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How to Self Drive the Golden Circle in One Day in Iceland

Find out how all about How to Self Drive the Golden Circle in One Day in Iceland, including visiting Geysir and Gulfoss and staying at Vatnsholt Hostel.

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Self Drive the Golden Circle with Icelandic horses

Everyone that visits Iceland cannot miss the Golden Circle tour. But the ultimate question is whether you should visit the Golden Circle with a tour company, or self drive the Golden Circle in one day yourself? I highly recommend doing the latter.

And if you want to self drive the Golden Circle then hopefully these travel tips will help you on your next adventure to Iceland.

Self Drive the Golden Circle in One Day in Iceland

How to Self Drive the Golden Circle in One Day

Tour companies can be great. But being herded onto and off a bus all day as you try to get around all the sites along the Golden Circle route just seems ridiculous. Wouldn’t you rather have the freedom to stop whenever you wanted to take some photos, go toilet, or just chill out staring at a waterfall?

Visiting Gulfoss Falls Self Drive the Golden Circle in One Day

Visiting Gulfoss Waterfall – Self Drive the Golden Circle in One Day

What kind of rental car do I need in Iceland?

Depending on the time of year you go, and what your travel plans are, you should be fine just getting a small sedan. We hired the cheapest car from Hertz and it worked out perfectly. Since we were covering a huge distance during our entire trip, we wanted to make sure it was fuel efficient and comfortable.

If you are heading there in winter (November – March) you may want to consider picking up a 4×4. This is because some roads can be closed and the roads very icy/snowy. Just check the Iceland road conditions on this official website before you head out.

What is the best Golden Circle route I should take?

There is no set routes if you self drive the Golden Circle. You either head clockwise, or anti-clockwise. But the best part of the Golden Circle route is that you will have to try really hard to get lost. That’s not saying it can’t be done, because we some how missed the turnoff coming out of Reykjavik, but you do have to ignore all the big signs pointing out the attractions along the way.

Starting from Reykjavik head in a clockwise direction towards your first stop which will be the Continental Divide between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates. You can go diving here as well as wander around for a good hour exploring the many pathways.

Or if the wind is howling and it is freezing like it was the day we did it, run around for 10 minutes grabbing some photos then bugger off again.

Silfra-Tectonic-Plates-splitting-in-Iceland.jpg

The next major stop along Highway 35 on your Golden Circle route is the geysir minefield, aptly known as Geysir.

Stinking like rotting eggs, the sulphur and steam rise up from the ground as you pull up to the information centre and cafe. This is a perfect stop for a bit of coffee and a late brunch snack. If you do stop to warm your insides then this also gives you time to judge your visit between any tour buses that might show up. Just wait half an hour and they will all be herded back onto their diesel belching coaches and you can enjoy the peace and tranquillity by yourselves.

Visiting Geysir during Self Drive the Golden Circle in One Day in Iceland

Visiting Geysir – Self Drive the Golden Circle in One Day

The final major stop around the Golden Circle is the cascading Gulfoss Waterfall.

To be honest we were a little under whelmed as we were there at the end of the winter season and a lot of the water was still trapped beneath the frozen lakes and glaciers to the north. Still, it was beautiful with the ice creeping up the frozen canyon walls from the bitter northerly winds, while dripping icicles hung precariously over the waterfalls lips.

Make sure you take the steps down into the canyon and walk along the river pathway too. Well worth the mini-hike and you can feel the spray from Gulfoss as you explore the path.

Gulfoss Waterfall Self Drive the Golden Circle in One Day in Iceland

While these are the three major stops along the Golden Circle, these shouldn’t be the only reasons you stop.

Around every bend, along every straight and over each hill there are a plethora of photographic opportunities to snap. I couldn’t get enough of the landscape. So while Adela was quite happy to keep her toes warm under the car heater, I was busy running around the car like a photography loony.

Plus have you seen how adorable the Icelandic horses are?

Self Drive the Golden Circle with Icelandic horses

Golden Circle Self Drive in Iceland

What time should I leave on my self drive around the Golden Circle?

Luckily as you are your own boss today, you get to have a sleep in and a leisurely start to the day. Most tour companies will leave before 8am so that they have enough time to make it around all the sights, and still be back in Reykjavik by 5pm.

We left at 10am which was perfect because it meant that most tour buses were a couple of hours ahead of us. This allowed us to have a lot more space at the major attractions and not have to jostle elbow to elbow trying to get the best photographs. We also didn’t return to Reykjavik (see below) so we could take our time at each stop.

Where to stay if you self drive the Golden Circle in one day

While most people will base themselves in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, we decided we wanted to stay further along the South Coast as that was where we were headed next. Our choice was simple, the beautiful Vatnsholt Hostel in Selfoss. Plus it is also one of the best places in the world to see the Northern lights.

Vatnsholt Hostel Review

Location

Vatnsholt is located just over an hour from Reykjavík off the main Highway 1. It is a perfect location after you have driven the Golden Circle as you don’t have to go back into the city.

The Rooms

Our room was private inside their old home which has been renovated. There are other rooms in there, with a giant shared kitchen and lounge, but we were the only ones staying in Vatnsholt Hostel at the time.

Vatnsholt Hostel Review

The sunset from Vatnsholt Hostel

Other Amenities

The kitchen inside our apartment was perfect and they had this crazy fancy shower with about 40 buttons inside. We spent ages just trying to figure out how to make it work! They also have free WiFi and one of the best restaurants that I have ever eaten at. The breakfast buffet selection in the morning is never ending (get the waffles) and make sure you eat dinner there at least once.

Staff

The owners are incredible friendly and went out of their way to make sure we were comfortable and well looked after. Make sure you ask Johann and Margret to show you the dancing goat video.

Social Atmosphere

There wasn’t much of a social atmosphere as it was the end of the winter season. A bus load of tourists did show up around midnight to watch the Northern Lights one of the evenings but we didn’t really chat to them.

Cost

$60 US for a private room for two people.

Overall

We fell in love with Vatnsholt Hostel and would have stayed longer if we had the time. Unfortunately we had to buzz off along the coast for a few days, but it would be the perfect base if you had an extra week or two in Iceland. The owners have also lived in the area for years so have plenty of local knowledge that you should use, such as finding the secret geothermal hot pools up in the hills…

It is definitely the best place to stay if you are planning to self drive the Golden Circle in one day, and then explore the south coast afterwards.

Disclaimer: We were guests of Vatnsholt Hostel and thanks to HostelWorld for organising, but as always our thoughts are always our own.

Have you drive then the Golden Circle before? Or did you take a tour bus? What were your highlights?

Cole is one half of New Zealand's leading adventure travel blogging couple who have been wearing out their jandals around the world since 2009. He loves any adventure activities and anything to do with the water whether it is Surfing, Diving, Swimming, Snorkeling or just lounging nearby on the beach. You can follow Cole on Google+. Or consider following us via RSS Feed, Twitter, Facebook and subscribe to our Newsletter.

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30 Comments

30 Comments

  1. Kristy of Family Visa

    August 12, 2013 at 6:24 AM

    I also want to watch the dancing goat video. Maybe you can post it here Cole? 😛

    • Cole Burmester

      August 12, 2013 at 8:34 AM

      Hahaha you will just have to go there and check it out for yourself 😉

  2. Rueben

    August 12, 2013 at 9:15 AM

    Hey cool shot of the geysir. Iceland is cool aye. We wana go back one day and do some more exploring. Sounds like you’re living the dream Cole!

    • Cole Burmester

      August 12, 2013 at 9:27 AM

      Thanks Rueben. It’s been nice to be able to travel the world and work from wherever I like but it has take a lot of hard work to get to where I am! It is also EXHAUSTING so it’s nice to settle down every few months to catch up on work. Shouldn’t complain though 😉

  3. Monica

    August 12, 2013 at 11:36 AM

    This sounds absolutely incredible. I’m reading so many amazing things about Iceland at the minute. So much so that I’ve just booked flights there for October and I’m having loads of fun researching all the things to do. I’ll definitely be hiring a car and driving around the Golden Circle.
    Thanks for all the info guys 🙂

    • Cole Burmester

      August 12, 2013 at 12:03 PM

      Oh I am kinda jealous now! You will love it there Monica. So much to see and do. Let me know how your trip goes 😀

  4. Steve

    August 12, 2013 at 2:07 PM

    Wow – this is great advice for Iceland. I still have to go there and experience the impressive nature by myself: especially outdoor activities like multi-day hikes are supposed to be unforgettable. Great piece and nice pictures!

    • Cole Burmester

      August 12, 2013 at 4:02 PM

      Thanks Steve. Definitely worth a trip. If you can stay for longer than a week as well then you will have plenty of time for hiking and exploring a few more of the lesser known places.

  5. Beth

    August 14, 2013 at 4:00 AM

    This sounds amazing. Everyone always has such nice things to say about Iceland. Really hoping I can get over there soon!

    And when I do, I will certainly look into renting a car to drive the Golden Circle. Do you know how old you have to be to rent a car in Iceland?

    • Cole Burmester

      August 14, 2013 at 4:45 AM

      Definitely hope you get there soon too Beth. And you have to be at least 20 years old. Just remember to carry a credit card too otherwise you won’t be able to rent a car.

  6. Gabriel

    August 21, 2013 at 5:07 PM

    Do you think you could walk the golden circle in a couple of days and simply camp along the way off the road where you won’t be seen? Great pictures also =).

    • Cole Burmester

      August 22, 2013 at 4:47 AM

      Never thought about it to be honest Gabriel but definitely think you could! Not sure what the freedom camping rules are in Iceland but as long as you were fully prepared and went in summer then I don’t see why not 🙂 Let me know if you attempt it because that would be EPIC!

  7. Jane

    October 18, 2013 at 12:55 AM

    This looks awesome! I’m hoping to visit Iceland for 7 days next May. Would you mind sharing your itinerary? All your photos look amazing! Thanks!

  8. Arthur Robidoux

    October 20, 2013 at 10:24 PM

    Thanks,this will give us an idea how to start our trip

  9. Ross

    October 31, 2013 at 10:44 PM

    Nice post and I’d agree that renting a car is definitely better than the tourist bus. I did the lap of the country and its one of the best places I was in. As you say there is a photo opportunity around every corner. Super country

  10. Ashley

    November 22, 2013 at 6:05 AM

    Love the photos! We´re planning a trip to Iceland at the moment. What dates did you visit in? We´re thinking of mid-late April, around Easter and not sure if it will still be icy or not.

    • Cole Burmester

      November 25, 2013 at 1:20 AM

      Hey Ashley,
      We were there the first week of April. Less chance of seeing the Northern Lights then, but it is still possible. Around Easter will be fine in terms of ice. It is still freezing but it shouldn’t be icy. You will be fine with a non-4×4 car.
      Enjoy it!
      Cheers,
      Cole

  11. Lynne

    December 23, 2013 at 1:00 AM

    I am planning on going to Iceland with a friend as a stop-over to Amsterdam. We will be there April 2 and 3rd. We are staying in the suburb of Hafnarfjordur which is about halfway between the airport and the capital. We rented a car to do the golden circle and also to go to the blue lagoon. What was the weather like when you were there? Was there any concern for icy roads or snow? Also did you get a chance to interact with the Icelandic horses? I hear they are very sweet and love to be petted. Are they wild? If we get up and get going around 1000 AM would that give us plenty of time to see the golden circle before night fall? Also did you get a chance to see the Northern lights? That is something I would love to see. Thanks for answering my way too many questions but I appreciate it.

    • Cole Burmester

      January 5, 2014 at 1:59 AM

      Hi Lynne,
      Sorry about my delay in replying. Been a very busy Christmas and New Year break for me 🙂
      Thanks for commenting and very jealous of you going to Iceland. I would love to return again. The weather was great when we went in April. Although still very cold in the evenings especially when the wind comes straight from the North Pole! Take plenty of base layers. Didn’t have any problems with the roads and we just had a little rental car with no 4 wheel drive. I do recommend checking weather just before you go though. I took some beautiful shots of Icelandic horses but never rode them. You can go on horse treks though but I didn’t get a chance. And yup saw the northern lights. But April is getting late in the season. Check out this post for more info on where we stayed and some photos: https://www.fourjandals.com/europe/eye-spy-in-iceland-photo-essay/

      You should also be fine to see everything if you leave at 10am. Just take your time driving and enjoy it. The distance isn’t far but if you want to walk around at all the sights then it does take a while. Hope that helps with your planning!

      Safe travels 🙂

      Cheers,
      Cole

  12. Lynne

    December 23, 2013 at 1:03 AM

    P.S. Lived in NZ for 2 years way back in the 70’s. Loved the country and the people. Beautiful place, so pristine. Want to go back there someday. Some of the nicest people on the planet live there.

  13. Stacy

    April 3, 2014 at 7:40 AM

    Hi: Is it possible to drive by myself to Thorsmork?

  14. Zahid Shafiq

    April 21, 2014 at 5:23 AM

    I plan a stopover in Iceland for a day (half-a-day, really!)om May 6, 2014.

    The plane lands at 6:40am, and the flight out is 4;10pm the same evening (couldn’t get a later flight, unfortunately).

    my question is: Can i do the Glden Circle in this time, keeping in mind that I will have to report back to the airport at 3pm ?

    If yes, how. Taxi? rent-a-car? Any idea of the costs associated with these options?

    Thanks for your advice.

    Regards

    • Cole Burmester

      April 27, 2014 at 11:40 AM

      Hey Zahid,
      I think you could but you will need to hurry and might not get as much time as you possibly would want at each of the major stops. Renting a car is best and a small car will be fine in May as there shouldn’t be any snow.
      Enjoy it!

      • Nancy C

        February 23, 2015 at 9:17 AM

        I’m wondering what car rental company you would recommend? One charges 28 cents/km, which would add up fast if doing the south coast, Golden Circle and KEF to Reykjavik round trip.

  15. Samuel Wilson

    June 1, 2014 at 2:00 AM

    Hi Cole,

    I am heading to Iceland to go to the All Tomorrows Parties but wanted to explore a bit beforehand too. I’ll be in the capital but wanted to know what you thought about getting out into the wilderness with a tent and a hired car. If so, where should I go if I wanted to see the spectacular sites and pitch up a tent.

    I’m accompanied with 2 friends and will be there in July.

    Thank you in advance!

    Sam

  16. Pingback: I’m going to Iceland! | The Travel Hack

  17. April Yap

    January 12, 2016 at 7:09 PM

    This post looks amazing. Love the photos! 😉 We have a plan to visit Iceland and this is a good idea for us to experience. Thanks for sharing!

  18. Micheal A

    September 3, 2016 at 6:37 PM

    This is a wonderful experience share and advice for the Iceland. Its my dream to visit there.

  19. Susan

    October 31, 2016 at 4:10 PM

    I love the photos! You really know how to take a good picture. Iceland always been my dream palce to visit. Do you know the best time to visit that place?

  20. Denis

    February 12, 2017 at 2:33 AM

    Fully agree on the car type, unless really snowy best is to go for cheapest and most ecofriendly version of the car=)

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Europe

5 European Cities to Visit in the Dead of Winter

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As one of the most polarizing seasons, winter could be termed as both a blessing and a curse by those who like making the most out of nature.

After all, while it brings about the opportunity to build snowmen and to ski on magnificent ice slopes, it also brings a chill to the bone and a desire to never get away from the fireplace.

Don’t forget about the hot chocolate either.

That is why, when it comes to vacationing in winter, it gets quite difficult to choose from a location – especially when the destination is as diverse in climate as Europe. Do you select a place that’s sunny and warm? Or somewhere that lets you enjoy the ice and cold in the best ways possible?

To make that decision easier for you, here are 5 European cities that you could visit in the dead of winter, with the assurance that you would come out of the vacation phase with a smile on your face.

Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona is a city that is synonymous with sunshine, warmth, and some of the world’s most breathtaking architecture.

The temperature rarely drops below 45 degrees even in the coldest months of the year. While the sunshine remains present amidst the rainy days. This means that you can enjoy the best effects of winter without having to endure the worst of them.

If you happen to be a fan of football, then these effects can be increased by several times. This beautiful city is home to one of the greatest football clubs of all time and with Barcelona FC in contention for a championship virtually every year, odds are you’ll be walking out with a smile on your face after watching a win. Not a bad way to take a break from the beach!

Athens, Greece

While you wouldn’t be able to go to Mount Olympus’ mythical version in this day and age, you can still experience Greece’s magnificence through the beautiful city of Athens.

Like Barcelona, Athens also sees rare drops in temperature while being consistent around 45 degrees throughout the heaviest months in winter. With the architecture that you can experience under the sun, this weather can actually be ideal for an exploratory walk.

And if you are a fan of Greek food, then checking out local restaurants for authentic dishes would only add to the overall experience of your trip.

Venice, Italy

Since Italy is full of some of the most breathtaking architecture in the world, it would be quite debatable to say that Venice is the crown jewel of the country in terms of structural beauty.

But it is.

From the way that the city has been designed to the manner that the buildings have been developed, Venice remains a breathtaking sight for anyone who visits it.

That remains true even in the months of winter, where the does drop to around 30 degrees, but still provides the tourists and inhabitants with a way to enjoy the magnificent sights under the sun.

Zugspitze, Germany

Germany is considered to be one of the coldest countries in Europe, but it is a good thing for those who enjoy a bit of snow during their travels.

And for those who do, there are perhaps not many places that are as marvelous as Zugspitze in terms of a memorable winter experience.

With snow covered mountains and a temperature that dances around -14 degrees in winter, you can enjoy an array of winter sports such as skiing, sledding, and snowboarding to your heart’s desire. If you are one to enjoy snow and everything good there is about the season of winter, then Zugspitze is the place to go.

Marseilles, France

While Paris gets quite cold in winter without the weather enhancing any effects of life within the city, Marseille seems to be quite the opposite. The city is as lively in the winter as it is during its busiest days in summer, with plenty to do in adjacent areas.

You may visit the many architectural sites and tourist attractions in Marseilles itself, but you can add to that experience when you choose to visit the Christmas markets in Aix en Provence or Avignon.

With that, the many warm and steamy French soups and bouillon based dishes that you can enjoy in Marseilles only add to the trip. This means that by the time you are done with your visit to Marseilles, you are bound to be fed well, have some goods in your shopping bags, and some memorable pictures in your phone to boot.

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Europe

Even the Most Expensive Cities Have Cheaper Alternatives: Paris

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According to the results of The Economist Intelligence Unit’s “Worldwide Cost of Living” survey, Singapore, Paris, Zurich, Hong Kong, and Oslo are the most expensive places to live – and visit – this year. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit them, though – actually if your budget allows it, you should cross them off your bucket list as soon as you can. But this doesn’t mean you have to break all your piggy banks and sell your soul only to spend a weekend in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Unless you’re adamant that it’s “Paris or bust”, there are alternatives to this crowded and top-dollar destination you might want to consider – and start saving for your dream trip nonetheless.

Lyon

Lyon has a history of almost two millennia, and it shows: the remains of the Roman settlement Lugdunum, built at the confluence of the rivers Saône and Rhône, are showing to this day. Lyon might not be a capital city – it doesn’t have the size or the population – but its role in the everyday life of France was always important, both as a trade and a cultural hub.

The city has many gorgeous sights to see, like the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, the Tour Métallique (a tall TV tower that replicates the top of the Eiffel Tower), among others, covering every age from the birth of the city to its modern times. Plus, it has museums, parks, gardens, and a street art group that has been designated the cultural ambassador for the city. Not to mention its cuisine, the unique and popular Lyonnaise cuisine that has become a worldwide sensation.

Lille

A relatively small city in the north of France, Lille is another charming alternative to a crowded and overpriced Paris. It features many distinct architectural styles, most of them with a clear Flemish influence. Among its landmarks, you find its Cathedral (Basilique-cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-la-Treille), its Citadel, its palaces, and gardens. Lille is also the place with the biggest flea market in Europe – Braderie de Lille takes place on the first Sunday of September, with millions of attendees and over 10,000 sellers gathering in the streets of the city. It’s a charming, agreeable, and colorful city that will offer its visitors a beautiful experience.

Strasbourg

Last but not least, let us mention a city with a double significance – on one hand, it’s the official seat of the European Parliament, on the other, it’s a wonderful place to visit and a great alternative to an overcrowded Paris.

Strasbourg is a place where French and German architecture mingle in a unique way, with an Old Town filled with timber-framed houses surrounding typical French landmarks and churches. It also has many notable parks, some with historic significance, and almost too many museums for its small size. Plus, it’s a distinctively multicultural city where visitors will find it easy to fit in.

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Europe

Let’s Do A Road Trip In Europe Fin

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Its that time of year again. It is the holidays and vacation, mirth and much merriment is upon us. Those of us who are lucky are able to take a few days to a few weeks off for vacation and can enjoy it abroad or do a staycation. A trip abroad is probably preferred, there’s so much to see and do, it would a pity to while the days away in your own hometown.

Get a move on, grab your bags, get a ticket and jump on a plane to Europe. When you get there, rest for a bit and begin your road trip. Nothing beats traveling on the road and taking all the sights that nature has to offer while stopping by at different locations.

Remember, a road trip can be very feasible and pleasant if it is done right. Make sure to have your car inspected, checked and ready to go for a long distance road trip.

You’ll want to make sure that you have your oil checked and your tires as well. Proper tires from suppliers such as Kwik Fit will get you squared away and ready to hit the road.

Oh, The Places You’ll Go

Grossglockner

One of the top places that you’ll want to go is in Austria. There’s this little spot called Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse, this spot is one that is talked about by road trip aficionados of all kinds.

The Grossglockner is the opposite of what it sounds like, it’s not gross at all, it’s quite pleasant actually.  The path will take you through different sights ranging from mountain tops to rivers, to rock formations and more. What’s fun about this place is that you will also be able to have different changes in the road itself, it is not just one straight path but one that is filled with turns and changes to keep you from getting bored.

Italy and the Amalfi Coast

Italy is a place that won’t disappoint, it has food, culture, and history to keep you company. Italy also has beautiful sights all over too. One of the best places to drive through would be the Amalfi Coast.

The Amalfi Coast has everything you could possibly want, beaches, cliffs, and beautiful fishing villages. The place is not only beautiful in nature but in culture as well. One can check out the Cathedrals, Villa Rufolo, engage in some boat tours for a quick respite from their road trip and also view the Sirenuse from afar.

Portugal – The Estoril Coast

Drive from Italy, pass by countries such as France, Spain and reach the destination of Portugal. You will find the climate and the overall setting over here to be appealing.  On your way to this beautiful place, make sure to check out popular spots such as Lisbon and other prominent locations such as Sintra. The Estoril Coast was home to the nobility of ages past and even to those that we see as nobility today, celebrities, wealthy people and tourists with a couple of euros or dollars to their name stop by this place and immerse themselves in the manmade and natural attractions that this place has to offer.

Don’t Hesitate, Time Stands Still For No One

Time is slipping, check out budget and look into which part of Europe you want to stick to. Make the decision and take the trip, it will be a great refreshment and you will be glad you were able to have the experience. Take a few snapshots and indulge in the experience of #RoadtripsofEurope

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Meet Cole and Adela

Cole and AdelaWe have been wearing out our jandals (Kiwi for flip-flops) on our travel adventures around the world since 2009. We think our blog is thought provoking and a little witty. But we have been proven wrong before. Find out more about us here...

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