Iceland is a bucket list destination for many and I, a nature geek totally understand why. A quick Google search of Iceland presents you pictures that are nothing but extraordinary.
In the winter, it’s all glistening glaciers, carpets of snow and the northern lights dancing in the background.
In spring, nature comes alive as flowers bloom and lush greenery replaces the snow. The unique rock formations that form the dramatic Icelandic landscapes are just unbelievable.
For many first timers, Reykjavik, the capital city, is a must go. If you’ve done the classic Northern Lights Tour in Reykjavik, and explored Reykjavik on foot with a Reykjavik walking tour, it’s time to venture out! Not only are there loads to do in the city, there are many attractions to see right outside of it.
I’ve collated a list of Reykjavik day trips that will definitely leave you awestruck at how incomprehensibly beautiful nature is. For most of these places, you can choose to rent a car or join a tour.
Always check the weather before you drive!
I know not all of us have the luxury of time and might have to pick and choose. So, I’ve included the driving duration so you can get a better sense of what would fit into your own adventure. Let’s get started!
- Day Tours from Reykjavik, Iceland
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Day Tours from Reykjavik, Iceland
1. Visit the Golden Circle
Let’s start with the famous Golden Circle. Yes, it is a popular tourist route but one that has to be done. You can either drive to Thingvellir National Park or take a Golden Circle Tour from Reykjavik. The first stop would be Thingvellir National Park – Þingvellir in Icelandic. This translates directly to ‘fields of parliament’.
Way back in 1944AD, it was here that Iceland came together to establish their independence and as an island collectively make laws. It is no surprise it made the UNESCO Heritage List in 2004 for its historical significance and of course for being a geological wonder.
Iceland is the only place in the entire world where the Mid-Atlantic Rift is above sea-level and you can clearly see where each of the two tectonic plates (North American and Eurasian) end.
Time for a quick geography lesson: The Mid-Atlantic Rift is formed when the two tectonic plates are moving away from each other. Lava rises through the cracks formed from this pulling action and solidifies on the top of the Earth’s surface. This constant flow and solidifying formed a valley in between the two plates which is where the Þingvellir is.
As you drive into the park, you will be meeting with a steep cliff leading into a valley, this is the North American plate. As you drive through the whole park and meet with another cliff on the other side, that is the Eurasian plate.
How cool is that? You are able to walk on either sides of the plates to take a closer look. There is also a museum on site for more information. You can also visit Þingvellir Lake – the largest natural lake in Iceland.
One of the most (I would say), life-changing things that you can do here is dive and be between two tectonic plates in Silfra. I would elaborate this further below as this could be a day trip by itself.
Your next stop would be Gullfoss waterfall. An icon of Iceland, this waterfall does make you feel so so small but in a wonderful way. You would definitely hear the loud gushing waters before you even see this huge waterfall. The water plummets down 32 metres.
Did you know that this waterfall was actually owned by a farmer? It was later than handed over to the government for preservation purposes so they all of us are able to enjoy it now.
Your last stop would be the Geysir found in the geothermal area of the Haukadalur Valley. It is a famous hot spring however it is currently not very active. The many pictures of water spouting 30m up into the air is most likely from the other geysers around the area. One of them is called Strokkur. It erupts every 5 to 10 minutes.
While it is the main reason why people drive miles, the geysers aren’t the only attractions here. The entire landscape of this valley is very different. Spot fumaroles (vents in the Earth’s surface) emitting steam into the cold air and bubbling mud pots on the ground.
Total driving duration: 2 hours one-way From Reykjavik city centre to Thingvellir National Park - 45 minutes From Thingvellir National Park to Gullfoss - 1 hour From Gullfoss to Geysir - 20 minutes From Geysir to Blue Lagoon - 2 hours
2. Relax at the Blue Lagoon
If you are fast, you might be able to squeeze the famous Blue Lagoon at end of the day after the Golden Circle before you head back to the city. Otherwise the Blue Lagoon could be a good half day trip.
The Blue Lagoon is a geothermally-heated outdoor lagoon with the most beautiful blue waters.
Stay here for a good couple of hours to relax and have a drink at the swim up bar. Do remember to make a reservation beforehand because it is very popular!
I believe that the entrance fee starts at USD57, which is rather steep. If you would like a cheaper alternative, I would suggest Gamla Laugin which is also an outdoor lake along the Golden Circle route.
From Reykjavik city centre to Blue Lagoon - 45 minutes From Geysir to Blue Lagoon - 2 hours
3. Go snorkelling/ diving in Silfra
If you are a keen diver, I’m sure you have heard of Silfra. Located in Thingvellir National Park, you can get up close and personal with nature and dive between the fissures of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plate.
How mind blowing is that?? It is impossible not to feel tiny being between two tectonic plates. Coupled with the fact that the water here is so clear and clean that you can see metres down into the deep ocean. You could even drink the water here!
For those who do not have a diving license, you can choose to snorkel to experience the clear blue waters. While you are unable to dive the fissure, swimming between a huge crack between two tectonic plates is still an experience you got to have!
Note: Most tours are at least half a day.
From Reykjavik to Silfra - 45 minutes
Go up north from the capital city and you will land in the Snæfellsnes Peninsular. Also known as Iceland in Miniature, this is the perfect day trip to see what Iceland has to offer especially if you do not have much time. Its untouched beauty is simply magical.
On the way up there, there are a few stops that are worth a visit. Namely – Gerðuberg Cliffs, Bjarnarfoss, Búðakirkja Black Church, Kirkjufellsfoss, Berserkjahraun Lava Fields, and Snæfellsjökull glacier in Snæfellsjökull National Park. You could also stop by the small colourful coastal town of Stykkishólmur.
You could drive up yourself as the roads are paved. If you take your time to see all the sights, this could easily be a day trip.
Reykjavik to Snæfellsnes: 2 hours Snæfellsnes to Snæfellsjökull National Park: 45 minutes
5. Explore the Southern Coast & Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
While this place is a drive away, I do highly recommend getting an early start to the day to make several stops to see Jokulsarlon because it is worth it. Imagine a vast sea of clear blue waters, with icebergs randomly dotted throughout in the most artistic manner. This is a truly a sight you would remember for the rest of your life.
If you are there in the summer and time permits, go at sunset or stay the night! The way the sun falls on the ice and glitters before your very eyes is simply mesmerizing.
Just across from Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is Diamond Beach. Be sure not to miss this, especially in the winter, where large pieces of ice are washed onto the black sand.
Pitstops can be made at Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss and Vik which are all south of the island. Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss are gorgeous huge waterfalls while Vik is a small town famous for the Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach.
I do suggest making a quick stop here to stretch your legs and grab some fuel and food as there would not be much for the rest of the journey.
If you don’t fancy the long drive to the glacier lagoon, taking your time to spend in these 3 places could also be an option for a day trip. There are plenty of scenic sights on the way and you can truly explore the southern coast.
Driving duration: 4 hours, longer with pit stops one-way Reykjavik City Centre to Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon - 4 hours Reykjavik City Centre to Vik - 2 hours 30 minutes
6. Hike the Sólheimajökull Glacier
If you love hiking, this walking tour day trip is the one for you. Sólheimajökull Glacier is located on the southern part of the island and it is the fourth biggest glacier in Iceland.
I do strongly recommend trying to go glacier hiking if you can. Walking on a glacier is walking on endless amount of extremely old and extremely thick ice – a once in a lifetime epic stroll if I may add.
Hiking a glacier is suitable for beginner hikers and they are available all year round. So if you fancy an adventure, book a guided tour and stick to the instructions of your guide, you would be in for an afternoon you will never forget!
Note: Allocate a whole day for a trip here.
Driving duration: 2 hours one-way
7. Visit the ice cave in Langjokull Glacier
This location involves driving in very heavy snow and it is recommended to go on an ice cave tour from Reykjavik to visit the ice cave in Langjokull Glacier. The tours ranges in timing, taking from 3 hours to half a day depending on the activities you choose to do.
Langjokull Glacier is the second largest glacier in Iceland and definitely worthy of a visit.
In Icelandic, Langjokull means ‘long glacier’. Langjokull used to have natural ice caves however, these have collapsed in recent years.
With careful research, there is now a construction of a man-made ice cave to show how the inside of a glacier looks like. Visitors are able to walk through this path and learn all about the formation of these natural wonders.
After, you may choose to go snowmobiling to enjoy the vast snowy landscape!
I would recommend renting a 4-wheel-drive because the roads are not easy. There are no supermarkets and petrol kiosks along the way so make sure you have enough food and petrol to last the whole journey. Alternatively, book a tour so you do not have to worry about it.
An iconic picture of Landmannalaugar is the Laugahraun lava field. Here, you will be greeted with colourful vibrant rocks, layered across each other, forming a mountain which rises above a black lava field.
If you would like to see this from a bird’s eye view and fancy a hike, hike up Bláhnjúkur, which translates to ‘blue peak’. From the peak, you get a 360-degree view of the colourful field. This is a 5km trek and would take around 3 to 4 hours with photo opportunities.
I would recommend doing hikes in the summer in Iceland but heads up, summer in Iceland is still freezing so be prepared! After the hike, you can relax and warm up by visiting the geothermal pools.
Driving duration: 3 hours one-way
9. Whale watching
To do this you would have to book a tour so it is on the pricier side but worth every penny. The chances of seeing whales, dolphins and porpoise in their natural habitats are high and are actually rather common sights.
Be sure to dress warmly because I guarantee you it’s going to be cold regardless of when you are going to be there.
Note: This would be a half day trip.
Have you been to the land of fire and ice? Or is it on your bucket list? I hope this post inspires you to do whatever it takes to go on that adventure!