Anyone visiting Iceland should include at least some time in the country’s capital of Reykjavik. While there are things to see and do in Reykjavik itself, the best thing about the city is that it is an easy jumping off point from which to see other parts of Iceland. Using the city as a base, you can venture out each day and find things to see in Iceland outside of Reykjavik
Many day tours from Reykjavik explore the amazing landscapes that made Iceland so perfect as a filming location for Game of Thrones. But rather than just admiring Iceland’s beauty from afar, many of these day trips actually let you explore the island’s wonders up close. So without further ado here are some of the best day trips from Reykjavik.
1. Golden Circle
Definitely one of the most popular Reykjavik day trips that first-timers to Iceland will want to take is the classic Golden Circle route. This special sightseeing loop takes visitors to three major natural landmarks; Thingvellir National Park, Geysir, and the Gullfoss waterfall. Thingvellir National Park is special for two reasons, one of which is that it sits between the continental tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia. The other is that it was home to Iceland’s Althing national parliament from 930 to 1798. Geysir, as its name suggests, is a geothermal area home to several geysers including the Strokkur geyser which erupts every 5-10 minutes. Last but not least is the gorgeous Gullfoss waterfall which falls 32 meters across two levels.
Getting there: The easiest way to visit the three sights in one go is to take the popular Golden Circle tour. Otherwise, your only other option is to rent a car, since there aren’t regular buses that cover the route.
2. Blue Lagoon
Many visitors to Iceland are eager to see the famous Blue Lagoon. This geothermal spa quickly became a bucket list spot in Iceland thanks to atmospheric photos of it on Instagram. While the spa is actually man-made, it is enchanting nonetheless thanks to the steam rising off its milky blue water and the volcanic rocks that surround it. Soak yourself in the spa’s steamy mineral waters while you treat yourself to a silica mud mask. The outdoor spa has a swim up bar and in-water massages, and you can also visit the on-site sauna and steam rooms. The Blue Lagoon is the perfect place to pamper yourself after days of sightseeing.
Getting there: The Blue Lagoon is definitely one of the best side trips from Reykjavik, because a Blue Lagoon transfer can easily be included as you travel to or from Keflavik Airport. Alternatively, there are some guided tours that include it as part of their itinerary.
3. Whale Watching
Iceland isn’t home to a lot of wildlife, but there is the chance to go whale watching while you’re there. Widely agreed to be one of the best day tours from Reykjavik, there are more than 20 different types of whales, dolphins, and porpoises in Iceland’s waters. Sailing out of Reykjavik, tourists wearing waterproof suits head out along the coast in search of treasured marine life. The most common sightings onboard are of minke and humpback whales, while blue whales and orcas are rarer sights. There’s usually an educational aspect to the journey, with informational displays on board and a knowledgeable guide available to answer your questions.
Getting there: This is one day trip that can only be done on a guided tour.
4. Snæfellsnes Peninsula
Without question, one of the best places to visit from Reykjavik is the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Over on the country’s west coast, this peninsula is home to countless impressive natural features and slices of coastal life. Some of the most engrossing sights include the special glacier of Snæfellsjökull, the black sand beach at Djúpalónssandur, and the fairytale-like waterfall of Kirkjufellsfoss. One especially scenic stop along the peninsula is the little harbor village of Arnarstapi, with stone bridges and arches which have formed along its cliffs. Then there’s the sleepy fishing town of Stykkishólmur which has managed to retain its quaint historical character, making it a joy to walk through.
Getting there: To really see the best sights of the peninsula in a single day, you need to visit with an organized tour. Your other option is to drive around this stretch of coast, but it is around a 2-hour drive just to get there.
Not all of Iceland is easily accessible year round due to the arctic winters, so places like Landmannalaugar are mostly visited during summer. This region in the southern Highlands of Iceland is known for the unusual colors that run through its barren mountains, its volcanic deserts, and the natural hot springs which are sprinkled about. Trips to Landmannalaugar usually revolve around hiking, as there are many trails that worm their way across this stark, beautiful landscape. After you’ve admired the speckled colors through the area’s mountains and passed the eerie Laugahraun lava fields, you can unwind with a soak in one of the free naturally-heated pools which explains the name Landmannalaugar or “The People’s Pools”.
Getting there: To visit Landmannalaugar it is possible to drive yourself, pick up a map, and go hiking on your own. However, if you’d prefer to have a guide take you around, a guided tour is the way to go.
6. South Coast
A trip along Iceland’s south coast is a must. This remarkable stretch of coastline will treat you to all sorts of fantastic natural features which are what make Iceland such a magical place. Stop in at waterfalls like Seljalandsfoss where you can walk around behind the waterfall, or Skógafoss where you can walk up to the top of it’s 60-meter drop. From the road you can see incredible sights like Eyjafjallajökull volcano and fields full of Icelandic ponies. Then there’s the sights at the water’s edge, such as the black sand beach of Reynisfjara and its fascinating basalt columns. Plus, you can get right up close to the Sólheimajökull glacier and marvel at one of Iceland’s most defining geographical elements.
Getting there: While it is possible to drive up along the coast with a rental car, you won’t have the same understanding of what you’re seeing as you will when visiting on an informative guided tour.
7. Raufarhólshellir Lava Tunnel
Iceland has a long history of volcanic activity and regularly sees its landscapes changed as a result. To get a sense of this impact first hand, take a visit down through the Raufarhólshellir lava tunnel. The fourth longest lava cave in Iceland, Raufarhólshellir is over a kilometer long and has a footbridge which visitors can walk along to see the tunnel’s sights. Cave-ins have occurred throughout the tunnel, creating skylights which let snow in and illuminate the cave. Because of the minerals in the rocks, the cave boasts a wide array of different colors which together create a captivating effect. Visitors can take either the standard tour which takes up to an hour, or the longer 4-hour tour which takes you far deeper into the caves.
Getting there: Just 30 minutes away by car, Raufarhólshellir is an easy road trip from Reykjavik. However, you can only visit inside with a guided tour so you’ll need to take one regardless of how you get there.
8. Thrihnukagigur Volcano
Some of Iceland’s volcanoes, like Thrihnukagigur, are now dormant and able to be visited. Just a short trip from Reykjavik, Thrihnukagigur has been dormant now for 4,000 years and its magma chamber has since been drained, making it possible for travellers to venture down inside of it safely. The only volcano in the world with an elevator inside its magma chamber, you can descend 120 meters and ponder the forces of nature that have shaped your surroundings. Reaching the volcano isn’t simple though, it requires you hike roughly 45 minutes there and back across uneven terrain in a lava field. But it’s worth it to say that you have walked around inside a volcano.
Getting there: Since a visit to and into the volcano requires a guide and safety gear, the best way to visit Thrihnukagigur is by taking a guided tour that will handle the logistics.
9. Silfra Fissure
Thingvellir National Park is home to one of the best places to visit in Iceland, Silfra. As the two tectonic plates that border Thingvellir widen, deep fissures form. Silfra is one of the largest and deepest fissures in the park. Flooded by natural springs of meltwater, the water in Silfra is exceptionally clean and clear, making it ideal for snorkelling and scuba diving. This means that not only can you swim between continental plates but you can also explore down into the caves and see the details of the fissure below. Since you’re swimming around in a melted glacier, the water is extremely cold, so dry suits are worn to keep people comfortable.
Getting there: Doing an activity like this requires equipment and an instructor, so it only makes sense that you would go with a fully organized tour. There are options though where you handle your own transport.
10. Langjökull Glacier Ice Cave
They do say that Iceland is the land of fire and ice, so an alternative to visiting volcanoes is to delve into the frozen depths of the Langjökull Glacier ice cave. Iceland is home to countless glaciers, but Langjökull is the island’s second largest and home to a man-made tunnel which can take you into the heart of the glacier. This means that you’ll not only be able to walk around on the ice cap, but also see the blue-colored ice inside. Visiting the ice cave not only means getting to walk around inside the glacier, but also getting to drive around in a vehicle specially designed for traveling on glaciers and learning more about glaciers and the devastating impact climate change has had on them.
Getting there: Given that you can’t drive about on the glacier on your own, you’ll need to visit the ice cave as part of an organized tour.
There you have 10 fantastic options for day trips that let you explore the treasures found in this part of Iceland. Reykjavik makes a convenient base for exploring this corner of the island and day trips really are the best way to see what Iceland has to offer.