The Golden Circle: The most famous route in Iceland

The Golden Circle: The most famous route in Iceland

Hike Reykjadalur Steam ValleyThe Golden Circle is a popular route in Iceland that takes you past three of the country’s most famous attractions. These are the Geysir, Gullfoss and Thingvellir National Park. The route is about 300 kilometers long and can be completed in one day with a car. If you have more time, we have added five more recommendations to give you a complete experience of Iceland’s Golden Circle.

Golden Circle route and time

We provide a description of the route from Reykjavik, starting at the Thingvellir National Park. The route can be completed in one day if you want to see the three main attractions. If you are in Iceland for longer, you should take two days and be sure to visit the other attractions along the way. If you are doing the route in two days, the following is the best way to do it.

Day 1:

  • Thingvellir National Park
  • Geysir and Strokkur
  • Gullfoss Waterfall
  • Faxi Waterfall
  • Kerid Crater
  • Overnight in Selfoss

Day 2:

  • Reykjadalur Steam Valley
  • Raufarhólshellir Lava Cave

We took two days to explore all the places calmly and enjoyably. The Golden Circle in Iceland can be done with a guide from Reykjavik. We did it with a rental car and we definitely recommend it. We found it pleasant to be able to walk around everywhere at our own pace. See the route here via Google Maps.

Tip: Check in advance if the road is good to drive on via and if it is safe to travel to the area you want to go to via

Thingvellir National Park Öxarárfoss Waterfall

1: Thingvellir National Park

Thingvellir National Park is one of the three national parks in Iceland and is located approximately 50 kilometers east of the capital Reykjavik. The park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is known for its unique geology, history and nature, all of which are located in an active volcanic zone. It is located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, which is the dividing line between the North American and Eurasian plates. The plates move apart by about two centimeters each year. Because of this the park is characterized by deep gorges and crevices. So you can even dive in the Silfra canyon which is known for its clear, but very cold water. But the park is also rich in water you can walk along, with the Öxarárfoss waterfall and the Thingvallavatn lake as well.

A lovely bit of history about the Thingvellir National Park is that it was the site of the Alþingi, the Icelandic parliament, which was founded in 930 AD. The parliament was the first democratically elected parliament in the world and met in Thingvellir until 1798.

Thingvellir National Park Golden Circle

2:  Geysir and Strokkur

Geysir and Strokkur are two of the most popular attractions in Iceland. They are located in the Haukadalur Valley, a geothermally active area in the southwest of the country. Geysir is the geyser to which the area is named after. It is the largest geyser in Iceland, but it is not as active as it once was. This is because the eruptions of the Geysir are unpredictable. But when it erupts it can reach up to 70 meters high. The last time was in 2016 and before that in 2000. So if it erupts, be sure to take pictures, as they will be very unique! Next to the Geysir is the Strokkur, the most active geyser in Iceland. It erupts every four to eight minutes and sprays water up to about 20 meters into the air. Strokkur is a reliable geyser that always provides a spectacle.

Note: The water is hot, as it is heated by magma. Please follow the posted rules and stay behind the fences.

Strokkur Geysir Golden Circle

3:  Gulfoss waterfall

The name Gullfoss means “golden waterfall”. It is named so because of the golden glow that the water gets when the sun shines on it. It is located in the northeast of the Golden Circle. The waterfall is about 32 meters high and 23 meters wide. There are two “steps” where the water falls. The first step of 11 meters and the large step ending in a gorge of 70 meters. There are two walking trails along the two-step waterfall. You can walk along the bottom of the waterfall and experience the thunder of the water up close. The other route takes you along the top to view the waterfall from above. In the winter, the lower walking route is usually closed.

Iceland Gulfoss waterfall Golden Circle

Extra attractions to visit on the Golden Circle

4:  Faxi waterfall

Faxi waterfall is a hidden gem. This waterfall is located a little off the beaten path from the Golden Circle in Iceland. But because of this, it is often quiet and untouched. The waterfall is not as high as Gullfoss, but it is very wide. Because there is a lot of salmon in this river, a salmon ladder was built next to it. You may even see them jumping up. So you definitely don’t want to miss this if you want to enjoy the power of nature in it’s most natural form.

Faxi Waterfall

5:  Kerid crater

The Kerið crater is an explosion crater. It was formed by an eruption of a volcano about 3,000 years ago. Because of the eruption there was a collapse of the magma chamber, which created the crater. The Kerið crater is 55 meters deep and 170 meters wide. It is partially filled with water, giving it a unique appearance. The water in the crater is green in color, which is due to the presence of iron oxide.

Note: Make sure that you have enough money with you, because you have to pay an entrance fee which can only be paid in cash.

Kerid Crater

6:  Reykjadalúr Thermal hot springs

Reykjadalur, also known as the Steam Valley, is known for its natural hot spring that flows through the valley as a river and has a temperature of about 40 degrees Celsius. From the parking lot, the walk to the hot spring is about three kilometers long and takes about an hour. The walk is relatively easy, but there are some elevation changes. Along the way, you will come across various geothermal attractions, such as fumaroles (holes in the ground where hot gases escape), mud pots and hot pools.

At the end of the walk, the river is two meters wide and the depth varies from knee-height to chest-height. The water is clear and has a light brown color. Bathing in the hot spring is a unique experience. The water is pleasantly warm and the view of the valley is breathtaking. You will spend a total of about three hours with this beautiful valley and relaxing spring.

Tip: Take swimming gear and a towel with you, as you will definitely want to get in the water. Also bring food and drinks, as this is not available here.

Reykjadalur Steam Valley

7:  Raufarhólshellir Lava cave

Raufarhólshellir is a lava tunnel in southwestern Iceland, located in the Hengill Mountains. The tunnel is about 1,360 meters long and was formed by a lava flow that flowed through the area about 5,200 years ago. It has a width of 10 to 30 meters and a height of 5 to 10 meters. The ceiling and floor of the tunnel are covered with beautiful lava formations. You can book a tour here for the best experience and the most information.

Tip: It is very cold in the tunnel, so it is wise to dress warmly. It is not an easy path, so we recommend good hiking boots.

Raufarhólshellir Lav

Book an overnight stay in Selfoss

Selfoss is a small town halfway along the Golden Circle that is perfect for an overnight stay if you want to do the last two parts of the Golden Circle in Iceland at a relaxing pace. In the town you can visit the Skyrland museum where you can learn about the history of the famous dairy product Skyr. There are plenty of hostels to choose from for accommodation. If you prefer a more comfortable stay, we have a unique experience and a lovely hotel listed below.

Hotel recommendations Selfoss: Hotel Selfoss. Here you can sleep comfortably on the nice and soft beds in this centrally located hotel and enjoy an amazing breakfast.

Selfoss Golden Circle IJsland


As you can read, the Golden Circle is a great way to experience the spectacular nature of Iceland. If you want to see more of Iceland, be sure to check out our 9-day (coming soon) or 16-day Iceland itineraries. Or maybe you’d like to visit the nearby island of Vestmannaeyjar which you we will publish soon as well.

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