South Coast Or Golden Circle: Which Should You Choose?

  • by Yanshu
  • Golden Circle Iceland, Good to Know, South Iceland
  • 29 May 2023

Planning a trip to Iceland but can't decide between exploring the South Coast or going on the famous Golden Circle route? Iceland's natural wonders are truly amazing, and both routes offer unique experiences.

Which day tour to choose: golden circle or south coast of iceland
Which day tour to choose: golden circle or south coast of iceland

With breathtaking waterfalls, stunning beaches, geothermal marvels, and historical sites, each route showcases Iceland’s diverse beauty. In this blog post, we’ll explore the highlights of both routes, helping you make an informed choice based on your preferences and travel goals. 

Let’s take a virtual journey through Iceland’s enchanting landscapes and find out which route is the perfect fit for you.

What is the Golden Circle of Iceland?

The Golden Circle is a famous route in Iceland that takes you to some of the country’s most incredible sights. 

Þingvellir National Park

Discover the historical and geological marvels of Þingvellir National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a place of immense significance. Imagine standing between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates, witnessing the visible rift where these plates separate. You can even take a dive or snorkel between two diverging worlds at Silfra Fissure in the national park.

Explore the Almannagjá canyon, walk along the Law Rock where Iceland’s ancient parliament – the Alþingi – gathered, and immerse yourself in the interesting history and stunning natural landscapes of this remarkable park.

Almannagja canyon in Thingvellir National Park, the Golden Circle. Photo credit to Yanshu Li.

Geysir Geothermal Fields

Brace yourself for a remarkable geothermal show at the Geysir Geothermal Area. Experience the anticipation as you witness the powerful eruption of the Strokkur geyser, shooting scalding hot water 20 meters high into the air every few minutes. See the geothermal activity that creates an otherworldly atmosphere, with bubbling mud pools and steaming vents. Learn about the geology and scientific phenomena that make this area a true natural wonder.

Strokkue geyser erupts to the sky, the Golden Circle. Photo credit to Yanshu Li.

Gullfoss Waterfall

Prepare to be captivated by the magnificence of Gullfoss, the “Golden Falls.” As you approach the waterfall, feel the raw power and hear the thundering roar of the cascading water. Witness the double-tiered cascade as it plunges into a dramatic canyon, creating an astounding display of nature’s energy. Capture breathtaking photos and take in the awe-inspiring scenery that surrounds this iconic Icelandic landmark.

The Golden Circle is a compact adventure that lets you experience Iceland’s natural wonders and historical landmarks in a short but unforgettable trip.

Gullfoss waterfall in the Golden Circle.

Main Highlights:

  • Thingvellir National Park
  • Gullfoss Waterfall
  • Geysir Geothermal Fields
  • Kerid Volcanic Crater Lake

Additional highlights:

  • Friðheimar Tomato Farm and Geothermal Greenhouse
  • Brúarfoss Waterfall
  • Faxafoss Waterfall

What to see on the South Coast of Iceland?

Discover the diversity of Iceland’s South Coast and immerse yourself in a truly captivating and diverse natural experience. 

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Marvel at the stunning sight of Seljalandsfoss, a mesmerizing waterfall where you can walk behind the cascading curtain of water. Feel the mist on your face and capture breathtaking views of the surrounding landscapes from this iconic and enchanting location.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall, South Iceland. Photo credit to Irena Georgsdóttir.

Skógafoss Waterfall

Stand in awe before the mighty Skógafoss, a powerful waterfall cascading from a height of 60 meters. As one of most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland, you witness the sheer force of the waterfall, and climb the stairs for breathtaking views of the surrounding landscapes.

Skogafoss waterfall, South Iceland. Photo credit to Irena Georgsdóttir.

Sólheimajökull Glacier

Witness the mesmerizing Sólheimajökull Glacier, a stunning outlet glacier extending from the larger Mýrdalsjökull ice cap, Iceland’s fourth largest glacier. Explore the glacier’s icy wonderland via a glacier hike, accompanied by knowledgeable guides who provide insights into glacial formations and the effects of climate change.

Solheimajokull glacier, South Iceland. Photo credit to Irena Georgsdóttir.

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach

Experience the charming Reynisfjara, a black sand beach adorned with dramatic basalt columns and powerful Atlantic waves. See the otherworldly rock formations and immerse yourself in the raw power of nature at this iconic Icelandic beach.

Reynisfjara black sand beach, South Iceland.

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

Enter a realm of ethereal scenery at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, a surreal glacial lake filled with fascinating icebergs. Be mesmerized by the turquoise waters and the majestic presence of floating ice formations, creating a fantastic and ever-changing landscape.

Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, South Iceland.

Diamond Beach

Adjacent to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Diamond Beach, or Fellsfjara to be exact, showcases a striking contrast between the shimmering ice chunks that have washed ashore and the black volcanic sand. Take in nature’s artistry as the ice glistens like diamonds against the dark backdrop, creating a truly enchanting sight.

Diamond beach, next to Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, South Iceland.

Vatnajökull National Park

Explore the vast and diverse landscapes of Vatnajökull National Park, home to Vatnajökull Glacier, Iceland’s largest and Europe’s most voluminous ice cap, which offer endless opportunities for adventures. During winter, visitors can experience the stunning blue ice caves, which are stable enough to be open for exploration, and glacier hiking trips are particularly popular.

Outlet glacier stretching out from Vatnajokull ice-cap, South Iceland.

Skaftafell Nature Reserve

Delve into the natural wonders of Skaftafell, a stunning nature reserve within Vatnajökull National Park. Discover breathtaking hiking trails, glacial tongues, and cascading waterfalls, immersing yourself in the astonishing nature and tranquility of this remarkable wilderness.

With easy accessibility and a remarkable variety of natural wonders within reach, the South Coast beckons, promising an unforgettable journey into the heart of Iceland’s magnificence.

Skaftafell Nature Reserve, Vatnajokull National Park, South Iceland.

Highlights from most tours:

  • Seljalandsfoss Waterfall
  • Skogafoss Waterfall
  • Solheimajokull Glacier
  • Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
  • Reynisdrangar Sea Stacks
  • Vikurfjara Black Sand Beach
  • Vik i Myrdal
  • Vatnajokull National Park
  • Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach
  • Stjórnarfoss waterfall

Additional highlights from some private and custom tours:

Best Day Tours From Reykjavik to the Golden Circle and South Coast

If you plan to join a tour, here are some pros and cons for each type of guided tours going to either the Golden Circle or the South Coast of Iceland.

Group Tours on a Coach

Group tours on a coach are a hassle-free option that takes care of transportation, so you can just kick back and enjoy the beautiful scenery. The tour guides provide interesting informative commentary along the way, making the sights even more fascinating. 

Just please keep in mind that these tours may offer less flexibility in the schedule and limited time at each attraction. With larger groups, the experience might feel less personalized. 

So, if you’re looking for convenience and a chance to connect with fellow travelers, group tours on a coach are a great choice. 

BusTravel’s coach visiting the South Coast of Iceland.

Small Group Tours

Small group tours have gained popularity in recent years because they strike a balance between personalization and convenience.

With smaller group sizes, you can expect a more intimate and personalized travel experience. You’ll have the opportunity to connect with both the tour guide and fellow travelers on a deeper level, creating meaningful interactions. Some level of flexibility in the itinerary is a major perk, allowing for ample time at each attraction and the chance to discover hidden gems off the well-trodden path.

On the flip side, the small group tours might come with slightly higher costs compared to larger group tours. But, they are nonetheless a fantastic choice for those seeking a more intimate and immersive travel experience in Iceland.

BusTravel Iceland’s small group tour visiting the South Coast of Iceland.

Private Tours and Custom Tours

Private tours and custom tours in Iceland are highly sought-after options, each offering unique advantages and considerations. 

Contrary to popular belief, private tours are often more affordable than expected. As the saying goes, “the more, the merrier,” and this rings true for private tours. With more people joining, the cost per person decreases, making it an excellent choice for family vacations, trips with friends, or romantic getaways.

You’ll find pre-designed itineraries available for browsing, providing a glimpse into the exciting possibilities. Moreover, some level of customization allows you to tailor the tour to your preferences and interests.

For custom tours, the major advantage lies in the unparalleled level of customization and exclusivity they offer. You have the freedom to work closely with our travel experts to craft your own itinerary. However, custom tours may come with a higher price tag because you’re getting expert input from tour operators who bring their extensive knowledge and experience to the table. Plus, the exclusivity and personalized nature of a custom tour contribute to the overall expense.

No matter what type of tour you decide to join, deciding on the Golden Circle or the South Coast is based on how long you stay in Iceland, what you prefer to see, the time of the year, and your budget.

Reynisdrangar sunset
Visiting South Coast on a private day tour from Reykjavik.

Planning your trip to the Golden Circle or the South Coast

If you would like to see an estimated duration for visiting the Golden Circle Route, here is a sample itinerary for your reference.


Depart from Reykjavik: Begin your journey in a comfortable vehicle, accompanied by an experienced guide.

  • 1st stop: Arrive at Þingvellir National Park
  • 2nd stop: Visit the Geysir Geothermal Area 

Lunch – Take a break near the Geysir area. Most tours will stop here for lunch break.


  • 3rd stop: Experience the awe-inspiring Gullfoss waterfall
  • 4th stop: Kerid Volcanic Crater Lake

Dinner – Return to Reykjavik to enjoy some dinner before any further plans in the evening.


Sky Lagoon or Blue Lagoon: Relax in the soothing geothermal waters, surrounded by stunning landscapes and rejuvenating amenities.

Return to Reykjavik

The total duration of this itinerary can be around 11 hours. If you only want to experience the Golden Circle, that is about 8 to 9 hours.

Gullfoss waterfall, the Golden Circle.

Here is a sample schedule If you want to experience the South Coast of Iceland within one day.


Depart from Reykjavik: Begin your journey from Reykjavik  in a comfortable vehicle with a professional guide, heading east along the Ring Road to the South..

  • 1st stop – Arrive at Skógafoss waterfall
  • 2nd stop: Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
  • 3rd stop: Arrive in the charming village of Vík í Mýrdal

Lunch – Take a break for a delicious lunch at a Vik’s local restaurant or a scenic picnic spot.


  • 4th stop: take a walk from the parking lot to the foot of the Solheimajokull Glacier, to appreciate the blue glacier ice at its prime form with your guide.
  • 5th stop: Enjoy Seljalandsfoss.

Return to Reykjavik

This itinerary takes about 10 hours.

Reynisfjara black sand beach, South Iceland.

There is another itinerary that will take you all the way to Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, which is the longest one day tour from Reykjavik to the South Coast, and it goes like this:


Depart from Reykjavik: Begin your journey from Reykjavik in a comfortable vehicle with a professional guide, ensuring an early start to make the most of the day. 

After a long but scenic drive, you will reach the first stop of the day, which is a spectacular place for lunch.

Lunch stop: Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon, an enchanting glacial lake in Iceland, offering a serene and captivating atmosphere with its shimmering icebergs and stunning natural surroundings. It also has a nice restaurant in the parking lot.

  • 1st stop: Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
  • 2nd stop: Diamond Beach
  • 3rd stop: Stjórnarfoss waterfall, it captivates with its two-stage cascade, featuring a symmetrical dome-shaped rock formation and a mysterious atmosphere.
  • 4th stop: Vík Village and Reynisdrangar Sea Stacks.
  • 5th stop: Seljalandsfoss waterfall

Begin your return journey to Reykjavik, reflecting on the extraordinary sights and experiences of the day.

This itinerary takes about 14 hours as it’s a long drive from Reykjavik to Jokulsarlon and back.

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in winter
Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, South Iceland.
About the author
A journalist and photographer, Yanshu is driven by a deep passion for Iceland. She's on a mission to share her love for authentic travel experiences and exciting adventures with fellow explorers. Armed with her camera, she sets off on hikes, delving into Iceland's intricacies while mastering the art of Icelandic language whenever possible.

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