The more I explore Iceland, the more I realize that it takes years to experience all that this country has to offer. It is so incredibly diverse, with everything from volcanoes to glaciers, mountains to deserts. It’s no surprise that Iceland attracts over two million tourists per year. Whether you are here to see the northern lights, to ski or snowboard, or to hike, Iceland has it for you. But what is best to do and see if you are only here for a few days, perhaps on a stopover between North America and Europe? Well, let’s take a look. There are plenty of great day trips for those on a tight schedule.
Best Iceland Day Tours from Reykjavík
The Golden Circle
The most famous day trip for self-drivers is Iceland's Golden Circle tour. It covers three main stops: þingvellir national park, Gullfoss waterfall, and the Geysir geothermal area, some of the best things to do in Iceland during your visit.
þingvellir national park is both a historically and geographically significant sight; it is where Iceland’s (and the world’s) first parliament was held. It’s also one spot where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are moving apart, splitting Iceland in two. So, at þingvellir you can literally stand on two tectonic plates at once.
Gullfoss translates to ‘Golden falls’ and it lives up to its name. Vast quantities of melted glacier water cascade through a canyon and drop 32 meters. It’s a sight to behold and one of the most popular features to photograph in Iceland.
The Geysir geothermal area consists of a hot bed of activity, with the main attraction being the large geyser, Strokkur, which shoots water 30 meters (100 feet) into the air, every few minutes. This is one of the most famous geysers in the world.
The Golden Circle route itself is around 230km (140 miles). The whole itinerary is paved, so you don't need a 4x4 and can just rent a small city car in Reykjavik to go through it.
The route begins and ends in Reykjavík and the drive can be done in around three hours. However, you’ll certainly want to stop at each place for a while to take it in and there is plenty more to see en route than the three areas previously mentioned.
If you are traveling with a group, we recommend you check our options for minivan rentals in Iceland, pick the vehicle you like the most and drive the route enjoying the freedom and flexibility that only self-drive tours can offer. Alternatively, there are several tour operators that offer great Golden Circle trips, to take the stress of planning away.
The South Coast
A slightly longer trip than the Golden Circle, but one that can still be completed in one day, is a drive along the south coast. Just follow Route 1 (the ring road) counterclockwise out of the capital. There are several fantastic features to stop at, beginning with the Seljalandsfoss waterfall. This 60-meter (200 feet) high waterfall is one of the few waterfalls in Iceland that can be fully encircled. Seljalandsfoss is located a little off the ring road, on Road 249. It’s so famous that it even featured in one of Justin Bieber’s music videos.
Note that you can only walk behind the waterfall in the summer; it is too dangerous to attempt in the winter. Then there is Reynisfjara black sand beach at Vík. There is not only black sand to captivate you; Reynisfjara is also home to basalt columns and natural rock formations. Vík is about 180km (112 miles) from Reykjavík.
Keep driving along the coast and you come to the Eldhraun lava fields, west of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. You will see a huge area of lava, covered over by bright green moss. It’s an amazing sight, but please don’t walk on the moss; it takes centuries to grow back.
Further along is Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, where you'll find Iceland's famous Diamond Beach (where large chunks of glacier ice sit). You can take a glacier tour on a boat here, and even enter an ice cave.
To top off a day of adventure, why not head to one of Iceland’s famous geothermal spas? Both the Blue Lagoon and the Secret Lagoon are only a short drive from Reykjavík. The Secret Lagoon is best visited whilst on the Golden Circle tour, and Blue Lagoon while exploring the Snæfellsnes peninsula. These hot springs utilize naturally heated water and are renowned for their relaxing properties.
Hiking Day Tours Iceland
If you’re looking to fill your time in Iceland with hiking, head to Snæfellsnes peninsula, southwest of the capital. This area really does have it all; natural hot springs, lava fields, glaciers, and volcanoes. You may also recognize Kirkjufell Mountain, a location used for filming some scenes in the Game of Thrones series.
The peninsula comprises Snaefellsjokull National Park, a protected area that is kept pristine. This national park contains a range of hiking trails of various difficulties, and they’re only a few miles/kilometers long. Bring your swimming costume and a towel, and keep a look out for a hot spring. Be aware that some natural, unregulated hot springs may be far too hot to enter at all, so don’t just dive in.
This peninsula is also home to one of Iceland’s few gold-sand beaches, Skarðsvík Golden Beach. The ocean may not be warm or calm, but it’s a great place to snap some pictures.
Super Jeep Tours
For those wanting to experience these amazing routes, but perhaps aren’t comfortable driving them, consider booking a super jeep tour. Several tour companies offer to take a small group on a day tour from Reykjavík, to all of the above-mentioned places. Their vehicles are hardy and the guides know their stuff, so there’s no chance of getting lost or stuck anywhere.
If instead you want to explore in total freedom and driving in Iceland doesn't scare you, we offer Land Rover, Suzuki and Jeep rentals in Reykjavik, as well as a wide selection of 4x4 and SUVs from other successful car brands, so we're sure you'll find the 4x4 that best serves your needs.
Final Tips on Day Tours in Iceland
A good rule to follow when traveling in Iceland is A.B.C: Always Bring Coats. Iceland’s weather is known to change quickly and drastically, so it’s always best to be prepared for the worst. You are not likely to encounter much extreme weather in summer, but it is possible. In the other three seasons, however, snowstorms, sandstorms, and strong wind are common. Roads will be closed if they are deemed unsafe. So, be prepared. Check the weather forecast before embarking on a trip and only travel if it is safe to do so.
Samuel Hogarth, Reykjavik Cars.