Golden Circle Tour Guide: Complete Review

The Strokkur Geyser erupting at the Haukadalur geothermal area

Visiting to Golden Circle

With over 300km to explore, the Golden Circle has become a major tourist attraction for anyone visiting Iceland. This is one road tour that will have you pulling over your car constantly to get the views in. If you want a good slice of the great diversity in Iceland, then make sure to visit the Golden Circle and all of its attractions. The trip when paired with other attractions in other major countries is dollar for dollar the cheapest, and all without losing the wow factor that keeps you coming back for more. So what are some of the attractions you can look forward to in the Golden Circle?

Gullfoss

Gullfoss, Golden Circle Iceland

Have you ever been to Niagara Falls? If so then you’ll be surprised with just how great a sight Gullfoss is to the famed tourist landmark. The comparison is valid especially if you enjoyed the view of Niagara Falls. Gullfoss is smaller by comparison but is situated in the perfect place to showcase its formation. From a distance it will look like a water curtain falling over rocks that are scattered about. But when you get closer, things look very different. The mist from the water is heavy enough to touch your face, and the actual focus of what makes Gullfoss comes into full view. For those that haven’t been to Niagara Falls, it will be a completely different experience that you’ll never forget. Pictures don’t do it justice as there are many online but few that can match its magic.

Ranking this among the Golden Circle spectacles is hard, but it would probably be seen as the third best option. That’s a completely objective opinion, and will change depending on the type of tourist you are. There is less to do here than in other areas of the Golden Circle, and during certain seasons you may have to fight with other interested tourist to get a good picture taken. If you are a fan of waterfalls then this will rate higher for you, so that is always something to take into consideration. Whatever type of tourist you are, expect to see something great.

Winter Views of the Gullfoss Waterfall

How tourist friendly is it? Very, with the few exceptions when it may get crowded during the busier seasons. But that can be said about most major tourist destinations. By comparison, it will be a lot less crowded than the other spots on the Golden Circle. It is also pretty easy to find, keeping you from getting lost and wasting your time on your trip. The bigger part of the equation is the space that is allotted for taking pictures, and it is huge. You’ll get great shots on your journey in several different poses so you can post it to your social media.

Tourist that are bringing small children along will see a great benefit since this is an outdoor activity. If you’ve been in your car for most of the day, then getting out to see this great scenery will be a nice change of pace. Kids will have fun running around while supervised, and it’ll give them ample reason to stretch their legs and get out of the car. There is just enough nature in the area that it looks alive, but not too overcrowded with nature to make it dangerous for kids to have fun around.

There are no immediate dangers thanks to the location. Common sense rules apply here, and any thrill seekers are advised to keep it clean. Feel free to walk around the area a bit but don’t take any unnecessary risks. No wildlife dangers are present, and the area is wide enough to where if there was they couldn’t sneak up on you. This makes all the difference in the world when you have a large group. You can feel free to let your eyes wander a bit without worrying about any unforeseen dangers that may be creeping around the corner.

Summer Views of The Gullfoss Waterfall

In popular media, Gullfoss was used by the British band ‘Echo and the Bunneymen’ as their album cover. Also in music, it was fully featured in a music video by the band Live in their hit single ‘Heaven’. In both cases they got the perfect view of it which led to increased tourism in the area. A lot of people were curious about the waterfall in both instances and confused it with other tourism destinations. A novella called ‘The Odd Saga of the American and a Curious Icelandic Flock’ made references to several Golden Circle locations, but a title character showed preference for Gullfoss.

Celebrities have shown interest in the waterfall, and like none other than the headline grabbing Kim and Kanye West. They took photos with their daughter at the waterfall and many agreed it came out quite well. Besides littering their pictures on the usual outlets like snapchat and twitter, sister Kourtney Kardashian took some photos at Gullfoss to show her appreciation for the area. While they were in the area they recorded footage of Gullfoss for a Kanye music video and for an episode of Keeping Up with the Kardashians. Like the other videos shot for media purposes, the footage comes out wonderful.

Souvenirs in the area aren’t really plentiful unless you’re into saving dirt or other natural items in the habitat. This isn’t like a normal beach where you can reach into the water with a small bottle and take it home, so out of all the Golden Circle Destinations, this one has the least amount of souvenirs. There are plenty in shops though, and they have a great selection showing the best parts of the waterfall. Postcards are plentiful, which is the main thing that tourists look for anyway. When it gets really cold in the area and ice forms, breaking that off and saving that as a souvenir would work just as good as taking it directly from the waterfall.

The best comparison of this tourist site to another one is always going to be Niagara Falls in Canada and the United States. Many have described Gullfoss as a mini Niagara Falls, and the name fits. You’ll get the same amount of beauty and all in a compact setting that is considered more accessible than Niagara Falls. As big as it is, it doesn’t have nearly the amount of interactivity as Gullfoss does. Combine that with how radically different Gullfoss looks in winter and you’ll get two completely different experiences depending on what time you decide to come.

So is it worth more than one visit? If you are a person that enjoys nature it is. There is also the added benefit in visiting it when the seasons are changing and getting an entirely different experience. There is nothing quite like it and you shouldn’t miss out on it. Multiple visits are recommended to really get an understanding of why it is so popular. Whatever new pictures you take will look completely different than your last ones! If you plan this as part of your Golden Circle adventure then expect to get a lot out of it regardless of which part of the trip you plan it on.

Tourists In Gullfoss Fall while Enjoying

Geysir

Geysir, Golden Circle, Iceland

Geyser, or the Great Geysir is another big part of the Golden Circle in southwest Iceland. There are a lot of important facts and figures about this particular geyser, and it is both a historically protected and revered part of Iceland. The location of Geysir is in Haukadular valley, giving it only a length of 50 meters south from the Strokkur geyser. Eruptions are the most popular part of the geyser, and if you’re lucky enough to be in view of it when it happens, then you’ll get an experience unlike any other.

Geysir is either going to be the #1 or the #2 option depending on when you actually go. For the purposes of this article it could be considered the 2nd best ranked spectacle of the Golden Circle. Seeing it when it isn’t erupting is a nice moment, but it would be a complete lie to say that it is even equal to catching it when it does erupt. Watching Geysir erupt is the main reason tourists would rank this so highly among the attractions, and if you’re one of the lucky few that gets to see it, then count your lucky stars!

The Geysir is a very tourist friendly location and is one of the easier landmarks to locate in southwestern Iceland, with or without a GPS. There is plenty to walk around and explore with, and if you happen to have a guide with you there is a lot of lore and history to explore. Because it is so history rich, having a guide is a must for the best experience, but isn’t necessary for visiting the landmark. Consider it a way to maximize your time in Iceland rather than just being a normal tourist and passing through.

Kids will probably not be in awe of it unless it is erupting if you bring them there on your own. It has a vastly different appeal than the waterfall, and the excitement centers around whether it will blow or not. A guide can provide some great backstory into not only the history of Geysir, but how the name itself is based on the Icelandic verb geysa. For the best enjoyment for kids, either bring them around when it is erupting or have a guide to provide backstory of the area.

There are dangers that can take place due to carelessness. Geysers in general can erupt at any point and time, so take note of the warning signs before it happens. It is recommended never let a child horse around near a geyser, with adult supervision being strongly recommended. Geysir shoots boiling water up through its hole up to 70 meters in the air, so make sure to be a safe distance from it when it occurs. Some careless people have made it a point to sit on top of a geyser and tweet photos-don’t do this! Use common sense in your tourism time and there are no dangers at all associated with Geysir.

Geysir In Sunset

Geysir is the first known of its type among modern Europeans, and was the first geyser in existence ever to be mentioned in a printed source. This is a huge accomplishment, and shows just how old and historic the area is. It is over 10,000 years old and has been active for the same amount of time, although there was a time where the eruptions didn’t happen for years. You can expect to see many travel guides in Iceland make mention of Geysir, and it is impossible to reference the Golden Circle without talking about Geysir.

While there are no big time celebrity sightings at the Geysir, there has been an infamous incident with the sister landmark Stokkur Geysir. This particular geyser erupts more often than the Geysir, and a South American artist figured to use it as a statement of his craft. He poured red fruit dye into the Stokkur Geysir so that when it erupted pink steam blew from the ground. Authorities weren’t happy with the incident, obviously. The troubled artist received a couple of day’s jail time for his efforts, and a name among the truly bizarre in the area.

There isn’t much in the form of souvenirs in this particular location, and bottling hot geyser water is out of the question. Your best bet is going to be postcards at local Iceland shops or being lucky enough to capture a picture of a video while it is erupting. Of the many that have it on video, only a few were lucky enough to get their family in the shot! Think of it this way-if you manage to get a family photo with Geysir erupting in the background then you’re going to be part of an elite group of tourists.

There really is no comparison since this is considered one of the original geysers. There are very few of these types around in the world, so just seeing another geyser is not going to be the same experience. It has a lot of potential to be a trip that you won’t forget if you see the Great Geysir. Even if it doesn’t erupt, count on it being a very good experience. Think of it a lot like Gullfoss but without the instant gratification. So when something awesome does happen, it really is spectacular in showing!

So once you visit Geysir is it worth coming back to again? The answer is a resounding yes! Chances are you would have missed out on an eruption the first time around, so may want to come back to see if it is a possibility at a different time. The best way to really catch it is on multiple visits, and with the relatively easy directions on getting there, it is a no brainer for tourists that want to make it a yearly family vacation spot. Consider the Great Geyser a wonderful tourist attraction for the entire family.

Thingvellir National Park

Thingvellir National Park, Golden Circle, Iceland

Considered by many to be the best that the Golden Circle has to offer, there is a lot to love and nothing to hate about Thingvellir National Park. For the culture, it is actually Þingvellir in Icelandic, so make sure not to get it confused with any other attractions. This is the go to place when you’re in Iceland, either as a starting point or as an end point. So what are some of the things that make this the top spot, and why are people so interested in it? The information below has many of the cool features of the previous two spots, but shows why this one is superior.

Thingvellir National Park ranks as the unofficial #1 Golden Circle location, and for various reasons. While some tourists may prefer the waterfalls and random eruptions of the other two spots, Thingvellir National Park has beauty, randomness and a lot of the things that make tourist spots so special. It has a little bit of everything in it to keep the entire family happy, and has so much that you won’t be able to take it all in with one visit. This is the prime reason why it ranks so high on everyone’s list, and will continue to be the top spot for a very long time.

This is the most tourist friendly place on the list, and you’ll notice a lot of fellow tourists in the area when you arrive. Besides having a central hub with loads of information, there are several shops and other areas to get interpretation of the history. There are plenty of things to do compared to the other areas, and tourists can spend their time hiking on trails, scuba diving and just doing general exploring of the area. It’s about as interactive as you can get for a tourist destination, and you instantly feel a part of the culture once you take everything in.

Thingvellir National Park In Winter

Kids will really get a kick out of the interactivity of the area. Scuba diving is still considered fresh in the area, and has become quite popular with the tourists. A couple of hours can go into scuba diving alone, but there are also the guided and unguided hiking trails that really explore the core of the history of Thingvellir National Park. While the interpretations of the history are great when you ask about them, it is better to have a guided tour and get a real feel of everything in action. A lot has changed over the years since this became a tourist destination, and it is always fun to find out just how much those changes have shaped the area.

This is also the safest part of the Golden Circle, not that any of them were dangerous to begin with! The area is quite large, but it is also the most populated with tourist. The only thing that can be said about safety is with the scuba diving. While an instructor will take all precautions necessary to make sure you’re okay, don’t take any unnecessary risks while diving. Keep it simple and have fun! Other than scuba diving there are no dangers to worry about, and you’ll find that even the hiking portion is very well established.

Consider to be one of the prettiest places in Iceland for tourists to visit, Thingvellir National Park is in the media a lot. Art has a huge love for the spot, and it has been used many times in paintings by local celebrities like Ásgrímur Jónsson and Johannes Sveinsson Kjarval. To put a number on the paintings of Thingvellir National Park by Jónsson alone would put the number at over 150. It is as popular a place with the locals as it is with the tourists, and has been open to filming and photography for commercial purposes for several years now.

Many celebrities have visited Thingvellir National Park, but what makes it so interesting is that the site itself is as famous as the celebrities that vacation there. It is considered the national shrine of Iceland and is the oldest existing parliament in history. This was back in 930 AD and supersedes a lot of the historical tourist’s spots in the entire world. The site has been designated a UNESECO World heritage site, so Thingvellir National Park is basically a celebrity in its own right. As more movie production and television deals get put in place it will become an even more popular place outside of Icelandic culture.

This is the one place out of the bunch where there are plenty of souvenirs to take home, whether you are buying them in the built in shops or whether you are picking them up while hiking. Suba diving can give you some interesting items to take home, and overall there is always a bit of treasure for your memories to take home when you’re at Thingvellir National Park. If you luck out you’ll find something really rare that no other tourist has found before, and it will become a big part of your trip!

The best comparison to Thingvellir National Park would be Yellowstone National Park in the USA. The park is so huge it expands across three different states, so think of Thingvellir National Park as a better compartmentalized experience of what it is like to live in Iceland. While there is more to do at Yellowstone, you won’t get the massive amount of culture and history that you can get from Thingvellir National Park. Calling it a mini Yellowstone would be a disservice to what it really is, so try not to get too wrapped up in comparing the two.

As a place that shouldn’t be missed out on, it is very much worth visiting again and again. It will become your favorite place to visit in Iceland, and so memorable that you’ll end up recommending friends to go visit. The Golden Circle may have a couple of great spots but Thingvellir National Park is going to be the one that stays with you the most. The rich history, environment, people and overall beauty will be something that you remember for years to come. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to visit one of the most famed places in Iceland for tourists.

Golden Circle Tours

Travel Golden Circle Iceland

Tourists that want an all in one experience without having to worry about missing out on anything should consider a guide, or better yet a local Golden Circle Tour. Many companies in the area offer such tours, and it comes down to your preference when it comes to choosing which one is going to get you the best for your time. They have short tours, long tours and even special tours. Every company has something special to offer, so choose carefully. For completionism sake, the all day tours are the best when you just can’t get enough of Iceland!

When looking up tours in Iceland, Golden Circle Tours is the most searched after keywords for the country. There are several tours and the top 10 is littered with big names like GeoIceland and Iceland Horizon, two of many companies that specialize in Golden Circle Tours in the area. They all have their charming differences and will appeal to a wide variety of tourists. It is hard to rank them from best to worst, but currently GeoIceland is the most recognizable Golden Circle Tour. Expect to see a lot of satisfied individuals when it comes to that rank, as they have earned it over the years.

All of the options presented to tourists for the Golden Circle Tours are fantastic, and if you have any doubts about how good they are then reviews are available online. Unhappy tourists don’t mince words when it comes to a bad experience, so this becomes a good way to plan in advance before you get to Iceland. Do some background on the best Golden Circle Tours and have a reservation set up before you arrive. If you can’t come to a decision, then just opt for GeoIceland or any of the top five choices like Iceland Horizon.

Since most of the tours use minibuses to get their customers around, there are no big advantages between the companies when it comes to how they handle children unless you need more space. Bigger touring companies in Iceland will have better mini buses which=happier parents. Happier parents in turn will make for happier children. Besides the space requirements, you also want a knowledgeable guide and a tour bus that won’t just whisk you away from point A to B without any exploration. If the tour doesn’t let you explore on your own a little then you’ll miss out on a big part of the experience.

Kerid, volcanic crater lake of Iceland, is located in Golden Circle route
Kerid, volcanic crater lake of Iceland, is located in Golden Circle route

Since these are tightly controlled tours there are no dangers at all when you sign up for them. This is very beneficial to large groups or families that may have been worried about getting lost in an unknown area. Guides will also warn of you of where it is safe to explore and the place to absolutely avoid, especially during winter time where the ice can be slippery. A knowledgeable tour guide and driver can be very handy in a country you’ve never been to before, so choose wisely! Iceland has the best group of companies and tour guides to choose from, so it is hard to go wrong in that instance.

The entire Golden Circle is a big hit with Hollywood and has led to some interesting backdrops for videos, television shows and even movies. It is one of the few historical places that gets name dropped in social media like twitter on a daily basis. The Golden Circle has become such a popular place that they have a company specifically set up to coordinate with movie and television producers that want to use footage from the area. The Golden Circle is indeed big time, and continues to gain popularity as more people find out about it.

Most of the celebrity sightings in the Golden Circle have to do when there is media being filmed there. If you want a change to catch a big name celebrity while you are in Iceland, then simply follow any of the big movies being made in the Golden Circle. It’s a really easy and fun way to stay in touch with the current celebrity buzz going on in the area, and works for a great diversion if you’ve been to the Golden Circle several times before. And if you’re lucky, you may even get cast as an extra in a film being made in Iceland!

Getting your hands on souvenirs is a lot easier if you take a Golden Circle Tour. By design they are made to lead you to the best place to purchase or find these souvenirs, so you’ll run across all the handy trinkets you can get your hand on even if you choose a short tour. The better part of your trip can then be concentrated on enjoying yourself rather than worrying about if you’ll get the chance to find and then bring something home. In this instance Golden Circle Tours are great in giving you what you need without making the customer go out of their way for it.

For anyone looking for a comparison to the Golden Circle Tour they will have a hard time finding it. Iceland is rich with history and is a small concentrated community surrounded by some really cool things. Other tours in other countries are just different due to being bigger. On an 8 hour Golden Circle tour you can get so much more out of it than anywhere else, so your money is well spent. This is the most cost saving tour available, and all without sacrificing the most important aspects of what makes a tour great.

No matter which Golden Circle Tour you decide to take it will be a trip that you will come back to again and again. As much as you see on your first trip to Iceland, it is only the tip of what you’ll see if you continue coming back. As it’s impossible to see everything on the first go, think of your first trip on the Golden Circle Tour as a glimpse into the history of Iceland. Not only will you have a wonderful trip, but it will be an experience that you never forget.

Pros of Going to the Golden Circle

Road signs showing directions to famous destinations in Iceland - Geysir and SelfossThere are a lot of great reasons to consider a trip to Iceland, and if you have already added a trip to the Golden Circle to your itinerary then it becomes a lot more interesting. Traveling in a larger group will give you immediate returns on your investment. This isn’t to say that smaller groups don’t have just as much fun, but having more people around you that can recall the great moments on the trip is an awesome feeling.

If you are a big fan of nature in its natural habitat then this is a trip that will speak to you deeply. Without getting too lost in its grand history, the Golden Circle has managed to salvage an incredible amount of it without it seeming too forced. Tourists will get the real thing without it feeling like it was marketed to not so smart out of towners. The marketing machine has not taken over the area, and it never will. Expect genuine places with genuine people who are from the area.

There are three big attractions to the Golden Circle to factor in and they are Thingvellir National Park, Gulfoss Waterfall and the geysers Geysir and Strokkur. Tourists that choose to visit these places without a guide can always visit them in any order they like. This may become a viable option on the second or third visit to the area. But not being tied down to a guide when you become familiar with the Golden Circle is a big benefit to those that just want to explore.

Where Should You Start?

Road signs showing directions to famous destinations in Iceland - Geysir and Selfoss
Road signs showing directions to famous destinations in Iceland – Geysir and Selfoss

Generally the best place to start if you aren’t on a tour is with Thingvellier National Park. It acts as a central hub for everything Golden Circle and has lots of valuable information for first time tourists. And for returning tourists there is also a lot of new information which may come in handy, like being careful during the winter season. For the confident tourist starting out in the other areas is fine, but remember that the meat of it all will be Thingvellier National Park. This is also the best place to make last minute supply runs before going off on your own.

Tourists that have their eye on a guided tour will start in the location your guide specifies. This may be where the mini bus is parked, or they may even come and get you from a different location. Always check with the company about where their starting point is and what time you are expected to be ready. Some companies offer less time to get ready than others, and if you aren’t prepared then you’ll end up rushing out of the door at the last minute. Be prepared based on the recommendations of your guide and you’ll be fine for the entire trip.

Planning a Trip on Your Own

Just like lights during Christmas, the majority of the Golden Circle can be enjoyed from inside your car. Tourists that want to just make it a driving trip can explore all of the 300km route without ever stepping out of their vehicle. This works great for those that have bad legs and just want a visual experience. This is a nice alternative to Iceland’s Ring Road, or for those that want a different experience in the same country. The benefits of driving the route are that you can fit in as much or as little as you want in whatever time frame you have. Tourists that have found themselves overwhelmed with things to do in Iceland never even get around to the Golden Circle, leaving them with little time before leaving and a lot of disappointment. Having the option to do a speed run through it without compromising your time is a good idea rather than missing out on it completely.

Make a note of the supplies you have a need in advance. There is nothing worse than being in the middle of a Golden Circle trip and not having any snacks, water or extra clothes. Be prepared for anything and always have extra water on hand. Tourists that are a little nervous about going in on their own can always stop at Thingvellier National Park for some information and supplies before taking the trip. It will not only give you piece of mind, but a better grasp on what to expect.

Summary

Visiting Iceland will give you access to the Golden Circle and so much more. The Golden Circle is not just another manufactured tourist destination and has heart, history and a lot of incredible moments.

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