Quick, think about great tourist sites in Europe. London and Paris probably come to mind. You should think about Reykjavik.
More than two million tourists traveled to Reykjavik in 2019. That’s more than ten times the size of the population!
Yet many tourists don’t stay for too long in Reykjavik. They perform day trips from Reykjavik to various sites around the island. You should, too.
What are some of the most popular Reykjavik day trips? What are some exciting Icelandic activities you can perform? Where should you go if you want to avoid tourists?
Answer these questions and you can see some of the most amazing sights in the world. Here are 11 day trips you can make from Reykjavik.
1. The Golden Circle
A Golden Circle day trip from Reykjavik can take you to the most popular sites in Iceland. Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss waterfall, and the geysers all lie within the Golden Circle.
The Golden Circle covers nearly 200 miles (300 kilometers). You may want to tackle it in two driving day trips from Reykjavik. This is a very good idea if you plan on spending most of your time in Thingvellir.
Thingvellir is the primary attraction in the Circle. It contains a museum as well as several sites you can visit on a walking tour.
The Gullfoss waterfall is south of Reykjavik. It is a two-tiered waterfall that deposits water into a long crevasse. Try to visit Gullfoss on a sunny day so you can see the rainbows over the water.
You can find geysers all over Iceland. The Geysir Hot Spring Area lies on the Golden Circle, and the geysers there spout water every few minutes. This makes it a great spot for pictures and videos.
2. Northern Lights
The Northern Lights are one of the main reasons to visit Iceland. Thankfully, you can see the lights during many Reykjavik day trips. But there is no guarantee that you will see the lights.
The sun does not set in Iceland during the summer months. While the sun is out, you cannot see the lights at all, even if you go far north. You should plan your Icelandic vacation for another time if you want to see the lights.
You should view the Icelandic Met Office’s aurora forecast before setting out for the day. If there is a forecast of clouds, the lights will be hard or impossible to see.
Find a particular location to watch the lights. The Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon has little light pollution and you can drive on Route 1 in order to get to it. If you don’t want to drive too far, you can go to a beach on the South Coast.
You may need to stay up very late in order to see the lights. Yet driving at night can be dangerous, especially if you need to go along back roads. Set out for your location before sundown.
3. The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is one of the best day trips from Reykjavik Airport. It is a 45-minute drive from Reykjavik Airport. If you are flying in from Keflavík International Airport, you are only 12 miles away.
The lagoon offers warm water to lounge in and silica mud to slather on your skin. It also offers spa services like massages and mud baths.
The lagoon is extremely popular, especially with American tourists. You should expect big crowds year-round. You may find the crowds thinner if you go just after the lagoon opens, though you will need to wake up very early.
If you are not interested in a spa treatment, you can swim around in the water for an hour or so. You can then visit nearby Grindavík, a fishing town that offers beautiful views of the ocean.
4. Snæfellsnes Peninsula
The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is two hours from Reykjavik. As with the Golden Circle, you can make multiple day trips from Reykjavik and do different things on the peninsula.
Snæfellsjökull is a volcano that has a large glacier on top. If you’re interested in hiking or mountain climbing, you can walk up the mountain during the summer. You can only reach the summit if you know about ice climbing, so turn back if you’re inexperienced.
Snæfellsjökull National Park contains the volcano alongside other sights. You can walk along the Budðahraun lava field, which goes around the volcano. The terrain is coated in moss, giving the area an otherworldly aesthetic you can’t find elsewhere.
If you prefer to go to the beach, you can go to Djúpalónssandur. The beach contains black sands and rocky cliffs you can climb.
Stykkishólmur is a fishing town on the peninsula. You can visit if you’re looking for a place to eat or go shopping. Feel free to walk through town and take a look at trading houses and residences built hundreds of years ago.
5. The South Coast
The South Coast is as beautiful as the Golden Circle. Yet fewer tourists go to the South Coast, so you will avoid traffic and have locations all to yourself.
Seljalandsfoss is one of the biggest waterfalls in Iceland. The water drops nearly 200 feet (60 meters). You can even walk behind the waterfall and view the cascading water from a small cave.
Skógafoss waterfall is another spectacular waterfall that is 200 feet tall. You may recognize it from season 8 of Game of Thrones. But anyone can enjoy the waterfall, especially on sunny days when rainbows are visible.
Reynisfjara is a black sand beach with roaring waves and enormous rocks. You can spot the Reynisdrangar, which are large stacks of basalt sitting in the water. You can swim out to them, though you cannot climb them.
Be careful when going into the water off Reynisfjara. The waves are very violent and it is possible for you to get caught in a rip current. You should not go swimming or boating unless you are experienced and are going with someone else.
Visiting Vík is one of the most unique things to do in Iceland. Vík is a small town located on the South Coast. Many people visit it as part of a South Coast road trip.
But you can head straight to Vík and visit its numerous attractions. The village is the largest settlement in southern Iceland, so you can find many road signs that give directions.
Vík is also the southernmost village in Iceland. You can see the Atlantic Ocean for miles on clear days, and you can hear the roaring ocean as you go through town.
Vík is home to several companies that offer horseback riding. You can go into the countryside and explore mossy and grassy fields.
Katla is an active volcano that lies to the north of the town. You cannot get close to it, but you can walk around its perimeter and go down a few different hiking routes.
Landmannalaugar is in the Highlands of Iceland. It takes approximately three hours of driving to get there, but you can only access the roads during the summer. You will need to rent a car with four-wheel drive as you will be going uphill and driving on rocky terrain.
Landmannalaugar lies inside Fjallbak Nature Preserve. The preserve is essentially a national park, so you can find hiking trails and hot springs.
The trails do not just take you through fields. You can view mountains, rolling hillsides, and mud pots that bubble with natural gas. You can also find plains covered in volcanic ash left by eruptions that took place thousands of years ago.
Hekla is an active volcano located near Landmannalaugar. Several hiking trails in the area end at the volcano, and you can climb on most of it. If the volcano contains snow, you can even ski down the slope with your own gear.
8. Whale Watching
Some whale watching companies operate out of Reykjavik, so you can just drive through town and then head out into the water. You should book your tickets for whale watching well in advance. It is one of the most popular tourist activities in Iceland.
Try to go whale watching during the summer months. Food stocks are high in the oceans and whales have more energy to be active. You have a 99% chance of seeing whales in the water, even during days when the weather is not good.
However, you should take steps to make your whale watching fun. Wear shoes that grip the deck and won’t cause you to slip. You should also put on a few layers as temperatures drop when you are out in the ocean.
9. Puffin Watching
Puffins are small birds with black feathers and round bellies. They are very adorable, and they are easy to find because they nest in the places where they were born.
You can find puffins on nearly every shoreline in Iceland. They lay their eggs and raise their chicks during the summertime, so you can spot them during a June or July vacation.
Some companies offer boat tours where you can find nesting islands. Yet you can save money and do your own day trip out to sites popular with puffins.
The Látrabjarg birdwatching cliffs are the westernmost point in Iceland. You can find thousands of birds during the mating season. You can also find exquisite views of the Atlantic Ocean from the tops of the cliffs.
10. Hraunfossar Waterfalls
Borgarfjörður is a fjord in western Iceland. The fjord contains the Hraunfossar falls, which are a series of waterfalls that come from rivulets.
The falls are not massive cascades of water. They are rippling white streams that roll down rocks before spilling into the Hvítá river.
Consider visiting Hraunfossar during the fall. The trees around the water turn orange and yellow, creating spectacular pops of color.
You can also go for walks in the surrounding area. Hraunfossar used to be a volcanic area, so you can find hidden caves inside lava fields.
If you prefer a more ferocious waterfall, you can visit Barnafoss. Water rushes through narrow rocks, adding pressure to the water so it falls with a lot of foam. Reykholt is the nearest settlement, and you can visit a museum dedicated to Snorri Sturluson.
Thórsmörk is a mountain ridge that lies in between two glaciers. The glaciers have scraped away at the rocks over the years, producing cliff faces you won’t find elsewhere.
You can also find hiking trails that cut through the rocks. You can walk along the glaciers or go down into the valleys. You can also find some small waterfalls and rivers snaking across the ground.
Thórsmörk is one of the more popular hiking destinations in Iceland. This makes it a good spot if you are a beginner at hiking, as you can get plenty of help. Yet it may be hard to find a spot where you can rest in privacy.
Eyjafjallajökull is a nearby volcano. You may recognize the name because the volcano erupted in 2010, producing volcanic ash that disrupted air travel. You can hike to the volcano, but you should remember that it is active and it can erupt at any moment.
The Best Day Trips From Reykjavik
You can do a lot during day trips from Reykjavik. The Golden Circle and the Northern Lights are two of Iceland’s leading attractions.
Whale watching and puffin watching let you get close to Iceland’s native animals. You can drive to different sites near Reykjavik and then head out on a boat.
If you want a day at the beach, you can visit Djúpalónssandur and Reynisfjara. When you want to go hiking, you can visit the Hraunfossar falls.
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