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What to Do in Iceland If You Only Have One Day

If you only have one day in Iceland, the first advice we give you is to change your flight and stay for at least a week more. If that’s not an option, our next suggestion would be to use the time you have to the fullest, since Iceland is a unique destination. One day is not nearly enough to take in all the awe-inspiring natural beauty, the rich history reaching back to the age of settlement, and the one-of-a-kind culture that has evolved on this remote island. Here are some suggestions for what to do in Iceland if you only have one day.

The Golden Circle

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It’s no coincidence that the Golden Circle is the most popular day tour from Reykjavík. There are three stops on the way that just happen to be three of the most captivating destinations in Iceland, and as an added bonus, the tour doesn’t take up more than half of your day.

The stops are Þingvellir, the national park where the Icelandic Parliament congregated since 930 AD, Gullfoss (Golden Waterfall), the awe-inspiring waterfall which lends its name to the Golden Circle, and Geysir, an erupting hot spring, guaranteed to wow visitors.

If you want to make a whole day of it, this day tour can be combined with a few other activities depending on what you are interested in. You can visit geothermally heated greenhouses, the Secret Lagoon, the crater Kerið, or if you prefer a bit more extreme activities, snowmobiling on a glacier.

Volcano and lava tube caves

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Nobody does volcanoes like Iceland – there’s a reason it’s called the Land of Fire and Ice. Iceland’s latest volcanic eruption on the Reykjanes peninsula just stopped being active, but that doesn‘t mean there‘s nothing to see. It’s amazing to witness how the volcano changed the landscape in six months time. The fresh lava field is a sight to behold and you can reach it by hiking or by helicopter.

The Reykjavík Erupts! volcano hike takes you to a geothermally active area where the effects of the extreme heat underground are clearly visible on the surface. The colours of the earth are akin to a rainbow and there are bubbling cauldrons of mud everywhere.

Lava Tube Caving tour, on the other hand, allows you to visit a cave that was formed during a volcanic eruption. The rock formations alone make this tour worth the trip. Not only does taking these tours allow you to get out of the bus and explore, they’re also just a short distance away from Reykjavík, making them perfect if you’re short on time.

Glaciers

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Since you’re visiting ICE-land, you might want to check out some icy tours and it doesn’t get any icier than hiking on a glacier. Glacier hikes are relatively easy and the professional gear is provided so it should be accessible for most people. You get to walk on a glacier, along with guides that know everything there is to know about glaciers and Iceland in general. If hiking isn’t your thing, you can also go snowmobiling! Since you have to drive for a while to get to the glacier, you get to see some of Iceland’s beautiful landscapes along the way. The tour stops at two waterfalls, and you can walk all the way behind one of them!

The Blue Lagoon

Blue Lagoon

Even if you’re only in Iceland for a short time, that doesn’t mean you have to spend all your time on a bus. If a day of luxurious pampering is more appealing, look no further than the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon was named one of National Geographic’s 25 wonders of the world, and that’s no wonder! The turquoise blue waters are rich in natural minerals which have been known to help with skin diseases. It’s just a divinely soothing and relaxing place. It doesn’t hurt that you can book all sorts of massages and treatments and get your drinks straight in the lagoon. The Lava Restaurant at the Blue Lagoon is also first class.

Explore Reykjavík

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If you don’t have much time, you don’t even have to leave the city. Not only does Reykjavík offer a variety of great museums, restaurants, cafés, and shops, it also has spectacular views of the mountains surrounding the city, right from the city centre. If you’re staying in the city and want to get the most out of your time, invest in the City Card. It’s available for 24, 48, or 72 hours and gives you access to all the city’s museums for free, as well as a discount on the admittance fee to exhibitions around town. It also gives you access to the thermal pools of Reykjavík, the Reykjavík Family Park and Zoo in the Laugardalur neighbourhood, and allows you to use the bus (Strætó) within the capital region.

Whale watching
The tail fin of a large whale sticking out of the sea - Whale Watching Tour

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Marine life abounds in the ocean around Iceland. Of all the creatures that live in these waters, the most spectacular ones have to be the whales. If you’re interested in seeing these immense creatures for yourself, take a whale watching cruise. Even the smallest Icelandic whale you could spot is still the size of a full grown man, and the largest can reach up to 30 metres in length! If you have a few hours to spare before or after the cruise (or if you get seasick and a cruise is out of the question), check out the Whales of Iceland exhibition for some extra information on these gentle giants.

The northern lights

If you’re in Iceland in the winter, chances are you were planning to go see the northern lights anyway, and I wouldn’t dream of dissuading you. The lights are a magnificent sight and there’s really nothing like them. Going on a northern lights tour is especially convenient if you only have a short time in Iceland since the tours only go out in the evenings. That means you can go on a tour during the day, or spend it in Reykjavík and still have time to see the northern lights after dinner. Just watch the aurora forecast, you can’t see the lights when it’s cloudy. Also, these tours are of course only available in the winter, since the midnight sun outshines the aurora in the summer.

The Essential Iceland tour
Silfra - Golden Circle by Jeep & Snowmobile (Pearl Tour)

If you have one day in Iceland, it can be difficult to choose what to do. Do you want to see historical sites from the age of settlement? Geologically interesting lava fields or immense cracks in the earth between tectonic plates? Waterfalls? Hot springs? Glaciers?

What if I told you there is a way you could see all of this in one day? The Essential Iceland tour is your best bet to cram a week’s worth of a vacation in just one day. It gives you a chance to see as many of the natural wonders Iceland has to offer as you can, all from the seat of a 4×4 Jeep that allows you to travel comfortably over Iceland’s rough terrain.

Whether you are going on tours or staying within city limits, you can be sure of one thing: you won’t have seen enough of what Iceland has to offer. The next time you’re in Iceland (and we’re pretty sure you’ll be back) stop by the What’s On office, or send us an email, and ask the staff to help you plan an unforgettable vacation.

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