3 Day Self Drive Tour | The Golden Circle & Hraunfossar Falls
See Iceland's finest sights and most popular attractions in only 3 days on this self-drive tour! This tour is perfect for those that don't have much time, but want to see as much as possible, including the most popular sites in Iceland, the Golden Circle, the Blue Lagoon and more!
From the international airport, a short drive takes you directly to Iceland’s famous Golden Circle. The Golden Circle includes Geysir geothermal area and the mighty waterfall Gullfoss. Finally, take your time at Þingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The next day, you’ll have a choice: You can explore stunning lava waterfalls, Europe's highest flowing hot spring, and the mountainous fjords of the west coast. Or, if you like, drive along Snæfellsnes peninsula instead, to admire one of Iceland's most picturesque glaciers, Snæfellsjökull. Finally, dig into Reykjavík and have a dip in the milky waters of the Blue Lagoon.
The days are yours to enjoy however you like. You are the driver, so you can spend longer at the attractions you like and leave other ones behind. During the long and bright summernights you can listen to the birds chirping in the calm nature, or if you're here in wintertime you may be able to admire the Northern Lights dancing across the starry sky. It's ok to fall in love with this country!
We know what brings you to Iceland: a chance to revitalize your spirit after too long spent at the daily grind. A quiet space to reflect is even more important on a short holiday! It's hard to take in the beauty of the ocean cliffs while blinded by camera flashes.
That's why we've included a special selection of little-known locations within the custom itinerary you'll receive as part of your vacation package. We promise you’ll be one of the few at some of these spots so that you can take joy in the moment.
Make the most of a fleeting visit to Iceland! Check availability by choosing a date.
- Available: All year
- Duration: 3 days
- Activities: Snorkelling, Caving, Hiking, Snowmobile, Super Jeep, Sightseeing, Northern lights hunting, Hot Spring Bathing, Bird watching, Self drive
- Difficulty: Easy
The Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa and is the single most popular attraction in Iceland.
The water is rich in silica and sulphur that helps make your skin shine like a baby. The Blue Lagoon also operates a Research and Development facility that helps find cures for skin ailments using the mineral-rich water.
The temperature in the bathing and swimming area is very comfortable, and averages 37–39 °C (98–102 °F). There´s a restaurant there and it´s a truly romantic and beautiful place one should not miss while in Iceland.
Reykjavik is the capital of Iceland and the northernmost capital of a sovereign state in the world.
Despite a small population (120.000 and more than 200.000 in the Greater Reykjavik area), it is a vibrant city that draws an ever increasing number of visitors. It is the financial, cultural and governmental centre of Iceland. It also has a reputation of being one of the cleanest and safest cities in the world.
The city of Reykjavik is located in southwest Iceland by the creek of the same name. Throughout the ages, the landscape has been shaped by glaciers, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and the area is geothermal. Much of the current city area area was subglacial during the Ice Age, with the glacier reaching as far as the Álftanes peninsula, while other areas lay under the sea. After the end of the ice age the land rose as the glaciers drifted away, and it began to take on its present form.
The coastline of Reykjavik is set with peninsulas, coves, straights and islands, most notably the island of Videy, and seabirds and whales frequent the shores. The mountain ring as seen from the shore is particularly beautiful. Mount Esja is the highest mountain in the vicinity of Reykjavik and lends its distinct feature to the whole area. This majestic mountain is also highly popular for climbing. Other notable mountains that can be seen from the seaside are Akrafjall and Skardsheidi and on clear days one may even see as far to the legendary Snaefellsjokull glacier, at the end of the Snafellsnes peninsula.
The largest river to run through the city is Ellidaa in Ellidaardalur valley, which is also one of Iceland‘s best rivers for salmon fishing.
There are no trains or trams in Iceland, but most people travel by car. The city also operates a bus system. There are two major harbours in town, the old harbour in the centre and Sundahofn in the east. The domestic Reykjavik Airport is located at Vatnsmyrin, not far from the city centre and close to Oskjuhlid and Perlan. The international Keflavik Airport at Midnesheidi heath then lies around 50 km from the city. Cars, jeeps and bicycles can be readily rented in the city and many organized tours are also being offered.
What to See & Do in Reykjavik
The local arts scene is strong in Iceland, with both annual events and single ones, many of whom have hit the international stage. For the annual ones please check our articles Best Annual Events in Iceland and the Top Ten Festivals in Iceland. Major events taking place in Reykjavik include the Iceland Airwaves, Gay Pride, RIFF (The Reykjavik International Film Festival), The Reykjavik Literature Festival, Cultural Night, the Reykjavik Arts Festival, Food & Fun, the Reykjavik Fashion Festival and the Sónar music festival.
Among famous people from Reykjavik are artists Bjork Gudmundsdottir, Sigur Ros, writers Halldor Laxness (born in Laugavegur) and Arnaldur Indridason and mayor Jon Gnarr. For more well-known and fairly-well known Icelanders, check our article on the subject.
You might also want to check our article on some of the many things to see and do in Reykjavik, such as visiting the city‘s many museums, exhibitions and galleries, checking out live music, visiting the Harpa music hall or the theatres, visiting the lighthouse at Grotta, the main shopping street of Laugavegur, visiting the old harbour and the flea market, going on a bird- and whale watching tour or visiting Videy island. We also have a top ten list of things to do.
Make sure to visit the public square of Austurvollur, one of the city‘s most popular gathering places, where you‘ll also find the national parliament, Althingi, the state church a statue of independence hero Jon Sigurdson, as well as cafés, bars and restaurants. Austurvollur was central in the 2008 protests, along with Laekjargata, home to the House of Government. You are also not likely to miss the great church of Hallgrimskirkja that towers over the city from the hill of Skolavorduholt, wherefrom you‘ll get a great view of the city.
Try a walk by the city pond, greet the many birds that frequent the area and visit the city hall, stationed by its banks. The Hljomaskalagardur is a beautiful park that lies by the pond, it ideal for a nice walk and sometimes concerts get held there. Further off is the campus of the university of Iceland, the Nordic house and the Vatnsmyri wetland, a particularly pleasant place, but be mindful of not disturbing the wildlife there and keep to the pathways.
For a nice swim on a warm day, we particularly recommend Nautholsvik beach.
Visit the Laugardalur valley, home to one of the city‘s best swimming pools, as well as the Asmundarsafn gallery, a beautiful botanical garden and a domestic zoo. A walk by the Aegissida beach, with it‘s old fishing sheds, in the west part of Reykjavik also holds a particular charm. The aforementioned Elllidaardalur valley is also a popular resort.
Another place that offers one of the city‘s best (and free) views is Perlan, up in Oskjuhlid hill. The hill itself is a popular resort, with over 176.000 trees and great opportunities for walking and cycling.
Travel to Alftanes to see the president‘s house at Bessastadir, which is also a historical site in it‘s own right, having been the educational centre of Iceland for centuries. Nearby is a beautiful lava field, Galgahraun, well worth a visit, though there is currently an environmental struggle going on as to it‘s future state.
The city is furthermore a short drive from many of Iceland‘s major attractions, most famously the Golden Circle and the Blue Lagoon. In close vicinity you‘ll also find the Heidmork preservation area, a favourite pastime resort of the people of Reykjavik, as well as the Blue Mountains, one of Iceland‘s most beloved skiing venues.
Check our Best of Reykjavik guide further for tips on the best cheap things to do in Reykjavik, some of the best restaurants in the city, happy hours, the top ten value places to eat and our two articles on the famous Reykjavik nightlife; Nightlife in Reykjavik and Nightlife and mating.
Finally, we‘d like to stress that these are only some suggestions of the many things you might check out in Reykjavik. Whatever you choose to do, we hope you‘ll be able to make the most of your visit and we wish you a pleasant stay in our capital.
Geysir is a famous hot spring in Haukadalur valley in South Iceland. Part of the ‘Golden Circle', Geysir gives its name to hot springs all over the world.
Though Geysir itself is hardly active anymore, the area features spectacular hot springs such as the powerful Strokkur, which spouts a vast amount of water every 10 minutes, around 15-20 meters into the air, Smidur and Litli-Strokkur.
North of Geysir are fumaroles, i.e. unlike the hot springs that emit hot water, only steam and gas emanate from these. You may be able to observe bright yellow stains at the fumaroles, this is native sulphur, which crystallizes from the steam. At the southern part of the geothermal area, called Thykkuhverir, you‘ll find various mud pots. Such mud pots are actually fumaroles that boil up through surface water/groundwater and may become steaming fumaroles during dry spells, rather than the usual boiling mud pots.
About 2 km from Geysir is an old preserved natural pool called Kúalaug. One can bathe in it and it has room for 3-5 people at a time, but care should be taken, as the area around the pool is very delicate. The temperature is 39-43°C, depending on how you are positioned in the pool. The water is slightly muddy, as the pool is built on soil, and the bottom is slippery due to algae, so caution is advised.
In Haukadalur there has also been tree planting in recent times and today the forest Haukadalsskógur is one of the largest in South Iceland. Aspen, various types of pine, and other plants have been tried out there and experiments and research continue. We also recommend visiting the tree museum, built in the memory of forester Gunnar Freysteinsson. There are good paths and roads in the forest and the wood is specially designed to accommodate wheelchairs.
Haukadalur has been a church site since ancient time. The current wooden church was last rebuilt in 1938 but the variety and appearance of the church dates back to 1842, making it one of the oldest of its kind in Iceland.
Haukadalur is indeed a historical place. It was settled during the age of settlement and scholar Ari “The Wise“ Thorgilsson grew up there. The first pastoral school in Iceland was also built there.
For accommodation, Hotel Gullfoss is about 7 km from the Geysir area, and closer still is the Hotel Geysir.
Gullfoss (translated to ‘Golden Falls’) is one of Iceland’s most iconic and beloved waterfalls, found on the Hvítá river canyon in south Iceland. The water in Hvítá river travels from the glacier Langjökull, finally cascading 32m down Gullfoss’ two stages in a dramatic display of nature’s raw power.
Because of the waterfall’s two stages, Gullfoss should actually be thought of as two separate waterfalls. The first, shorter stage of the waterfall is 11m, whilst the second stage is 21m. The canyon walls on both sides of the waterfall reach heights of up to 70m, descending into the 2.5km long Gullfossgjúfur canyon (geologists indicate that this canyon was formed by glacial outbursts at the beginning of the last age.)
In the summer, approximately 140 cubic metres of water surges down the waterfall every second, whilst in winter that number drops to around 109 cubic metres. With such energy, visitor’s should not be surprised to find themselves drenched by the waterfall’s mighty spray-off.
In the early days of the last century, Gullfoss was at the centre of much controversy regarding foreign investors and their desire to profit off Iceland’s nature. In the year 1907, an English businessman known only as Howells sought to utilise the waterfall’s energy and harboured ambitions to use its energy to fuel a hydroelectric plant.
At the time, Gullfoss was owned by a farmer named Tómas Tómasson. Tómas declined Howell’s offer to purchase the land, stating famously “I will not sell my friend!” He would, however, go on to lease Howells the land, inadvertently beginning the first chapter of Icelandic environmentalism.
It was Tómas’ daughter, Sigríður Tómasdóttir, who would lead the charge. Having grown up on her father’s sheep farm, she sought to get the lease contract nullified, hurriedly saving her own money to hire a lawyer. The ensuing legal battle was an uphill struggle; the case continued for years, forcing Sigríður to travel many times by foot to Reykjavík if only to keep the trial moving. Circumstances became so difficult that Sigríður threatened to throw herself into the waterfall if any construction began.
Thankfully, in 1929, the waterfall fell back into the hands of the Icelandic people. Today, Sigríður is recognised for her perseverance in protecting Gullfoss and is often hailed as Iceland’s first environmentalist. Her contribution is forever marked in stone; a plaque detailing her plight sits at the top of Gullfoss.
Restaurant / Cafe
Besides Gullfoss, visitors can enjoy the views from Gullfoss Cafe, a locally run delicatessen that serves a wide variety of refreshments and meals. The menu has options to tantalise everyone’s taste buds; hot soups, sandwiches, salads and cakes. There is also a shop on site where visitors’ can browse and purchase traditional Icelandic souvenirs.
Thingvellir is one of the most important sites to visit in Iceland for its landscape, history and cultural value.
The Icelandic parliament was founded in Thingvellir in 930 and remained there for centuries.Thingvellir is surrounded by a beautiful mountain range and is the site of a rift valley, marking the crest of the Mid-Atlantic range. Today it is a natural park, listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and considered a vital part of the ‘Golden triangle’ (with Geysir and Gullfoss). Of particular note is the magnificent gorge Almannagja, which marks the eastern boundary of the north American plate and into which the beautiful waterfall Oxararfoss falls.
Other notable attractions within the park include the beautiful lake Thingvallavatn, the largest lake in Iceland, the Silfra fissure, one of the world's top dives, and Gjabakkahellir, one of Iceland's most interesting lava tubes.
Hraunfossar in Borgarfjordur district is a series of beautiful waterfalls formed by rivulets streaming from a short distance out of the Hallmundarhraun lava field.
The lava field flowed from an eruption of one of the volcanoes lying under the glacier Langjokull. The waterfalls pour into the Hvita river from ledges of less porous rock in the lava. These are some of the most magnificent falls found in Iceland and not to be missed.
Deildartunguhver, by Reykholt, in Borgarfjordur district, has the highest flow rate for a hot spring in Europe.
The flow rate of Deildartunguhver is 180 liters/second and water emerges at 97 °C. The place is also unique for being the only place in the country where the hard fern grows.
Kerið is a volcanic crater lake in Grímsnes in south Iceland. It is a popular stop when traveling the Golden Circle.
It is believed that Kerið was originally a cone volcano that erupted and and emptied its magma reserve. Once the magma was depleted, the weight of the cone collapsed into an empty magma chamber, later to be filled with water.
The Kerið caldera is composed of red volcanic rock and is around 55 m deep, 170 m wide and 270 m across. There is little vegetation in the steep-walled crater, save for one wall with a gentler slope which is covered with deep moss. This wall is fairly easy to descend.
The lake itself is fairly shallow and is striking in its beauty. Opaque and aquamarine, surrounded by the red crater walls, Kerið offers a great contrast of colours and a highly impressive scenery.
The acoustics of the crater are considered to be fairly good, and a number of concerts have been held inside Kerið. There is a small admission fee to visit Kerið, 400 ISK per person (as of 2017).
Akranes is a port town in the west of Iceland, approximately 42 km from Reykjavik, lying at the tip of the peninsula separating Hvalfjörður and Borgarfjörður.
Settled in the 9th Century by Irish brothers, Þormóður and Ketill, the town only began to take full shape in the mid-1700s. In 1942, the town was officially chartered and saw a great surge in its population growth. Today, Akranes has a population of approx. 6700. An important service centre for surrounding regions, Akranes is expected to continue growing in future years. The town holds both a cement plant and a nearby aluminium smelter, though fishing is still the largest contributor to the town’s economy. Akranes is also known for its strong footballing tradition. The town boasts one of the country’s best football teams, Íþróttabandalag Akraness.
The Akranes Folk Museum at Garðar is the cultural hub of the town, consisting of a folk museum, a few 19th and 20th-century houses and boats, the Iceland Sports Museum and various temporary exhibitions.
The houses open to visitors are the Garðar house, the first concrete house in Iceland, originally built as a vicarage in 1876; Neðri-Sýrupartur from 1875, the oldest preserved timber house in the Akranes area; Sandar-Vestri, a 1901 working class family’s home; as well as the Folk Museum and the exhibitions of the Museum Hall.
The museum's collection includes household items, various tools and machinery used by craftsmen, farmers and fishermen, medical equipment, costumes, part of a turf house, and much more.
The town sits at the base of the domineering basalt mountain, Akrafjall (643m). The mountain top has some of the best panoramic views of West Iceland, from Faxafloi Bay to the Reykjanes Peninsula to Snaefellsjokull Glacier. Akranes Lighthouse in Breiðin (only recently opened to the public) has fantastic views over the bay and town and is operated by an amateur photographer who uses the lighthouse interior as gallery space.
Starting time : Flexible
2 nights of accommodation (different levels available; breakfast included for Comfort and Quality levels; more detailed info below)
Vehicle for 3 days (VW Polo or similar. Upgrades available)
CDW, SCDW and gravel protection insurance for vehicle
Blue Lagoon standard entrance (upgrades available)
Detailed Itinerary with fun and practical information on the nature, history and culture of Iceland
Hands-on travel agent to oversee your itinerary
What to bring:
Good to know:
Make sure you arrive in Iceland before noon to do this trip. Self-drive tours begin either in Reykjavík City or at Keflavik International Airport. A valid driver's license is required, along with a one-year long on-road experience. Please be aware that your itinerary may be rearranged to better fit with your arrival date and time.
The Northern Lights are a natural phenomenon, and therefore cannot be guaranteed. They are only visible during the winter. This itinerary is designed to maximise your chances to see them if weather allows. Please be aware that your itinerary may have to be rearranged to fit your arrival date and time better.
It can happen, in the case of extreme weather, that an activity is cancelled. If your chosen activity is cancelled, we will assist you with rearranging or booking other activities when possible, and any potential price difference will be refunded to you.
Please note that this tour is available all year. If you are arriving in winter, we recommend that you opt for an upgrade to a 4x4 vehicle.
Day 1 - The Golden Circle
After landing, collect your car at the airport in Keflavik and begin a drive through the lunar landscape towards Reykjavík. Pass through the capital and go on towards the Nesjavellir Geothermal Plant. From there, you can see the hot steam rise from the ground while picturesque mountain scenery surrounds you.
The road inland passes by the spectacular crater Kerið, which holds a beautiful lake inside. There, you can stop for a short stroll before heading towards Geysir.
The next stop is the geothermal valley of Haukadalur, where you can see the geysers Strokkur and Geysir. Geysir no longer erupts, but Strokkur keeps busy, spouting hot water 20-40 meters (up to 130 feet) into the air every few minutes.
A short distance away is Iceland's most popular attraction, the mighty waterfall of Gullfoss. A pathway takes you right to the water's edge, where you can get a real sense of the enormous, natural power of the falls.
The final stop on the Golden Circle tour is the Þingvellir National Park. Here, you can walk between the rift valley of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and explore an area which plays a huge role in Iceland's history. From there, you'll head back to the west coast, spending the night either at Akranes or the town of Borgarnes.
Preferred accommodation in Borgarfjörður
Hotel Eldborg is located between Borgarnes and Stykkishólmur. All rooms are private bedrooms with shared facilities. Free Wi-Fi in public area. Breakfast not included.
Hotel Húsafell is a 3-star hotel located in Husafell. Hotel húsafell is surrounded by lush landscape. All bedrooms have private bathrooms that include shower or bath, hairdryer, and free toiletries. Free Wi-Fi. Breakfast is included.
Day 2 - The West Coast
You have two options on the second day to explore the stunning sights of West Iceland.
Option 1 -
Begin with a drive towards the lava waterfalls of Barnafoss and Hraunfoss, and on to the geothermal area of Deildartunguhver. From there, you can drive back to the main road and head for the Hvalfjörður fjord. This mountainous fjord was used by the British and American armies during WWII and arguably has some of the most striking landscapes on the west coast.
At the bottom of the fjord, you can choose to go on a scenic and undemanding 2-hour hike towards Iceland's highest waterfall, Glymur. The waterfall is surrounded by lush greenery, but don't worry - the path is marked and easily found!
Option 2 -
Begin with a drive along the Snæfellsnes peninsula, towards Snæfellsjökull glacier/volcano. You'll be driving along the seaside past beautiful mountains, and lava fields with a few trickling waterfalls as well, until you reach Snæfellsjökull National Park. Go for a short hike along the bird cliffs and admire the nearby and towering glacier!
Make a stop at the picturesque villages Arnarstapi or Hellnar before circling the peninsula and stop at Djúpalónssandur black, pebbly beach. Stop for some nice seafood soup at Café Rif before heading back to Reykjavík.
The choice is yours!
If you are going to Snæfellsnes, a tour may be difficult to fit in due to time. Otherwise, there are three that you can opt into. You can go on a fascinating lava caving excursion into Viðgelmir cave; you can explore the man-made tunnels carved into Langjökull glacier; or you can descend into the beautiful magma chamber of Þríhnjúkagígur volcano.
When back in Reykjavík, you can also visit our popular restaurants and bistros, take in a show, or have fun at a pub quiz show with the locals. It is up to you!
Preferred accommodation in Reykjavík
The Fosshótel chain has four 3-4 star Hotels located in and around the city center of Reykjavík. There is a short walk from all of the hotels to attractions, cafés, restaurants, museums and the nightlife. All offer private bedrooms with private bathrooms. Free Wi-Fi. Breakfast is included.
Day 3 - Reykjavik Sightseeing and the Blue Lagoon
Make the most of any time you have in Reykjavík before getting to the airport in time for your flight. Reykjavík is full of quirky cafés, designer shops, restaurants serving delicious delicacies, museums, galleries and a charming old harbour and town centre.
You can also pay a visit to the world-famous Blue Lagoon, whether it is for the first time or for one last indulgence, to recharge your batteries before you return home. The lagoon is warm all year round and its silica mud does wonders for your skin, making you feel relaxed but rejuvenated at the same time.
Just make sure you get to the airport in time for your return flight!
See our accommodation levels below and our preferred accommodation partners under each day in the daily itinerary. Single person bookings will be arranged in a single room, while bookings of 2 or more people will share twin/double room(s) or triple room(s). Guide to Iceland will provide you with the best available hotels and guesthouses at the time of your booking from our preferred partners. Please keep in mind that hotel quality in Iceland varies among locations and availability is highly limited. We always do our best to accommodate special requests, which may incur additional costs. The sooner you reserve the higher quality accommodation we can provide. Press choose a date at the top to find availability.
Rooms with shared bathrooms in farmhouses, guesthouses or hostels, with good locations near the best attractions. Breakfast is not included.
Rooms with a private bathroom in three star hotels or quality guesthouses. Very close to the best attractions at each location. Breakfast is included.
Below you can see the car rental options available for this self drive tour. All our vehicles are new or current models, maximum two years of age, and come equipped with a GPS, CDW, GP, and SCDW insurances. You can also upgrade to an automatic model, free of charge.
A small 2WD vehicle fit for basic travelling in everyday conditions, such as VW Polo, Toyota Yaris or similar. This vehicle does not have highland capabilities.
A medium sized jeep or SUV with 4WD (4x4) fit for most travel, and good for snow and off-asphalt travel, such as Toyota Rav4 or similar. This vehicle has basic highland capabilities.
This insurance guarantees that you can cancel the booking of this package and receive a full refund, minus the insurance cost of 5,000 ISK per person. The cancellation must be made within a minimum of 48-hours before the listed starting time. To cancel your booking and claim your refund, simply contact our service desk by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org no later than 48-hours before departure and declare the cancellation. Please note that this insurance only covers the full cancellation of this entire package. It does not cover cancellations of individual activities and services within the package. The cost of the Cancellation Insurance is neither refundable nor transferable.