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What is the best Golden Circle Tour in Iceland?

Trying to figure out which tours to book for you trip to Iceland can feel like an expedition through a dark, dense and horribly dangerous jungle. One wrong step and your vacation is ruined. Or so it seems sometimes when people send me a desperate plea for help when they can’t make a decision. There are SO many tours on offer and they all look very similar. It doesn’t help that Tripadvisor reviews all start to sound the same once you’ve read enough of them and they often do offer any usable information. How on earth are you supposed to make this decision?

First of all, for the Iceland newbies among you, what exactly is the Golden Circle?

The Golden Circle in an area in the South of Iceland that is basically full of natural wonders. When you draw a line between these places on the map they kind of form a circle (more a wobbly triangle really) and it makes up a very logical day tour from Reykjavík. The name is probably the brainchild of some great marketer that saw that it would probably be easier to sell the area if people came together and called it the Golden Circle instead of that area with all the geysers and waterfalls and all that jazz.

A lot of people think they can’t come to Iceland without visiting the Golden Circle. This is false. You will not be deported if you don’t marvel at Gullfoss waterfall. Promise! There’s actually a lot to see in Iceland beside the Golden Circle but there’s no denying it that it’s one of the most convenient day tours from Reykjavík and everyone, and then I mean EVERYONE, should be able to find a tour to their taste.  But how?

Well, I am here to help you.



As you can imagine your budget has a lot to say about which Golden Circle Tour is right for you. In my experience it’s most of the time (not always though!) worth paying a little more for your tours – if you can afford to. If , however, you really have to think about every króna you spend in Iceland then you of course just do what you have to do.

The cheapest tours are usually the standard Golden Circle bus tours. There’s nothing wrong with them per se but you just have to know that you will be sitting on a 70 (or so) seat bus with limited access to the guide and less personal interaction between the guests.The advantages of these tours though are definitely the price, these are usually the cheapest, but also that you can trust more or less 100% that they will run when they say they will run. Some of the smaller companies cancel the tours if they don’t reach a certain minimum and although they will refund your money you might be left scrambling to find another tour.

Sometimes, if you know what you are doing, you can do things on the cheap side of things but get more value for your money. A good example of that is the Hot Golden Circle tour which is one of our best selling partner tours. It’s only marginally more costly than the traditional big bus tours but it’s on smaller buses (19 passengers max) and it includes the up and coming Secret Lagoon that people absolutely love. I recommend this tour relentlessly to my guests because you get the few extra krónars you pay for this tour additionally back in the bucket loads. Or you know what I mean.

If you want the cheapest no frill option, or your time is limited and you want to bundled with some other activities, the Express Golden Circle tour is probably your best bet. Instead of taking 8-9 hours like most of the Golden Circle tours this one is only 6 hours and the price is hard to beat.

You can also do a small bus version of the express Golden Circle here.

Killing two (or more) birds with one stone

I already mentioned that you sometimes have to look at value for money too and sometimes when you pay a bit more the value also goes up. It might also be good to do combo tours and tours that include another activity that at first glance look expensive but you are actually saving in form of money, by only doing one transfer instead of two for example, or time. Time is money ya’ll (we recently had a guest at one of our dinners that was raised in Texas and said ya’ll a lot).

Except when you don’t have any money of course. Then sometimes you go from A to B to C to D, then back to B, before you get to E if it means you’ll get there a bit cheaper. That’s how it ended up taking me three days once to get from Iceland to Serbia and why I decided to take an illegal taxi back to Croatia to save some time. I sweated a lot that day.

A good example of this are the Super Jeep tours of the Golden Circle. If you want to do a super jeep tour but you don’t have a lot of time (or money) it might be worth looking into doing a super jeep tour of the Golden Circle instead of doing two separate tours. The super jeep tours are also good because the groups are usually smaller since each jeep normally only takes 4-6 passengers. Then they can also add places to their itinerary that you can’t reach on a bus like Langjökull glacier.

You can also do a Super Jeep tour of the Golden Circle that includes a snowmobile tour on a glacier. So you get the Golden Circle, a super jeep tour and snowmobile tour all in a reasonably affordable package. I mean, it’s more money than the bus tours but you also get more instead. See what I’m getting at?

By the way, if snowmobiling sounds appealing but you don’t want to splurge on a super jeep tour, this Golden Circle and snowmobiling small bus tour might be a good alternative.

I also found this evening super jeep Golden Circle tour that is great if you are on a summer stopover for example and you arrive in the afternoon to Iceland and leave again the next day. Plus I kind of think it’s genius to do the Golden Circle at night because it’s much less crowded. I did a Northern Lights super jeep tour with these guys last winter and loved it!

My favorites

Ice cream from Efsti Dalur – one of the farms visited on The Golden Circle and Traditional Tastes and Delicious Golden Circle

A part from the Hot Golden Circle tour there’s one tour that I cannot recommend it enough but sadly it’s only available in winter. The Golden Circle and Traditional tastes is a bit pricier than most of the other tours but I think it absolutely worth every penny and so do all the happy guests that send me e-mails to thank me for recommending it to them. It’s a small bus golden circle tour with emphasis on local food and it will take you to some of my favorite places on the Golden Circle along with including a visit to the Fontana Spa and a beautiful meal at a nice little countryside restaurant.

Because one of my all-time favorite activity I’ve done for this blog was a snorkeling tour in Silfra (I was kind of scared though but it was so worth it) I was also intrigued to find this combo tour that combines the snorkel and the Golden Circle tour (since Silfra is in Þingvellir, which is the first stop on the Golden Circle). There are cheaper options available of this combo but you do the Golden Circle bit on a big bus on those ones. This tour is very small and much more intimate.

For those hard to please

If you think none of these tours are your jam then you might want to consider doing a drive-it-yourself tour of the Golden Circle. That way you can do what you want, see what you desire and if there’s more than two of you there’s a good chance it will cost you less.

This post might help you decide whether you should rent a car or do day tours.

In the end, it all depends on your interests and how much money you have to play with which tour is best for you. If you are going to be doing a lot of day tours it might be worth splurging on one or two special ones and then save by doing cheap versions of the rest of your tours. Even if the guide is horrible and your bus is full of smelly sad people (or whatever reasons you might have for not wanting to do a big bus tour) you are still going to see Iceland’s most famous tourist attractions.

Finally, if you are traveling in a group of 4 or more it’s always worth looking into doing a private tour of the Golden Circle. You would be surprised how little you often have to pay to get the guide and the vehicle all to yourself. If that’s something you’d be interested in, just be in touch and we’ll help you find the right tour for you.

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  1. We have always traveled by rental car (YES, with the fullest insurance!) and that means three “Golden Circle” tours — once when the kids were little, once when they were teens, and then in my second marriage a chance to share Iceland with my wife. I preferred the driving (roads have become better over the decades) because we could tailor our travels in our wants and needs — feel like being leisurely at lunch, OK; want to see where that side road (or rainbow) takes us; suddenly had enough for the day.

    And then one time, with the kids in between children and youth, we did not do the Golden Circle at all … instead we headed out for several days along the southern coast, booking overnights on farms, seeing other waterfalls, driving graded black sand road with piles of rocks to mark the way, walking up to the face a glacier, encountering snow geese and other birds. Instead of the usual we got difference …. learned to love Skyr (now I can get it here in the States …. yum!), had fresh lamb natural infused with herbs from their diet, helped to milk cows and then ride ponies, and so much more all at less than it would have cost to stay in town and eat there.

    Of course on our first visit to Blue Lagoon, it was just a rustic two-room changing area (female/male) and no amenities other than the waters. And it was virtually free. Some times simpler is better.

    Now the question the next generation is asking, where to in Iceland next time when they introduce my grandkids to its grandeur (and will they be nice enough to ask me to come along?).

  2. Thanks so much for this! I was torn between some tours – you’ve solved my dilemma !

  3. The only day we can do the Golden Circle Tour is Saturday, September 16, 2017. Because we arrive at the airport at 6:00 AM and have to go through customs and into Reykjavik, we need a tour that picks us up at a city hotel about 10:00 AM. We can devote the rest of the day to the Golden Circle. We want a minibus tour, if possible. We’d like to go to the Secret Lagoon, in addition to the main three standard sites, but that’s not a requirement. Start time is a requirement. Budget is tight but negotiable. Can you help us pick the best tour for us (two adults). Thank you.

    1. Post comment

      Ásta - I Heart Reykjavík says:

      Hi Mary,

      I´ll send you an email with ideas for tours!

  4. Could you turn the golden circle into a 10 day holiday, stopping at each big landmark for an overnight or two? Or is that overkill? And would the weather be better (in terms of sunny days vs rainy ones) in December or April? TIA!

    1. Post comment

      Auður - I Heart Reykjavík says:

      Are you mixing up the Golden Circle and the ring road? IF not, then yes, I think 10 days on the Golden Circle is definitely an overkill. 10 days on the ring road, however, is the optimal time for a quick but comfortable trip around the country.

      April will usually have better weather than December.

  5. Hello guys!

    I’ll be travelling to Iceland along with my girlfriend between 4 and 11 November 2017 and I’m a bit lost with all the different attractions and must do’s… I was considering renting a campervan, but the possibility of bad weather kind of scared me a bit (mainly due to the snow, ice and wind – as a Brazilian, three things I don’t have much experience with, although I have extensive road trip experience both in Brazil and abroad). I am really having problems with setting up a schedule of things to do and how to do it. Could you please help? I can give you more details on budget and preferences, if this is the case…

    Thank you very much in advance!

    1. Post comment

      Ásta - I Heart Reykjavík says:

      Hi Thiago,

      I have sent you an email to try to answer your questions, I hope that will prove helpful!

  6. I will be visiting Iceland from November 10 – November 17. I have a car rental reservation (small sedan) but i am undecided with these tours. Should i just do the golden circle by car? Is there parking at each attraction in the Golden Circle? Is it paid to see the Strokkur Geyser, Gulfoss waterfall, Laugarvatn fontana, and Thingvellir National park ? Basically car rental gas costs vs. Tour bus cost. Also, Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, is it paid to see it? Parking in there? I hope you can help, thanks in advance! And sorry for so many questions

    1. Post comment

      Ásta - I Heart Reykjavík says:

      Hi Osman,

      It is up to you if you do a guided tour or a self drive tour. Both have their pros and cons, with a scheduled tour you let someone else do the driving and you get a guide to tell you about what you see and more. If you self drive, you can stay as short or long as you like to enjoy the sights, and can do more smaller stops if you want to. A good and small group budget tour of the Golden Circle costs 13.500 ISK with entrance fee to the Secret Lagoon included: http://iheartreykjavik.net/the-tours/hot-golden-circle-including-the-secret-lagoon/
      There is parking by all the main sights, and parking at Þingvellir I think is 500 ISK for a car. There were talks of adding parking fees at Jökulsárlón, but I couldn’t see on the National Park’s website if that has started yet.

  7. HI there,
    Thanks so much for this great post – it helped us a lot! We’re only spending two days in Iceland on our way back to the UK from New York and we want to experience as much as we can. The Hot Golden Circle tour sounds perfect. Do you have any discount code for this tour by any chance?
    Thanks so much!

    1. Post comment

      Auður - I Heart Reykjavík says:

      No I don’t I’m afraid. The tour is fairly priced for what it is and the price has already lowered since last year.

  8. is it possible to get a road map of the Golden Circle route? Do Car rental agencies automatically provide these?