Welcome to our guide on some of the best day trips from Reykjavik! Being the top place to stay whilst visiting Iceland, Reykjavik is home to some amazing bars, restaurants, and attractions in itself, but to experience the country’s true beauty, you’ll have to venture out into the countryside. Most tourists use Reykjavik as an overnight base, exploring somewhere different on action-packed day trips to sites that aren’t too far away. And that’s exactly what we’ll cover in this guide!
After traveling around Iceland’s South-West for a full week, we discovered that there’s so much to see outside of the city and have compiled a list of the best places to visit for a day trip. You can either visit them yourself by hiring a car or embarking on a self-drive route. Alternatively, the easier but more expensive option is to book a private or group tour. Choose the best day trips from Reykjavik for you and have fun exploring some of the most amazing sites that Iceland has to offer!
The Golden Circle tour
The number one Reykjavik day trip is a circular driving route known as the Golden Circle. As the most popular tourist trail in Iceland, it’s home to a wide array of different natural attractions, including geysers, waterfalls, rural Icelandic towns, a volcanic crater, and a stunning national park.
Here are some of the key places you’ll visit during one of your day trips from Reykjavik:
- Thingvellir National Park – A historic nature park that’s famous for hosting the continental plate divide between Europe and North America. It has a number of scenic walking trails, a waterfall, and a fissure where you can snorkel between continents.
- Geyser Geothermal Area – Experience huge plumes of geothermal water gushing out from the Earth’s surface and ‘Mars-like’ geothermal landscapes. The main geyser, ‘Strokkur’, has eruptions that can reach heights of up to 40m!
- Gulfoss Waterfall – Gulfoss is one of the highlights of any Golden Circle tour and simply can’t be missed. It’s one of Iceland’s biggest and most powerful waterfalls, featuring plenty of viewpoints, so you can see its true beauty from different angles.
- Skálholt – A traditional Icelandic town with an unusual-looking church. Its colorful buildings set the scene for a postcard-perfect town. We recommend stopping here for lunch, or a drink and a snack.
- Secret Lagoon – Stop by this outdoor geothermal spa and relax after a long day of sightseeing. Secret Lagoon is a paid-for natural spa that’s surrounded by rolling hills of the countryside.
- Kerid Volcanic Crater – Kerid is a volcano crater lake that has a striking brown and orange color. In summer, a thin layer of water forms on the crater surface, which ices over in winter. You can even walk on the crater lake if you’re brave enough!
The first attraction, Thingvellir National Park, is only a 40-minute drive from Reykjavik, so you don’t have to travel far to start your adventure. There are different tours available to see the Golden Circle, each including similar stops along the way. For any first-time visitors to Iceland, this is one of the must-do day trips from Reykjavik, as it gives you a good sample of different natural sites.
Iceland’s South Coast
A contender for our favorite Reykjavik day trip, the South Coast has some of the country’s most impressive natural wonders. 60m tall waterfalls, glaciers, mountains, black sand beaches, and ice caves are just a small selection of the sites you’ll see here. You can see many of them in one full day trip! Plan a self-drive or guided tour of the South Coast to experience all of the following attractions:
- Skogafoss, Seljalandsfoss, Kvernufoss, and Gljufrabui waterfalls – This group of four waterfalls are some of the best falls that Iceland has to offer. They’re a short distance away from each other too! Skogafoss is the famous filming location for TV hits such as Game of Thrones and Vikings, whilst Kvernufoss is an off-the-beaten-track waterfall nestled in a valley. All are worth visiting in their own right.
- Sólheimajökull Glacier – Embark on an epic trek across the base of a retreating glacier, exploring ice crevasses, towering ice blocks, and a glacial lake.
- The black sand beaches of Vik – Iceland is known for the jet-black sand beaches, with the south coast having some of the most impressive. Walk on the beach of Reynisfjara or capture a panoramic view from above at Dyrhólaey Lighthouse.
- DC-3 Plane Wreck – An unusual but very cool site to see on the south coast is the Sólheimasandur DC-3 plane wreckage. An American pilot ran out of fuel and crash-landed on the beach of Sólheimasandur in 1973 and the wreckage site has become an interesting photo spot ever since.
Vatnajokull Glacier and Diamond Beach
Also on the south coast but a long drive from Reykjavik, the far-eastern region of Vatnajokull National Park is a great destination for day trips from Reykjavik for those who have already seen other areas of the south coast. It’s an early morning start and a long drive to get there and back from the city, but a trip to Vatnajokull is well worth it!
The area is home to Iceland’s largest glacier, which you can explore on an ice hike. You can even delve deep into the magical ice caves if the conditions are right! Right across from the glacier, you then have a vast glacier lake with fragments of cascading ice blocks. Tour the lake on a boat trip for a chance to get up close to the sheets of ice.
The final must-see in the area is Diamond Beach, named as such for the huge blocks of diamond-like ice that have floated away from the glacier and onto the beach.
The drive is far and the day is long, but this is one of the best day trips from Reykjavik you won’t want to miss!
Blue Lagoon and Reykjanes
For those that want a more leisurely excursion, a welcome break from all the adventure, Blue Lagoon is the place to visit. It’s a geothermal spa that’s located a 45-minute drive from Reykjavik, showcasing milky-blue spa pools and a number of luxurious relaxation facilities. It’s the perfect place to spend a morning or afternoon, bathing in the lagoon, pampering yourself with a beauty mask, and enjoying lunch with a view.
Blue Lagoon is usually a half-day trip, but you can spend all day there if you wish. We personally recommend visiting Blue Lagoon in the morning so you can see it lit up with its misty blue façade. You can then explore the local area. The Reykjanes peninsula (where Blue Lagoon is located) is a geothermal area with barren Mars-like scenery.
Go on a long walk by the cliffs, stop by the town of Grindavik for a taste of the local seafood, or visit ‘Viking World’ to learn about Iceland’s historic Viking past. You could easily spend a full day exploring this area after your laid-back morning at Blue Lagoon.
Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River, Hveragerði and Raufarhólshellir Lava Tunnel
One of the more slightly off-the-beaten-track day trips from Reykjavik is to drive east of Reykjavik and over the mountain pass to a rural attraction called Raufarhólshellir Lava Tunnel. This new and improved sightseeing experience consists of a 1-hour tour of an old lava tunnel. Delve deep into the cavern with a guide to see the unique shades of red rock where lava once flowed. The tunnel is lit up with colorful lights so you can see all of the unique rock formations up close. It feels extremely adventurous but is also very safe.
You can then continue your day trip by driving a little further north to the small town of Hveragerði. A bustling collection of tourists and locals enjoying small-town life together, it’s a popular place to stay for those that want a central base for exploring, but want to be outside of Reykjavik. Wander the shops, enjoy a meal in one of the trendy restaurants and then embark on the hiking trail through Reykjadalur Valley.
It’ll take you around 1 hour of walking to reach the main attraction here, Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River. You’ve probably heard of the natural Icelandic hot springs, so this is your chance to see one of the best! Strip down to your swimwear and bathe in one of the hot springs for a true experience of Iceland’s natural spa; the great outdoors. The surrounding scenery is idyllic!
Whale watching day trip by boat
Have you ever seen one of the largest mammals in the world swimming beside you? Well, if you join an Icelandic whale watching tour, you might be able to answer ‘yes’. The rough seas of the Atlantic that surround Iceland are the home of many species of Arctic sea life, including Blue Whales, Sperm Whales, Humpback Whales, and even orcas. There aren’t many destinations on earth where you can see such a variety of whale species up close! Therefore, if you’re a big fan of sea creatures, a whale-watching excursion from Reykjavik should be high on your itinerary.
Most whale watching tours start from the Reykjavik marina every morning, heading far out to sea. You’ll learn all about the fascinating creatures and will hopefully catch a glimpse of a whale swimming by the boat, or if you’re lucky, breaching to the surface.
You can join whale-watching day trips from Reykjavik year-round. However, we recommend only going on a tour during the warmer months of the year, March – September. The experience is more enjoyable and visibility is higher.
Snæfellsjökull National Park, Akranes, and Iceland’s West Coast
Snæfellsjökull is one of three national parks in Iceland. It’s part of the wider Snæfellsnes peninsula, to the far west of Iceland, and is only a 2.5-hour drive from Reykjavik. This makes it ideal for an action-packed day trip from Reykjavik. In our opinion, it’s one of Iceland’s most beautiful regions, packed full of lush green mountain scenery in the summer, and snow-covered landscapes in winter. It has a number of waterfalls, coastlines, and hiking trails to explore, but the main attraction is the sub-glacial volcano, Snæfellsjökull.
Spend time driving across the outer-worldly terrain, stopping off at attractions such as lava fields, mountain ranges, waterfalls, and cliffsides. The scenery is diverse and is a hikers’ paradise in the warmer months. If you don’t fancy driving around Snæfellsjökull National Park yourself, join a guided tour. Super-Jeep guided tours are a great way to see the landscapes, going off-road to areas where your car won’t take you during one of the best day trips from Reykjavik.
If you don’t fancy traveling far to enjoy one of the best day trips from Reykjavik, or just want to stay local as you don’t have long left in the city, consider getting the ferry to Videy Island. This small island is just across the water from Reykjavik City Centre. It’s a popular spot for locals that want to escape city life, and not many tourists know about it.
Hop on the boat at the Reykjavik ferry terminal and enjoy a short crossing to the island. On arrival, you’ll be greeted with quaint island scenery. The low-lying land overlooks mountains on the mainland, providing scenic views for a long walk by the shore. It has a few nice buildings to wander around, or you can stop for a coffee or a picnic on a public bench. There isn’t a great deal to do on Videy island, but that’s the beauty about it. People visit for the stunning scenery, walking routes, and relaxing atmosphere.
Note: Ferries to Videy Island only operate between the months of May to September.
That concludes our recommendations for the best day trips from Reykjavik. We hope you found our guide useful and can now explore some of Iceland’s best sites, just outside of the city. We encourage you to go on as many day trips as possible during your visit. The scenery is so diverse and each excursion boasts something completely unique! Choose the day trips that you like the sound of best and plan the ultimate Iceland itinerary.
Thanks for reading this complete guide to the best day tours from Reykjavik!
Susie & Ricky, the duo at World Travel Toucan, is a couple that loves to travel but they also have full-time jobs. They’re traveling the world, one holiday at a time, sharing experiences and advice so you can do the same!
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