A trip to Iceland typically means a road trip around the Ring Road with long days of driving and switching hotels every night. However, if you are only spending a week or less in Iceland, it is possible to base yourself in the capital city 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. You have a choice of either booking a rental car and self-driving or booking a guided tour with a pick-up in Reykjavik for the most popular day trips.
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 without unpacking and repacking every day or dealing with the challenge of finding suitable accommodations along the route.
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.
Now, let’s take a look at the best day trips from Reykjavik:
1. Snaefellsnes Peninsula
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 Snæfellsnes 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 if you want to see more details. Most Snaefellsnes day tours will head counterclockwise, starting in Stykkishólmur. However, a great way to avoid crowds is to visit the southern side of the peninsula first and end in Stykkishólmur before returning back to Reykjavik.
Another benefit of traveling in this direction is that you can arrange to see Kirkjufell around sunset (depending on the time of year of course) and join the line of photographers with their tripods looking for that iconic photo. It also leaves you to have dinner in Stykkishólmur at Sjávarpakkhúsid, which is a terrific local seafood restaurant that serves up an amazing seafood stew or mussels.
A few of the must-do stops on a Snaefellsnes day trip include:
- Budakirkja black church in Búdir for its striking architecture and scenic location on the coast, where you can also walk down to the beach or hike along the coast
- Raudfeldsgja gorge is a narrow canyon in the cliff wall that you can hike into for a very cool and unique experience. Raudfeldsgja is not included in most tours of the Snaefellsnes peninsula, but it is well worth the stop if you are self-driving or taking a private tour.
- The stunning Arnarstapi cliffs and land bridge are not to be missed. You can have lunch here at the fish and chips food truck or enjoy a lunch buffet at the Arnarstapi Restaurant and Bar. After lunch, follow the path out to a large stone giant and then turn left to walk along the dramatic cliffs until you get to a fishing village. Or, turn left and hike along the cliffs up to Hellnar.
- Lóndranga is where you can see a towering volcanic plug and where the lava has flowed into the sea, creating quite beautiful landscapes. This can be a quick 30-minute stop if all you do is walk up to the overlook and take some photos. However, give yourselves at least an hour if you want to follow the path along the cliffs.
- Djúpalónssandur black sand beach is a great place for photos with dramatic rock formations that contrast with the black sand and pebble beach.
- Saxholl is a volcanic crater left by a volcanic eruption 3,000 years ago. Be prepared to climb some stairs to take a look at the crater from the top.
- Snaefellsjökull is the volcano with the Snaefellsjökull glacier on top that dominates the landscape as you loop around the Snaefellsnes peninsula and the National Park. This inspired Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.
- Kirkjufell is also called Arrow Mountain due to its shape and is that iconic image that people associate with Snaefellsnes. Kirkjufell also made an appearance in Game of Thrones. You will want to arrive well before sunset to get a parking spot and walk over to see Kirkufellsfoss waterfall.
- Finish in the small, charming town of Stykkishólmur for dinner.
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 a gorgeous coastline.
You can take a Snaefellsnes Peninsula group tour with Hidden Iceland and receive 10% off with promo code WE3TRAVEL.
2. West Iceland
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 Glacier, 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 man-made tunnel in the ice. Unlike ice cave tours, which are only possible in the winter months, you can visit Into the Glacier year-round.
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.
3. Golden Circle
The famous Golden Circle is one of the most popular Reykjavik day trips. While this area is a short drive from Reykjavik, you will want to give yourself a full day to explore
A Golden Circle tour typically travels clockwise through these natural wonders, so if you are self-driving a great option to avoid the big bus tours is to 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. Icelandic musician Björk once performed from a platform on the lake in this crater.
As you drive towards Flúðir, plan a stop at the Farmer’s Bistro, where they not only serve delicious food but you can also 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 buses tend to arrive.
Continue on to the two-tiered Gullfoss waterfall, one of Iceland’s most stunning waterfalls. There are two falls and multiple viewing areas, so you will want to take some time to explore and enjoy them. Chances are that if the sun is out, you will also see a rainbow!
Just down the road is the Geysir Geothermal area. This is home to bubbling mud pots and steaming hot springs, along with the original “Geysir” (where we get the English word geyser.) It doesn’t take long to see the active Strokkur geyser erupt, as it does every four to ten minutes. It begins with a giant blue bubble of water that explodes into the air. It isn’t as tall or dramatic as something like Old Faithful in Yellowstone, but the fact that you can get so close to see the pressure building before it erupts and feel the warm mist on your face makes it more exciting.
You can also stop here for lunch at the Geysir Bistro or grab some homemade 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 National Park.) Besides being a natural wonder, this UNESCO World Heritage site 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. If you are adventurous, you can even snorkel between the tectonic plates in Silfra.
From Thingvellir, you can complete your Golden Circle route and easily return to Reykjavik for the night.
Take a Golden Circle Platinum tour with Hidden Iceland and save 10% with promo code WE3TRAVEL.
4. Iceland’s South Coast
A day trip to Southern Iceland is one of the most beautiful drives you will experience — covering stunning waterfalls, gorgeous green cliffs, rolling lava fields, and black sand beaches. You will see plenty of Icelandic horses and fields dotted with sheep along your drive.
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 waterfall. You will see the waterfall as you make your approach along the Ring Road but getting to walk right up to the base of the falls, and then actually walk behind the waterfall is a do n’t-miss experience!
While all the bus tours stop here, not as many continue a short distance down the cliff face to 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. This is actually my favorite waterfall on Iceland’s South Coast.
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 Reynisfjara beach. A rock collapse in August 2019 closed a large portion of this beach, but much is still accessible so you can walk on the black sand beach and see the famous sea stacks and basalt columns.
I would typically recommend finishing up this day trip from Reykjavik in Vík, where you can explore the town, have something to eat, walk along the gorgeous black sand beach, and see dramatic sea stack rock formations.
I know that some people will go all the way to Diamond Beach and the Jökulsárlón 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. Then you will have time to take a boat ride in the lagoon to see the icebergs in the summer months or in winter months, take a guided tour of an ice cave.
Book a South Coast Fire & Ice Tour with Hidden Iceland and save 10% with promo code WE3TRAVEL.
5. Reykjanes Peninsula
The Keflavik International Airport is located on the Reykjanes Peninsula (pronounced (pronounced Reyk-ee-ness), 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 a few of the highlights include:
- Raufarhólshellir Lava Tunnel takes you into the earth to see the remnants of an ancient volcanic eruption
- Seltun geothermal area – this area features mud pots and hot springs that are easily accessible from the parking lot along a boardwalk
- Lake Kleifarvatn – the lake is one of the deepest in Iceland and the largest on the Reykjanes peninsula. It is a beautiful spot to photograph because of the volcanic landscape and lava fields surrounding the lake. There is even a belief that a “Loch Ness Monster-like” giant worm and a medium-sized whale live in the lake.
- Gunnuhver geothermal area – this geothermal area features bubbling mud pools and steaming fissures. The largest feature is the Gunnuhver mud pot. Legend has it that this was named for a ghost who attacked people and shook the houses, which a local reverend was able to get rid of by forcing her into the mud pot.
- The bridge between two continents – here you can cross the 60-foot-long bridge that connects the North American and Eurasian continental plates or walk through the sandy soil of the Alfagja rift valley between two continents.
- The Reykjanes and Gardur lighthouses
- Geldingadalur volcano lava field – this site has been dormant since the fall of 2021 so you can’t currently see active lava flows but you can still see the newest lava fields in Iceland
Other points of interest that you might want to stop at on your way to the airport or as part of a day trip from Reykjavik are the Viking World Museum or the Icelandic Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
You can take a group tour of the Reykjanes Peninsula including the lava tunnel and lava field with Hidden Iceland. Save 10 percent with promo code WE3TRAVEL.
6. Capital Region
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. First of all, there is plenty to do in Reykjavik itself, including the lava, ice, and Northern Lights exhibits at Perlan, the Saga Museum, Hallsgrimkirkja church, shopping, the Whales of Iceland Museum, and Harpa concert hall.
If you are up for an excursion, head to the town of Mosfellsbaer for lunch at the Mosfells Bakery. After lunch, it is time to get dirty with a buggy adventure (use promo code WE3TRAVEL to save 10%) 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.
If that isn’t your cup of tea, you can also book a session at one of Iceland’s newest hot springs, the scenic Sky Lagoon on the outskirts of Reykjavik.
In the winter, at night you can take an excursion from Reykjavik to get into the countryside with the hope of seeing the Northern Lights. Book a small group Northern Lights tour here!
7. Glacier Hiking
If you are visiting the Land of Ice and Fire, you will want to get up close to the ice portion of the country. A great way to do this year-round is by taking a glacier hike in Iceland. There are two main places to go glacier hiking in Iceland: Sólheimajökull glacier in south Iceland or Vatnajökull glacier near Skaftafell. Since Sólheimajökull is only a two-hour drive from Reykjavik, this makes a much better choice as a day trip from Reykjavik.
Sólheimajökull is part of the Mýrdalsjökull ice cap, which covers the caldera of the volcano Katla, one of Iceland’s biggest volcanoes. On your glacier hike you will pass crevasses, sinkholes with waterfalls, and ice ridges, plus have a chance to drink fresh glacial water!
Book a glacier hike tour!
BONUS: Other Day Tours from Reykjavik
There are many unique things to do in Iceland that are within driving distance from Reykjavik. Some of these can only be done as part of a guided tour. A few that we have done and loved include:
Þórsmärk Valley, also known as Thorsmark, is a wide valley in South Iceland named after Thor, the Viking God of Thunder. Plenty has thundered in this valley, which is framed on three sides by glaciers ( Eyjafjallajökull, Mýrdalsjökull and Tindfjallajökull) and has seen its share of volcanic eruptions.
If you want to get off the beaten path of the Ring Road and see some of Iceland’s untouched interior, an Iceland super jeep tour into Thorsmark is the way to go as you can’t access this area by standard rental car. On this tour you will ford rivers and go deep into Iceland’s glacial interior for a truly exciting journey.
Book a Super Jeep tour of Thorsmark with Hidden Iceland and save 10 percent with promo code WE3TRAVEL.
From the South Coast, you can take an ATV tour onto a Black Sand Beach to see the famous plane wreck. You will cross small streams and rivers to the black sand beach near Dyrhólaey and then continue to to the DC-3 plane wreck before looping back to home base. This is a great adventure for adults and teens, especially if you have some experience off-roading.
Book an ATV Tour with Hidden Iceland and save 10 percent with promo code WE3TRAVEL
Learn More about Visiting Iceland
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.
- 5 Day Iceland itinerary
- 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
- When to do Iceland with kids
Where to Stay in Reykjavik
I’ve written an entire post about family-friendly hotels in Reykjavik, but you can also search for availability in Reykjavik using the map below: