Visit the Golden Circle, Iceland’s most famous tourist route

cascade thingvellir islande couple

During your stay or stopover in Iceland, don’t miss a visit to the Golden Circle, where you’ll find everything that makes this island so charming in the space of a day.

When planning a trip to Iceland, and whatever guidebook or website you consult, the Golden Circle quickly becomes a must-see. But what is it? Quite simply, it’s a tourist route – Iceland’s most famous – that includes three flagship sites and a few other surprises.

History of the Golden Circle

cercle d'or islande route

Photo credit: Shutterstock / b-hide the scene

The term is relatively recent. It was coined by Iceland’s tourist industry to promote the region and encourage travelers to visit the Golden Circle. The aim is to encourage the curious to discover the incredible beauty of this small country crossed by the Arctic Circle. Easily accessible from Keflavik or Reykjavík, the Golden Circle brings together, in a loop of just over two hundred kilometers, several sites of exceptional beauty and geological interest.

To fully understand Iceland’s unique landscape, you need to know that the island was created by volcanic eruptions. The rift that separated the American and Eurasian tectonic plates lies where Iceland is today. The magma erupting from the volcanoes was able to puncture the earth’s crust, which had thinned at this point. The result? The creation of this hundred-thousand-square-kilometer island over the last few million years.

Volcanic activity is still very much present. It sculpts fantastic landscapes from which healing hot springs sometimes gush forth. A visit to the Golden Circle provides access to the continental divide. But that’s not all! Follow us to discover the wonders of this Fire Road of the Gods!

What to see and do in the Golden Circle?

The Reykjavik region

Reykjavik Islande chemin terre

Photo credit: Shuttertsock / Madalin Olariu

From Reykjavik? you cross a plain of short grass dotted with black rocks. These rocks are testimony to the activity of volcanoes. We’d love to be able to stop and immortalize this spectacle in photos, but the road is narrow and it’s rare to find an open space on the side of the road. A first stop, however, takes us into the Icelandic tundra* on a narrow path leading to Lake Leirvogstvan. The vegetation is far more varied than the distant view would suggest.

Parliament Plain

Thingvellir Islande - Plaine du Parlement

Photo credit: Shuttertsock / Guy Drory Traveling

Next, we skirt the great Thingvallatvatn lake. This immense lake heralds the first stage of the Golden Circle: Thingvellir(Þingvellir) or Parliament Plain. This is both a historical and geological site. One of the world’s oldest parliaments was founded here in 930. It is a sacred symbolic place for Icelanders. For travellers, it’s a chance to walk inside a tectonic fault. As the landscape begins to change, we enter an area of cultivation and horse-breeding.

Strokkur Geyser

islande stokkur geyser

Photo credit: Shutterstock / Jakub Barzycki

Some 60 kilometers further on, we reach the Geysir geothermal zone. The one that gave its name to the phenomenon of underground water gushing out is no longer very active, but its neighbor Strokkur puts on a show every five or ten minutes. Get your camera or video recorder ready to capture the whole process: the water stirs, bubbles bigger and bigger, then a bluish dome forms and the water gushes out several metres high. It’s best to know which way the wind is blowing before choosing your vantage point, otherwise you’ll be drenched in lukewarm water!

Gullfoss

Cascade Gulfoss islande

Photo credit: Shuttertsock /ollie taylor

Around ten kilometers away, you’ll find Gullfoss Falls. This is a succession of two waterfalls that drop 32 metres onto the Hvítá River. Gullfoss means « golden waterfall » because, according to legend, the rich farmer whose land it was on threw his gold into it so that no one else could enjoy it! Unless it’s due to the rainbow that often forms here… The day wouldn’t be complete without a bath at Secret Lagoon, Fludur or Laugarvatn Fontana in Laugarvatn.

How to get to the Golden Circle?

Iceland can be reached by plane from many airports in France and Europe. Our partner Ulysse will propose the most suitable offers according to your availability. Don’t forget: in Iceland, night lasts most of the winter. Sightseeing trips are possible, but the opportunities are slightly different.

The best way to visit the Golden Circle is to rent a car, so you can stop wherever you like and take your time at each stage. If you don’t drive, you have two options for making the loop:

Visit the Golden Circle by public transport

  • The SBA-Nordurleid 610 bus, which runs between Reykjavik and Akureyeri between June and September, stops at Geysir and Gullfoss four times a day.
  • The Sterna company offers a day tour that includes the three flagship sites and the Secret Lagoon, four times a week.

Take a guided tour of the Golden Circle

From Reykjavik, you have a wide choice of guided excursions by bus, minivan or jeep. Depending on your requirements, they include all three sites plus additional services, such as the Secret Lagoon, the Kerið volcanic crater, an evening in search of the northern lights…

How to visit the Golden Circle Timetables, transport, parking

If you choose to rent a car, you can visit the Golden Circle at your own pace and according to your own schedule. Access to the sites is free, so you can visit during the day, early in the morning or late at night.

Thingvellir

Access to the site is free, but parking is charged. There are three separate parking areas near, or not far from, the Visitor Information Center and the start of the hike to the fault. The cost, in Icelandic kronor (ISK), is as follows:

  • 750 for a car with up to 5 seats
  • 1,000 for 6 to 8 seats
  • 1,800 for a minibus
  • 3,500 for a bus with more than 20 seats

Payment is by credit card, at the automatic cash desks. In case of difficulty, you can also pay inside the Visitor Center. Don’t forget to pay – your license plate was flashed when you entered the parking lot! The Visitor Information Center is open from 9 am to 6 pm. It also houses an exhibition on the history of the Icelandic Parliament and local geological formations.

Admission costs ISK 1,000 for adults, ISK 500 for students and senior citizens (aged 67 and over), and is free for the disabled and children up to the age of 18. There’s also a Service Center, near the campground, where you can get information about the park. It has a cafeteria and is open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. in summer (May 15 to the end of August) and from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. in winter.

Geysir

Free parking opposite the entrance to the road leading to the geothermal field. On-site facilities include a visitor information center, a large store, a hotel and a restaurant. Opening hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. in summer and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in winter. The Geyser Center organizes excursions including admission to the exhibition center, a river cruise and a guided tour of the geyser area. Prices range from €9 to €15, depending on your situation, and it’s free on your birthday!

Gullfoss

Two free parking lots. The first is at the bottom of the falls and the second at the top, requiring the use of a flight of stairs. The upper parking lot has a Visitor Information Centre and self-service facilities. The toilets, located a little further away, are subject to a charge (ISK 200), so bring some change to get through the gate.

Good to know

  • It’s also possible to visit the Golden Circle in reverse, starting at Gulfoss. If you leave from Keflavik airport, you can drive along the coast road and admire the wonders of the Reykjanes Peninsula, stop near Fludir, set off again the next day to visit the three sites and finish in Reykjavik, for example.
  • Bring rain gear for Gullfoss and Geysir, to avoid getting wet from splashing water. And don’t forget to protect your camera, which can suffer from humidity and sulfur fumes.
  • The view of Gullfoss Falls is different depending on whether you choose the lower or upper parking lot. If you have time: do both! From the upper hiking trail, there are superb views of the Langjökull glacier in the distance.