Driving the Golden Circle in Iceland in summer

Visitors to Iceland between May and August will find a country illuminated beneath the Midnight Sun

Driving the Golden Circle in Iceland in summer

Visitors to Iceland between May and August will find a country illuminated beneath the Midnight Sun

Driving the Golden Circle in Iceland in summer should top the bucket-list of any traveller planning a trip here in the coming year.

Not only does this fantastic trail offer sights and activities like nowhere else, but it is perfectly suited to all those looking to gain a deeper understanding of just what makes this subarctic island tick. 

With a full day of sunlight available, you’ll have an abundance of time to appreciate the three major natural attractions that make this spectacular route, as well as a fully-lit evening to do with what you wish. En route, you will experience countless sights sure to take your breath away, from waterfalls and glacial ravines to exposed tectonic plates and gushing hot springs. 

If you plan to experience this staple of Icelandic sightseeing at a different time of year, make sure to read our feature article How to drive the Golden Circle in Iceland in winter.

What exactly is Iceland’s Golden Circle route?

The Midnight Sun over a lava field in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Kai Gradert)

The Golden Circle is a 230-kilometre long sightseeing route in South Iceland. It comprises of Þingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal springs and Gullfoss waterfall, with other smaller attractions en route for those with the time. In general, visitors should expect to take around 8 hours experiencing the Golden Circle, considering lunch breaks and diversions.  

Before going any further, let us first take a quick look at each of the sites that makes this trail so unique. Forty-minutes drive from Reykjavik, Þingvellir National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage site that sits atop the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a continental no-man’s land between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. 

With its downy green lava fields, distant mountains and the lapping waters of Lake Þingvallavatn, this national park is, without doubt, one of the most beautiful locations in the country. This perk is to say nothing of the park’s fascinating history, nor the litany of life-altering events that have occurred there in Iceland’s thousand years of settlement. 

Looking out over Thingvellir National Park on the Golden Circle route
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Antoine Julien)

Geysir geothermal springs mark the Golden Circle’s second site and are best known for the mighty Strokkur hot spring. Strokkur erupts every five to ten minutes, blasting a misty column of boiling water up to twenty-five metres into the air. There are plenty of other smaller hot springs, fumaroles and bubbling puddles surrounding Strokkur, including the famous Geysir, now dormant, but forever esteemed for lending its name to geysers worldwide. 

Gullfoss waterfall makes for a fantastic finale to this unforgettable sightseeing trail, offering its guests the sight of glacial water cascading in a huge humdrum 32-metres down into the hungry mouth of a mist-strewn canyon. From two viewing platforms, you will have a great perspective of this force of nature in action, and will likely be able to photograph the many rainbows that form in the waterfall’s plume during summer.

A rainbow over Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Spencer Everett)

Several detours on the Golden Circle add value to the experience and offer a closer look at aspects of this island’s nature and culture not seen otherwise. Guests could pay a visit to the Secret Lagoon, Iceland’s oldest outdoor pool located in Flúðir village, or make a stop at the iconic Kerid volcanic crater to check out the vibrant scarlet colouring of its slopes. 

In short, the summer months see Iceland shed its white winter coat, trading it in for rolling emerald farmlands, lonely deserts and towering sea cliffs come alive with nesting birds. Speaking of which, the iconic Atlantic Puffin makes its return to Iceland in the summer, adding to the already rich diversity of this island’s wildlife. 

However, it is doubtful you will spot a puffin on a Golden Circle given that the route is inland, far away from the cliffs in which puffins nest. With that said, having your own vehicle will allow you easy access to known spots the next day, such as Dyrhólaey promenade in South Iceland. 


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What reasons are there to experience Iceland's Golden Circle in summer?

Driving in Iceland's Golden Circle in summer
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Yanshu Lee)

There are a plethora of reasons to visit the Golden Circle during summer, ranging from the long daylight hours available to you, to just how beautiful and unique each natural attraction looks bathed in sunshine. 

The summer is excellent for hiking Iceland’s wide selection of hiking trails, allowing you to delve deeper into the Icelandic wilderness and get a better appreciation of its hidden corners. After a long day exploring, visiting geothermal pools like Laugavatn Fontana or Secret Lagoon is nothing less than pure ecstasy, made easy by their nearby location on the Golden Circle.

Silfra Fissure in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Gunnar Sigurðarson)

Another excellent activity perfect for a summer visit to Iceland is snorkelling or scuba diving in the glacial ravine, Silfra Fissure, found in Thingvellir National Park. Though the water temperature does not change season to season, the surroundings do, which means that when you finally surface from your aquatic exploration of this stunning underwater canyon, you’ll feel much much warmer than you would do otherwise. 

During the days, you might find the main attractions of the Golden Circle come with crowds. One way to avoid too many other people is to visit during the late evening, which the Midnight Sun more than allows. With the attractions almost entirely to yourself, you’ll nurture a deeper connection to each site, and will be able to appreciate the raw solitude of Icelandic nature fully. 

In Iceland, summer has an average temperature of 10–13 °C, though it can often reach 20°C and beyond. Such heat is perfect for spending so much time outdoors and allows guests to spend more time at each of Iceland’s majestic sites without the need always to be hurrying back to the warmth of the car.  

How easy is it to rent a car driving the Golden Circle in Iceland?

Experience the Golden Circle in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Tim Trad)

If you are looking to explore the Golden Circle yourself this summer, you must rent a vehicle if you wish to do so on your own terms. Thankfully, this is a simple and smooth operation in Iceland, with numerous agencies offering vehicles that suit a wealth of travellers; family groups, honeymooners, campers and solo backpackers. 

It is possible to pick up a rental vehicle at Keflavik International Airport or in Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik. Unlike the winter, 4x4s are not overly necessary as even the very smallest of cars are quite capable of navigating the Golden Circle route without issue. Exceptions to this rule would include guests travelling to Langjökull glacier base camp and those hoping to discover the Icelandic Highlands. In both cases, a four-wheel drive is necessary.    

Having a personal vehicle is nothing short of freedom on the road, allowing you the means to discover exciting detours at your own pace, and in the order you choose. Not only that, but it also keeps your travelling party small and familiar, which helps to create lasting bonds and memories between friends and family.

Extra tips for experiencing Iceland's Golden Circle in summer

Lupin flowers in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Michael Humphries)

Though the summer months are naturally much warmer and brighter than those in the winter, it is still a good idea to pack for various weather conditions before travelling to Iceland. Broad expectations are best when it comes to your attire as the weather here is infamously unpredictable, capable of switching from tranquil and clear to rain-drenched storms at a moment’s notice.  

On that note; don’t miss out on the crucial step of packing sunscreen. While the weather outside might not feel particularly hot, even in summer, the Midnight Sun has powerful UV rays that are quite capable of causing burns. A pair of sunglasses won’t go amiss either, especially when driving on Iceland’s long and open roads. 

If you are a keen photographer, you have likely heard that Iceland’s Midnight Sun offers highly advantageous lighting conditions for capturing landscapes. Visiting the Golden Circle attractions late into the night, or during the early hours of the morning, will allow you to photograph the sites during what’s known as the ‘Golden Hours’. 

Strokkur erupts during sunset in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Meltem Olkun)

This term describes that short period of dusk and dawn when the sunlight washes the landscape with its auburn hue. Creating fantastic contrasts, shadows and highlights without the need for alternation, summer in Iceland is valuable time for anyone looking to bolster their portfolio with epic landscape shots. 

Another note for summer visitors to keep in mind is this; be careful on the roads! Unlike the winter, it is not ice, snow or bad weather that pose a threat so much as the sheep permitted to freely roam the island before being collected again for the autumn season. The sheep tend to be attracted to the roadsides because they enjoy licking salt from the tarmac, putting them dangerously close to oncoming traffic. Make sure to stay vigilant of wildlife throughout your travels.   


Travelling to Iceland?

Check our overnight tours with a driver guide that includes a one night stay in a bubble.
See Guided Tours

*Starting from ISK 74.900 per person

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