A trip to Iceland typically means switching hotels every night and long days of driving. However, it is possible to base yourself in the capital city for up to five to six days and still explore a good deal of Iceland by doing day trips from Reykjavik.
It is best to do this in the summer, when you have lots of daylight in which to explore. However, it does also make sense to stay in Reykjavik when you visit during the winter and then book day tours to let someone else do the driving. Traveling to areas like the West Fjords and driving the Ring Road in Northern Iceland can get very tricky in the winter when roads are closed due to weather.
If you do choose to stay the entire time in Reykjavik and take day trips, just understand that this will mean long, full days of exploring — leaving early in the morning and returning in the evening or late at night. I still recommend putting together an Iceland itinerary that moves around on a road trip so that you have more time to squeeze in fun activities and see more of the country, but I certainly understand that it is easier to find a hotel in Reykjavik and stay in the same place for the entire trip.
Day Trips from Reykjavik
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Before heading out of Reykjavik for a day trip, be sure to pick up some snacks at the local Bonus or Krónan and pack a refillable water bottle. Finding places to stop to eat can be limited along the route. Also gas up the car when you see an N1 or other service station — these are also great spots to hit the restroom and grab a bite to eat.
Keep in mind that if you would prefer to take a guided day tour rather than self-drive, I would highly recommend my partner Hidden Iceland. If you book a scheduled small group tour with Hidden Iceland, you will receive 10% when you use promo code WE3TRAVEL. They offer group tours to many of these destinations and can also provide private tours.
It took me three trips to get there but Snaefellsnes is one of my favorite areas in Iceland and it makes a great day trip. Located just two hours west of Reykjavik, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula doesn’t attract the same number of big bus tours that you find in the Golden Circle or the South Coast.
I wrote a whole post about the top nine attractions on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula to see on a day trip from Reykjavik. These include the black church in Budir; Raudfeldsgja gorge, which is a narrow canyon that you can hike into; the stunning Arnarstapi cliffs and land bridge; Lóndranga volcanic plug and cliffs; Djúpalónssandur black sand beach; Saxholl volcanic crater; the Snaefellsjökull glacier; and the Kirkjufell (Arrow) mountain and waterfalls.
It certainly makes for a long day trip, but it can be done with a late return to Reykjavik. The landscape is stunning and you get a taste of the essence of Iceland — volcanoes, glaciers, waterfalls, and gorgeous coastline.
If you stay over in the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, it is easy to add on a day in West Iceland, but you can also visit this area from a home base in Reykjavik. You will just cover a bit of the same road as you did heading into Snaefellsnes.
You will want to get an early start and head north toward Borgarnes and Reykholt. Your ultimate destination will be Langjokull, Iceland’s second-largest glacier. If you are traveling in the winter, be sure to check road conditions before leaving your hotel.
Along the way, you can stop at the Krauma geothermal spa and the Deildartunguhver hot spring. Another popular spot is the Haafell Goat Farm (call ahead to make an appointment.) Stop by the Icelandic Goat Centre to meet the endangered species of goats, as well as horses, sheep, Icelandic chickens, silkie chickens, dogs and cats.
Another 15-30 minutes will bring you to the Hraunfossar and Barnafoss waterfalls. Watch your time as you will need to make sure to meet your reservation for the Into the Glacier tour. This tour will take you out onto the glacier and into a manmade ice tunnel. Be sure to have lunch at the Husafell Bistro, or make a reservation at Hotel Husafell, before departing on your tour.
On the return drive to Reykjavik, you can stop at the Grábrók Crater. Here you can climb along the rims of three volcanic craters and take a look at the remnant of Viking settlements. Your final stop can be the Glanni Waterfall, set in the Nordura River.
The Golden Circle is one of the most popular Reykjavik day trips. If you are self-driving and want to avoid the big bus tours as much as possible, follow this loop counter-clockwise, in the following order. Your first stop will be at the Kerid Crater for a short hike along the upper rim of the caldera.
As you drive towards Flúðir, plan a stop at the Farmer’s Bistro, where they not only serve delicious food, but you can learn how Icelanders harness geothermal energy to grow fruit and vegetables year round.
If you want to visit a natural hot spring, take a dip in the Secret Lagoon, located in Flúðir. Reservations aren’t usually required in the mornings, but they are in the afternoon when the busses tend to arrive.
Continue on to the two-tiered Gulfoss waterfall and the Geysir Geothermal area. You can also stop here for lunch at the Geysir Bistro or grab some home-made ice cream at the Efstidalur dairy farm, located midway between Geysir and Thingvellir National park.
Your final stop of the day will be Thingvellir National Park (also written as Þingvellir.) Besides being a natural wonder, it is also the sight where the world’s longest continuously run parliament was founded and still running 1,000 years later. Thingvellir lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic ridge. You can clearly see the rift and how the movement of the tectonic plates pulls the island apart, approximately 2.5 cm every year.
A day trip to the South Coast of Iceland is one of the most beautiful drives you will experience — covering stunning waterfalls, gorgeous green cliffs, rolling lava fields, and black sand beaches. Start off at the Lava Centre to learn about Icelandic volcanoes and geology. Alternatively you can end your day at the Icelandic Lava Show in Vík.
Then you can start to explore some of the prettiest waterfalls in Iceland (be sure to pack your rain gear.) First up will be Seljalandsfoss, where you can walk behind the waterfall, and Gljúfrarbúi, where you hike into a narrow canyon to find this not-so-secret waterfall. Thirty minutes further down the road you will come to Skogafoss waterfall in Skogar. You can walk to the foot of the falls or climb a staircase to see the falls from above.
After exploring the waterfalls, continue along Rt 1 to Rt 218 to Dyrhólaey, a promontory where puffins nest in the summer and a stone sea arch. Another popular stop along the south coast is the black sand beach at Reynisfjara but a rock collapse in August 2019 has closed a large portion of this beach so you will want to check current conditions before going there for your own safety. However, you can still see the gorgeous black sand beach and dramatic sea stack rock formations in Vík.
There are a few spots to grab some food along the way or on your return, including fish and chips trucks at Seljalandsfoss and the Black Sand Beach restaurant at Reynisfjara. In Vík, I would also recommend Halldorskaffi or Vik Sudur.
I know that some people will go all the way to the Diamond Beach and Glacier Lagoon on a day trip from Reykjavik but I have done it, and I don’t recommend it. It is an 18-hour day and a ton of driving. If you have a week to spend in Iceland, I would break this trip up into two days and stay overnight near the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon.
The Keflavik International Airport is located on the Reykjanes Peninsula, which makes it a perfect place to explore on the day that you arrive or depart Iceland. You can also break it up across both days, taking the arrival day to visit the Blue Lagoon for a few hours, one of Iceland’s most popular attractions (even if I didn’t love it.) Then you can visit the other attractions before you depart.
I’ve outlined how to visit the Reykjanes Peninsula on a day trip, but you will want to make sure to visit the Seltun geothermal area, Lake Kleifarvatn, Gunnuhver geothermal area, Valahnúkamöl cliffs, the bridge between two continents, and the Hvalsneskirkja church in Sandgerði. Also make sure you see the Reykjanes and Gardur lighthouses.
Luckily day trips from Reykjavik don’t always need to involve hours and hours of driving. There are a number of fun activities in the Capital Region that you can combine into a day trip. I would recommend starting out with a Raufarholshellir Lava Cave tour, which is located about 30 minutes outside of Reykjavik and is one of the longest and best-known lava tubes in Iceland.
After your cave tour, drive approximately 30 minutes from the lava cave to the town of Mosfellsbaer for lunch at the Mosfells Bakery. After lunch, it is time to get dirty with a buggy adventure (don’t worry, they give you stuff to cover your clothes.) You will strap into a two-seat buggy and drive over the rugged landscape by the slopes of Esja Mountain; climbing hills, running through river beds and much more.
Day Tours from Reykjavik
In addition to self-driving trips to different attractions, you also have the option to take organized tours that pick up and drop off in Reykjavik. A few that we have done and loved include:
- Superjeep tour into Thorsmork Valley
- ATV tour on the Black Sand Beach to see the airplane wreck
- Glacier hiking on the South Coast
You may also want to consider one of the following:
If you are visiting Iceland, don’t miss some of the other articles I’ve written based on my three trips to Iceland and the 20+ trips I have planned for others. And don’t forget, if you book a scheduled group tour with Hidden Iceland, you will receive 10% when you use promo code WE3TRAVEL.
- 3, 5, and 7-day Iceland itineraries
- How much does a trip to Iceland cost?
- Iceland travel tips (and tips for visiting Iceland in winter)
- Iceland packing list for summer and winter
- Where to eat in Reykjavik
- 4 day Westfjords itinerary
- When to do Iceland with kids