Visiting Iceland in the winter? Then you must read our detailed Golden Circle Iceland winter guide prior to your visit. We will share all of our travel tips and planning insights for your upcoming adventure!
In case you haven’t heard about this route before, know that the Golden Circle is the most famous of all scenic routes in Iceland. It combines stunning cultural and natural landmarks in a circular sightseeing excursion.
Golden Circle Iceland Winter Guide + Travel Tips
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Golden Circle Iceland is one of the most visited areas in the country, offering gorgeous landscapes, a variety of activities, and top attractions to a first-time visitor.
The route was crafted in a way so that one can get a glimpse of the unique natural diaspora of Iceland!
Why is the Golden Circle famous? Experience Golden Circle in winter
The Golden Circle is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland. It’s natural beauty and proximity to Reykjavik make it especially attractive for those looking to explore a little piece of paradise.
The area offers a wide range of activities for all ages, from sightseeing at Thingvellir National Park to the Gullfoss Waterfall and nearby attractions.
Not only is the Golden Circle stunningly beautiful, but it also holds a wealth of history and culture.
In the winter, the Golden Circle is even more spectacular as the landscape is dusted in snow. The night skies are amazing too as there are chances of sighting northern lights!
What are the MAIN attractions of the Golden Circle Iceland
What are the 3 main attractions of the Golden Circle Iceland?
Located just south of Reykjavik, this area includes three main attractions: Þingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal area, and Gullfoss waterfall. The Golden Circle is a perfect destination for both short and long visits, with something to suit all tastes.
Every classic Golden Circle tour consists of these three most popular tourist attractions, covering an area of 250 kilometers (155 miles). It starts and ends in Reykjavik, and takes you to the center of Iceland and back.
The Golden Circle can be concluded in 5 hours (half-day tours) or extended to a full 10-12 hour sightseeing day with additional stops (which we will cover below).
Other routes in Iceland: Silver Circle in Iceland
How to visit the Golden Circle in winter | Self Drive, tours
The best way to explore the attractions of the Golden Circle is from Reykjavik, the capital city of Iceland. You can either join a small group day tour or rent a vehicle to enjoy the sites on your own.
There are no trains or flight options for this route.
The Golden Circle was crafted as a road trip excursion. You can add on experiences such as snowmobiling, northern lights tours, etc. These can be added to guided day trips or on self-driving itineraries.
Self-driving on the Golden Circle is a great way to explore this stunning area. With its winding roads, snow-covered landscapes, and views of magnificent glacier-capped mountains, it’s an adventure that you won’t soon forget.
Driving from Reykjavik to the Golden Circle can take up to 2 hours (one way) but is well worth the journey.
Road conditions in winter can be challenging so make sure to check for any updates before setting off and always drive with caution.
Once you start on the Golden Circle route, plan to stop at the
- Thingvellir National Park first (40 minutes drive from Reykjavik),
- Followed by Geysir Hot Springs (1 hour 30 minutes from Reykjavik),
- And Gullfoss Waterfall (1 hour and 40 minutes from Reykjavik).
You can always add extra stops such as the Kerid crater, Faxi Falls, Secret Lagoon, or Sky Lagoon before arriving in Reykjavik to complete the loop.
Self-driving allows you to go at your own pace, so you can take in all that the area has to offer. With its natural beauty and winter landscapes, a self-drive on the Golden Circle is an experience worth having!
Winter Golden Circle Tours from Reykjavik
Golden Circle tours are a great way to explore the scenic beauty of Iceland without driving.
If you have never driven in icy road conditions and in Iceland in winter, then consider guided tours.
Trust us, these tours are not very intrusive, and you will get ample time to walk and explore the various natural spots.
Classic Golden Circle winter tour
A classic Golden Circle day tour will take you to Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, and Geysir Geothermal Field and back (to Reykjavik).
These tours include round-trip transportation in a clean coach (with many vehicles offering free wifi and charging ports).
Along the way, you will see spectacular landscapes such as snow-capped mountains, glaciers, and volcanic valleys.
Guided tours give visitors the chance to learn more about the history and culture of Iceland, as tour guides provide stories and facts about each site.
These tours are generally led by knowledgeable local guides who can also help you spot some of Iceland’s amazing wildlife.
Classic tours can also be done in the afternoon (12:00 pm or after pick up). You can check the price here
If you’re looking for a more active tour, there are also adventure tours available. These involve activities such as snowmobiling, ice-climbing, ice-caving, and horse riding.
Northern Lights tours with Golden Circle combo
The winter months are the ideal time to spot the Northern Lights. Taking a tour with an experienced guide will help you find the best and most accessible spots for viewing this wonder of nature.
It is possible to combine a Golden Circle tour during the day, followed by a northern lights tour at night (after 09:30 pm).
In the event the tour is canceled you will be given an opportunity to join again on another day for free. This is because northern lights are a natural phenomenon and they are subjected to weather conditions.
During a Northern Lights tour, knowledgeable guides will take you to some of the best spots to view this spectacle.
They will also provide helpful tips and tricks on how to best capture the lights in photos.
These guided tours offer a pick-up service from your hotel or anywhere else in the city, so you don’t have to worry about transport. You can also bring warm clothes and snacks for the trip.
Once on board, sit back and marvel as your guide takes you out of Reykjavik and into the dark night sky to experience this magical natural light show.
So if you’re looking for a winter holiday filled with adventure and awe-inspiring sights, then a Northern Lights tour in Iceland should definitely be on your bucket list.
You may like this tour: Golden Circle and Northern Lights Combo
Snowmobiling on the Golden Circle is an amazing way to explore this beautiful area in winter.
A classic Golden Circle tour with a snowmobiling experience will include the 3 stops at the Thingvellir National Park, Geysir, and Gullfoss, followed by 3.50 hours of snowmobile ride at the Langjökull Glacier.
Experienced guides can provide all the necessary equipment and instruction, so you don’t have to worry about getting lost or injured.
Golden Circle winter tour & geothermal spa
With a short detour from the Golden Circle route, you can experience the warm mineral-rich waters of Iceland.
Typically they are offered as a last stop after all the 3 classic attractions are visited. This way you can relax, and soak in the healing waters.
Guided tours will also include entry tickets to the spa (or you can choose it as an add-on when you check out).
Most popular stops include (only one spa visit in each tour),
- Secret Lagoon: Golden Circle and Secret Lagoon
- Sky Lagoon: Golden Circle and Sky Lagoon
- Blue Lagoon: Golden Circle, Kerid Crater, and Blue Lagoon Tour
- Fontana Wellness Tour: Golden Circle and Fontana Wellness Tour
- Hvammsvik Hot Springs: Golden Circle and Hvammsvik Hot Springs Tour
Road trip stops along the Golden Circle (open all year)
The Golden Circle comprises three main attractions as we listed above: Þingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal area, and Gullfoss waterfall.
You can explore them on a day tour or on a road trip!
1. Thingvellir National Park (aka Þingvellir National Park)
Þingvellir National Park is the largest of the three attractions and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It consists of a vast lava field filled with crevasses, fissures, and glacial rivers making it a popular place for tourists.
Þingvellir is also home to the world’s oldest existing parliament which was established here in 930 AD. This historic and geologically unique area is full of things to do, explore, and experience.
Here are just some of the attractions that Þingvellir National Park has to offer:
- Silfra Fissure: Take a dive into the Silfra Fissure, an underwater gorge located between two continental plates – Eurasian plates. This unique experience will let you explore and swim in the crystal-clear waters of this natural wonder. You can book a half day tour with underwater photos taken for memories
- Winter hikes: Þingvellir National Park is home to some of the most picturesque and challenging hiking trails in the area. Whether you’re a novice or an experienced hiker, you will be able to find something to suit your skill level.
- Game of Thrones location: Þingvellir National Park is also where you can check out the filming locations of the popular show – Game of Thrones.
2. Geysir and Strokkur
Geysir geothermal area is a geothermally active region with bubbling hot springs and exploding geysers.
Here, you can witness the active Strokkur geyser spout boiling hot water up to 30 meters (100 feet) into the air every few minutes.
Strokkur erupts every 4-10 minutes. During your trip, you must wait to witness this natural phenomenon.
The world-famous – Great Geysir and Strokkur are located in the Geysir Geothermal Area, in Haukadalur Valley. It is situated a very short distance from the foot of the Langjökull glacier.
In the past, the Great Geyser could spout up to 170 meters (558 feet), but it is less active nowadays.
When we were at the Geysir site, we not only saw the activities of Strokkur but also witnessed multiple boiling pots – you have to be super careful and stay on the marked pathway when visiting the geysers.
There is ample parking space in the Geyir geothermal site, and parking and entry are free. They are also open 24 hours a day.
3. Gullfoss Waterfall
Gullfoss, or Golden Falls in English, is one of Iceland’s most iconic landmarks.
Located in the southwest region of the country in the Hvítá river canyon, Gullfoss is a double waterfall that cascades over two levels – a long staircase-like fall and then a shorter cascade below it.
The waterfall’s name comes from the golden hue of the water when it’s illuminated by the sun. When you visit the falls, it is possible that you might see a rainbow above the gushing waters – thanks to the powerful 32 meter high double-cascaded waterfall.
You can admire its thundering waters from the nearby viewing platform or take a hike along its banks and witness its majestic beauty up close.
The history of Gullfoss dates back to the early 1900s when an English businessman attempted to lease it from its Icelandic owners for use as a hydropower plant. This was part of a larger development project that included other major Icelandic waterfalls such as Dettifoss.
Fortunately, his plans were thwarted by a young woman named Sigríður Tómasdóttir who fought hard to protect the waterfall and its surrounding area from destruction.
Thanks to her efforts, Gullfoss is now protected as a nature reserve and remains one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland.
Today you can also see a sculpture dedicated to her at the Gullfoss site. At the complex, you will also find restaurants, shops, and washrooms.
The Gullfoss is usually the last stop on most classic Golden Circle tours.
And these three attractions make up the Golden Circle and provide visitors with a unique insight into Iceland’s stunning landscapes, fascinating history, and breathtaking natural features.
But there is more. There are a few more natural stops along with geothermal spas where you can spend your day on the Golden Circle route.
4. Faxi Waterfall
The Faxi Waterfall is located in the Golden Circle area, just a 5 minute (12 km or 7 miles) detour off the main route. It is located close to Gullfoss but is not very prominent as the mighty waterfalls themselves.
The falls are wide and consist of two tiers, and are fed by water from the nearby Tungufljót River.
The area around the waterfall is home to some interesting wildlife, including Arctic char and Atlantic salmon, as well as the occasional seal or otter.
It’s possible to get quite close to Faxi and its surroundings, so you can enjoy a great view of the falls and the surrounding natural beauty. Hiking is a popular activity here.
Faxi Falls is an easy stop on your Golden Circle road trip after sightseeing in Gullfoss. Some tours may include a stop here.
5. Kerid Crater
Kerid crater is a volcanic crater located in the south of Iceland along the Golden Circle route – in the Grímsnes area. The crater is a popular stop on some of the classic Golden Circle tours.
This crater was formed by an explosive eruption over 3,000 years ago and is now filled with water. However, swimming is strictly forbidden here.
You can enjoy a walk around the crater, and it will take about 25 minutes to complete the loop.
Kerid Crater is one of Iceland’s most popular tourist attractions, due to its unique geology and breathtakingly beautiful landscape. The sides of the crater are steep and colorful with bright primary hues emerging from the ash deposits.
Kerid crater is easily accessible, with a parking lot and walking paths leading right to the edge of the crater.
6. Secret Lagoon (locally known as Gamla Laugi)
The lagoon is a natural geothermal pool located in the Flúðir area. It was first used as a swimming spot by locals in 1891 and has since become one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country.
The Secret Lagoon is a great place to relax and unwind, thanks to its picturesque surroundings and cozy atmosphere. It is the perfect spot for swimming, and soaking in the warm waters.
The Secret Lagoon is open all year round and they offer services such as restaurants and a bar along with public changing facilities on-site.
Golden Circle Iceland Map
Driving tips on the Golden Circle in the winter | Travel guide
If you are planning to book a rental car for the Golden Circle route, then you will find these driving tips useful,
Driving the Golden Circle in winter is generally considered safe, as long as you take the necessary precautions.
Firstly, make sure that your rental car is equipped with snow tires for added traction, and check the weather forecast before setting off.
It’s also important to drive slowly and carefully on icy roads; be aware of potential hazards such as slippery and icy patches, and keep your headlights on at all times.
It’s also a good idea to take an emergency kit with you in case of unexpected delays or problems. This should include supplies such as blankets, food and water, a first aid kit, a flashlight and extra batteries, warm clothes, flares or reflective triangles for signaling, and a shovel.
By following these safety tips and being mindful of the conditions when driving in winter, you can ensure that your Golden Circle journey is both safe and enjoyable.
Drive the Golden Circle from Reykjavik and back will take you in a loop.
– You will first head east from Reykjavik on Route 36 towards Thingvellir National Park, continuing on Route 365 to Laugarvatn
– From there, take Routes 37/35 to Geysir and Gullfoss
– Route 35 then loops southwest to join Highway 1 leading back to the capital
There isn’t much along the way for views, other than miles of road with black volcanic landscapes on either side.
Weather and road safety
The temperatures from November to February (which are Iceland’s winter months) are cold. You can expect icy roads, poor visibility, fog, and possible snow storms.
Daylight hours are reduced to about 6-7 hours.
Absolutely, you can explore the Golden Circle in winter! It’s a popular tourist route and all attractions are open. The roads are usually cleared of snow.
However, keep in mind that icy roads and poor visibility are also possible.
Golden Circle’s first stop Thingvellir National Park is a mere 47 kilometer or 25-mile drive away from Reykjavik, which makes it great for a day trip in the winter (with limited sunlight hours).
The Golden Circle and the Ring Road are two very popular tourist attractions in Iceland but they are not the same.
The Golden Circle is a route of approximately 250 kilometers (155 miles) containing three major sites, Þingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal area, and Gullfoss waterfall. It is particularly popular with day trips and can be done in an afternoon.
On the other hand, the Ring Road (Route 1) is a circular road that goes all around Iceland except the West Fjords and Snæfellsnes peninsula.
The road distance is 1332 km (828 miles) long. The Ring Road passes through some of Iceland’s most beautiful landscapes, connecting many of the country’s popular destinations.
Although both routes are great for tourists, the Ring Road is more suitable for those looking to explore the whole island in depth and have a longer holiday. However, if you only have a few days and want to experience some of Iceland’s most iconic sites then it’s definitely worth taking the Golden Circle route.
The best time to drive the Golden Circle is in the mornings around 09:00 am in the winter. Typically it is not very busy at this time. This is perfect to capture attractions in daylight (11:00 am or noon time once you arrive at various sites).
You can also hang out and stay out a little later to admire the northern lights (after 08:00 pm or so).
You don’t need a 4×4 vehicle to travel the Golden Circle, even in the winter. This route is well-paved and maintained all year round.
There are also services including emergency service and rescue vehicles available close by.
The only problem with winter driving is inexperience in navigating and driving in icy or snowy conditions and dealing with blowing snow and poor visibility (and if that’s the case you can always book a tour).
Golden Circle Winter Travel Tips
Temperatures in southern Iceland in the prime winter months in degrees Celcius and Fahrenheit
|Month||Avg. Temperature||Weather summary|
|November||4° C or 40° F||Snow, rain, fog|
|December||-0.2°C or 31.6° F||Best for northern lights|
|January||-0.5° C or 31.1° F||Unpredictable, snow storms|
|February||-1.1° C or about 30° F||6 hours daylight, cold|
Iceland golden circle November
Iceland in October and November are still transition and crossover months. Expect the weather to throw a fit here and there with some sunshine, snow, and foggy travel conditions.
But… it is usually not busy in November, roads are usually clear, and you won’t find sheep or many tourist buses on the road.
Services and attractions on the Golden Circle route will still be open.
Golden Circle Iceland in December
In December, the Golden Circle is transformed into a winter wonderland of sorts. The landscape links some of Iceland’s most awe-inspiring attractions, and all dusted in snow.
As you take in this unforgettable scene, be sure to admire the northern lights at night, and also enjoy festive decorations in Reykjavik.
Golden Circle in January in Iceland
In January, the Golden Circle attractions can still be explored. Just be mindful of the ice road conditions, possible snow storms, etc.
Always ensure you check the weather forecasts and alerts before embarking on your day trip.
Golden Circle Iceland February
It is still cold in Iceland and the Golden Circle in February. Pack your warm clothes and plan to hit the road by morning hours (10:00 am or so) to explore the attractions in broad daylight.
Iceland 5 Day Itinerary Winter with the Golden Circle
Here is a suggested 5 days in Iceland itinerary in the winter,
- Day 1: Arrive at the Keflavik airport, make a stop at the Blue Lagoon, and then explore Reykjavik
- Day 2: Add sightseeing on the Golden Circle Route with Secret Lagoon. In the evening, opt for the northern lights tour
- Day 3: Explore the South Coast attractions – Skogafoss, Seljalandsfoss, Reynisfjara black sand beach, and Vik
- Day 4: Visit the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach in south Iceland
- Day 5: Ice Cave Tour Vatnajökull National Park in Southern Iceland (+ Sky Lagoon)
For this 5 day itinerary, you can keep Reykjavik as a base and then go on day trips to cover all the attractions. Here are our top hotel recommendations for your stay
- Center Hotels Plaza: This is one of my favorite places to stay in Reykjavik. Rooms are clean and spacious and they also have a nice terrace offering gorgeous views of the city. This 3 star hotel also provides free breakfast. When taking tours, you will be a 3-minute walk to the meeting point Bus no 1, and 3. Book your stay here
- Guesthouse Sunna: Sunna is one of the pretty apartment hotels in Reykjavik, and they also have parking available on-site, and paid breakfast. Check out more review
- Room with a View Apartments: Located on the main street of Reykjavik Laugavegur, this hotel is great to be in the centre of everything that the capital city is known for. Book your stay here
Sightseeing Tips on the Golden Circle Route
How long should you spend in the Golden Circle?
One full day is perfect to explore the three main attractions on the Golden Circle and then some.
Take time to stop along the way for photos, or rest a bit. Having a dedicated day to this route will also allow you to add extras like snowmobiling or spending time at a geothermal spa and hanging out.
At a minimum, you will need 4-5 hours to explore the Golden Circle.
Can you do Golden Circle in half a day?
Yes, you can check off the Golden Circle attractions in half a day (4+ hours).
Day tours depart in the morning or afternoon and they cover the route in 5+ hours along with round transportation from/to Reykjavik.
Does the Golden Circle include the Blue Lagoon?
The Golden Circle technically doesn’t include the Blue Lagoon.
Golden Circle includes stops in Þingvellir, Geysir, and Gullfoss Waterfall. Some guided tours will offer transportation and a comfort package to visit the Blue Lagoon (but they are not on the same route).
Is the Blue Lagoon in the Golden Circle?
The Golden Circle is in southwest Iceland, just outside of the city of Reykjavik. Blue Lagoon is located on the other side, and it is located about 15 minutes away from the Keflavik International Airport (and is a 45-minute drive from Reykjavik).
Is there a lot of walking on the Golden Circle tour?
Yes, there is quite a bit of walking on the Golden Circle in all three attraction sites.
The tour guide will take you to the 3 spots and then you get off to explore/walk and hike on your own. You don’t pay any parking or entry fees.
Each location has informative boards and markings that you must follow to stay safe. You will have to walk to various viewpoints to see the Gullfoss, also walk to see the Strokkur splitting out, and enjoy short hikes in the Thingvellir National Park.
Can you do the Golden Circle without a guide?
Of course, you can. We have included a Google map in this post – feel free to save it and use it on your trip.
Plan to start from Reykjavik, and after sightseeing return to the capital city for an overnight stay. Keep in mind, all the sights on the Golden Circle route, with the exception of Kerið crater and geothermal spas, are free to visit.
How long does it take to do the Golden Circle tour in Iceland?
Typically, guided tours to the Golden Circle are for 7 hours.
Can you see Northern Lights in Golden Circle Iceland?
Yes, you can see northern lights on the Golden Circle route in winter.
Can you swim in the Golden Circle?
Unfortunately, you cannot swim in any of the three main Golden Circle attractions. The Geysir hot springs are not meant for swimming. The hot pools on the site are cordoned off, as temperatures can reach 100°C (you can boil an egg in that).
You can always add a stop in a geothermal spa and enjoy the benefits of Icelandic waters.
Is the Secret Lagoon part of the Golden Circle?
It is possible to include the Secret Lagoon as part of your Golden Circle road trip.
In the winter, soaking in a geothermal spa is the perfect way to sign off your full day of sightseeing.
I was there when it was lightly snowing, and it felt amazing being soaked in the warm waters.
What waterfall is on the Golden Circle?
Gullfoss Waterfall is a part of the famous Golden Circle Route in Iceland. It is situated within the Haukadalur Valley alongside Geysir.
The waterfall resides along Hvita (the White River), and stands proudly as one of the country’s most beloved attractions – so much so that it has been well-marked for convenient navigation!
How much time do you need at Gullfoss Falls Iceland?
Set aside 1 to 2 hours at Gullfoss waterfall. This will give you enough time to hike two viewpoints (especially the upper observation area) and then you can take time to relax, and grab a bite to eat in the restaurant. Or use a washroom break.
Are there toilets on the Golden Circle?
Yes, there are public bathrooms available at all three of the Golden Circle sites.
Can I skip the Golden Circle Iceland?
Visiting the Golden Circle is not mandatory, and of course, if the three sites don’t interest you – you can surely skip them.
The Golden Circle, however, does provide a nice introduction to the land of fire and ice (with waterfalls, Geysir, and the Eurasian tectonic plates).
And personally, we feel that no trip to Iceland is complete without visiting the Golden Circle.
Services and restaurants on the Golden Circle route
There is an abundance of hotels, guesthouses, and camping sites located in towns like Selfoss and Hveragerði on the Golden Circle route.
Plus, if you’re looking for traditional Icelandic cuisine, there are restaurants in the area where you can sample local delicacies such as hákarl (fermented shark) and skyr (a type of yogurt).
You can buy snacks and other food items at any of the gas stations along the route.
Washrooms and parking areas are available in all three main sites on the Golden Circle route.
Golden Circle Winter Iceland Packing List
Wondering how to dress for Golden Circle Iceland? Here are a few things that you will need to pack in order to enjoy your trip,
Firstly, make sure that you bring warm and waterproof clothing such as jackets, hats, gloves, and snow boots. This will help keep you comfortable and protected from the elements.
- Thermal tops and bottoms (or long johns for the base layer)
- Waterproof insulated pants
- Fleece or merino wool jacket (mid-layer)
- Waterproof and windproof parka (outerwear)
- Warm beanie
- Warm socks
- Waterproof and sturdy winter boots
You should also make sure to pack a thermos with hot drinks, snacks, and additional layers of clothes in case it gets colder than expected.
Other items worth taking on your trip include a camera or smartphone to capture all of the breathtaking views, and sun cream if you plan on spending time outdoors in snowy conditions.
Finally, don’t forget to bring a map or GPS device with you, as this will help ensure that you stay on track and don’t get lost.
With these essentials, you’ll be all set to explore the wonders of Iceland’s Golden Circle!
Read: Iceland travel tips
Is Golden Circle Worth It
The Golden Circle is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland, it stretches from Thingvellir National Park in the southwest to Geysir Geothermal Field and Gullfoss Waterfall.
As well as offering breathtaking scenery, this area has also played an important role in Iceland’s history and culture.
Thingvellir National Park was the site of Iceland’s first parliament, established in 930 A.D. It is also the world’s oldest existing parliament.
Geysir is an erupting hot spring that has been a popular tourist destination since the 18th century and Gullfoss Waterfall is one of the most powerful waterfalls in Europe.
The Golden Circle is an important part of Iceland’s history and culture, and a tour of this area will give you an insight into its unique beauty.
With its stunning landscapes, fascinating sites, and abundant wildlife, a visit to the Golden Circle should be high on your list of things to do in Iceland!
More Iceland travel guides:
- Best Iceland guided tours
- 3 days in Iceland itinerary
- Visiting Iceland in April
- One day in Akureyri itinerary
- One day in Reykjavik itinerary