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Many travelers visit Reykjavik on a layover between the U.S. and Europe and if you have the opportunity to do so, you shouldn’t miss taking advantage of it. Of course, the country itself has become an increasingly popular tourist destination with a long list of things to see and do. You’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to great day trips from the capital city, with a myriad of options within a two- or three-hour drive tops, including these.
The Blue Lagoon is just a 20-minute drive from Keflavik International Airport and about 45 minutes from Reykjavik, making it easy to squeeze into your itinerary. It provides an especially unique experience, with the warm, milky aquamarine-hued waters surrounded by black lava rocks. The heated water comes up to the surface, taking silica, algae, and other minerals from the lava bed along the way, which provides its brilliant color as well as its healing and exfoliating properties. Sit under the sheet of falling water that will pound your shoulders like a natural massage, use the silica mud as a face mask that leaves your skin soft and silky, and swim-up to the bar in the middle for a beer, strawberry champagne or a green smoothie.
The Snaefellsnes Peninsula
The magical Snaefellsnes Peninsula is just a couple hours’ drive from Reykjavik in West Iceland, a region often referred to as “Iceland in miniature” as it offers a sample of the best of the country, with some of its most sought-out natural wonders existing side by side. You can see all of its unique and spectacular natural elements, from jet-black lava fields and magnificent waterfalls to soaring volcanoes, glaciers, both black and white sandy beaches and dramatic cliffs. It’s also home to Iceland’s most photographed mountain, Kirkjufell.
Gullfoss is located along the famous Golden Circle tourist route, about an hour and 40 minutes from Reykjavik. Often called Iceland’s own version of Niagara Falls, there are multiple trails for viewing, one that allows you to stand above it and another that takes you up close. It cascades down in two steps, one 36 feet high, and the other 72 feet in height, spilling into an over one-mile long canyon below. The site includes an expansive gift shop that’s worth at least browsing as well as a café.
Geysir Hot Springs
If you have time you may want to include a stop to the Geysir Hot Spring Area when visiting Gullfoss. Also located on the Golden Circle just a short drive away, it’s dotted with boiling mud pits and erupting geysers, including Strokkur, which bursts 100 feet into the air every five to 10 minutes. The area’s namesake, Geysir, is less active, rarely erupting today. There are a number of great walks here – if you head to the top of the hill overlooking the area you’ll get an especially dazzling view.
One of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland, Skogafoss, a little over two hours from Reykjavik, has been featured in a number of films and television shows, including the History Channel’s “Vikings” and the Marvel movie “Thor.” As the high volume of water flows, it produces a thundering sound and a rainbow-yielding mist that makes it a photographer’s dream on a sunny day. The path that leads to the top of the falls follows a river upstream, where even more spectacular falls await.
Just 30 minutes further along the South Coast is Iceland’s southernmost village of Vik. The village faces the Atlantic and is framed by a long, black volcanic sand beach that was named one of the most beautiful non-tropical beaches on earth by Islands Magazine. This area is especially famous for its rock formations that rise up out of the sea, like the Trolls of Vik, with legend telling they were formed when trolls attempted to drag three ships ashore.
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
If you rise early, you can enjoy a long day trip that includes Skogafoss, Vik and the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. As it’s about five hours from the city, you might want to join an Extreme Iceland tour which typically includes all three and more, so you don’t have to spend so much time behind the wheel. The vast glacial lagoon was created by glacier melt just a half-century ago and is continuing to grow rapidly as the polar ice cap melts. The icebergs are constantly breaking off the glacier, drifting through the short river and into the sea. The waves turn some of them back to the black sand beach, scattering them around like gems. The lagoon has been featured in the hit HBO series, “Game of Thrones” and numerous films like “Batman Begins and “View to Kill.”
The Valley of Thor
Thorsmork, or the Valley of Thor, is one of the top spots for hiking in Iceland, a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Reykjavik. The four-day hike that leads to Landmannalaugar is one of the most popular treks, but there are plenty of opportunities for day hikes. The stunningly green valley lies under the Eyjafjallajokull and Myrdalsjokull glaciers and was made famous around the world as the spot where the Eyjafjallajokull volcanic eruption started in 2010.
Whale Watching Tour
Iceland offers the opportunity to witness humpback, minke, blue whales and orca whales, as well as white-beaked dolphins and porpoises. The rural town of Grundarfjordur on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is just one of the popular departure points for whale watching tours, with large numbers of herring have been coming into the sheltered waters, pursued by groups of killer whales. There are also departures from Reykjavik’s Old Harbour leading out to the bay of Faxafloi with its shallow, nutrient-rich waters drawing minke whales as well as humpback whales, white-beaked dolphins and harbor porpoises.
Horseback Riding in Hveragerdi
The Icelandic horse is a unique breed of smaller horses that arrived with the first settlers from Norway some 1,100 years ago. They’ve become famous for their small size, strength, intelligence and unusual extra gaits, providing an especially smooth, comfortable ride for exploring the countryside. Eldhestar, near the town of Hveragerdi, is just 40 minutes from Reykjavik and offers the widest range of tour options in the country.