Exploring the Most Famous Sights on Iceland’s Golden Circle Map

The Golden Circle is probably the most touristy thing you can do in Iceland but…

The Golden Circle is probably the most touristy thing you can do in Iceland but don’t let that put you off… it’s touristy because it’s good! The Iceland Golden Circle map route of Thingvellier National Park, Gulfoss Waterfall, and Geysir Hot Springs, are the ‘big 3’ sights to see, and they are amazing! But there is a lot more to discover on the route too...

Our Iceland Golden Circle Map Route

The most famous sights to see on the Golden Circle are Thingvellir National Park, Gulfoss Waterfall, and Geysir Hot Springs. But the route is a 250km circular drive starting and ending in Reykjavik, and there are lots of other stops you can make on your way.

This is our Iceland Golden Circle Map route…

Rent a Car & Drive the Golden Circle

There are many tours which cover the Golden Circle, but it’s super easy to drive it yourself if you have a hire car. And this gives you more flexibility to take some random stops on the way, as some of the scenery on the drive is almost as stunning as the main sights are!

We rented a car through Lotus Car Rental. They had a good choice of vehicles at very good prices, and the pick up and drop off couldn’t have been easier. Getting a Suzuki Jimmy 4x4, (nicknamed ‘Shark’ after our Hákark yesterday) made our trip seem like a real adventure!

Stop at Hengill Volcano & Leirvogsvatn Viewpoint

And our adventure starts as soon as we leave Reykjavik. The city streets change to open expanses of snow covered ground. Huge volcanic mountain ranges line the horizon. And we see lakes almost as big as the ocean. And we haven’t even started our Iceland Golden Circle map route yet!

Walk Between Continents in Thingvellir / Þingvellir National Park

After we take a few unscheduled stops for photos of the landscape, Thingvellir National Park is our first ‘proper’ stop on the Golden Circle, and one of the ‘big 3’ on the Iceland Golden Circle map.

Thingvellir is the only place in the world where you can stand between 2 continental tectonic plates. Or for the more adventurous, you can even snorkel between the plates in the Silfra fissure in Thingvallavatn Lake.

Being a huge national park it can be difficult to know where to start though, you could easily spend your whole day just here.

We park at carpark 1 to start at the Visitor Centre, and if you want to see some of the best sights in a short-ish time, then we recommend you do the same.

When we walk out of the Visitor Centre the infamous Icelandic weather is in full flow and it’s snowing!! 

It soon stops though and the view is clear enough for us to see the huge Thingvallavatn Lake stretch out before us, and we can walk on the rocky terrain of the tectonic plates.

We see Þingvallakirkja, the Thingvellir Church, with the river running into Thingvallavatn in front of it and the snowy mountains in the background, and the view looks absolutely magical! 

A little further on and we go past Drekkingarhylur, known as the drowning pool as it was once used to execute people who had committed crimes (yikes!). And Öxarárfoss, a large and rocky waterfall which flows into the river Öxará and the Thingvallavatn lake.

Sneha thinks this is the perfect spot to try the Icelandic Skyr "yogurt" so we stop for a picnic and sit on the rocks watching the waterfall for a while.

As we’re wondering between continuing on to more of the sights or heading back to Shark, the weather changes again and it starts pouring with rain, and so we rush back to the Visitor Centre as quickly as possible.

TrovenTrippers Tip… best things to do at Thingvellir National Park

Walking between the tectonic plates which are forming and constantly changing the landscape here is such a cool experience. And the view of Þingvallakirkja is magical!

And if you want some souvenirs, the gift shop at the visitor centre is quite well priced compared to some of the shops in Reykjavik, so definitely check it out!

Admire the View at Hrafnaja Observation Deck

Our next stop is another viewpoint at the side of the road as we’re about to leave Thingvellir National Park. 

We pull up at Hrafnagjá Observation Deck and the views are yet again stunning (we’re running out of adjectives to describe what we’re seeing today!). 

Here the rocky fissures of the tectonic plates are covered in moss making the landscape green, with Thingvallavatn and the snowy mountains now shining in the sunlight. Our photos really don’t do the scene justice!

TrovenTrippers Tip… Laugarvatn Lunch Stop

One of the best places to get food from in Iceland if you’re trying to keep to a budget is from petrol stations. If you’re from the UK you’ll probably raise your eyebrows at this, but trust us!

We found they generally have a large selection of good quality cold sandwiches and snacks at good prices, and everyone we visited also sold hot dogs. Ok so they weren’t quite as good as the hot dogs we had at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur in Reykjavik, but they were still pretty tasty!

Feel the Force of a Glacier Waterfall at Gulfoss Falls

Gulfoss Waterfall is the second of the big 3 on the Iceland Golden Circle map.

The huge waterfall comes from the glacier Langjökull, and is one of Iceland’s most popular sights to visit.

As with Thingvellir, there is a visitor centre with a gift shop and cafe, and a large car park. This comes in really useful even if you’re not shopping for souvenirs, as you can have a look while waiting for the weather to clear.

We leave the visitor centre as the sun starts to break through the rain clouds, and the noise is incredible as we approach the falls. 

Looking down on the falls from the viewpoints above it’s like we’re looking through a haze due to the amount of spray coming from the falls.

And as we follow the trail towards the falls, a rainbow appears through the spray, and Sneha runs to try and catch it!

She gets absolutely soaked by the spray, so if you plan to go all the way to the edge then make sure you wear some waterproofs.

We saw some amazing waterfalls on our South Coast Tour yesterday, and Gulfoss is just as amazing but in a different way. Yesterday’s were tall and beautiful, Gulfoss is ferocious and raw.

See Icelandic Horses at Geysir Hestar

When we were first planning our trip to Iceland, one of the stays we’d planned was at a horse farm so we would be able to see the famous Icelandic horses up close. But due to a change of plans we weren’t able to stay here which left us a little disappointed.

But in-between Gulfoss and Geysir is Geysir Hestar, another horse farm offering riding activities and accommodation. We don’t have enough time on our Iceland Golden Circle map route to join an activity today, but all of the horses are stood by the roadside meaning we can at least pull over and see them!

They’re quite small and look almost like ponies, but don’t ever say that to an Icelandic person… they’re very firm in that they’re horses and not ponies! Still, super cute!

Watch the Erupting Geysir at the Geothermal Hot Springs

Just a few minutes from Gulfoss is the third and final of the ‘big 3’ sights on the Iceland Golden Circle map, Geysir Geothermal Hot Springs.

Again there’s a visitor centre and a large car park so there’s no issues with being able to get parked. And another good opportunity for some souvenir shopping, or to get a coffee or some food if you need an energy kick from all of the sight-seeing.

The geothermal area is on the other side of the road, but we can smell the sulphur as soon as we get out of Shark.

Steam rises from holes in the ground and we can hear the bubbling water beneath us as we walk past the hot springs. 

The first hot spring we see is Little Geysir, a small hole with bubbling water and steam rising from it. It looks super cool, and we can only imagine how hot the ground must be below to keep the water bubbling and steaming so much!

Stori-Geysir, or the Great Geysir, is the largest at the site. It’s 18m wide, 20 metres deep, and it used to shoot water 80m into the sky! It’s been dormant for over 100 years though, so all we can see is the steam rising from the surface of the water.

The star attraction these days is Strokkur, as this geysir is still very much active. Every 5 minutes or so it erupts and shoots boiling hot water 30m into the air.

Even as we’re stood waiting, expecting the eruption, it still startles us when it goes off!

TrovenTrippers Tip... how often does the Geysir erupt?

We see it erupt 4 or 5 times while we are there, with between 5 and 10 minutes between the eruptions. But it’s quite tricky to catch on camera as there is no warning for when it will go off, it just goes when it's ready!

Enter a Hobbit House at Ferjunef Viewpoint

With the last of our big 3 sights done, our thoughts start to turn to what to do later tonight, but our sight-seeing isn’t over just yet.

We’re on our way to Kerid Crater, but we stop for another unscheduled stop on our way. 

We see a small parking area by the side of the road (usually a sign there’s something good to see in Iceland!), and there’s a small hobbit-style house built into the ground (although it's full of rubbish!), and nice views of a lake, fields and mountains around. Maybe not the most breath-taking sight we see today, but a nice stop.

Walk Inside a Volcano at Kerid Crater

Kerid Crater is around 30 minutes from Geysir and just over halfway to the town of Selfoss.

We’re not sure why Kerid Crater isn’t considered one for the ‘big’ sights on the main Iceland Golden Circle map… for us it’s one of our favourite sights today!

Maybe it’s because it’s now quite late in the day, but it’s much quieter than Thingvellir, Gulfoss and Geysir, and it’s just as stunning to see.

Kerid Crater is a relatively recent (6,500 years old) volcanic crater, meaning it still looks like you would expect a volcano to look. The rock is a unique bright red around the inside of the crater, and at the bottom is a bright blue lake… absolutely beautiful!

As we walk around the top of the crater we experience the usual Icelandic weather… wind, rain, sun, all in the 30-minutes we’re there. But this does show the unique perspective of how the colours of the crater and lake change in the different light. 

And as we head down into the crater to the edge of the lake, the late afternoon sun casts long shadows across the water, making it look like we’re walking on a different planet. It’s so cool!

TrovenTrippers Tip… Kerid crater entrance fee

Kerid Crater is the only sight on our Iceland Golden Circle map which has an entry fee. It’s 500ISK / £3, but is totally worth it.

Stay in the Geothermal Town of Hveragerdi

Rather than head back to Reykjavik and complete the Iceland Golden Circle map loop, we decide to stay in Hveragerdi instead.

The town is famous for its natural hot springs, and the steam can be seen rising from the ground all over the town!

Reaching Hveragerdi a little later than planned though, we decide to head straight for food and a drink to relax after our busy day of sight-seeing.

Where to eat in Hveragerdi?

We eat at the Greenhouse Hotel which has a very cool street food market inside. We can recommend the tacos from Taco Vaghninn, a burger from Yuzu, and chilli cheese lava bites from Flavour. All very good!

There’s also a very good bakery to pick up breakfast and coffee from if you stay over in the town like we did. Almar Bakari has a great range of traditional pastries and cakes.

And, if you want to stock up on some supplies, there is a Bonus supermarket here too. Strangely, after all of the amazing sights we’ve seen, this seemed to be one of Sneha’s highlights?!

Where to stay on the Iceland Golden Circle?

We booked a really cool Airbnb on the edge of Hveragerdi which we would highly recommend!

A local family have built their family home and are renting out a completely private and self-contained apartment in it, while they continue building work to realise their dream of opening a relaxing retreat for parents.

The Airbnb is very nice, with great views of Hveragerdi and the surrounding countryside and mountains, and is very quiet dispute being part of a family home.

And our hosts Tolli and Andrea are amazing, inviting us into their home for coffee in the morning, giving us a tour of their beautiful house, and introducing us to their family including some newly born kittens! 

Link to book the Airbnb... Studio apartment, private with great views!

Is the Iceland Golden Circle map route worth it?

Yes it’s touristy and you’ll probably see more people on this day than the rest of your entire trip, but it’s definitely worth it. 

The ‘big 3’ sights aren’t just great to see, they’re an experience for all of your senses… the sights at Thingvellir, the noise and feel at Gulfoss, the smells at Geysir.

And Kerid Crater is definitely worth a visit. Add in all of the unplanned stops at viewpoints on the way, and the Iceland Golden Circle map route is a fantastic day out.

Do you need a 4x4 to drive the Iceland Golden Circle Map?

No you don’t need a 4x4 to drive the Iceland Golden Circle map as the main sights are all easily accessible by main roads. But, having a 4x4 does make it feel more like an adventure, so why wouldn’t you get one if you can! Lotus Car Rental have lots of options at good prices, so check them out!

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