Gullfoss - Golden Falls along the Golden Circle in Iceland

Self Drive Tour of the Golden Circle in Iceland

The Golden Circle is another “must see” area when visiting Iceland, as there are many fascinating sites along one route. You have the option to take a bus tour of the area, but I would recommend renting a car and driving yourself if you are able; it gives you flexibility and can be more cost effective, too. We decided to do the self drive tour of the Golden Circle and were fortunate to have Inga from Tiny Iceland join us again! Looking back, we were glad we drove because it is nice to go at our own pace and not be limited by the bus schedule.

Either way, with whatever mode of transportation you choose to use, the main stops will likely be the same: Gullfoss, Geyser and Þingvellir National Park; some people add in the volcano crater, Kerið, as well, but we didn’t have time to add this stop in as we had a snorkel tour to catch that evening!

We decided to start with visiting Gullfoss first. It was another rainy day, but the weather didn’t detract from the beauty of the falls. Gullfoss plunges over 105 ft. down into the canyon below. The English translation of Gullfoss means “golden falls”, and it got the name because once glacial water melts it collects sediments from the earth that get carried with it. The sediments turn the water a brownish color and on sunny days the water can appear golden in color. It is rumored that the falls almost met their demise to a potential hydropower plant. It wasn’t until a women, Sigríður, protested in a barefoot march from Reykjavik to Gullfoss (120 km) and threatened to throw herself over the falls that the plans were halted and the falls saved.  Thanks to this woman’s effort, we can all enjoy the stunning falls today.

Gullfoss, Golden Circle, Iceland

Gullfoss, Golden Circle, Iceland

Gullfoss - Golden Falls along the Golden Circle in Iceland

Gullfoss, Golden Circle, Iceland

Next up are the geysers in Haukadalur geothermal area. The original highlight at this stop was Geysir, which is the geyser that gave all others their name; however, it is no longer actively erupting at this time. But, don’t be too disappointed as there is another geyser named Strokkur nearby that erupts every 4-10 minutes. Strokkur shoots to heights of 15-40 meters high and it is a fascinating sight to see, while others such as Litli-Geysir offer a more tame show. The land here is very active and there are more than 40 bubbling and steaming hot springs, mud pots and fumaroles to gaze upon. If you feel like going for a walk, there are numerous trails to follow as well.

Geysers, Golden Circle, Iceland

Geysers, Golden Circle, Iceland

Geysers, Golden Circle, Iceland

Across the road from the Haukadalur, there is also a rest stop with a cafe, gift shop and restrooms, which is convenient because there are very few places like this around the area and countryside. The restaurant looked tasty but pricey, so we were glad we packed a lunch.

Our last stop was Þingvellir National Park. We were happy to have Inga with us because she knows the park very well and showed us a “secret” lava cave she found out about many years ago from a book. We climbed down inside it a ways, and it was really neat to see. If you didn’t know the cave was there, you would miss it because it’s almost like a hole in the ground. Apparently you can walk/crawl through the cave and come out another side, but it is a long path and you need proper equipment to do so.  Sorry…I don’t know where the cave is actually located as Inga led the way!

Þingvellir National Park, Iceland

Þingvellir National Park, Iceland

Þingvellir National Park, Iceland

Þingvellir National Park, Iceland

Þingvellir National Park, Iceland

Next, we drove farther into the park, and stopped for a walk around some of the most interesting sites in Þingvellir. It is here where you can see the actual division between tectonic plates of North America and Europe. There is also a church nearby that you can explore, but we walked in the opposite direction towards the pretty waterfall, Öxarárfoss. This waterfall is near the spot where the worlds first parliament meetings were held, back in 930. Vikings from all over Iceland would travel, some for 17 days, to meet and discuss the laws and rules of their land. It was fun trying to picture what that must have been like so many years ago.

Waterfall at Þingvellir National Park in Iceland

Þingvellir National Park, Iceland

Þingvellir National Park, Iceland

Þingvellir National Park, Iceland

Another spot we visited in the park, had a gruesome history: Drekkingarhylur, or the drowning pools. Here, women who were believed to be guilty of acts such as witchcraft or adultery were put in sacks and drowned in the river; however, thankfully this practice was not in place long.

River at Þingvellir National Park in Iceland

All but too soon, our day of exploring the golden circle was over and it was now time for our snorkeling adventure nearby–stay tuned!

  • noel
    Posted at 16:01h, 15 July Reply

    I would really love to visit here someday, pretty amazing scenery
    noel recently posted…Koloko Honokohau National Park – Travel Photo Mondays #3My Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 10:58h, 24 July Reply

      Hope you get to visit–it’s beautiful! You would have a great time taking photos!

  • Anna
    Posted at 11:08h, 16 July Reply

    Iceland keeps going higher and higher on my list! What gorgeous shots! Strangely I like the Drekkingarhylur photo, it looks like something magical is sparkling in the water!
    Anna recently posted…Mellow Mushroom-Charleston, South CarolinaMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 10:57h, 24 July Reply

      Glad to hear! 🙂 And, thank you! The photo with the sparkling water is actually coins that were thrown in like a wishing well! It was really pretty!

  • Trevor
    Posted at 12:07h, 16 July Reply

    What a great trip suggestion to do in Iceland. This place really is calling my name. We did a little focus on the area a few months back for Picfari and since then I’ve been dying to visit! Do you have a time of season you recommend? How do you find the roads? I think I would want to drive too. Thanks for the great information on the Golden Circle. I knew of Gulfoss, but not the rest! (PS the imagery of picturing a bunch of Vikings gathered at Öxarárfoss is pretty awesome!)

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 10:51h, 24 July Reply

      Thanks, Trevor! Depending on what you want to see when you visit, any season is great. In the winter you have the northern lights, but it will be a lot colder and the roads won’t be as accessible. The summer is busy, but you have the midnight sun and nicer weather. We went at the end of May before the peak season (and peak prices) in June and had great weather without as many crowds–we feel like we made a good choice for timing!

      I would definitely recommend driving if you are up for it–our favorite part of the trip was exploring the countryside at our own pace. The main roads were easy to drive and navigate, but if you drive some of the smaller side roads they aren’t always maintained. If you have any questions or want suggestions, let me know! 🙂

  • The Tao of Badass Reviews
    Posted at 03:32h, 27 July Reply

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  • Mary {The World Is A Book}
    Posted at 03:48h, 30 July Reply

    Beautiful shots! We were in Iceland last summer and loved it and we’re dying to go back. These brought back such wonderful memories. I wish we had Inga when we were there too to lead us to that cave. We saw the hole from a distance and also missed Öxarárfoss. Totally agree with you about driving vs. the tour. We stopped at so many roadside places to take pictures and admire the horses too. Thanks for the trip down memory lane. It’s such a magical place.
    Mary {The World Is A Book} recently posted…River Surfers, Beer and Birds at the English Garden MunichMy Profile

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 21:43h, 04 August Reply

      Glad to bring back some memories! We want to go back again too. I’m glad you were able to drive the circle, we really enjoyed it too. Next time you visit, you will have to look Inga up! She’s the best!

  • Ashley Garcia
    Posted at 13:43h, 29 October Reply

    Your pictures look beautiful! My sister and I are planning a trip to Iceland in March, and we are using a lot of your tips/advice! I know you said to pack light layers, but I was wondering what type of pants you would recommend. Jeans? Snow pants? Thanks so much!

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 00:47h, 30 October Reply

      Thanks, Ashley! Glad out posts have helped and hope you have a great time! 🙂 I packed jeans and light water resistant pants and long johns for an extra layer if i was cold. I wore jeans for the day to day stuff and my water resistant pants for the glacier hiking and all the active stuff. I know a lot of people hate traveling with jeans, but they are my favorite so I always bring them with. If you are going in the summer, heavy snow pants might be a bit warm. The balance I had worked well for me. Let us know if you have any other questions!

  • Mohsin Ali
    Posted at 23:49h, 02 January Reply

    really awsome plaxe… i would love to visit.. God help me…

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 22:22h, 09 January Reply

      It was really great–hope you get to one day!

  • Josh Green
    Posted at 14:31h, 26 March Reply

    Heading to Iceland next month. Definitely planning on hiring a car for the added flexibility. Hoping to meet some people to share the cost but not too fussed if not. Going right at the end of the Northern Lights season but fingers crossed!

    Great article!

  • C.A. Anderson
    Posted at 13:02h, 27 March Reply

    We are in Iceland now. The weather is great and so are the people but the airport and arrivals are the worst I have ever been through. Thik twice before you decide to come.

  • Lizzy
    Posted at 06:21h, 26 January Reply

    Amazing photos of Iceland. May I know if this is in summer? Thanks

  • Kris
    Posted at 17:24h, 25 August Reply

    We are going to Iceland in a couple of weeks. Which car rental company did you use? There are 4 of us, so I’m hoping it a lot more economical!

    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 00:51h, 27 August Reply

      We rented our car from Budget through, and we got a surprisingly good deal! Might be worth a look, but I’ve also heard that has good deals, too! Hope you have a great trip–Iceland is amazing!!
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…In Motion: JapanMy Profile

  • Sam
    Posted at 20:57h, 13 April Reply

    Hi Jenna,

    I’m driving the Golden Circle myself at the end of May – What kind of car did you rent? I’m hitting places on the ring road and have a 4×2 Nissan Camper Van. Did you get around the Golden Circle with a 2×4 car? or did you have a 4×4 – just trying to figure out if my 2×4 will be fine!


    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 03:37h, 23 April Reply

      Awesome! Hope you have a great trip, Sam! We just rented a small economy car and didn’t have any problems driving the Golden Circle or the Ring Road. As long as you stick to the main roads and don’t go off on any of the smaller, gravel roads you should be fine. The car rental agency should be able to show you a map of the roads you aren’t allowed to drive on with your specific car, which is helpful to know, as well. But overall as long as the weather is good, the main roads should be fine with a camper van. We are actually heading back this summer and will be in a camper van as well, should be a great time! Safe travels! 🙂
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…Our Favorite Underrated National Parks in the United StatesMy Profile

  • sam s
    Posted at 13:59h, 22 August Reply

    hi there, i see your wearing converse all stars, i was planning to take this trip next week and was wondering if they are adequate footwear or if i should try to rent some hiking boots?


    • Jenna Kvidt
      Posted at 03:46h, 24 August Reply

      Hi Sam–hope you have a great trip! I guess it depends on what your plans are when you are there–if you are doing a lot of hiking, waterproof shoes or hiking boots could be a good idea, but if you aren’t going off on any long trails, I would think you might be ok with regular shoes. It all depends on your personal preference though–we had waterproof hiking shoes on in all these photos, and our friend from Iceland was the one with the Converse shoes! I know that doesn’t directly answer your question, but hope it helps some. Safe travels and have a great time in Iceland!
      Jenna Kvidt recently posted…Happy Campers Iceland Road Trip – Part 3: Our Itinerary Day 6-10My Profile

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