On a first-time visit to Iceland, exploring the sights of the Golden Circle is an essential activity! From the capital city of Reykjavik, the Golden Circle route encompasses 300 km of road as it winds in a loop to some of the country’s most naturally stunning sights. The must-see highlights of an Iceland Golden Circle Tour are the Strokkur Geyser, Gullfoss Waterfall and the exposed Tectonic Plates at Thingvellir National Park.
Planning an Iceland Golden Circle Tour
When we were planning our Golden Circle Tour from Reykjavik, we encountered a few hurdles. As budget-conscious travelers, our standard approach to sightseeing is to find a do-it-yourself route. Ideally, we like to use public transportation or own two feet. Looking at an Iceland Golden Circle Tour Map, we quickly realized neither of those options were viable.
Instead we considered two alternatives: Rent a car and self-drive the Golden Circle or join a tour to see the Golden Circle attractions.
Golden Circle Tours vs Self-Driving the Golden Circle
We immediately dismissed the idea of a Golden Circle drive. In addition to our standard objection to driving cars in foreign countries, we had even more encouragement to forego the self-drive option: snowy, icy, winter weather. Our trip was in January – and there was no way we wanted to take on the risk of driving in inclement weather.
Hence, we opted for an economical Reykjavik Bus Tour. Although there are numerous tour options and companies to choose from, we decided to spend our day exploring Iceland’s Golden Circle by tour bus with Reykjavik Excursions. However, rather than opting for the Golden Circle Classic Tour, we chose a tour with one additional stop on our route.
Golden Circle Tour Itinerary
A Classic Iceland Golden Circle Tour includes stops at three major attractions: a spouting geyser, a gushing waterfall and exposed tectonic plates. The standard Golden Circle Day Tour takes about 6 hours.
The tour we chose, however, included 4 Golden Circle stops. In addition to the three main attractions, we also visited a unique greenhouse (where they also stable Icelandic horses). With the extra stop, the route takes about 8 hours.
Pro Tip: At the end of the post, we include a helpful Iceland Golden Circle Map – as well as tips on what you will need for your day of discovery!
Reykjavik Golden Circle Tour
Below we detail our experience on a Reykjavik Excursions Golden Circle Tour – from start to finish! Don’t miss our tips at the end of the post regarding our top tips for your day trip, a Golden Circle Route Map and other tour suggestions, too!
Getting to the Golden Circle Reykjavik Tour Bus
The Reykjavik sightseeing tour departs from the main BSI bus terminal at 9:00am. Rather than getting our own transport to the bus station, Reykjavik Excursions offers numerous pick up points throughout the city.
On the day of our tour, we made our way from our Airbnb apartment to a nearby hotel meeting point under a dark sky. The sidewalks and streets were covered with a fresh blanket of snow. We didn’t wait long before a bus came to collect us to transport us to the BSI Terminal. Once at the station, several buses were marked for the Golden Circle Tour, so we hopped on the first one in line and found seats.
As we began our excursion from Reykjavik to Golden Circle, our on-board guide provided us with information about our tour and the country. She reviewed our Golden Circle itinerary that included the three major sights, plus a visit to a geothermal greenhouse, which would be our first stop.
Golden Circle Tour Iceland Stop #1: Geothermal Greenhouse
Iceland’s naturally abundant resource of geothermal energy is harnessed by five power stations around the country and is used to heat 90% of the homes. The same sustainable resource is used to heat greenhouses, allowing fresh vegetables to be grown indoors year-round on the island . At Fridheimar Geothermal Greenhouse, tomatoes are the main crop.
Fridheimar Tomato Greenhouse
When we arrived at the first stop on our Golden Circle trip, the pre-dawn sky was just starting to show light and snow was falling. (The sun doesn’t rise until 10:30am in late January!)
We were welcomed into the humid and bright greenhouse and greeted by the distinct fragrance of tomato plants. A small restaurant features their in-house produce (think tomato-based soups, sauces and a wicked bloody Mary mix). We were not quite ready for lunch, so we bypassed the restaurant, but picked up a small container of ripe, just-off-the-vine piccolo tomatoes as a snack.
Fridheimar also has a barn housing Icelandic Horses that visitors are allowed to go see. The special breed of horses, known for its five gaits, was brought to the island with the first settlers more than a thousand years ago. When the government first formed, one of the first laws was to ban any other horses from being brought onto the island; therefore, the Icelandic Horses remain purebred to this day.
Golden Circle Route Stop #2: Strokkur Geyser
As we approached the Haukadalur Valley, the skies had turned overcast, making the frigid temperatures feel even colder. Steam was rising from small pools among the snow-covered land, creating an apocalyptic scene. When we arrived at the second stop on our Golden Circle Bus Tour, we headed straight for the main attraction.
Golden Circle Geysir
We made our way along the path toward Strokkur Geyser, passing gurgling streams and bubbling, turquoise water. The water temperatures here rise to 210 degrees Fahrenheit. As the wind swept the steam our way, our camera lenses were fogged up, but we welcomed the warmth.
We joined the crowds around Strokkur Geyser, anxiously awaiting the next eruption. Boiling hot water sprays straight into the air from Strokkur every 4-8 minutes. The water usually blows to a height of 50-65 feet, but can shoot as high as 130 feet high. Just prior to an eruption, the calm water slowly begins to swirl until it finally bubbles up and blasts into the sky, leaving a dense mist to settle back to the ground.
Watch our Strokkur Geysir Iceland Golden Circle Video!
Iceland Golden Circle Route Stop #3: Gullfoss Waterfall
In the Icelandic language, Gullfoss means Golden Waterfall. There are several theories on how the falls got its name, but without question it is an astounding sight.
Golden Circle: Gullfoss
Flowing as part of the Hvita River, Gullfoss consists of two waterfalls: the Upper Falls (with a drop of 36 feet) and the Lower Falls (with a plunge of 65 feet). The gorge, which is 1.5 miles in length and 230 feet deep, has hard lava rock on the banks, while the rushing water cuts through softer rock below.
In typical Icelandic fashion, the weather had once again quickly changed from snow flurries to skies of blue, allowing us to marvel at the falls from the platform. By the time we maneuvered through the snow to the second lookout point, however, the wind and snow had picked back up to the point it was nearly a whiteout. As much as we would have loved to stay and admire the waterfall, we could barely see it, so we retreated to the cozy warmth of the welcome center.
Golden Circle Iceland Tour Stop #4: Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir National Park is a historic sight, as well as a natural geographical spectacle – and a visit is included on nearly all Iceland Golden Circle Tours. The park was the last stop on our day tour – and in addition to witnessing the stunning natural landscapes, our guide provided information about the country’s incredible history.
Long before it was protected as a national park, the land held significant meaning to the local people. In fact, Thingvellir Park is the site of the original meeting place for the Icelandic Parliament. From the year 930 until 1798, laws were created outdoors and announced from a large rock, which now displays Iceland’s flag.
Thingvellir Tectonic Plates
Geographically, the park marks the location of both the Eurasian and North America Tectonic Plates. Separated by a 4.5-mile rift (and still pulling apart at a rate of about an inch per year), the edges of the plates are clearly visible. It is the only place in the world where the plate tectonic phenomenon can be observed above sea level. In the vast space between the plates is Iceland’s largest natural lake.
Golden Circle to Reykjavik
On the route back to the city it was already getting dark. Our knowledgeable guide spent time answering questions and provided us with more insight about living in Iceland. The time passed quickly and before we knew it, we were being dropped off at the designated spot – and our Reykjavik Golden Circle day tour was complete.
Pro Tip: We were dropped off right in the heart of downtown Reykjavik and just a short walk to one of our recommended Reykjavik Craft Beer Bars, Skuli (where they offer happy hour pricing until 7pm!).
Map Golden Circle Iceland
Reykjavik Golden Circle Day Trip Tips
Before you embark on your Reykjavik, Iceland Golden Circle Tour, we have a few tips for your day trip!
Golden Circle Weather
The weather in Iceland varies drastically by season. Winters are cold and dark, while summers are warm and bright. Make sure you bring the proper weather gear for your day trip.
Golden Circle Winter Visit
The sun can be strong in Iceland during the summer months! Be sure to pack some sunscreen for your summer trip.
Golden Circle Restaurants
Restaurants are few and far between on the Golden Circle route – however, there are a few places to eat along the way.
Our Iceland Golden Circle Tour included a stop at Fridheimar Greenhouse, which has an on-site restaurant (menu items are, naturally, tomato-based!). However, as it was the first stop on our route, we were not quite ready for lunch.
Instead, we popped into the Geysir Center at the Strokkur Geyser and ate at Supa Restaurant. We opted for a cup of the iconic Icelandic Meat Soup, which turned out to be one of our favorite meals of our trip!
Pro Tip: Read about more must-try Food in Iceland to eat during your visit!
What You Will Need
While you don’t need much, there are a few things you will want to make sure you have for your Golden Circle classic day trip from Reykjavik.
We recommend wearing comfortable clothing that is suited for the weather. There are long stretches on the bus, so make sure you are able peel off top layers in the case that it gets too warm. Boots are recommended in wintertime, but we did just fine wearing our city walking shoes by Merrell.
You will certainly want to capture the sights with a good camera! We use a Canon Rebel with everyday 18-135mm lens that takes phenomenal photos. Also, be sure all of your electronic devices are charged – and carry a power bank portable charger for an extra boost late in the day!
And, of course, don’t forget travel insurance! While insurance is certainly helpful with canceled flights and lost luggage, it is also essential in the unfortunate event of unexpected illness or injury abroad. Check rates and coverage at World Nomads.
More Golden Circle Tours from Reykjavik
We absolutely loved our Golden Circle Tour from Reykjavik. For us, it was the best Golden Circle Tour Iceland. However, as we mentioned before, there are numerous tours to choose from – so we are highlighting some of the other popular day trip options.
Golden Circle and Blue Lagoon Tour
On a Blue Lagoon and Golden Circle Tour, participants get to enjoy a full day of astounding sights and experiences. In addition to the geyser, waterfall and national park, visitors also visit the Kerid Volcanic Crater. The final stop on the tour is the famous Blue Lagoon, where guests have 2 hours to swim in the aqua waters. Find out more!
Golden Circle and Secret Lagoon Day Trip from Reykjavik
One of the most popular day trips from the city, this tour features the three main attractions on the Golden Circle and ends at Secret Lagoon – one of the oldest natural geothermal pools in Iceland. Get the details!
Afternoon Golden Circle Tour Reykjavik
In order to avoid the morning crowds, this 8-hour afternoon tour departs from the city at 10:30am – but still includes all of the top attractions! See what’s included!
6-Hour Half-Day Golden Circle Tour
The Golden Circle Express Tour was designed for guests who are short on time – but want to see the top sights. On a Golden Circle Half-Day Tour, guests can choose their departure time. Get more info!
Small Group Golden Circle Tour
On the small group tour, participants travel by minibus, rather than coach, to the sights. Participants have more personalized attention – and with the smaller number of people, it is possible to visit a few more places. Learn more here!
Private Golden Circle Tour Iceland
For a truly personalized tour, visitors can hire a guide for a Golden Circle private tour. The guide will take guests to the main sights, but also a few lesser-known places. Find more details here!
More Reykjavik Tours
While the Golden Circle Day Tour in Iceland is, by far, the most popular, there are other excursions from Reykjavik.
Start your search for the best Reykjavik tours on Get Your Guide!
Need more planning advice? Use our detailed 3-Day Iceland Itinerary for specific tips on how to plan your Iceland trip!
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