The Golden Circle is a 300km driving loop, featuring many of Iceland’s most famous attractions. It’s possible to conquer the Golden Circle loop in one exhausting day, but I suggest taking a 2-3 day road trip to see ALL the sights! Especially if you visit in winter. Below you will find my Golden Circle itinerary for a 3 day Iceland stopover.
Quick Tip for Budget Travelers:
Self-driving with a campervan allows for ultimate flexibility and money savings, especially in winter, but you can also book hotels along this route. Camping in winter, even in a van, is not for the faint of heart. The sun sets early and wakes up late. Bring a book, or you may not have much to do! I’ve also done this type of trip in Great Britain, in winter. I love campervanning, but it can be a challenge at times.
Watch this video for highlights of Iceland’s Golden circle:
A Note About Iceland in Winter
Although flights, hotels, and activities may be cheaper when visiting Iceland in winter, many restaurants will be closed for the off-season. Days are also shorter, with only 5-6 hours of daylight in November through January. It’s best to plan daytime activities accordingly: from around 10:30am to 4pm. That being said, the weather is not as cold as you might think, with the temperature averaging around 0° C /32° F in Southern Iceland.
My 3 Day Itinerary: Iceland’s Golden Circle
Take a dip in a Hot Spring
From the airport, I beelined it to one of Iceland’s many natural hot springs to cure my jet lag. Since this was my first trip, I chose to visit the infamous Blue Lagoon, but a better option for budget travelers is hot river. To reach the swimming hole you’ll need to hike for about an hour on a challenging trail. In winter, hike out early in the day or you’ll lose daylight for the trek back!
Eat lobster bisque for lunch at Fjorubordid
Fjorubordid is known as the best place in Iceland for lobster bisque, and I have to admit, it’s the best I’ve ever tasted! This restaurant isn’t cheap, and it’s a bit of a detour off the loop, but the soup is worth the extra miles! After enjoying a bowl of lobster bisque, I took a short walk on the black sand beach and then got back on the road.
Walk around Kerið Crater Lake
Kerið Crater Lake seems extraterrestrial in winter, with a powdering of snow and a surface that resembles cracked crème brûlée. It takes about 20 minutes to walk the rim, or simply step out of your car for a quick view and continue on the loop. Entrance fee is about $5-10 per person.
After my hike, it was getting dark. So I grabbed a quick dinner, then find a remote campsite with my van. Unfortunatley it was an overcast day, or I’m sure I could have seen the northern lights (a bucket list item for me).
Pet the ponies
After eating a quick breakfast of Skyr I purchased at a local store, I pulled off to pet the ponies!
Along the Golden Circle, you’ll see dozens of Icelandic horse farms. Icelandic horses are smaller and hairier than horses in the United States. This, of course, makes them MORE adorable. As I approached the group of pony-sized horses, to my surprise, dozens of them came forward to greet me! They loved the attention and nose scratches.
Without any natural predators, Icelandic horses have developed an even temperament and are not easily spooked. These gentle, friendly horses are beautiful creatures, occasionally showcasing colorful coats and blue eyes.
Lunch at Friðheimar
Greenhouse farming is common in Iceland due to their harsh weather and infertile soil. Geothermal energy is used to heat the greenhouses and many homes around the country. In 2014, roughly 85% of primary energy used in Iceland came from indigenous renewable resources. 66% was from geothermal (source). Self-sustainability at it’s best!
At night, greenhouses glow along the dark landscape of Iceland’s interior. If you’re interested in touring a greenhouse, I suggest grabbing a meal (and a delcious bloody mary) at Friðheimar. This greenhouse farm provides most of the tomato crop for the entire country!
Stand near a Geyser Eruption
My next strop was to Strokkur, Southern Iceland’s active geyser, and he sure is happy to perform for tourists! The geyser shoots up 30-100 feet every 10 minutes, as if on cue. Don’t stand too close or you’ll get wet!
Gape in Awe at Gullfoss Waterfall
A little farther down the road, ia one of Iceland’s most popular tourist attractions – a double drop waterfall!
Gullfoss is impressive, even on a foggy day. I was told that it’s even more spectacular when sunlight hits the misty falls to create several rainbows.
Make sure to walk to the top of the falls, as well as down at the lookout for the second drop. Total time needed: 30-60 minutes. After I got my fill of the waterfall, it was time to find a campsite. Sadly, it was still too foggy to see the nothern lights.
Hike & Snorkel at Þingvellir National Park
My favorite stop on the Golden Circle was most definitely Þingvellir National Park. I spent an entire day exploring this spectacularly beautiful landscape, and I could have spent another day! With hiking trails, waterfalls, historical buildings (Þingvellir is the site of Iceland’s first parliament) and a unique scuba/snorkeling opportunity, this stop should be at the top of everyone’s Iceland travel list!
After snorkeling the Silfra, which I highly recommend, I took a short hike to witness the gorgeous Oxararfoss Waterfall. After the sunset, I headed to Reykjavik for dinner.
Spend the Evening Exploring Reykjavik
Iceland’s capital city has a lot to offer, including traditional Icelandic food, the fierce looking Hallgrímskirkja church, local breweries and a phallic museum featuring hundreds of animal genitalia! Yes, there’s even a donated human specimen.
Since I only had three days on my stop over, I spent my last evening walking around the capital city. The next morning, I renturned my campervan at the airport and took a quick flight to France.
Iceland is such an amazing country to visit! And with the low airfares offered by IcelandAir, I have now been back a second time (and I can’t wat to go again). On my last time, I rented a car and drove along the entire south coast of the Ring Road.
You could easily spend 10 days in Iceland alone, or choose to visit as a long stopover on your journey between Europe and the United States. Check out other adventures in this gorgeous country by clicking here.
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