Driving the Golden Circle, Iceland: Stops, Itinerary, Route Map and Tips!

map of the golden circle iceland

Iceland is renowned for its geothermal wonders such as geysers, waterfalls, national parks, volcanic crater lakes and tectonic plate openings. One place where all of these are neatly situated is the Golden Circle - a perfect taster to the magical beauty that Iceland has to offer. Our blog post includes some short notes and tips on all the best stops on the Golden Circle. [Note: this post was updated on the 22nd of May, 2023]

Golden Circle Iceland by Car

The Golden Circle tour Iceland is a well-travelled route that, contrary to popular misconception, does not encompass the entire circumference of Iceland, but rather a much smaller 300 km (190 mile) section. It's popular because it is close to capital Reykjavik and allows travellers to 'tick off' many of Iceland's geothermal wonders (like geysers and waterfalls) without travelling too far.

golden circle iceland stops

Above is a photo of the wonderful scenery and my then-bf Tanbay taking a photo of me taking a photo of him during our Golden Circle trip :)

Golden Circle Map Route

Here is an interactive map of the Golden Circle route with all the main stops - if you click 'More Options' it will take you into a new tab where you can edit the route to your hearts content <3

How long does it take to drive the Golden Circle?

Driving the Golden Circle was absolutely okay. In theory it should only take about four hours to drive. It depends on how long you spend at each of the sites and how quickly you drive - personally, I'm a nervous driver and an insta-ho who took a billion photos at each stop so it took me A LOT longer. We ended up incorporating a spa evening and an overnight stay, which relaxed the cr@p outta me and thus I recommend.

golden circle map route

The breathtaking Gullfoss Waterfall

But this is assuming that you want to drive at all. If you don't I applaud you loudly, driving sucks the life out of the planet. So what are the alternatives? According to Google walking would take about 48 hours. Taking the train would be even longer because there are no trains in Iceland - you'd have to wait until they built one :( There aren't really public buses either :( :(

golden circle iceland route map

But there are many Golden Circle group tours - like this one and this one. I feel ambiguous about these, on the one hand NEY because most tours I've been on have felt touristy and like our hopes and dreams and personal schedules don't mean anything - you know, like in capitalism in general. On the other hand YEY because more people in one (bigger) vehicle equals less emissions. Which was my issue with driving in the first place (that and the nervous thing).

iceland golden circle stops

I personally didn't go for a tour at the time because this insta-ho was offered a rental car in exchange for an honest rental car review. (I just had to pay for petrol.) Which brings me on to my next point:

Is the Golden Circle in Iceland free?

Yes! All of the sites along the way (geysers, waterfalls, national parks etc) are not only free to enter, they're also free to park at too. You just have to pay for your rental car and petrol or for a tour. Renting a car in Iceland starts at around €30/day and to drive the route cost us €40. Tours start from around $50 per person.

Golden Circle Iceland Itinerary

I had a neat little Golden Circle itinerary all written out for myself (virgo) which rearranged and edited cause of some of the mistakes (let's call them lessons) I made along the way. In this itinerary, I'll let you in on these lessons, so you don't miss out on the things I did, and I'll give you my first hand experience on the things I did do.

#1 Reykjavik

Reykjavik will probably be your start and ending point of your Golden Circle tour. My first mistake was spending far too long there. I really like Reykjavik - it's clean, it's safe, it's got great vegan restaurants, it's beautiful - it has that 'Nordic' vibe (read: a bit too clinical for me, sorry).

driving the golden circle iceland
Hallgrímskirkja, the main Lutheran (Church of Iceland) temple of Reykjavík with a statue of 10-11th century Norse explorer Leif Erikson in the foreground

But it's still just a normal city, I wish I'd spent less time there and more time in Iceland's unique nature. In the picture above is the statue of Leif Erikson who was probs the first Eurasian white guy to set foot on Turtle Island (the word most often used by indigenous peoples of North America to refer to the continent) circa 500 years before Columbus.

#2 STROKKUR Geyser

Strokkur is a geyser. Before I went to Iceland I didn't know what a geyser was, so in case you don't or in case I get amnesia: a geyser is a hot spring in which water intermittently boils, sending a tall column of water and steam into the air.

map iceland golden circle

The above photo shows you what Strokkur looks like when it's not doing that. Strokkur is popular because it goes off reliably every 6-10 minutes. We got there just as it went off, and we didn't have to wait long for (and I quote myself from the past) for "that insta-good shot". Here's what it's like when it pops:

golden circle iceland itinerary

The geyser goes off every 5-10 mins, you can just wait around for it. They also make a traditional icelandic dish underground. They bury it near hot geysers, the earth warms it up. It's a meat dish traditionally - it can easily be veganised (like most dishes). We wrote about it in our vegan in Iceland post on our sister site.

#3 ÞINGVELLIR, Fingvellir or Pingvellir

golden circle iceland map

Þingvellir, Fingvellir or even Pingvellir is a very special national park: not only was this the place where the oldest existing parliament in the world assembled, this is also where two tectonic plates meet. Yes, you can scuba dive, snorkel, paddle or even just jump between North America and Europe here!


A trip to Iceland wouldn't be complete without a) a trip to a spa and b) a dip in a freezing Icelandic lake. Luckily at Fontana you can do both! With the added advantage of being able to stand on that famous black Icelandic sand.

map of golden circle iceland

We loved our trip to Fontana, but highly recommend you schedule it in as one of your last stops of your Golden Circle Tour - you'll be so relaxed when you leave you won't be up for much other than more relaxing!


iceland golden circle map

Gullfoss is a waterfall on the north east corner of the Golden Circle Tour. Gullfoss actually means 'Golden Falls' in Icelandic. This was my absolute favourite stop on the Golden Circle. Gullfoss is simply breathtaking and you've got to go there!

#6 KERIð, Kerith or Kerid Volcanic Crater Lake

driving golden circle iceland
i'm not gonna pretend that's me on the left cause it's not... I couldn't take any good photos of Kerið so the credit goes to Scoundrelgeo

Kerið, Kerith or Kerid is a volcanic crater lake located near the end of your Golden Circle Tour (or the beginning if you decide to go anticlockwise)! There's a normal fee to see the crater (400ISK = about £2). It actually reminds us a lot of the volcanic crater lakes that we saw at the Azores.

Further Tips about the Golden Circle tour: Accommodation, Driving & Food

Minniborgir Cottages are the absolute perfect place to explore the Golden Circle from. Located at the south west of the Golden Circle, you can easily access all the sites - with Kerid being only ten minutes down the road. It's also the perfect place to go to after your trip to Fontana.

map golden circle iceland

Not only are they close together (less than 15 minutes by car) you can continue your relaxation at Minniborgir as they have hot tubs! You can book directly on their website or find them on our favourite booking website: hotels.com. [You can read more about it here: our full review of Minniborgir Cottages]

Driving the Golden Circle Iceland

I've said it a few times in this post, but I think it's important to highlight how much we recommend renting a car on the Golden Circle Route. You can of course take one of the Golden Circle coach tours, but you're not going to have the freedom to stop for as long as you like, leave when you like and make your own route! If you decide to hire a car we recommend the company we went with: Lagoon Car Rental [Read more: Our full review of renting a car in Iceland with Lagoon Car Rental] In terms of petrol, we used half a tank to drive around the Golden Circle and it cost about $40.

Alternatively: combine driving and accommodation!

Hindsight in 2020 and although I loved Minniborgir and driving a car, if I could go back (or rather, when I go back), I would (will) combine my automobile and my accommodation and rent a camper with Cozy Campers. The reason I would do this is to make the absolute most of the nature and my time in Iceland. You have the advantage that you get in a car of being able to stop when and where you want, added to the bonus of being able to sleep there too. Can you imagine peaking at the Northern Lights out of your cozy mobile accommodation, snuggled in a duvet, before waking in the morning amidst the wild ponies and fresh, fresh air. I can, I think about it all the time.

Food on the Golden Circle Route

To be honest with you, I initially found it hard to be vegan in Iceland - but it was pretty much because of p*ss poor planning on my part... Since then I've gone back and written a vegan guide to Iceland. We decided (and recommend that you do this too) to plan ahead with food so we didn't have to worry about it on the road.

golden circle map route

In terms of places to pick up food on the Golden Circle there are the gift shops and the petrol stations aka nowhere. Thus we had breakfast in Reykjavik and bought lunch so we could have it on the Golden Circle. We also bought provisions for dinner (Minniborgir Cottages have the best equipped kitchens we've ever seen). But we ended up having dinner at Minniborgir Restaurant because they had pizza!

golden circle route iceland

It's true what they say about the food in Iceland - it's not that great - there are limited vegetarian options, and everything is kind of dry. We also struggled with the water too - we'd read online that tap water is some of the cleanest in the world and tourists get laughed at when they buy bottled water.. but seriously the smell of sulphur is horrible and I swear the tap water upset my stomach, so from then on we stuck to bottled water (which considering it's Iceland and it's a 'joke' wasn't that expensive)!

Wrap Up: Golden Circle Tips, Map and the Best Stops

All in all, we loved our Golden Circle tour - the sites are breathtaking and even the drive itself was amazing because every scene in Iceland looks like it’s come straight out of an award-winning photography book. Our three main tips for the Golden Circle? Bring food with you, stay at Minniborgir and above all drive yourself round. Also, check out our vlog about the Golden Circle route - enjoy :)

P.S.: If you're interested in a way of travelling and getting accommodation cheaply, you might wanna check out house sitting. Trustedhousesitters.com was kind enough to provide us and our readers with a 10% discount, feel free to click on the link to use it :)

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We overland. We eat plants and fungi. We live outside as much as possible. We are all connected. A female travel blogger overlanding and writing about ecotourism, ethical and sustainable travel, socially conscious travel and housesitting. An online travel magazine since 2015.


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