With airlines like Icelandair offering the opportunity to stopover in Iceland as part of a trip from the USA to Europe, we think there’s no better time for a short visit to this stunning country. With that in mind we’ve put together what we think are some of the best day trips from Reykjavik, for visitors who want to just based themselves in Iceland’s capital city and explore from there.
This means you can find the perfect place to stay in the city, not have to re-pack every day, and then explore the highlights of Iceland every day for as long (or as short!) as you are stopping over.
With the exception of the glacier / ice cave tours, all of the day trips we recommend can be done either on your own with a hire car (check prices and book here). Of course, the majority of these trips can also be booked via a tour company.
If you decide to use a tour company, we have used and are happy to recommend Iceland Travel who offer day trips, group tours and multi-day self drive road trip itineraries. They’ve been running trips in Iceland for decades, and have a lot of local experience to help ensure you get the best experience.
We also recommend tours from other operators in this post that we think are a good fit for each activity. Always remember when comparing tours to check what is and what isn’t included on the tour, so you can understand the value.
For further planning, we’ve also written a number of posts about Iceland, including sharing some of our favourite photography locations in Iceland, our tips for planning a trip to Iceland, and detailed 5 day and 7 day self drive Iceland Itineraries.
If you’re looking for a longer guided trip, see our guide to some of the best multi-day guided tours of Iceland to give you an idea of what’s available for everything from 2 days two weeks, across a variety of price points.
Let’s take a look now at our favourite day trips from Reykjavik in Iceland.
Day Trips from Reykjavik
1. Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
Whilst these aren’t in any particular order, I would definitely put a visit to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula near the top of your Iceland wishlist. Situated about a two hour drive to the north-west of the capital, this is a very achievable destination to visit as a day trip from Reykjavik.
Here you will find the incredible and fantastically photogenic Kirkjufell mountain, which sits as the backdrop to the Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall. This is a unmissable photographic opportunity in Iceland, and made the top of my list of photography locations in Iceland.
There’s more to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula than Kirkjufell though. Other highlights include the incredible Snæfellsjökull Glacier, which can actually be hiked on in the right conditions. There’s the 19th century wooden Búðir Church. There are the Gerðuberg basalt columns – 14 metre high columns that just jut up out of the landscape. There’s also the opportunity to spot seals at Ytri-Tunga beach.
And there’s lots more – including a landscape that inspired Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth, more incredible waterfalls, fantastic golden beaches, the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum where you can try fermented shark meat – the list goes on!
You can easily drive here yourself with a hire car and tour around, and there’s certainly enough to do here to allocate two days if you have the time. Otherwise, there are a number of operators operating tours to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula which leaves from Reykjavik.
2. The Golden Circle
One of the most popular day trips from Reykjavik is the Golden Circle trip, which follows a route to the north east of the city and visits three of Iceland’s most popular attractions, Thingvellir, Gullfoss waterfall, and the Geysers.
Thingvellir National Park (Icelandic: Þingvellir national park), is a National Park (the first in Iceland in fact) and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s interesting for a number of reasons. First, it was the site of Iceland’s first parliament, and meetings were held here as far back ago as 938. There’s a museum you can explore, and a number of sites you can visit on a self-guided walking tour.
Thingvellir is also interesting for its tectonic and volcanic activity, and you can clearly see the action of the continental drift between the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates here, which has resulted in huge rifts and cracks in the ground.
You can actually go snorkelling here in stunningly clear waters and see the continental divide from a unique perspective. This is one of the more popular activities in Thingvellir, so definitely worth booking in advance. Don’t worry – a dry suit is provided to keep you warm in the freezing waters!
There’s also a beautiful waterfall in Thingvellir, Öxarárfoss, which is worth the short ten minute walk to visit.
After Thingvellir, the next stop on the Golden Circle tour is Geysir. This geothermal area is home to geysers, bubbling mud posts and steaming landscapes, and is in fact the home of the original “Geysir”, where the English word for geyser comes from.
Finally, your Golden Circle adventure will take you to Gullfoss, one of Iceland’s most spectacular waterfalls. With an average of almost 5,000 cubic feet of water tumbling over the two stage falls every second, it’s an incredible sight that you are not likely to forget.
As you can see, there’s good reason that the Golden Circle is a popular day excursion from Reykjavik. Again, you can drive yourself (check hire car prices here), or you can take a Golden Circle day tour, all of which depart from Reykjavik.
There are a number of variants of this popular tour, including a private Golden Circle tour, a Golden Circle Food Tour, which combines sight-seeing with traditional Icelandic delicacies, a digitally enhanced Golden Circle tour, a Golden Circle tour that includes Kerid Crater and a Golden Circle Express tour which is a quicker tour.
If you also want to do the Blue Lagoon, there are a number of tours that include the Blue Lagoon with the Golden Circle, such as this one.
Deal alert: We have a discount code for 5% off the Golden Circle Classic tour with Iceland Travel – just enter the code ICT2018 at checkout to save!
3. The South Coast
Iceland’s South Coast is home to some of Iceland’s most iconic sights. It’s here you’ll find the sixty metre high waterfall you can walk behind (Seljalandsfoss), the absolutely spectacular Skogafoss waterfall, and the beautiful black sand beach and basalt columns at Reynisfjara, near the picturesque town of Vik.
Continuing beyond Vik you’ll find the unusual Svartifoss Waterfall which tumbles over black columnar rock formations, the Svínafellsjökull Glacier that you can get so close as to almost touch, and the otherworldly Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon.
It is certainly possible to do the majority of the highlights of south Iceland as listed above as a day trip from Reykjavik, just be prepared for a very long day (it’s about five hours driving each way from one end to the other in a car, not counting any stops!). If you are keen on seeing the highlights of the south coast, then we would suggest trying to stretch it over two days if possible.
Of course, there are group day tours that offer the south coast in one day. We have a number of suggestions for you to consider, depending on your stamina and group size preferences.
First, the year round South Shore adventure tour. This takes around 10 hours, and covers all the highlights all the way out to Vik, including the main waterfalls and the black sand beach. This is another version of that tour.
In the summer, you can do also a 14 hour tour which travels all the way to the Glacial Lagoon, and which includes a boat ride on the lagoon itself, something that isn’t possible in winter.
Finally, if you would prefer a smaller tour and the opportunity to actually get on a glacier, check out the super-jeep tour that covers the south coast and Eyjafjallajokull glacier. This has a number of extra stops and the super jeep means you’ll be able to get off road and up close to some of those wild Icelandic landscapes.
Deal alert: We have a discount code for 5% off the South Coast and Glacial Lagoon tour with Iceland Travel – just enter the code ICT2018 at checkout to save!
4. The Blue Lagoon
If all of the exploring has taken it out of you (or just sounds like too much work), then a day trip to the Blue Lagoon might be exactly the cure for you.
Situated relatively close to Iceland’s main airport, this is a popular stopping point for visitors who are arriving or departing Iceland, but it also easily accessible from Reykjavik.
The Lagoon is a large complex, with the main draw of course being the huge, geothermally heated outdoor lagoon itself, which is a beautiful blue colour. Here you can relax all your cares away, enjoy a drink at the swim up bars (the smoothies are excellent!), and enjoy smearing mud on your face.
As well as the lagoon itself, there are spa facilities and on-site restaurants, so you could make a day of it, although we think about half a day would probably work for most people, with the average visit lasting a couple of hours.
Pre-booking your visit is required, with various packages available. We’d recommend the Comfort level as this includes a towel and a drink, which is definitely convenient. You can also arrange transport to the Blue Lagoon as part of the ticket booking, or you can drive yourself.
There are also a number of tour companies, including Iceland Travel, that offer transport to the Blue Lagoon, although you still need to book tickets to the Lagoon itself. There are also options for stopping at the Blue Lagoon either on arrival or departure from the airport, which makes sense as you go right past the Blue Lagoon when travelling between Keflavik Airport and Reykjavik.
Finally, if you really want to have a full day, you can combine a Golden Circle tour with a trip to the Secret Lagoon. This is a less visited spot than the Blue Lagoon, but will let you combine two adventures (the Golden Circle and a thermal bath) in one full day.
One last tip if you’re on a tight budget but still want to experience the wonders of the Icelandic thermal waters: why not visit one of the city pools in Reykjavik instead of the Blue Lagoon? These have the same geothermally heated water as the Blue Lagoon, but are available at a fraction of the price. Plus, if you pick up a Reykjavík City Card while you’re in the city, these can be visited entirely for free!
5. Reykjavik Itself
We think it’s a shame that so many visitors come to Iceland and spend their time exploring Iceland but not really experiencing Reykjavik – a city which has plenty to offer. We would definitely recommend that you spend at least half a day, if not a full day, seeing some of the many sights that the city has on offer.
Jess will be writing a full post about sight-seeing in Reykjavik over on her blog, but in the meantime, we would definitely recommend taking in Hallgrimskirkja, Iceland’s tallest church and the beautiful Sun Voyager statue.
Then, depending on your interests, you may also want to visit the National Museum of Iceland, The Settlement Exhibition, The Saga Museum, The Árbaer Open Air Museum, to name but a few of the many worthwhile attractions in the city. There are also numerous shops, bars and restaurants, plus the city itself is picturesque for wandering in.
This is definitely something that is easy to do on your own, but if you would prefer a guided experience, check out this Reykjavik Sightseeing Tour.
Finally, many visitors to Iceland want to see puffins and/or whales, and you might be surprised to learn that you can see both of these on trips that depart from Reykjavik. We took the hour long Puffin Express trip from Reykjavik and saw numerous puffins, making this an excellent value option for Puffin spotting. There’s also a longer Whale Watching tour departing from the city centre.
Note that both the Whale Watching tour and the Puffin Express offer the option to add on lunch at Kopar, which is an excellent seafood restaurant on the harbour – we’ve eaten here, and we think this is a great value addon for your trip. If you are interested in seeing Puffins elsewhere in Iceland, check out our detailed guide to Puffins in Iceland, which has everything you need to know!
6. Game of Thrones locations
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, the chances are that you will have heard of the Game of Thrones TV show. What you might not know is that the fantasy land of Westeros, and in particular the snowy scenes shot “north of The Wall”, are actually filmed for the most part in Iceland.
This is excellent news for fans of the show, as it means you can visit many of the key locations from the show as a Reykjavik excursion, including one of the wildling camps and the pass to the Eyrie, both of which were filmed at Thingvellir national park.
As locations were found all over Iceland, there are only so many you can visit from Reykjavik itself. You’ll want to take a Game of Thrones tour to visit the key sites within a day of the city. There’s another version of that tour available here.
Other tours are also available, including an epic four day Game of Thrones guided tour, which is for serious fans with a bit more time on their hands!
7. Into the Glacier
One of our favourite experiences in Iceland was a tour called “Into the Glacier”. This involves driving across Europe’s second highest glacier (Langjokull) on a monster 8 wheeler former NATO missile launch truck, followed by a walk inside the Langjokull ice tunnel.
Even though the weather wasn’t fantastic when we did this, it was still a lot of fun.
This tour is an excellent way to experience a glacier from the outside and inside and see those eerie icy blue colours.
In addition, if you do this as a day trip from Reykjavik, the tour also affords you the opportunity to visit other highlights of this less visited area, including the incredible Hraunfossar waterfalls, Europe’s largest hot spring area (Deildartunguhver), and, in the summer months, the Iceland Travel version of the tour includes a trip to Thingvellir national park.
Of course, you can also make your own way out here and book the tour directly with Into the Glacier, should you prefer to travel under your own steam.
8. Northern Lights (autumn to Spring)
If you’re visiting Iceland outside of the summer months, a trip to see the Northern Lights should definitely be on your list. Ok, so calling this a day trip might be a stretch, as obviously you’re going to want to do this one at night!
Taking a guided tour to see the northern lights is going to give you the best chance to see them, as local guides will have the best idea of the local weather conditions as well as the best spots to see them without light pollution.
Northern Lights viewing is one of the most popular activities in Iceland, and as such there are a wide range of Northern Lights tours departing from Reykjavik, including this selection from Iceland Travel, these on GetYourGuide, and these on Guide to Iceland.
Some we suggest you include in your shortlist are this coach based tour, this small group tour, this well reviewed and good value coach option, this one that offers the opportunity to see the lights from a boat, and finally, the more private super jeep tour.
Obviously, all of these tours are offered subject to the weather, and can be cancelled if conditions are not good. They also usually come with a guarantee that if the tour goes ahead but no northern lights are seen, then you will be issued a free ticket for another attempt. So with that in mind, we highly recommend you book your tour as early in your trip as possible.
Deal alert: We have a discount code for 5% off the Northern Lights mystery tour with Iceland Travel – just enter the code ICT2018 at checkout to save!
The day trip from Reykjavik to Landmannalaugar is one of the most popular day trips from Reykjavik, and for good reason. Landmannalaugar is an otherworldly landscape of colourful mountains, smoking hillsides and bubbling mud pots, accessed across vast ash covered plains.
Here, you can see the splendour of the Icelandic Highlands, and take a trek through a truly fantastical landscape. The trek takes around an hour to ninety minutes, and does require a bit of a climb through lava fields. It’s also really important to dress appropriately – we visited in June and we got snowed on, with temperatures just above freezing! So layers and waterproof and windproof clothing is essential.
Landmannalaugar is also relatively tricky to access, as the roads can be hard to drive, require a four wheel drive vehicle, and, depending on the time of year and weather conditions, a number of river crossings.
So whilst you can do this if you rent a four wheel drive vehicle, generally we’d suggest taking either a tour, or a bus. There are regular buses through the summer months out to Landmannalaugar from Reykjavik, although these take around four hours each way, so do be prepared for a bit of a trek.
Our preferred option would be do the tour as a dedicated day trip. We did it as a super jeep tour, and whilst a super jeep isn’t strictly necessary, it is a lot of fun. Various operators run super jeep tours to Landmannalaugar, which stop at different attractions, and so the tour you pick should depend on what you want to see. We’d suggest checking out this super jeep tour to Landmannalaugar with Iceland Travel, or this selection on Guide to Iceland.
Don’t forget to bring your swimming clothes – there are free hot tubs at Landmannalaugar if you want to soak a bit after the hike.
10. Þórsmörk (Thorsmork)
Þórsmörk, or the Valley of Thor (what a name!), is one of the most popular hiking destinations in Iceland. In fact, you can hike from here all the way to Landmannalaugar on an epic four day hike, which is one of the most popular things to do in the area.
But, we’re talking about day trips here, and Thorsmork is very much worth visiting just for a day of hiking. It’s a beautiful green valley found under the glaciers of Eyjafjallajokull and Myrdalsjokull, with the 14km hike up Fimmvorduhals volcano being a popular option.
Þórsmörk is one location that you should really consider taking a specific tour to visit. The reason for this is that getting to the Valley of Thor requires some serious river crossings – usually more than 10 – and no hire car in Iceland is ever covered for damage resulting from river crossings.
Alternatively, there are buses that run here, although, as with Landmannalaugar, these do take a while and will eat into your day.
Our suggested tours are again by super jeep, and included this guided volcano hike, or, if you don’t want to tackle a 14km hike, this year round tour of Thorsmork Valley and Eyjafjallajokull Volcano.
11. Ice Cave Tour
If you are visiting Iceland in winter, one of the most popular things to do is to take a tour of an ice cave. These form inside and underneath glaciers, and the incredible hues of the ice make for a fantastic experience.
Note that this is different to the previously mentioned “into the glacier” tour, as that is a man-made tunnel inside a glacier, whilst these ice tours are of naturally formed ice, which is much clearer.
This is definitely a trip that you need to do as a guided tour. Glaciers are notoriously dangerous places, and you want to be in the hands of an expert when visiting an ice cave to minimise any risks.
There are a number of ice cave tours from Reyjkavik, plus some with departures from other areas that you might find yourself. For example, there’s this one to the Vatnajökull Glacier from the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, this one from Skaftafell and this one from Vik.
So if you can get yourself to theses locations under your own steam, you can save a bit of time and money by booking a tour that leaves from here.
Of course, there are multiple ice caves tours that run as a day trip from Reykjavik, including this one to the Vatnajökull Glacier, this one to the Myrdalsjokull Glacier and this one to the Kötlujökull glacier. So we’re sure you’ll be able to find the perfect one for your Iceland trip!
Note, if you aren’t in Iceland in winter, you can get an idea of what an ice cave is like by visiting the Wonders of Iceland attraction at the Perlan in Reykjavik. Here they have a full ice cave recreation display that operates year round, with real ice. It’s very well done (although obviously not the same as the real thing), and is a good alternative.
And that summarises some of our top suggestions for day trips from Reykjavik! If you’re interested in more day tours from Reykjavik, beyond the list above, then do check out all the day tours that Iceland Travel operate here, as well a a selection on GetYourGuide here.
Where to Stay in Reykjavik
Since you’re going to be basing yourself in Reykjavik, you’re going to want somewhere to stay. We’ve stayed at a number of hotels near the city centre which we are happy to recommend, the Grand Hotel, the Reyjkavik Natura Icelandair Hotel and Guesthouse Galtafell.
The latter is the closest to the center and also likely better for those on a tighter budget.
There are however lots more options for accommodation See more lodging options in Reykjavik on booking.com here. We recommend Booking.com as they have pretty much everything from hostels to hotels to apartments, and they offer very competitive pricing and usually a great cancellation policy.
When to Visit Iceland
Iceland is a country that you can visit year round, but there are various considerations to think about when visiting.
If you choose to visit in winter, you need to be aware that there is much less daylight, and wintry weather has the potential to adversely affect your plans, as it can cause road closures. It will also, obviously, be a lot colder in winter, and you’ll need to plan your Iceland packing list accordingly. Some tours are also not offered in winter.
However, winter does bring advantages. It is a much quieter time of year to visit the country, prices are generally lower, and it’s the only time of year for viewing the northern lights. So if a northern lights experience is on your list, you’ll definitely want to visit in winter.
Summer is a much busier time of year to visit, and offers warmer weather, long hours of daylight, and many more tour options. Prices also tend to be higher, and you’ll definitely want to book your tours and accommodation well in advance (ideally at least three – six months for accommodation, but the further in advance the better) to get something that suits what you want.
Further Reading to Help you Plan your Trip to Iceland
We will continuously be updating our Iceland content in the coming months, so this list will be updated as we go. In the meantime, here are some great resources to get you started with planning your trip to Iceland, however long you are visiting for.
- First, we’ve written a detailed planning guide for Iceland, which covers everything you need to know for visiting this beautiful country.
- We’ve also put together a list of some of our favourite photography locations in Iceland from trip to give you some ideas of where to aim to get the best photos – always important!
- If you have longer and want to explore more, Jess has put together a detailed post outlining a seven day Iceland itinerary to give you some route ideas for an epic adventure. We also have a guide to spending five days in Iceland as well as a detailed Iceland ring road road trip itinerary.
- If you’d prefer to take a multi-day guided group tour, check out our guide to some of the best multi-day guided tours of Iceland to give you an idea of what’s available for everything from 2 days two weeks, across a variety of price points
- We have a detailed guide to help you decide what to pack for Iceland in Winter
- We also have a guide to finding the Iceland plane crash, if you’re interested in this unique photography opportunity.
- If you are interested in seeing Puffins in Iceland, check out our detailed guide to Puffins in Iceland, which has everything you need to know!
- We travelled with and recommend Iceland Travel if you’re looking for a tour company in Iceland– check out their website for tour options and prices
- If you’re looking to drive yourself, this is probably the best place to check car rental prices in Iceland
- The weather in Iceland can be fickle – the best website for real-time cloud cover is this one from the Icelandic Met Office.
- On a budget? Here’s a guide to visiting Iceland on a budget to help you make the most of your trip
- Whilst Iceland is a safe country to travel in when it comes to things like crime, the country itself is home to extreme conditions and all sorts of seismic activity. So to stay safe as you go, check out the safetravel Iceland page
- If you’re not sure what camera gear to take with, take a look at both our guide to picking a travel camera, and our personal travel photography gear
- Finally, if you’re visiting in winter, you’ll want to read through my tips for cold weather photography.
And that finishes up my guide to the best day trips you can take from Reykjavik! I hope you enjoyed it. Is Iceland on your list? Do you have a favourite day trip from Reykjavik you want to share? Let us know in the comments below!Home » Destinations » Europe » Iceland »