Iceland, the land of fire and Ice, is located between the US and Europe, making it a common stop-over destination for those travelling between the US and Europe.
If you are one of those who only have a short stay in Iceland, what can you see and where can you visit within one or half-day would be essential to ask.
This blog will introduce four routes starting from the capital of Iceland Reykjavik, suitable for both winter and summer visits, that only require a short driving time that could take you to some of Iceland’s must-see attractions within one day. If you will be stopping over in Iceland for 12 hours or 24 hours, read on and learn more.

Related links: Rent a car in Iceland

Iceland church

Table of content

  1. First Route: to Snæfellsnes
  2. Second Route: to the South Coast
  3. Third Route: to Reykjanes
  4. Fourth Route: to the Golden Circle

Instant nature – straight from the capital

Reykjavik is a truly mesmerising little capital on its own with its great museums, cozy cafes, nordic vibes and colorful culture. Being situated just a short drive from many of the wonderful sights and grand adventures that Iceland has to offer though, it’s always a great idea to look at what’s beyond the horizon. Either if you are here on a short stopover, or if you have an extra day to fill with activities, here are the best options if you are looking to spend a day surrounded by nature but still get back in time for an evening in the city.

You can either book one of the many tours to be picked up downtown, or rent a car and make your own itinerary. No matter which direction you go, Iceland will look very Icelandically great, but here are a few tips on how to make the most of it.

visit Reykjavik with a rental car

Driving Snæfellsnes within one day

Total Driving time required estimated: 5-6 hours
Rental car recommendation:

Heading north from Reykjavik, Snæfellsnes offers all of Iceland’s landscapes in one big peninsula. Having a balance of beaches, lava fields, sea cliffs, waterfalls, fishing towns and its highlight, the Snæfellsjökull glacier, it truly is like a mini version of the entire island. Famous from Jules Verne’s 1864 book “Journey to the Center of the Earth” where Snæfellsjökull actually holds the secret entrance, the mountain looks like the Icelandic equivalent of Mount Fuji, and can actually be seen from Reykjavik on clear days.

The subglacial volcano that sits under Snæfellsjökull last erupted around 1700 years ago, and now stands as the giant landmark of the Snæfellsjökull national park. Every stop on this peninsula is worth it, so it’s good to leave early and make the most of your day, driving a full lap around the peninsula. Most people start by driving the south side, so it’s easier to beat the big crowds by going north first.

visit Snæfellsnes from Reykjavik only takes one day

Must-see attractions on Snæfellsnes during your stay:

  • Selvallafoss waterfall – a hidden gem you can walk behind
  • Grundafjörður town – a great morning stop for coffee
  • Kirkjufell – the most photogenic mountain in the area
  • Snæfellsjökull viewpoints
  • Lóndragnar rock formations and lava field
  • Vatnshellir lava tunnel – book a guided tour before heading out
  • Arnarstapi town and sea arches
  • Rauðfeldsgjá Gorge
  • Búðakirkja black church
  • Ytri Tunga beach and seals
visit the famous Iceland kirkjufell with in one day

Driving the South Coast within one day

Total Driving time required estimated: 5 hours
Rental car recommendation:

Driving down to the south coast grants some beautiful road trip views before things really take off. Arriving at the foot of the infamous Eyjafjallajökull volcano, the landscape presents itself with towering cliffs, some of the most well known waterfalls of Iceland, outlet glaciers and black sand beaches. One could spend a week exploring just this part of the south coast and not run out of new things to discover, but if you are going for one day only, it’s good to focus on the highlights.

Visiting two of the most picturesque waterfalls of Iceland, Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss is a must, and so is the famous black sand beach of Reynisfjara and the cozy town of Vik, where most of the Netflix show Katla was filmed. There is also a great opportunity in the area to spend half the day on ice, and go on a guided glacier hike on Sólheimajökull.

it is possible to visit skogafoss in iceland with a rental car within one day

Must-see attractions on the South Coast during your stay:

  • Eyjafjallajökull volcano – the one that made Iceland famous in 2010
  • Seljalandsfoss waterfall – bring rain gear and walk behind it
  • Gljufrabui waterfall – if you are not wet yet, head into the gorge and get up close to this powerful waterfall
  • Seljavallalaug – the oldest pool in Iceland
  • Skogafoss waterfall – a massive wall of water
  • Solheimajökull glacier – book a guided glacier hike before heading out, or see it from the viewpoint
  • Sólheimasandur Plane Wreck – A fairly long walk through a black sand desert to a DC-3 plane wreck. Only recommended if you have already seen everything else
  • Dyrholaey sea cliffs – a great view over the south coast
  • Reynisfjara black sand beach – the most iconic beach of Iceland. Just watch out for the waves
  • Vik town – The other side of the black sand beach, and also a good place for food and shopping
a view from the black sand beach next to the Icelandic town Vik

Driving Reykjanes within one day

Total Driving time required estimated: 2 hours
Iceland Rental car recommendation:

An area that often gets overlooked when people aim for the top crowd pleasers in Iceland is Reykjanes. Just half an hour drive from the capital and the natural wonders start lining up everywhere. This area has mainly been flying under the radar until recently, when our latest volcano Fagradalsfjall decided to put on a show for the world with its eruption starting in March 2021. Even though not active at the moment, it’s still an experience of a lifetime witnessing the sheer power the volcano has had, and visiting some of the newest piece of ground on planet earth.

Amongst volcanic formations, hot springs and lava fields, there is another unmissable gem out here; namely the Blue Lagoon. Being one of the most popular stops in Iceland, there is a good reason for it. Its turquoise blue waters surrounded by a jagged, violent lava field looks unreal. And taking a dip in it feels just as good as it looks.

Even with the volcano and the Blue Lagoon usually stealing the show, there are still plenty of landmarks and sights to fill up a full day’s road trip on Reykjanes. So if you have a car and a few hours to kill, look no further.

Reykjanes is one of the most accessible area to visit in Iceland from Reykjavik

Must-see attractions in Reykjanes during your stay:

  • Kleifarvatn Lake – a beautiful stop with viewpoints all along the lake
  • Krýsuvik geothermal area – steaming hot pots
  • Fagradalsfjall volcano – our most recent volcano, currently not erupting but still steamy. just don’t walk on the hardened lava.
  • Grindavik town – Great lunch stop
  • Bridge between continents – a bit of a tourist gimmick, but still fun for a photo
  • Gunnuhver geothermal area – more geothermal power
  • Reykjanesviti lighthouse – oldest lighthouse in Iceland
  • Reykjanestá sea cliffs – great for birdlife and photos
  • Brimketill tidal sea pool – but do not swim here since the waves can be dangerous
  • Raufarhólshellir lava cave – book a tour before heading out
  • Inside the Volcano – be lowered down 80m into a crater (no lava here though)
  • The Blue Lagoon – the classic
  • The Sky Lagoon – a beautiful, newly opened outdoor lagoon
driving on the road to Reykjanes Iceland

Driving the Golden Circle within One day

Total Driving time required estimated: 4 hours
Iceland Rental car recommendation:

By far the most popular drive from Reykjavik is the Golden Circle. It’s an easy way to see some of the most famous natural wonders of Iceland, and brings you back to the city in time for the evening. The three highlights that create this circle are Þingvellir national park, Geysir (the geyser) and Gullfoss waterfall. Driving only these three is actually a golden line, not really a circle, but there are plenty of hidden gems and little detours that can make this day an even richer experience and fill it with a few micro-adventures on the way.

Whether it’s visiting a greenhouse for some Icelandic tomato soup, or a farm for homemade ice cream, making the day about the various lagoons along the road, or finding lesser-known waterfalls, this day can be as long (or short) as you’d like.

Here is a detailed guide to Golden circle if you would like to know more about the Golden circle map, route, attractions and the detours.

geysir is one of the main attractions in Iceland Golden Circle route

Must-see attractions in Reykjanes during your stay:

  • Þingvellir national park – where the continental plates split
  • Geysir – the geyser that all others are named after, erupting on average every 10 minutes
  • Gullfoss – a majestic waterfall that you can get close to in the summertime
  • Fontana geothermal spa
  • The Cave People – see how icelanders used to live in Laugarvatn
  • Efstidalur – homemade ice cream straight from the local farm
  • Bruarfoss waterfall – a 45 minute walk, but so blue it looks tropical
  • Faxi waterfall – because one can never see too many waterfalls
  • Friðheimar – a huge greenhouse producing Icelandic tomatoes. Try their tomato soup too!
  • Secret lagoon – not very secret, but an old geothermal pool at perfect temperature
  • Kerið – an old volcanic crater with crystal blue water
the famous gullfoss in Iceland golden circle

The best short Day trips from Reykjavik

So now you have all the four routes that we recommended for your short stop-over self-drive trip in Iceland. Don’t forget to prebook your rental car in advance and make sure you will pick up and return it at the Iceland Keflavik international airport (KEF) arrivals hall with Hertz Iceland, which would allows you to start your trip straight from the airport!

Book your car in Iceland now with Hertz Iceland