South Coast of Iceland

Jun 24, 2013

The more the merrier definitely goes with people but not so much with the four people’s luggage squeezed into a small rental car- welcome to the road with us and our little Chevy that literally was bursting half of the time! This was probably the part we all had been waiting for the most, and finally the time had come to start our tour around this magical island.

Because there were simply way too many stunning places along this road, I’ve put together the highlights from the south coast on this post. So buckle up and enjoy the ride on one of the world’s finest roads!

Reykjaladur Valley

The drive from Reykjavik to the town of Hveragerði was short but nothing short of beautiful. We had planned a little hike in this valley that is known for its hot springs and a hot river in particular.  It turned out to be a fantastic 1h 30walk to the river with a landscape so different than we had ever seen elsewhere; cold and hot streams coming together, boiling mud pools and the valley filled with white steam columns rising from the vents. And the ultimate reward in the end- the hot river. No other words to describe than the perfection we didn’t know exists- not on this planet anyway.  


After our little hot spring hike we were back on the road and on our way to see couple of big waterfalls (turns out there are plenty of those!). The best thing about the ring road though, is that it’s scenic even in between all these rather famous spots and you can randomly spot something out of this world!

Seljalandsfoss waterfall has a special feature to it- you can walk behind it! Standing there watching the water falling in front of you can be slightly wet but oh so enchanting experience.  


As we carried on towards Vík there was one more stop we wanted to make along the way- Skógafoss waterfall (maybe by now you’ve made the connection- “foss” indeed stands for a waterfall). Around this area there are plenty of hiking possibilities, for instance, towards the Pórsmörk valley, which is amongst the best areas for hiking. Unfortunately we couldn’t fit it in this time around, but the waterfall itself was a beauty! We climbed up to the top to see it from above, and as a bonus we got views over the plains, the sea and even to the glaciers of Eyjafjallajökull- simply amazing! Speaking of which, this is the notorious volcano hidden under the ice cap that erupted back in 2010 causing all the chaos for the European air traffic and is known to be impossible to pronounce…to some!


We had booked our own little cottage by the famous shore of Reynisfjara (Black Beach) near Vík. It had looked good online but it looked insanely good in reality! There were couple of wooden cottages lined up under the greenest cliffs overlooking the ocean and as a cherry on the top we arrived in time for the sunset- priceless! To benefit the white nights and the fact that we got to sleep just meters away from one of the most scenic beaches in Iceland, we walked down to the beach and had it all to ourselves. As the morning arrived, the tourist busses arrived. It looked much different with all the people taking pictures of the world-famous rock formations including the fascinating lava columns. 


We packed up and moved over to this small peninsula Dyrhólaey and walked on top of its impressive cliffs. From there we had pretty unique views down to the black lava columns rising from the water and on the other side we had the glacier of Mýrdalsjökull (Katla volcano is buried under this glacier). One of the things I liked most about this place was the play of black and white as the waves hit the (black) shore. Also, we really hoped to spot some puffins around these cliffs (we had read they would nest here) and we totally did! Hurray! Puffins- check. But to our surprise they were way smaller than we thought and quite far out on the cliffs…(Note to self: get a better zoom lens?)


Finally after spotting our favorite birdies we moved on to the small village of Vík. With only less than 300 inhabitants, it’s still the biggest thing around in a while, thus we decided to fill up on some groceries there. After yet another (self made!) hot dog lunch, we took a last spin on the beach before hitting the road. Also, we made a quick stop at this typical little church on the hills of Vík. Along with its red roof, the endless wild flower fields all around it just added to its idyll. It’s worth the visit- if only to soak in the views (and taking photos)! Actually we read that when Katla erupts and most likely causes serious flooding, the church would serve as the safe haven for the people down in the village due to its higher location.  

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon

One of our favorite pastimes was to try to pronounce place names, just like this canyon and the town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur that led us there (have fun trying)!

In fact, the gravel road to this canyon was one of the trickiest ones we had to take because we weren’t totally sure it was good enough for our small car. Eventually we made it and I’m glad we did because it turned out to be a real treasure! We walked around the steep edges of the canyon (up to 100m deep) and just took our time taking photos and enjoying, well, everything.

Skaftafell National Park

The next stop on our way was Skaftafell- a national park that became a part of the bigger Vatnajökull National Park in 2008. Here our only mission for the night was to get to the camping site and load our batteries for the next day.

In the morning we made our first stop at the glaciers that are literally stretched down to the sea level- from the road it looks like you could almost just get on the ice and walk on it, but as you get closer, it suddenly stands out like a massive wall! We continued back to the park entrance, got our hiking gear on and hit the trail. It was rather easy walk up to the Svartifoss- a waterfall that’s known for its basalt columns framing it. From there on we walked through the arctic bushes (that actually reminded me of Lapland with all those dwarf birch trees) till the viewing point where the grand glacier of Skaftafellsjökull opened up right in front of us! All together we took about 2-3 hours in the national park before heading back to the ring road and towards one of the most anticipated spot…

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

Icebergs on the horizon! This had to be one of the highlights because none of us had ever actually seen a real iceberg before. From the national park we had about 40 minutes drive but right after the hike the weather seemed like it would start to close in- and it did. By the time we got to the Glacier Lagoon it was already raining and the visibility over the icebergs wasn’t really good. Oh no. But then again, we had been so lucky with the weather so far and seen so many stunning places under the blue sky, that complaining about it didn’t really feel right. After all, it is Iceland! So we got around as much as we could and I mean the place was still great! We even saw a seal swimming amongst the floating ice and that’s pretty spectacular. And besides it was a good thing that we couldn’t stay too long there, because we had a long drive still ahead of us- all the way to theEastern Fjords.

Coming up next: The Eastern Fjords


General Tips for Iceland

- Book early! We cannot emphasize the importance of early planning, especially if you plan to travel in high season (summer months).  

The only reason we got a good deal on flights, car and accommodations is that we booked everything well in advance (In October 2012 for June 2013).

- Go out of Reykjavik: Even a shorter drive away you can find extremely beautiful places to discover the single most important part of Icelandic way of life- the raw nature.

- Rent a car: Makes you more flexible and independent in regards to your travel plan/ schedule.

- Find a natural hot spring: As much as we liked the Blue Lagoon, there’s nothing like lounging in a naturally hot river (or pool) and the good news is that there are plenty of those all over the country! You just need to find the one that suits your route.

- Chat with the locals: If you get the chance to talk to locals about the place/ what to do and see- go for it! There’s no guidebook better than the local advice! Plus the Icelanders are very nice folks.

- Buy food in Bonus: It’s an Icelandic supermarket chain that covers all your basic needs, expect for beers & other alcoholic beverages where you need to go to Vin Budin (the national liquor store).

Road Information

Ring road (road 1)
Reykjavik – Hveragerði: 43km, 35min (estimations)

Hveragerði – Seljalandsfoss: 85km, 1h

Seljalandsfoss – Skógafoss: 30km, 25min

Skógafoss – Vik area: 60km, 45min

Vik - Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon (Kirkjubæjarklaustur): 70km, 50min

Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon - Skaftafell National Park: 70km

Skaftafell National Park - Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon: 55km, 40min


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