There’s something about the weather, snowy mountains and the dramatic landscape in general that’s been drawing more and more tourists to Iceland. Now, IcelandAir’s aggressive stopover marketing may have something to do with that, but hey, who can blame them? So if you’re in Iceland for just a short trip, or even a long one, you can fit the Golden Circle right in! It will showcase the beauty that Iceland has to offer whatever season you’re visiting, though driving it in winter adds just a tiny bit extra.
Where is it and how should I do it?
The Golden Circle starts in Reykjavík and loops inland and back. It covers about 300 km, and while you’ll definitely not be alone, the entire trip offers you plenty of solitude. That is if, and here we get to it, you rent a car. You will be able to book plenty of day tours in Reykjavík, which is a perfectly fine solution for when you simple don’t want to drive or don’t want to go alone, but if you can, get a car. Driving yourself gives you the option to stop wherever you want (and you’ll want to, lots of times!), take your time and maybe even go a bit further. The Golden Circle itself will take you along the 3 most important attractions; Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss and the Geothermal Area. (Haukadular). And the driving through the snow part? Not so bad! The road is being kept clean and you have gotten yourself a 4×4 with spikes of course. Obviously you’re smarter than us and this won’t happen to you.
Renting a car?
- In winter, get a 4×4 with spikes. Snow tires are a pain, and we found the spikes had super grip
- No need for a GPS, everything along the route is signposted
Þingvellir National Park
The drive from Reykjavík to Þingvellir will take about an hour. We stopped at a viewpoint halfway to enjoy the view (and the cold, biting winds) for a few minutes. The park has been an UNESCO site since 2004 due to its historical relevance and anything that has your fancy, hiking, horseback riding or even diving, is available here. Parking is paid nowadays, as well as the Visitor’s Centre, but the park itself is free to enter.
About an hour after Þingvellir, and just after Bruarfoss waterfall (a super easy additional stop) is Geysir. While Geysir is actually the name for the biggest one, the only one that actually still erupts, is Strokkur. It blows up every 5 to 10 minutes, releasing that wonderful smell of sulfur. It’s quite the sight, and if you look at the pool closely, you can see the build up!
You’ll find Gullfoss (Golden Falls) right after Geysir. Naturally, when we were there, everything was pretty much frozen. Those winds are no joke, if you can’t tell by that picture! When it’s not frozen, roughly 140 cubic meters of water rush down every second. In winter, it’s ‘only’ 109, but at least you won’t get sprayed!
- Secret Lagoon hot springs. They’re not such a secret, but pretty nonetheless!
- For something different for lunch; make your way to Fludasveppir Farmers Bistro. This is the only mushroom farm in Iceland, and everything they serve is homegrown and homemade. Their mushroom soup is excellent (surprise!) as well as their mushroom butter and bread.
- Kerid Crater is a volcanic crater lake with aquamarine waters
And voila, you’ve looped yourself back to Reykjavík! The entire Circle should take you about a day. If you’re in a rush and not stopping anywhere except for the main sights, you could cover it in about 5 hours. We did it in winter, so were on a daylight deadline! We left at about 9 in the morning, saw the sunrise from the car and got back after dark. For us, this was totally doable without rush.
Iceland in Winter Driving Tips
- Thermal clothing is a must in winter. When we were there early Feb, temperatures dropped as low as -8 in daytime. Leggings will fit under your jeans, and a long sleeve will keep your torso warm.
- The weather can change at the blink of an eye. Never leave without water and some food, even if it’s bars. If you get stuck you won’t be in immediate need. We always had a thermos of tea or coffee with us as well.
- Keep a flashlight in the car.
- Check the Iceland Road Info website every now and then. It will inform you of closed roads and weather expectations.
- Get gravel insurance. Seriously.
- We never leave without a Lonely Planet! We used the Iceland guide, as well as the specific Ring Road guide since this itinerary was part of a bigger trip.
If you have some more time (which is definitely recommended), the Snæfellsness Peninsula is absolutely gorgeous and doable in a day as well.
Iceland in winter is nothing short of fantastic! You might think everything looks the same when it’s covered in snow, but that’s far from the truth. Driving yourself definitely means it’s full of action, but so much fun and rewarding!
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