One Day in Reykjavik and The Golden Circle

To celebrate my 40th birthday, three of my girlfriends and I headed from Boston to Reykjavik Airport for a long weekend trip to Iceland. You can read my last post, 6 Reasons I Decided to Spend my 40th Birthday in Iceland, to see why. We spent our first day exploring Reykjavik and the Golden Circle.

If you are stopping by Reykjavik as part of a layover, the one day in Reykjavik will allow you to explore it and drive or tour the Golden Circle, a road with many of Iceland’s essential sights.

Half a Day in Reykjavik

 There is a good reason that Iceland is on so many travelers’ bucket lists! We went directly to our immaculate and modern hotel, Icelandair Hotel Reykjavik Marina. The room was sleek and fun, with silly sayings sprinkled around the room and an adult bunk bed.
Pingvellir along the Golden CIrcle in Iceland
The hotel is on the marina. I love being near water, and it was also a short walk into Reyjkavik. Included with our room was an excellent Icelandic buffet breakfast where we saw Anne Hathaway dining.
We spent the morning of the first day exploring the city. The city is easy to walk.

Walk along Laugavegur

There are many stores, art galleries, and restaurants worth visiting, especially along the main street of Laugavegur.  There is an active music-filled nightlife, which we would love to return to explore, but we were more interested in getting into the wilds of Iceland on this trip.

Reykjavik Cathedral

The cathedral looms over the city. Be sure to go to the top where you can see panoramic views of the city with its colorful rooftops, the ocean, volcano.

Walk through the Grounds of Iceland’s Parliament Building

It is especially interesting to visit the Parliament building with its beautiful courtyard, which is open to the public without guards. We felt safe the whole time we were in Iceland. A guide accompanied us, but now that I have experienced the country, I would feel perfectly comfortable traveling alone. Iceland is a perfect country for a self-drive road trip! You can check out my whole 4-day itinerary.
golden circle iceland self drive
The Icelandic flag and a rainbow, welcoming us to Pingvellir National Park on the Golden Circle

Self-Drive Golden Circle One-Day Itinerary


We then set out on a drive through the Golden Circle. It is a 300 km (186-mile road) that goes by the three most accessible and popular tourist attractions outside of Reyjkavik. It is a 3-4 hour drive to complete the circle. Our first stop was Pingvellir National Park, which is Iceland’s first political meeting place. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
golden circle itinerary
Drift valley between the North American and Eurasian plates seen at Pingvellir National Park in Iceland.

It consists of a visitor’s center and paths. You can see Pingvellir Church and the architectural remains of the meeting place. Other than the views, I was most fascinated by the rift valley where you can see the edges of the plates of Eurasia and North America, which are separating 2.5 cm a year. There are also places to scuba dive, which would be fun to return for in the summer.


Gulfoss along the Golden CIrcle in Iceland
Gulfoss along the Golden Circle in Iceland

If you notice the people on the ledge on the left, you can begin to appreciate the enormity of the Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland.

 We then headed to the enormous waterfall Gullfoss on the Hvita river. There are lovely walking paths to the waterfall, and you can walk very close to it. One thing that struck me on this trip is how close you were to the nature in Iceland without fences and warning signs between you and the attraction.


Our road trip around the Golden Circle
A hot pool at Geysir in Iceland,
Our last stop on the Circle was to Geysir and Strokker. Here we had lunch and spent some time checking out the hot pools and watching the geysers erupt. Strokker is the more active of the geysers and erupts every 30  minutes or so with a very impressive burst. I loved the rock formations and colors in the hot pools at the Geysir area. This was a fun-packed 24 hours for us, and I opine that everyone on their way to Europe from the east coast should take advantage of Iceland Air’s day lay-over option and experience it.  That being said, for us, the best was yet to come. We jumped in the car to my favorite night of our stay. Read about it here.
If you are more of a structured tour person, read about an informative Golden Circle Tour or book a guided Golden Circle Tour here.

Our fall Iceland Road Trip- Golden Circle Iceland self drive?

The stunning fall view on our hike through Skaftafell Park in southern Iceland.

If you liked it, please share it. Thank you!

5 thoughts on “One Day in Reykjavik and The Golden Circle”

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. more information

The cookie settings on this website are set to "allow cookies" to give you the best browsing experience possible. If you continue to use this website without changing your cookie settings or you click "Accept" below then you are consenting to this.