If you don’t have a week for the entire Ring Road, driving the Golden Circle is the perfect way to see several attractions in a short amount of time. The popular 300 km (185 mile) route is close to Reykjavik and is ideal for the layover visitor staying in Iceland for a couple days.
There are countless tour opportunities leaving Reykjavik all day everyday, but I encourage you to rent a car and take control of your own adventure. The route can be driven in 3 hours, but take your time, discover the side roads, and spend the entire day exploring the Golden Circle.
Be mindful that gas is expensive in Iceland, about $2 per liter ($7.50 a gallon!) but with a couple friends you can totally drive the route on a budget.
Here’s a guide of things you can’t miss:
The most popular and arguably most spectacular waterfall in Iceland, Gulfoss was our first stop of the day coming from the east on roads 32 & 30. Gulfoss consists of two waterfalls totaling 31 meters (over 100 ft) which sits in a gorge carved out by the last Ice Age.
The gorge was formed by flash flood waters that forced their way through cracks in the basalt lava layers. The water flow is so strong that foreign investors tried to build an electricity power plant here, but efforts were blocked by Sigríður Tómasdóttir, daughter of the owner of the estate.
After descending a long staircase, visitors can follow the path to a lookout over the roaring falls. Bring a waterproof jacket and pants, you will get soaked!
Just 10 minutes down the road from Gulfoss is Haukadalur, a geothermal area with steam pools, colorful springs, and two famous geysers: Geysir and Strokkur. Geysir is only active during earthquakes and Strokkur constantly erupts every 10 minutes or so.
Just like Namafjall in northern Iceland, Haukadalur reeks of rotten eggs and reminds me of Yellowstone National Park with its mini Grand Prismatic Spring, mud pools, and fumaroles.
Þingvellir National Park
The location of Iceland’s First Parliament dating back to 930 AD, an assembly gathered here at Þingvellir (Pronounced Thingvellir) to discuss laws and convict citizens of their crimes. Men were often beheaded while women were drowned for their wrongdoings.
Besides being a place of historical significance, Þingvellir is a protected national park due to its unique geological features. Sitting between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, Þingvellir is a perfect representation of continental drift.
Formed by excess water from a nearby geothermal power plant, the Blue Lagoon is hands down the most popular attraction in Iceland. I’m usually not one to pay $45 to hangout in a pool with hundreds of other people, but even I admit it: you have to go!
I’ll write a more detailed post on everything you need to know for the Blue Lagoon, but here’s a couple important things to be mindful of.
Tickets start around $45 and go up depending on how luxurious you’re feeling. You MUST buy them in advance since they only allow limited people in at a time to avoid overcrowding.
Ladies (and men), if you don’t want crunchy hair for a week, avoid getting your hair wet at all costs! It can actually damage your hair so keep it up and smother it with the provided conditioner when you get out.
Other than that, just enjoy yourself, you’re in a geothermal pool in Iceland after all! Between our silica mud mask, wading in the warm water, and roasting in one of the saunas we easily spent a couple hours here pampering ourselves after an exhausting week of travel.