Going to Iceland and planning to self-drive the Golden Circle? You can find here 7 tips to facilitate your journey.
What a better way to explore the Golden circle than by self drive? The Golden Circle includes famous natural attractions such as Thingvellir, Geysir (with the famous geyser Strokkur) and the waterfall Gullfoss. An alternative route continues to Secret Lagoon in Fudir (you’ll probably need to plan 2 hours to enjoy the lagoon) or by visiting the Kerid crater, on the way to Selfoss. The itinerary is detailed in the map below with all interest points. On the road you will see sometimes this sign :
This sign means that there is a place of interest. It can be an attraction, a viewpoint, a hotel… So pay attention otherwise you risk to miss it ! For the Golden circle, we drove around 252km going through all the interesting points on the map. This can easily be done in a day especially during summer when daylight last the whole day!
Another option, if you are not too tired, is to stop at Reykjaladur on the way back to Reykjavik, after Selfoss. There is trail starting which continues into a beautiful hike ending with hot springs. About 6km walk round trip with absolutely incredible scenery on the way. The hike is not difficult and it’s worth it but expect 2-3 hours in all, especially if you want to soak in the thermal waters. Don’t forget your swimming suit! And towels!
1. Rent the smallest car…
…the roads are in a good enough condition. They are highly touristic roads, so well maintained.
To fully enjoy the Golden Cirdle, we decided not to do an organized tour but rather make our own tour. This gave us the flexibility to choose the length of our breaks, places to visit and stops on the road to make pictures.
To keep our environmental impact (and cost) low, we rented a small engine (Chevrolet Spark) to consume the least amount of fuel and we did the Golden Circle at our pace. The car consumes little gas (about 6.5L every 100 if you drive normally) and gasoline costs about 1.37€/L (for 95). We spent in total for 4 days rental, 70 euros of gasoline. And we have traveled more than 700km in total. We wanted to rent an electric car but they don’t have any in Iceland!
No need to rent 4×4 if you do not leave the main /side roads. Most of the time, the cars are equipped with snow tires. We had no trouble driving during March in Iceland. Obviously, some dirt trails will be more difficult to go through, but we managed to get anywhere, even on smaller roads or on higher points. The only exception was a place where the road was flooded and probably even a SUV could not pass. Either ways, even with a SUV rental which will cost you double or triple, you will need to ask the agency if you are allowed to ride on the F-roads ( for the highlands ). Almost no car rental have access to those roads. SUVs won’t be a big help since you’ll still need a special car to access those highland roads .
What is expensive are the insurances. The first day we chose to take the gravel insurance, sand storms and other weather insurance, just in case. This almost doubled the price of the rental and it turned out to be unnecessary for the Golden Circle, because the weather was good and the roads too, as it is a very touristic road. However, make sure to thoroughly check the condition of the car at the start and the weather forecast.
2. Ask other people to join your Golden Circle self-driving tour in Iceland…
…to save and reduce your carbon footprint…
Carpooling can be a very economical and green solution if you rent a car. In the guesthouse we stayed, everyone was doing this tour and some were reluctant to tour by bus (about 70 euros per person). It’s worth to disucss around you if there are travellers who want to join. Great to share the costs and make new friends 🙂
3. Ask the rental agency to return the car outside opening hours…
…and leave the keys in the returns mailbox
It might seems obvious but you need to ask for it. This would allow you to have the car for more than 24h ( ex. rent at 15.00 on Monday, return Wednesday morning 9am). Our agency allowed us to do so. We managed to hunt the northern lights in Northern Iceland. We rented the car with Sixt and it was no problem to give the car back the next day before opening at 9am. The service by the way was very good ( we read a lot of bad stories about car rental in Iceland)
4.. Leave early in the morning if you want to avoid the crowds !
We started the tour at about 8am and it was perfect. We were about an hour ahead the tour buses. We were able to fully enjoy the beautiful scenery of the Golden Circle without too many people in our photos.
5. Prepare your own lunch
Cheaper and you will save a lot of time! Iceland is not really known for its cuisine (except for some very, very odd dishes). The hot dog costs about 3.5 euros in a gas station and in a restaurant, count a minimum of 20 euros for a cheesburger. You’d better make your own sandwiches and eat in the car enjoying the spectacular scenery of the Golden Circle.
6. The pee breaks
So yes, a little paragraph on pee breaks during your road trip. Most attractions of the Golden Circle have toilets. Count 1.45 euro for the toilets at Thingvellir park, expensive pee but, hey, you have great views on the nature. In Gullfoss, the toilets are for customers of the restaurant, but with a smile, normally there is no problem to go to the toilets. At Geysir, the toilets are free in the tourist shop. Usually, the toilets are clean, and because on the road you won’t find so many restrooms, make a usage of those at the attractions stops.Toilets also available in Selfoss and in Reykjadapur. No toilets in Kerid! In petrol stations you will also find free toilet. Very handy but unfortunately there are not so many stations!
7. Where can you put gas ?
The Golden Circle is touristy but there are very few petrol stations on the way. So fill the car well before leaving. Regarding prices, most stations showed the same price (per liter 192.5ISK for 95). The Icelandic rental agencies will give you the keys with a keyholder called Tolken that allows you to get discounts at the stores indicated on the keyholder. We had a discount on Orkan gas stations. We paid ISK 183.3 per liter instead of 190.5. The discount is not huge but it does allow small savings. From what we observed, Orkan is probably the cheapest. Beware of automatic pumps, you must first insert your card into the machine, then you will be asked to choose the amount of gas you want to put (1000 ISK is the minimum). Do not panic, even if you choose a higher amount than what you really need, the pump automatically reimburse this amount (even if the ticket from the machine says you paid the chosen amount)
Budget to self-drive the Golden Circle in Iceland
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Cet article est disponible en Français (French)
September 1, 2016
Great post! Iceland is at the very top of my travel list. Cheers!
September 1, 2016
Thanks Jill! Yes it should be on your list, it s one of the most beautiful country I have visited. But mass tourism is becoming critical, so we need to be careful when traveling there. Iceland’s environment is fragile! Enjoy your trip there whenever you go, and if you need more tips, you can send us an email 😉 Cheers! Fanny
April 29, 2017
Your blog is very informative for me! Thanks a lot!:)
But I have got some questions…
My friend and I planned to hike along the Golden Circle.
Are there any groceries stores or camping sites in the Highlands?
May 2, 2017
Hi Maren, sorry to only reply now and thanks a lot for your comment 🙂 I always try to give as much info as possible for me to remember 🙂 Regarding your question, I believe there aren’t any groceries stores neither camping sites but you are allowed to plant a tent. You’ll find grocery stores in the towns and in touristic sites only. Iceland is pretty “desert” for the rest ! Check out the official Iceland touristic site : http://www.visiticeland.com/plan-your-trip/accommodation/Camping/
May 22, 2019
It’s great to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same out of date rehashed material. Fantastic read