Planning a winter trip to Iceland’s Golden Circle? Here’s everything you need to know about driving the Golden Circle Iceland in winter.
The Golden Circle is one of the most popular day tours in Iceland, maybe only trumped by the Blue Lagoon.
If you only have a stopover in Iceland, this route is pretty much perfect because you can drive the Golden Circle yourself in one day and it’s packed with attractions.
Plus, did you know that it’s free to visit all the sights on this route? You only have to pay for transportation. Need I say more?
Here’s everything you should know about driving Iceland’s Golden Circle in winter.
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How to drive The Golden Circle Iceland winter
How to rent a car in Iceland
So first things first.
If you’re going to Iceland’s Golden Circle in winter, it’s easy to drive it yourself. We did that in January.
Sure you can join a day tour from Reykjavik, but if you like to have freedom, flexibility, and time to stop and take photos of those cute Icelandic horses, rent a car.
Tip: Iceland is the one place where you want to buy car insurance with extra gravel protection (GP) to cover windshield and body damage. Gravel on the road is common, and repairs are expensive.
How to drive the Golden Circle Iceland in winter
The Golden Circle route is flat and easy to drive. Although a 4×4 isn’t necessary, we got one anyway, because it was snowing and we were off to the Ring Road afterwards.
Gas costs US $2.3 per liter (in September, 2023).
You also won’t need a GPS for The Golden Circle. A map should suffice, plus there are signs on the road and tour buses going the same way – also in winter.
Is it safe to drive the Golden Circle in winter?
Yes, it’s safe to drive the Golden Circle in winter.
The Golden Circle has a paved road throughout. And even if there’s a snowstorm, like on the day we went, the road is paved and signed.
If you have a few days in Reykjavík, pick a clear day to drive. I recommend Yr.no to check the weather forecast before you drive out.
❄️ Read next: How to plan an Iceland road trip in winter
Golden Circle winter tours
Visiting the Golden Circle from Reykjavik is popular, although it’s much less visited in winter. If you’d rather not drive, you can also take a tour. These are some of the best from Viator:
This top-rated small-group tour (⭐ 5/5) starts at Thingvellir and ends at the Secret Lagoon – Gamla Laugin.
For a unique experience, this other tour (⭐ 4.5/5) includes snorkeling at Silfra!
What to see on Iceland’s Golden Circle
The main three attractions on Iceland’s Golden Circle are Þingvellir National Park, Strokkur Geysir, and Gullfoss Waterfall.
During winter when you only have 5-6 hours of daylight and possibly snow & icy roads, these three stops fill up your day.
Other beautiful sights on the Golden Circle
In any other season though, consider visiting these extra sights since they’re on the road anyway.
- Kerid volcanic crater
- Faxi waterfall
- Bruarfoss waterfall
- Icelandic horses
- Skálholt Cathedral
Iceland’s Golden Circle itinerary
Þingvellir National Park
When you arrive at the Thingvellir visitor center, you’ll have to pay a small fee for parking.
So, you got your car.
Now it’s time to get from Reykjavik to Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park, which is the first stop on your Golden Circle trip.
Þingvellir became Iceland’s first national park in 1928 and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004. The national park is famous for three things:
- It’s the place of the world’s oldest parliament (established more than 1000 years ago)
- One part of Þingvellir is located in America and the other in Europe (Silfra)
- It’s a Game of Thrones location
Snorkeling in Silfra
The Mid-Atlantic Ridge passes right through Þingvellir and separates the North American Plate and the Eurasian Plate.
This basically means that one part of Þingvellir is located in America and the other in Europe.
What’s really cool about this is that not only can you walk over it, but you can snorkel between the two tectonic plates, too. Just to warn you: it’s really cold.
If you’re up for it, head to Silfra Fissure and jump in the 1°C 1-degree glacial water. It’s clean and crystal clear, and you’ll wear a wet suit.
Book here – Silfra: Snorkeling Between Tectonic Plates – meet on location (⭐ 5/5)
Game of Thrones filming locations
For all of us Game of Thrones fans out there, Þingvellir is also the place where several scenes of the TV-show were filmed.
Þingvellir appears in Game of Thrones as the narrow path leading to the Eyrie, as well as the location of Arya’s and Sandor Clegane’s journey.
Other Game of Thrones locations in Iceland:
- Dimmuborgir (near Lake Mývatn): Mance Rayder’s wildling army camp
- Grjótagjá cave (also near Lake Mývatn): Jon Snow and Ygritte’s love nest
- Svínafellsjökull glacier (beyond the wall)
- Vatnajökull (Europe’s largest glacier): appears in season 2
- Vik: appears as the frozen wastes of northern Westeros
The Drekkingarhylur (Drowning Pool)
This path is more than a famous Game of Thrones site, though.
From 1602 to 1750, this is where at least 18 women walked before being executed here at the Drekkingarhylur. In Icelandic, Drekkingarhylur means “Drowning pool”.
Add 30 beheadings, 15 hangings, and 9 burnings to the 18 drownings, and you have the 72 known executions at Þingvellir during this period.
It’s the site of Iceland’s first parliament (Alþingi) in 930 AD and where Icelandic democracy was born, but many also met their fate here.
On a less morbid note, we walked to the nearby Öxarárfoss waterfall, which impressed us with its icy coldness and frozen falls.
At the bottom, the water was dreamless blue before the waves froze over and stopped flowing.
If you’re visiting Iceland’s Golden Circle in winter and wondering if you should make the effort to see Öxarárfoss – do it!
It’s really, really beautiful.
Geysir and Strokkur
The next stop on The Golden Circle trip is the geysers at Haukadalur, about 1 hour’s drive from Þingvellir National Park.
Strokkur is one of the two large geysers, while the larger one, Geysir, rarely goes off anymore. Strokkur shoots up every 5-6 minutes, sometimes as high as 60 meters!
Just a 10-minute drive further east is Gullfoss Waterfall (Golden Falls), which for me was the highlight of Iceland’s Golden Circle.
This gigantic waterfall, flowing from the glacial river Hvítá, falls 32 meters down a rocky ravine.
I had a feeling it would be impressive, but oh my goodness it’s much more dramatic and powerful than I had imagined! It would have been so cool to get closer to the falls, but during winter the trails are closed for safety reasons.
Tip: If you visit outside the winter season, definitely bring a waterproof jacket or prepare to get soaked – get the full Iceland packing list here!
Read more: 10 absolute best Iceland waterfalls
Tips for visiting the Golden Circle Iceland in winter
- While you can drive Iceland’s Golden Circle in only 3 hours, you’re looking at 6 to 7 hours depending on how many places you explore.
- Always check the weather and road conditions before driving in Iceland.
- Find accommodation in Reykjavik.
- There are bathrooms and restaurants along the way.
FAQ – Golden Circle Iceland winter
Can you do the Golden Circle Iceland in winter?
Yes, you can visit the Golden Circle in Iceland during winter.
But be mindful: Icelandic winter weather is unpredictable, so check forecasts and road conditions.
How to do the Golden Circle in winter?
To visit the Golden Circle in winter, you have two main options:
- Guided Tour: This is a hassle-free choice where operators are familiar with winter conditions. They’ll often provide additional insights and handle any challenging driving. Check out this day trip.
- Self-Drive: If you’re comfortable driving in winter conditions, you should rent a car and explore at your own pace. Ensure your vehicle is winter-ready, equipped with proper tires, and that you check the weather and road conditions beforehand. Find the best car rental here.
Can you see the Northern Lights in Golden Circle Iceland?
Yes, you can see the Northern Lights in the Golden Circle in Iceland. However, it requires clear skies and low light pollution.
While the Golden Circle has popular tourist spots, there are still secluded areas where you can escape light pollution. You can also take a Northern Lights tour from Reykjavik.
Is the Golden Circle worth seeing in Iceland?
Absolutely, the Golden Circle is one of Iceland’s most popular and easy routes, with some of the country’s most iconic landmarks.
It includes sights like the Thingvellir National Park, the Geysir geothermal area, and the Gullfoss waterfall.
For many visitors, the Golden Circle is a must-see, especially if you have limited time in Iceland.
More posts about Iceland you might like
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- 10 best waterfalls in Iceland
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- Jökulsárlón: Cross icebergs and diamond beach off your bucket list in Iceland
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- 2 days in South Iceland: Road trip itinerary with the best sights
- Feeling at home at Puffin Hotel Vik, Iceland
- 5 best private Northern Lights tours in Iceland