The Golden Circle is by far Iceland’s most famous attraction. It’s conveniently situated near Reykjavik and stretches for around 186 miles hitting top sights such as Gulfoss Waterfall, Thingvellir National Park, and the Geysir geothermal area. Along the way one can also see the colorful Kerid Crater Lake, Bruarfoss Waterfall, and the Laugarvatn hot springs. Since the Golden Circle is so popular it can get pretty crowded with buses and tourists. But driving the Golden Circle in Iceland doesn’t have to be a crowded mess! When we drove it we did run into crowds in one area, but because of timing and our direction we were able to peacefully enjoy a lot of it!
Since we were coming from the east, Kerid Crater was our first stop. Kerid Crater is a volcanic crater lake that has milky blue water and red volcanic rock surrounding it. The pictures don’t do it justice! The singer Bjork actually held a concert in the middle of the lake about 10 years ago. We walked around the rim at the top to get the best views of it, but you can also take stairs down and walk around that way too.
We drove a little bit north and went to Gulfoss Waterfall. The waterfall is on the Hvita River, which is fed by Iceland’s second biggest glacier, Langjokull. It was pretty crowded when we arrived here and we could see why. The falls are very powerful and were rampaging over the sides.
We went out to different view points, all in an attempt to get away from the mobs of people, but it was hard to do. It’s a great stop to have on a tour bus route. but we much prefer the quieter bus-free areas. We did very much enjoy looking at the intense waterfall though!
Geysir Geothermal Park
The next stop was only five minutes away, the Geysir Hot Spring Area. Because we went to the waterfall first (we had passed the hot spring area on the way) we were able to park in a small empty parking lot away from the tour bus area. The hot spring area is a large open area that has more than a dozen hot water blow holes and has been active for more than 1,000 years. Geysir is the original hot water spout after which all other geysers are named. Unfortunately, the original geyser no longer spews water into the air, but Strokkur is a very reliable geyser within the same area that shoots water 50-100 feet every 5-10 minutes. We watched Strokkur blast some hot water into the air a few times!
Laugarvatn Hot Springs
We continued counter clockwise on the Golden Circle and made a planned stop in Laugarvatn. The small town of Laugarvatn is known for its geothermal baths (Fontana) and we wanted to experience them! We stopped for a quick bite to eat and then headed to the baths. The Fontana is a small and intimate area consisting of several choices of shallow and deeper baths, each marked with a temperature rating. You can also go into the lake (with a sign that says “Dangerous Nature”)! And if you’ve had enough of the baths you can go into the sauna that’s fed by a naturally occurring geyser-like vent below.
This was a really nice place to go and unwind after a long day of driving the Golden Circle and sightseeing. The temperature outside was in the 50s and it was nice to sit outside in the hot water and check out the scenery. We also ventured into the lake a little bit, but didn’t go in that far since the bottom was rocky and it was a bit cold!
Thingvellir National Park
Moving on from Laugarvatn, we drove to our last stop of the day, Thingvellir National Park. Because we arrived later in the day, in addition to its large size, we were able to avoid the masses and explore this park in peace. The park has a lot of historical significance as the Vikings established the world’s first democratic parliament here in 930 (Thingvellir means “Parliament Plains”). Now it is a protected national shrine. The national park is also located on two tectonic plates of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and it’s possible to stand (and snorkel) in between the two plates.
There is so much beauty in this park! There were a lot of trails, paths, and other walkable areas for us to explore, as well as a beautiful lookout spot that had a stunning view of the park and surrounding area.
The Golden Circle is a really popular area to visit in Iceland, and that brings a ton of people. Here are some tips to best enjoy driving the Golden Circle in Iceland:
- Almost all of the tour buses and large groups drive the Golden Circle in a clockwise direction. If you are driving yourself then drive the circle in a counter clockwise direction. You will avoid a lot of the congestion and large buses!
- If you go in the summer you have the sunlight for almost the entire day. You can visit these places at 8pm when the tour buses are gone, but there is still plenty of sunlight!
- Like with any major tourist area, go early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
- Definitely take time to do some off the beaten path stuff like the Laugarvatn baths we found. It won’t be crowded and it will recharge you for the next part of your Golden Circle trip.
Driving the Golden Circle in Iceland is a quick and efficient way to see the top spots. Even though the sights can get extremely crowded, knowing when and where to go can greatly diminish the amount of people you come into contact with. There are plenty of off the beaten path stops in between the “must sees” and this can all be done in one day. It’s a great thing to add to any Iceland itinerary!