Driving the Golden Circle in Iceland in winter

By Michael Chapman

Discover Iceland’s most popular sightseeing route between September and April.

Driving the Golden Circle in Iceland in winter

By Michael Chapman

Discover Iceland’s most popular sightseeing route between September and April.

Driving the Golden Circle in Iceland in winter is an unrivalled one-day sightseeing experience, encapsulating all that makes this sub-arctic island a treasure-trove for overseas visitors.

Behind the wheel, you will witness firsthand how the season transforms each of this famous trail’s most impressive sites, coating Þingvellir National Park, Geysir geothermal springs and Gullfoss waterfall with a picturesque layer of snow and ice.

The Golden Circle covers approximately 230 kilometres of pristine Icelandic landscape and takes around a full day (8 hours) to experience. Given the inherent risks the winter season brings, all drivers will have to temper their speed well below the limit while travelling from site to site, adding extra time on the road that must be accounted for.

Is renting a car necessary for driving the Golden Circle?

While some travellers prefer undertaking the Golden Circle in the company of a professional guide, others would much rather take to the road themselves. Renting a personal vehicle has numerous benefits in Iceland, allowing you the freedom to take detours and set the schedule of your trip. Aside from that, driving yourself offers privacy from others, meaning you can feel comfortable in the company of just your friends and family. 

Renting a car for your holiday travels is not only considered a simple affair in Iceland, but also a necessary one if you’re hoping to explore the full breadth of the country. Guests can either pick up their vehicle from Keflavik International Airport or collect in the capital city, Reykjavik. Those who choose the latter will have to take an airport shuttle, FlyBus or taxi from the airport to the city or find ulterior transportation. 

As you would expect, there are a variety of vehicles to rent that will suit your needs, and you will find many established rental agencies to answer any queries you might have. However, one thought to keep in mind is that the road conditions during winter can be challenging, meaning you will want a vehicle capable of handling itself. For this reason, 4×4’s usually come recommended during this season, and will come ready with winter tyres.


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

bubble in iceland
Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Tomáš Malík)

The attractions on the Golden Circle take on an entirely new aesthetic during the winter; one that feels more authentic to a quintessential Iceland trip, and delivers on the promise that is this country’s name. Not all holidays have to be a getaway to the sunshine; in fact, some of the most memorable, exciting and unique memories that last are those made in the places you’d least expect. 

The otherwise black and moss-laden lava fields of Þingvellir become blanketed in white; and the surrounding mountains, once so sparse and dry, stand snow-capped and epic on the horizon. At Geysir, nature’s contrasts are clear, as geothermal steam billows hot and heavy from the icy ground. In comparison, Gullfoss waterfall brings the drama, cascading a total of 32-metres down a canyon of icicles and snowy cliff ledges.

One of the best aspects of seeing these majestic sites during the winter is fewer crowds around you. Such solitude allows for a much deeper, more personal connection to each of the attractions, helping you to relive the experience for years to come. Crowds are never overly distracting, mind you, not even at the height of summer, but the seclusion that comes with winter is appreciated nonetheless. 

Geyser during the winter in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Redcharlie)

Of course, none of this mentions one of the main reasons to embark on the Golden Circle tour during winter—the Northern Lights! While elusive and impossible to plan around, the opportunity to spot this cosmic light show illuminating each of the Golden Circle’s sites is something that must be experienced to be believed. When you thought southwest Iceland could not get any more beautiful, the Aurora Borealis readily demonstrates how premature such a thought is. 

Taking a scuba diving or snorkelling tour in Silfra Fissure is one adrenaline-fuelled way to get the blood pumping. Located in Þingvellir National Park, many guests find such a unique and thrilling activity to be the perfect stopgap between attractions. This stunning underwater ravine boasts visibility of up to 100-metres thanks to the purification process that occurs as its water travels by way of underground volcanic tunnels from Langjökull glacier to Silfra. 

To protect you from the cold water temperature, your guide will equip you with a thermal drysuit, which also keeps you afloat, as well as neoprene gloves, boots and a hood. Only competent swimmers are permitted to join a tour here, and divers will need to show proof of previously logged dives, as well as a drysuit certification. 

(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Roan Lavery)

Is driving Iceland’s Golden Circle safe during winter?

Yes, the Golden Circle is safe to undertake during the winter, provided you know what to expect from the weather and road conditions. As said previously, a 4×4 is a better choice of vehicle, and you will need to ensure that it is equipped with winter tyres. When driving the Golden Circle in Iceland, maintain a sensible distance from the car in front of you, and maintain a low speed. 

Storms can blow in fast, severely hampering how much can be seen from the front window. If you’re looking for some context, think of that scene from Star Wars, when Han Solo thrusts the Millennium Falcon into hyperspeed. Heavy snow and winds create much the same visuals, meaning you may find yourself hunched over the wheel, watching out for road markers and oncoming lights.

While this sounds scary, it is also an exciting and veritable part of the Icelandic experience, as long as you remain vigilant and careful throughout. 

Be careful walking on paths and stairs, especially at Þingvellir National Park, where the rangers are faced with a monumental task each day of keeping their visitors safe from falls. The park covers a total area of 240 kilometres squared, with much of it comprising inaccessible lava fields, glacial ravines and fissures. Make sure to always stay on the mandated walkways for your safety.

If you should find yourself in any trouble while travelling, you can contact the Icelandic Rescue Service, ICE-SAR, at 570 5900, or the emergency services at 112. 

Do I have to drive in Iceland during winter?

Golden Circle in Iceland
Bubble accommodation on the Golden Circle

Understandably, driving on Icelandic roads during the wintertime is not to everyone’s tastes. Challenging road conditions, darkness and getting to grips with a new vehicle and set of traffic laws can be more than a little overwhelming, but there’s no reason to let that get in the way of seeing the Golden Circle’s main attractions. 

The best way of avoiding driving yourself is by booking a ready-made Golden Circle tour with a travel provider. With an experienced driver at the helm, you’ll be free to listen to your tour guide as they provide you with all kinds of fascinating information regarding each site. There are several tour opportunities available to you, from larger groups that will travel by minibus, to smaller private parties that will take a SUV. 

Of course, we would recommend booking a Golden Circle tour with us, as it also allows you and your partner to spend an overnight stay in one of our transparent bubbles. Located amid the forests of Southwest Iceland, this novel choice of accommodation is the perfect means of ending your day on the Golden Circle, as it allows you to continue spending time surrounded by Iceland’s nature, all the while enjoying the luxury and comfort of a modern room. 

Extra Tips for visiting Iceland's Golden Circle in winter

Thingvellir in the winter
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Remy Penet)

When completing the Golden Circle, you and your travelling party will divide your time between the car and the attractions, meaning you will spend much of the day outdoors. For those unprepared, such exposure to the elements can be uncomfortable; the cold has a knack for sapping the enjoyment from almost any experience.

To combat the freezing temperatures, you would do well to adorn several layers of clothing. Thermal trousers and undershirts are a good start, as are thick woollen socks, or any other material that does not hold water. Iceland’s weather is temperamental and can change drastically within moments, so it is also advised you wear a wind and waterproof jacket. 

Mittens, woolly hats, ear-muffs and scarves are all necessities during Iceland’s wintertime, regardless of where in the country you are, as are a pair of decent hiking boots able to withstand rough terrain and slippery surfaces alike. Other considerations for your suitcase might be a flashlight (Iceland’s winter is incredibly dark), a pair of spiked crampons to wear over your boots, and a packet of hand warmers. 

A man at Thingvellir National Park in Iceland
(Unsplash. Photo Credit: Aakash Malhotra)

Before setting out on the day’s adventures, always be sure to take a quick peek at the weather forecast. Doing so will provide you with some valuable insight as to what to expect on your day, and pack accordingly. 

End your day right with a stop at a luxury geothermal spa. Secret Lagoon in Fludir makes for a good stop, as does Laugarvatn Fontana, both of which can be found within close proximity to the Golden Circle. Soaking your tired body in soothing, mineral-rich water, you’ll quickly realise why hot-tub bathing is such a beloved tradition among Icelanders, providing a healthy dose of relaxation, as well as the chance to socialise and share stories. 

The shuddering warmth and healing potential of these baths is only heightened when your surroundings are a picture-postcard example of winter at its best. With that in mind, making a stop at one of these tranquil establishments is a must-do if you want to maximise your Golden Circle experience while in Iceland.


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

Privacy Preference Center