When visitors are planning a trip to Iceland, there are two main activities they know about straight away and often plan to do – The Golden Circle and The Blue Lagoon. The Golden Circle Iceland route is what we’re going to write about especially useful if you’re self-driving.
Even if you have a GPS navigation system available with the rental car, planning is absolutely necessary. Buy a map of Iceland and plan your route as some routes are impassable and restricted to smaller vehicles.
If you’re planning on driving in Iceland then there are some rules to remember too. You can read more about the rules in one of our detailed articles – Renting a car in Iceland and things you should know
However, here are some brief guidelines:
1. Get extra insurance provided by most car rental companies
2. Always check the weather forecast
3. Fuel up regularly even if you think you have enough fuel
4. Keep speed limits and mental limits in mind
5. Beware of animals as they roam free in Iceland
6. Beware of narrow roads and bridges
7. And other mandatory regulations
However, if you prefer not to drive then check out these 3 Golden Circle adventures:
The Golden Circle self-drive can last anywhere between 5 hours to 10 hours or more. 5 hours if you decided to only stop for the highlights, but to truly appreciate the natural wonders and other stops allow for 10 hours or more. No joke!
We encourage you to read renting a car in Iceland and things you should know for a full breakdown of requirements, rules, and driving in winter and summer.
Golden Circle Iceland self-drive route – What’s in store and more!
⭐ Big Highlights
Visit Thingvellir National Park (Þingvellir)
Located in southwestern region of Iceland where the old assembly of Icelanders known as Alpingi congregated to perform their leadership duties. Thingvellir National Park includes the Law Rock and The Law Council.
The dividing lines are at Kastalar with two lava hills on the northern part of Nedri-Vellir, Lake Þingvallavatn (Thingvallavatn) towards the south, the higher wall of Almannagjá fault in the west, and Flosagja rift in the east.
Some landmarks to visit while at the National Park:
Thingvallavatn – it’s the largest freshwater lake in Iceland
Drekkingarhylur (Drowning Pool) – it’s where women guilty of adultery and other offenses were drowned, hanged or beheaded.
Axe River – the name was given when the Viking, Ketilbjorn the Old, lost his axe in the river while trying to break the ice to get water.
Logberg (Law Rock) – it’s now invisible as it has sunk into the earth due to earthquakes.
Oxararholmi – used as a dueling place
Thingvallabaer – Thingvellir warden and the prime minister’s residence
Valholl – the booth owned by Snorri Sturluson at Thingvellir
Oxarafoss – small, beautiful waterfall
Nearby Silfra and Davíðsgjá fissures – popular for snorkelling and diving due to exceptional water clarity
Visit Gullfoss Waterfall
Probably one of the most famous of waterfalls in Iceland attracting a great number of visitors, yearly. Also known as the Golden Falls and part of the Golden Circle route.
The Ölfusá River feeds the waterfall which extends from two other rivers – Hvítá and Sog Rivers. It flows for 40km along its path before suddenly plunging into a three step waterfall within a crevice that is approximately 32m deep.
As one first approaches the falls, the edge is obscured from view, so that it appears that the river simply vanishes into the earth. The thunderous, roaring sound of the Gullfoss can be heard from a distance.
Visit The Geysirs
The natural Great Geysir is a standout amongst the most stunning sights of Iceland. The formation of the Great Geysir was discovered in 1294 when a violent earthquake shook Iceland’s southern lowlands altering the geothermal area in the valley of Haukadalur.
The activity resulted in the formation of the major hot springs. In 1294, massive earthquakes struck the area increasing the intensity of the thermal locality.
Strokkur is another geysir that is located close to Great Geysir, less than 100 metres away. Strokkur is among the most stunning and famous fountain geysirs in Iceland. It is a natural geysir that erupts regularly, every 5-9 minutes and spouts steaming water to a height of 20m or more.
Smaller geysirs in Iceland can also be found in Haukadalur and features other hot springs, mineral-rich pools, steaming fumaroles and mud pot formations.
⭐ Small Highlights (but with equally amazing delights)
Beautiful and intriguing little places to fill your delights along this Golden Circle Iceland self-drive route. Iceland has a lot of history, and so, why not combine your nature adventure along with some history.
Some of these smaller highlights also include places to rest, grab a bite to eat to replenish and energise your body.
🏛 Laxness Museum Gljúfrasteinn – This is a museum, but formerly, a family home to a Nobel Prize literary called Halldór Laxness. He was awarded the prestigious award for literature in 1955. The home remains as it was when him and his family lived there showcasing much of his work too.
💦 Öxarárfoss Waterfall – As mentioned above in some landmarks to visit while at the Thingvellir National Park, this is a beautiful little waterfall. The rock surrounding the waterfall can get very icy in the winter and so, be warned. However, a great place to relax and have a little picnic during the summer.
🍲 Gullfosskaffi – There is a café / restaurant / shop on the edge of the Gullfoss waterfall. They have the most amazing homemade lamb soup using natural ingredients that you must try. For vegetarians, the same delicious soup without the meat. An absolute must to warm up the body and fill the belly.
♨ Laugarvatn Fontana – For couples or families, who want to stop for a little self-pampering then you should stop at the Laugarvatn Fontana, a boutique lakefront spa.You will find a sauna, outdoor mineral pools and the main feature, natural steam baths.
🍲 Efstidalur II Hotel & Restaurant – Hungry and want to rest your feet? This is a lovely hotel that comprises of a converted barn house that features a wonderful restaurant where food is made using local ingredients.
💦 Bruarfoss Waterfall – If you happen to stop at Efstidalur II Hotel & Restaurant, you may want to drive to Bruarfoss which is only 6km away from the hotel. The waterfall is located in a remote location and features a series of smaller waterfalls bight blue in colour.
💦 Faxi Waterfall – Whilst on the Golden Circle self-drive route, Flaxi waterfall is certainly one highlight you will come across. The Tungufljót river feeds the wide waterfall and is absolutely stunning in the winter.
♨ Secret Lagoon Hot Spring – Known to be one of the oldest natural pools in Iceland, Secret Lagoon is located in a small village called Fludir which is very close to the Golden Circle Iceland route. There is also a little geysir which erupts every 4-7 minutes. If you’re one of the luck ones, the Northern Lights can be seen in the winter whilst you bathe in the Secret Lagoon.
⭐ Adventurous things to do:
For some, sightseeing and taking in the natural wilderness of Iceland is enough. The Golden Circle Iceland self-drive route will certainly give you that.
However, for those who want to dive deeper into more adventurous activities when on this route then we recommend the following as they are within easy reach:
Please note, activities need to be pre-booked and have specific timings. You can always continue your Golden Circle route before and after the activities. For scuba diving, you are required to be PADI© Dry Suit certified before you can dive. Click here for our Dry Suit Diving Course.
Go on, be adventurous and don’t forget to bring your camera!