The Advantages of Doing A Self-Drive Around Iceland's Golden Circle

Self-drive around Iceland's Golden Circle: unpaved road and mountains
Iceland's Golden Circle is one of the top destinations to visit and see the unique nature of this stunning country especially for tourists who are short on time. Easily accessible as a day trip from Reykjavik, many visitors take a one day package tour around the Golden Circle. In fact, we took a coach trip around the Golden Circle when we visited Iceland for the first time over 10 years ago. I had the opportunity to travel to Iceland again in June 2017 for about 4 days with a few awesome colleagues from my day job. We decided to rent a car and do some self-drives around the southern part of Iceland, keeping our home base in Reykjavik to avoid the hassle of changing hotels every night on such a short trip. Read on to learn more about the advantages of doing a self-drive around Iceland's Golden Circle vs taking the bus.

Go to Places the Buses Don't Go, Like Kerið Crater Lake

Self-drive around Iceland's Golden Circle: Kerið Crater Lake
The stopping points on the Golden Circle for the various coach tours leaving Reykjavik are pretty standard and you don't have the flexibility to travel to out of the way places. That's the great thing about doing a self-drive around the Golden Circle, you can stop at places that the coaches don't go. For example, we visited the stunning Kerið Crater Lake. Standing at the top of this volcanic crater, we looked down on shimmering blue water highlighted against a backdrop of red rock. Amazing.
Self-drive around Iceland's Golden Circle: Kerið Crater Lake

Take Your Time and Take a Hike to the Water's Edge at Kerið Crater Lake

Self-drive around Iceland's Golden Circle: Kerið Crater Lake
Day trips by coach are often quite rushed with limited time to explore the various stopping points on the Golden Circle. For us, it was June and the sun would be up until midnight. We weren't in a rush at all. We took the time at Kerið Crater Lake to hike down to the water's edge to see the lake from a different perspective. I doubt we would have had time to do this on a coach trip.

Warm up with Tomato Soup or Sample Green Tomato Apple Pie at Friðheimar

Self-drive around Iceland's Golden Circle: Bread at Friðheimar
Google Maps is my best friend on a road trip. I love watching the GPS marker showing our position and looking for cool places nearby to eat when my stomach starts to rumble. That's how we discovered Friðheimar on our drive around Iceland's Golden Circle. Friðheimar is actually very popular and some coaches do stop here for a lunch break. If you want to take a proper rest, make sure to phone ahead for a reservation. 
Self-drive around Iceland's Golden Circle: Tomato Soup and Bread at Friðheimar
Since we were driving ourselves around the Golden Circle, we were on our own schedule and decided to wing it. It was indeed crowded at Friðheimar when we arrived but there is an option to buy a cup of tomato soup and delicious homemade bread and eat at benches and standing tables near the counter. We also couldn't resist trying Friðheimar's tomato apple pie served in an adorable tea pot.
Self-drive around Iceland's Golden Circle: Tomato Apple Pie at Friðheimar
Friðheimar even served tomato-infused water!
Self-drive around Iceland's Golden Circle: Tomato-infused water at Friðheimar
What's the deal with all the tomatoes? Friðheimar is a restaurant inside a greenhouse. Long rows of vines heavy with tomatoes sit just a few feet away from the tables filled with people eating lunch.
Self-drive around Iceland's Golden Circle: Tomatoes in the Greenhouse at Friðheimar
Friðheimar is the kind of place I would have missed if I had taken a coach tour of the Golden Circle. When I book a day trip by bus, I often go on auto-pilot and go along for the ride on a predetermined route. With a self-drive, we had the luxury to look up places of interest and stop for lunch wherever took our fancy.

Stop to Smell the Flowers or Pet the Icelandic Horses

Self-drive around Iceland's Golden Circle: Bees on a sunflower at Friðheimar
The other great thing about a self-drive around the Golden Circle is being on your own schedule. I noticed sunflowers loaded with bees just outside Friðheimar, not to mention a paddock of Icelandic horses. I had the luxury of taking 10-15 unplanned minutes to check it out and take some photos.
Self-drive around Iceland's Golden Circle: Icelandic Horses at Friðheimar

Take a Detour to Iceland's Faxi Waterfall

Self-drive around Iceland's Golden Circle: Faxi Waterfall
There are so many things to see on Iceland's Golden Circle. Doing a self-drive day trip means we had the flexibility to take detours whenever we felt like it. One of my colleagues had heard good things about Faxi Waterfall which has a mysterious man-made side-channel.  We plotted a course on Google Maps and spent some time simply watching the gushing water and beholding Iceland's beauty without another tourist in sight.
Self-drive around Iceland's Golden Circle: Faxi Waterfall
Self-drive around Iceland's Golden Circle: Faxi Waterfall

Watch Iceland's Geysir Blow Again and Again

Self-drive around Iceland's Golden Circle: Geysir
Geysir is a must-do stop for coaches and self-driving tourists alike on the Golden Circle. Geysir erupts like clockwork every 6-10 minutes. Since we were driving ourselves, we were able to take our time and watch a few rounds of hot water and steam erupting from the earth. If we missed the magic moment the first time, we just waited and took a picture the next time. Geysir is mesmerizing to watch and it's quite mindful to stand there watching and waiting for the moment it goes off.
Self-drive around Iceland's Golden Circle: Geysir erupting

Pull Over Whenever You Want Along the Golden Circle for Beautiful Views

Self-drive around Iceland's Golden Circle: Mountain views
Beautiful views abound along Iceland's Golden Circle. Coaches only stop at pre-planned destinations. We had the luxury of being able to stop whenever we saw something we liked. The roads in Iceland are very generally very quiet, even around the heavily touristed Golden Circle, so we felt comfortable just pulling our car over to the side of the road whenever we saw a photo-worthy view that we simply couldn't pass up.
Self-drive around Iceland's Golden Circle: Mountain views

Don't Feel in a Rush at Gulfoss

Self-drive around Iceland's Golden Circle: Gulfoss waterfall
Gulfoss is another must-stop destination on the Golden Circle for buses and self-drivers alike. Once again, we had the luxury to take our time and do a leisurely hike to the edge of the waterfall. My colleague even took some time to fly his drone around the area. The biggest advantage of a self-drive for us is not feeling rushed. Because we weren't in a rush, we were rewarded with this amazing rainbow that appeared in the mist generated by Gulfoss.
Self-drive around Iceland's Golden Circle: Gulfoss waterfall

Hike Out to Iceland's Brúarfoss Waterfall

Self-drive around Iceland's Golden Circle: Brúarfoss Waterfall
A self-drive day-trip around Iceland's Golden Circle is all about detours. We heard that Brúarfoss was simply amazing but definitely off the beaten track. We plotted a course on Google Maps only to find ourselves in a place where we could hear the waterfall but were unsure how to get there. Since we were driving ourselves, we had time to be persistent and find our way to the waterfall. One of my colleagues flew his drone to try and find it. My other colleague and I decided to hike to the waterfall using Google Maps GPS and some guidance from sporadic tourists walking in the other direction along the trail. It was well worth the 1 km or more hike from where we parked the car to see the icy blue water tumbling over the rocks and under a bridge doubling as a viewing platform. 

Stop for Ice Cream at Efsti-dalur on Iceland's Golden Circle

Self-drive around Iceland's Golden Circle: Ice cream at Efsti-dalur
It was late afternoon and our energy levels were starting to drop a bit. I pulled out Google Maps and noticed that there was a famous ice cream place just a short detour off the main road along the Golden Circle. Ice cream in Iceland? There was no doubt that we had to try it.
Self-drive around Iceland's Golden Circle: Dog at Efsti-dalur
We were greeted by a curious dog. Efsti-dalur is part of a working farm. We looked through a window in the ice cream parlour and could see the cows that so generously contributed to our sweet snack.
Self-drive around Iceland's Golden Circle: cows at Efsti-dalur
Efsti-dalur's ice cream was definitely worth the detour. Fully refueled, we continued on the home stretch of the Golden Circle back toward Reykjavik. 
Self-drive around Iceland's Golden Circle: ice cream at Efsti-dalur

Make an Evening Stop at Þingvellir National Park

Self-drive around Iceland's Golden Circle: Þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir National Park is a popular attraction in Iceland along the Golden Circle. We stopped at Þingvellir on our coach trip 10 years ago and saw the point where the North American and European tectonic plates collide. We also saw the site of the 1000+ year old Viking parliament. On our self-drive, we arrived at Þingvellir National Park in the evening. We were in no rush and the sun was still pretty high in the sky. We parked the car and took a walk along the craggy ridges checking out a waterfall and burbling river as we took a short hike to stretch our legs and think back on our amazing day trip driving around Iceland's Golden Circle.
Self-drive around Iceland's Golden Circle: Waterfall at Þingvellir National Park

Map of Our Self-Drive Day Trip Around Iceland's Golden Circle

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The Advantages of Doing A Self-Drive Around Iceland's Golden Circle

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Sidewalk Safari: The Advantages of Doing A Self-Drive Around Iceland's Golden Circle
The Advantages of Doing A Self-Drive Around Iceland's Golden Circle
Learn about the advantages of doing a self-drive around Iceland's Golden Circle instead of taking a bus for the day trip from Reykjavik. A photo-rich post by travel blogger, Jennifer, aka Dr. J, from Sidewalk Safari.
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