Travel Iceland

Driving Iceland's Golden Circle: Your Ultimate Guide


The Golden Circle is one of Iceland’s classic and most beautiful travel itineraries. While you could see the sights on a tour bus, the best way to explore the route is by car.

In your own vehicle, you’ll get a more intimate view of everything the Golden Circle offers. Whether you want to spend more time at Gullfoss or Geysir, hike at Þingvellir, or stop somewhere else along the way, driving gives you that flexibility.

In this guide, discover everything you need to know about driving Iceland’s Golden Circle route. You’ll learn what to see, what to pack, and the best time of year to come.

Map of the Golden Circle, Iceland

The Golden Circle route in Iceland

What to see on the Golden Circle route

The Golden Circle route is one of the best-known of Iceland’s travel itineraries. Aside from its astonishing natural beauty, the whole route is really close to Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík, and it can be travelled in a single day.

Follow the route to experience many of the aspects that make travel in Iceland so special. For instance, there’s a bit of Viking history, some geothermal activity, a breathtaking waterfall, and a lot more.

There are 3 main sights to visit on your Golden Circle tour in Iceland.

Þingvellir National Park

The first sight most visitors reach on the Golden Circle is Þingvellir National Park. It’s one of Iceland’s 3 national parks and an important location in the history of Iceland.

Specifically, Þingvellir is the place where the country’s first parliament stood (long before it moved to downtown Reykjavík). It’s incredible to think of Vikings meeting here to discuss politics and agree laws, back in the 10th century.

Alongside the fascinating history, Þingvellir boasts one of Iceland’s largest lakes, offering freshwater diving opportunities. Plus, you can walk through a tectonic rift while you’re here.



Gullfoss waterfall, the Golden Circle’s second main sight, is up there with Iceland’s most impressive waterfalls. And that’s among stiff competition!

Gullfoss is an astonishing torrent of glacial water that rumbles through a tight gorge. The water itself is the Hvitá river, which flows down from the Langjökull glacier.

Come and see one of the most iconic natural sights in Iceland. It’s beautiful when covered in snow or shrouded in the gentle greens of Icelandic summer.


Finally, the third major sight is Geysir. It’s a real miracle of geological science, revealing the powerful processes happening beneath the surface of the earth.

Geysers are hot jets of water fired from the ground by geothermal pressure. The phenomenon takes its name from The Great Geysir, a particularly impressive example which you’ll see in the Golden Circle. Once upon a time, it shot streams of water 60 metres into the air.

Today, Geysir itself rarely erupts. But you’ll find it in a wide geothermal area with other geysers such as Strokkur, which can erupt to heights of 20 m.


Other sights in the Golden Circle

These 3 sights alone make for an unforgettable day—or an even longer trip. Yet there’s plenty more to see on the Golden Circle.

For instance, you can extend your trip with visits to the following destinations:

  • Laugarvatn Fontana. One of Iceland’s best-known and luxurious spas, Laugarvatn makes for a perfect stop on your trip along the Golden Circle itinerary.
  • Brúarfoss. A short distance from Gullfoss, Brúarfoss shows you a completely different kind of Icelandic waterfall. It’s a gentle cascade, with a rich blue colour.
  • Friðheimar. Among Iceland’s most surprising attractions, Friðheimar is a restaurant and farm specialising in tomatoes. Everything is grown in geothermal greenhouses, making this place a scientific marvel.
  • Skálholt. For many centuries, Skálholt was one of the most important places in Iceland—and one of the largest. Today, there’s not much more than a church, which provides a fascinating insight into Iceland’s history.
  • Kerið. Kerið is a volcanic crater, a vast hole created by an ancient eruption. Today, there’s a lake within this crater, which makes for a breathtaking walk.

Why a self-drive is the best way to see the Golden Circle

Many people who visit Iceland take a group tour of the Golden Circle. This can be a great option if you’re low on time, or if you want to meet fellow travellers. However, driving yourself around the Golden Circle is a much better way to enjoy the sights.


  • You have the flexibility to travel where you want, when you want. If you’re at the wheel, you can go at exactly your own pace. You don’t need to follow someone else’s itinerary or wait for your tour group.
  • You can visit the sights at quieter times. If you’re on a Golden Circle tour, you’ll see the sights along with other people on your tour. Drive yourself and you’ll be able to avoid the busiest times and enjoy the beauty of Iceland’s nature by yourself.
  • You have the comfort of your vehicle to relax in. A private car beats a tour bus hands down.
  • You’ll have no trouble navigating the Golden Circle route. One of the reasons why visitors take a tour is so that they don’t have to drive. On the Golden Circle, the route is simple to drive and easy to navigate, so you won’t have any worries.


Find out about leaving your vehicle at the main sights, in our guide to parking in Iceland.


How long does it take to drive the Golden Circle? 3 example itineraries

The Golden Circle can easily be done in a day. The drive between the 3 destinations adds up to about 230 km (140 mi). Assuming you start at Reykjavík, journey times are as follows:

  • Reykjavík to Þingvellir National Park: 45 km (28 mi). Allow 50 minutes to an hour.
  • Þingvellir to Geysir: 60 km (37 mi). Allow 45 minutes.
  • Geysir to Gullfoss: 10 km (6 mi). 10 minutes.
  • Gullfoss back to Reykjavík: 100 km (62 mi). Allow 1.5 hours.

You should expect to spend just over 3 hours in the car in total. But how long the route takes depends on how much time you want to spend at each location.

To give you an idea, here are 3 example itineraries to use to plan your own Golden Circle trip.

1. The “express” tour: A half day

If you’re short on time but you want to drive the Golden Circle route, take the “express” option. In a long half-day, you’ll get to see the Golden Circle’s 3 main attractions—but not much more. With travel times included, this itinerary will take you about 6 hours in total.

At Þingvellir, explore lake Þingvallavatn, where there’s the deep tectonic trench known as Silfra. Walk through the rift valley and see the lögberg (“law rock”), where political announcements were once made.

At Geysir, watch the incredible eruptions of Strokkur and explore the other geothermal phenomena in the area, such as hot springs and fumaroles. Once you’ve had your fill, head on to Gullfoss to see Iceland’s most famous waterfall.

2. The “classic” Golden Circle tour: A full day

Most people spend a full day exploring the Golden Circle. It gives you some more time to fully appreciate the natural and historical sights, stop for a leisurely lunch, or visit an additional destination without being in a hurry.

For instance, on the way between Þingvellir and Geysir, you can visit Brúarfoss. Or you can break up the journey from Gullfoss back to Reykjavík by visiting Friðheimar, Skálholt, or Kerið.

3. The “complete” tour: 2 days

There’s plenty more to see in the Golden Circle area beyond the 3 classic sights. Put aside 2 days and you can explore the region to the fullest.

The journey itself will be the same, between Reykjavík, Þingvellir, Geysir, and Gullfoss. But with that extra bit of time, you can stay longer to enjoy a longer hike in Þingvellir, stop off at the Laugarvatn Fontana spa, and see all the sights we suggested in the “classic” option above.

If you’re visiting in winter, a night out of the city also offers the chance to see the northern lights. The Golden Circle is a spectacular place to see this incredible display.

The best time to drive the Golden Circle route

Every season is a good time to visit the Golden Circle. These sights don’t have seasonal closures. And, as it’s a popular route, the roads are safe and easy to navigate all year round too.

So, it’s a matter of personal preference when you choose to come. During the summer, you’ll be able to stay out later to see Iceland’s natural wonders beneath the midnight sun. In winter, the Golden Circle’s sights will often be blanketed with snow.

Of course, the main consideration will be the weather. In Iceland, this can be quite unpredictable in any season! Late spring tends to be the driest period of the year. But rain is possible in any season.

Before you visit the Golden Circle, you should always check the local weather forecast. The best place for accurate information is the Icelandic Met Office.


How to prepare for your Golden Circle drive

Now you know what to see in the Golden Circle, it’s time to get planning. Good preparation is even more important if you’re driving yourself.

Here are some critical things to bear in mind before setting off.

1. Choose the right vehicle for your journey

The vehicle you drive should be equipped for the season in which you’re driving. Vehicles you hire from Höldur will be checked and maintained so they’re ready for winter conditions, for instance, but you should always confirm with your rental operator.

When driving on the Golden Circle, you’ll be on paved roads. That means that you can safely drive any kind of car:

  • An electric vehicle. EVs are really popular in Iceland, and they’re the environmentally friendly choice. If you’re planning to drive in the highlands though, it’s best to choose a different option.

  • A 4x4. 4x4s are robust vehicles that handle unpaved roads well. They’re often larger and more comfortable options too. You won’t need one for the Golden Circle, but it can be useful if you’re going further afield.
  • A campervan or motorhome. Want to stay out overnight in the Golden Circle? A campervan could be a great option.

Whichever you prefer, at Höldur we have a large range of vehicles to suit your trip. Explore your options here.

2. Pack everything you need, however long your Golden Circle trip

What you need to pack will depend on how long you’re touring the Golden Circle for. However, wherever you drive in Iceland, it’s worth having the following with you:

  • Waterproofs and some spare warm clothes. You don’t want to have to drive in wet clothes. As we said, the weather can be changeable in all seasons, so bring waterproofs and warm clothes on any trip.

  • Your phone. It’s not just to take photos with. If you have an accident or need assistance, your phone will be essential. It can be useful for navigating and paying for parking too. Don’t forget to pack your rental operator’s phone number, so you can easily get in touch if you need to.

  • Your driving licence. It’s best to keep this with you at all times when you’re driving around Iceland.

  • A change of shoes. You’ll be walking during your visit to the Golden Circle, and often on snowy, wet, or unstable ground. Sturdy shoes are a must, but you might not want to drive in these—so a change is usually a good idea.

3. Check your route before you go, especially in winter

It’s always clever to know where you’re going before you set off. It saves you fiddling with your sat nav while driving, and it means you can avoid any road closures.

Google Maps will be your best friend here. But it’s also useful to check local websites such as and for live information on road conditions.

This is particularly important when you’re travelling in winter when roads can be closed after heavy snowfalls. That’s unlikely to happen on the main Golden Circle route itself, but it’s not impossible.

Europcar Iceland Car Rental Ring Road number one

Frequently asked questions about driving the Golden Circle

Have more questions about driving Iceland’s Golden Circle. Find your answers here.

What should I not miss on the Golden Circle Iceland?

If you’re driving the Golden Circle, you definitely shouldn’t miss the 3 sights that make the whole place so famous: Þingvellir, Geysir, and Gullfoss.

There’s plenty more to see too. Kerið is an astonishing volcanic crater, while Friðheimar gives you an insight into a completely unique side of Iceland.

Can you do Golden Circle without a tour?

It’s easy to see the Golden Circle without a tour. In fact, for many visitors, it will be preferable, as it promises a more flexible, unique trip.

All you need is a vehicle. Hire one in advance at Höldur.

What is the difference between Golden Circle and Ring Road Iceland?

The Golden Circle and the Ring Road are two separate travel itineraries.

The Golden Circle is the route that takes in Þingvellir National Park, Geysir, and Gullfoss, in southwest Iceland. It’s known as being one of the most rewarding short routes in the country.

The Ring Road is a route that takes you on Highway 1 around the whole of Iceland. It’s a much longer route, usually requiring at least a week.

Can you drive to the Golden Circle yourself?

If you have a vehicle, you can easily drive to the Golden Circle yourself. The roads are frequently used and well-maintained, so you shouldn’t have any problems.

Before you go, check for live information on road conditions.

What is the Golden Circle Iceland?

The Golden Circle is Iceland’s most iconic travel itinerary. Covering about 230 km (140 mi) in southwest Iceland, the route takes visitors to Þingvellir National Park, Geysir, and Gullfoss. It’s really a must-see on any trip to Iceland.

Where is the Golden Circle in Iceland?

The Golden Circle is located in southwest Iceland, a short distance from the capital city, Reykjavík.

How much is the Golden Circle? Is it free?

If you have your own vehicle, it’s free to tour the Golden Circle in Iceland. The only thing that you will need to pay for is parking at Þingvellir National Park. That costs 1,000 ISK for 5-seater cars, and more for larger vehicles. Find out more about parking in Iceland.

Is the Blue Lagoon part of the Golden Circle?

The Blue Lagoon isn’t typically a part of the Golden Circle itinerary. The spa is on the Reykjanes peninsula, to the south of Reykjavík.

However, the Blue Lagoon is not far from the Golden Circle. It takes a little over an hour to reach the spa from Þingvellir National Park. So, if you want to visit both destinations on the same day, it’s possible.

Is the Golden Circle in Iceland worth it?

The Golden Circle is definitely worth a visit on your trip to Iceland. It combines some of the country’s most breathtaking natural wonders with fascinating history—all a short distance from Reykjavík.

How far is Reykjavik from the Golden Circle?

You can reach the Golden Circle in less than an hour from Reykjavík. Þingvellir National Park is the closest sight to the capital, with Gullfoss an hour further.

Do you need a 4wd for Golden Circle Iceland?

You don’t need a four-wheel drive or an off-road vehicle to visit the Golden Circle. As it’s such a famous route, the roads are paved and well-maintained.

However, it’s also wise to check road conditions before you travel. You can do that at

Drive Iceland’s Golden Circle with Höldur rentals

Now you’re ready to set off on your Golden Circle self-drive tour. All you need to do is to hire your vehicle.

At Höldur, we’re Iceland’s largest car rental operator, with over 7,000 vehicles and outlets across the country. Whether you want to drive an EV, a 4x4, a camper, or just a standard car, we can help.

Explore our range to find the right vehicle for you—and enjoy your Golden Circle trip!