Table of Contents
1. Þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir is a vast national park located on the Golden Circle route. The park is famous for its natural beauty, interesting geology and important historical significance. In fact, Þingvellir is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Iceland’s Alþingi general assembly first met in this area around 930. In fact, the Alþingi is perhaps the oldest running parliament in the world. The assembly was a space where free men could speak, disputes were settled and laws were passed. Merchants also sold their wares and people set up temporary dwellings. The Alþingi assembly actually continued to meet at Þingvellir until 1798.
Þingvellir National park is located beside Þingvallavatn, the largest natural lake in Iceland. The park is covered in beautiful walking trails, and there is a visitor center with an exhibition about the park’s history and nature. Furthermore, Þingvellir is known for being a rift valley where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are slowly drifting apart. As you walk the trails you are able to see visual evidence of the incremental drift.
Kerið is a visually stunning crater lake which is easily accessible as you drive around the Golden Circle. The crater was likely formed thousands of years ago when a volcanic cone erupted and collapsed back in upon itself. Over hundreds of years, the crater filled with water and became a lake. The steep sides of the crater rise up around the circular lake, making for a magnificent sight.
Visitors to Kerið are able to walk down from the high sides of the crater to the water below. Once you reach the water, you can walk around the small lake. The path is about 1 km and takes about 25 minutes to complete. This unique natural landmark is a great spot to take photos and stretch your legs as you drive around the Golden Circle.
3. Laugarvatn Fontana Spa
Laugarvatn Fontana Spa is located between Þingvellir National Park and Geysir. The spa sits right beside Lake Laugarvatn, which provides a beautiful backdrop. Visitors to the spa can relax in a variety of geothermal pools and steam rooms. Daring visitors can even take a refreshing dip in the cold waters of Lake Laugarvatn.
Laugarvatn Fontana also offers visitors the unique experience of a geothermal bakery. Bread dough actually bakes under the earth where it is buried for 24 hours. You can see the magic before your eyes and taste an authentic Icelandic recipe. This is a totally unique opportunity to see how Icelanders harness geothermal heat to prepare delicious food.
4. Efstidalur Farm Ice Cream
Efstidalur is a working dairy farm that is open to the public. Guests are able to learn more about the family-run farm and interact with some of their animals including horses, cows and dogs. Efstidalur is also a great place to stop for a bite to eat. The farm has an on-site restaurant, but it is even more well-known for its ice cream. In fact, this tasty treat is made with milk from the farm.
Head into the “ice cream barn” and you will be able to choose from a variety of delicious ice cream flavors. Coffee and tea are also available. If you need a place to rest, relax and get a sweet treat, we highly recommend a stop at Efstidalur. The farm is located between Laugarvatn Fontana and Geysir on road 37.
Did you know that the English word “geyser” is actually derived from Iceland’s great Geysir? A geyser is a spring that periodically erupts and ejects a large amount of boiling hot water. This fascinating event is due to unique geological conditions including volcanic activity. Iceland’s great Geysir very rarely erupts, but the nearby Strokkur geyser erupts every 6 to 10 minutes. This is the geyser you will visit on your drive around the Golden Circle.
Stand beside Strokkur and wait patiently. After just a few minutes, you will see a unique sight. Underground pressure grows and the pool of hot water pushes upward, almost in the shape of the dome. Finally, the pressure is too much and the water explodes upward. Usually, Strokkur reaches 15–20 meters (49–66 feet) in height, but on rare occasions it can soar upwards to about 40 meters (130 feet).
Gullfoss is an incredibly beautiful and large waterfall on Iceland’s Golden Circle Route. The falls are immense and powerful, plunging a total of 32 meters (105 feet). Gullfoss is part of the Hvítá river, a glacial river originating near Langjökull. There are two different viewing platforms where you can gaze upon the falls. What’s more, there is also a nearby visitor center with a restaurant and gift shop. Gullfoss is accessible year-round and provides stunning views during any season.
Near Gullfoss you will find a statue dedicated to Sigríður Tómasdóttir. She worked tirelessly to preserve Gullfoss from development. In fact, she is often acknowledged as Iceland’s first environmentalist. Sigríður grew up on the nearby farm of Brattholt and would serve as a guide to visitors wanting to view the falls. After an agreement was made to allow the building of a dam which would submerge Gullfoss, Sigríður protested the decision. Her efforts leads to the preservation of Gullfoss and the ability to view this magnificent landmark today.
Founded in 1930 by Sesselja Sigmundsdóttir, Sólheimar is a unique eco-village. Sesselja wanted to create a community to foster individualism and sustainable living with an emphasis on caring for those with learning disabilities. Today, Sólheimar is home to about 100 people, many of whom have learning disabilities. Every member of the community takes part in the day-to-day jobs around the eco-village.
Visitors are welcome to visit Sólheimar´s Græna Kannan Café and Vala Art Shop. Take a moment to enjoy a coffee or warm meal made with vegetables grown on the property. Residents at Sólheimar create the products sold in the Vala Art Shop. You can walk around the property and learn more about this eco-village that has been in operation for almost 100 years.
As you walk into Friðheimar, you will see an amazing sight – tomatoes dangling from vines in every direction. Friðheimar is a tomato greenhouse that is also a restaurant, serving delicious tomato soup, homemade bread and other delicacies. Dining amongst the tomato vines is a special experience. The fresh scent of ripening tomatoes and the warm lights used to grow the vines make the space very welcoming and cozy. This is an especially nice place to visit on a cloudy or rainy day.
Friðheimar is family-run by Knútur Rafn Ármann and his wife Helena Hermundardóttir. They originally bought the property in 1995 and slowly built up the operation, building more greenhouses and finally opening a restaurant. Friðheimar is located in Reykholt. In fact, this area has a vast supply of geothermal water. What’s more, the tomato greenhouses use geothermal water for heating purposes.
9. Secret Lagoon
The Secret Lagoon is known as the oldest community swimming pool in Iceland. The pool is in the town of Flúðir which lies in a landscape rich in geothermal water. Originally built in 1891, the Secret Lagoon’s water comes from a natural hot spring which is continually replenishing itself. Local residents have used this pool for over a century to relax, socialize and even learn how to swim.
The Secret Lagoon has changing facilities and showers. Furthermore, there is also a small bistro selling drinks and snacks. This spot is a great place to visit during your self-drive tour around the Golden Circle. Take a moment to relax and enjoy Iceland’s stunning natural beauty in this cozy pool.
10. Flúðasveppir Farmers Bistro
Do you love mushrooms? If so, Flúðasveppir Farmers Bistro is worth a visit. Flúðasveppir is a working mushroom farm in the town of Flúðir. The mushrooms grow in a special soil mixture combined with pure Icelandic water. Flúðasveppir cultivates white mushrooms, brown chestnut mushrooms and portobello mushrooms. In fact, the farm harvests about 11 tons per week.
Flúðasveppir Farmers Bistro is a cozy restaurant offering delicious meals made from mushrooms and other locally-grown vegetables. The restaurant is well-known for their delicious mushroom soup which is lactose and gluten free. Visitors can also try the excellent portobello burger or stuffed bell pepper. This is a lovely place to stop for a bite to eat as you drive around the Golden Circle.
Use this map to plan your route around the Golden Circle.