As much as I love my city and all that it offers I also know that most people come to Iceland for the nature. What is so great about Reykjavík though is how close and connected to nature it is. You don’t have to leave the city limits to catch a glimpse of a waterfall or even go fishing but you can do both at Elliðaárdalur valley. If that’s not enough for you and you want something a bit more spectacular, there are plenty of good routes around Reykjavík that are greatt choices for day excursions out of the city.
Personally I would rent a car for these excursions because I hate being told how much time I can spend in each place, especially if I want to take some photos. The boyfriend can vouch that I take my time. However, most of these tours are also available with tour companies and there of course you have the added benefit of having someone telling you what it is that you are actually looking at. It all depends on what you like. I must admit that I haven’t done a lot of organized bus tours (went once with Reykjavík Excursions to Landmannalaugar, which was actually quite nice) so if you think I’m not doing them justice, feel free to leave me a comment below.
The Golden Circle
The golden circle is the visitor’s mecca in Iceland with amazing waterfalls, geysers, a hint of glaciers and more. The reason it’s so popular is the fact that all those amazing places like Þingvellir, Gullfoss, Geysir and Kerið can be found in a relatively concentrated area – which makes it very convenient to visit if you are short for time. People sometimes ask me whether it worth doing, because it’s “so” touristy, and my answer is always yes. Just don’t expect to be the only one there.
If you want to do something different while driving the Golden Circle, check out the often overlooked Faxi waterfall on the way from Gullfoss to Kerið or enjoy the steam baths at Fontana Spa. Also check out the delicious lobster at the Við Fjöruborið restaurant on the way back.
The South Coast
Another popular route in the south of Iceland is the south coast. It takes you from Reykjavík all the way to Vík and back, which is roughly 400 km. That seems like a lot of driving but most people are happy to do it because on the way you will find Seljalandsfoss, Skógarfoss, Skógar Folk Museum, Sólheimajökull glacier, Reynisfjara beach and the view from Vík of the wonderful Reynisdrangar. Like always, if you have more time I recommend you take it slower as this is a full 10-12 hour trip.
If you have the time you might want to go glacier hiking with Icelandic Mountain Guides or go on a hunt for that infamous stranded airplane on Sólheimasandur that I never got around to finding.
More information on south.is
Snæfellsnes peninsula is one of my two favorite peninsulas around Reykjavík ( I know, I know, there are only two) and I recommend it to anyone who asks me for a good day tour out of Reykjavík. It doesn’t have any big waterfalls but it has amazing beaches, a mystical glacier, nice hikes and picturesque villages. Take a walk from Arnarstapi to Hellnar and feast on the world famous fish soup at Fjöruhúsið in Hellnar or discover the little waterfall inside Rauðfeldsgjá.
Driving around Snæfellsnes is a full day activity and I really only recommend it on a good day. There are a lot of nice little harbors around Snæfellsnes so if you get one of those gas station fishing poles you might not have to pay for dinner.
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The second one of my two favorite peninsulas is the Reykjanes peninsula. Most people only look at it as the home of the Blue Lagoon and Keflavík Airport but it really is so much more. You can for example stand on a bridge between the two continents or enjoy gorgeous mud pools in Seltún in Krýsuvík. The great Reykjanesviti is always fun to visit and of course Power Plant Earth for the kids. If you are tired after the driving you can always visit the Blue Lagoon on the way back.
I recommend an evening drive to Reykjanes in the early or late summer as it will give you some interesting light to photograph in without it ever getting too dark to enjoy everything. You can decide how long this tour takes by picking and choosing what you want to see along the way.
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Last but not least I must tell you to go visit Borgarfjörður, not only because the boyfriend would kill me if I don’t (he’s from Borgarnes) but also because it’s actually a nice area to visit. Taking the Hvalfjörður route to Borgarfjörður you have an opportunity to take a hike to Iceland’s highest waterfall Glymur and in case that’s not enough waterfalls for you this route also offers Barnafoss and Hraunfossar. Deildartunguhver is the most powerful hot spring in Europe and the Ástapungar in the Geirabakarí bakery in Borgarnes are to die for. You could even go further than the map suggests and drive towards Langjökull glacier or further north towards Bifröst to see Grábrók and Glanni waterfall.
If you are travelling with children, Bjössaróló playground is a must visit and I would also recommend you stop in Borgarnes and take a look around rather than just driving through it. Langisandur in Akranes is also a great stop in summer but it’s a beautiful black sand beach where the brave can go for a swim in the ocean.
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Finally you can also drive all the way to Jökulsárlón in a day but I can’t in good conscience recommend it as a day excursion. It’s doable, and we had a blast doing it, but it’s such a long drive that you should really try to stretch it for two days at least to really enjoy everything this route offers.