Information about Golden Circle

Gullfoss, the Golden Waterfall, gave its name to the Golden Circle

The Golden Circle is a 300 kilometre (186 mile) route to the three most popular natural attractions in Iceland: the Geysir Geothermal Area, Gullfoss Waterfall and Þingvellir National Park.

This sightseeing trail is easy to do within half a day from Reykjavík, either by self-drive or on one of many tours. Some of these tours have additional activities, such as snorkelling or snowmobiling, or are conducted in a unique style, such as by helicopter, or under the midnight sun.

Within the three locations of the Golden Circle are some of the clearest examples of Iceland’s fascinating geological forces, magnificent landscapes, and rich culture.

The Geysir Geothermal Area

Strokkur blasts off in the sunset.

The Geysir Geothermal Area is a hot-spring haven in Haukadalur Valley. As could be guessed, it is home to a famous geyser, the name of which has named all others: Geysir itself.

Though this feature is currently in a phase of inactivity, its neighbour Strokkur more than makes up for it. Every five to ten minutes, it blasts a column of boiling water to heights that can reach over 40 metres (131 feet).

The surrounding area is dotted with fumaroles, hot springs, and mud-pits. There are also two other smaller geysers, Smiður and Litlí-Strokkur, that can be easily visited, as well as a hotel, restaurant, cafe and gift shop across the road.

Gullfoss Waterfall

The 'Golden Waterfall', Gullfoss one of the most beautiful and powerful waterfalls in Iceland, plummeting 32 metres (105 feet) in two tiers into the river gorge of the popular rafting river Hvítá. It is just a ten-minute drive from Geysir and is the furthest point on the Golden Circle from Reykjavík.

Gullfoss was very almost lost in the early 20th century when British developers sought to harness its incredible power for geothermal energy. Though they got the lease to the land, allowing them to go ahead with their plans, they met an unlikely adversary: the daughter of the farmer who owned it, Sigríður Tómasdóttir.

This resilient woman refused to see the waterfall, to which she and her sisters paved the first path, destroyed. She, therefore, walked over 200 kilometres (124 miles) to Reykjavík and back multiple times to meet with a lawyer in order to help change the decision.

Though the process was arduous and took years, eventually Sigríður managed to exhaust the resources of the businessmen and they withdrew their plans. Because of her, all Icelandic waterfalls are now protected from foreign investors, and she is considered one of Iceland’s first environmentalists and most important historical people.

Thingvellir National Park

The National Park is the only UNESCO site on Iceland's mainland.

The largest attraction of the Golden Circle is Þingvellir National Park. The Icelandic parliament was founded here in 930 and remained until the year 1798 before moving to Reykjavík, making it the original site of what is now the world’s longest ongoing parliament.

Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most important places to visit in Iceland. This is not just for its historical and cultural values, but for also its magnificent landscape and dramatic geology.

Þingvellir is surrounded by a beautiful mountain and volcanic ranges, as it is located in a rift valley directly between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. This makes it one of the few places in the world where you can walk between the continents, in the Mid-Atlantic Rift.

The daring and qualified even have opportunities to snorkel or scuba dive in this no-mans-land, in a ravine filled with crystal-clear spring water called Silfra. The visibility here can exceed 100 metres (328 feet), revealing incredible geological sites. Though it never freezes over due to the constant flow of water into it, it is 2°C (35°C) throughout the year, thus underwater explorers are always equipped with protective suits.

Other sites of note are the magnificent Almannagjá gorge, which you can walk down into to reach the rift valley from the North American tectonic plate, and the beautiful lake Þingvallavatn, the largest lake in Iceland, which gleams to the south of the National Park.

Surrounding sites

Due to its convenient location in south-west Iceland, it is easy to visit the Golden Circle alongside with many other sites. Those seeking relaxation could head to the Secret Lagoon in Flúðir or Fontana Spa in Laugarvatn, those seeking adventure could book a trip to the ice tunnels of Langjökull glacier, and those seeking culture could visit the Sólheimar ecovillage. For more natural beauty, you can visit the nearby Kerið crater lake.

There are many tours that include such bonuses, but if driving yourself, you should check out this guide to great detours off the Golden Circle.

Services near Golden Circle

All services in 50km radius

Attractions nearby Golden Circle

Lyngdalsheiði

Credit: Wikimedia, Creative Commons. Photo by Christian Bickel. Lyngdalsheiði is a heathland in South Iceland, known for its numerous caves. ...

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Þingvallavatn

Þingvallavatn (anglicised to Thingvallavatn, ‘the Lake of the Fields of Parliament’) is a rift valley lake located roughly forty-m...

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Hrafnagjá

  Hrafnagja is a 7.7 meter long canyon, 68 meters at its widest, located at Thingvellir National Park in South Iceland. The Hrafnagja canyon ma...

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Nesjavallavirkjun

Credit: Wikimedia, Creative Commons. Photo by Gretar Ivarsson. Nesjavallavirkjun is a geothermal power station in southwestern Iceland, operated by O...

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Nesjavellir

  Nesjavellir is a geothermal area in southwest Iceland. It is most famous for being home to the Nesjavellir geothermal power station, the s...

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Þingvellir

Þingvellir National Park is the only UNESCO World Heritage site on the Icelandic mainland and one of the three stops on the world famous Golde...

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Gjábakkahellir

Gjabakkahellir (a.k.a. Helguhellir or Stelpuhellir ('Girl cave')) is a  lava tube, located in the area of Thingvellir National Park. Gja...

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Almannagjá

Almannagjá is a gorge within Þingvellir National Park, which marks the edge of the North American tectonic plate. It is possible to hik...

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Öxarárfoss

Öxarárfoss is a waterfall situated within Þingvellir National Park in southwest Iceland.  The waterfall flows out the river ...

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Hengladalsá

Hengladalsa is a river in Southwest Iceland.  The river has its source by the Hengill area, from valleys Innstidalur, Middalur and Fremstidalur,...

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Kerið

Kerið is a volcanic crater lake in the Grímsnes area of South Iceland. It is close to the three major sites that comprise Iceland’s...

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Hengill

Hengill is an enormous mountain in south-west Iceland, covering an area of about 100 square kilometres. It is a vital source of energy for south Ice...

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Laugarvatn

Photo from Golden Circle with Northern Lights, Fontana Spa & Traditional Cuisine Laugarvatn is a hamlet of around 200 people, by the lake of...

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Reykjadalur

Reykjadalur, the Valley of Steam, is a beautiful geothermal region close to the southern town Hveragerði. It is a popular place for hiking and h...

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Ingólfsfjall

Ingólfsfjall is a 551 metre (1807 feet) tall tuff mountain, named after the country’s first official settler, Ingólfur Arnarson,...

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Þórsmörk

Nestled between the glaciers Eyjafjallajökull, Mýrdalsjökull, and Tindfjallajökull is Þórsmörk, the Valley o...

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Heiðmörk

Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Credit: TommyZ Heiðmörk is a conservation area on the outskirts of Reykjavík, popular amongst locals and...

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Hveragerði

Hveragerði is a town and municipality in the southwest of Iceland. It is often nicknamed ‘the Earthquake Town’ or ‘the Hot Spr...

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Þórufoss

Credit: Wikimedia, Creative Commons. Photo by Anna Jonna Ármannsdóttir. Þórufoss is an 18 m (62 ft) high waterfall found e...

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Sólheimar Ecovillage

Sólheimar (“Home of the Sun”) is an eco-village in southwest Iceland, in the municipality of Grímsnes og Grafningshreppur,...

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