If you are planning an Icelandic adventure, it is likely that the Golden Circle will come up in your search. It is one of the most popular things to do, especially if you do not have time to drive the entire Ring Road. Best part is, visiting the sites is completely free!
The Golden Circle consist of three famous attractions, including: Thingvellir National Park, the Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss waterfall. The entire drive takes only 3 hours, so you can easily do this as a day trip from Reykjavik!
There are many tours offered, but renting a car is the cheaper and nicer option. This will allow you to spend however long at each site and make addition stops if you would like to along the way. There are not many main roads in Iceland so it is extremely easy to navigate the Golden Circle. Just follow the signs along the road and you should not have any issues.
This route is touristy, but for good reason. These attractions are one of a kind and absolutely breathtaking. I went in February and while their were still crowds, it was not overwhelming and parking was still very accessible. In the summer months, it can get very crowded.
First Stop: Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir is a famous historical site and national park that is listed as a World Heritage Site. It is most known for two things: being the setting for much of Iceland's history and watching unique geological events happen right in front of you. After you park, there will be several directions in which you can walk. You can head towards a church and learn stories of Iceland's past, spot this beautiful waterfall above, and walk in between the divid of two tectonic plates.
Iceland is formed by two tectonic plates: North America and Eurasia. This is known as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. This is one of the only places in the world where you can see the divid between the plates above sea level. It is also a popular place to snorkel and scuba dive.
Second Stop: Geysir Geothermal Area
This geothermal field became active more than 1000 years ago. When water comes into contact with hot rock below the surface, it heats up so much that the pressure makes it explode. The Great Geysir was the first geysir known to modern Europeans, but now it is inactive. The fields most active geysir is Strokkur. Strokkur shoots water 30 meters into the air every few minutes. Many tourists circle around to watch it erupt. Keep your eyes open so you can spot the tiny geysirs that will erupt along the walkway.
Third Stop: Gullfoss waterfall
Meaning 'Golden Waterfall' in Icelandic, Gullfoss Falls is one of the most visited sites in Iceland. It is a massive two tiered waterfall that reaches a height of 32 meters and is the largest waterfall in Europe by volume. It is unique because you can view the waterfall from above. It is open year round, but some of the view points are closed in the winter due to unsafe weather conditions. It might not be as big as Niagara Falls, but in my opinion it is much more beautiful.
After the Golden Circle, you can hop back on the road to see more of Iceland's treasures or head back to hang out in Reykjavik. Iceland's endless natural wonders will leave you wanting more!