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The Golden Circle in Iceland: Everything You Need to Know

Stretching more than 300 kilometres or 190 miles, the Golden Circle in Southern Iceland is the most popular tourist routes. The name Golden Circle, or “gullni hringurinn” in Icelandic, refers to the circular route that loops all the way from Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavik, to the country’s southern uplands and back.

The gold part of the name originates from one of the most notable stops along the route, the Gullfoss waterfall, which means Golden waterfall. In addition to Gullfoss, there are two main attractions along the route; the Thingvellir National Park and the geothermal area in Haukadalur, which is comprised of the two geysers Geysir and Strokkur. Other notable stops along the route include the Kerid volcanic crater, the town of Hveragerdi, and the Skalholt cathedral.

While all areas in Iceland are famous for being beautiful, The Golden Circle region covers a large part of the tours in Iceland, travel-related activities, and some of the most scenic highlights in the whole country. Below we enlist eight important landmarks and attractions in the Golden Circle (not in any particular order). 

1. Thingvellir National Park

In addition to being one of the main attractions along the Golden Circle route, the Thingvellir National Park is a site of utmost historical, natural, and cultural importance in Iceland. While the national park was founded in 1930, the area itself dates back all the way to when the first settlers in Iceland arrived and when the Icelandic Parliament was established in 930. At this park, entrance to which is free, travellers can see stunning natural phenomena like the Geysir hot spring and the Gullfoss Waterfall.

The Geysir geothermal field is comprised of two hot springs in Iceland. The most famous hot spring, Geysir, no longer spouts, while the other geyser, Strokkur, is extremely active, spouting every 5-10 minutes. Private landowners charge an entrance fee to Geysir of USD 5.20* in order to support the development and protection of the area. Gullfoss is without a doubt the best known waterfall in the country and there is no entrance fee to see the extremely powerful and visually remarkable cascade of the fall down two huge steps into a deep gorge.

Entrance: Free 

2. The Kerid Volcanic Crater

The Golden Circle in Iceland includes a visit to the Kerid crater
Many take on the Golden Circle Tour in Iceland to witness the gorgeous blue lake at the bottom of the Kerid Crater

Located in southern Iceland, the Kerid Volcanic Crater is one of several crater lakes that belong to Iceland’s Western Volcanic Zone. Kerid is one of the most recognizable volcanic craters in the area because at about 3,000 years old, it is half the age of its surrounding craters. The majority of the crater is steep and covered with minimal vegetation, but one wall has a gentle slope and is covered with deep moss, making it easy to hike. The lake of the crater is relatively shallow, but thanks to minerals in the soil, the water is a beautiful opaque, aquamarine colour. Landowners charge an entrance fee of about USD 4* to see the crater.

3. Hveragerdi Town

Part of the attraction of The Golden Circle is the greenhouses in Hvergerdi
A greenhouse in Hvergerdi is part of the attraction of the Golden Circle Tour in Iceland

Hveragerdi is a town and municipality in southern Iceland. The Varma river runs through the town, famous for its greenhouses, which are heated by hot water from volcanic hot springs in Iceland. The town contains a fenced-off geothermal area where multiple hot springs and fumaroles can be found. In addition to this area, Hveragerdi is home to several greenhouses and the town serves as a breeding ground for Icelandic horticulture. A ticket from the capital to Hveragerdi costs USD 9* but entry to the town itself is free.

4. The Skalholt Cathedral

A Golden Circle Tour in Iceland allows you a visit to Skalholt Cathedral
A panoramic view of the Skalholt Cathedral from afar

The Skalholt cathedral is a historical site also located in the south of Iceland. Skalholt remained a place of importance in Iceland for eight centuries. From 1056 to 1785, it served as a major cultural and political center. In 1056, Iceland’s first official school was founded at Skalholt to educate clergy. The cathedral currently serves as the Church of Iceland’s education and information center. Skalholt receives many visitors annually and hosts numerous cultural events such as a series of Summer Concerts in July in which prominent musicians and choirs perform. Skalholt is open to all and charges no entrance fee.

5. Reykjadalur

The Golden Circle tour in Iceland allows scenic views after long treks
A hiker on the Golden Circle in Iceland rests and enjoys the beautiful view of snowy landscapes on glacial hot spring
The Golden Circle Iceland Tour  involves scenic treks in Reykjadalur
A trekker along the Reykjadalur trails during the Golden Circle Tour in Iceland

The Reykjadalur area is a hiking trail just a 40 minute drive away from the capital city, Reykjavik; making it a perfect day hike in Iceland for people who are short on time. Reykjadalur’s direct translation is 'steam valley', due to a constant flow of steam along the trail. Travelers can hike to the hot springs or discover a secret lagoon within the trail, all without having to pay an entrance fee.

6. Solheimajokull

The Golden Circle Route can also involve a trek in Solheimajokull.
A trekker captures the scenic journey of glaciers and icebergs in Solheimajokull
The Golden Circle Tour in Iceland brings trekking in Solheimajokull
The sun sets against the landscape of Solheimajokull

Another popular spot for hiking along the Golden Circle route is Solheimajokull Glacier. Solheimajokull is a small glacier tongue extending from the huge Myrdalsjokull glacier down to the sandy plains of Iceland’s South Coast. Along this free, safe, and relatively easy to tread glacier, travelers can view stunning ice sculptures and naturally shaped rock formations.

7. Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss Waterfalls

Golden Circle Tour in incomplete without a visit to the Skogafoss waterfall
A panoramic view of the Skogafoss waterfall
A tour of Golden Circle is incomplete without visiting Seljalandsfoss
A close up shot of the feisty Seljalandsfoss waterfall in Iceland

Not far from the Solheimajokull glacier is the scenic southern coast and the Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls. The Skogafoss waterfall borders the coastal lowlands and the highlands of Iceland, along with some surrounding mountains. At 65 metres drop, Seljalandsfoss is one of the popular waterfalls in Iceland. Interestingly, visitors can walk behind it into a small cave. Entrance to both waterfalls is free.

8. The Blafjoll Mountains

A trip of the Golden Circle Route is incomplete without Blafjoll Mountains
A sweeping view of the Blafjoll Mountains in Iceland

The Blafjoll Mountains, or Blue Mountains, is a beautiful mountain range located not far from Reykjavik near the lava plateau of Hellisheidi. The mountain range is the most popular skiing venue for the people in Reykjavik and the surrounding areas. Blafjoll offers slopes that are great for downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, and snowboarding with daily ski pass tickets starting at USD 34* for adults. At the outskirts of the Blue Mountains is an area with frequent volcanic activity, Kristnitokuhraun, a field created by lava flow dating back all the way to the year 1000.

This Golden Circle tour allows travellers to experience both the impressive nature and history of Iceland. From hiking, skiing, and watching geysers spout to visiting a cathedral rich with cultural and historical importance and a town dedicated to horticulture, there are a wealth of activities for travelers to participate in, most of which have no entrance fees.

*Prices listed here are as of April 2018 

4 Comments We welcome your questions or comments to this article. Our travel experts will respond within 48 hours.
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  1. Tracy Jun 3, 2018 Reply

    Realistically, how long would it take to drive the Golden Circle stopping at several or most of these sights you've listed above?

    1. Jane Andersen Jun 5, 2018

      Hi Tracy, Thanks for the comment! The length of time taken to travel the Golden Circle will depend on the how long you would stop at each attraction. If you want to visit the highlights of the Golden Circle — Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall and Geysir Geothermal Area — then you should allocate at least 3- 4 hours. If you would like to spend more time exploring the Golden Circle then a good 10 hours or an entire day is required. If you have more time to spend then other fun activities like snorkeling at Silfra can be added on to your tour (of course, this is weather dependent). Iceland is gorgeous, you will find Instagram-mable frame at every turn of the road and self-driving is a great way to discover its mysterious beauty! Rent a 4X4 if you are visiting during winter months, otherwise a rental car will be good for summer months. Iceland has entered its high season and the Golden Circle is one of the busiest route filled with curious tourists. If you are visiting during summer months, take advantage of the long daytime hours to visit the Golden Circle attractions. How many will be able to claim that they have witnessed the midnight sun in their lifetime? Isn't that amazing?! Hope this helps Tracy. Have plenty of fun exploring Iceland! :)

  2. K
    Kristina Alcorn Jun 24, 2018 Reply

    Does it makes sense to stay in Reykjavik and drive the tour or should we stay somewhere half way? We plan to stop frequently for hikes, etc.

    1. Erlingsson Nature Travel Jun 27, 2018

      Hi Kristina,
      we usually recommend to start from Reykjavik, do the Golden Circle and stay somewhere in the area overnight. There are many nice accommodations in the area of Laugavatn, Flúðir or Selfoss. I am happy to assist you further on planning your trip. Have a nice day. Greetings, Emma

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