More and more visitors have been using Reykjavík as a home base for their entire Iceland vacation, taking day trips from the capital. Perhaps they have limited vacation time, or they're taking advantage of Icelandair's free up-to-7-day stopover on flights between North America and Europe. In any case, the area within 1 or 2 hours' drive of Reykjavík boasts an incredible wealth of scenery and activities. While it isn't quite the whole country in microcosm, it comes pretty close.

Renting a car (even just for the day) is fast becoming the most popular means of travel for this region because many sights are otherwise inaccessible. Regular bus routes have slacked off a bit in turn, but bus tours are still plentiful.

Notes on Entering the Countryside -- Leaving Reykjavík can be a shock to the system. Suddenly you're walking on lava rocks; or driving astride a long, dramatic fjord; or peering at thousands of squawking seabirds. The land feels strangely unformed, caught in geological transition. Without trees or thick vegetation, the earth looms in all its power and bulk. Iceland's original settlers found no natives to subdue, and never had to group their homes on hilltops in defensive clusters. Farmsteads, evenly spread throughout the land, have been the organizational basis of Icelandic society until relatively recent history. Every farm has a name -- often the same name it had 1,000 years ago -- and its own road sign. The name is usually derived from its surrounding geography. Still today, each farm and its natural environs merge personalities.