The Golden Circle is the ultimate tourist trail in Iceland with its waterfalls, geysers and beautiful national park vistas. Although I’m not a great fan of this area myself, due to its many visitors and the fact that I’ve seen it not only a thousand times but more like a million times, I understand you may feel differently.
The Golden Circle is a convenient place to start when you first visit Iceland. It has a lot to offer, the roads are usually well maintained any season and there are tours in abundance to take you there. Today I’m going to be talking about driving the Golden Circle in your own rental car but if you would rather join a tour you might want to check out the Golden Circle and Traditional Tastes that is a bit more than your standard Golden Circle tour. You might also want to consider a private taxi tour but they are more affordable than you would think and give you more flexibility than the bigger bus tours.
But back to the driving yourself part.
The Golden Circle, like I mentioned before, is relatively easy to drive yourself because the roads are well maintained and there are a lot of people driving it every day. So if you decide to drive it in more challenging conditions in winter, which you shouldn’t do unless you feel comfortable with doing it and/or you have some experience with driving in snow and such, and something goes wrong there are enough cars driving that route that help should never be far away. Just take care and be safe!
First things first
The first thing you need to drive the Golden Circle is a car. As you have probably noticed there is a plethora of car rental agencies in Iceland and there can be a vast difference in price between them. The best advice I can give you, and this is especially important in winter, is to rent from a reputable car rental agency where you can be sure the cars are in good condition, with the right tires and insurances and such. If you are going out driving for a few days you also want to make sure the agency you’re dealing with has proper service and service stations around the country so you don’t get stuck somewhere unable to carry on with a broken down car that can’t be replaced or fixed.
The stars of the show: Þingvellir, Gullfoss and Geysir
You can take as long as you want driving the Golden Circle and if you just want to do the highlights version you can probably get through it in 4-5 hours. Keep in mind though you wouldn’t do much more than just driving that way. With selective stops, you Golden Circle tour can last anywhere from 6-10+ hours.
On the map below you will find directions for Golden Circle Basic Route. According to Google Maps this is 237 kilometers and it will take you 3 hours and 21 minutes to drive. This route will take you to Þingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal area and Gullfoss waterfall. For more information about each place see the map below.
You can also download the step-by-step directions for the Golden Circle Basic Route from Google Maps on PDF here.
Optional additions to your Golden Circle Tour
If you have a little more time to spend for your your Golden Circle adventure you can expand the route by adding a few extra stops (and actually make it into a circle). You can for example go snorkeling in Silfra at Þingvellir National Park or you can enjoy a yummy tomato soup in the greenhouses at Friðheimar.
On the map below you will find directions to the Optional Additions to the Golden Circle. I’ve marked in some places of interest on the way but these are just places I can personally recommend and think are worth doing, This addition will add about an hour to hour and half to your driving time, not taking into consideration the stops you make along the way. For more information about each place see the map below.
You can download the step-by-step directions for the Additional options to the basic Golden Circle Tour from Google Maps on PDF here.
Off the beaten path
For the final modification to your Golden Circle tour I want to mention the beautiful Nesjavallaleið and Hengill. If you do the Golden Circle in the reversed order, ending in Þingvellir National Park, you can drive the so-called Nesjavalllaleið back to Reykjavík. This is a beautiful route and although it doesn’t have any highlights or stops along the way it’s well worth driving. It’s good to keep in mind though that this road is not well maintained during winter and parts of it are quite steep so you should probably stay clear of it in winter when there’s a lot of snow out. Actually, it’s often impassible anyway so make sure you check road.is before you head out.
The landscape on Nesjavallaleið is otherworldly and you almost feel like you’ve arrived at a different planet. If the conditions are OK this will add about 40-50 minutes to your drive back to Reykjavík and you will end up in Suðlandsvegur where you started your journey towards the south
You can download the step-by-step directions for the Nesjavallaleið back to Reykjavík from Google Maps on PDF here.
Instructions on how to use this map (viewing it larger is advised):
There are five layers on this map. To see all the layers click on the button in the top left corner. The first layers contains points of interest in the area. The second layer contains places, restaurants, pools and such that might be worth visiting in the area. The third layer is driving instructions for the basic Golden Circle tour. The fourth layer is driving instructions for an optional addition to your Golden Circle tour. The fifth and final layer is driving instructions for an alternative way back to Reykjavík if you do the Golden Circle the reversed way and end in Þingvellir National Park. To hide and show different layers click on the boxes next to the names of the layers (if they are visible there’s a little check mark in the box).
To make the map bigger click the bracket (next to your profile photo) in the top right corner of the map.