The sightseeing trail serves as a great introduction to Iceland’s diverse landscapes, and it is a must-see for all visitors to this country. With breathtaking natural features such as waterfalls, geysers, hot springs, and lava fields, you can easily make a day out of this enchanting area.
- Check out this 5-Day Guided Summer Tour in a Small Group — Golden Circle, South Iceland & Glacier Hike
But what makes the three sites that make up the Golden Circle so special? How long does it take to drive the Golden Circle, and what else can you do while there? Read on to learn all about Iceland’s most popular sightseeing route, the Golden Circle.
Þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir is a national park in South-West Iceland, about 40 km (25 miles) from the capital city, Reykjavík, and often one of the first stops of the Golden Circle route. It is renowned for both its natural beauty as well as its place in history.
The national park was founded in 1930, making it the first national park in Iceland, but the history of the site reaches back over a thousand years. It was here where Viking Age settlers gathered to lay the laws of the land and dispense justice, thus forming Iceland’s society. In 930, Iceland’s parliament, Alþingi, was founded at Þingvellir, making it one of the oldest surviving parliaments in the world.
Remains of the assembly ground can still be found at Þingvellir, and the visiting area is dotted with signs with information about historical events which took place on the site. These include signposts about the Christianization of Iceland in 1000 A.D. and the brutal execution spot “Drekkingarhylur” (e. Drowning pool).
Þingvellir’s cultural importance was one of the reasons the park was designated as a World Heritage Site in 2004 by UNESCO. Although it got its status based on cultural criteria, the site may also qualify on geological criteria as well. That is because Þingvellir is neither located on the European nor the N-American tectonic plates but in a rift valley between.
The Mid-Atlantic Rift is part of the longest mountain range on Earth. In the northern hemisphere, it separates the Eurasian Tectonic Plate from the North American Plate, and the South American Plate from the African Plate in the southern hemisphere. The ridge is mostly underwater, located along on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean but it can also form land and appear as volcanic islands.
One of those islands is Iceland, and the ridge runs the length of the entire country, appearing very prominently in places such as Reykjanes Peninsula, Mývatn Geothermal Area, and Þingvellir National Park.
- See this 8-Day Summer Self Drive Tour Around the Ring Road – Golden Circle, Glacier Lagoon, Remote East Iceland & Akureyri
As the continental plates are in constant motion (although, too slow to see with the naked eye), the landscape where these plates meet is quite unique. At Þingvellir, it appears in the form of lava fields and dramatic fissures and canyons which traverse the region. The largest of these is Almannagjá Canyon which also marks the eastern boundary of the N-American tectonic plate.
One of those fissures lies underwater in Lake Þingvallarvatn, Iceland’s largest natural lake. Silfra fissure is a popular scuba and snorkelling site mostly due to its unique position between the two tectonic plates and because of its crystal-clear waters.
The fissure is fed by meltwater from a nearby glacier which has been filtered through the surrounding lava field, providing snorkelers and divers unparalleled visibility. Those looking to snorkel or dive in Silfra must book a tour first. Traveo has partnered with many trusted diving and snorkelling companies with years of experience who offer both a wet and dry suit snorkelling.
Visitors to Þingvellir National Park must pay a small parking fee on the designated parking area. The price is between 750-1000 ISK for family cars and valid all day for all of the site’s parking lots. The parking pay machines accept all major credit and debit cards. The parking fee is included in all of the guided package tours offered on Traveo.
Þingvellir’s dramatic history as well the striking, unchanged beauty has given the park its iconic status and serves as a great introduction both to Iceland’s culture and ever-changing landscape.
Geysir Geothermal Area
Geysir Geothermal Area is a term that has been used about a part of Haukadalur Valley in South-West Iceland. The region is mostly known for its geothermal activity, which includes hot springs, bubbling mud pools, steam vents (or fumaroles) and erupting geysers.
Geysers are hot springs which periodically erupt in a column of hot water and steam. They are often related to areas with high volcanic activity, such as Iceland (don’t worry, all volcanoes here are carefully monitored). Due to this activity, the water underneath the Earth’s surface boils, and the resulting pressure forces it to eject in a hot column of water and steam.
Geysir Geothermal Area is named after one of the attractions found there, the Great Geysir. Geysir is a dormant geyser on the slopes of Laugarfjall hill, which lies about 106 km (65 mi) east of Reykjavík city. Eruptions at Geysir are rare, but when they happen, the geyser can fire boiling water up 70 metres (230 ft) in the air.
The name ‘Geysir’ in Icelandic and Old Norse means “to gush”, and the English word ‘geyser’ is derived from this impressive feature. Geysir was the first geyser to be described in a printed source, and it is also believed to be the first geyser known to modern Europeans.
As Geysir is not mostly inactive, visitors to the Geysir Geothermal Area spend more time looking at another, more active geyser called Strokkur. The erupting hot spring, Strokkur, shoots jets of water every 5-10 minutes, reaching heights of around 15-20 metres (49-66 ft). It has been known to reach even higher or up to 40 metres (130 ft).
The area is also dotted with bubbling mud pools, hot springs and smaller geysers, as well as steam vents called fumaroles. The ground here is dyed by elements found in the Earth; copper gives it a green hue, iron a red colour, and there are splashes of yellow from sulfur. The sulfur also gives the area its distinct egg-smell, which few visitors might find challenging although most don’t seem to mind.
Parking at Geysir Geothermal Area is free, and there is no entrance fee to see the attractions. Across from the geothermal area is the Geysir-Center, a building complex which includes a hotel, restaurant, souvenir and snack shop, swimming pool, and the Geysir Museum with multimedia shows.
Close to Geysir Geothermal Area is also a horse rental and an area where you can go on ATV or Buggy tours. There are many options on the Traveo website for those who’d like to book a Golden Circle tour which includes either a horseback riding tour or ATV tour. There are also tours for those who are travelling on their own and would like to spice their self-drive with an adventure.
Iceland is known the world over for its geothermal activity. So Haukadalur Valley, with its main attractions, the geysers Geysir and Strokkur, is a must-see for all visitors to the country.
Gullfoss is Iceland’s most famous waterfall, found in the river Hvítá in South-West Iceland. The distance between Gullfoss and Reykjavík city is around 116 kilometres (72 mi), making it the furthest site on the Golden Circle route from the capital.
The name ‘Gullfoss’ means “Golden Waterfall” in Icelandic, and it is from this site that the sightseeing route, the Golden Circle, gets its name. Nobody knows why the waterfall is called Gullfoss, however. One explanation says that the name comes from the golden hue which the water gets on sunny days. Another theory states that the name was inspired by the rainbow, which often forms in the waterfall’s mist because there is usually a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
Gullfoss waterfall is born in the river Hvítá, which is fed by meltwater from the glacier Langjökull. The river flows southwards before dropping down a wide, three-step “staircase” and then into a large canyon. The cumulated height of the drops is 32 metres (105 ft) and, therefore, Gullfoss can be thought of as two separate waterfalls. The upper waterfall is 11 metres (36 ft) while the lower one is 21 metres (69 ft).
The average amount of water flowing down into the canyon is 140 cubic metres (4,900 cu ft) per second in the summer and 80 cubic metres (2,800 cu ft) per second in the winter. The height of the drop results in tiny droplets of water flying back up as the cascade hits the bottom of the canyon. Visitors should not be surprised to find themselves wet by the waterfall’s constant mist should they get too close to the canyon.
The walls of the canyon, known as Gullfossgljúfur Canyon, reach heights of up to 29 metres (230 ft). This opening is hidden from sight at close range, making it look like the river just suddenly disappears. Some geologists believe the canyon was formed in a glacial outburst at the beginning of the last ice age while others believe it was gradually formed over 10,000 years.
Gullfoss is one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls and a beloved national treasure. However, this wasn’t always so. For example, when King Christian IX of Denmark visited Iceland in 1874, the waterfall was thought of as so insignificant that it was intentionally skipped as an attraction when the King went to visit Geysir and Þingvellir. It also once came close to being turned into a private hydroelectric dam.
Although Gullfoss wasn’t considered good enough for King Christian IX, it still got many visitors around the turn of the Century, 1900. The closest farm to Gullfoss was called Brattarholt and it, along with the land on which Gullfoss lies was owned by a man named Tómas Tómasson. Tómas’ daughters would routinely escort visitors to the falls.
At the beginning of the 20th Century, demand for hydroelectricity, often by foreign companies, was very high. In 1907, an Englishman wanted to buy Gullfoss for this purpose, offering 50,000 ISK for it, 50-times the worth Brattholt. To this Tómas is reported to have answered: “I won’t sell my friend”.
Tómas did, however, agree to lease the land to the Icelandic government who then subleased the property to people wanting to use it for industrialization. Sigríður Tómasdóttir, Tómas’ daughter, was determined to preserve the waterfall’s condition. She sought the help of a public prosecutor named Sveinn Björnsson, who later became Iceland’s first president.
Together they fought to cancel the lease agreement, and Sigríður made numerous trips of 120 kilometres (75 mi) to Reykjavík on foot to meet with government officials. She staged many protests and even threatened to throw herself in the waterfall.
Even though their battle ultimately failed with the legal system, Sigríður’s efforts had gained enough public attention to save Gullfoss. The lease contract was later cancelled, the Icelandic government bought Gullfoss and the surrounding land, and it was made a permanent conservation site in 1978.
- See Iceland in style with this 5 Day Winter – Private Guide – Golden Circle, Black Sand Beach & Glacier Lagoon
The Icelandic government ran a café at Gullfoss named after Sigríður until Gullfoss Café took over in 2014. Now, you can get hot food, cakes and coffee there, as well as souvenirs and books on Iceland at the Gullfoss Shop. The cafe at Gullfoss is open from 9:30-18:30 but entry to the waterfall itself is 24/7 and free. There are two viewing platforms from which you can see the cascade, both of which have easy access for wheelchair users from the parking lot.
Gullfoss Waterfall’s beauty and raw, unhinged power make it one of the most popular sites in Iceland, and it is often compared with its cousin in the West, Niagara Falls. The cascade is a featured stop on the Golden Circle and should not be missed by anyone visiting the country.
The Golden Circle is an excellent introduction to Icelandic nature and culture. However, those who would like to explore further can take a little detour to visit some lesser-known attractions in the region.
Kerið Crater Lake
Kerið is a volcanic crater containing a small lake located in the Grímsnes area in South Iceland. Although not a part of the Golden Circle, many tours include a sightseeing stop at Kerið and those driving themselves often make a quick detour to this picturesque lake.
Scientists believe Kerið was formed around 6,000 years ago in a series of volcanic eruptions. Back then, it was a volcanic cone which completely emptied its magma reserve in an explosion and then, once it was depleted, collapsed into the empty magma chamber. Later on, the empty crater filled with groundwater, creating this beautiful lake.
What makes Kerið so unique and worth a detour from the Golden Circle, is the vivid colours found there. The walls of the crater are made of bright red rocks which stand in stark contrast to the aquamarine water and burst of green vegetation.
Kerið crater is around 170 metres (557 ft) wide, 270 metres (886 ft) across and the depth is approximately 55 metres (180 ft). A pathway will lead you around the crater’s rim, and it is also possible to go into the crater for a better look at the lake.
When visiting Kerið, please note that there is a small entrance fee of 400 ISK (around 3 USD or little over 2 EUR) to help the landowners protect the crater. Also note that there are no concessions or restrooms at Kerið, unlike many other locations on the Golden Circle route.
Skálholt Historical Site
Skálholt in South Iceland is another great detour off the Golden Circle, perfect for history buffs. It is a beautiful and historic site with a lovely Cathedral and an interesting museum.
From 1056-1785, Skálholt was one of the most important places in Iceland. The historical site was then the cultural and political centre of the country as an episcopal see, a school, a farm, a smithy, and, while Catholicism lasted, a monastery.
Skálholt Cathedral is a simple but stunning example of Icelandic church architecture, complete with beautiful stained glass windows. The museum doubles as a crypt and is located in the Cathedral’s basement. There you can learn more about Skálholt’s history, including the brutal beheading of Iceland’s last Catholic bishop, Jón Arason of Hólar.
- Read more about this 7 Day Winter – Private Guide – West, South and Golden Circle
You can also find a recreated turf church at Skálholt which serves as an excellent backdrop for photographs. There are also remains of an excavation site next to the church and remains from each century in Icelandic history have been found here.
Today, you can often find many cultural, educational, and artistic events at Skálholt, such as concerts and seminars. The most famous of these is their annual Summer Concerts program in July.
Those looking for some relaxation during their Golden Circle trip should check out the Secret Lagoon, a man-made structure built around natural hot springs. It is located in the small village of Flúðir in South Iceland, about 105 kilometres (65 mi) from downtown Reykjavík.
The Secret Lagoon is Iceland’s oldest pool, built in 1891, which is why it is also sometimes called Gamla Laugin or “The Old Pool” in Icelandic. For decades, the pool was virtually abandoned and didn’t open up until its present-day owner gave it new life in 2005. At first, he used it as his own private pool for himself and his friends which is how it got its new name: “The Secret Lagoon”.
The Secret Lagoon uses natural, geothermal water straight out of the ground, unlike the more famous Blue Lagoon whose water is a byproduct from the nearby geothermal power. The differences don’t end there either. The Blue Lagoon is located in the middle of a lava field while the Secret Lagoon is situated in a geothermal valley, and surrounding it are billows of white steam which rise from the ground, smaller bubbling natural pools, and even a tiny, erupting geyser.
Also, unlike the Blue Lagoon, you don’t need to book tickets to the Secret Lagoon in advance. However, since the pool was built for a small community which inhabited the area at the turn of the 19th century, it might be a good idea to do so nonetheless. That way, you will be guaranteed to get in at the time of your choosing.
Those visiting the Secret Lagoon need to bring a bathing suit and a towel. However, if you forget those, it’s possible to rent them at the front desk. Inflatable armbands and noodle floats are free to use in the pool and beverages — including alcoholic ones— can be purchased at the onsite café.
The warm water stays at 38-40 Celsius all year round, making the Secret Lagoon a perfect addition to your Golden Circle trip no matter when you are visiting. We highly recommend ending your tour there, especially in the winter when you can look up into the sky and search for the elusive Northern Lights.
Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Spa
Located in the centre of the Golden Circle, and about an hour’s drive from Reykjavík, Laugarvatn Fontana is a great place to unwind between sightseeing stops. It serves as a fantastic alternative to the Secret Lagoon and is much less crowded (and cheaper) than the famous Blue Lagoon.
Laugarvatn Fontana consists of a series of interconnected baths and steam rooms. Three of the steam rooms were built over a natural hot spring and grids in the floor allows visitors to hear the boiling, bubbling water underneath.
The spa also lies on the banks of Lake Laugarvatn and guests can walk through a gate to the lake’s shores. The beach is comprised of warm, black sand which is said to be very good for those who have arthritis and other joint illnesses. Guests can also cool down in the lake itself after a sweaty session in the steam room.
Laugarvatn Fontana also has a kitchen which serves soup and a dinner and lunch buffet every day. Not only that, there is a geothermal bakery on the premise where guests can take a walking tour of the bakery and see how they make “lava bread”. Using an old recipe, the bakers bake the bread by putting it in a pot and bury it in the warm, black sand for 24 hours. On a tour of the bakery, you’ll learn about this ancient method of baking and also get to try the bread which is served with a pinch of butter.
When travelling to another country, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. Here, we’ve answered a few frequently asked questions about the Golden Circle, which we hope will help with your planning.
How long does it take to do the Golden Circle?
The attractions found on the Golden Circle route are all relatively close to Reykjavík city, the closest one, Þingvellir, being 40 km (25 mi) from the capital. The short distance from Reykjavík means that the Golden Circle Route can easily be travelled in one day.
How long exactly does it take to travel the Golden Circle depends on how long you spend at each stop. With selective stops, driving the route should take at least 6 hours, most tours on the Traveo booking page have a duration of 6-10 hours.
- Learn more about our Small Group Packages in Iceland
When choosing the right Golden Circle tour, you should ask yourself how you would like to travel and if there is anything else you would like to see besides Þingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area and Gullfoss Waterfall.
Are you planning on visiting more attractions than the Golden Circle, such as Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon or Snæfellsnes Peninsula? Then a multi-day tour might be the right choice for you. Traveo offers both self-drive tours as well as guided multi-day tours that visit the Golden Circle as well as places like Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach and Lake Mývatn.
You can also book a day tour of the Golden Circle on Traveo, perfect for those who have already made other plans but want to spice up their holiday with an adventure or two. We offer both minibus tours to the Golden Circle as well as large coach bus tours for those on a budget. Furthermore, those looking for some style and luxury can book a super jeep tour where a professional guide will drive you around in a modified SUV.
Iceland’s Blue Lagoon is located west of Reykjavík and is, therefore, not a part of the Golden Circle. However, this tour here combines a trip around the popular sightseeing trail with a visit to the famous spa. Alternatively, you can take a look at Traveo’s custom multi-day tours since they all provide the option of adding the Blue Lagoon to your holiday.
In addition to that, you can also find a multitude of tours of the Golden Circle mixed with adrenaline-rushing adventures. These include snowmobiling on a glacier, riding the Icelandic horse, whale watching, buggy riding, and hunting for the northern lights.
What to wear when visiting the Golden Circle?
All of the attractions on the Golden Circle route are outside, so dressing warmly is key if you want to enjoy them to the fullest. The weather in Iceland is very fickle, so it is best to be prepared for both hot and cold temperatures as well as both wind and shine. A good tip for when you are visiting the Golden Circle is to wear layers of clothes so you can easily take something off in case the sun decides to grace us with a visit.
For summer visits to the Golden Circle here is what we recommend:
- Long or short sleeve t-shirt as a base layer
- Warm jumper. Preferably either fleece or wool (perhaps a traditional “lopapeysa”)
- Lightweight, wind and waterproof jacket.
- Lightweight, wind and waterproof trousers
- A warm hat, scarf and gloves or mittens (yes, even in the summer)
- Good waterproof shoes which you can walk in, such as hiking boots or trekking shoes.
For winter trips to the Golden Circle we recommend:
- Woollen underwear such as long johns, thermal long sleeve shirts and warm socks as your base layer.
- Warm jumper, either fleece or wool.
- Warm wind and waterproof jacket. Down jackets are the warmest but if you don’t have one, make sure your base layer and jumper are nice and thick.
- Outdoor trousers. Either thin, waterproof trousers to wear over regular trousers or thicker, waterproof trousers to go over your long johns.
- A warm hat, scarf and gloves or mittens.
- Good winter, boots. Waterproof with rubber sole or treads designed to grip icy surfaces, or waterproof shoes and crampons.
As stated, the weather in Iceland is very temperamental, and weather forecasts can only predict a couple of days in advance. So be prepared for anything. Pro tip: Remember the term “waterproof” when packing your bag for your Iceland trip. Sightseeing while soaking wet will put a damper on your trip (pun intended).
Where to eat on the Golden Circle?
There are several restaurants near the Golden Circle, and most are open both during lunch and dinner with some offering breakfast as well. There are also restaurants by two of the attractions on the sightseeing route: two in the Geysir Center and one by Gullfoss Waterfall.
Guided tours offer lunch breaks but where that will be is up to the tour guide. Many will make do with a stop at the Geysir Center, but others go to places such as Efstidalur Dairy Farm or Friðheimar Greenhouse. You are also free to bring lunch or a snack with you on guided tours.
If you are doing a self-drive tour, you will have to make a choice yourself on where to stop, and you have plenty of options. Below is a list of a few of our favourite restaurants and cafes found in or near the Golden Circle.
Farmers Bistro is a charming little dining establishment in Iceland’s only mushroom farm, Flúðasveppir. It is located in the small town of Flúðir, just south of Gullfoss Waterfall and Geysir Geothermal Area. It is also the perfect stop for those hungry after a dip in the Secret Lagoon.
- Read more about our Self Drive Packages in Iceland
Using geothermal energy and specialised heat-lamps, Flúðasveppir farm is able to grow both mushrooms and peppers all year round. Those visiting can book a tour of the greenhouse to learn more about the process.
The menu at Farmers Bistro is filled with items grown on-site. They offer a gourmet buffet with mushroom soup, and three types of home-made bread, as well as a selection of mushroom and bell pepper spreads.
You can also get burgers there, including both a keto burger and a vegan burger. For deserts, I recommend trying the mushroom ice cream. It is a unique and strange tasting item but pleasant, and it certainly is an experience you won’t soon forget.
Address: Farmers Bistro, Garðastígur 8, 845 Flúðir
Open: Every day from 12 – 5 PM
Friðheimar Tomato Farm
Another interesting stop is Friðheimar; a tomato farm and restaurant located in a working greenhouse which uses geothermal energy to grow vegetables the whole year-round. It is an excellent place for a lunch break for those doing a self-drive tour, but you can also find many guided Golden Circle tours which stop there.
There is also a horse show at Friðheimar where guests will learn about the history and five unique gates of the Icelandic horse. After the show, you are welcome to the stable to meet and take photos of the friendly animals and their riders.
The restaurant offers an exquisite dining experience in the greenhouse where you can enjoy delicious meals amongst the tomato plants. The menu is, of course, very tomato-heavy and the tomato soup comes highly recommended. There are also some unusual items on the menu, such as tomato desserts and even tomato beer.
If you are not visiting Friðheimar as a part of a Golden Circle guided tour, you will need to book a visit to the greenhouse and horse show in advance. It is also highly recommended that you reserve a table at the restaurant beforehand.
Address: Friðheimar, Reykholti, Bláskógabyggð, 806 Selfoss
Open: Every day from 12 – 4 PM
Efstidalur is a working cattle and dairy farm with a hotel, horse-rental, restaurant and café. They are famous locally for their delicious home-made ice cream which some have described as the best in the country.
At the Efstidalur restaurant and cafe, the emphasis is on “farm-to-table”. The meat, dairy, and vegetables on the menu are either grown there or nearby. The most popular item on the menu is arguably the ice cream, however both the cheese there and the Icelandic Skyr come highly recommended.
Address: Efsti-dalur II, 801 Bláskógabyggð
Open: Restaurant is open every day from 8 AM – 8 PM. Breakfast buffet from 8 – 9:30 AM
Ice Cream Parlour is open every day from 10 AM – 9 PM
Those who’ll continue their sightseeing in South Iceland after exploring the Golden Circle might want to check out the Miðgarð Base Camp Restaurant in Hvolsvöllur town. It is located just a little South of Gullfoss and Geysir, near the excellent Lava Centre Volcano Exhibition.
The menu offers a variety of items, including fresh lamb and salmon. There are also vegan and vegetarian options available, and the chefs are very accommodating when it comes to allergies and other food restrictions.
The best thing about Miðgarð Restaurant is not their ample portions sizes but the cosy atmosphere. It has a very small-town-feel but welcoming as well; you feel a part of the inner circle as you dine. It is a great place just to hang out and have a coffee, a cocktail or chat to the friendly staff.
Address: Dufþaksbraut 14, 860 Hvolsvöllur
Open: Breakfast every day from 8-10 AM. Lunch is only available upon request. Dinner available Wednesday – Sunday from 4 – 9 PM. The bar is open every day from 4 – 9:30 PM.
South of the Golden Circle is the little fishing village of Stokkseyri. There, you’ll find one of Iceland’s best-kept secrets: Fjöruborðið Seafood Restaurant.
Located next to a rocky shoreline, this top-notch restaurant offers a small menu consisting of beef, lamb and a vegetarian dish but they specialise in Icelandic lobster or langoustine.
Icelandic langoustine has a slightly sweet taste and a very delicate texture, and it doesn’t need much work to reveal its fantastic flavour. The most popular dishes at Fjöruborðið are the creamy langoustine bisque (which they claim includes a dash of magic), as well as lobster tails sautéed in garlic and butter.
Address: Eyrarbraut 3a, 825 Stokkseyri
Open: Every day from 12 PM, reservations are recommended.
Is a Golden Circle Tour worth it?
In short: yes, the Golden Circle is definitely worth a visit. It is the ultimate Icelandic experience; it has geothermal activity, geysers, lava fields, history, and a stunning waterfall. It is an easy day tour from Reykjavík city but also en-route to other great attractions such as Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach and Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.
Because of this, it is an extremely popular route, and it can sometimes feel a bit crowded, especially in the summer. But what popular visitor attraction isn’t? However, that does bother a few people who come here looking for solitude or fantastic Instagram photos without background characters.
How to avoid the crowds at the Golden Circle
The best way to avoid the crowds while travelling the Golden Circle route is to take a self-drive tour. That way, you can avoid the peak-hours when the larger coach buses visit these attractions.
Most of these buses leave the city between 8 – 10 AM and will arrive at the first location — usually Þingvellir National Park — about an hour later. They return to the Reykjavík late in the afternoon or early evening.
In the summer, Iceland has the midnight sun, which means 24-hours of daylight. You can explore well into the night without crowds of camera-holding tourists around. Due to limited daylight hours in the winter, avoiding the big buses might be a bit more complicated. However, there are fewer visitors in the winter, so the crowds are smaller.
If you’d rather not drive, you could do a privately guided tour where a local guide will show you some hidden gems around the Golden Circle during peak hours. Once most of the crowds have left, they will then take you to see the beautiful Þingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss Waterfall.
The last option you have is on a guided minibus tour. Granted, you will not have the complete privacy of a self-drive or a privately guided tour, but the professional guides on these excursions do their very best to avoid the large coach buses. They either try to stay ahead of the large buses or stay far enough behind that you will be able to see fewer people around.
When to visit the Golden Circle?
You can visit the Golden Circle the whole year-round, and it is equally beautiful under the bright sun as it is blanketed in white snow.
In the summer, you will have the possibility to stay out late to explore the attractions on the Golden Circle without crowds. You won’t have to worry about snow, and you can probably leave your woollen underwear at home.
In the winter, the Golden Circle is slightly less crowded, but the weather might not be favourable. You will need to dress warm and watch your step on the icy roads. However, if you stay out until it is dark, there is a possibility of seeing the beautiful Northern Lights dance in the sky above.
So no matter when you will visit the Golden Circle, you are sure to see some of the most beautiful natural wonders found in Iceland, and hopefully have a fantastic time.
Have you visited the Golden Circle? When did you go, and what did you think about it? Are you planning a trip? Let us know in the comments below.