It’s amazing that in just under 300km Iceland has more packed into its Golden Circle than bits per pixel. With a continental divide, the birth place of Icelandic government, geysers, waterfalls, a National Park, hot springs and volcanos this is the golden spot of Iceland. What is even better about the Golden Circle is it can all be done in one day. With just a quick 35 minute drive from Reykjavik, even if you only have a 1-2 day layover in Iceland you’ll have plenty of time to see the best highlights of the Iceland. There’s plenty of tours that launch themselves from Reykjavik, but if you’re following my tour, you’ll have a rented a car or camper. KuKu Camper Car and Van Rental It’s so hard to write a blog for Iceland because the season can dramatically change the plan. If you leave from Reykjavik around sunrise you’ll get the views of the drive and still have enough daylight to do the whole trip.
The first stop on our tour is Thingvellir or Pingvillir National Park. A World Heritage Site this is where the Icelandic government developed. Nestled against two tectonic plates that are splitting apart, you can stroll right down the middle or even scuba dive among the plates in Iceland’s biggest lake. Turning off from highway 36 on the Thingvellir exit, you’ll find yourself at the visitor center where you can learn about the history, warm up if it’s winter and enjoy a charming gift shop. Right outside the visitor center the Almannagjá trail begins, this is a walk through the two tectonic plates. This walk can be as long or as short as you want it to be, winding over river beds and around the lake. The first part of the walk starts at a higher elevation and leads down toward Lögberg, or Law Rock, which is where groups of people from all over Iceland would travel to hear the laws spoken by the Lawspeaker. This was used as the government head location from the 900s-1200s. There is a large Icelandic flag located at the suspected location. Sadly, the flag was not flying when we were there due to extreme winds. The walk can continue around the lake to the Thingvellir Church. On your way back to highway 36 feel free to stop by Öxarárfoss which is the head waterfall of the river Öxarárfoss leading to the Thingveillir Lake.
For scuba divers, this location holds a unique diving experience. Not only can one dive between two tectonic plates, but with some of the clearest water in the world, you can see up to 100m down. The location of the diving is called Silfra and Dive.is located in Reykjavik can help you plan your tour! Dive.is
Geysir and Stokkur Geysers
The next stop is the famous Stokkur Geyser. The longest stretch of the Golden Circle drive this stop is about an hour away from the national park continuing on highway 36, which turns into highway 37. You may have only heard of Geysir, but this geyser is no longer active due to people throwing debris down the hole. The Icelandic government has ensured that Stokkur erupts every 5-10 minutes. If you missed the first eruption don’t worry another one is coming, which is great for photo opportunities! Walking up to the Geysers you’ll notice stream coming out of the ground. As you continue your driving tour through Iceland look for little houses that use the thermal energy and steam to power the entire country! The parking lot is located to the right of the highway with another wonderful gift store. The geysers are just a short walk across the highway to the left.
Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland
You’ll quickly learn that Foss=waterfall and they’re all over Iceland, but not quite like the powerful and mighty Gullfoss. Just 10 minutes from the Geysers we’re nearing the end of the golden circle, but there’s plenty to explore here. Gullfoss makes you feel so insignificant as you approach for photos. Make sure you take advantage of all the walking trails to access the waterfall from different viewpoints. When we were there it was so windy and icy the wind blew me over several times and I was too scared to get close to the edge, but this powerhouse is a beauty!
Make sure to keep your eye out for these adorable horses. There are a few access points near the geyser where you can walk up and pet them. The Icelandic pony is hardy but adorable! They’re very friendly, but make sure you don’t feed them or harass them in any way.
Ending your Day at the Golden Circle
To complete the circle, you can head back to Reykjavik stopping by Kerið crater lake. The crater lake is hard to see in the winter, but in the summer the red volcanic rock provides a stunning backdrop against the green moss.
Continue on with our five-day tour, stopping for the night in or near Flúðir. Head to the Secret Lagoon in Flúðir for an intimate evening experience in a real Icelandic Lagoon, unlike the Blue Lagoon. Enjoy some wine while you relax from the full day. Check out my review of Secret Lagoon, which is my favorite established Lagoon in Iceland! Secret Lagoon
You can either stay in Flúðir with camping sites and motels or since I was heading out east early in the morning we camped out at Seljalandsfoss Waterfall for the night. Touring Iceland in a camper van in the winter means many campgrounds are closed, so it’s it’s a pull over and sleep where you can kind of deal. We turned down the road pointing to a campsite just outside of Flúðir in the pitch dark. Unable to find a real campsite, we lucked out and slept under the crashing water of the waterfall that was lit up for nighttime viewing. It was a magical experience.