For those who prefer staying in the city during their stay and head out from there for daily trips around the country we have put together this list of day trips that are perfect for self driving in a rental car.
The Golden circle
The first option would of course be the famous Golden circle, this route includes the Thingvellir National park, the Geysir Geothermal area and the majestic Gullfoss Waterfall that are the most famous sights in the route but it also includes so much more than that so spending a full day and even 2 exploring it is not very difficult at all.
We would recommend starting the day from Reykjavik by heading to Thingvellir National park, a Unesco protected area that holds the oldest parliament in the world surrounded by the massive lava fields covered in moss and of course Silfra freshwater fissure where you can Snorkel between the continental plates of North America and Europe, a truly magical experience which should not be missed.
After enjoying the brisk water we would recommend heading to one of the hot pools in the area, either Fontana spa in Laugarvatn or the Secret Lagoon near Flúðir to warm up after the swim and perhaps a lunch at Friðheimar Greenhouse.
After that head to the Geysir Geothermal area and see the amazing Strokkur do his magic before heading to Gullfoss waterfall, the second most powerful waterfall in Iceland and hope to see the rainbow in the ravine and feel the fresh mist in the air.
From there you should start heading back to the city and on the way we would recommend swinging by Kerið Volcanic Crater and if it is getting close to dinner there are some great options in both Selfoss and Hveragerði where you can get something fresh using local produce.
If you would rather not drive yourself you could also join a small group bus tour for the day that picks you up in the city center and drops you off after the tour, HERE you can find a simple Golden circle tour focusing on the main sights and HERE a tour that includes the Snorkeling in Silfra as well.
The Snæfellsnes peninsula
This area is known for having a bit of everything, amazing lava fields, a glacier, volcanic craters, waterfalls, black sand beaches and so much more, a perfect way to spend the day, specially if you only have a short time to get to know Iceland.
Which direction you go is not really important but I prefer to start on the south side of the peninsula and head around the outside starting from Borgarnes, the first stop would be the crater at Eldborg, a good way to get there is to walk from Snorrastaðir about 38 km outside of Borgarnes on route 54, the crater is oval shaped and around 60 meters high with sharp edges. It is located on a short volcanic rift and truly amazing to explore but be careful when walking in the lava fields.
The next stop would be the Black Church at Budir, a very photogenic site and no one should skip it, even just for a short photo stop.
From there you head to Arnarstapi Village, a small fishing village which has a lot of history and a great view of the glacier Snæfellsjökull above, it is possible to drive up to the roots of the glacier from there but the road is not very good so keep that in mind if you head up there.
It is possible to walk from Arnarstapi to the next village Hellnar through the lava field between then and we would highly recommend doing so, it is a beautiful route but of course you will have to hike back the same way if you leave your car in Arnarstapi, still completely worth it. On the way you will see the famous Gatklettur and other amazing rock formations.
To get to know the lava fields and the geology of the area even better a tour into Vatnshellir is an option just a little further down the road, it is located by the road and can not be missed, there are regular tours there but we would recommend booking in advance so you don´t have to wait too long.
On the way there you can walk to the basalt rocks of Londrangar, another location for that perfect Instagram photo, there is a parking lot by the road and a short walk to get close to the coast line.
Djupalonssandur is next up, a black sand beach that used to be the one of the largest fishing villages on Snæfellsnes but is today uninhabited, when you are there try out the 4 lifting stones that sailors used to test their strength and some say they got paid according to what stone they were able to lift.
Another beach along the way is Skardsvik but this time the sand is not black as in many cases in Iceland, still a beautiful spot to visit before reaching the small villages on the north side of the peninsula, Hellissandur and Rif, both still booming with life and outside the villages you will see a beautiful church at Ingjaldshóll and further inland the waterfalls Svöðufoss and Kerlingarfoss.
Next up is the town of Ólafsvík, located so close to the mountains that during winter the sun does not reach into the town for close to 2 months and when that period is over the locals celebrate the first day of sun with a little festival and some pancakes. Above towers the glacier Snæfellsjökull and the locals believe that it is a source of great powers and always treat the glacier with great respect.
The road then takes you to the most photographed spot in Snæfellsnes and one of the most in the entire country, Kirkjufell mountain. The mountain has been featured in sagas a far back as anyone remembers and was of course one of the spots used when filming Game of Thrones in Iceland. It is possible to hike the mountain but for this we would always recommend getting a guide to go with you as it is not an easy hike and requires ropes and safety is very important when hiking this great mountain. Next to the parking lot you will also see the waterfall Kirkjufellsfoss, getting a photo with both the mountain and waterfall is kind of a requirement when exploring the area.
The town of Grundarfjörður lies next to the mountain and from there you will head towards Stykkishólmur, on the way you drive through Kolgrafarfjörður and over a bridge that is famous for the way it is built and the fact that you can sometimes see Orcas swim under the bridge into the fjord to hunt, eagles are also common in the area and have been known to sit on the bridge to relax, the wildlife in the area is very versatile and should be a part of every trip around the peninsula. From there the town of Stykkishólmur greets you and having dinner there in one of the restaurants is highly recommended, the fish is so fresh and the views over the bay are an amazing experience on top of a long day.
This is only a short list of the top things to see in the area and in no way a full list so if you have time spending a couple of days in this area is no problem at all to fill with new things every day.
If you are not planning to self drive there is a day tour with a small group available HERE that covers the majority of sites listed but sadly can never include it all.
The South Coast waterfalls and Black sand Beaches
Iceland has a lot to offer and the south coast is known for some amazing sights and should be a part of any self drive planning, the waterfalls alone are worth a full day of exploring and then you add the glaciers and black sand beaches and so much more that you can easily spend a few days in the area.
The shorter version of a day tour along the south coast would be from Reykjavik and as far as Vík, stopping first at Seljalandsfoss waterfall which you can walk behind and can not be missed on any Instagram story or photo album from a trip to Iceland.
Next to that you can check out the “secret” waterfall Gljúfrabúi but keep in mind that you are likely to get wet 🙂
Heading on you can visit one of the oldest pools in Iceland, Seljavallalaug located not far from Seljavellir nestled by the mountains, the locals are true fans of pools and this one is a popular stop along the way to the east.
Then you reach Skógafoss which no one that has done some research about traveling in Iceland should not know about, the 60 meter high waterfall is a strong reminder of the awesome power of mother nature. A hike to the top of the waterfall is a must and a free workout as the 527 steps can really get your heart rate up.
The glaciers are also a big part of the landscape when you travel the south coast and we would always recommend getting up close and personal with one on such a day tour, the perfect chance for that is at Sólheimajökull which is just down the road from Skógafoss, though we never recommend going on glaciers without a trained guide so HERE you can check out some tours to join on your trip.
Not all of the interesting sights along the way are natural, for some reason a plane wreck from an old DC-3 plane that crashed on the black sand has become a must for many travelers to see on their trip, the walk from the parking lot is around 45 minutes each way, the parking lot can not be missed as it is next to route 1 on the way east, we the Trolls prefer the natural wonders 🙂
The next stop is a natural one and in the summer this ia a great place to see the puffins that nest in Iceland each summer, Dyrhólaey is one of those must see stops along the south coast.
From there you head to the famous black sand beach Reynisfjara, the treacherous waves can be very dangerous so do not get to close to the water while enjoying the views of the rock formations of Reynisdrangar and the cliffs of Reynisfjall.
Then you reach Vík, a tiny village with an amazing view, there are a lot of great little restaurants, hotels and guesthouses in the area around Vík so if you have time this can be a good place to overnight.
If you would rather join a guided day tour from the city to explore these sights we would recommend this one HERE. There are also multi day tours that include these sights and more that can be a great fit for those not interested in driving themselves, you can find information about those HERE as well.
Jokulsarlon Glacier lagoon – The longest day tour
The longer version of a south coast day tour would be going all the way to the glacier lagoon Jökulsárlón in the National park of Vatnajökull. As this is close to 400 km from the capital one way we can almost not recommend it though it is still possible if you are pressed for time, this follows the same route as the shorter south coast tour but from Vík it adds a lot of great sights and options for activities. For example it is possible to join an ice cave tour from Vík to the Katla ice cave nestled under the Katla volcano, this can not be reached without modified jeeps and experience in driving in extreme conditions, specially in the winter so a tour there is recommended, HERE you can find the best option for that.
From there you head eastwards and the next stop would be Fjaðrárgljúfur, a magnificent canyon not far from route 1.
Then you reach Kirkjubæjarklaustur, a typically easy Icelandic name for a town, another great example of the different landscapes of the country as you need to drive through a desert to get there.
Now you are close to the Vatnajökull area but sights like Foss á Síðu deserve a stop as well before reaching Skaftafell, from here a hike to the black waterfall Svartifoss is a great option and of course to join a glacier hike on one of the outlets of the largest glacier in Europe, HERE you can find some of the options for those tours that depart from Skaftafell terminal just next to route 1.
When you have spent some time there the next stop is the amazing glacier lagoon, this is a absolute must see when traveling to Iceland, no matter what time of year, the lagoon changes with the seasons and the options for activities in the area as well but if you have a chance to go there you should never miss it.
In the summer there are boat tours on the lagoon that take you to the roots of the glacier where the lagoon forms and sail you around the icebergs on the lagoon, those you should also visit on the Diamond beach where the lagoon meets the Atlantic ocean and the icebergs lay on the black sand beach like diamonds melting in the sun.
In the winter the Blue ice caves of Vatnajökull form, these natural phenomena are a once in a lifetime experience and a requirement if you are in the area when they are accessible, HERE you can find a tour that departs from the Jökulsárlón parking lot to reach those caves. When traveling so far east you will need to choose which sights you will visit in a day as it is simply impossible to visit them all in one day, our recommendation for a self drive on the south coast of Iceland would be at least 4-5 days just to see the main sights and join a few activities, the more time the better. For those who want to have someone else do the driving we recommend the multi day small group tours mentioned above 🙂
The Trolls will be happy to have you on our tours and hope this information helps you plan your trip in Iceland, if you have any questions please contact us on [email protected] 🙂