Iceland is becoming an increasingly popular destination these days. There are so many interesting and unique experiences for visitors, whether you’re there for a quick layover between flights or you stay for an entire week.
One incredible activity that should be on your to-do list is to drive the Golden Circle Route!
It can be done in as little as a few hours, but I recommend spending as much time as possible on this experience. We devoted an entire day to exploring this famous route.
Side note: the Golden Circle is different from Iceland’s Ring Road. The Ring Road takes about a week to explore and will take you around the entire perimeter of the country. Instead, the Golden Circle is a relatively short route, but still allows you to stop at some of the most amazing sights in Iceland.
Tour group vs. Solo drive
There are plenty of organized tour groups that you can sign up for – but we chose to rent a car for our entire stay, so that we would be able to drive the route ourselves. Because of this, we had the ability to stop whenever we felt like it (including two stops to pet horses!), take as many pictures as we wanted and just enjoy the gorgeous scenery along the way.
It was really easy to rent a car in Iceland – just make sure to book in advance to secure a good price and also to guarantee the availability of an automatic car (if you’re like me and cannot drive stick to save my life). I booked our rental car through Sixt back in June and got a pretty good deal. Remember to factor in the cost of gas into your trip though – it’s pretty expensive in Iceland at around $7/gallon right now, so fill up before you head out!
∇ Þingvellir National Park & Silfra Fissure
This National Park was founded in 1930 and is located about 40km northeast of Reykavík. It’s a site of historical, cultural and geological importance and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland. It’s located in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the boundary between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates.
You can even go scuba diving and snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure and experience the rare opportunity to swim between continental plates. It’s actually been named one of the world’s top 50 diving destinations, so check it out if you have the chance! We saw so many snorkelers getting ready to dive into the Fissure.
The Prime Minister’s summer residence and an old church are also located in the park.
∇ Strokkur Geyser
The Haukadalur Valley is home to some of the most famous sights in Iceland – more than 40 small hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles – but what we came to see were two of the biggest geysers in the area. The one called Geysir rarely erupts, but luckily, the other one called Strokkur is very dependable and erupts every 5 to 10 minutes.
After watching the geyser erupt a few times, we hiked up the mountain right next to the geysers. The view from the top was INCREDIBLE.
∇ Gulfoss Waterfall
This iconic waterfall is located in the canyon of the Hvitá River in southwest Iceland. The river is fed by Iceland’s second biggest glacier, the Langjökull. On sunny days, you can usually see a rainbow shimmering over the falls.
∇ Kerið Crater Lake
Kerið is a volcanic crater lake located in southern Iceland. It’s one of several crater lakes in the area, known as Iceland’s Western Volcanic Zone, but this is the one that has the most visually recognizable caldera still intact. (In case you were curious – a caldera is a large cauldron-like volcanic depression, formed by the collapse of an emptied magma chamber).
The caldera is composed of a red (rather than black) volcanic rock and is approximately 180 feet deep, 560 feet wide, and 890 feet across. HUGE! It’s also on the “young” side, at only 3,000 years old (only half the age of most of the surrounding volcanic features). You can walk along a path that circles around the lake at the bottom.
I was completely in awe of each of these famous stops along the Golden Circle Drive. I think my favorite was the first stop – the views were absolutely breathtaking and we ended walking around for almost 2 hours! But I will admit that I was most excited to stop and pet the friendly Icelandic horses. 🙂
Have you driven the Golden Circle? Comment below!