The Best Day Trips from Reykjavik
Reykjavik offers so much for first-time visitors to Iceland to see and do. The museums, the culture, the history, the food scene — it’s simply amazing. However, don’t make the mistake of thinking that, when you travel to Iceland, you have to choose between a stay in Reykjavik and exploring the rest of the island.
Beyond starting and ending a road trip in Reykjavik, there are also plenty of day trips from Reykjavik that you can take, so long as you have a rental car. Some of Iceland’s most popular and well-known sites are just a short drive away from the city. You can leave in the morning, enjoy the vast natural landscapes and amazing waterfalls and glaciers, and then return to the city at night for nightlife, dining and a stay in a cosy hotel.
So — what are the best day trips from Reykjavik? Keep reading to learn…
- What to do with a car from Reykjavik
- How far Iceland’s top sites are from Reykjavik
- What car you should rent for day trips from Reykjavik
- And more!
Should I Join a Tour or Rent a Car For a Day Trip Outside of Reykjavik?
It’s a question we’ve heard many times before: Why should I rent a car in Reykjavik if I can just join a tour that will take me to the sites I want to see? Well, there are several good reasons why renting a car in Reykjavik — or anywhere in Iceland — is superior to taking a group tour.
- A rental car gives you freedom
When you join a tour, you’re stuck seeing the sights on the tour’s schedule. You can only go when they go and you have to leave when they leave. You can only go to the sites the tour offers and there’s no room for adjusting the itinerary or making stop-offs to see something interesting that’s caught your eye.
A rental car alleviates all of these issues. You can go wherever you want, whenever you want during your trip, and stay as long as you want. If you see something interesting during the drive, you can stop. If you want to make last-minute changes to your day’s plans, you can. Anything you want to do, you can do it!
- A rental car is generally cheaper
The great thing about a rental car is that it comes at one price no matter how many people are travelling with you. That’s not the case for a tour, wherein you’ll have to pay per person for the experience. Unless you’re travelling in Iceland alone, a rental car will be your cheapest option for getting around and seeing the top sites near Reykjavik.
- It’s easy to get around with a rental car
And, lastly, it’s very easy to go on day trips from Reykjavik with a rental car, as much of the area around Reykjavik is populated, with well-maintained roads that are easily passable even in winter. While there are some exceptions, which we’ll get to in a moment, most day trips from Reykjavik are doable all year, safely and with most vehicles.
So, should you rent a car in Reykjavik or join a tour? We think the answer is clear. Renting a car in Iceland is just more convenient, more affordable and more fun.
What are the Best Day Trips from Reykjavik?
Once you have your rental car, where do you go? These are the best day trips from Reykjavik.
The Golden Circle
How long does it take? Half a day to a full day
How far is it from Reykjavik? 45 minutes
How much time is spent driving? 4 hours and 300 kilometres, or 190 miles
The Golden Circle is one of the most popular driving routes in Iceland and it’s easy to see why. This short circle only takes about a half day to a full day to traverse, and it’s just a short distance from Reykjavik. It also features three of Iceland’s most popular attractions, making it incredibly convenient.
What can you expect to see during a trip around the Golden Circle?
There’s Thingvellir National Park, which is known for both its historical and its natural significance. Here, the continental plates split and you can see faults and cliff lines, like the Almannagja fault. As for history, you can see religious and political sites, such as Iceland’s ancient parliament site, which was active from the 900s all the way up to the 1700s.
Then, there’s Gullfoss, a waterfall that’s name translates to “Golden Falls.” This is an incredibly famous waterfall — though Iceland has many waterfalls worth visiting — that’s conveniently located near the roadway, so you can park, get out of your rental car, and then go see the falls and take photos without a lot of extra walking or hiking, which can’t be said for all of Iceland’s falls.
Then, the last and third most famous site on the Golden Circle is Geysir, a geyser that erupts about every 10 minutes or so. It’s said that this geyser was the very first to be discovered, or at least recorded, in Europe, and so that’s why its name is so closely linked to the English word “geyser.”
Of course, there’s more to see on the Golden Circle than just these three sites, and with a rental car, you can see them all, whereas you might not be able to on a tour.
There’s also Kerid, a volcanic crater that’s filled with vibrant blue waters that contrast against the crater’s red and black exterior. While it’s not as popular as the other sites on the Golden Circle, it’s still recognized as a top Icelandic geological wonder, and it’s close enough to the other sites that you can easily see it during a day trip from Reykjavik.
If you see all of the above sites and still want more to do around the Golden Circle, you can book activities such as snorkelling in Silfra, the fissure between the two continental tectonic plates in Thingvellir National Park. How cool would it be to say that you dove between the tectonic plates?
In the winter, you can go snowmobiling on a glacier near Gullfoss.
The South Coast
How long does it take? A full day
How far is it from Reykjavik? 1 hour and 45 minutes
How much time is spent driving? 5 hours and 400 kilometres, or 250 miles
Beyond the Golden Circle, one of the most popular places for a day trip from Reykjavik is Iceland’s South Coast. While you could, of course, spend an entire road trip seeing the South Coast, you can also see the top spots in just a day trip.
The South Coast is known for a few different things, including some famous glaciers and waterfalls, and striking black sand beaches. During a day trip, you should consider visiting Eyjafjallajökull volcano, which is famous for erupting in 2010.
If you’re interested in visiting Iceland’s waterfalls, be sure to pack your rain gear, because you can get extremely close to the falls in this region. You can walk right up behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall, and then trek into a gorge to get up close and personal with Gljufrabui waterfall. Skogafoss waterfall is a can’t-miss, as is Seljavallalaug, the oldest pool in Iceland.
At the shoreline, visit the Dyrholaey sea cliffs for beautiful views and excellent photo ops. You also can’t miss Iceland’s most famous beach, the black sand beach of Reynisfjara. Just be sure to follow the proper safety precautions here. While you’re on the black sand beaches, visit the Sólheimasandur plane wreck.
And, after all these beaches and waterfalls, if you find yourself needing some shopping and a bit of small-town charm, visit Vik, one of the most popular towns to stop at, in this area.
How long does it take? A full day
How far is it from Reykjavik? 2 hours
How much time is spent driving? 6 hours and 450 kilometres, or 280 miles
If you want to see as much of Iceland’s vast landscapes as possible, with as little time and driving as possible, it may be worth it for you to take a short day trip from Reykjavik to Snaefellsnes.
Located just about a two-hour drive northwest from Reykjavik, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula has been called “Iceland in Miniature,” because it packs in so much of Iceland’s geology, history and culture, in one relatively small area. Whatever your reason for visiting Iceland, you’ll find something to love here. Small towns, geological wonders, photo ops, shorelines, wildlife, myths and legends — it’s all in Snaefellsnes.
When planning a trip here, there are a few musts that you have to see and do. If you’re interested in culture, history and Iceland’s small towns and villages, be sure to stop by Grundafjordur, and pick up a cup of coffee to fuel your adventures. Arnarstapi is a lovely little town to visit if you want to see the nearby sea arches. Unique and historic architecture awaits at the Búðakirkja black church, which dates to the early 1700s.
Prefer nature to history and small-town charm? Grab your photos at Kirkjufell, a widely photographed mountain. See the viewpoints at Snaefellsjokull. Check out the Londrangar rock formations, made from basalt, and the nearby lava field. Hike to Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge or stroll the black sands of Djupalonssandur. For wildlife, look for the seals on Ytri Tunga Beach.
How long does it take? Half a day to a full day
How far is it from Reykjavik? Half an hour
How much time is spent driving? 2.5 hours and 200 kilometres, or 125 miles
A trip to Reykjanes from Reykjavik only takes a half day and the area is a mere 30 minutes’ driving time from the city. Sometimes overlooked and underappreciated, at least compared to tourist hot spots like the Golden Circle, Reykjanes is home to Keflavik and Iceland’s international airport. Still, a lot of visitors to Iceland leave the airport and go elsewhere, completely not realising all the unique attractions that lie nearby.
One of the most popular reasons to go to Reykjanes, other than the airport? The Blue Lagoon. As one of the most visited and most photographed spots in Iceland, the Blue Lagoon is something you absolutely need to experience during a trip here, no matter where you’re going or staying. However, when you do visit it, be sure to check out Reykjanes’ other amazing features as well.
There’s Fagradalsfjall, a volcano that began erupting in 2021 and continued erupting for many months after. Now, it’s an interesting stop for travellers, but follow proper safety precautions while there. While the volcano has not shown any activity since mid-2023, safety should come first when trekking around any of Iceland’s geological features, from thermal pools to volcanoes to glaciers.
Speaking of geological features, other things to see include the Krysuvik geothermal area and its steaming hot pots, as well as the Gunnuhver geothermal area.
For photo ops, visit Kleifarvatn Lake or the Reykjanesta sea cliffs. For history, see the oldest lighthouse in Iceland, Reykjanesviti lighthouse, which dates back to the 1870s.
Like the idea of going to The Blue Lagoon, but want to avoid the crowds? Try the new Sky Lagoon.
How long does it take? A long, full day
How far is it from Reykjavik? 3 hours
How much time is spent driving? 6 hours and 400 kilometres, or 250 miles
If you’re visiting during the summer, and you have a little extra time, there’s another excellent spot you can go for a day trip from Reykjavik: Landmannalaugar. This spot in the Icelandic Highlands is only accessible during the mid-summer months and you’ll need the full strength of the midnight sun to have enough daylight hours to explore it.
The area is worth visiting due to its geothermal hot springs, lava field, beautiful mountains and excellent hiking options. Just driving or trekking around the area is an unforgettable experience, as you take in the colourful mountainsides and rhyolithic formations that cast the landscape in vibrant hues of red, green, blue, yellow and more. Be sure to bring your bathing suit as well, so you can take a dip in the hot springs.
If you want to hike around Landmannalaugar, we recommend a hiking tour. You can find shorter hiking tours that will fit into your long day trip to the area, or you can also take a multi-day hiking trip to Landmannalaugar. If you do the latter, expect to spend three to five days hiking around the area, on one of the region’s most popular hiking trails, the Laugavegur, which takes you to some of the most scenic spots.
Lastly, keep in mind that if you do visit Landmannalaugar, you must rent a 4x4 vehicle. Only 4x4 vehicles are permitted on the roadways throughout the Highlands. These roads, known as F roads in Iceland, are rugged and unpaved.
What Type of Car Do I Need for a Day Trip from Reykjavik?
Have we convinced you that you absolutely need to take a day trip from Reykjavik? If so, and now you’re wondering what type of car to rent, we have you covered there, too.
It all depends on the season of your visit. If you’re visiting during the summer months, you have two options. If you’re visiting Landmannalaugar on a day trip from Reykjavik, 4x4 cars are mandatory. It’s illegal to drive anything else on the F-roads in the region. If, though, you’re taking any of our other above, suggested day trips from Reykjavik, you can get by with any rental car.
If you’re travelling during the winter months, though, you’ll have to take into consideration Iceland’s winter weather and the winter driving conditions. The weather can make it tricky to get around some parts of Iceland, so we always recommend a 4x4 car to travellers during the winter, for the utmost in safety and comfort.
Ready to Go?
Ready to start exploring? It’s easy to see some of Iceland’s most popular sites and most famous landmarks with just a short drive from Reykjavik. Even if you don’t have time for a full road trip around Iceland, be sure to get out of the city and see what awaits just an hour or less away.
Need more help planning your Iceland trip? Check out our guides to all things getting around Iceland, with tips on everything from how to park in Reykjavik to what to know before renting a campervan in Iceland.