What is the Golden Circle?
In a nutshell, the Golden Circle is the most popular tourist route in Iceland. If you’re flexible with your definition of shapes, then this drive is indeed a circle, starting and ending in Reykjavik.
The Golden Circle route forms a loop through southwestern Iceland via a few different highways, including Route 35 and Route 1, the renowned “Ring Road”. It’s a must for all first-time visitors as it encompasses a few of Iceland’s most famous sights:
Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park, where Iceland’s parliament was founded in 930 AD and where two tectonic plates are slowly drifting apart.
The spouting hot springs of the Geysir geothermal area, where you can finally witness first-hand the erupting Strokkur geyser from all those amazing Instagram pics.
The mighty waterfall Gullfoss. As its name means “Golden Falls” in Icelandic, this may very well explain the golden part of route’s name.
There’s a lot more on the route to see than those 3 places though, which truly makes this route worth its weight in gold.
Good to know: Not only does Nordic Visitor rent a car and book your accommodations for you, we also give you a handy booklet on arrival with your own personal itinerary and details of Iceland’s best attractions to visit on your road trip.
How long is the Golden Circle tour?
The classic Golden Route is around 230 km (140 miles) in total. Can you do the Golden Circle in a day? Absolutely – if you got in a car and drove the whole journey without stopping, it would take you a little over 3 hours. But you’ll want to stop for photos and have an occasional snack and loo break, right?
So to answer the question, “How long does it take to drive the Golden Circle?” we would say to give yourself at least 8 hours. Setting aside a full day for this allows you to factor in some unplanned stops, for example, at little dairy farms that sell homemade ice cream.
Good to know: Nordic Visitor actually marks these little ice cream stops – and other notable diversions – on your road map. We even highlight your driving route and overnight locations!
What is the best way to see the Golden Circle?
There are numerous guided day tours from Reykjavík around this route all year round, though we find that driving yourself around the Golden Circle is the best option for flexible sightseeing – read more in our how-to guide. Plus, it’s an easy route to drive as the popular attractions are easily located just off the main roads.
This is especially true for anyone serious about photography, families with kids – who may need more bathroom breaks – and travellers who free time for hiking.
What is the best way to drive the Golden Circle?
Starting from Reykjavik, you could drive clockwise or counter clockwise, depending on how you want to time your attractions and activities. There really is no right or wrong direction, though most tours tend to go clockwise as you’ll reach the major sites sooner – by car, it’s about 55 minutes from Reykjavik to Þingvellir National Park.
For example, driving clockwise from Reykjavik you first head northeast, stopping at Þingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss in that order. Then you head down to the south coast at a leisurely pace on your way back to the capital city, with optional stops at places like the Friðheimar greenhouse, the Kerið crater and small towns on the way.
An advantage of doing the Golden Circle clockwise is if you’re taking your road trip further east along Iceland’s south coast – an extension we wholly recommend. There’s a lot more to South Iceland beyond the Golden Circle!
Good to know: The best way to drive the Golden Circle is to do it safely. Nordic Visitor provides customers with handy information about driving in Iceland, so you'll be well prepared for the traffic rules and road signs.
When is the best time for a Golden Circle tour?
Summer in Iceland, namely June through August, is the busiest time of the year on the Golden Circle. While sparsely populated Iceland can never really be considered “crowded”, these are the months with the most organised bus tours to the attractions.
If you’d like fewer people in your photos, consider departing Reykjavik earlier in the morning. Or take advantage of the “midnight sun” and extend your drive later into the evening to capture the Golden Circle during golden hour.
Can you drive the Golden Circle in winter?
Yes! Just as ice cream is Icelanders’ favourite treat year-round – even in the colder months – you can do a driving tour of the Golden Circle any time of year. It’s just as beautiful with snow on the ground.
The advantage of booking a Golden Circle self-drive tour between October and April is that you’ll encounter fewer crowds at the attractions and potentially even catch a brilliant northern lights show in the evening! Of course, you will need to account for limited daylight hours between November and January.
Good to know: The weather in Iceland can be unpredictable, but Nordic Visitor’s travel consultants are skilled at quickly modifying itineraries in the event of poor winter road conditions. You’ll also have access to our 24/7 emergency phone support for extra peace of mind on the road.
See what services we offer, and what our other travellers say about us, below. Then keep reading for details about the major and minor attractions of the Golden Circle.