The Golden Circle is one of the top highlights in Iceland. Actually every tourist who travels to Iceland also comes here. Some even exclusively, because of the proximity to the airport, many stop here even with only a one-day stopover and look at the sights of the Golden Circle. But what can you actually see here and how much time do you need for the Golden Circle? Is one day at the Golden Circle enough and where can you stay overnight? We present you the highlights of the Golden Circle and give you a few tips.
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The Golden Circle in Iceland
The Golden Circle is one of the most famous and most visited sights in Iceland. But what is the Golden Circle anyway? The route is neither a circle nor is it golden here. But then where does this strange name come from? One of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland, Gullfoss is located on the Golden Circle and translates to “The Golden Waterfall”. And the distance you can drive here to really see all the highlights is roughly equivalent to a circle.
That’s where the name Golden Circle comes from. In summary, you get to see several top sights within a few hours or kilometers. This is not so common in Iceland. Also, the Golden Circle is only about 1 hour away from the airport or the capital Reykjavik.
Therefore, it is also very easy for day tourists to come here to see 3 great sights of Iceland. Accordingly, there are many more tourists here than in the rest of Iceland. There are big tourist buses everywhere and taking a picture without other tourists in the frame is not really easy.
The sights of the Golden Circle
Thingvellir National Park
The first highlight of the Golden Circle is Thingvellir. This is the most important historical site in Iceland and is located in the national park of the same name. Over 1000 years ago, the first parliamentary assembly in history took place here. 4000 people gathered in Thingvellir in the year 930 to discuss new laws and moderate disputes.
But the geology of the place is also very worth seeing, because in Thingvellir the rifts between the Eurasian and the American continental plate are visible and you can virtually walk between the continents. Thingvellir National Park is also home to Iceland’s largest lake (Thingvallavatn), which is surrounded by a total of four active volcanoes.
Strokkur is the most active and temporally reliable geyser in the world. Every few minutes it shoots a several meters high water fountain into the air. Right next to it, by the way, is the geyser “Geysir”. Read correctly! Here stands the namesake of all other geysers in the world, but unfortunately it is no longer active today.
The area around the geysers is a large geothermal area. Everywhere it bubbles out of the earth and there are signs posted that you should be careful because the steam shoots out of the earth at almost 100 degrees.
The highlight of the site is the Strokkur geyser, which erupts every 8-10 minutes and shoots a fountain of steam and water about 25 meters into the air. All the time tens of tourists stand at the barrier of the geyser and wait with drawn cell phones for the next eruption.
Further back you can climb a hill from which you have a good overview of the whole area. Besides the large visitor parking lot, there is also a restaurant and a visitor center with a souvenir store.
Gullfoss is Iceland’s most visited waterfall. The water masses plunge here from a height of 30 meters in several stages into the depth and cause a deafening noise. You should pay attention to waterproof clothes if you want to get close to the waterfall!
There is a large parking lot for visitors, where you will also find a souvenir store, and a smaller parking lot (marked “for coaches”) where you can park closer to the waterfall. You can get pretty close to the waterfall and from the right angle you can also see a big rainbow in the spray. For us one of the most beautiful and definitely biggest waterfalls in Iceland.
Other sights at the Golden Circle
The Crater Kerið
Gettng to the Golden Circle
From Reykjavík or Keflavík Airport you can reach the beginning of the Golden Circle in about one hour. If you want to see all the highlights of the Golden Circle you will have to drive about 250 kilometers including the drive from Reykjavik.
Conclusion I Is the Golden Circle worth it?
In our opinion it is worth to visit the Golden Circle. At least 3 of the attractions (Gulfoss, Strokkur, Thingvellir National Park) you should visit. If you have very little time, then only Gulfoss and Strokkur Geysir are enough.
The other destinations are not mega spectacular and still relatively crowded, so you can skip them on an Iceland road trip. In general, you have to be prepared for large crowds of tourists, which are not to be experienced so strongly in the rest of Iceland. But if you have no time left on your Iceland road trip, then you can also skip the Golden Circle.
How many days should you spend at the Golden Circle?
In our opinion, you can see everything here in half a day or a full day. For the top 3 highlights (see above) you only need a few hours if you are in the area. If you want to take your time or have a lot of time left, you can spend 2 days here.
But we would not recommend more.