The Golden Circle, or sometimes known as the Golden Triangle, is a stunning sightseeing route that cuts through south Iceland. If it is your first time visiting our island nation, I would say it is a must-see. The route features some of the best that Iceland has to offer: tranquil waterfalls, one of our beloved national parks, powerful geysers, staggering tectonic divides, and even family-run farms. The route is popular, because, well it simply has something for everyone! Let’s take a look at Iceland’s most popular and easiest tourist route, the Golden Circle.
Leaving from Reykjavik
The route unofficially starts from Reykjavik and heads east. The popularity of the Golden Circle amongst tourists undoubtedly springs from its ease of travel from the capital city. Besides that, the route is also very manageable to drive in a day. If you head east on Route 1, it will eventually intersect with Route 36. From there you continue until you reach the first stop on your Icelandic adventure: Thingvellir National Park
First Stop on the Golden Circle Route – Thingvellir National Park
The Thingvellir National park is, to put it simply, breathtaking. The park features diverse geological features and holds a unique place in Iceland’s history. This park has something that will captivate everyone. The dramatic landscapes are a result of the Eurasian and North American Tectonic plates slowly drifting apart. From dramatic, rugged looking lava fields to powdery frozen glaciers, this park is about as diverse as it gets. No wonder they call Iceland the Land of Fire and Ice.
Due to the violent tectonic activity here over the course of a millennium, a rift in the earth formed and subsequently, an aquatic fissure. The Silfra fissure is a highlight for divers and tourists alike. The split between the plates is so deep that, if you have the appropriate certifications and the nerve, you can take a guided scuba dive in-between the plates. What better way to make your friends green with envy than showing them pictures when you dove through the literal tectonic plates holding our planet together. I’ll wait while you try to come up with a better answer.
The Silfra fissure is a highlight, but it certainly doesn’t steal the show. The park has seemingly endless dazzling geological features and views to take your breath away. And, for all of you history buffs, the park is the birthplace of the world’s longest continually running parliament, the Althing. Make sure you charge your camera, bring your walking shoes, and keep your eyes peeled for any cool photo opportunities.
Second Stop on the Golden Circle Route – Strokkur and Geysir Geysers at Haukadalur
About an hour outside of the Thingvellir National Park, naturally forming geysers have been putting on an explosive show for thousands of years. The smoldering Haukadalur geothermal field has two main attractions: Geysir and Strokkur. Geysir is actually where the word geyser originated from in the English language, and there is a good reason why. This hot spring is no longer as active as it used to be. But when it does spout off, it is a spectacle. Geysir holds the record for largest recorded geyser eruption, 122m (roughly 400 feet). Geysir’s little brother, Strokkur, isn’t nearly as powerful, but he does flare up daily.
Third Stop on the Golden Circle Route – Gullfoss Waterfall
When traveling on the Golden Circle route through Iceland, most tourists opt to head straight for Gullfoss Waterfall. The waterfall is regarded as one of Iceland’s premier sightseeing destinations. The route partially takes its name for having the falls being a popular tourist site when coming to Iceland. Gullfoss translates into English as “the golden falls.” The waterfall has two major drop-offs from which water careens down and plunges into a craggy gorge. Like all the falls in Iceland, Gullfoss conveys a sense of awesome power. Inconceivable amounts of water rush over its edges every second, and it will leave onlookers captivated.
The Gullfoss Waterfall is fed from the river Hívitá. This river is filled with rushing, crystal-clear glacial water from Lake Hvítárvatn. Hvítárvatn sits in close proximity to the Langjökull Glacier, and as such, every year the glacier melts which feeds the lake, and then, in turn, feeds the river and the rapids. So when you make the trek to Gullfoss keep in mind that the water rushing over the edge of this powerful rapid is actually millennia year-old glacial water.
However, I must confess. I never go straight to Gullfoss. Most visitors who are pressed for time rush straight there, but if you are in a hurry you can miss a quaint and delicious pit stop.
Optional Stop on The Golden Circle Route – Efstidalur Farm
Situated in between Thingvellir National Park and Gullfoss Waterfall, is the Efstidalur Farm. If you have time, you must stop in! The family-friendly destination is a family owned and operated farm. They run an ice cream shop on the farm which has ice cream to die for. The frosty frozen treats are made using milk from the cows on the farm, and ice cream doesn’t get any fresher than that.
Another Destination on the Golden Circle Route
A wonderful geological tourist destination on the Golden Circle sightseeing route is the Kerið Crater. Known by its Anglicized spelling, the Kerid or the Kerith crater is one that truly makes all of its visitors feel puny. It is speculated that the crater was formed during a violent volcanic eruption, and it serves as a conduit to show all of us how powerful nature is. The mossy emerald walls of the crater dive straight down a staggering 55 meters (roughly 180 feet) and the caldera stretches 270 meters wide. This gargantuan pit has a blue-green lake at the base of the crater, which will tantalize the mind and spur the imagination. Again, a must see location.
Optional Stops To Visit Before Kerið Crater
The Kerið Crater takes the cake when it comes to geological must-sees in Iceland, but if you’ve worked up an appetite before then, I recommend visiting the Friðheimar Tomato and Horse Farm. Utilizing geothermal greenhouses, the farm grows fresh fruits and vegetables year round. Not only can you satisfy your palette at their quaint restaurant, but you can purchase freshly grown produce and bread to take back with you to Reykjavik. This is a great option if you have the ability to cook during your stay in the capital. Keep those bellies full on your Golden Circle tour, and definitely check this place out!
The Golden Circle Route through Southern Iceland
Listen, here is the truth: the destinations listed in this article are but a handful of the stops you can make on the Golden Circle. The three main stops are staples, but there are tons of other activities to check out along the way. If you have the cash and time to spare it could take days to do the full Golden Circe sightseeing route. Historical towns, like Skálholt, pepper the countryside and each has their own unique history and local culture. Along the trail, you can visit the Secret Lagoon Spa and Pool, go river rafting, visit petting zoos and farms and much more. Tailor your trip to your needs. And if you feel overwhelmed planning it yourself, you can always join a tour that will cut out having to plan the logistics. Happy trails!