If you’re travelling to Iceland, driving the Golden Circle is a must on most people’s bucket lists. It’s a great day drive from Reykjavik, meaning it’s perfect if you’re only in Iceland for a few days. And the Golden Circle is full of some of the best that Iceland has to offer: waterfalls, snow-capped mountains, geysers and more!
Back in 2014 when I first visited Iceland, I did a day tour of the Golden Circle with a tour bus company. It was awesome and I was totally blown away by the sites. But I have to say, driving it ourselves (and in October instead of January) was much better! If you have the option, I highly recommend renting a car for your Golden Circle tour. That way, you’re able to see things at your own pace, work around the crowds (there’s nothing worse than all of the tour buses pulling in at the same time), and add on a few fun additions like geothermal pools and craters.
We rented our car from SADcars and I highly recommend them. They were affordable, service was great, and we were able to pick up and drop off our car at the airport.
We set out for the Golden Circle from our hotel by Keflavik Airport. We chose to stay out by Keflavik because it was significantly cheaper than staying in Reykjavik. And since we had our own set of wheels, it was easy to go into Reykjavik or do any other touring on our own. If you’re looking for affordable no-frills accommodation, I would also recommend The Base Hotel by Keflavik Airport.
Thingvellir National Park
The first stop on the Golden Circle route is Thingvellir National Park. When I first visited in January 2014, it was cold and snowy as we pulled up to Thingvellir. I didn’t make it too far down the path before turning around and heading back to the bus.
This time, the weather was much more agreeable. Thingvellir is huge and there’s so much to see. We only walked a very tiny part of it and were so impressed by the beautiful landscapes. Colin and I were saying that it would be awesome to pack a picnic lunch and spend the whole day exploring this area.
Pro tip: You do have to pay to park here, because it’s a national park. I believe we paid $7. Steep – but luckily we didn’t have to pay for parking anywhere else on the Golden Circle! Also, there’s a pretty good selection of sandwiches and snacks inside the Thingvellir gift shop, should you be needing a lunch on the go.
Next up on the Golden Circle drive is the geysers of Geysir! So the OG geyser, confusingly named Geysir, is now dormant, but the area is still named after him. Luckily, he has some smaller brother and sister geysers that are still worth a visit.
As you walk along the path, you’ll first pass Little Geysir, which is as cute as it sounds. And then you come to the main attraction: Strokkur. Strokkur is an active geyser that still goes off every few minutes. Back in 2014, I remember it going off once every 6-8 minutes. But things have changed! Now it seems to go off more frequently and in quicker succession. We watched as it went off three times in a row!
Pro tip: You’ll know you’ve found Strokkur because there will be a large crowd all around it. Because she goes off so often, I suggest just enjoying the view the first time and allowing yourself to be amazed. Then you can get your camera in position to capture the magic the next time she goes off.
Behind Strokkur are a few other smaller geysers. They aren’t active but you can see them bubbling and smell the sulfur in the air. You can also see inside of them, revealing some really beautiful blue pools and underwater caves.
From Geysir to Gullfoss! The third stop on the Golden Circle tour is the behemoth waterfall, Gullfoss. (Pro tip: “foss” means waterfall in Icelandic. So anytime you see the word “foss,” you know you’re headed to some falls.)
By this time in our journey, Colin and I were both pretty cold. With the mist coming off of the water, Gullfoss is quite colder than some of the other attractions. So we snapped a few photos from the first viewing platform and then carried on. It was worth the stop though!
Next up on the Golden Circle itinerary was a new addition. Your typical Golden Circle tour is comprised of Thingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss. That’s the tour I went on in 2014. But since we were in a vehicle of our own, we decided to make some changes. We added on the Secret Lagoon or Gamla Laugin!
Swimming in geotherma/hot springs pools is one of the coolest parts of vacationing in Iceland. There’s the famous (and expensive) Blue Lagoon, which I visited back in 2014. The Blue Lagoon is more spa than pool. It’s beautiful, and a great spot to spend a few hours, but it’s also very expensive and actually a man-made pool where the water is brought in. This time around, we wanted something a bit more authentic and budget friendly.
Of course, the coolest thing would be to find a hot spring out in nature that we just stumble upon and decide to go for a soak in. But the next coolest thing is going to a slightly more established one and paying just a bit to use it.
I would highly recommend the Secret Lagoon! It’s about $28 CAD per person, which is a steal when you remember that the Blue Lagoon is closer to $75. When you first rock up, it looks like you’ve just stumbled onto some Icelandic farm with a little cafe out front. But behind that is a really cool hot springs pool!
Running from the change room to the pool is absolutely freezing! You’re only in your bathing suit, you just showered so you’re all wet, and it’s cold and raining outside. But then you hit the water and it’s the coolest – wait, warmest – thing ever! It’s so soothing to get into that warm water. And you can swim around a bit to find the hotter spots.
Definitely worth the addition to your Golden Circle day tour.
And last, but not least, on our Golden Circle route was the Kerid Crater. Again, this was an addition, and one that I haven’t seen too many tour companies offer. In fact, I hadn’t even heard of this spot until just before we left. But I’m so glad I did hear about it and that we made the effort to see it.
This crater is HUGE! It’s hard for me to explain how big this really was. If you look closely at this first photo below, you’ll see little specks on the upper righthand side – those are people!
I’ll be honest – I don’t know much about the crater. There were signs posted and we even took a brochure home. But I didn’t read any of them. I’m a terrible tourist. But I can tell you this spot was super cool. The water at the bottom is this really deep turquoise blue. And the ground all around is made out of this bright red sand. So the colours just look awesome!
The best part? The Kerid Crater seems to still be a little under the radar. It was by far the least busy place we visited all day. We often had huge stretches of the crater all to ourselves. Pro tip to all you love birds out there, this would make a great place for an epic proposal without the crowds! Colin and I were even coming up with some good proposal puns like, “No one’s love for you is crater than mine!” (we’ll see ourselves out now…).
And that was our day driving along the Golden Circle. Have you driven the Golden Circle before? If so, what was your favourite part? If not, what part looks most exciting?
I’d love if you let me know in the comments below, or even if you just said hello. I absolutely love getting comments – it puts the hugest smile on my face – and I’d love to read one from you!