There’s a lot to see in Iceland, and the grand Golden Circle (Gullni Hringurinn) is your ticket to easily hitting multiple popular sights, especially if you only have one day to venture outside Reykjavik. Departing from the city, Golden Circle tours showcase a number of Iceland’s main attractions and natural wonders—think geysers, waterfalls, lava fields, volcanic craters, and Icelandic horses. There are few other places in Europe where you can see so much topographical variety on one short trip.
Stunning Sights Along the Golden Circle
Closest to Reykjavik on the route is Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site home to the rift valley between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates and the site of the ancient Icelandic parliament. Head next to the world-famous Geysir and Strokkur geysers, where you’ll see eruptions every six to 10 minutes; the 600-foot-wide (180-meter) Gullfoss waterfall; and Kerid Crater Lake, which is surrounded by striking red volcanic rock. The Golden Circle is also an important geothermal area for Iceland (which runs almost entirely on renewable energy), with the Nesjavellir power plant and the Hveragerdi greenhouse village nearby.
How to Visit with Viator
Most Golden Circle excursions depart from Reykjavik by bus, include an expert guide, and comprise an entire day of sightseeing. If you have time, opt for a group or private tour that tacks on additional activities along the way. Take an Icelandic Super Jeep tour; whitewater raft on the river Hvítá; try a snowmobile tour on the Langjökull Glacier; search for the Northern Lights in winter; or dip into the super heated water of the Blue Lagoon or the Secret Lagoon hot springs.
The Golden Circle route is one of the most popular day tours among travelers, so expect some crowds. And don’t confuse this expedition with a trip around the Ring Road, which circles the entire country and is best seen with a rental car and (at least) a week’s time.
Things to Know Before You Go
- Wear comfortable shoes and layers no matter the season.
- Most sites have paved boardwalks and flat ground for easy accessibility.
- Don’t worry about food and WiFi—many tour buses include wireless internet, and there are plenty of restaurants and cafes along the way that provide both.
- From mid-May to mid-August, the sun only dips below the horizon for about three hours per day in Iceland, making the atmosphere especially beautiful in the lingering twilight. In midwinter, you'll get only about five hours of daylight.
How to Get There
It takes just over three hours to drive the famous Golden Circle route from Reykjavik, but plan on spending anywhere from six to eight hours depending on how long you explore at each stop. Most bus tours do the full loop before returning to the city. Whether you’re traveling by bus or rental car, the route is paved and 4x4 vehicles aren’t necessary.