Is the Golden Circle Worth it? Why You Might Want to Skip it on Your 2024 Itinerary

Updated January 10, 2024

Before visiting Iceland, I had countless people mention the Golden Circle and received plenty of ads touting all of the best tours of Iceland’s must-see activity. I will say the marketing for it did a great job planting the seed that, in no uncertain terms, I couldn’t leave the country without seeing this place. 

So, as I was choosing how we would explore Iceland, I made sure that it included the Golden Circle, but the million-dollar question is, was it worth it?

Before I answer this question, I will preface it and say that everyone’s experience will be different, and your full Iceland itinerary will play a significant role if you think this is worth your time. For me, the Golden Circle wasn’t worth visiting. 

You might be scratching your head thinking, but doesn’t everyone love it? Isn’t it epic? Isn’t there an erupting geyser? While the geyser erupting is true, the level of epic-ness depends on what else you can see and explore in the country, but don’t worry, we will get to all that and more!

This guide will take you through my Iceland itinerary and why I didn’t think the Golden Circle was worth it, along with some of the top Golden Circle FAQs.

This article contains affiliate links (paid links) and Veggies Abroad is a member of Amazon Services LLC Associated Program. At no cost to you, I may earn a small commission if you make a purchase — this helps keep Veggies Abroad churning out free content! For an explanation of our advertising partnerships, please review our privacy policy.

First Things First, What is The Golden Circle?

Iceland’s Golden Circle is a popular tourist route that covers approximately 300 kilometers and includes three main attractions: Thingvellir National Park, Geysir Geothermal Area, and Gullfoss Waterfall. The route is easily accessible from Reykjavik and can be completed in a day trip, which is why it’s a popular activity for visitors. 

The Golden Circle is home to a few of Iceland’s natural wonders. The first is Thingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the site of Iceland’s first parliament. The real draw to the park is that it lies in a rift valley where the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates meet and diverge, creating a dramatic landscape of rugged cliffs, fissures, and volcanic activity — you can even snorkel in one of the fissures!

The second stop on the route is the Geysir Geothermal Area, home to the famous Strokkur geyser, which erupts every few minutes. In addition to the erupting geyser, you’ll also find bubbling mud pots, fumaroles (steam vents), and colorful mineral-rich hot springs. The landscape is surreal (it looks otherworldly), with steam rising from the ground and vibrant hues caused by the presence of different minerals.

The last stop is the beautiful Gullfoss Waterfall, a stunning two-tiered waterfall that drops into a canyon. 

In addition to the three spots that make up the Golden Circle, visitors sometimes also stop at the Kerid Crater and the Friðheimar greenhouse. At the greenhouse, you can learn about Iceland’s geothermal energy and enjoy a tomato-themed meal (it’s vegetarian-friendly but not vegan-friendly, at least at the time of writing this, hopefully, that changes).

gulfoss waterfall in iceland's golden circle
Gullfoss Waterfall

Why I Didn’t Think The Golden Circle Was Worth Visiting

So, at the beginning of this article, I shared that I didn’t think the Golden Circle was worth visiting, and I am sure many of you were thinking, but WHY!? I get it; I might be in the minority feeling this way, or maybe others feel like because it’s popular, they don’t want to say anything bad. Well, I’d rather give you my honest feedback so you don’t waste your money (I’m sure you appreciate that). 

To start, the Golden Circle might be worth visiting, depending on what else you can pack into your itinerary. For example, if you only have a short amount of time and are basing all of your exploration of Iceland from Reykjavik, then I would say, yes, you should see The Golden Circle, but if you plan on exploring a more significant amount of the country, that’s when it might not be worth it.

My Icelandic itinerary included the famous Ring Road, which circles the country. So, we spent a week exploring pretty rural areas of the country that included hidden waterfalls, puffins, massive geothermal areas, glaciers, and so much more (honestly, I think it is the best way for a first-time visitor to see the country). We could explore much of the country with just our small group — hiking a waterfall and having it all to ourselves was terrific.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall in the south of iceland
Seljalandsfoss waterfall on Iceland’s south coast

After seeing all that, our itinerary wrapped up with The Golden Circle. As I mentioned earlier, the Golden Circle is popular, so after having much of the country to ourselves and seeing such diverse natural beauty, it was like we had arrived at Iceland’s Disneyland — crowds of people, traffic, long lines (you get the picture). The area just didn’t feel special; it felt like a tourist trap.

Instead of visiting the Golden Circle, I wish we had rearranged our itinerary and started in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and then headed north. I think that would’ve been a better use of time. 

But, Is The Golden Circle Worth It For Me?

This is a great question, and that depends on your itinerary! As I mentioned earlier, if you only have a short amount of time in Iceland and are basing all of your activities from Reykjavik, then yes, I think the Golden Circle is worth it for you. But, if you plan to explore sites on the Ring Road, Snæfellsnes Peninsula, or the Westfjords Region, then I don’t think it’s worth your time. 

snow covered church mountain along the sea on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula in iceland on a ring road day trip
Snæfellsnes Peninsula

How Long Should You Spend Visiting the Golden Circle?

If you decide to visit the Golden Circle, you only need one day. Conveniently, the first thing to see in the Golden Circle, Thingvellir National Park, is only 25 miles (47 km) from Reykjavik — it will take you under an hour to get there. 

What is Better, The Golden Circle or Ring Road?

Hands down, no contest, The Ring Road is better than the Golden Circle, but I want to make sure that you realize they are wildly different! The Ring Road is just over 820 miles (1322 km) and circles the entire country; you need to plan for no less than five days (7 days are ideal, five days are doable but might not be as enjoyable) in the summer and possibly double in the winter to explore it. Along the Ring Road, you’ll have the opportunity to explore diverse landscapes that include glacier lagoons, iconic waterfalls, stunning fjords, sprawling mountains, and much more. 

the jokulsarlon glacier lagoon filled with icebergs and a person standing at the waters edge in iceland
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

The Golden Circle is accessible from the Ring Road and is only 140 miles (230 km) — just looking at the sheer difference in distance, you can already tell there is more to see on The Ring Road. It’s honestly a little unfair to compare the two. 

If you don’t have time to go on a Ring Road adventure but don’t want to do The Golden Circle, consider the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. This beautiful area of the country is nicknamed “mini-Iceland” because it offers a little bit of everything Iceland is known for — dramatic cliffs, black sand beaches, volcanic craters, and the iconic Snæfellsjökull glacier. You can also explore Snæfellsnes on a day trip from Reykjavik. 

Is it Better to Drive Yourself or Take a Tour?

The Golden Circle is easy to drive on your own — if you’re already planning to rent a car, booking a tour is unnecessary. The most significant benefit to going on a tour is having a local guide that can provide background on each stop and answer questions. 

How Long is the Drive from Reykjavík to the Golden Circle?

Most people start with Thingvellir National Park as their first stop on a Golden Circle tour; it is about 50 minutes from Reykjavik. If you decide to start with one of the other stops and go in the opposite direction along Route 1, it will take you just under two hours. 

Does the Golden Circle include the Blue Lagoon?

No, the Blue Lagoon is located on the Reykjanes Peninsula and isn’t far from the Keflavík International Airport. Many people stop at the Blue Lagoon on their way to the airport or just after arriving in Iceland (buses from the airport will take you directly to the Blue Lagoon).  A few travelers in our group shared that visiting the Blue Lagoon when they first arrived in Iceland helped them relax and shake off some of the symptoms of jet lag.

Tours like this one will take you through The Golden Circle, and then you will end the day at the Blue Lagoon. If you’re not renting a car, this is a great option.

blue lagoon geothermal spa in iceland
Blue Lagoon

What are the Best Golden Circle Tours?

The best Golden Circle tours are the ones that aren’t on mega buses — you know, the ones that pack in 50+ people. Those are really impersonal, and you won’t have the same experience as going with a small group. There are a few options for day tours, or check out the tour I did was with G Adventures, I highly recommend it. Here are a few other options that I’d suggest below:

Wrap it Up: More of Iceland

Now that you have a better idea of if the Golden Circle is worth visiting, you might be interested in what else you should check out in Iceland. You’ve come to the right place! Check out these other guides and articles to plan your entire Icelandic adventure. 

The Ultimate Guide to Iceland Ring Road Hotels
19 Fantastic Day Trips from Reykjavik
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon Boat Tours: Is it Worth it?
The Best Vegan Guide to Iceland: Where to Eat & Stay
The Ultimate Reykjavik Vegan Guide

About Author

Rebecca is the founder of the vegan travel company Veggies Abroad. In 2021, she bid her 15-year career goodbye and ventured into the world of ethical business with the launch of a vegan travel blog (the one you’re reading!). As the blog flourished, Rebecca expanded her vision to encompass personalized travel planning services and launched Veggies Abroad's inaugural vegan tour to Thailand, marking the beginning of many more eco-conscious, plant-powered adventures to come. Follow her adventures on Instagram or Facebook @veggiesabroad