For those staying in Reykjavik who don’t have the time to explore the entire country, there are a number of day trips that reveal Iceland’s dramatic and elemental core. Here are a few of the best.
The famed Golden Circle circuit’s first stop is Þingvellir National Park, location of the first democratic parliament in the world, and also where you can witness two tectonic plates slowly ripping apart.
Next up is the erupting Strokkur at Geysir, shooting forth a plume of water over 100ft (30m) into the air every three to four minutes. Further on is Gullfoss, Iceland’s most famous waterfall that thunders down the River Hvítá, glaciers glittering on the distant horizon.
To go beyond these three, take a car and visit some of the little-known but no less exciting sights around this area. Nearby to Gullfoss is the small waterfall Faxi, and you can retrace your steps back from Geysir to find Bruarfoss, a waterfall with stunningly blue water.
Also near to here is Efstidalur, a family-run farm with their very own ice cream store, or take route 35 down south to come across Kerið, a volcanic crater filled at the bottom with a milky blue water.
There are many marvelous sights hidden within the southwestern tip of Iceland, which is overlooked by most travelers. Drive back towards the airport and take road 42 leading towards Kleifarvatn Lake, surrounded by contorted cliffs of lava that hide countless walking trails.
Further south is Krýsuvík, a steaming geothermal area, and Grænavatn, a volcanic crater filled with a milky green water thanks to a cocktail of minerals within. Closer to the coast is yet another geothermal area, Gunnuhver, and lonely lighthouses are strung along the cliffs that teem with bird life.
The Mount Esja trail is a Reykjavik hiking rite of passage, and from the top on a good day the resulting vista spans Reykjavik and the whole of the surrounding capital area. Take bus number 15 from Hlemmur bus station, transferring onto bus number 57 in Mosfellsbær.
For a more adventurous hike, at the bottom of Hvalfjörður just north of Reykjavik lies the challenging trail leading towards Glymur, one of Iceland’s tallest waterfalls.
Another popular day trip from Reykjavik is the hike towards Reykjadalur hot spring river. Only 45 minutes’ drive from Reykjavik, it’s easily accessed by either a self-tour or by joining a guided tour – horse-riding tours are available starting at kr. 14,470 (US $140).
If on a self-tour, make use of the long days and either wake up early or go in the evening to avoid the throngs of people that you’ll find soaking there during the day.
Some attractions in Iceland lie out of reach without the help of a tour or guide. For an experience that you can have nowhere else in the world, join the Inside the Volcano Tour and delve into the dormant volcano Þríhnúkagígur to explore its magma chamber.
For your safety, any activities involving the mighty glaciers also must be undertaken on a tour. Snowmobiling, ice climbing, and glacier hikes on either Sólheimajökull or Langjökull are an amazing and unforgettable experience to have and easily accessed in a day from Reykjavik on a tour.
Iceland’s capital packs plenty of culture and entertainment into a small space. Our insider James shares his tips on what to see and do, from hot spots to hidden gems.
They don’t call it the “land of fire and ice” for nothing. No one should visit Iceland without exploring its spectacular ice caves, lava tubes, and mighty glaciers.