Gullfoss Waterfall in Iceland

What to Expect on Iceland’s Golden Circle

Visiting Iceland

In recent years, Iceland has become a very popular destination year round! Some travelers are in search of the Northern Lights, others are just seeking adventure or a dip in the world-renowned Blue Lagoon. Either way, you’re sure to love this unique country with its dramatic landscapes and many natural attractions.

TIPS: We visited Iceland with Gate 1 Travel and they offer very reasonable packages including flights, hotels and excursions. Our Golden Circle day tour was also arranged through the company. Read our Gate 1 Travel post to find out how you can also save $50 on your first booking!

If you book flights on your own, Icelandair offers free stopovers for up to seven nights at no additional charge. So, if you’re heading to London or another European destination where Icelandair flies, make sure you take advantage of this opportunity!

Iceland’s Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is probably the most popular tour that leaves from Reykjavik, Iceland. If you’re planning a trip there, you’ve probably considered adding it to your itinerary!

Typically, we shy away from tour buses because of the crowds. However, since we didn’t have a rental car for this quick trip, we signed up for a full-day bus tour around the Golden Circle. Many visitors prefer driving themselves so they can spend more time and see other spots along the route. Also, it gives you an opportunity to stop for a photo or great view whenever you want!

The bus departed from our hotel in Reykjavik early in the morning and the tour lasted about 8 hours.

There are three main attractions on the Golden Circle: Geysir and Strokkur Geysers, Gullfoss Waterfall, and Thingvellir (Þingvellir) National Park. Some tours will add two other stops: Skálholt Cathedral and Hellisheiði Power Plant.

TIP: Driving yourself? Gullfoss Waterfall, and Geysir and Strokkur are free to visit! However, you will pay to park at Thingvellir National Park. The daypass costs 500 ISK and is valid for all the parking lots within the park.

Geysir and Strokkur

Geysir and Strokkur are part of the Haukadalur geothermal area and are walking distance from each other. We did not have a tour guide for this portion of the excursion and basically meandered the area at our own pace watching for the geysers to erupt.

There is not a typical timeframe for eruptions at Geysir (pictured above). It did not erupt while we were there, but it was still interesting to see the smoke rising from it.

Strokkur is easy to recognize because there is always a group of people huddled around it with cameras in hand. This geyser is much more active, erupting every few minutes!

Gullfoss Waterfall

What a beauty in Winter! I promise that Gullfoss Waterfall will not disappoint! We were there in January and loved the beauty of the snow.

Gullfoss, which means Golden Waterfall, was the second major stop on the Golden Circle tour. There is incredible power to this large waterfall and something about watching it is just mesmerizing.

Since Gullfoss is a popular attraction on the Golden Circle, there will likely be a crowd. However, the crowd thins out as you walk further along the trail from the parking lot. You’ll also want to walk down the trail and stairs to get the best views of the waterfall. It is worth every step!

TIP: Depending on the wind speed and direction, you may get wet. Keep this in mind for your photography gear and bring a waterproof jacket!

Thingvellir National Park

Thingvellir National Park was the final stop of the day and our tour guide walked with us and provided some history about the area.

The park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is where the North American tectonic plate meets the Eurasian tectonic plate. The national parliament of Iceland was also founded here in 930 AD.

You may also recognize some spots in the park from the popular HBO TV show Game of Thrones. The series was partially filmed in the national park, and near Gullfoss and Geysir!

SIDE NOTE: Love Game of Thrones? You can see other film locations in Northern Ireland!

We would love to return to Iceland during another season to see more greenery!

Have you visited the Golden Circle? We would love to hear about your experience!

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Iceland's Golden Circle - What to See and Do

13 thoughts on “What to Expect on Iceland’s Golden Circle

  1. Me and my husband did the one day trip around the Golden Circle by rental car, just as you mentioned – because we wanted to have more time for each location. But this is a very beautiful trip with so many outstanding locations. The Gullfoss waterfall, altough almost frozen, was glorious. We also visited in January. It was actually 3 years ago but we remember it so well. Iceland is just fantastic! Gorgeous pictures here!

    1. So glad our post brought back those good memories! We’d love to go back and travel Iceland again with a rental car. We’d spend so much more time at each place and hit some of the more off-the-beaten path attractions!

  2. Great photos! I haven’t been to Iceland but would love to one of these years. Not so sure about visiting in January though. It might be too cold for this Florida girl!!

    1. You can do it, Cris! We’re from Florida, too and we loved it! Just pack warm clothes and hit the Blue Lagoon 🙂

  3. I have wanted to visit Iceland for a long while. Your photos are beautiful, and I especially liked the geysers – it seems like it would be very exciting to sit and watch them. I had never heard of the Golden Circle before, and am now adding it to my list for the day this trip finally happens 😀 Thank you for sharing this!

    1. You’ll love it when you get there and the geysers are so cool! We had never seen one before and it was so exciting!

  4. Hey Guys, love the blog!!! Iceland is incredible my wife traveled there last year. I saw so many great photos and videos. You guys are lucky I hear it was such a great place to travel!

    1. Thanks so much and we’re so glad you enjoyed the blog! You and your wife will have to go back and experience Iceland together sometime!

    2. Thanks, William– So glad you like the blog! Hopefully you and your wife can get back there sometime soon and see it together! We’d like to get back there and rent a car so we can see more of the country at our own pace 🙂

  5. Great article! I have been wanting to go to Iceland for a long time now. However, my husband is from the desert so he really hates being in the cold… He is convinced Iceland is all snow and ice… Lol. So I definitely won’t be taking him to Iceland in the winter, summer will likely be amazing tho! And great tips on tours and the flight layovers! I am also wanting to visit Ireland, so that might actually work for me.

    1. I hear you about the cold… WC is originally from Hawaii and grew up in Florida, so he isn’t used to it either! Surprisingly though, he likes getting away to cold places because he knows it’s just for a short time and then back to the sunshine and warmth!

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