The Golden Circle tour is one of the most popular bus trips for travelers visiting Reykjavik. The Golden Circle tour allows you to visit 3 tourist destinations: 1) Geysir geothermal area, 2) Gullfoss waterfall, and 3) Thingvellir National Park. Because it provides quantity (3 separate tourist attractions), yet can be done within one 8-hour day, it is near the top of everyone’s to-do list when they visit Iceland.
The Golden Circle Tour Is Very Popular With Tourists
However, on our recent trip to Iceland, we were very much underwhelmed by the Golden Circle tour in comparison to other destinations that are well within reach if you are flying in and out of Reykjavik. Let me give you 3 reasons why you should not go on Iceland’s most popular day trip so that it can free up your precious travel time to see the other beautiful sights that Iceland has to offer.
1. Your tour destinations get incredibly crowded.
Not surprisingly, when you are on the most popular day trip from Reykjavik, you are fighting crowds the entire day. When we arrived at Gullfoss, we should have known that we would be fighting with tourists to see the waterfall because the parking lot was packed! There were 5 tour buses there already, with a sixth that arrived as we were departing. The parking lot was literally overflowing with vehicles, with some cars parked up on a snowbank because there was no more room. In fact, there was even a lineup to walk up the stairs to one of the viewing platforms!
Was This View Worth Fighting Through 300+ People For?
Sure Gullfoss waterfall was beautiful, but it certainly was not the most magical one we saw in Iceland and was most definitely not worth the constant jostling and pushing from all of the other visitors. As you can see from the photograph, we went in November which is a relative low season for tourism in Iceland. Imagine how crowded Gullfoss gets during peak season!
2. Thingvellir National Park can be skipped altogether.
I understand this is just one person’s opinion, but a recent TripAdvisor review essentially summarizes this destination:
Recent TripAdvisor Review Of Thingvellir National Park
It was fine. As in, we were satisfied with visiting, but had we not gone, we would not have missed out on anything that would have been a regret for our trip. In case you did not know, Thingvellir National Park is the location of Iceland’s first Parliament, and is also where the North American & Eurasian tectonic plates are splitting apart.
Thingvellir Is … Meh
In other words, Thingvellir National Park is this wide open space where the landscape is much like the rest of the area you drove through to get there. Unless you are a buff for Icelandic history and want to visit the home of the Parliament, or plan to scuba dive or snorkel the Silfra Fissure just so that you can say you did so between 2 tectonic plates (and it is a short swim because of how cold the waters are), it really is a destination you can skip so that you can allot more time for other sights.
3. You won’t get to spend as much time as you want at Geysir.
Geysir was, by far, our favorite destination in the Golden Circle tour. The term Geysir describes the geothermal area, though Geysir is no longer active. However, mere steps away is the Strokkur geyser, which continues to shoot a column of water up over 90 feet into the air every 4-8 minutes.
Strokkur Geyser Was Fabulous
Watching Strokkur geyser erupt was fun, even the third or fourth time that it happened because of how different each eruption was. Unfortunately for travelers who came on a tour bus, they were whisked away before they had the chance to fully explore the geothermal area, or get their fill of Strokkur geyser. In addition, there is a large gift shop and excellent restaurant on site, which these tour groups did not all have a chance to utilize.
All in all, for the cost (roughly 10,500 ISK or $80-85 USD) per person, there are far better ways to spend your money and your time when you are in Iceland. If anything, I would encourage you to rent a vehicle and to drive out to the Golden Circle destinations that you are interested in, and to do so on your own schedule. Which means avoiding the tour buses as much as possible! Keep in mind that the tour companies usually start their trips from Reykjavik at 9AM (and sometimes 7AM in the summer months), so do your best to time your visits accordingly.
I definitely encourage you to consider using a few of the hours you may have saved by avoiding an unnecessary Golden Circle destination, or renting a car instead of going on the bus tours, to visit the Blue Lagoon. Now that was a destination that lived up to expectations!