On our recent 12 night Iceland/Norway cruise on the Disney Magic, we stopped in Reykjavik, Iceland. On our bucket list was driving the Golden Circle ourselves. I wasn’t sure when we would ever visit Iceland but when Disney listed it on their cruise itinerary, we had to jump at the chance. No one does family vacations better than Disney.
We usually like to DIY our excursions instead of booking through Disney. One, it saves us money. Two, we have the freedom to change our plans at any time. Many people who visit Iceland book tours to see all the top sights. It can be done through Disney Cruise Line or with independent tours at the port of call. There are benefits to both (see my pro’s and con’s post here).
All Ashore time for Reykjavik was 9:15 am. We decide to rent a car and head off into the wild blue yonder.
Disney has buses that shuttle into town or you can pre-arrange a private car, or rent a taxi. We decided to skip the taxi and take the free shuttle and walk to the car rental. That was a mistake. First, Disney didn’t provide you with a decent map on the navigator of downtown Reykjavik. So when we were dropped off, it was confusing to tell where we were. Thank goodness for GPS on cell phones. It is a life saver.
Overall, it was a beautiful day, and the delay of getting our rental car did not deter our good moods. Our primary goal for the day was to see the Golden Circle.
What route should we take to the Golden Circle?
All the main attractions on the Golden Circle are very easy to find. The distance around the circle is around 250 kilometers and will take you 3-4 hours just driving it. Plan on 6-10 hours to enjoy all the sites. Since it is a circle, you can go clockwise or counter clockwise. View my Golden Circle map to see how we did our tour. The roads are well maintained, and you will have no trouble getting around in the summer.
Þingvellir, Gullfoss, and Geysir on the Golden Circle Tour
Driving outside of Reykjavik the scenery is so beautiful, reminds me of home, Alaska. I could live here and be happy for the rest of my life. Ok, maybe a little dramatic. I do like the warmth so not my whole life! Either way, I felt like my mouth was hanging open from looking at all the incredible natural beauty. The drive here was an easy shot on road no. 36 to Thingvellir. It was around a 45-minute drive from Reykjavik. The roads are two lanes and no ideal place to pull over. If you want to stop and take a picture, if you see a pullout, Stop. They do not come along that often.
You will see fields and fields of purple flowers called Nootka or Alaskan Lupine. Stop before you get too far outside of Reykjavik if you want a photo opp. They seem to stop growing as much the further away we got inland.
I wasn’t sure what to expect to see at this national park, but when you pull up and see nothing but flat land and the vista is a giant valley between mountains, I was thinking I hope we made the right choice.
The drive was beautiful getting here, but somehow I was expecting more. Well, get out of the car and walk to the viewing platform. Boom. Jaw dropping views.
Pack your hiking gear; there are lots of hiking trails, fishing, camping, horseback riding and even scuba diving in the crystal clear water.
Once we arrived in Þingvellir National Park, you must pay for a parking ticket. Currently, it cost 500 ISK. Look for a parking lot machine – they accept all major credit cards.
Once you have parked, you will pass the restrooms toward the main platform viewing station. FYI, keep some spare change for the restroom. They charge a small fee.
One side note though if you walk into the park and down towards the first hiking trail to the right – there are restrooms at the base of the trail and they are FREE.
We spent a bit of time hiking down some trails and just taking in the general splendor. Wish we had more time here to explore everything. One day in Rejkavik is definitely not enough.
Icelandic Horses and Sheep
On a side note, you will see the cutest horses along your drive, and if you are like me, you must stop.
I brought some apples to feed the horses which ended up being a funny mess. The area we stopped at had lots of animals, but they were swarming with flies, like a bazillion of them.
I eventually just threw the apples at the horses and went back to the safety of the car. The animals seemed friendly and eager to see what you are up too.
You will also see numerous sheep. White ones. Black ones. Roaming in fields, on the road, alongside the road. Agh. I love animals and want to take them home with me. I know, I am crazy.
Geysir at Haukadaker
Geysir is the most famous geyser in this geothermal area. There are several geysers to check out, but Geysir is the most impressive. It erupts every 3-10 minutes and can reach from 15-40 m high.
One of my favorite stops, while not many things to look at and the rotten egg smell is not my favorite, I enjoyed it.
Once you walk to the central geyser, you can see right away it is roped off. What makes me laugh is that you are REALLY close to the geyser when it goes off. Depending on where you are standing you could and will get wet.
There are benches to rest your tired legs, or you can stand around the ropes right next to the geyser. Your choice. People watching is a must. There are people there from all over the world.
The central parking is at the gift shop across the street. There are also several different restaurants options. We picked the main gift shop with lots of meal choices and cafeteria style food. Once we had a good rest and were fueled up again with food, it was off to our final stop.
Gulfoss Waterfall On The Golden Circle
The first view of this famous site, gobsmacked. The beauty of Iceland does not disappoint. Huge volumes of water are crashing over the falls, the sun is shining and creating rainbow crystals. There are 2 parking lots to choose. The top parking lot has a visitor center and cafe. We picked the lower as it was closer to the actual falls.
The walk is short to the Gulfoss waterfall lookout. There’s a hiking trail down toward the base of the waterfall. Be prepared to get wet or at the very least walk through a lot of mist. As with the other sites, there are hiking trails everywhere but the majority of visitors hang out on the main trail.
This site can be pretty busy with tourist but that can’t take away from the natural beauty surrounding you. The waterfall is open 24/7 and with the long summer days visiting in the evening hours will help alleviate the crowd of tourists. A site not-to-be missed!! Plus, Disney all aboard time was midnight. Plenty of time to see the Golden Circle and check out the cute town of Reykjavik.
Overall, Reykjavik is a must on any world travelers bucket list. One reason we enjoy cruising so much because you are able to see many locations in a short amount of time. Second, once we know we loved it, we come back for a longer vacation.
I enjoy that Disney Cruise Line thinks of everything and are excellent at providing great family vacations. That frees me up to plan our day trips. Do It Yourself excursions can be simple and easy.
Skip the large crowds and rent a car on your own to take the Golden Circle tour. Enjoy the beautiful scenery, cool crisp temperatures and endless summer days of Iceland. Our family will remember this day for a very long time.
– Wear Layers, the weather can change quickly
– No need for an International Drivers License to rent a car
– All 3 national parks on the Golden Circle are free. Just food, gas and 1 parking fee
- – Book your rental car well in advance and ask for automatic transmission if needed
– A great resource –Iceland Travel Guide Book
You can read about our other cruise stops here:
Akureyri – In A Day