Going to Iceland and not driving the Golden Circle is like visiting Rome and skipping the Colosseum (Or worse, gelato!). It would just be wrong.
Iceland’s most popular tourist trail, the Golden Circle offers some truly breathtaking sites, including three of the nation’s most famous landmarks: Þingvellir National Park, Geysir, and Gulfoss. Best of all, it is easily doable as a daytrip from Reykjavik.
If you’re on a tight schedule and only have time for one Icelandic experience, this is a good option.
Though many tour companies offer packaged deals on Golden Circle tours, Sam and I opted to rent a car and drive the loop on our own, primarily because we are cheap and the tours were not (We rented our vehicle from SadCars. We came to understand with alarming clarity why the rental company is called “sad,” but more on that later…)
Driving ourselves was definitely the right choice for us. We enjoyed having the freedom to travel at our own pace, and the loop is easy to navigate for even the most directionally challenged individual.
I was concerned about the road conditions, since we were visiting in March and had been warned that the weather in Iceland is extremely unpredictable (Not to mention, we live in Georgia where three snowflakes constitute the apocalypse and cause a Hunger Games-style run on grocery stores). But, despite snowing off and on all day, the roads are well maintained and driving the loop wasn’t a problem for us.
In order to make the most of the daylight hours, we left our hotel right after breakfast at around 9:30am.
Þingvellir National Park
The first stop on the Golden Circle route is Þingvellir National Park. Þingvellir literally means “Parliament Plains,” and it was there, in 930AD, that the world’s first democratic republic was established.
Þingvellir is also where you can see the fissure between the North American and European tectonic plates that is slowly widening each year.
Frolicking digression somewhere en route….
Not a planned stop, but when one comes upon a veritable Winter Wonderland of pure, magical snow stretching to the horizon, one must stop the car and frolic. It’s Newton’s 4th law of motion. Okay. Back to the Golden Circle…
Iceland is a hotbed for geothermal activity. Geysir is considered the original hot-water spout, but it is no longer active. However, Strokkur, located close by, spouts streams of geothermal water roughly every ten minutes, so you shouldn’t have to wait long to view the spectacle. Just be sure to have your camera ready!
The third and final stop along the traditional Golden Circle route was by far Sam’s and my favorite. In a nation with enough natural beauty to rival Rivendell, Gulfoss waterfall manages to stand out.
Gulfoss is a majestic multi-tier waterfall, and one of the most iconic sights in Iceland. The pictures I’d seen before our trip definitely didn’t do its raw beauty justice.
Be sure to take in the panoramic view from several vantage points, as each one offers a unique and equally stunning view.
Despite our leisurely pace and multiple digressions, we finished our tour of the Golden Circle in time to return to Reykjavik at dusk after a long but satisfying day.