My sister and I took our dad on a 60th birthday surprise trip to Iceland and it was amazing!
It’s been high on his bucket list for years, and I’ve always wanted to visit, so we were all very excited.
We spent 4 nights, 5 days in Iceland exploring part of the island (you need a lot longer to do the entire ring road in Iceland!).
One of the highlights of any trip to Iceland is to drive the Golden Circle, especially if you’re short on time. You’ll get a great introduction to some of Iceland’s best attractions, and trust me, you’ll want to return in the future!
Below is a guide on how to self-drive the golden circle in Iceland, since that’s exactly what we did!
The Golden Circle is probably one of the world’s most famous road trip routes!
It’s a 300km route (186 miles) that takes you to three of the most iconic attractions in Iceland; the Geysir Geothermal area, Gullfoss Waterfall, and Thingvellir National Park.
These attractions make the famous Golden Triangle in Iceland, however, there are plenty of other awesome places to see.
Get ready to see some of the country’s most unique landscapes, rich culture, and geothermal sites if you’re planning a road trip around the Golden Circle.
There isn’t technically a bad time to visit the Golden Circle, as the attractions can be viewed all year round.
However, if you’re looking to do a bit of hiking or to visit the hot springs then Spring/Summer is the best time to visit.
You’ll also find that many campsites shut during the winter months or run restricted services which can be a pain.
Now if you’re wanting to see the Northern lights during your trip to Iceland that’s a different story, as you’ll want to visit between October and March.
In my opinion, driving yourself around the Golden Circle is the best way to admire its scenic landscapes and beauty.
It’s possible to take a pre-arranged tour around the Golden Circle Route in Iceland if you really want to.
However, it’s important to note that the tours all typically leave at the same time. Unfortunately, that means they all arrive at the popular sites at the same time, so you’ll encounter a huge build-up of crowds.
This is especially the case at iconic attractions such as Gullfoss Waterfall and Geysir!
Now, if you drive yourself you’re in for a treat as it has so many benefits.
For starters, you can time your visits to the more popular attractions, so you can avoid the crowds. This means setting off early, and then returning late when the tours have already finished.
You can also see the sights at your own pace and don’t need to stick to any tour itinerary. They might only allow you only 20-30 minutes at each destination and that just isn’t enough time to fully take the beauty in!
If you’re not a confident driver - don’t worry. Driving in Iceland is actually easy and FUN!
The roads are big and open, and you’ll constantly be treated to amazing views. Also, if you do decide to visit during the offseason, you’ll feel like you have the roads entirely to yourself
This is the big question, and it all depends on your budget, the duration of your trip, and how confident a driver you are!
Many people choose to hire a campervan for their Iceland road trip for a variety of reasons.
This includes saving money on accommodation, more flexibility, and the opportunity to camp in beautiful locations.
Now if you’re not bothered about space and don’t mind slumming it, you can legally sleep in your car.
However, you can only do this on a campsite, as you’re not allowed to wild camp in Iceland.
You can actually drive the full Golden Circle in just one day, so if you’re planning to do that - hiring a car is all you need.
However, I’d recommend spending at least a couple of days in this beautiful country.
Now, of course, there are pros and cons to both!
When it comes to driving the golden circle from Reykjavik, I’d recommend Blue Car Rental.
From my personal experience, they are the best option when it comes to hiring a car in Iceland.
With so many awesome Golden Circle attractions to choose from - how do you choose the best ones to visit?
Well, luckily for you I’ve come up with the perfect Golden Circle Itinerary after road tripping Iceland myself!
So, let’s dive into the places you just HAVE to visit.
Reykjavik is Iceland’s capital and the largest city in the country. It’s also the world’s Northernmost capital which is pretty cool!
You can either start or end your Golden Circle route here (or both) depending on where you pick your rental up from.
Before you head out on your road trip, there are plenty of awesome things to do in Reykjavik. It’s a city full of art, culture, and spectacular scenery of course.
One of the most popular sights to visit is Hallgrimskirkja Church which is visible from anywhere in the city. It’s a truly unique building, and at the top, you’ll find a viewing platform which offers panoramic views of the city.
However, the city’s number 1 attraction is Perlan, where you’ll get to make your way through an ice cave, and learn all about Iceland’s glaciers!
If you have time I’d also recommend heading out on a whale-watching tour too! If you’re a fan of marine life you can also visit the ‘Whales of Iceland’ exhibition.
Thingvellir National Park is another awesome spot along the Golden Circle.
It makes up part of Iceland’s Golden Triangle and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This national park is one of the country’s most significant geological sites as it’s where two tectonic plates meet.
You’ll be able to see where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates come together, and it’s a pretty astounding sight!
Aside from this, there are plenty of other things to do in Thingvellir National Park.
This includes heading to the visitor centre, before making your way to the viewpoint just behind.
After you’ve enjoyed the astounding views, follow the wooden walkway through the Almannagjá fault, and you’ll get to enjoy some of Iceland’s more hidden waterfalls.
However, the highlight has to be the Silfra Fissure! It’s the only place in the world where you can snorkel or dive between two tectonic plates, so it’s a must for any Iceland itinerary!
We visited when it was snowy.
There is no entrance fee to the park itself, although you will have to pay 500 ISK ($3.85) to park.
You’ll also find some exhibits available at Thingvellir National Park Visitor Centre which you can pay for.
This is probably one of the most famous attractions in all of Iceland!
Here you’ll find a bunch of geysers that erupt including ‘the Great Geysir’ and ‘Strokkur Geyser’.
Strokkur is by far the most popular and can get super busy.
For this reason, you’ll want to start your itinerary early, so that you can arrive here before the crowds do.
This geothermal geyser erupts every 8-10 minutes and can reach heights of up to 20m.
Trust me - you’ll want to have your camera ready for this one!
Make sure you spend some time at the Great Geysir too. Although currently dormant, its basin is enormous and it used to be Iceland’s tallest geyser.
Before 2000, the Great Geysir erupted regularly and reached heights of 170m. Although this is no longer the case, it’s still impressive to look at.
During your visit here you’ll also want to see Blesi Hot Spring, which is divided in two and looks like a funky pair of glasses.
There are no entrance fees to enter the Geysir Geothermal Area, so this is another of Iceland’s FREE natural wonders.
Gullfoss is one of Iceland's most popular waterfalls and it doesn't disappoint!
The name literally translates to ‘Golden Falls’, and if you manage to witness the sunlight catching Gullfoss just right - you’ll understand why!
It’s a two-tier waterfall that has a cumulative height of 32m, and its power will take your breath away.
From the parking lot, you can either head to the upper or lower viewpoint, but I recommend doing both!
For the lower viewpoint, you’ll need to head down some stairs and then you’ll get to see the falls drop into the canyon!
From there retrace your steps, and head to the upper viewpoint. From the top, you’ll get to see the Hvita River flowing down over a series of rocks, which is the waterfall's first drop.
There is even a viewing platform at the falls so make sure you head up there too!
Gullfoss waterfall can also be visited in any season which is always a bonus.
We visited in winter, and the falls were super powerful and surrounded by snow. It was a photographer's dream!
Gullfoss is another FREE attraction, which is crazy considering it’s one of Iceland's most popular attractions.
I’m not complaining though!
Hrunalaug was once a pretty “secret” hot spring in Iceland, but since more people have discovered and shared it on social media - that’s no longer the case.
More and more people seek out this place each year, but luckily it’s not included on any tour bus itineraries so you’ll get fewer crowds in general.
However, Hrunalaug Hot Spring is very small, so it only takes 4 or 5 people to make this place feel “crowded”.
I’d definitely recommend visiting this spot though as it’s incredibly scenic. Once you’ve arrived at the parking lot, it’s about a 5-minute walk to get to the hot springs.
There are actually three springs here and a small concrete building where you can change!
Out of the three, the long rectangular pool next to the building is by far the hottest. Although if you’re looking for scenic views and great photographs - head to the other two first.
This hot spring is located on private property, so there is no ‘entrance fee’ as such but there is a donation box at the parking lot.
The farmer relies on this honour system for upkeep, so I'd recommend donating!
The Secret Lagoon is Iceland's oldest natural swimming pool! Known locally as ‘Gamla Laugin’, this impressive place has been around since 1891.
It’s located in the geothermal area of Hverahólmi, right next to Flúðir village, and is a must-visit whilst driving the Golden Circle.
The nearby hot springs (Básahver, Litli Geysir, and Vaðmálahver) provide 100% of the water supply here, so the water flows continuously.
Not only is the water clean and rich in sulfur, but it also stays at 38-40°C (100-104°F) all year round.
So, it doesn’t matter what time of year you decide to road trip the Golden Circle as you can always warm yourself up here!
The entrance fee to the Secret Lagoon is 3000 ISK ($23) for adults, and children aged 14 and under are free! However, if you’re wanting to hire swimsuits or towels, that will be extra.
If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative to the Blue Lagoon, then this is your place although I’d recommend visiting both if you can!
Kerid Crater is the remnants of a volcano that formed over 6,000 years ago!
The magma chamber then emptied and collapsed, before filling with water to create the beautiful Kerid Crater lake that we see today.
As you get to this site, you’ll see a boardwalk that leads to an awesome viewpoint of the crater.
There is also a loop walk that will take you all around the crater, and you can even head down to the lake itself.
The caldera is an impressive 55m deep, making this a place you don’t want to miss during your Golden Circle road trip.
However, the thing that really catches your eye about this place is the colour. The lake is a stunning turquoise and is surrounded by red volcanic rock.
I’d recommend allowing yourself at least an hour here. This gives you plenty of time to walk around the crater, head down to the lake, and take plenty of awesome photographs.
There is a small entrance fee to visit Kerid Crater which is 400 ISK ($3). Children under 12 are also FREE!
The Blue Lagoon isn’t a typical Golden Circle loop stop, but if you’ve still got your vehicle, it’s worth visiting.
It’s one of the most iconic attractions in Iceland, and attracts up to 4,000 people a day! Luckily though, as the Blue Lagoon is HUGE you’ll always be able to find a little corner to yourself.
This geothermal spa is considered to have regenerative qualities due to the amounts of silica and sulfur within the water.
The temperature of the lagoon usually stays between 37–39° C (98–102° F), so it’s perfect no matter the weather.
The cheapest package costs from 8,490 ISK ($65) and includes entry to the Blue Lagoon, a Silica mud mask, use of a towel, and a drink.
As the Blue Lagoon is so popular, you’ll want to time your visit carefully.
I’d recommend heading to the lagoon either early morning or late evening as this is when you’ll avoid the crowds from the tour buses.
I visited during the late evening on one of the last slots of the day and had a very peaceful experience.
Driving the golden circle in a campervan is one of the most popular ways to see Iceland so there are plenty of campsites located along the route.
Þingvellir National Park Campground is one of the most popular campsites as it offers scenic views of Thingvellir (or Þingvellir) National park. Not only that, but you’ll find plenty of awesome hiking trails nearby!
If you're looking for something a bit quieter then SKJOL campsite is a great option. Located just 4km (2.4 miles) from Geysir, it offers incredible views of the hot springs and the glacier from afar! You’ll also find a restaurant on-site that serves delicious pizza.
You’ll also find a couple of FREE camping spots if you’re looking to extend your trip after visiting all the famous Golden Circle stops.
These include Bakkafjörður camping ground and Gata Free Camping which is just an hour’s drive outside of Reykjavík.
If you’re not in a campervan, then you’ll need to source some accommodation for your trip. Thankfully there’s a great range of hotels and Airbnbs along this route!
Here are some great options when heading along the Golden Circle in Iceland.
Litli Geyser Hotel is the perfect place to stay if you’re wanting to spend more time at the world-famous Geysir hot springs.
Not only is this site just 200 yards away from the hotel, but the staff can also help book tours and activities in the local area. This hotel also has an on-site restaurant and offers free parking for guests.
Now, this has to be one of the most special places to stay in Iceland. Not only is the hotel located just a 5-minute drive from the iconic falls, but it’s also situated by the Hvita River so the scenery is spectacular.
A daily buffet breakfast is served at the hotel, and guests also have access to free WiFi. Make sure you keep an eye out for the Northern lights too (depending on when you visit of course).
Blue Hotel Fagrilunder is situated in Reykholt which is along the Golden Circle. It’s just 96km (59 miles) from Iceland’s capital and just a 20-minute drive from Kerid Crater.
A continental breakfast is available each morning at the property, and guests are welcome to hop in the hot tub!
Driving Iceland’s golden circle route yourself is without a doubt the best way to explore this beautiful country.
You can of course take a golden circle tour but it doesn’t allow you the same flexibility. If you hire a car and head around the route yourself, you can decide where to visit and at what time.
I’d also recommend hiring a camper if you’re planning to drive the Golden Circle!
Although upfront costs aren’t particularly cheap, at least this way you can save on accommodation if you’re planning to spend a couple of days in Iceland.