For a country less than half the size of the UK, Iceland packs in a whole lot of highlights. Home to more natural wonders than you can shake a stick at, it’s small but seriously scenic. From volcanoes to glaciers and waterfalls to geysers, over 18% of Iceland is protected landscape. Bizarre and beautiful in equal measure, there’s no better backdrop for a road trip.
With so much to see on such a small island, where do you start? Luckily, day excursions leave from different points all over the country, giving you access to even its most remote pocket. And these are not your everyday excursions. Far from it. Here, you can set off in search Viking sushi, ride Icelandic horses across lava fields, visit an icecap three times as big as Luxembourg and swim between tectonic plates. Yes really. Iceland doesn’t do ordinary.
Even if you’re tight on time, there are a bunch of brilliant day trips that leave from Reykjavik, bringing the Icelandic wilderness within your reach. So, whether you’re planning a full island adventure or a flying visit, you’ll soon get a feel for its offbeat charm.
Here’s a list of our top 9 Iceland excursions and we’re pretty sure there’s something for everyone:
The clear, chilly waters of the North Atlantic form the perfect feeding ground for whales. In fact, the odds of spotting a whale off Iceland’s coast run at over 90% - almost a sure bet! Minke whales patrol the island all year, while white-beaked dolphins play in the white horses. In the summertime, humpbacks, orcas, sperm whales, beaked whales and pilot whales arrive, along with the odd blue whale. It’s the ultimate whale family get-together!
Whale-watching tours depart from Husavik, Reykjavik or Akureyri, making it easy to get out on the water. However, Husavik is by far the best viewpoint, and the town is beautiful to boot. Here, you can look out for whales aboard a traditional oak boat. The expert guide will brief you as you sail through the bay, and (with a little luck) you’ll see some brilliant breaching too. A mug of hot chocolate is thrown in, along with a kleina (Icelandic twisted doughnut) – making it a great all-round experience.
There are no two ways about it – puffins are adorable. Sometimes dubbed ‘Clowns of the Sea’, they are clumsy and full of charm. It’s impossible not to love them. The craggy cliffsides and tiny islands dotted around Iceland are home to dozens of puffin colonies, so there’s bound to be a puffin-spotting boat trip leaving from your base. If you get the chance – do it! There just isn’t a more heart-warming way to spend an afternoon.
From Reykjavik, you can board the Puffin Express at the Old Harbour for a one-hour trip, so it’s super easy to slot into a long weekend. You’ll set off on a charming wooden boat called Skúlaskeið or “Old Skuli” and head for the nearby islands of Lundey and Akurey, both famed for their puffin populations. The local guide will fill you with puffin facts and binoculars are provided, getting you a great view.
Quick tip! Puffins are smaller than you might think. If you’re after a close-up shot to coo over at home, be sure bring a camera with a zoom!
Yes really. Set sail amongst the scattered islands of Breidafjordur Bay and forage for the freshest sushi you’re every likely to taste! During this unusual boat tour, you’ll watch as the shellfish plough is lowered into the deep sea, returning with a Nordic fishy feast! Amongst the catch, you’ll see scallops, sea urchins, crabs, starfish and sea cucumbers. Some of these can be munched straight from the ocean, so dive right in!
The tours depart from Stykkisholmur, a beautiful harbour town on the northern side of Snaefellsnes Peninsula, around 170km from Reykjavik by road. As you sail through the bay, your local guide will help you spot birdlife, and explain the traditions of the region. Great for kids too, it’s a trip you won’t forget in a hurry.
Channel your inner Viking with a horse-riding trip across rivers and lava fields. Brought over by the Vikings, Icelandic horses are distinctive and tough. Most horses have three gaits - trot, canter and gallop - but Icelandic horses have an extra two. The first is ‘tolt’, a smooth running walk that, when mastered, allows riders to carry a beer without spilling a single drop. The second is skeið – ‘flying pace’- that can gather speeds of up to 50km!
In the morning, you’ll saddle up for an introductory ride before lunch at the stables. Afterwards, you’ll head out across the volcanic landscape for a unique horseback experience, trying out the different gaits of these incredible creatures (stopping short of the skeið!). You’ll need some previous knowledge of horseback riding and a healthy appetite for adventure!
Stretching over a whopping 8,100 square kilometres, Vatnajokull is Europe’s largest glacier. It covers 8% of Iceland and this is your chance to get inside it! On the south side of the glacier, there is a handful of caves to explore, which look spectacular in the right light conditions. During the tour, you’ll visit the caves with an Ice Mountain and Cave expert, learning about their formation and structure.
The tour leaves from Fagurholsmyri, which is 4 hours from Reykjavik by road, so it’s better suited for road trips than long weekends. Stick around this area to discover the waterfalls, volcanoes and glacier lagoons of Vatnajokull National Park – it’s a million times worth the journey.
You'll be pleased (and probably relieved) to know that Icelandic cuisine isn’t all fermented cod jerky, ram’s testicles and head cheese. Far from it. The island is home to a blossoming food scene and, if you dig beyond the touristy surface, there are all kinds of local treats in store. Think wild blueberry ice cream, craft beer and the legendary Icelandic hot dog.
This food walk is a great way to get a real glimpse of gourmet Iceland. You’ll visit five different restaurants and taste ten local dishes – so come with an appetite! Try Icelandic lamb soup, freshly caught fish and “Akureyri pizza”, all washed down with beer from the local breweries. We love it, and we can’t recommend it highly enough.
Iceland is the ONLY place in the world that you can swim between continents. At the Silfra Gorge in Thingvellir National Park, you can glide through an underwater river that runs through a fissure between tectonic plates. Diving into these clear glacial waters, you’ll float across the underwater lava fields that divide Europe and North America with a PADI certified guide. The marine life weaves through a surreal underwater world of thermal chimneys and volcanic ravines, so prepare to be blown away.
If you're not a diver, there are snorkelling trips available too, making an inter-continental experience available to everyone. Even better, day trips leave from Reykjavik and include return transfers, so Silfra is super accessible. Our advice? DO IT.
Reykjavik is compact but crammed full of character, with a lively nightlife and a growing craft beer scene. This tour will take you behind the scenes in Reykjavik, and ensure that you always have a beer in hand. You’ll explore downtown Reykjavik with a local guide, learning about prohibition as you go. Unbelievably, beer was illegal in Iceland until 1989, and you'll find out why.
You’ll visit the city’s only microbrewery, a hip gastropub and the best micro-bar in town, tasting over ten different Icelandic beers and meeting local bar owners on the way. It’s a bar crawl with added culture and a brilliant way to get to know Reykjavik. Come thirsty and leave happy (though possibly not sober).
If you’re after something to get the pulse racing, try rafting on the Hvita river, just a short distance from Reykjavik. Flowing from glacial melt off until it forms the thundering Gullfoss Waterfall, this river is flanked with spectacular scenery and dotted with thrilling Grade 2 rapids. Our consultant, Chris, did this tour himself and you can read his take on it here.
On this trip, you’ll float through canyons and whoosh down bumpy rapids. If you’re feeling extra-intrepid, you can stop and leap from high cliffs into the river below. It's a wonderful way to experience the Great Icelandic outdoors. At the end of the tour, you’ll return to base camp and unwind in the hot tub before returning to Reykjavik.
We can put together all kinds of Iceland road trips and multi-centre holidays that include the island. Any (or all!) of these remarkable day trips can be added to your Iceland itinerary - all you have to do is ask! Simply send us an email or give us a call on +44 1273320580 to get planning.