The most popular thing to do in Iceland besides the Blue Lagoon, is the The Golden Circle. There’s tons of tours that offer it, but it’s really easy, and way cheaper to do it on your own!
Duration: Half Day
Cost: About $30 in gas
Tip: Less tourists later in the day
I’m not entirely sure why it’s called a circle, because you technically just drive straight to the sites then straight back…but technically you could combine it with the South Coast self-tour to make it more of a loop if you have time!
Don’t bother taking an expensive tour bus, you can rent a car for a fraction of the price and just do it on your own and without a crap load of people. That being said, since this is the most popular/most promoted tour in Iceland, expect a crap load of people and tour buses. If you go later in the day, or start at the end (Gulfoss) first, you can avoid some of the bigger crowds, but if you’re looking for some solitude and lesser-known areas…do a different self-tour like the South East!
1. Thingvellir National Park
The first stop is not only popular for tourists and travelers, but popular in history because of it’s cultural and geological significance. Thingvellir National Park is a double UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is extremely rare.
The first UNESCO site is the actual park because it’s where the first parliament was held in the world. It was held by the first settlers, which were either vikings, trolls, or elves…I’m not really sure…but there’s a tale that the daunting waterfall in the middle of the continental ridge is where nay-sayers would get executed via head-chopped-off. Hence it’s name…
Öxarárfoss (translation: ax waterfall)
The Continental Ridge
Is where many people go hiking. There’s a path to walk along the entire thing, and it’s pretty cool, especially if you look at it on a map and see how the two continental plates converged and formed this massive rock wall.
Silfra is the second UNESCO site, and probably the coolest (and coldest) thing that I did in Iceland. It’s literally an underwater crack in the continental divide, that separates the Eurasia and American continental plates.
BUT WAIT, there’s more! The water is also one of the clearest waters in the world because it comes from a glacier 30 meters away that gets filtered through volcanic rock. It’s also freezing (2-4 degrees Celsius) which adds to the clarity. If you’re interested in snorkeling or diving, be sure to check out dive.is because they were freaking awesome.
Geysir is…as the name implies…a geysir, and the second stop on the Golden Circle. This is a prime example of how freaking strange Iceland is, because you literally walk through a field of holes with boiling water from the hot magma below, that explode every few minutes when they get too hot. But as they’re exploding, you also see glaciers in the background, and there’s a good chance it’s also freezing outside. Mind. Blown.
3. Gulfoss Waterfall
From the top of Gulfoss…after getting soaked by it…
Gulfoss is the most well-known waterfall, and also one of the most massive. It’s so powerful that soon its power is going to be harnessed and used to provide electricity to a nearby town! You can walk all the way up to the top of it and check it out from the little observation deck too but keep in mind there’s a good chance you’ll get soaked!
From Gulfoss you can either go back the way you came, or take the road towards “Selfoss” (NOT to be confused with Gulfoss…it’s a town, not a waterfall, I made that mistake the first time and was very sad about it) and go check out some of the stops on the South Coast self-tour, but be aware that it deserves it’s own full day because of how awesome it is!!
Alyssa is a self-made, full time travel blogger who loves adventure and typically travels the world solo. She's been to 53 countries and 6 continents so far, and believes she has mastered the art of chasing waterfalls, traveling solo, wine drinking, and making budget-traveling look good. Curious to know how she started this career? Check out the About section above!