With only three days in Iceland, we needed to pack all we could in! On our first day, we did a classic Golden Circle tour in South Iceland, with the addition of a fabulous spa to break up the excitement. Our Golden Circle Tour is perfect for a one-night stopover, or if you’re looking to see as many sights as possible on one road trip close to Reykjavik.
Iceland’s Golden Circle is a popular route in Southern Iceland, and covers many top tourist attractions. The best part is that all of these sights are within a two-hour drive from Reykjavik, depending on the weather!
Before heading out on our Golden Circle adventure, I drove in to Reykjavik to have a light breakfast and a large latte at Sandholt Bakery & Eatery on Laugavegur Street in downtown Reykjavik. I met with Diana of Diana’s Healthy Living and her husband, who were also on my flight from Toronto! While I couldn’t indulge in Sandholt’s infamous sourdough breads or pastries being gluten free, my breakfast of Skyr and a Latte was the perfect pick-me-up to fuel our South Iceland Golden Circle road trip.
Iceland Golden Circle Tour: Icelandic Horses
After picking up my travel buddy, Nicole, from Keflavik airport, we headed out to our first stop, Lake Kerid. Along the way, we saw these adorable Icelandic horses right by the road. We obviously had to stop, and were giddy to take photos with these adorable horses.
Did you know that in Iceland, there are laws that prohibit importing other horse breeds? There is no cross-breeding so Icelandic horses are the purest breed in the world… and likely resemble their Viking ancestors that were brought over on ships 1,o00 years ago.
To me, they have adorable, rounded features and a small stature that reminds me of My Little Pony. I’d love to come back in the summer months to go riding and experience the Icelandic Horse’s unique tolt gait. Some stops along the road have “horse snacks” where you can participate in a roadside petting zoo. This stop was more natural, and I loved the mountainous surroundings. I also met Oliver, an Icelandic sheepdog puppy.
Iceland Golden Circle Tour: Lake Kerid
After about an hour-long drive from the airport, we reached Lake Kerid or “Kerið”. This is a volcanic crater lake, located in Iceland’s western volcanic zone. Lake Kerid has a large, visible caldera in the centre that is normally full of pristine, turquoise water thanks to minerals in the soil. Unfortunately, it was a bit frozen when we visited, but it was still a beautiful sight. There is a 400 ISK entrance fee, but you can hike around the caldera and climb down stairs to be level with the crater.
Lake Kerid was likely formed from an old volcano that erupted and emptied its magma. Iceland’s Golden Circle is truly mind-blowing and this was a great introduction and a quick stop along the way.
Iceland Golden Circle Tour: Secret Lagoon
Iceland’s southern region is famous for its geothermal activity… and while bitcoin farming is a bit of a mystery (google it, you’ll enjoy the rabbit hole), the spas in the Golden Circle are a lot more known. While most visitors opt to visit Blue Lagoon, the Golden Circle region is host to numerous smaller spas, at a smaller price as well!
We decided to visit the Secret Lagoon, aka Gamla Laugin in Fludir. We pre-booked tickets online for 2800 ISK (about $38 CAD), but you could easily walk in the day of. This is a great option in case the weather does not turn out! We loved our visit to the hot springs. Created in 1891, Secret Lagoon Iceland is kept at a constant 38-40 degrees celsius thanks to the geothermal pools and a mini geysir adjacent to the pool. After being awake for nearly 24 hours, it was the perfect spot to relax, drink a beer and enjoy Iceland’s natural beauty after a long day of travelling.
Iceland Golden Circle Tour: Geysir
Iceland’s Golden Circle is famous for its Geysirs. The original Geysir is located here, although it has stopped erupting. A smaller Geysir, Strokkur, puts on a sh0w every 3-10 minutes. We watched Strokkur erupt several times to catch pictures with it erupting in the background. It’s a marvel of nature!
I recommend going up to the highest point to get a good view of the Geysir. You can see how the water goes inwards, just before it shoots up high in the air. I also recommend watching it 2-3 times through your own eyes and not a camera lens, it’s so exciting when it finally erupts!
The Geysirs in the Golden Circle are free to visit, and there’s a lovely gift shop and cafe across the road. Souvenirs from that shop were reasonably priced, and the clothing was beautiful and stylish. We missed the cafe (I think they close at 5:00 p.m. on weekdays in shoulder season), but my sister recommended eating there.
Iceland Golden Circle Tour: Gullfoss Waterfall
A trip to the Golden Circle would not be complete without a waterfall. Merely 10 minutes away from the Geysirs is Gullfoss Waterfall. The waterfall is free to visit, open 24/7 and is very impressive. Gullfoss Waterfall is fed by the white river, originating from the Langjökull glacier. The waterfall has two steps and is set into a canyon.
We were completely touched by the story of Sigriður Tómasdóttir, the daughter of the farmer who owned Gullfoss Waterfall. She fought hard in the courts to protect the waterfall from being transformed into a hydroelectric dam. It was a great story about a young environmental activist, way ahead of her time. Now, visitors from around the world can visit Gullfoss Waterfall and enjoy its power and beauty.
After visiting Gullfoss, we had a bit of car trouble, which ended up being a false alarm (a true blonde moment), and we didn’t have time to visit Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park in daylight. Because of our “car trouble” we ended up driving through Thingvellir on our way back to Reykjavik! The speed limit was only 50 km per hour, and we actually saw the continental plates, or at least we think we did. If you have more daylight, or you get an earlier start than us, you can definitely add this in to your itinerary since it’s very close by! If you’re a real adventurer, you can even scuba dive between two continents.
The Golden Circle Tour is a great way to experience South Iceland’s natural beauty. From geysirs to waterfalls, there are many attractions. Tour operators run hundreds of Golden Circle tours on buses, but I think it’s a lot more fun to rent a car and explore. Half the fun was the journey, and I love having your own schedule to explore things on your own. It can also be a more economical option as well. If you have a one day stopover in Iceland, I couldn’t recommend this itinerary more, especially Secret Lagoon. It was one of my favourite days travelling ever!
Stay tuned for more of my three-part Iceland Itinerary ideas. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below or send me a tweet @natalieast. Thank you to Nicole Clark for being my blog photographer.
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Now I need to plan a trip to Iceland, but maybe in the summer time haha! xo
Great post on Iceland!! It reminds me of my trip from couple of years ago. I love the surreal settings – just can’t see it anywhere else! Thanks for sharing!
I had never read about the golden circle, but it is so interesting!
I am definitely keeping it in my list for the moment when I’ll head to Iceland 😉
I have dreamed of going to Iceland, and your post didn’t dissuade me at all, haha! The photos are incredible, and now I want to go see those horses!
Icelandic horses are my absolute favorite. They are gorgeous and super picturesque. I can’t wait to go back to Iceland again for the third time 🙂
Oh my goodness it looks incredible. Loving the breakdown of how to spend time here too.
Your photos are stunning! Iceland has been so high on my bucket list for years and I still haven’t made it there. I loved reading your tour of the golden circle, I’d love to do the same rent a car and explore without a tour!
Those ponies are beautiful aren’t they!! We saw some in Iceland too, but they were far further away in the snow, so I didn’t get such a good close up as you did!!
I need to go back to Iceland as we didn’t really explore the Golden circle. We did find good (and free) hot springs though! The one you found looks lovely too!!
I literally just went into my bucket list and added the secret lagoon. Soooo magical!