If you’re visiting Iceland on vacation for the first time, you’re doing the Golden Circle. It’s essentially a given. The Golden Circle is famous for its myriad of natural wonders. The convenience of these wonders being on this loop almost literally right off the road makes the tour very doable in one or two days. Every stop you make will be breathtaking, and you’ll be making plenty. Allot enough time and don’t forget to breathe. Below, you’ll find the 2-day self-driving guide for the route and stops that we made. We’ve also included a Google Map at the bottom, and coordinates throughout.
Þingvellir — 64.2559° N, 21.1304° W
Þingvellir is a national park that consists of a valley that sits on an area where two tectonic plates separated. Þingvellir means “Parliament Plains” in Iceland. Named as such because the park is home to Alþing, the site of Iceland’s parliament from the 10th to 18th century. Although there is a plenty more to do in the area, like scuba diving in between tectonic plates, we visited Alþing and the Almannagjá fault.
Laugarvatnshellir (The Cave People) – 64.2163° N, 20.8836° W
Laugarvatnshellir is a cave with a house built into it. A carpenter and his wife moved here around 1910 and built the cute house that exists there now. The caves were also used as stalls, a restaurant, and shelter. Note that the road that leads to here, assuming you’re coming from the Golden Circle, is unpaved and tough to drive. We’d definitely recommend a 4x4; we had a Duster and had a blast driving through the huge puddles. We couldn’t tell you what the hours are, but there was a tent restaurant there as well (it was closed when we stopped by).
Geysir — 64.3104° N, 20.3024° W
Geysir is the geyser that the actual word "geyser" came from. Although Geysir is no longer active, the area around it is surrounded by many other hot springs (that you probably don’t want to jump into). Among these hot springs is Strokkur, an active geyser. It erupts every few minutes, sometimes consecutively.
Tomato Farm, Friðheimar — 64.1775° N, 20.4449° W
The Friðheimar tomato farm seems like an underappreciated stop around the Golden Circle, but it is a great place for a bite to eat. The farm is actually a huge and impressive greenhouse that provides 18% of Iceland’s tomato supply year-round. Surprisingly (not), their menu consists of everything tomato. We opted for the unlimited tomato soup and bread buffet.
Gullfoss — 64.3271° N, 20.1199° W
Gullfoss waterfall made me go “wow” out loud as soon as we saw it. It’s unassuming because you can’t see it from the parking lot. The area just looks flat as far as you can see. Until you walk down the stairs, that is. Out of all the waterfalls that we saw in Iceland (and we saw plenty), this was my favorite.
Think about it, a transparent bubble-shaped hotel in the middle of a forest. Yep. It exists, and if you can, we highly suggest booking a stay here. Short of camping in a tent without a rain fly, this is an amazing way to experience the outdoors. Read more about our stay here.
Mika — Skólabraut 4, 801 Reykholt
Mika’s a diner-looking restaurant on the Golden Circle. I assumed it was a diner simply because of the neon sign (heh). It’s not, though. Mika is a handmade chocolate and “vibrant cuisine” restaurant. I’m not sure what "vibrant cuisine" is exactly, but I learned that it’s delicious.
Skálholt Cathedral — Skálholti, 801 Selfossi, Iceland
According to the internet (because I don’t remember reading any signs), Skáholt was an important place in Iceland for 8 centuries. It was a religious, cultural, and political epicenter. This cathedral was actually built in the 1950s, but if you walk around the area you will find ruins and diagrams of what once stood there.
Kerið (Crater) — 64.0413° N, 20.8851° W
Kerið was our last stop on the Golden Circle. It is a ~3,000-year-old volcanic crater (or caldera). It was formed when magma chambers pushed up through the ground and collapsed into what you see today: probably the coolest hole in the ground you’ve seen. You can walk all the way down (150ft) to get a closer look. There’s even a random bench down there for some cool pictures.
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