The Golden Circle is the name given to the tourist track that starts from Reykjavik and ventures to Þingvellir National Park, Geysir, and Gullfoss.
Dozens of tour companies, like Reykjavik Excursions and Grey Line Iceland, offer bus tours to go see these beautiful natural wonders. The tours vary in duration from 6-9 hours and may or may not include lunch and additional stops. Prices range from 9,000 to 11,000 ISK depending on the length of the tour and what is covered, and most include free pick-up and drop off from your hotel in Reykjavik. You can also add on additional tours and activities like city tours, horseback riding, and a stop at the Blue Lagoon.
If going via tour isn’t your scene, you can easily make the drive yourself. In normal conditions (i.e not a heavy snowstorm), you can take a 2WD drive vehicle around the Golden Circle all year round, as the road is paved and well-traveled for most of the drive. If you really want to get off the beaten path and are traveling in winter, you should spring for a 4WD drive vehicle though.
The roads are well-marked and it’s easy to navigate along the route. In summer, simply follow the caravans of tour buses. Even if you don’t want to take a tour, it’s wise to check the tour schedules so you can plan your trip accordingly.
From Reykjavik, you’ll start out by heading to Þingvellir National Park, the site of the first Parliament and the place where two tectonic plates are bumping against one another.
Next up is Geysir, the first geyser ever mentioned in text and the one for which all geysers are named. Though it rarely erupts, nearby Strokkur keeps the show going, erupting ever 4-8 minnutes.
Finally, you’ll come to Gullfoss, a massive waterfall that spans a huge river and make several drops as it sprays mist on those who come to marvel at its beauty. The descent down to the falls is a steep one, so wear footwear with good traction.
Depending on how long you stay at each sight, how slow you drive, and how many stops you make, it could take you anywhere from 5-9 hours to tour the whole Circle. Be sure to fuel up your car before you go as you’ll pass few, if any, gas stations. Bring a map and let your guesthouse or hotel know when to expect you back. Unless you plan on eating at the restaurant at Geysir, you’ll also want to bring some snacks and bottled water to enjoy in the car.
If this is your only day touring Iceland by car, be sure to stop for photo ops often. Along and just off the route you’ll find sprawling lava fields, sparkling lakes, black sand beaches, rushing rivers and cascading waterfalls, plus fields full of Icelandic horses (which will come running over if you stop to take their picture). Be sure to pause frequently to take it all in.
Photo by Chris Parker