The Golden Circle Self Drive Holiday

A self-drive tour that focuses on the beautiful South Iceland of Iceland in Scandinavia

Self drive 5 day holiday around the Golden Circle

Highlights

  • Visit the must-see attractions of the Golden Circle
  • See impressive waterfalls and gleaming glaciers
  • Feel the power of the thundering waterfall Gullfoss
  • Photograph jagged basalt columns and sweeping black sand beaches
Golden Circle self drive tour map
Outline
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The self drive itinerary for The Golden Circle

This popular road trip (self-drive tour in Scandinavia) focuses on the many star attractions of beautiful South Iceland. This self driving holiday visits all the major hot spots of the region, including the famous attractions of the Golden Circle, Geysir geothermal area, Gullfoss waterfall, Thingvellir National Park, and stunning black beaches. 

Plus there are a few more great stops along the way.

DAY 1 REYKJAVIK AIRPORT – HVERAGERDI

Driving distance: approx. 100-130 km/62-81 miles

Pick up your car at the airport and start your Iceland experience! From Keflavik International Airport, we recommend driving the southern coast of the Reykjanes peninsula, towards your first overnight stay in the charming village of Hveragerdi. 

This village is one of the few sites in the world located directly on top of a geothermal area and, because of its many greenhouses heated by hot water from nearby springs, it is often called the “flower village.“ 

Depending on your arrival time in Iceland, it may be ideal to stop and visit the renowned Blue Lagoon where you can relax in the geothermal waters (Important: admission to the Blue Lagoon needs to be booked in advance).

Overnight: Hveragerdi
Meals included: None


DAY 2 HVERAGERDI – VIK

Driving distance: approx. 215 km/134 miles

Drive along the scenic South Shore and the area near the infamous Eyjafjallajokull volcano whose massive 2010 eruption caused air traffic around the world to be cancelled. 

We recommend a stop at the interactive LAVA Centre where you’ll learn about the powerful volcanic and tectonic forces that shaped both Iceland and Earth. Continue to see the majestic Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls and Myrdalsjokull glacier.

Stop by the seafront village of Vik to explore a dramatic stretch of coastline poised between glacier-topped mountains, rugged sea cliffs and black- sand beaches. Dyrholaey is a rocky headland characterised by a black lava arch. 

Every year thousands of sea birds and puffins nest here during the summer (mid-May and early August).

Overnight: Vik area
Meals included: Breakfast

Note: Please note that Dyrholaey is closed during nesting season, from about the middle of May until late June.


DAY 3 VIK – THJORSARDALUR VALLEY – GOLDEN CIRCLE

Driving distance: approx. 285 km/177 miles
Explore Thjorsardalur Valley and its contrasting landscapes of birch woods, sandy lava fields, rivers and waterfalls. The impressive Mt. Hekla volcano towers over the region. This valley is also where you can visit the excavated site of a Viking age farm that had been destroyed by one of Hekla‘s eruptions. 

Continue to the amazing sites of Gullfoss waterfall, considered to be the most beautiful in Iceland and the Geysir hot spring area. Geysir is an active geothermal field with many bubbling steam vents and spouting hot springs, including the famous Strokkur geyser.

Take time this afternoon to visit one of the many baths or lagoons in the area and relax in the geothermal waters.

Overnight: Golden Circle area
Meals included: Breakfast


DAY 4 GOLDEN CIRCLE – THINGVELLIR – BORGARFJORDUR – REYKJAVIK

Driving distance: approx. 300 km/187 miles
Visit Thingvellir National Park, site of the ancient Icelandic Viking parliament and a jewel of nature. Here you can enjoy many walking trails that take you to historic points of interest as well as see the rift between the continents. 

Then travel via either Hvalfjordur fjord or the Kaldidalur highland track (Open June-August, 4WD needed), to the beautiful Borgarfjordur region and Reykholt, home of the 13th-century Saga author Snorri Sturluson.

As you head towards Reykjavik in the afternoon, you may wish to take in two more impressive waterfalls. Hraunfossar, the Lava Falls, appear as though glacial water is bursting through lava formations and witness the brilliantly blue waters of Barnafoss Falls.

Overnight: Reykjavik
Meals included: Breakfast


DAY 5 REYKJAVIK

Driving distance: approx. 50 km/30 miles
Return the car back to Keflavik International Airport today. If you have time and missed it the first day, travel via the Blue Lagoon as it is on your way to the airport.

Meals included: Breakfast

Golden Circle self drive tour to see Seljalandsfoss

Tour inclusions

  • 1 night in 3 star (comfort class) or 4 star (quality class) accommodation in Reykjavik
  • 3 nights hotels or guesthouse accommodation (quality class) and guesthouse or farmhouse accommodation (comfort class) outside Reykjavik
  • 4 day car hire
  • Unlimited kilometres, Collision Damage Waiver and Theft Protection
  • Additional authorised driver
  • Airport Service Charge for car pick up and drop off at Keflavik International Airport
  • Complimentary unlimited in-car wi-fi
  • Emergency phone line open 24 hours
  • Customer care service during office hours; services of local representatives.
  • Access to Travel Companion App that includes;
    • Approximately 1500 star points, points of interest, tours and activities in the area.
    • 35 points of interest with an audio guide
    • Access to your travel documents, create a personalised map links to electronic versions of the Iceland Travel Road Guide in different languages which covers interesting places as well as safety tips
    • Your hotel bookings with check-in and check-out dates

What meals do you get?

4 x Icelandic-style Breakfasts

What sightseeing & excursions are included

This self drive route enables sightseeing at;

  • Hveragerdi village also known as the Flower Village
  • Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss
  • Glaciers Eyjafjallajokull and Myrdalsjokull
  • Vik Village: Dyrholaey cliff and black sand beaches
  • Gullfoss waterfall
  • Gunnuhver Geothermal Area
  • Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Baths
  • The hot springs at Geysir
  • Thingvellir National Park
  • Borgarfjordur region

Additional information

You can customise your self-drive adventure by choosing your accommodation level and preferred rental car. In addition to this, you can enquire with us about adding optional excursions and sightseeing to experience the many wonders of the Icelandic nature and culture.

Quality Class: Our quality self-drive holidays allow you to spend your days exploring rural Iceland, knowing your nights will be spent in the most comfortable accommodation each area has to offer. 

Throughout the tour you‘ll stay in quality guesthouses and hotels where all rooms have a private facilities. Your final night will be in a 4 star hotel in Reykjavik.

Comfort Class: Our comfort self-drives offer you the chance to travel around Iceland in a carefree spirit, staying in accommodation with private facilities without stretching your budget. 

During your stay you‘ll be located in a combination of standard hotels, farmhouses and guesthouses. Your final night will be in a 3 star hotel in Reykjavik.

Frequently asked questions

The Golden Circle is Iceland’s most popular sightseeing route, famous for its stunning natural attractions and historical significance. It’s a circular route of about 190 miles (300 kilometers) that takes you from Reykjavík, the capital city, into the southern Icelandic countryside and back.

The Golden Circle itself encompasses three main sites that can be reached by driving a vehicle which makes it popular for a self driving tour.

  • Thingvellir National Park: A UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its dramatic geology, where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates are pulling apart. This is also the site of the first Icelandic parliament, making it a place rich in both natural beauty and history.

  • Geysir Geothermal Area: Home to the geyser Strokkur, which erupts every 5-10 minutes, along with other geothermal features like hot springs and mud pots.

  • Gullfoss Waterfall: An incredibly powerful waterfall on the Hvítá River, offering stunning views and the chance to get up close to the raw power of Icelandic nature.

The Golden Circle offers a fantastic taste of what Iceland has to offer: dramatic landscapes, geothermal wonders, and historical sites. It’s easily accessible from Reykjavík, making it perfect for a day trip or including it as part of a larger Icelandic adventure. It is close to the capital and with good roads, it’s easy to visit on a self-drive tour or by joining a guided excursion. It gives you lots of variety making it an easy holiday experience to see a range of Icelandic wonders in one driving trip, from waterfalls and geothermal activity to a unique national park.

The time to complete the Golden Circle in Iceland depends on whether you’re just driving the road without any stops or you have a holiday travel plan with sightseeing or other land based excursions booked. The tour itinerary on this page is for a five day trip around the Golden Circle although the actual driving distance of the Golden Circle loop is roughly 140 miles (230 kilometers) and can be completed in just 3 to 4 hours without stopping.

Most people aim for a full day, around 6 to 10 hours, to comfortably explore the Golden Circle. This allows time to stop at all the main sites (Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area, Gullfoss Waterfall) and enjoy the scenery, take photos, and maybe grab a bite to eat along the way.

If you’re particularly interested in geology or history, you might want to spend more time at Thingvellir National Park. Similarly, geothermal enthusiasts may want to linger longer at Geysir to witness Strokkur erupt. Guided tours typically take 8 to 10 hours for the Golden Circle, including pick-up, drop-off, and travel time between locations. Self-guided tours allow you to set your own pace and that is what makes a self driving tour such a great choice.

In summer, with longer daylight hours, you’ll have more flexibility to explore at a leisurely pace. Winter may require adjusting your itinerary due to shorter daylight hours and potentially challenging weather conditions. So really the amount of time you spend on the Golden Circle is up to you and how you with to spend a holiday exploring.

The Golden Circle in Iceland is a very unique and special place to visit for a holiday for a number of reasons including;

  • Unique Combination of Natural Wonders and History: It packs a punch by offering a diverse range of experiences in a concentrated area. Witness the raw power of Gullfoss waterfall, stand between tectonic plates in Thingvellir National Park, and be amazed by the erupting geysers and bubbling mud pools of the Geysir Geothermal Area. Thingvellir also holds historical significance as the site of the world’s oldest existing parliament.
 
  • Accessibility: Unlike some of Iceland’s more remote natural wonders, the Golden Circle is easily accessible from Reykjavík. This makes it a perfect day trip option, allowing you to experience some of Iceland’s most iconic sights without venturing too far from the capital city.
 
  • Geothermal Activity Up Close: The Geysir Geothermal Area showcases the power of geothermal energy firsthand. Witness the geyser Strokkur erupt every few minutes and explore the bubbling mud pots and colorful hot springs.
 
  • Dramatic Landscapes: The Golden Circle boasts stunning scenery, from the stark beauty of Þingvellir’s rift valley to the cascading power of Gullfoss. Prepare to be impressed by the raw and rugged Icelandic nature.
 
  • Great for All Travelers: The Golden Circle caters to a variety of interests and fitness levels. Whether you’re a geology buff, history enthusiast, or simply enjoy beautiful scenery, there’s something for everyone. The well-maintained paths and viewing areas make it accessible for most visitors.

You can visit the Golden Circle by yourself with a self driving tour. The Golden Circle is a popular destination for both guided tours and self-guided exploration with pros and cons.

Self-Guided Tour:

  • Pros:
    • Flexibility: Set your own pace and choose how long to spend at each location.
    • Freedom: Explore at your own leisure and customise your itinerary to include stops that interest you.
    • Potentially Lower Cost: Depending on group size and tour inclusions, a self-guided trip can be more affordable.
  • Cons:
    • Planning Required: You’ll need to research the route, attractions, and potential stops beforehand.
    • Navigation: Driving and navigating the route yourself, especially if unfamiliar with the area.
    • Limited Information: You might miss out on historical or geological insights you’d get with a guided tour.

 

Guided Tour:

  • Pros:
    • Convenience: Transportation, itinerary, and sometimes even lunch are all taken care of.
    • Local Knowledge: Experienced guides can share insights and interesting facts about the locations.
    • Social Interaction: Meet fellow travelers and share the experience.
  • Cons:
    • Less Flexibility: You’ll be following the tour’s schedule and may not have as much time to explore at your own pace.
    • Cost: Guided tours typically cost more than a self-guided trip.

 

So, which is right for you?

If you enjoy independence and don’t mind a little planning, a self-guided tour is a great option. For those who prefer a hassle-free experience and appreciate the insights of a local guide, a guided tour might be the better choice.  No matter which option you choose, the Golden Circle offers a fantastic opportunity to explore the natural wonders and historical significance of Iceland.

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