You have been in Reykjavik for a few days, and your Icelandic adventure is coming to an end. Our capital city is filled with thrilling attractions, delightful restaurants, and captivating art galleries and studios. However, if you still have the travel itch before you depart, I urge you to rent a vehicle and take a day trip. Reykjavik may be tiny, but she is in the perfect location to act as a launching pad for self-driving tours around Iceland. Icelanders, myself included, argue that the best that Iceland has to offer, for visitors and citizens alike, lies outside the city limits. There are plenty of thrilling and exciting locations only hours away. So, pack some warm clothes, update Google maps, and rent a car. Here is a quick list of some of the best day trips tourists can take from Reykjavik.
Iceland’s Famous Blue Lagoon
Iceland is known for being called the Land of Fire and Ice. This is due to the geothermal and volcanic activity happening seemingly everywhere, and the massive glaciers that dominate much of our landscapes. Geothermal energy famously fuels our electric grid, but it also helps us relax and decompress. We find solace in the many naturally occurring geothermal hot springs and lagoons that permeate our countryside. The most famous and frequented is hands down the Blue Lagoon Spa and Pool.
If you head towards the Keflavík airport for about 40 minutes and take a left, you will eventually run into Iceland’s famous Blue Lagoon. Naturally healing minerals and algae found in the lagoon’s water make it a must visit for any tourist, especially if you are headed to the airport. There is nothing better than relaxing in the warm sky blue waters of the pool while fog and steam calm your body and mind.
This is a hotspot tourist destination year round. Book your visit online to save time waiting to check in. The ultramodern spa and pool offer a wide variety of amenities and packages. The staff will provide you with a waterproof yellow wristband that will serve as the key to your own personal locker and will allow you to purchase food and drinks. Make sure you follow all of the rules and etiquette guidelines set by the staff. They have strict rules about pre-bathing before entering the water. The water has very little in the way of chemicals, as to protect the beneficial minerals and algae in the pool. If you need a break from Reykjavik, I highly recommend you take a dip in these curing cerulean waters and let all of your anxieties fade into the thick white clouds of steam that rise from the lagoon.
Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park
If you are looking for more of an adventure then taking a leisurely drive to Þingvellir National Park is more up your alley. Sidebar: for all of our non-Nordic readers, the symbol “Þ” is simply the non-anglicized version of “th”. Thingvellir National Park is important to Icelanders due to its unique geological attributes and its historical ties to our national identity.
If you are a thrill-seeking adrenaline junkie than I have to recommend scuba diving in the Silfra fissure. The park is unique because it is here that two tectonic plates are slowly moving away from each other. This generates some of the most fascinating, and visually stunning, landscapes in Iceland. These landscapes aren’t confined to the surface though, the Silfra fissure is a gigantic underwater crevasse where tectonic plates have pulled apart. If you have the gumption and the appropriate diving qualifications you can take an unforgettable underwater adventure.
The national park’s popularity is not a new development spurred by tourism growth. Icelanders have held a special place in their hearts for this park for over a thousand years. Our parliament, the Alþingi (or Althingi), was founded here in 930 AD, and it remains operating today. That means that this is the oldest continually running parliament in the world. It was here in the park that disputes were resolved, parties were thrown, trading took place, and stories were told. This was the epicenter of travel, trade, and politics in Iceland for hundreds of years. And, for me, it makes perfect sense: the natural beauty surrounding the site where the Alþingi convened initially is stunning. If history and culture are more relaxing options than scuba diving, this is definitely a location to check out during your day trip to Thingvellir National Park.
The Fishing Village of Vík
Vík is a quiet and quaint seaside town in the south of Iceland. The fishing village is a little over two hours outside of the city of Reykjavik. The path to get to Vík cuts through the inland of the island, and occasionally borders the ocean. You may be asking yourself, “What is so special about a supposedly sleepy seaside fishing village?”. Well, I can summarize it in two ideas: crashed airplanes and black sand beaches.
Now, there was never actually an airplane crash within the city limits of Vík itself. If you walk about an hour outside of Vík (on an actually quite relaxing trail), you will stumble upon the remains of a crashed US Military aircraft. If you have any form of social media, especially Instagram, you have more than likely seen people taking ominous and moody photos next to an old fuselage. The often foggy and spooky crash site is but a stone’s throw from the murky waters of the North Atlantic. The location is surreal, but what makes it even more captivating is the black sand that blankets the beach.
This brings me to the second reason why Vík is the perfect location for a day trip. Iceland and other countries with high levels of volcanic and geothermal activity have otherworldly beaches that are coated with onyx-colored sand. These shores are the perfect places to take unforgettable photos. Add in the remains of a plane crash, some fog, and you have the makings for a memorable picture.
A two-hour drive outside Reykjavik, the Snæfellsnes peninsula arguably has the highest concentration of naturally occurring iconic Icelandic tourist attractions. It is no wonder that its nickname is “Miniature Iceland.” If you are pressed for time and only have one destination to visit on the tail end of your Icelandic holiday, this is your best bet.
The sheer amount of places that you could visit in the Snæfellsnes peninsula are staggering, but there is one that truly takes the cake: Kirkjufell Mountain. Also known as the “Church Mountain,” this imposing mountain towers over 450 meters (1,476 feet). Standing in its shadow will instill a visceral feeling of just how tiny we as humans are. The peak is a behemoth. The combination of size, aesthetic, and its unique geological features entice thousands of tourists and photographers to come to visit it every year. The surrounding area also has some delightful beaches to visit if you have time.
The region is also filled with glistening glaciers, diverse wildlife populations, and historic churches and landmarks. If you plan on visiting the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, I would recommend camping or making several day trips over a few days. However, if you only have one day to take a trip, this is a great option that is convenient and close to Reykjavik.
Puffin Tours or Whale Watching Excursions
Traversing the great outdoors and hiking to breathtaking sites isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. If you have already had your fill of vigorous hiking or backpacking, then it is safe to say that you may benefit from a lazy, leisurely Icelandic afternoon. If this piques your interest, I highly recommend going on either a whale watching or puffin tour. These two animals embody the spirit and history of Iceland. And, bonus, they are beyond cute! Who doesn’t love a puffin?!
There are plenty of tour operators based out of Reykjavik who provide a wide range of different tours. If you can’t decide which animal to try to see I would recommend going on a puffin excursion. Whales are massive, majestic marine marvels. However, they can be tough to spot. Much more luck is required to catch sight of whales. Puffins litter the craggy cliffs over Iceland. And, added bonus, you can get relatively close to Puffins. They are curious little creatures, and you can probably get close enough to snap a great photo of one. Research tour operators and see some uniquely Icelandic wildlife before you leave.
Exciting Day Trips from Reykjavik
The most glaring omission from this short list is the entire Golden Circle route. The Golden Circle takes you east and brings you to some of the most iconic Icelandic locations. However, if you want to try something different, I would highly recommend the sites on this list. My favorite area to visit on a day trip is the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. With Iceland becoming a tourist mecca, more and more foreigners are taking the trek around the Golden Circle. Don’t get me wrong, if you haven’t completed the route you definitely should. But, if you are looking for something different head south or west. Every nook and cranny in Iceland has something spectacular to experience. And, if all else fails, and you are exhausted from seeing natural attractions, go float in the Blue Lagoon or fawn over a circus of puffins.