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A glimpse of Iceland in one day: Golden Circle day trip

Golden Circle day trip is the best way to admire the beauty of this small island and get an idea of what it has to offer: volcanoes, glaciers, lava fields, geysers, and many more.

There are two major tours that each visitor should do when visit Iceland: the Golden Circle tour and the Ring Road.

Ring Road is a circular road that goes across the country and you need at least 10 days to travel across it and visit the most important sites from the country.

Golden Circle is a circular route located in the southern part of the country that starts and ends in Reykjavik and is about 300 kilometers (180 miles) long.

The route is extremely popular among tourists from all over the world as it offers a little bit of everything that this country has to offer.

Once you start your tour you have two options: to do the circle tour and come back to Reykjavik or to go south on the Icelandic coast on the Ring Road southern part to explore more of what this country has to offer.

What I like most about the Golden Circle tour is that it is extremely accessible from the capital city of Reykjavik and it has a lot of attractions all packed in just a few hundred kilometers.

Thingvellir National Park Iceland Golden Circle day trip

Thingvellir National Park Iceland Golden Circle

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The origin of the name of Golden Circle

Golden Circle comes from Gullfoss, a very important waterfall located on the route which translates into English as Golden Falls.

Because the road where this waterfall is located is circular, people called it Golden Circle; not to mention that it sounds pretty cool and reflects the high number of attractions from the route and their beauty.

How long is the Golden Circle day tour in Iceland

The tour without any stop last for about 4 hours, and here I am talking about the driving time without seeing any attraction.

If you will add the stops then you definitely have to add at least 2 or 3 hours, a maximum of 5 to take time, and photograph all the natural wonders from the area.

So, in total, you will need about 8 to 9 hours to have enough time for admiring and photographing, so this is definitely the best place for a day tour from Reykjavik.

In these 8 or 9 hours tours, you will have enough time to visit not just the Golden Circle but also the Kerid crater, one of the highlights from the area.

Actually, from Reykjavik are available the following Golden Circle day trip itinerary:

  • Reykjavik Golden Circle Full-Day Tour with Kerid Crater

    Reykjavik Golden Circle Full-Day Tour with Kerid Crater

    a 10 hours day tour with all the Golden Circle attractions plus a stop at the beautiful Secret Lagoon with the entrance fee included in the tour rate: Golden Circle Tour & Secret Lagoon Early Access

Small-Group Golden Circle and Blue Lagoon Tour with Admission

Small-Group Golden Circle and Blue Lagoon Tour with Admission

 

Best time to go to Golden Circle day trip

The good news about Golden Circle is that it can be visited all year round, including during wintertime when most of the roads are closed because of bad weather.

The bad news about Golden Circle is that it is extremely popular so it might become extremely crowded, especially during peak season.

Best time for Iceland Golden Circle

Best time for Iceland Golden Circle

Most of the tours depart from Reykjavik after breakfast, usually between 8 to 10 in the morning, and last for 8 or 10 hours, depending on what you have included.

There are also some half-day tours that depart in the afternoon and usually last for about 5 hours and include quick stops to the most important attractions from the area.

During winter, most of the afternoon tours are canceled because the days are extremely short and at 4 p.m it is already dark outside.

That is why during winter most of the tours start at 10 in the morning and end at 4 in the afternoon.

Best attractions from Golden Circle

Golden Circle day trip should include at least the following attractions:

  • Thingvellir National Park
  • Gullfoss Waterfall
  • Geysir Geothermal area

Now let me tell you a few words about each of these places to know what to expect plus some interesting information about the beautiful Kerid Crater.

Thingvellir National Park

The first attraction that comes your way when coming from Reykjavik is Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the first national parks in the country.

Iceland Thingvellir National Park Golden Circle

Iceland Thingvellir National Park Golden Circle

The park is located about 40 kilometers away from Reykjavik and is a hotspot from a culture, history, and geology perspective.

Historical and cultural heritage

Based on the historical evidence, this was the place where the first settlers set their camp in Iceland in the 9th century CE.

As the community evolved and the number of people increased they decided to use the Thingvellir area as their home because this area was very accessible.

Around 930, this place became the first Parliament of Iceland and even of the whole world and since then the cultural heritage of the place continues to increase.

Geology heritage

Besides history and cultural heritage, there is also the landscape, which is one of the most unique and interesting from the whole country.

This protected area is the place where North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates meet and if you dive into the cold waters you can even touch with your hands in the same time both the tectonic plates to be in two places at the same moment.

The tour of the Golden Circle area can include also the diving experience in Silfra, the only place in the world where you can touch with your hands both tectonic plates.

Golden Circle and Snorkeling in Silfra with Photos Included is a wonderful tour that lasts for about 10 hours and you have included the diving equipment, a guided snorkeling tour in the Silfra fissure, pick up from your hotel in the Reykjavik area, hot drinks, and cookies plus the tour of the Golden Circle.

From Reykjavík Golden Circle with Snorkel in Silfra

From Reykjavík Golden Circle with Snorkel in Silfra

An impressive number of movie scenes from Game of Thrones have been filmed inside this protected area so prepare your camera for some memorable shots.

Besides the world-famous Silfra Fissure where you can touch both tectonic plates at the same time, inside the park there is a beautiful waterfall, Oxararfoss only 10 minutes’ walk from the parking lot.

If you plan to extend your time spent inside the park, there are several hiking trails and paths that go inside the park to admire the beauty of the area and the unique landforms.

Gullfoss Waterfall (Golden Falls)

One of the most picturesque waterfalls from Iceland and among my favorite spots from this country is Gullfoss Waterfall.

The waterfall is located on the Hvita River about 10 minutes drive from Haukadalur and is the last stop on the Golden Circle tour.

The waterfall has 2 different levels, the first one having about 35 feet in height, while the second one is more impressive with about 70 meters in height.

Gullfoss Golden Circle Iceland

Gullfoss Golden Circle Iceland

The waterfall is impressive not because of its height but because of its large water volume, with more than 5.000 cubic feet of water passing over it each summer.

It is a beautiful place to see all year round surrounded by green vegetation during summer and white snow covering the fields in winter.

If you are lucky enough and visit this waterfall into a sunny afternoon of summer you will see a huge rainbow over the water and take some great shots here.

Right at the bottom of the waterfall, you will find a souvenir shop, a visitor center, and a coffee shop to drink something before you continue your trip.

Geothermal field

Your Golden Circle day trip will definitely include a stop to the Haukadalur Geothermal Field, also known as the Geysir Geothermal Area.

This area is located quite close to Þingvellir National Park and is home to some of the most spectacular geothermal wonders in the whole world.

You will find here mud pots, hot springs, fumaroles, and Iceland’s most famous geysers: Great Geysir and Strokkur.

Geysir Golden Circle in Iceland

Geysir Golden Circle in Iceland

In our days, Geysir is a dormant geyser and it is believed that it erupted 10,000 ago and no one knows when it will come back to life.

It is believed that during the period when it was active the hot water was spitted at more than 400 feet up.

But you don’t have to be worried as the other geyser, Strokkur is live and spits boiled water every 5-10 minutes.

Like all geothermal fields from Iceland, Haukadalur might be dangerous for visitors who don’t stay on the paths, as many mud pots and boiling water wholes are spread all across the area.

So not only for your own safety but also for environmental reasons, we strongly advise you to stay on the marked paths and keep your kids close to you when visiting the area.

These three are the main attractions of the Golden Circle route, but there are plenty of other interesting places to see when visit Golden Circle: Kerid Crater, Secret Lagoon, Faxi, and Laugarvatn Fontana.

Kerid Crater

One attraction that became more and more popular among tourists from all over the world is the Kerid Crater.

If you choose the Reykjavik: Golden Circle Full Day Tour with Kerid Crater you will have a stop at Kerid Crater, a former volcano crater filled with turquoise waters, located just a few minutes off the Golden Circle.

Reykjavik Golden Circle Full-Day Tour with Kerid Crater

Reykjavik Golden Circle Full-Day Tour with Kerid Crater

The crater was formed about 3,000 years ago and is one of the best examples of its kind from the whole of Iceland.

You can walk around the crater or you can descend into the crater that is about 200 feet down from the field level.

Secret Lagoon

If you choose Golden Circle Tour & Secret Lagoon Early Access you will have included a stop to this amazing hot springs located in the vicinity of Golden Circle.

Reykjavik Golden Circle Kerid and Secret Lagoon Tour

Reykjavik Golden Circle Kerid and Secret Lagoon Tour

Secret Lagoon is the second-largest hot spring in the entire country so don’t expect a secret place where there is nobody except you.

It is one of the most popular hot springs in the country full of people, quite a crowded place during the summer season.

This is the oldest man-made pool from the country that was made in 1891, but for a very long period of time, it was unused.

Starting with 2005, the present owner of the lagoon started to use it as a private pool and gradually the place was transformed into what it is today, a large pool with thermal waters located in the vicinity of the Little Geysir and a lot of boiling pots.

Faxi

As you probably already know, Iceland is full of amazing waterfalls spread all across the country, and Faxi or Vatnsleysufoss is one of them.

It is found on the Tungufljot River and like Gullfoss it is not high but it is extremely wide with a total width of 300 feet.

The waterfall is visible from the main road and if you have time you can go down to the parking lot and see it closer.
Laugarvatn Fountain.

Faxi Vatnsleysufoss Waterfall Iceland Golden Circle

Faxi Vatnsleysufoss Waterfall Iceland Golden Circle

Besides the increased number of waterfalls, Iceland also has an impressive number of hot springs and beautiful natural and manmade pools.

Just around the Golden Circle, you will find 3 pools with thermal waters to bath in and the first one is Laugarvatn Fountain.

This place is extremely popular among tourists and locals and it is used since 1929 when it was discovered.

Today you can find here steam rooms, warm pools, a sauna, and a hot tub where you can relax and benefit from the healing properties of the thermal waters.

If you stop by don’t forget to ask for the lava bread as it is the most delicious bread I have ever eaten. It is cooked using geothermal heat and the cooking process lasts for about one day but the result is fabulous.

Where you should stay

If you plan to explore more about this are you should consider spending at least one night along the Golden Circle.

Don’t get me wrong, you can do the Golden Circle in one day from Reykjavik but if you plan to stay more in the area here are some options:

Hotel Grimsborgir - Your Golden Circle Retreat Northern Lights

Hotel Grimsborgir – Your Golden Circle Retreat Northern Lights

Hotel Grimsborgir - Your Golden Circle Retreat spa

Hotel Grimsborgir – Your Golden Circle Retreat spa

Hotel Grimsborgir - Your Golden Circle Retreat Room

Hotel Grimsborgir – Your Golden Circle Retreat Room

Hotel South Coast building

Hotel South Coast building

Hotel South Coast Room

Hotel South Coast Room

Galleri Laugarvatn hotel Iceland

Galleri Laugarvatn hotel Iceland

Galleri Laugarvatn room

Galleri Laugarvatn room

Drive the Golden Circle

If you don’t want to hear the clock ticking and be prison to a tour, then you can do Golden Circle in your own way and choose the car rental option.

Driving in Iceland is extremely safe and the road condition is very good, all you have to do is to keep an eye on the weather, especially if you travel in spring, autumn, and winter.

A car gives you the mobility to explore this amazing country on your own rhythm and to enjoy its beauty step by step without being rushed and disturbed by others.

Car Rental in Iceland

Car Rental in Iceland

You can even take a short trip to the impressive Langjökull glacier, the second largest ice cap from Iceland after Vatnajokull located in the western part of the Icelandic interior.

Get the best price for your car rental today

You can even chase the Northern Lights far from any light pollution and take the most memorable photos of your life as you don’t depend on a schedule.

For the full article about the best places to see Northern Lights in Iceland read our article 5 BEST PLACES TO SEE NORTHERN LIGHTS IN ICELAND.

FAQ

Can you do the Golden Circle in one day?

Golden Circle is located extremely close to Reykjavik and is the perfect day trip from the capital city of Iceland.

The driving time is about 4 hours and you have to add an extra 3 to 5 hours for exploring the area.

There are plenty of day tours, half-day tours, and private tours that depart from Reykjavik and travel across this magnificent area.

How long does the Golden Circle tour take?

Lasting for about 8 hours, Golden Circle is definitely the best day trip from Reykjavik the capital city of Iceland.

Golden Circle day trip is extremely popular among tourists from all over the world because it offers a great view of how spectacular this country is.

How much is the Golden Circle Iceland?

The cost of visiting Golden Circle Iceland starts from a few dozen euros if you choose to drive a rented car up to a few hundred if you book a guided tour of the area.

If you choose to travel by car, then you have to know that there is pay parking all across the area and some of the attractions have an entrance fee.

The prices of the guided tours differ depending on what you have included, the length of the stay, and if there are or are not additional experiences like diving on Silfra Fissure or bathing into the Secret Lagoon.

Is the Golden Circle worth it?

Without any doubt, Golden Circle is one of the must-see places from Iceland as it has the most increased density of natural attractions from the whole country.

It offers you a great view of what this country is about and shows you a wide range of natural landforms backed together, not to mention the unique experience of touching at the same time the North American and the Eurasian tectonic plates.

Logistical tips and tricks for your trip

Book your accommodation

We always use Booking.com as they have the best price-quality ratio and they offer a wide range of hotels, guesthouses, apartments, and villas to choose from.

You will find here all types of accommodations, from the cheapest ones to the most luxurious.

Don't forget travel insurance

We never leave home without HeyMondo Insurance or Safety Wings Insurance as they offer the best services and a good value for money, plus COVID coverage.

Travel insurance will always protect you against unexpected events and cost like illness, COVID, injury, theft, or travel cancellation.

We never go on any trip without travel insurance and there were many cases when we had to use it.

Renting a car
We like to explore a country on our own and a car gives us the mobility and freedom to do that.

We always rent our car from Discovercars as they have free cancellation 48 hours prior to starting date and a wide range of car rental companies and options to choose from all over the world.

Tours and attractions
When we are looking for some adventure or we simply want to break up the monotony and discover new places, we always use GetYourGuide.

We love it because we always find the most amazing experiences, with free cancellation and a large variety of activities and tours to choose from.

Airplane tickets and holiday packages
Expedia is our ally when searching for the best price for airplane tickets as it works as an aggregator for a huge number of airlines and we always find the best price for our flights.

Travel tip: use Expedia when you are searching for holiday packages as they have many last-minute offers and great discounts for hotels, flights, and even the whole holiday packages.