One thing that I was sure of when planning our trip to Iceland was that I wanted to rent a car and drive places rather than take a bus tour. It costs over $100 per person to take an 8 hour bus tour that I’m not even sure stops at every place we went to on our second day in Iceland. The Golden Circle is a common tourist route featuring a national park, some waterfalls, geysers, and a crater. In Iceland, there are roads that average cars cannot travel on–especially in winter–because they involved fording rivers or lots of gravel. The Golden Circle route, however, is very easy to drive in a normal, small car, so we decided to rent one and do it ourselves.
Renting the Car
I ended up waiting until the week before we left for our trip to reserve my rental car online which was a HUGE mistake. I had been looking at different companies online for a few months, and the prices definitely went way up as the trip got closer and closer. The total for like 2.5 days, unlimited mileage, insurance, and being able to drop the car off at a different location than we picked it up was about $233 which wasn’t horrible considering everything in Iceland is super expensive, but still not ideal. We picked the car up on Monday at the Reykjavik Domestic Airport since it was about 10 minutes from our Airbnb, and returned it when we went back to the Keflavik International Airport for our flight to Paris on Wednesday. We just got a small economy car because it was the cheapest and I knew that all of the roads we would be on were easy to drive on.
Thingvellir National Park
We left on our first road trip as soon as we picked up the rental car. We had packed lunches to eat during the day and intended to be back in time to get dinner in Reykjavik. I carefully mapped out our route for the day and made an itinerary so I knew about how long we would be gone for. The first stop was Thingvellir National Park – a huge, beautiful national park in Iceland that has the building where the first Parliament on earth was held as well as the only place you can see tectonic plates above ground.
I thought we would spend around an hour here originally, but once we got there we ended up spending closer to 2 or 2.5 hours because there was so much to see! If you watch Game of Thrones this might look a little familiar because they have filmed a lot of scenes in Iceland and in Thingvellir specifically.
The coolest part about this park is that there was so much going on. The rock formations along the main path were sweet, but there was so much else that you basically had to drive to different parking lots to get to the different cool things.
We obviously had to make a pit stop at an ice cream place during our road trip! I read online about this farm called Efsti-Dalur where they serve ice cream right next to the cows that make the milk for it. Kinda weird, but as Austin said “at least they don’t serve hamburgers”. Yikes. This ice cream was delicioussss and just the other day Austin and I were talking about how it was the best ice cream we’ve had in awhile (and we eat a lot of ice cream).
After Thingvellir, our next big non-food stop was Geysir! This is an area with a lot of geothermal activity, including one geysir that goes off every 8-10 minutes! This was really cool to see because I’ve never been to Old Faithful or anything. Apparently this was the first geyser to be called “geysir” and that is where the word geyser came from.
The whole city (basically three buildings) around this area is called Geysir. I thought we might have to walk a ways to get to the actual geyser but it really was right off the side of the road and it was surrounded by a bunch of smaller geysers that don’t go off.
Our next stop was a huge waterfall called Gullfoss. Honestly this thing was huge, but it was the least impressive thing that we saw on this day of our trip in my opinion. The place where you park to get to it is at the top of the waterfall, which I never think is as impressive of a viewpoint as the bottom is. To be fair, it looked a lot cooler in person and you could really tell how powerful it was because we were getting wet from the mist when we weren’t even close yet.
After Gullfoss, we stopped along the side of the road somewhere random to eat our weird lunch consisting of a sandwich made of ham (probably, it was in Icelandic), chunks of cheddar cheese, and tomatoes poorly cut up because our knife broke. Honestly delicious and I would eat that meal every day if I could be in Iceland again.
This was our secret waterfall! It’s pretty small and not really a main destination on the typical Golden Circle route, but we figured it was worth the stop just to look at it really quick. I would recommend stopping to look at this because it was the one place that we didn’t see any other tourists and it had pretty scenery around it. You could sit off the edge of the rocks, and I wish we had anticipated this so that we would’ve eaten our lunch here.
Our final stop on our trip was Kerid, this huge crater lake that you wouldn’t even notice if you didn’t know it was there!
At this point, at least 8 hours had passed so we made our way home to get dinner and explore Reykjavik a little more. We spent longer than I anticipated because it is so BEAUTIFUL everywhere you look in Iceland and we couldn’t resist stopping along the side of the road to take pictures.
Overall, I would HIGHLY recommend renting a car and doing the Golden Circle yourselves rather than taking a tour! We could go at our own pace, which was awesome especially because we spent over 2 hours at Thingvellir and probably less than 30 minutes at some of the other stops. We went in May, so it obviously wasn’t snowy or anything and driving was very easy. We did another road trip on our third day of being in Iceland along the South Coast, so that will be my next post!
Below you can see the map I created on Google My Maps with all of the locations that we visited. The gold points are the places we stopped on this day along our Golden Circle route!