Iceland is a pretty big island, and if we’re being perfectly honest, the roads here are a little slower than in other countries. This means traveling around the entire vicinity of Iceland might take longer than you’d previously imagined. Thankfully, there are plenty of great places to see on a day tour in Iceland as well. To make things even easier, these places are fairly close to the capital area, meaning you can depart from Reykjavík in the morning and still make it back in time to soak up the nightlife in the evening.
Here are loads and loads of amazing things to do in Iceland. From snowmobiling to horseback riding, Northern Light watching and more, the options are truly endless. But, if you’re on a tight schedule, what are the best opportunities to grab hold of? Here are our top five recommendations for the best Icelandic day trips.
1. The Golden Circle
No trip to Iceland is complete without doing the Golden Circle tour. It’s the most famous day trip in Iceland, and most people begin and end the tour in Reykjavík. It covers three main stops: þingvellir national park, the Geysir geothermal area and Gullfoss waterfall. We recommend visiting these sites in that order-they won’t disappoint.
Þingvellir National Park
Þingvellir is both a historically and geographically significant sight. This is the place where Iceland’s (and the world’s) first-ever parliament was established. It’s also one spot where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates pull apart, splitting Iceland in two. This geological scar is clearly visible among all the amazing rock formations at Þingvellir – you can easily spend a few hours wandering the well-marked trails that traverse the national park.
Gullfoss means ‘Golden falls’ and boy, does it live up to its name. Vast quantities of melted glacier water cascade gently through the upper part of the falls before plunging a further 20 meters into a deep canyon. It’s a magnificent sight to behold and one of the most photographed waterfalls in all of Iceland
The Geysir geothermal area is the site of the original geyser, and actually the place where the word ‘geyser’ derives from. A large hot spring that would shoot hot water over 100 meters into the air in its heyday, its activity has declined significantly over the past 100 years and now it rarely, if ever, erupts.
Thankfully, the nearby Strokur geyser has a regularity shooting show you can almost set a watch too. Approximately every 10 minutes, a 30 meter (100 foot) column of steam and water bursts into the air, accompanied by a sudden loud roar that will make your heart skip a beat, no matter how many times you’ve seen it. In proximity, bubbling mud pots and fumaroles complete the otherworldliness of this truly unique place.
The total length of the Golden Circle route is around 230km (140 miles) when coming from Reykjavík. If you’re on a self-drive tour, then allow for about 3 hours of driving plus roughly the same amount of time to enjoy the sights. Alternatively, there are several tour operators that offer great Golden Circle trips out of Reykjavík. Either way, this is easily one of the best day tours in Iceland, and we can’t recommend it enough.
2. The South Coast
This is a much longer trip than the Golden Circle, so buckle up. Ultimately, your destination is Jökulsarlon, the spectacular glacier lagoon in the South East of Iceland. It does take between 4 and 5 hours to drive there from Reykjavík, but because the Iceland South Coast has plenty of fantastic locations for you to check out along the way, no one in your van or vehicle will grow bored.
Some of our favorite ones are listed below. To begin, start in Reykjavík and drive out of the city, following Highway 1 to the south.
Your first stop (about 90 minutes from Reykjavík) will be the stunning Seljalandsfoss waterfall. This 60-meter (200 feet) high waterfall is one of the few waterfalls in Iceland that you can actually walk behind! It was also made famous by Justin Bieber, who shot the music video here for his single “I’ll show you”. However, even if you don’t consider yourself to be a loyal Beibs fan or ‘Belieber’, this Seljalandsfoss is still very much worth a visit.
Reynisfjara is a famous black sand beach close to the small town of Vík, about 180 km (112 miles) from Reykjavík. Huge basalt columns rise up from the sand and there is an amazing view of the Reynisdrangar sea stacks just off the coast. This is one of the most picturesque locations in Iceland, but also one of the most dangerous – so do adhere to the beach’s safety advice.
After driving past the rather eerie but impressive Eldhraun lava fields, you will eventually arrive at the glacial lagoon of Jökulsarlon. Here, you’ll notice huge chunks of ice that have broken off from the nearby Vatnajökull glacier. These float in a small lagoon, which you can get up close and personal with an amphibian boat tour.
This is a day trip that can easily take 12 hours in total if you wish to return to Reykjavik on the same day – but hey, since the summer months boast practically 24-hour runs of daylight, take advantage of that if you can! We recommend hiring your own car for this trip, as there are so many other places to see on this stretch of the Highway and having the flexibility of your own transport will be priceless
3. Snæfellsness Peninsula
The Snæfellsness peninsula is a 90 km (56 miles) strip of land jutting out into the Atlantic Ocean on the west coast of Iceland. The landscape is dominated by the imposing Snæfellsjökull volcano (thankfully it's dormant-but not extinct!) and the glacier that sits on top of it. The legacy of this huge stratovolcano is clearly evident today, with huge lava flows from historic eruptions dominating the landscape and the coastline.
It's only 135 km (84 miles) from Reykjavík to Snæfellsness, so you can easily spend a day driving around the peninsula with your rental camper to check out some of the magical sites. It has become a highlighted option for a road trip itinerary in Iceland. Don’t miss some of our favorites stops, which are all outlined below.
Arnarstapi and Hellnar
The 3km footpath that connects these two picturesque fishing villages has been described as the most scenic walk in Iceland. The coastline here has a strange beauty – bizarre rock formations dominate the coastline, created from an alliance of super hot lava colliding with the icy cold sea..
This 1440 meter high stratovolcano is the main attraction here. In fact, since it is perfectly visible from the capital on cloudless days, it is practically impossible to miss. In the summer it’s a great idea to hike to the summit, but you will need to book a guide. Alternatively, just take it easy and park the car somewhere safe to admire the views of this landmark volcano from afar..
Also known as church mountain, this has been called the most photographed mountain in Iceland. It was made famous in the hugely popular HBO series Game of Thrones where it was known as Arrow Mountain. Despite its relatively small height (467 meters) it is as impressive as it is unique, and the accompanying waterfalls complete the ravishing picture.
4. The Reykjanes Peninsula
Most visitors’ experience of the Reykjanes peninsula is limited to the journey between the airport and Reykjavík city. This is a shame, as this part of Iceland, tucked away in the country’s South West corner, is well worth taking a day out of your itinerary to explore.
The landscape has been shaped by the Reykjanes Volcanic Belt, one of several volcanic zones in Iceland. Lava fields, hot springs and volcanoes are all main features of the peninsula that come together to define its supreme beauty. Here are some of our favorite places to see here.
The March 2021 eruption at Fagradalsfjall in the heart of the Reykjanes peninsula was the first in the area for over 800 years. At the time of writing the eruption has unfortunately stopped, but it is definitely worth taking the small hike (3-4 hours both ways) into the valley to get a glimpse of the spectacular lava fields. You can even take pieces of lava home with you – that is if it is cool enough, of course!
The Blue Lagoon
This huge geothermal spa is undoubtedly one of the most popular attractions in Iceland. In fact, the Blue Lagoon is so popular you now have to book in advance just to secure your spot. The milky blue waters combine with the silica mud to make the Blue Lagoon a bathing experience unlike any other.
It’s located in the middle of a lava field providing bathers with an out-of-this-world backdrop they surely can’t get in their hometown (unless of course they’re from Iceland!). Especially if you have decided to brave the hike up to the volcano, this is the perfect way to relax and rest your muscles afterwards!
You´ll probably smell Seltún before you see it – but don’t let that put you off coming here. It’s a small geothermal area with bubbling mud pots, hissing steam vents, and multi-colored mineral deposits. In fact, it’s a total assault on the senses, but in a very good way. Not to mention numerous paths and viewing platforms make it totally safe and fun to explore.
5. Super Jeep Day Tours
There are some places in Iceland which are only accessible with a 4WD camper. If you do wish to experience these amazing places, but are not comfortable driving to them, consider booking a super jeep tour and let someone else deal with the route’s unbridged rivers!
Several tour companies equipped with a staff of expert guides offer to take small groups on a day tour from Reykjavík, and since their vehicles are hardy, there’s no chance of getting lost or stuck anywhere. We highly recommend these places when taking a super jeep tour.
Sometimes referred to as The Pearl Of The Highlands, Landmannalaugar is a beautiful geothermal area in the Southern Highlands. Characterized by colorful rhyolite mountains and rugged lava fields, the site boasts numerous hot springs for you to bathe in. Do you see now why you shouldn’t go anywhere in Iceland without your bathing suit?
Nestled in between the Katla and Eyjafjallajökull glaciers lies Þorsmörk, a magnificent rugged nature reserve. The landscape here is so varied, with glacier tongues, waterfalls, glacial rivers and hidden caves all surrounded by a dramatic mountain range with jagged angular peaks. The whole place is like something out of Lord Of The Rings. In fact, you’ll be forgiven for wondering if Tolkien himself hadn’t visited here (unfortunately, he didn’t).
Into The Glacier
As its name suggests, this is a guided tour inside an actual glacier. It's not so much a super jeep tour as a Super 8 wheel drive ex-NATO missile loader tour, since the vehicle used to drive on the glacier is truly massive. Once you reach the entrance to the glacier you will be led inside, experiencing a world like no other. Unsurprisingly, it can get quite cold here so we recommend bringing a coat..
One-day tours in Iceland
We think these trips are perfect for a single day tour in Iceland – particularly if you’re based in Reykjavík. Having the flexibility of your own vehicle is always a bonus, but this is particularly true in Iceland where there are so many hidden gems that guided tours invariably miss because of time restraints.
Check out our cheap rental campers to find a vehicle that suits your perfect day trip. Even if these small trips are just one part of your Icelandic adventure, they are sure to be memorable for a lifetime.