The Golden Circle, Iceland

One of Iceland’s most popular tourist attractions is the “The Golden Circle”-a must see route for travelers visiting the country. About a 300 km journey beginning and ending in the capital city of Reykjavik, a visit to the sites of the The Golden Circle can be done as a day trip from the capital. Start your journey in Thingvellir National Park, which is not only the site of Iceland’s first parliament, but also where travelers can observe the magnificent splitting of the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. The splitting of the tectonic plates has created deep fissures in the earth.

iceland thingvellir national park golden circle

One specific fissure, called Silfra, is a crack between the North American and Eurasian continental plates, and is a popular site for snorkeling and scuba diving. Spend a few hours exploring Thingvellir National Park and then continue your journey 60 km towards the geysers at Haukadalur. There are two famous geysers- Strokkur, which is still active, and Geysir (from which the word geyser originates), which is inactive. Strokkur erupts about once every ten minutes, so you won’t have to wait long to observe this natural phenomenon.

Geysir Iceland Golden Circle Tour

Strokkur, just before erupting
Strokkur, just before erupting
Strokkur erupts once every 8 to 10 minutes
Strokkur erupts once every 8 to 10 minutes

Finally, drive to the last stop in the Golden Circle route-powerful and magnificent Gullfoss. Gullfoss is a breathtaking waterfall created by the Hvítá (White) river, which is fed by Iceland´s second biggest glacier (Langjökull).

gullfoss iceland golden circle

Spend another hour here before making your way back to Reykjavik. The whole Golden Circle route including driving time will take about 7 to 8 hours. If you have time and energy, add on a visit to the Kerid Crater. Although, not officially part of the Golden Circle route, the crater lake here has a deep shade of blue that is worth a visit.

Traveling to Iceland

Direct flights to Iceland are available from NYC, Boston, Minneapolis, London, Washington D.C., Oslo, Copenhagen, Frankfurt, Stockholm, and Baltimore. Once in Iceland, you can make the capital city your base and book a Golden Circle tour with a local company, or rent a car. Given the fact that the country is sparsely populated, driving in Iceland is easy (in good weather, of course). However, gas prices and car rental prices tend to be higher. Depending on whether you are traveling alone or with a group, booking a tour may be cheaper than renting a car.

Iceland Travel Tips

Bring plenty of layers and a waterproof or water resistant jacket. Also, remember to pack some rain boots and bring them along even when it’s sunny as the approach to the waterfalls is often muddy. During the summer months Iceland has nearly 24 hours of daylight. Bringing along some over the counter melatonin may help you fall asleep at night. During the winter months your site seeing in Iceland will be affected by limited hours of daylight, so plan accordingly. However, a visit in the winter months means a higher chance of seeing the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights.

Aurora Borealis Iceland Northern Lights Iceland

Best Time to Visit Iceland

The tourist season in Iceland runs from late June to August. Hotel and flight prices are at their highest during this time. Visitors will be able to experience nearly 24 hours of daylight, and this is the best time to visit if you plan to drive the Ring Road around the country. By mid September, the temperature and hours of daylight drop significantly. The advantage to visiting in September is that it is cheaper, there is still enough daylight to see many sites, and visitors have a chance to witness the Aurora Borealis. It is, however, significantly colder, and driving the ring road may not be possible if there road closures due to weather conditions. However, the sites on the southern coast can still be accessed easily in the early Fall.

Iceland’s Best Tourist Sites

Aside from the Golden Circle, take time to visit Iceland’s southern coast. The southern coast has several breathtaking waterfalls including Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss. Travel a bit further to Jokulsarlon, Iceland’s glacial lagoon. Be sure to also visit the black sand beaches in the seaside village of Vik. If you have a week in the summer, rent a car and drive the Ring Road along the perimeter of the country to visit all of Iceland’s magnificent scenery.  Either on your way to or from the airport, spend a few hours relaxing at the Blue Lagoon, a geothermal spa with water that is rich in minerals and temperatures close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit.