is the central church Skálholtsdómkirkja. The church was built in 1956 after an archaeological dig found a stone sarcophagus of a bishop and a 13th-century tunnel.
Sólheimar is Iceland’s first “eco-village” and one of the oldest in the world. Sustainability is very important in the village, for example, food is supplied by greenhouses and a hot water source for energy. Originally built as a children’s home, the village is now designed for people with special needs. You can visit the village church and learn about how the village works.
Entrance fee: 400 ISK (about 2 Dollars)
In the north of Iceland, you will find many inactive volcanic craters to walk around and one of them is the volcanic crater called Kerid. This has a lake that you can walk down to for a closer look. Kerid crater lake is one of the few sights in Iceland that you have to pay to enter. Right next to the parking lot is the house where you pay the entrance fee.
Reykjadalur, the hot river
You have probably noticed that hot springs are one of Iceland’s strong points, and another very nice spring, which invites you to take a bath, is that of the Reykjadalur river. It is about 40 minutes by car from Reykjavík and is an ideal complement to the Golden Circle excursion. To get to the river, you have to do some hiking. The hiking route takes about 1 to 1.5 hours (3.5 km, about 250 meters ascent). At first you will pass through steaming springs, where you will have to climb steeply, then the trail will take you mainly over flat terrain, with slight ascents and descents. But upon arrival, you will be rewarded with a beautiful hot spring, where you are usually alone.
Excursions to the Golden Circle
If you are staying in Reykjavík, see our article on sights in Reykjavík. You can join one of the many Golden Circle tours, most of which include Geysir Strokkur, Gullfoss waterfall and Þingvellir National Park. However, if you have a rental car, we recommend exploring the Golden Circle on your own.
Tips for car tourists
If you travel on your own with a rental car, you can organize your stops more flexibly and sometimes stay longer in one place. In particular, the Reykjadalur River or other hot springs are not usually visited on tours, but with a rental car you can schedule them. Here are some additional tips if you plan to explore the Golden Circle on your own:
If you plan to visit all the sites in this post, you should allow 2 days for the Golden Circle. Especially to enjoy the hot springs, for example, at the Reykjadalur River you have to walk for 1 hour, so there is a lot of time on your hands here.
Start your tour in Reykjavik well in advance, so that you have enough time for the Golden Circle and do not have to rush somewhere.
We recommend that you leave enough time for the different activities and remember to allow 1-2 hours for hiking and spa visits. Don’t forget your bathing suit.
There are a few gas stations along the Golden Circle, but we recommend refueling in Selfoss (if coming from the east) or Reykjavik.
We have placed all the places and the typical Golden Circle itinerary on the map of Iceland above.
Golden Circle day trip from Reykjavík
If you don’t want to drive yourself or don’t have enough time to rent a car, you can also explore the Golden Circle very easily with an organized tour. There are organized tours, even in small groups, with excursions to the spa or a diving trip in the Silfra crevice, which cannot be done privately.
We recommend a tour that allows you to visit a large number of places and is best done in small groups.
- Small group day tour (Gullfoss waterfall, Geysir Strokkur, Kerið crater lake and Þingvellir national park, more informaton.
- Golden Circle excursion with diving in Silfra rift, more information.
- Excursion to the Golden Circle with the famous Blue Lagoon, more information.
Recommended route for a day trip around the Golden Circle:
- Thingvellir National Park/Þingvallavatn and Silfra Fissure (where the two continental plates meet)
- Gullfoss Waterfall
- Strokkur Geyser
- Skalholt (cathedral in the middle of nowhere)
- Kerid (volcanic crater)
- Reykjadalur (hot river)
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