The Top 11 Things to See in Iceland’s Golden Circle in Winter

Chris Ayliffe, Founder of Arctic Meta

Welcome to the enchanting winter wonderland that is Iceland’s Golden Circle. This popular tourist circuit is a mesmerising blend of natural beauty and historic significance, offering a variety of unique experiences and sights that are especially magical in winter.

From the ethereal glow of the Northern Lights to the majestic icy cascades of Gullfoss, the geothermal wonder of Geysir, and the historic Thingvellir National Park, the Golden Circle in winter is a sensory feast.

Prepare to be captivated by the sheer scale of the natural wonders, charmed by the warmth of the Icelandic people, and satiated by the local gastronomical delights. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a history buff, or an adventure seeker, this guide will help you navigate the best that the Golden Circle has to offer during winter.

What is the Golden Circle in Iceland?

A snow-covered mountain in Iceland's Golden Circle in WInter

If you’re planning a visit to Iceland, you’ve probably heard something about the Golden Circle. But what is it exactly? Simply put, it’s a popular tourist route that covers a distance of about 300 kilometres and takes you to some of Iceland’s most scenic spots. Starting from Reykjavik, the circle takes you to three main attractions: Thingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal area, and Gullfoss waterfall. 

The name “Golden Circle” actually comes from the circular route itself, rather than any particular significance of the destinations. Of course, that doesn’t mean the stops aren’t worth visiting – on the contrary! Thingvellir is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Geysir is home to a number of spouting geysers.  As for Gullfoss? Well, let’s just say you won’t be disappointed.

Although many tourists focus on the main three attractions of the Golden Circle, there are actually quite a few sites that are worth checking out if you happen to be in this neck of the woods. Don’t worry if you can’t pronounce the names of these places – just sit back, enjoy the stunning vistas, and know that you’re in for a treat.

Where is the Golden Circle?

Laugarvatn in Iceland's Golden Circle

So where exactly is it located? Well, the answer isn’t as straightforward as you might think. The Golden Circle is a loop that starts and ends in Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital city. From Reykjavík the Golden Circle stretches through the Southern Highlands of Iceland, covering areas like Hveragerði and Laugarvatn before looping back to Reykjavik.

What Are the 11 Best Places to Visit in Iceland’s Golden Circle in Winter?

Oxarafoss waterfall in Iceland

As mentioned above, there are many attractions waiting to be discovered on Iceland’s Golden Circle. To make things easier, below is a list of the 11 best places to visit when checking out this must-see part of the world.

1. Thingvellir National Park

Thingvellir National Park in Iceland's Golden Circle

As the first stop on the Golden Circle, Thingvellir National Park is a must-see for any visitor to Iceland. Not only is it a beautiful natural wonder, but it also has significant historical and cultural importance as the site of Iceland’s first parliament. In winter, you can enjoy scenic walks or even try your hand at ice diving in the crystal-clear waters of Silfra fissure.

2. Geysir geothermal area

Strokkur geyser in Iceland's Golden Circle

Next up is the geothermal wonderland of Geysir, where you can witness Strokkur geyser shooting hot water up to 40 meters in the air every few minutes. In winter, the steam rising from the pools and geysers creates a surreal atmosphere that will leave you in awe.

3. Gullfoss waterfall

Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland's Golden Circle

From the geothermal area, it’s a short drive to one of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls – Gullfoss. In winter, this majestic cascade is surrounded by snow and ice, creating a picture-perfect scene that will take your breath away.

4. Kerið Crater

Kerið crater in Iceland's Golden Circle

Located near Selfoss, Kerið is a volcanic crater lake that is best visited in winter. The frozen lake and surrounding red volcanic rocks make for a stunning contrast against the white snow, creating a mystical atmosphere.

5. The Secret Lagoon (Gamla Laugin)

If you’re looking to warm up after a day of exploring, head to the Secret Lagoon. This natural hot spring is a popular spot for locals and tourists alike, offering a relaxing soak in the midst of Iceland’s wintry landscapes.

6. Brúarfoss Waterfall

Bruarfoss waterfall in Iceland's Golden Circle

While it may not be as well-known as Gullfoss, Brúarfoss is a hidden gem that is worth the visit. The blue waters of this waterfall against the white snow and surrounding rocks make for a picturesque sight that will leave you in awe.

7. Helgufoss & Thorufoss Waterfalls

Helgafoss waterfall in Iceland

Located near the town of Selfoss, these two waterfalls are often overlooked by tourists but offer a tranquil and peaceful setting, especially in winter. Take a walk along the river to enjoy both waterfalls from different angles and snap some beautiful photos.

8. Friðheimar Tomato and horse Farm

Friðheimar Greenhouse in Iceland's Golden Circle
Source: Friðheimar Greenhouse Facebook

If you’re a foodie, don’t miss out on Friðheimar Tomato and Horse Farm. Here, you can tour the greenhouse where tomatoes are grown year-round with geothermal heat and enjoy a delicious meal made from fresh produce. You can also meet the friendly Icelandic horses that call this farm home.

9. Thjorsardalur Valley

Thjorsardalur Valley in Iceland's Golden Circle

This lush valley is a popular spot for horseback riding, skiing, and snowmobiling in the winter. You can also visit Þjóðveldisbaerinn, an open-air museum that offers a glimpse into Iceland’s past, or check out the famous volcano Hekla from afar.

10. Solheimar Eco-Village

For a unique and eco-friendly experience, visit the Solheimar Eco-Village. This sustainable community is home to various artists, musicians, and craftsmen who have created a beautiful and self-sufficient village. You can also enjoy a delicious meal at their restaurant or purchase handmade souvenirs to support the local economy.

11. Fontana Spa

Another great option for relaxation is the Fontana Spa located by Lake Laugarvatn. Enjoy a dip in the geothermal pools, take a sauna or steam bath, and even try traditional Icelandic rye bread that is baked underground using the natural heat from hot springs.

How Can I Visit the Golden Circle?

A wintry road through Iceland's Golden Circle

Traversing the awe-inspiring Golden Circle of Iceland is undeniably a must-do for any avid traveller. And the great news is, there are various modes of transportation to choose from! There are two main ways that you can get around.

You could opt for a comfortable coach tour. With a coach tour, you’ll be able to sit back, relax, and soak in the stunning scenery without a worry in the world. There are even coach tours that can pick travellers up from their accommodation in Reykjavík.

A snazzy self-drive excursion could be another option. Self-drive tours offer the utmost flexibility and freedom, allowing you to stay as long or as little as you please at each attraction. This mode of transport is ideal for travellers who want to go at their own pace.

If the first two aren’t interesting enough for you, you could also try a horseback riding adventure. It is a very unique way of exploring the area, although, if you want to see everything this part of the country has to offer, it’s costly and would take a long time. If money isn’t an option, it’s also totally possible to charter a helicopter.

Which Way Should You Drive Around the Golden Circle?

The main route around Iceland's Golden Circle

If you’re planning on exploring the stunning Golden Circle of Iceland, one of the first decisions you’ll need to make is which direction to go in. Should you go clockwise or anticlockwise?

While there isn’t necessarily a right or wrong answer, there are some factors to consider. Going clockwise will take you to the popular sites of the Thingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal area, and the majestic Gullfoss waterfall First. This is great if you really can’t wait to get to them, but it is the most popular route that tourists take so it could mean that you are sharing your experiences with a lot of other people. 

Going anticlockwise will allow you to beat the crowds and experience a quieter start to your journey.

How Can You Prepare for Winter Weather Conditions?

Preparing for winter conditions in Iceland's Golden Circle in the winter months

When it comes to winter in Iceland, it’s best to be prepared for anything Mother Nature might throw your way. The first step is to pack appropriate clothing – think warm layers, waterproof outerwear, and sturdy boots.

It’s also a good idea to bring along a thermos for hot drinks and snacks to keep your energy up. But preparing for winter in Iceland goes beyond just packing. It’s important to keep the local weather forecasts in mind and plan accordingly. The best way to stay informed of the local weather conditions is to check the national meteorological service website.

And while some may think Iceland’s winter weather conditions are daunting, it’s important to remember that the stunning landscapes and magical Northern Lights more than makeup for any chilly temperatures. Don’t let the wintry weather deter you – with a little preparation, you’ll be ready to embrace all that Iceland has to offer.

Self-Drive vs Guided Tours of the Golden Circle

So visiting the Golden Circle sounds like fun; but should you do a self-drive tour or a guided tour? Self-drive tours offer the freedom to set your own pace and itinerary, and the ability to stop wherever you want along the way. It also allows you to explore lesser-known areas that may not be included in guided tours.

On the other hand, guided tours provide a knowledgeable tour guide who can provide insights and information about the places you’re visiting. Plus, someone else takes care of the driving, leaving you to relax and enjoy the stunning scenery. However, guided tours can mean that you need to travel with strangers and your schedule could be determined by them. You might want to get to the next attraction instead of waiting for someone to finish buying their souvenirs.

Ultimately, the decision is up to you and depends on what kind of experience you’re looking for.

Golden Circle Tours You Should Consider

The best Golden Circles in Iceland during winter

If you decide that you would like to try a tour when visiting the Golden Circle, there are many to choose from but luckily here are a few to give you some inspiration.

The Classic Golden Circle tour’ covers the essential sights such as Thingvellir National Park, the Geysir hot spring, and the iconic Gullfoss waterfall.

For animal lovers, the Golden Circle & Secret Lagoon tour offers a chance to visit a local farm and meet some friendly Icelandic horses.

For those seeking something slightly more unconventional, the Golden Circle & Snowmobiling tour lets you ride a snowmobile across a glacier.

All of these and many more can be found here.

Whichever tour you choose, you’re guaranteed to see some unforgettable sights and make lasting memories. And who knows, you may even discover a new hobby or two along the way!

Can You See the Northern Lights from Iceland’s Golden Circle?

The northern lights dancing in Iceland's Golden Circle

Iceland’s Golden Circle is home to many stunning natural wonders, but there’s one sight that stands out above the rest: the Northern Lights. While many people travel to Iceland specifically to witness this elusive phenomenon, not everyone knows that the Golden Circle is a prime location for catching a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis.

To increase your chances of seeing this magical display, it’s important to know a few key tips. Firstly, plan your trip for the winter months when the nights are long and dark. Secondly, make sure to stay in a remote location with little light pollution. Lastly, keep an eye on the weather forecast and try to schedule your trip for a clear night. With these considerations in mind, you’ll be sure to have an unforgettable experience gazing up at the dancing lights of the Northern Lights.

Where is Best to Stay Overnight in Iceland’s Golden Circle?

The Hill Hotel in Iceland

If you’re planning a trip to Iceland and hoping to see the stunning Golden Circle, there are many options when it comes to accommodation. Some visitors base themselves in Reykjavík and spend their time driving but if you would like to get out of the city and really experience the wonder of untouched nature that Iceland has to offer, then look no further than The Hill Hotel in Flúðir.

This charming hotel boasts exceptional quality and beautiful accommodation that will make for an unforgettable stay. The location is perfect too, as it’s only a short drive from the iconic Gullfoss waterfall and Thingvellir National Park. But that’s not all! The Hill Hotel is also a prime spot for chasing the elusive northern lights during Iceland’s wintertime. After a long day exploring, cosy up in your room and keep an eye out for the magical aurora borealis dance across the starry night sky. Then rug up and venture out to stare up at the sky in wonder

Where Should You Stop to Eat in the Golden Circle?

Skogafoss waterfall in Iceland

Many might not know this, but The Golden Circle is also a perfect destination for foodies, offering a wide range of traditional Icelandic cuisine alongside international dishes. While exploring the Golden Circle, do not miss the chance to try some mouth-watering delicacies, such as fermented shark, Icelandic lamb, and Skyr.

Most of the major sites on the Golden Circle have food options available for visitors and there are also some great restaurants to explore in the neighbouring areas. However, eating on the road can be challenging for budget-conscious travellers. To save money, it’s a good idea to grab some of your essential items like snacks at one of Iceland’s grocery stores before you begin your travels around the country.


Kerið crater in Iceland covered in snow during winter

In conclusion, the Golden Circle in Iceland is a must-visit destination for anyone looking to experience the country’s unique natural wonders and cultural heritage. Whether you choose to do a self-drive tour or opt for a guided tour, there are countless breathtaking sights to see and unforgettable experiences waiting to be had. From chasing the Northern Lights to trying traditional Icelandic cuisine, there’s something for every kind of traveler in the Golden Circle. So pack your bags, plan your trip, and get ready to embark on an unforgettable journey through one of Iceland’s most iconic regions.  Remember to take lots of photos and soak in the beauty of this incredible place – you won’t regret it!  So what are you waiting for? Book your trip to the Golden Circle today and get ready for the adventure of a lifetime.  Happy travels! 

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