What To See On Iceland’s Golden Circle

Iceland is one of those mythical countries (kind of like New Zealand) that fires up the imagination.  It featured prominently in my list of places I was dying to visit in 2018, so when I was looking for a 4th of July long weekend trip, I decided it was the perfect time to explore the Land of Fire and Ice.

If you’re thinking of booking a trip to Iceland, then there’s no question that the famous Golden Circle route will be on your itinerary.  Whether you’re spending just a couple days taking day trips from Reykjavik, or get to deeply explore the country for a couple weeks, I’ve outlined some of the best places along the Golden Circle that definitely have to be included.

A Guide to Iceland's Golden Circle | What to see and do on the Golden Circle Iceland, from the amazing Seljalandsfoss waterfall to snorkeling in the Silfra fissure and Kerid's volcanic crater. How to plan a trip to Iceland, Golden Circle itinerary ideas!

Here’s everything else from our 3-day Iceland road trip!

Falling in Love with Quirky Reykjavik

Hiking Iceland’s Stunning Sólheimajökull Glacier

Visiting the Majestic Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Snorkeling Between Continents In Iceland at the Silfra Fissure 

Why Kerid Crater Should be on Your Golden Circle Itinerary

Visiting Jökusárlón Glacier Lagoon & Diamond Beach

(and more coming soon!)

A route for the Golden Circle, Iceland

There are tons of options, and you’ll want to build in time for just stopping on the side of the road and taking pictures.  But here are some of the things that are a must in my opinion.  And yes, I know that Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss aren’t technically on the Golden Circle, but they can be included on a Golden Circle driving itinerary easily and they’re completely worth seeing even if you only have a short time in Iceland.

If you’re trying to do it as a day trip from Reykjavik, here is one route option (link to Google Maps):

  • Thingvellir National Park (including Silfra snorkeling)
  • Geysir (we skipped)
  • Gullfoss (we had to skip)
  • Seljalandsfoss (if you had time you could go beyond to Skogafoss)
  • Kerid Crater
  • Back to Reykjavik

If you’ll be moving on to Vik and the South Coast, here’s a different option:

  • Thingvellir National Park (including Silfra snorkeling)
  • Geysir (we skipped)
  • Gullfoss (we had to skip)
  • Kerid Crater
  • Seljalandsfoss
  • Skogafoss
  • You have a lot of options to stay overnight from here, including backtracking to Hella or Hvolsvollur, or further on in Vik or Kirkjubæjarklaustur (where we stayed)

One important note:  I’m going to kind of show you the routes above kind of backward due to how we had to rearrange our itinerary because of my flight delays.  We ended up having to split the Golden Circle into two pieces and see the waterfalls on our first day, while catching Thingvellir and Kerid on our way back to Reykjavik at the end (due to when I’d scheduled my snorkeling trip).  Just didn’t want you to be confused by my jumping around…

But before we begin—PONIES!!!

Okay, let’s get started.  As anyone will tell you, in Iceland the drive is a part of the experience in and of itself.  The scenery changes constantly, from cliffs to waterfalls to green pastures to barren moonscapes.

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Where to eat on the Golden Circle:  Ölverk in Hveragerði

Since we were starting with Seljalandsfoss and it’s a bit of a drive from Reykjavik, I was STARVING from the flights.  So we stopped at Hveragerði at a highly-recommended pizza called Ölverk.  It’s about a third of the way between Reykjavik and Seljalandsfoss if you’re going that route (you have to backtrack just a hair if you’re going to Thingvellir first).

I scarfed delicious fried cheese balls, surprisingly good woodfire pizza, and craft beer.

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There are many other unique places to eat that come highly recommended as well, such as the rye bread baked in the ground at Fontana SpaFriðheimar Farm (unlimited fresh tomato soup and bread), and Efstidalur (a dairy farm known for its ice cream).  Those are just a few.  Make sure to do your research ahead of time and that way you’ll have a list of possibilities depending on where you are and when you need/want to eat, and where requires reservations.

Seljalandsfoss

Our first big stop was the absolutely stunning Seljalandsfoss waterfall.  I’ve written an ode to Seljalandsfoss with lots more photos and a bunch of tips for visiting, but will go through the highlights below.  As you’re driving there from Reykjavik, make sure to glance to your left as you get close, because you can see it from the road.  It’s worth a (safe) stop on the side of the road for a few pictures.

Read next:  Visiting Iceland’s Majestic Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

A Guide to Iceland's Golden Circle | What to see and do on the Golden Circle Iceland, from the amazing Seljalandsfoss waterfall to snorkeling in the Silfra fissure and Kerid's volcanic crater. How to plan a trip to Iceland, Golden Circle itinerary ideas!

The waterfall is one of the most famous and most visited in Iceland, both because of its beauty and also how easily accessible it is.  It’s also the only one you can walk behind.  With a drop of around 200 feet, Seljalandsfoss is taller than the Leaning Tower of Pisa or the Arc de Triomphe.  Some of these pictures show all the tiny little people, which gives you some perspective on the size.

A Guide to Iceland's Golden Circle | What to see and do on the Golden Circle | One Girl, Whole World

This is a really good example of when you definitely will want rain pants and a waterproof jacket, knowing I’d be soaked by the spray from the falls.  Then it was time to venture behind the falls.  This is one of the major falls in Iceland that you can walk behind, and it really gives you an appreciation of how truly MASSIVE it is.  The spray is relentless, and you will get completely soaked—make sure you have appropriate gear!

A Guide to Iceland's Golden Circle | What to see and do on the Golden Circle Iceland, from the amazing Seljalandsfoss waterfall to snorkeling in the Silfra fissure and Kerid's volcanic crater. How to plan a trip to Iceland, Golden Circle itinerary ideas!

A Guide to Iceland's Golden Circle | What to see and do on the Golden Circle | One Girl, Whole World

A Guide to Iceland's Golden Circle | What to see and do on the Golden Circle Iceland, from the amazing Seljalandsfoss waterfall to snorkeling in the Silfra fissure and Kerid's volcanic crater. How to plan a trip to Iceland, Golden Circle itinerary ideas!

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Once you come out from behind the falls, turn right and take a walk along the cliffs.  The scenery is beautiful, and there’s a surprise at the end (about a third of a mile down).

A Guide to Iceland's Golden Circle | What to see and do on the Golden Circle | One Girl, Whole World

Bonus waterfall:  Gljúfrabúi

If you’re feeling adventurous, make sure to go see Gljúfrabúi, a hidden waterfall just a short walk from Seljalandsfoss.  Once you come out from behind the big waterfall, take a right along the path rather than circling back toward the parking lot.  You’ll see the signs clearly.

Gljúfrabúi is not for the faint of heart.  It’s hidden in a crack in the cliff, and when we were there we had to do a very delicate ballet over stones that were barely poking out of the rushing water while clinging for dear life to the rock face…all while people were also trying to come the other way.  There is a very strong chance you’ll get quite wet, and a solid chance you’ll end up in the water due to slipping or a stone moving.  The waterfall itself will also spray the dickens out of you, so there’s 100% chance of soaking.  But a very cool thing to do!  You can get more details about seeing Gljúfrabúi in this post.

Once you’ve looked your fill, take off those wet outer-things and get back on the road!

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Kerid Crater

In my journal I described Kerid as a “wicked cool volcanic crater”, and I stand by that assessment 🙂

We got there as soon as it opened, which allowed us to get parking and beat the tour buses.  I cannot recommend this enough!!!  It let us get some great pics without gobs of people thronging in front of us.

Read next:  Why Kerid Crater is a Must on Your Golden Circle Itinerary

A Guide to Iceland's Golden Circle | What to see and do on the Golden Circle Iceland, from the amazing Seljalandsfoss waterfall to snorkeling in the Silfra fissure and Kerid's volcanic crater. How to plan a trip to Iceland, Golden Circle itinerary ideas!

The water is this magical deep teal color, and it will shift depending on the weather.  I wish we could have had blue skies and sun to see it, but the gray skies gave it its own special moodiness.

A Guide to Iceland's Golden Circle | What to see and do on the Golden Circle Iceland, from the amazing Seljalandsfoss waterfall to snorkeling in the Silfra fissure and Kerid's volcanic crater. How to plan a trip to Iceland, Golden Circle itinerary ideas!

Then you pair that cool color of water with a rich red earth and pops of green everywhere, and you’ve got a winner.

A Guide to Iceland's Golden Circle | What to see and do on the Golden Circle | One Girl, Whole World

Thingvellir National Park

Þingvellir (Thingvellir) is foundational to the history of the Iceland nation.  Thingvellir literally means “Parliament Plains”, and this is where the Alþing general assembly was established around 930 by the Vikings and continued there until 1798.   

Unfortunately the weather was really crummy when we arrived here, and we were short on time as well so didn’t get to take full advantage of the great hiking and history that Thingellir offers.  The #1 thing I was here for was snorkeling in the Silfra fissure.

Note, if you’re doing the snorkeling trip by self-drive, make sure to read the instructions!  I hadn’t looked closely enough and didn’t realize that the meeting point was not at the Thingvellir Visitor Center but about 5 minutes away.

Snorkeling between continents

One of the most unique experiences you can have in Iceland is to snorkel or scuba dive between two tectonic plates.  The Silfra Fissure is located right at Thingvellir National Park, and is formed by the Eurasian and the North American tectonic plates coming together.  It is some of the clearest water in the world, with visibility up to 400 feet.  It’s also COLD.  Like, 36-37 degrees.  Woof.

A Guide to Iceland's Golden Circle | What to see and do on the Golden Circle Iceland, from the amazing Seljalandsfoss waterfall to snorkeling in the Silfra fissure and Kerid's volcanic crater. How to plan a trip to Iceland, Golden Circle itinerary ideas!

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This has been on my list for a long time, so as soon as I booked the flight I booked my snorkeling adventure with Dive.IS.  I’ll write a longer post dedicated to this awesome experience, but here are a few photos to whet your appetite.  We first shimmied into quilted jumpsuits and then giant footie wetsuits, then our guide, Enno, helped us get our head socks on as well.  Then he checked the tight rubber seal on our necks and wrists, and on me he decided the neck wasn’t tight enough so he tied another rubber cord around my neck.  SO.  TIGHT.  My claustrophobia was working overtime.

I’m the chubby penguin on the right in this pic 🙂

After a long wait, Enno helped us into the water and helped each of us acclimate to the cold.  We waded in and then he had us bend and put our face down into the water to see if our mask was on right.  THE BURNNNNNN.  The cold water hitting the parts of my face not covered (and my lips) was insanely cold and really burned.  It got a little better as we went, but never went away.

A Guide to Iceland's Golden Circle | What to see and do on the Golden Circle Iceland, from the amazing Seljalandsfoss waterfall to snorkeling in the Silfra fissure and Kerid's volcanic crater. How to plan a trip to Iceland, Golden Circle itinerary ideas!

A Guide to Iceland's Golden Circle | What to see and do on the Golden Circle | One Girl, Whole World

We floated for about 45 minutes, marveling at the crazy blue of the water, the neon tubular algae, and craggy rocks.  There’s no other life here but the algae (there’s nothing for them to eat), so that keeps the water super clear.  And the colors really are this vivid in person.  And bonus—because the water is fresh glacier run-off, it’s totally drinkable when it gets in your snorkel!

A Guide to Iceland's Golden Circle | What to see and do on the Golden Circle | One Girl, Whole World

We warmed up with hot chocolate and cookies once we shed our wetsuits, and then I picked up my friend Vanessa and we headed back to Reykjavik for some exploration.  I’m sad that we couldn’t spend more time on Iceland’s Golden Circle—for instance, hated to miss Gullfoss—but I think we did an awful lot in the short time we had!

Other insanely cool experiences you might like:

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A Guide to Iceland's Golden Circle | What to see and do on the Golden Circle Iceland, from the amazing Seljalandsfoss waterfall to snorkeling in the Silfra fissure and Kerid's volcanic crater. How to plan a trip to Iceland, Golden Circle itinerary ideas. #iceland #goldencircle #seljalandsfoss #waterfalls #keridcrater #snorkeling #silfra

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