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Planning Guide: Self-Drive the Golden Circle in Iceland

The Golden Circle refers to a trio of attractions in Iceland not far from the capital city, Reykjavik. The route is jam-packed with history, natural wonder and immense beauty. The best part? You can experience it all in a single day, and you can drive yourself. We’re going to show you exactly how. Let’s talk about how you can self-drive the Golden Circle in Iceland.

In This Guide

Here’s what we’re covering in this guide. We invite you to read the full post or jump ahead to the section you’re most interested in.

What is the Golden Circle in Iceland

The Golden Circle refers to a travel route in Iceland with stops at three attractions: Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Hot Spring Area and Gullfoss waterfall. These three attractions provide a glimpse into the diverse and unique natural wonders that make Iceland such an amazing place to visit.

Generally speaking, the Golden Circle route starts and ends in Reykjavik; the largest city, capital city and city closest to the country’s only international airport (Keflavik International Airport). Since nearly every Iceland traveler starts their trip in Reykjavik, nearly every Iceland itinerary can include a tour of Iceland’s Golden Circle. And most do!

The trio of sites on the Golden Circle is an efficient way to spend a day in Iceland.  If you have a short trip to Iceland or even a stopover, the Golden Circle is a great way to see a lot in a short period of time.

It can also be a great way to kick off a longer trip. It’s a great start to a journey along the southern coast or a longer Ring Road roadtrip.

If you’re looking for hidden gems, though, the Golden Circle is not that. This route is extremely popular and the sites can get quite crowded. However, they’re outdoor and quite spacious. In our opinion, even visiting during peak travel season (late July), we did not find the crowds to be unbearable or to substantially detract from the experiences.

Let’s take a deeper look at the three Golden Circle Attractions.

Thingvellir National Park

Let’s start at Thingvellir, where history and geology collide (not unlike the tectonic plates below the national park). 

Thingvellir National Park is one of the most historically significant locations in all of Iceland. It was the meeting place of the country’s first and the world’s longest running parliament, which began in the year 930. Even after the Commonwealth was disbanded, the site remained a popular meeting place and continues to host national celebrations to this day.

The geological history at Thingvellir is just as notable. The continental divide of North America and Europe cuts right through Thingvellir National Park. You can actually see where the Eurasian and North-American tectonic plates meet. You can even walk between the continents — or scuba dive between them if you’re brave enough!

A visit to Thingvellir National Park looks something like this …

  • Arrive at Hakid overlook and soak up a sweeping view of the national park and its waterways
  • Walk between two tectonic plates as you make your way down through Almannagjá Gorge
  • Visit Thingvellir Church & Residences, the only historical buildings ever built on the land
  • Short hike to Öxarárfoss waterfall which falls over the edge of the North American tectonic plate

Think that Thingvellir looks a little familiar? You might recognize the location from Game of Thrones.  Several of the show’s scenes were filmed there. The most recognizable is Almannagjá Gorge which served as the pathway leading to The Bloody Gate at the entrance of the Vale of Arryn.

You can find our detailed Thingvellir National Park planning guide here.

Geysir Hot Spring Area 

Iceland is a literal hotbed of geological activity. In fact, Iceland is considered the most active volcanic region in the world! In addition to 130 volcanos, geothermal activity is responsible for the numerous hot springs and geysers in the country.

Most of the geysers in Iceland are located in the Haukadalur Valley. Part of this area is known as Geysir Hot Spring Area, which is named after the most famous geyser in the area: Geysir. 

P.S. It’s no accident that these words “geysir” and “geyser” look so similar.  Check out our guide to Geysir Hot Spring Area for a quick etymology lesson and more details about this attraction.

While Geysir is the most famous geyser, it’s not the one most come to see. In fact, Geysir is now considered dormant. It’s nearby Strokkur geyser that is the star of the show. This active geyser erupts every 5-10 minutes and sends plumes of water and steam to heights of 50+ feet into the air.

Geysir Hot Spring Area is also home to several smaller geysers and hot springs. These are not hot springs you can swim in, though. The water in the area is so hot that it will burn your skin immediately, so definitely don’t touch it.

Gullfoss Waterfall 

Iceland is littered with waterfalls, so it’s no surprise that one made its way into the most popular tourist route in the country.

Gullfoss is the second largest waterfall by volume in Iceland, dumping an impressive 4,200 cubic feet of water per second. That’s over a million gallons a minute!

Gullfoss is unique in that it doesn’t fall from a tall mountain or steep peak. In fact, the area surrounding Gullfoss is quite flat. Instead, the waterfall cascades from a valley down into a cavern. Instead of standing at the base of the falls and looking up, you can walk right to the top of this waterfall and look down. 

There’s two places to observe Gullfoss. The upper viewing area is just a short walk on a paved walkway from the parking lot, making it easy for tourists of all mobility levels to see.

In the summer, you can also walk along a lower path which leads all the way to the second viewing area at the edge of the waterfall. It’s a bit more physically demanding, but totally worth it if you’re able.

We have lots more information and details about these two viewpoints in our guide to Gullfoss waterfall

How to see the Golden Circle in Iceland

All three Golden Circle attractions are found relatively close together and are all a pretty short distance from Reykjavik. The convenient location is what makes these three attractions specifically so appealing. 

In this section, we’re going to discuss the two main ways you can see the Golden Circle, assuming you’re starting in Reykjavik.

Option 1: Drive the Golden Circle

The best way to see the Golden Circle at your own pace is to drive. It’s about 145 miles total to visit all three attractions, starting and ending in Reykjavik. That’s about 3.5 total hours of driving, but it’ll be broken up as you stop at the different sites along the way. 

The Golden Circle route follows primarily major roads and does not require a 4×4 vehicle. All of the sites are well marked and listed on Google Maps for detailed driving directions. There is ample parking available at all three of the Golden Circle attractions.

It’s possible to drive the Golden Circle all year. In winter months, the roads and parking lots are plowed and accessible. Of course, road closures can happen occasionally for extreme weather, so do check for that if you’re visiting in the winter.

Driving yourself of course requires that you have a car. Iceland being an island and all, everyone arriving by plane will not have their own cars. If you plan to drive in Iceland, you’ll need to rent a car. We don’t have a full guide to renting a car in Iceland, but we found this post from Two Wandering Soles super helpful.

Option 2: Take a Golden Circle Tour

If you don’t want to or can’t rent a car, that’s okay! Renting a car is expensive and, in our opinion, isolating. We personally spent 15 months backpacking the world and did not once rent a car, so we fully support your preference. 

Typically we’d recommend leaning into public transportation, but unfortunately the transit infrastructure in the countryside in Iceland just isn’t there. (It’s great in the city, though!) Instead, the next best option for seeing the Golden Circle is to take a guided tour. 

Tours sometimes get a bad rap, but we think they can be a really great and relaxing way to see a destination. You’ll usually get way more information from your tour guide than you otherwise would. It’s also relaxing to sit back and let someone else deal with the driving, planning and schedule.

Even if you don’t love the idea of tours, it’s definitely better to take the tour than to skip the Golden Circle entirely.

We personally didn’t take a tour, but we encountered many other tour groups at the Golden Circle destinations. There are tons of Golden Circle tours available, which include a variety of durations and add-on activities. Here are a few to get you started. 

Choose Your Golden Circle Driving Route

Up until this point, we’ve discussed the Golden Circle as if it were a clear route, but the truth is that it isn’t exactly black and white. The three main attractions are pretty universally agreed upon, but after that there’s a lot of wiggle room. While there may be one “Classic” route, much of the details remain open to interpretation.

If you take a quick peek at Google Maps, you’ll immediately see that the three attractions on the Golden Circle don’t actually form a circle at all. The three stops are located more-or-less in a straight line east of Reykjavik. 

When it comes to planning your driving route, there are three main options: 

  • Classic Golden Circle Route | Visit the three main attractions in the traditional order and drive a full loop route 
  • Out-and-Back “Golden Line” Route | Visit the three main attractions in the traditional order but return the same way you came. 
  • Reverse Golden Circle Route | Visit the three main attractions in reverse order, typically not driving a full loop

Let’s look closer at these three route options.

Classic Golden Circle Route

  • Attraction Order: Thingvellir National Park > Geysir Hot Spring Area > Gullfoss waterfall
  • Link to Route in Google Maps: Here
  • Route Shape: Loop
  • Total Driving Miles: 150

The classic Golden Circle route starts in Reykjavik, stops at the three attractions in order from closest to furthest, and then returns to Reykjavik on a different road, forming an actual circle. Most travelers and tour groups will travel the Golden Circle in this order, and we’d typically recommend it as well for a few reasons. 

First, is the timing of your day. Of the three attractions, Thingvellir will likely take the longest amount of time. Doing that first gives you a more relaxing afternoon at the next two attractions without feeling like you need to rush to fit in Thingvellir later.

Second is flexibility for your return trip. This route forms an actual loop, so you’ll be driving past different things on the way back than what you saw on the way out. Based on how much time you  have or want to spend on your journey, you can choose to make additional stops along the return leg.

After the three main attractions, there are no “official” stops the remainder of the journey back to Reykjavik. There are, however, plenty of cool things that you can see along the way. Here are a few possible stops to add to your Golden Circle road trip after you’ve seen the main sites:

  • Faxi Waterfall
  • Secret Lagoon
  • Skálholt Cathedral
  • Kerid Crater

That built out route could look something like this. This journey includes more stops, but only adds about 15 miles of driving. 

Out-and-Back “Golden Line” Route

  • Attraction Order: Thingvellir National Park > Geysir Hot Spring Area > Gullfoss waterfall
  • Link to Route in Google Maps: Here
  • Route Shape: Line
  • Total Driving Miles: 145

The fastest, most direct way to see all three of the Golden Circle attractions from Reykjavik is to skip the circle concept all together and follow a basic out-and-back route.  We’ll call this the “Golden Line” route. You can simply visit each of the attractions in classic order and return on the same route you came.

This modified take on the traditional route is a good option for travelers who are just looking to visit the three main sites and then move on to other plans. It’s a perfectly fine route if you don’t need to see extra sites or scenery on your return journey.

Honestly, once you’ve finished the three core Golden Circle attractions and are leaving Gullfoss, it doesn’t really matter which way you come back. Whether you make the loop in the classic route or return the say way you came, it’s only a difference of 6 miles. It just comes down to preference, and whether you’d be more comfortable driving the same way you know or prefer to see something new on the way back.

I mostly go out of my way to point out this “Golden Line” route because if you’re simply following Google’s instructions, this is the route it will give you. If you’re not paying attention, you may end up taking this route when you actually wanted to take the loop route. 

Reverse Golden Circle Route

  • Attraction Order: Gullfoss waterfall > Geysir Hot Spring Area > Thingvellir National Park  
  • Link to Route in Google Maps: Here
  • Route Shape: Line (loop optional)
  • Total Driving Miles: 145

You may also choose to visit the Golden Circle attractions in reverse order. The most appealing reason to visit the Golden Circle attractions in reverse order is to avoid (or at least reduce) crowds.

While everyone is starting their day at Thingvellir, you’ll be enjoying some solitude at Gullfoss waterfall and Geysir Hot Spring Area. By the time you reach Thingvellir, you’ll likely cross paths with the masses, but you can’t win ’em all. 

While seeing the Golden Circle in reverse has some perks, it’s not perfect. Sure, you might catch a break with some crowds, but it’s not guaranteed. During the summer months of high tourist season (May – August), you may be stuck with crowds regardless of what order you visit.

We would typically only recommend the reverse Golden Circle route for someone who doesn’t plan to linger long at the attractions or make extra strops. This option is for the traveler who wants to see lots of places quickly, plans to take really good photos, or just really doesn’t like crowds. 

You have the best shot at avoiding the most crowds if you arrive at Gullfoss as early as possible. That means you’ll want to take the shortest route from Reykjavik, which is the one that passes Thingvellir and Geysir on the way. In other words, you’ll be driving the same route there and back. 

Of course you could drive the longer loop route on your way there if you wanted. You might not be making any extra stops, but it could still be nice to see something different on your way there. It only adds about 6 miles to your drive.

To get to Gullfoss on the loop route, you’ll follow Route 1 from Reykjavik and then take Route 35 north. Here is a link to that route.

Plan Your Golden Circle Itinerary

Once you’ve chosen your route and any additional stops along the way, it’s time to put it all together and plan out your full itinerary. 

Based on the route you choose, the order of attractions may vary so I won’t put together a detailed itinerary for every scenario. But I do want to explore some of the key elements you should consider when you’re planning your day. 

How much time to spend at each Golden Circle Stop

Generally speaking, we suggest allocating your time as follows:

  • Thingvellir National Park — 2-3 hours. This gives you time for an hour of walking between the top sites, and allows time to read all the signs, take lots of waterfall photos, and grab coffee or a snack from the visitor center.
  • Geysir Hot Spring Area — 1.5-2 hours. We’d break that up as one hour watching Strokkur geyser, 30 minutes exploring the rest of the hot springs and geysers, and then a flexible 30 minutes for amenities at the visitor center.
  • Gullfoss waterfall — 1-2 hours. One hour is enough time to walk to both observation areas and have time to soak it all in (hopefully not literally). Photographers trying to get really good photos or waterfall enthusiasts may end up lingering another 30 minutes – 1 hour here.

How Long Does the Golden Circle Take

If you add up our recommended times for each attraction above, that comes out to 4.5 – 7 hours at attractions. The driving in between attractions takes roughly 3.5 hours. So, that means you should plan on spending a total of 8 – 10.5 hours on the Golden Circle. 

This is intentionally a generous estimate. The main perk of driving is that you can take as much or as little time as you need, so your exact experience will of course vary. The route is really flexible and can truly be what you make of it. 

For context, Golden Circle guided tours range in duration from 6 – 12 hours. The longer trips usually involve an activity (such as diving at Thingvellir) or additional further stops (such as the Blue Lagoon, Secret Lagoon or Kerid Crater). 

When to Start the Golden Circle

All three of the main Golden Circle attractions are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. You can technically visit at any time, but the attractions are best seen during daylight hours from dawn to dusk.

However, many of the amenities at the attractions, such as visitor centers and food service do not open until roughly 9 AM. We recommend arriving at your first Golden Circle attraction a little before that, around 8:30 AM.

Arriving roughly 30 minutes “early” will give you a head start in front of visitors planning to arrive at opening time. You’ll likely get some solitude to begin, but then also be able to benefit from the services such as food and drinks or visitor information at your first destination. 

If you plan to visit Thingvellir first, there is a free walking tour that begins at 10 AM and starts at Thingvellir Church. If you arrive at 8:30, this will give you plenty of time to explore a bit and have a leisure walk from the parking lot over to the church. 

Where to Eat on the Golden Circle

Each of the three Golden Circle attractions offer some sort of food/snack/beverage available for purchase. Here’s a quick breakdown of what’s available. 

  • Thingvellir National Park: The Visitors Center offers grab-and-go options including pre-made sandwiches, packaged chips and snacks, hot coffee and tea, and a variety of bottled beverages. There are picnic tables available outside.
  • Geysir Hot Springs Area: Geysir Center is located directly across from the hot springs and offers a variety of hot and cold sandwiches, soups and pizza. There’s also a market section for grab-and-go snacks and a full coffee bar. Ample indoor seating is available.
  • Gullfoss Waterfall: There is a small restaurant located inside the visitor center that offers sandwiches and soup. We’ve read amazing reviews of the lamb soup here, which people claim is the perfect way to warm up after the falls. (We’re vegetarian, so cannot confirm.) Indoor seating is available.

We personally would recommend planning to have lunch at Geysir Hot Spring Area. We found that they had the best selection of food items, plenty of seating and were best suited for the high volume of visitors. That said, it does get crowded at lunch time so prepare to wait in line and/or plan to eat during an off time.

Note for vegetarians! During our visit in July 2021, there were vegetarian options at all three stops on the Golden Circle. Our personal favorite was the cold vegan kebab wrap available from the cooler section at Thingvellir. There is vegetarian pizza and sandwiches available at Geysir Hot Springs Area and a vegetarian sandwich at Gullfoss.

Where to get Coffee on the Golden Circle 

If you’re the kind of person who can’t imagine the thought of leaving in the morning without a concrete plan for where you will get your coffee fix, then you’ve come to the right place! We too would never start out day with that kind of uncertainty. 

Fear not. You can absolutely purchase coffee at every stop on the Golden Circle!

The best coffee on the Golden Circle is at Geysir Hot Spring Area. There is a full coffee bar inside that offers hand-crafted espresso beverages like lattes and cappuccinos, including a few flavored options like mocha, vanilla and caramel. They also ofter Iced Coffee which was a welcomed offering for our summer visit.

If you can’t wait for Geysir, you can also find American drip coffee and machine espresso beverages at Thingvellir and hand-crafted espresso beverages at Gullfoss.

Where to go to the Bathroom on the Golden Circle

As you’ve surely gathered by now, the Golden Circle attractions are designed for tourists and offer all of the basic amenities, including bathrooms.

There are public bathrooms available at all three of the Golden Circle attractions. Here are the locations and prices for bathrooms on the Golden Circle. 

  • Bathrooms at Thingvellir National Park: There are three bathroom locations at Thingvellir National Park: 1) near the visitor center, 2) near the base of Öxarárfoss waterfall and 3) near the P5 parking lot. You can find the map here which indicates bathrooms with the “WC” icon. There is a fee for the bathroom location near the visitor center, but the other two locations are free to use.
  • Bathrooms at Geysir Hot Spring Area: The bathrooms at Geysir are located inside Geysir Center (the main visitor center) and are free to use.
  • Bathrooms at Gullfoss Waterfall: There is a small, separate bathroom building near the cafe which is open 24/7 and costs a small fee to use. There are also bathrooms inside the cafe which are free to use when the cafe is open.

Where to get Gas on the Golden Circle

We must confess that we are not car people. We didn’t have a car for 10 years prior to our visit to Iceland so planning for gas wasn’t something we were quite used to. It’s really important in Iceland though, especially in the countryside, as there may often be long stretches without a gas station.

Fortunately on the Golden Circle, there are plenty of opportunities to get gas. 

The best option, of course, is to fill your tank in Reykjavik before you leave. There are many gas stations in the city and a quick Google Maps search will help you find the closest one to you. You will not likely go through an entire tank of gas on the Golden Circle alone.

Let’s be real though. We all go into things like this with the best intentions, but it doesn’t always work out. Maybe you woke up late and wanted to get going or maybe you just forgot. Here’s where you can find gas along the Golden Circle. 

  • Gas Station between Thingvellir and Geysir: There is not a gas station super close to Thingvellir National Park, but there is a place to stop about halfway between Thingvellir and Geysir on Route 37. You can find the exact location here
  • Gas Station at Geysir Hot Spring Area: There is a gas station located beside Geysir Center, the main visitor center at Geysir Hot Spring Area.
  • Gas Station Near Gullfoss Waterfall: There is no additional gas station near Gullfoss. The closest gas station to Gullfoss is actually the gas station at Geysir, which is only 10 minutes (6 miles) away.
  • Gas Stations on the Southern Loop Portion of the Golden Circle: If you’re driving between Gullfoss and Reykjavik on Route 35 and Route 1, you will pass several gas stops. There is a gas station about 30 minutes after Gullfoss on Route 35 here, as well as gas stations in the towns of Sellfoss and Hveragerði.

10 Tips for a Self-Drive Golden Circle Tour

We hope your Golden Circle plans are shaping up nicely.  We wanted to share our 10 best tips for a self-drive tour of the Golden Circle. Several of these were mentioned in passing throughout this post, but we wanted to put them all in one place.

  1. Save your map and directions in advance. Wifi will not be available on the full Golden Circle route and cell reception can be spotty. Either download the region in Google Maps so it’s available offline (here’s a guide on that) or take screenshots of the route before you go. 
  2. Vegetarians, pick up lunch at Thingvellir. If you go to Thingvellir first, pick up the vegan kebab wrap and bring it with you to Geysir. It makes the perfect picnic lunch while you watch Strokkur erupt.
  3. Omnivores, eat at Geysir & Gullfoss. Geysir has the most food options and largest seating area. We’d recommend getting a light lunch while you’re there, but save room for the lamb stew at the cafe at Gullfoss.
  4. Visit in the summer … or winter. Visiting in the summer gives you the most daylight, pleasant temps for these outdoor attractions, and the best chance that everything at the sites will be open. However, all three attractions are open year long and the roads are typically plowed, so don’t rule out a winter Golden Circle trip.
  5. Bring waterproof gear. We suggest having a light rain jacket and waterproof backpack cover (if you have a backpack) with you at all times in Iceland.
  6. Bring layers. I typically say wear layers, but if you have a car you can bring them instead. I’d suggest wearing a light long sleeve base layer and having a cozy sweater and thicker jacket at the ready.
  7. Get coffee at Geysir. The best coffee on the Golden Circle is at Geysir Hot Spring Area. We’d highly suggest picking up an iced coffee on a warm summer day.
  8. Buy snacks at Bónus before you leave Reykjavik. Is it even a road trip if you don’t have snacks? For the best price and selection of snacks, hit up Bónus and stock up. There’s one in the main shopping district on Laugavegur.
  9. Go to the bathroom by the waterfall at Thingvellir. The bathroom by Öxarárfoss waterfall at Thingvellir is free, but the one by the visitor center can cost $2 USD per person.
  10. Take your time. There’s a lot to see and do on the Golden Circle, but it’s definitely possible to see and do it all in a day. Don’t rush through attractions to save time for later attractions. 

Golden Circle Costs

When considering a self-drive Golden Circle road trip, cost is an important metric. Below we’ve detailed average costs for everything you can expect to pay for during a self-drive Golden Circle trip.

If you add all of these costs together, a party of two can expect to spend somewhere around 29,600 ISK ($230 USD) for a day exploring the Golden Circle. Of course you could cut that cost down by not buying food and souvenirs, but this is just an average example. 

Golden Circle Cost Breakdown

Fixed Costs:

  • Parking Fees: 750-1000 ISK ($6-8 USD) per car
  • Entry Fees: 0 ISK ($0 USD)

Flexible Costs:

  • Food: 1500 – 2500 ISK ($12 – $20 USD) for lunch and ~600 ISK ($5 USD) for light breakfast per person
  • Coffee: ~650 ISK ($5 USD) per person
  • Rental Car: ~13000 ISK ($100 USD) a day, but this varies greatly based on the type of car and season.
  • Gas: 6613 ($51 USD)*
  • Souvenirs: 1000 ISK ($8 USD) for a magnet, 3000 ISK ($23 USD) for a t-shirt or upwards of 20,000 ISK ($154 USD) for an Icelandic sweater

Average Total Golden Circle Cost for 2 People: 29,600 ISK ($230 USD)

*Gas estimate is based on 150 miles driving in a car that averages 25 miles per gallon and uses the average price of a gallon of gas in Iceland as of March 21, 2022.

Is it Cheaper to Rent a Car or Take a Tour for the Golden Circle

A basic Golden Circle guided tour will cost around $65 – $85 USD per person (something like this or this). Keep in mind that these prices cover your transportation, parking, and any entrance fees. Food and souvenirs will still cost extra.

A Golden Circle guided tour for two people will likely cost around $200 in total expenditures. If you rent a car and drive yourself around the Golden Circle, it will likely cost about $230 for two people in total expenditures.

That said, for two people, it costs roughly the same amount to self-drive the Golden Circle as it does to take a guided tour.

If you are renting a car during your time in Iceland anyway, we’d definitely recommend driving the Golden Circle on your own.  We don’t think it’s worth spending extra money on a tour when you already have a car, and driving yourself gives you more flexibility in your schedule and itinerary.

However, we don’t recommend renting a car just for the Golden Circle. If you weren’t planning to rent a car, we suggest you go on a guided tour for roughly the same price. It’s just not worth the trouble or time to rent a car just for this excursion alone.

If you have a larger party, this advice changes. If you have more than two people people in your party, the cost scale quickly tilts in favor of renting a car and driving your whole group.

Expand your Golden Circle Itinerary

The Golden Circle is a great day trip from Reykjavik. It’s easily possible to see all three Golden Circle attractions (and more) in a day and return to Reykjavik that evening. But what if you want to see and do more?

If you’ve already rented a car and gotten as far as Gullfoss, it might make sense to extend your Golden Circle itinerary to include a few more stops, particularly along the southern coast. This will likely (though not definitely) mean that you need to stay a night or two outside of Reykjavik.

Here are a few of our favorite attractions that you might want to add to your itinerary to build out your Golden Circle adventure.

Seljalandsfoss & Skogafoss Waterfalls

If you even remotely liked Gullfoss on the Golden Circle, you will likely love these two waterfalls.

During the summer months, you can walk behind Seljalandsfoss for a unique and stunning perspective on the backside of water. You might even discover a hidden waterfall in a cavern just a short walk away. 

Then there’s the mighty Skogafoss. You can get soaked by the spray at the base of the falls or even climb the stairs up the cliff for a breathtaking view from above. 

During the summer months when there’s lots of daylight, you can actually visit all three Golden Circle attractions, plus Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss in a single day. It’ll be a long day, but it’s possible.

It takes about 1.5 hours to get from Gullfoss to Seljalandsfoss, and then Skogafoss is only 30 minutes further. It’s then about 2 hours back to Reykjavik from Skogafoss.

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach & Dyrhólaey Nature Reserve

Iceland’s southern coast is where stunning views, incredible wildlife, and otherworldly landscapes collide to create one of the most amazing regions in the country.

There’s no better way to see the southern coast than from the top of a cliff at the second southernmost point on the island. That place is Dyrhólaey Nature Reserve.

Here you’ll find a promontory with a unique archway cut though it, a darling lighthouse and the cliffside home of a local puffin colony. You’ll be treated to sweeping views of nearby glaciers, endless seascapes and miles of black sand coastline.

Speaking of black sand, Iceland’s most famous black sand beach is located just a stone’s throw from Dyrhólaey. Reynisfjara spreads over a mile of coastline with the notoriously moody ocean on one side and towering, naturally formed basalt columns and caves on the other.

These two, top-tier destinations are a bit further from the Golden Circle — about 2.5 hours from Gullfoss. If you choose to add these destinations, you may want to plan to stay a night in Fludir (not far from Gullfoss) or the seaside town of Vik (right by Reynisfjara).

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

If you don’t have the “Ice” part of the Land of Ice and Fire in your itinerary yet, you just might need to add a stop at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.

This postcard-perfect lagoon is filled with giant floating icebergs that have broken off a nearby glacier. You can take a boat ride through the lagoon, be dazzled by the ice at diamond beach and maybe spot a few seals if you’re lucky. 

This icy wonderland is not exactly close to the Golden Circle though. It’s nearly a full five hours from Gullfoss, so it’s not exactly a “Golden Circle Add-On,” but it’s so good that it’s worth mentioning. If you’re interested in extending your time on the southern coast, you could visit the Golden Circle and all of the above listed attractions by staying a couple nights in Vik. 


Well that’s a wrap on the Golden Circle, folks!

We personally chose to tackle the Golden Circle and southern coast over three days and three nights and it made for a spectacular adventure. We were traveling with a nearly-one-year-old toddler and thought this made for the perfect balance of exciting adventure and casual ease. 

Now it’s your turn to plan your very own journey. Remember, the Golden Circle isn’t black and white, so make it an experience that fits your travel style.

Whether you’re in Iceland now or planning your dream trip, we hope you have an amazing adventure.


Monday 20th of March 2023

Thank you for sharing your valuable information. I


Friday 19th of August 2022

Thank you! This was our favorite guide to the Golden Circle. Perfect advice.


Sunday 21st of August 2022

That's so great to hear!! I'm so happy to hear it was helpful. I hope you enjoyed your visit!