The Golden Circle is a popular tourist route in south-west Iceland, covering about 300 kilometres (190 mi) looping from Reykjavík into central Iceland and back. The area contains many beautiful natural wonders all within a short distance of each other and Reykjavík making it an ideal day trip while staying in the capital. The Golden Circle can be explored very easily with a hire car or by joining one of countless tours that depart from Reykjavík every day.
Gullfoss is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland. The Hvítá river flows down into a three-step cascade and then abruptly plunges in two stages (11 m and 21 m) into a crevice 32 m deep. The average amount of water running down the waterfall is 140 m³/s in the summer and 80 m³/s in the winter. As one first approaches the falls, the edge is obscured from view, so that it seems that the river simply vanishes into the earth.
Þingvellir, anglicised as Thingvellir, is a place in southwestern Iceland. Þingvellir is a site of historical, cultural, and geological importance and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland. It lies in a rift valley that marks the point at which the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet. It is at the northern end of Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland. Alþingi, the Icelandic Parliament, was established at Þingvellir in 930, and remained there until 1798. Þingvellir National Park was founded in 1930, marking the 1,000th anniversary of the Alþingi. A few kilometres down the road is the waterfall Öxarárfoss which is worth a visit before moving on to the next stop.
This little gem is not visited by the tour buses but if you are making your own itinerary, it is well worth checking out. It’s not the largest waterfall in the area, but it is one of the most beautiful. It requires a 10 min hike to reach. I strongly suggest marking the exact location on a map and using GPS to narrow in on the location. These directions to Brúarfoss might be useful if you need more information.
Geysir was the first geyser described in a printed source and the first known to modern Europeans. The English word geyser derives from Geysir. The name Geysir itself is derived from the Icelandic verb geysa, “to gush”. Geysir lies in the Haukadalur valley on the slopes of Laugarfjall hill, which is also the home to Strokkur geyser about 50 metres south. Eruptions at Geysir can hurl boiling water up to 70 metres in the air.
Kerið is a volcanic crater in south Iceland. It is one of several crater lakes in the area, known as Iceland’s Western Volcanic Zone, created as the land moved over a localised hotspot. Kerið’s caldera is one of the most recognisable volcanic craters because at about 3,000 years old, it is only half the age of most of the surrounding volcanic features and therefore erosion is not as pronounced. While most of the crater is steep-walled with little vegetation, one wall is sloped more gently and blanketed with a deep moss, and can be descended fairly easily.
Faxi (or Vatnsleysufoss)
Faxi can be found around twelve kilometres from Geysir and Gullfoss, and eight kilometres from Skalholt, away from the main road on a gravel track which includes a picnic area and a small car park. The waterfall is also popular with white water kayakers. The easy access and safe nature of Faxi makes it a perfect water for beginners to practice on.
There are restaurants and cafes at most of the stops on the Golden Circle route, however it would be a great idea to make a lunch at your hostel before you leave and enjoy a picnic somewhere on the route. There are a tonne a great spots to stop to eat and you will save yourself a lot of time and money this way.
There are two ways to see the Golden Circle. You either sign up for a tour of the area through one of the many tour companies based in Reykjavík, or you rent a car and visit the area yourself. The organised tours are not particularly cheap at around 90€. Given that is it possible to rent a small car for as little as 50€ in peak season and 30€ in winter, a rental car is by far the better option. This will also give you greater freedom to visit all the stops in the order that suits you and at the time of day that most suits. The cheapest car rentals in Iceland are through sadcars.com.