Ultimate Guide to Driving Iceland’s Golden Circle
What is the Golden Circle? And Why Do I Need to Go?
The Golden Circle in Iceland is a world famous drive however it's not just any road trip. It's full of jaw-dropping natural wonders, Iceland is one those place you have to visit at least once in your lifetime.
This round trip is 300km, it usually takes 6 - 10 hours depending on how long you explore each stop for. When you drive this route (or anywhere else in Iceland for that matter) you are overwhelmed with stunning natural wonders. You will come across countless waterfalls & cliffs along the highway.
Duck down a small side road and you will find ice-filled lakes & rivers and lakes are hiding and you won't forget the mystical moss covered rocks?
It is almost impossible to list every single natural wonder, however we have put together our favourite spots along the route. We have included a couple of additional spots that are not on the Golden Circle route but we felt they needed to be shared! We hope you enjoy these spots as much as we did!
So, Where To Stop Along the Golden Circle?
1. Gullfoss Waterfall
The Gullfoss waterfall (also known as the Golden Waterfall) is one of those waterfalls that you really need to see in person to understand its power and beauty.
The Gullfoss waterfall is fed by the Langjökull glacier, which is Iceland's second biggest glacier. In the summertime around 1400 m³/s of water flies over the two drops totalling a 32-meter drop. On a nice summers day, a gorgeous rainbow can be seen hovering over the falls. The falls also has a tourist centre with a cafe that managed to knock out decent coffees.
The Geysers at Haukadalur are without a doubt one of the busiest spots we encounter while we were in Iceland. You know you are close when you start passing dozens of buses.
There are several different geysers and geothermal marvels to check out in the area, however, the main event is the Strokkur (pronounced Strau-ker) which translates to ‘Churn’ in English and was was formed by a huge earthquake back in 1789. The Strokkur erupts roughing every 5 - 10 minutes and shoots hot water an impressive 20 - 30 meters into the sky.
There is a small mountain behind the geysers which gives you an amazing view of the surrounding snow-capped mountains and landscape.
The Kerið Crater Lake is a stunning (almost) neon blue lake tucked away inside a volcanic caldera. The Kerið Crater Lake is around half the age of the others in the area at 3000 years old.
There are a few theories on how it was created, the most interesting was that it was created when a cone-shaped volcano erupted, emptying out its magma reserves and finally collapsing in on itself.
The Kerið Crater Lake has located 15 km to the north of Selfoss, on highway 35. It is easily accessible with a car park right on the edge of the crater itself.
If you are in Reykjavik in December we recommend visiting some the best Christmas Markets we came across in Europe. We stumbled across the Yule Town Market, which set around of small and beautiful Christmas houses. You will find Christmas decoration, delicious food and lots of entertainment here.
We also recommend the street food market known as Jolakras. Here you will find delicious traditional street food with a twist. This market is a collaboration of Reykjavik’s finest restaurants creating their version of fine dining street food.
5.Secret Lagoon in Fludir
We are not good at keeping secrets, so we have to tell you about the Secret Lagoon in Fludir. The Secret Lagoon is called ‘Gamla Laugin’ in Icelandic which translates to ‘old pool’ in English, a fitting name as this pool is believed to be Iceland first public swimming pool built back in 1891.
The pool hovers around 38-40°C and the there is even a geyser that goes off roughly every 10 minutes. The pool has been restored and there is now changing rooms, showers and lockers, however, the pool has been kept in its original condition as possible. A nice touch is the old changing rooms which are now a moss-covered step back in time.
The Secret Lagoon is hidden away behind an unassuming building in the town of Flúðir. Entrance to the lagoon is 2800 ISK (roughly 20 Euro) but it is well worth it.
For more info about the lagoon and to book tickets head over to the Secret Lagoons website here
6. Solheimasandur Plane Wreck
The Solheimasandur Plane Wreck is one of the most iconic photography spots in Iceland. The wreck is a United States Navy Douglas Super DC-3 aeroplane that crashed on the black sands of the Sólheimasandur beach on Saturday, Nov 24, 1973.
It is an 8km round trip to the wreckage and on a misty day can feel very desolate and isolated. There is no toilet facilities, tourist information centres or cafes at this spot so make sure you bring a pack with everything you need for this trip.
The plane itself has seen better days, its covered with graffiti and all that’s really left is small parts of the wings and a very empty stripped out interior. Still very interesting to see a real plane wreck up close and personal though. We would definitely recommend this spot for any keen photographers or aviation buffs.
There are no signs to the wreck, however, there is now a parking area off the main Þjóðvegur Route 1 highway about 10km past the turnoff to the Skógafoss waterfall. GPS coordinates for the parking area are 63 27.546-19 21.887.
The Diamond Beach is situated 377km to the east of Reykjavík. Just follow Þjóðvegur Route 1 in the south-east direction until you reach the huge bridge at the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. The beach is on the right-hand side with parking on either side of the bridge.
The Jökulsárlón lagoon is also worth checking out, there are kayak and boat tours you can do which we highly recommend!
The lagoon flows out into the North Atlantic Ocean, bringing with it chunks of Jökulsárlón Glacier, some of which was back up onto the beach. Littering the beach with large and small ice ‘diamonds’. A very unique and magical beach
8. Fjallsárlón Glacial Lagoon
This spot was given to us by a local tour guide who advised us that this is one of the less touristy spots along the coast and was definitely worth checking out. We where not let down, the glacier was breathtaking. The lagoon was packed full of broken pieces of the glacier and dead still.
Every now and then we could hear the glacier creaking and moving, this was something that we had never heard before. It’s a perfect spot to just sit and take in nature’s beauty.
Directions to the spot are a little bit tricky, the turnoff is not signposted and the entrance road can change locations due to floods or the river moving. The turnoff we used we used was an unmarked gravel road directly after a small bridge. exactly 20.1 km along the Þjóðvegur 1, Route 1 road from the Local Guide HQ building at the N1 gas station (Turnoff GPS coordinates 63.998412, -16.37700) There is a larger bridge a hundred meters down the road, if you get to that you have gone too far!
9. Seljalandsfoss Waterfall
No trip to Iceland would be complete without a trip to the Seljalandsfoss waterfall. At a whopping 65 meters high it is an impressive sight. You can walk around behind the waterfall which is an awesome experience. Do make sure you bring a raincoat though you will get wet! The track can also be wet & slippery and a bit tricky so we definitely recommend hiking boots too.
A short walk from the Seljalandsfoss waterfall you will find the Gljúfrabúi waterfall. The English translation means ‘Dweller of the Gorge’. The waterfall is hidden away by a huge rock called the Franskanef or French Nose.
To get the best view of the waterfall you need to go through a little gap in the Franskanef rock and wade up the river. You also get quite wet in here so again a raincoat and a decent pair of gumboots are ideal. The view from the bottom of the waterfall is breathtaking! You are surrounded by 40-meter high moss-covered rocks, falling water and rainbows in the mist. It is like nothing we have ever experienced before.
10. How To Find The Secret Seljavallalaug Pool
This was hands down our favourite spot in Iceland. We were lucky enough to get this spot all to ourselves for 30 or 40 minutes one misty morning. It was absolutely breathtaking.
The Seljavallalaug Pool was built in 1923 and is one of Iceland’s first swimming pools. The pool is geothermally heated and normally hovers around 20°C – 30°C. Warm enough for a swim but not the same temperature as you’re used to in your hot tub!
Finding the pool can be tricky so we have some driving directions
- From Reykjavík, you want to follow Þjóðvegur 1, Route 1 in the south-east direction for about 140km.
- On the way, you will pass the famous Seljalandsfoss waterfall, which is also worth the stop it is truly breathtaking!
- Once you pass the Seljalandsfoss waterfall you are only 20km out from the turnoff to the Seljavallalaug Pool.
- Keep heading along Þjóðvegur 1, Route 1 in an easterly direction until you find turn off number 242. The turnoff is after a bridge over a very large stoney river bed on the left-hand side.
- Take the turnoff and drive for about 1km where you will come to a fork in the road, stay left and keep driving for another 2km.
- You will come to another fork in the road, stay right here where you will come out to a large gravel parking area, drive as far forward as possible and park up.
- Once parked you want to hike along the track heading upstream next to the river.
- Keep following the track until you come across the pool about 2km upstream.
We have heard the pool can get extremely busy so we recommend going early morning to beat the crowds – You will not regret that decision to get up early if you get it all to yourself!
Renting a Car in Iceland
We found renting a car was essential to our trip to Iceland but a little bit tricky. So we have put together some tips we picked up along the way.
What Do I Need to Hire a Car in Iceland?
To hire a car in Iceland you need to have a credit card, hold a valid drivers licence and have at least 1 years driving experience
How Old Do I Need to Be to Hire a Car in Iceland?
To hire a passenger car you need to be at least 20 years old, and to hire a 4×4 you need to be at least 23 years old
Rental Car Insurance in Iceland
In Iceland, all insurance types are based on self-risk. This means that any damages that may incur to the car that is found to be the driver’s fault, you are liable for XXX amount of the total damage.This will be outlined in the CDW/SCDW section of the rental agreement
If you are involved in an accident, towing of the rental vehicle will not be covered by the rental car insurance, you will need to pay for this up front
If you are driving on F-roads, your insurance will not cover river crossings so take extreme care if you are about to cross a river
Any damage to the tyres, windows, undercarriage and engine are generally not covered by your insurance. Some companies offer additional upgrades which can cover these special parts. If they are on offer we recommend getting coverage for tyres, windows and undercarriage. It can get very windy in Iceland and if you are driving on gravel roads damages to these parts of the car are very common
What is the Emergency Services Number
The emergency services number in Iceland is 112
What Side of the Road Do You Drive on in Iceland?
You drive on the right hand side – overtake on the left
Do you Need To Use Headlights Day and Night?
Yes, you must use your headlights on during both the day and night time
What is the Alcohol Limit?
Driving under the influence of any drugs or alcohol is strictly forbidden
Using a mobile phone while driving is also strictly forbidden
What is The Price of Gas in Iceland?
95 octane is around 200 ISK (€1.60) per litre
Diesel is 190 ISK per litre (€1.50 )
(prices in January 2017)
What is The Speed Limit in Iceland?
50 km/h within built up areas/cities
80 km/h on dirt/gravel roads
90 km/h on all other paved road
If you’re wondering whether there are speed cameras in Iceland, you would be correct. Seeing police cars patrolling is not so common but there are a many of speed cameras around so be sure to stick to the speed limits
Can I Drive Offroad?
No. Offroading in Iceland is strictly prohibited. Iceland is a beautiful country so stick to the tracks and keep it that way!
What are F-roads in Iceland?
F-roads are the roads in the highlands of Iceland that take you to the most breathtaking sights. They are the most dangerous roads in Iceland and the conditions can change rapidly. F-roads are not like other regular gravel roads. They can be very rocky, steep and/or muddy, so we advise that beginner drivers do not attempt to drive on them
When are F-roads Open?
F-Roads are normally open from the beginning of June until the end of September. For more info on road status and opening times click here