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The Ultimate Golden Circle Itinerary: 6 Must See Highlights

The Ultimate Golden Circle Itinerary: 6 Must See Highlights

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From incredible waterfalls to sparkling blue lakes, there is so much beauty within Iceland. A perfectly planned Golden Circle itinerary will allow you to see all of the landscapes and attractions that Iceland is most known for.

If you don’t know what to see in the Golden Circle in Iceland, then our Golden Circle itinerary promises to show you six spectacular highlights you must see. We’ll also point out a couple of optional landmarks you could add to your itinerary if you’ve got the time to do so.

By following our itinerary, you’ll be treated to different scenery throughout the drive rather than having to double back on yourself. We’ve also given you ample opportunity to hop out of the car for a spot of hiking as well.

Are you ready? Let’s go! Who’s got shotgun?!

Golden Circle Stops: How Your Golden Circle Itinerary Could Look

Iceland Golden Circle

This Golden Circle itinerary will show you six popular Golden Circle stops to add to your driving route plus two optional stops if you’ve got extra time.

Here’s an overview of how it looks:

Stop 1. Thingvellir National Park – where you can walk through two tectonic plates and see glistening lakes, roaring waterfalls and pretty churches

Stop 2. (Optional) Laugarvatn Fontana – where you can swim in geothermal pools and steam baths powered by Iceland’s natural hot springs

Stop 3. Brúarfoss Waterfall – a stunning bright blue waterfall, which is something of a hidden gem compared to its distant relative: Gullfoss

Stop 4. Geysir Hot Spring Area – where you’ll find boiling hot springs at every turn and the almighty Strokkur Geysir (aka The Churn), which erupts every few minutes and by over 20 metres each time

Stop 5. Gullfoss – one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland and where the Golden Circle gets its name (Gullfoss = “Golden Falls”)

Stop 6. Secret Lagoon – completely natural hot spring you can bathe in and significantly cheaper than the Blue Lagoon

Stop 7. (Optional) Skálholt Cathedral – historic church with picturesque surroundings

Stop 8. Kerið Crater – where you’ll find a deep volcanic crater filled with bright blue water 

Golden Circle Itinerary Map

Here’s a quick look at how the above Golden Circle itinerary looks when plotted into the famous Golden Circle driving route:

Is this Golden Circle itinerary not quite what you were after? We also offer custom travel planning services!

Driving The Golden Circle: How Long Do You Need?

You can technically drive the Golden Circle in one day, which would take around six to eight hours including time for photographs. Or another popular option is to embark on a day tour if you’re not doing an Iceland road trip.

However, we wouldn’t recommend doing it like this. We chose to split these attractions up across the whole time we were in Iceland so we weren’t rushing and could appreciate them fully.

We also wanted the opportunity to explore on foot without rushing too.

As an example, Thingvellir National Park itself warrants a few hours to explore it on foot and there’s a 2-3 hour hike involved in seeing Brúarfoss Waterfall too.

Therefore, if you’re hoping to see all of these Golden Circle highlights in one day then you would probably feel rushed and not be able to see and appreciate all of the beauty on offer.

Iceland Mountains

3 Day Golden Circle Itinerary

We’d recommend seeing these highlights of the Golden Circle over the course of three days as shown in the example Golden Circle itinerary below:

Day 1: 

  • Thingvellir National Park Hike (3-4 hours)
  • Laugarvatn Fontana

Day 2:

  • Brúarfoss Hike (2-3 hours)
  • Gullfoss
  • Geysir Hot Spring Area
  • Secret Lagoon

Day 3: 

  • Skálholt Cathedral
  • Kerið Crater

6 Must See Golden Circle Stops + 2 Bonus Stops

If you want to know more about each stop on this Golden Circle itinerary then take a look at the detailed info below…

Stop 1. Thingvellir National Park

Church in Thingvellir National Park, Iceland

When driving from Reykjavik, consider starting your Golden Circle itinerary at Thingvellir National Park. Found about an hour away from Reykjavik, it’s the first Golden Circle highlight you’ll come across.

Thingvellir is a large UNESCO World Heritage Site, which will reward you with walks beside bright blue lakes, hidden waterfalls and a tiny church. It even has multiple viewing platforms to give you the best views of the beautiful landscape.

There is parking throughout Thingvellir costing 750 ISK (Icelandic Krónur) for the entire day. Our recommendation would be to head to the Thingvellir Visitor Centre and park there as it’s not far to walk before you find the viewpoint behind the centre. 

On a clear day, you can see all that the park has to offer and be faced with some of the most picturesque views. Once finished with the viewpoint, follow the wooden walkways to take you on a walk through the great Almannagjá fault and then onto hidden waterfalls. 

You’ll be first faced with one pretty waterfall, but if you can spare the time; walk past this and on for about a mile until you see signs pointing you to the Öxarárfoss waterfall. 

Öxarárfoss Waterfall

This spot is hidden behind mountainous rocks so you’d never know it was there if not exploring. This is quite a popular waterfall for professional photographers and with the gushing waterfall, flowing river and black rocks, you can certainly see why.

If you have an empty water bottle with you, consider filling it up from one of the mini river flows. Icelanders are very proud of how clean their water is, and when filling your bottle here, you will see for yourself just how unpolluted it really is.

Fresh water taken from a waterfall in Iceland

Once you’ve discovered the waterfalls, follow the roads around to the other side of the lakes. This will allow you to photograph the quaint church you spotted from the viewpoint above and continue on to see yet more sparkling blue lakes and flowing streams.

For more info on this particular hike through Thingvellir National Park, take a look at our special guide here.

Stop 2. (Bonus) Laugarvatn Fontana

Golden Circle Stop: Laugarvatn Fontana
Pictures: Laugarvatn Fontana

Laugarvatn Fontana is just 40 minutes from the visitor centre at Thingvellir.

The reason why we’ve labelled this as a ‘bonus’ Golden Circle stop is because you actually have the chance to soak in geothermal water later on within the Golden Circle as well.

If you’re pressed for time, we’d recommend waiting to soak in the Secret Lagoon. But if you have the recommended three days to spare, then by all means, do take the chance to head to Laugarvatn Fontana.

Here, you can relax in geothermal pools and steam baths powered by Iceland’s natural hot springs and even head to the Finnish-style sauna.

Laugarvatn is usually open until 10pm so you can certainly end your first day in the Golden Circle here – and take your time doing so!

Stop 3. Brúarfoss Waterfall

Brúarfoss Waterfall

Brúarfoss is known as “Iceland’s Bluest Waterfall”. No matter the time of year, this waterfall is a stunning shade of bright blue and looks like it’s straight out of a magical storybook.

We recommend starting your second day in the Golden Circle here as you have to hike in order to see the waterfall, which takes around two or three hours to and from your car. 

You would need enough time to do this hike in daylight and as you can park right next to each of the other attractions on this day, we think it makes sense to start your day with a hike. 

Ideally, you’ll start early and hopefully see less tourists along the way too!

For a full look at what this hike looks like, take a look at this in-depth guide from Earth Trekkers.

Stop 4. Geysir Hot Spring Area

Geysir Hot Spring Area, Iceland

It takes around 25 minutes to drive from where you parked your car at Brúarfoss to get to the Geysir Hot Spring Area. There’s ample parking just across from the hot spring park itself so no need for any more epic hikes today!

The Geysir Hot Spring Area is your chance to see erupting geysirs and bubbling hot springs. There are multiple springs here to marvel at as they boil like witches’ cauldrons, but it’s safe to say that Strokkur Geysir (also known as The Churn) really steals the show.

Strokkur Geysir

At first, you’ll spot a row of tourists and photographers poised with their cameras and mobile phones – they look like they’re queuing for something! In actual fact, they are just getting ready for Strokkur to blow and erupt steam over 20 metres in the air. 

Once you join the throng of people to take your own photos, you will see why they were all poised – this geysir offers little to no warning before erupting. The steam spurts high in the air and so fast that you’ll miss it in the blink of an eye if you’re not careful.

Top Tip: Stand to the left hand side of the geysir and keep an eye on it. It will be here that you’ll spot the bright blue bubble that signals its eruption. On the other side, this is hidden by the sheer amounts of steam the geysir produces so could be easily missed if you’re not prepared or in the know.

Entry and parking for the geysirs is free, although small voluntary donations are welcomed.

Stop 5. Gullfoss Waterfall


Within about 15 minutes of the geysirs, you can be at Gullfoss Falls.

They say that Gullfoss is the A-List star and the crown jewel of the Golden Circle. After all, this is how the Golden Circle got its name (Gullfoss = “Golden Falls”). And when visiting, it’s easy to see why Gullfoss is so special.

From every viewpoint available to you here, you will think or exclaim aloud the word: “Wow!” It’s really quite difficult to put into words just how incredible Gullfoss is but I’ll do my best.

Gullfoss, Iceland

There are a series of waterfalls that combine to produce the sprawling river and large waterfalls that Gullfoss is famous for. All of this is found within the middle of a vast crater, which adds to the spectacular scenery. Gullfoss is at its prettiest in the colder months as the water is a beautiful blue colour rather than murky brown.

We’ve attempted to describe and photograph the incredible views of this waterfall. But it really is something else to see it firsthand. You need to experience that “Wow!” moment for yourself.

NB: Entry to Gullfoss is completely free – you don’t even have to pay for parking!

Stop 6. Secret Lagoon

Secret Lagoon Spa in Iceland

Found around 40 minutes south of Gullfoss is the Secret Lagoon. 

This is your second chance within this particular Golden Circle itinerary to bathe in geothermal water. This time it’s in the shape of the Secret Lagoon – a totally natural hot spring and the oldest of all the swimming pools in Iceland.

End your second day in the Golden Circle with a twilight session at the Secret Lagoon and simply bathe, float and relax completely. 

The Secret Lagoon doesn’t have any timed entry, so once you’re inside, you’re welcome to stay for as long or as little as you like (until 8pm in the winter, 10pm in the summer).

Once you’ve finished relaxing, take a wander along the wooden paths and see the surrounding hot springs and even your very own miniature geysir. Personally, we think this adds to the special vibe the Secret Lagoon offers.

For Iceland hot spring etiquette, take a look at this guide. Some of our Iceland travel tips might surprise you!

Stop 7. (Bonus) Skálholt Cathedral

Skálholt Cathedral
Photo Credit: big-ashb, Flickr

Alas, it’s time for your third and final day in the Golden Circle. If you don’t have to rush back to Reykjavik or the airport, we’d recommend making a quick pit stop at Skálholt Cathedral.

This is a historic Icelandic church with such picturesque surroundings that we think it warrants a quick photo opportunity if you have the time.

Stop 8. Kerið Crater

Kerid Crater, Iceland

Drive for just 20 minutes from Skálholt Cathedral and you’ll find Kerið Crater, the last stop on this Golden Circle itinerary.

Here, you’ll find a large volcanic crater with bright blue water at the bottom. If you hike to the bottom of it, you’ll find benches dotted along the lake, which are perfect for epic Instagram photos.

It costs 400 ISK to see Kerið Crater.

Don’t Miss When Driving The Golden Circle: Icelandic Horses

Icelandic Horses in the Golden Circle, Iceland

Throughout the Golden Circle, you will probably see hundreds of Icelandic horses. 

If you’ve visited England (outside of London), then these beautiful horses are a little like a cross between a Shetland pony and the wild ponies you can find grazing in the New Forest. 

For those of you who haven’t seen this type of wild horse before, then I expect seeing them in Iceland will be an absolute wonder for you.

Most of the horses seem to be tame and welcome strokes. You’ll spot quite a few cars pulling over to view and pet them. However, it’s still best to take your care with these animals and leave them alone should you spot any strange, odd or threatening behaviour. 

That said, in the full five days we were in Iceland, we didn’t see a single horse acting oddly.

Where To Stay In The Golden Circle

What could be better than staying in a quaint cabin in the heart of the Golden Circle

Although you could move around the Golden Circle throughout the three days and sleep somewhere new each night, there’s also nothing stopping you from picking a central location and driving to and from each attraction or set of attractions.

To help, here are a few options for where to stay in the Golden Circle:

Want more tips on where to stay in Iceland? Check out our first timer’s guide! >>>

Final Thoughts

Our Golden Circle itinerary promises to show you six absolute gems of the Golden Circle in Iceland and two bonus ones. To be honest, these attractions should be must sees on all first time trips to Iceland! Each of these highlights of the Golden Circle offer something unique, but I think it’s also safe to say that they all offer spectacular scenery, beauty and magic.

The Golden Circle in Iceland in the snow at sunrise

Read More & Plan Your Trip To Iceland

Take a look at all of our Iceland travel blogs for tips, advice and inspiration galore!

We hope you like our Golden Circle itinerary and enjoy visiting each and every one of these spectacular highlights of the Golden Circle in Iceland! Is there anything else you want to know about them? Let us know in the comments and we’ll get back to you asap!

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