Driving the golden circle is recommended if you are only staying a week or less. You can do this trip in a day. For families traveling with kids, this is the easiest way to see a part of Iceland. Since it has very unpredictable weather, I would say this is the safest way to do it. We started our day early considering that sun sets a 3:30 pm during the season that we went. September to April is their winter season, so they only get few hours of sunlight. Iceland is a very sparse area that’s why tourists just book tours which mostly have similar itineraries and very expensive. This country, in general, is very very expensive. It cost me USD 30 for a 10 oz cereal and two small water bottles (now do the math). The tours itself will cost you around $190 for kids(newborn+) and $280 for adults. For the ring road, we’ve decided not to book a tour since the area is not too far away from Reykjavik (capital).
Our first stop was the Thingvellir National Park. You can get maps of the par, and there are also marked rails, however, you can easily get lost esp if it is snowing. This park is famous for two reasons:
- It is a UNESCO world heritage site and the most important place in Icelandic history because in the year 930 AD the Alþingi – which is one of the oldest parliamentary institutions in the world – was founded there.
- Secondly, it has been a nature reserve since 1928 due to its unique tectonic and volcanic environment.
Here, you will be able to see/walk in between the Eurasian plate. See the Þingvallavatn and do horseback riding. It was sunny when we got there but it snowed in the middle of our trek and we were not able to ride the horses but we were able to see the Oxararfoss.
Second stop was the Kerid Crater/Lake. This is roughly around 40 min drive from Thingvellir. This crater lake is very because it did not form from an explosion. When you park by the entrance, you would just literally climb few meters and you will see this beautiful view. The only downside is you have to pay 400 ISK for adults and children go up for free. There is nothing else to see but this so we were only here for 5 min and left.
If you started your day around 8 am, your kids will probably be hungry after these two sites. I always pack healthy snacks every time we travel so I don’t have to deal with grumpy kids. You can stop by at the Fridheimar Farm on the way to your third stop. This restaurant serves tomato-based foods. They are known to have the best tomato soup and bloody mary. They even have tomato ice cream and tomato cheesecake which probably doesn’t sound as enticing as it tastes. You can also check out their tomato greenhouse and learn a lot of facts about tomatoes.
Faxi waterfalls is 7 min from Fridheimar farm. A very serene area with no tourists so you can take a great photo. Tourists bus and guides do not stop by this area.
Approx. 16 min from Faxi is the Strokkur Geyser. This is the favorite stop at the Golden Circle. Not only it is the most reliable geyser in the world but the area became active more than 1000 years ago and comprises more than a dozen hot water blowholes and erupts every 8-10 min so time, so you can set your watch and your camera’s timer and you will be able to capture a precious moment. Another unique experience offered is Geysir or ‘hot spring bread’ where visitors assist a chef to boil eggs outside in a hot spring and dig up rye bread that has been ‘baking’ underground for 24 hours. This place has a very strong sulfur smell, Iceland smells like sulfur but this is the worst.
From Strokkur, you can head to Gullfoss waterfall which is 10 min away. Located on the Hvítá (White) river which is fed by Iceland´s second biggest glacier, the Langjökull. On sunny days, a rainbow can be seen over the falls.
The sun should start to set soon but try not to miss stopping by Esti-dalur, about 36 min away from Gulfoss. Ice cream doesn’t get fresher than having it on the farm right next to the cows the milk came from. The best ice cream I’ve had so far and it has no sugar and all natural. They also have a lodge you can stay at.
After enjoying our ice cream at Esti-dalur, the only stop that you can squeeze in before it gets dark is the Bruarfoss which is only 10 min away. This place is hard to find, thanks for the detailed directions from Kiki.
Directions Brúarfoss: From Reykjavik take road 1 up to Mosfellsbær. Turn onto road 36 to Þingvellir. From there take road 365 to Laugarvatn. Turn onto road 37 in the direction to Geysir. Crossroad 355. About 2-3 kilometres after you crossed road 355 you will reach a large summer house area on the left side. Take the third road into this area (all other roads are blocked with gates) and drive straight ahead. Follow the gravel road until you reach a bigger path with two tracks. Turn left and drive for a few minutes until you reach the end of the road. There you will see a small area where you can park your car and follow the little footpath right over the small bridge. Once you cross the bridgehead to the left and stay on the trail. Walk for 5-10 minutes on this path and you will arrive at Brúarfoss.
Now you can head back to Reykjavik which will be an hour and thirty size minutes drive. Here are some tips that I can share should you choose to do it yourself:
- Pack a lot of snacks. Iceland is very sparse and there are no gasoline stations.
- Always check the weather, we’ve experienced sunny, windy (45-50 mph), snow and hail in a matter of 30 min. Yeahp, you read it right.
- Iceland bridges are all one way, make sure to wait few min and drive slow to make sure there is no car going towards you.
- When parking, make sure to park with the rear of the car into the wind and do not open doors if the wind starts to blow. Tourists had open their doors against the wind and it literally flew away. You dont want to drive doorless, lol.