The Golden Circle route is one of the most popular things to do in Iceland.
Iceland – The land of ice and fire has taken the prime spotlight as the “must-visit” travel destination.
It has always been an easy sell travel destination to anyone who loves to see the ruggedness beauty of nature.
The Golden Circle route is easy to do whether you will be joining a group bus tour or do a self-drive using a rental car.
You can read some driving tips in Iceland if you’ve decided to take this route so you can fully enjoy your best golden circle tour!
Going around the whole Golden Circle route can probably take you the whole day depending on how much time you want to spend in each Golden Circle stop.
However, typically you can go around the Golden Circle route from Reykjavik in around 4 hours without stopping.
The Highlights of the Best Golden Circle Stops in Iceland Contents
During our visit to Iceland, this was the first road trip we did outside of Reykjavik. We did go for the self-drive option and just followed the map and the GPS recommended roads to take around the golden circle route.
You have to familiarize yourself with different road types in Iceland, as you can get a hefty fine for driving in the mountain roads without a proper vehicle.
Car Parking in the Golden Circle route
If you are joining a group tour, make sure to come back to your bus on time.
As for the car parking fee,
For Thingvellir National Park, you can check their Pay and Display car parking fees here.
Geysir Geothermal Park, free parking.
Gullfoss, free parking.
Driving the Golden Circle route in Winter
Driving around the Golden Circle during the winter time is perfectly fine.
However, you still have to consider all the winter hazards that you might encounter while driving on icy roads or snow.
The car headlights must be on at all times and obey all the Icelandic driving regulations.
After all your travel research and Icelandic road safety notes, here are the highlights of different stops that are worth visiting in the Golden Circle route in Iceland for a perfect day trip near Reykjavik.
Here are the main Golden Circle Stops for self-drive Iceland tours itinerary
Thingvellir (Þingvellir) National Park
Entrance fee: Free
First stop from Reykjavik is the Thingvellir National Park. It is considered as the most historical and significant place in Iceland and for the Icelandic people.
Let me share with you a little historical background about Thingvellir.
Thingvellir is where they built their first general assembly or known as the Alþingi (Althing) in around 870 AD, one of the oldest parliaments in the world.
Althing was Iceland’s legislature and highest law.
The general assembly of the village chieftains took place annually in Thingvellir which was the most convenient place due to its location.
Lögberg, (The Law Rock) was the main highlight of the general assembly and its facilitated by the law speaker.
The Law Rock lost its importance when the Icelander’s swore an allegiance to the King of Norway in around 1262.
Around the 17th Century, the Icelanders swore their allegiance to the King of Denmark.
Thingvellir became the meeting grounds to regain Independence from the Danish Monarchy.
Iceland regained their independence from Denmark in 1944.
In 2004, UNESCO included Thingvellir National Park in their World Heritage list.
Another reason why Thingvellir National Park is so special is because of its natural topography.
Thingvellir is situated within the northern part of the Mid Atlantic Ridge, the crack between the American and Eurasian tectonic plates that are slowly moving apart each year.
The Silfra fissure is one of the main activities and natural highlights in Thingvellir, where divers and snorkelers can enjoy the pure water from the Langjökull glacier.
The glacial water typically takes about 30 years to reach Silfra fissure.
The waters here are naturally filtered by the underground porous volcanic rocks that gives Silfra the crystal clear water!
On our visit to Iceland, we braved the cold water and swam the Silfra fissure. It was the most exciting and terrifying adventure that I probably did in my life!
I’m not a very good swimmer, so swimming in Silfra is very challenging for me. However, thank goodness for the dry suit! It helped me to float, kept me dry and warm during our 30-minute swim across the Silfra fissure!
Silfra’s underwater terrain was truly magnificent and until now I can’t find the right adjective to describe how ruggedly beautiful it is down in the fissure.
Hence why it’s every divers’ personal dream to swim across the freezing waters of Silfra for very good reasons.
Based on the new safety guidelines for diving and snorkelling in Silfra, (also applicable in Davíðsgjá, another favourite diving spot in the National Park) each diver should be able to provide a proof of Dry Suit Diving certificate and prove 10 dry suit experiences prior to Diving and Snorkelling.
Wet Suit diving is now prohibited.
The new diving restrictions are implemented to prevent any accidents and protect the national park.
A 1000 ISK must be paid as a diving fee prior to your arrival. You can pay your diving fee here.
Running across the Thingvellir National Park is the Öxará river which is the main source of fresh water in the park.
Öxará river flows to Lake Þingvallavatn, the largest lake in Iceland around 1,300 sq. kilometres and 114 metres deep.
The Geysir Geothermal Park
Entrance fee: Free
This is the second main stop in the Golden Circle Route.
This is a rare natural landscape that is a product of volcanic and earthquake activity underneath the earth’s crust over a long period of time.
The Great Geysir can explode up to 60 – 100 meters of hot water from the ground. The great geysir is the second most powerful geysir in the world. However, in the last few years, the eruption of the Great Geysir is becoming more temperamental.
The Strokkur (The Churn) is another geysir that is now the main attraction of the geothermal park.
The geysers water are constantly boiling and explode between every 8 – 10 minutes.
There are different forms of fumaroles (An opening in Earth’s crust that typically emits steam and gases) in Iceland, one type is the one you can see in the Geysir Geothermal Park.
Some fumaroles which emit sulfuric steam and boiling water and another type is the mud pot.
You will see loads of these in the Geysir Geothermal Park.
Entrance fee: Free
This majestic and beautiful waterfall is the third stop in the Golden Circle Route.
Gullfoss means the “the Golden Waterfall”, (“foss” means waterfalls in the Icelandic language) which is located along the Hvítá river that runs from the Langjökull glacier thru the South of Iceland.
The waterfall has been a popular feature for filming some music videos and movies.
The history of the waterfall triggered the campaign to protect the environmental resources in Iceland thru the efforts of Sigriður Tómasdóttir, the daughter of the owner of the land where Gulfoss is located.
After visiting the 3 major stops of the Golden Circle we headed back towards Reykjavik via Route 35 to complete the full circle of the Golden Circle route.
Always remember to use the designated area if you want to pull over to take some photos.
I hope you find this guide useful so you can fully enjoy your visit to the Golden Circle route.
If you would require a visa to visit Iceland you may want to read my Schengen visa guide.