Iceland: Land of Fire and Ice

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Iceland: Land of Fire and Ice

Visiting the quaint city of Reykjavik is what draws most visitors to Iceland, but there is so much more of the country to see. One of the most beautiful parts of Iceland is the Southern coast. If you venture down Route 1 past Reykjavik, you’ll see stunning waterfalls, majestic glaciers, and black sand beaches. To truly experience the land of fire and ice, plan a road trip along Southern Iceland to see some of the most unique landscapes in the world.

Driving is pretty much the only way to get around Iceland outside of Reykjavik. There are some tours out of Reykjavik to see some of the major sights along the South coast and around the Golden Circle, but for the best experience you’ll want to rent a car and take your time on this extraordinary drive. Plan to take about five or six days total exploring this unique country, allowing plenty of time to see the many picture-worthy stops on this drive.

After researching what you want to see and do along Iceland’s Southern coast (including the Golden Circle), you can tailor your itinerary any way you want. However, here is a sample five day road trip tour of Iceland’s Southern coast that we recommend for all of the best experiences, tours, and sights.

Day 1

After flying into Keflavik International Airport (KEF), pick up your rental car and head straight for Route 1, the highway that runs straight across Southern Iceland.

There are plenty of car rental options available depending on your price range and the time of year, so do your research or inquire with a few car rental companies before making a decision. You should always check the weather and road conditions in Iceland before starting out on your drive (especially in winter), but the road from the west coast to east coast along the south of the country is a comfortable and easy drive.

As you head down Route 1, we recommend driving about 6 hours to the town of Jokulsarlon and checking into a nearby hotel for the night. Most people who drive the South coast go between Reykjavik and the village of Vik, but if you have a couple extra days to spare, you’ll get more out of your road trip by venturing a little further east. Head to Jokulsarlon and spend the next several days working your way back through Vik, experiencing a glacier walk in Sólheimajökull, and chasing waterfalls before taking a swing around the Golden Circle and ending your trip in Reykjavik.

This is a lot of land to cover so you’ll have to pick and choose what is most important for you to see. Keep in mind that it is always safest to drive while it is light out in Iceland, so start your drive to Jokulsarlon as early as possible and make your goal for the first day to get to your hotel and enjoy the amazing views through the car window on the way.

Day 2

Start your first full in Iceland by visiting Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon at sunrise. You’ll be amazed by the pristine beauty of this vast and colorful glacier before heading right across the street to walk on the black sand beach.

Following your morning stop at the glacier lagoon, consider going on an ice cave tour. There are several tours operating out of the nearby towns, and seeing the ice caves only takes a couple of hours. You will be picked up at your hotel and driven off-road to a remote ice cave. After donning helmets and crampons, experience walking into the mouth of a beautiful ice cave and experiencing the surrounding ice walls in every shade of blue you can imagine.

Next, you’ll want to spend the rest of your afternoon driving to Vik, which is a great town to book a hotel or hostel for the night. Don’t expect a boring afternoon of driving though! There are several great stops you can make on the way to Vik. Start with a visit to Skaftafell National Park where you can hike to the top of Svartifoss waterfall for incredible views and photo opportunities.

After another short drive, you can’t miss pulling off the road to see the Eldhraun Lava Field. This lava field is the result of one of the most devastating volcano eruptions in historic times. Covered in thick green moss, all 565 square kilometers of craters and lava field make for a serene and otherworldly experience.

If there is still enough daylight available, make your final stop of the day at Fjardrargljufur Canyon. This lesser known site is located right off the main road and offers a magical and authentic Iceland experience as you explore the walking trail along the side of the canyon, looking down at its dramatic views.

Finally, end your night in Vik and check out one of their many delicious cafes for dinner! We recommend Suður-Vík for their Icelandic comfort food, but go prepared to wait for a table.

Day 3

Start off Day 3 of your South Coast Road Trip with a sunrise stop at Solheimasandur, Iceland’s famous plane crash. At this site you’ll find the wreckage of a 1973 United States Navy DC plane that ran out of fuel and crashed on the black sand beach. Everyone survived the crash, but the plane was abandoned and has remained ever since. Now it serves as the backdrop for tourists’ epic pictures made to look like the set of a science fiction movie.

Unfortunately, cars can no longer access the plane due to damages from tourism so plan to park in the lot right off of Route 1 and walk about five kilometers to the plane. It’s a flat walk on a clearly marked path and you can’t miss the plane when you get close.

You could also start your morning off with a glacier walk, or glacier hiking and ice climb combination tour of Sólheimajökull Glacier. For adventurous visitors, this is a tour you simply can’t miss. While walking on the magnificent glacier, you’ll be told the history of the glacier and local Icelandic people, truly a once in a lifetime experience that’s only available in a few select areas of the world.

After these couple of stops right outside Vik, spend your afternoon driving to the town of Selfoss, another great area for booking a hotel. Selfoss is located near Thingvellir National Park and the Golden Circle where you’ll be making stops the next morning.

On your way to Selfoss, make sure to stop for a few notable waterfalls. Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss are both very popular waterfalls with tourists, and for good reason. You can even walk behind Seljalandsfoss when the weather is warm enough!

Day 4

Before heading on to the Gold Circle, spend your morning on Day 4 exploring Thingvellir National Park. This stunning landscape of natural beauty was established as the location of the Icelandic Parliament in 930, and now serves as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Located in Thingvellir, visitors can also experience seeing the Silfra Fissure, a freshwater fissure between the American and Eurasian continental plates. For those brave enough, you can snorkel or scuba dive between the tectonic plates, experiencing some of the clearest water in the world at visibility exceeding 100 meters. The glacial water requires that you wear a dry suit for safety, and you’ll be served hot chocolate and cookies following your swim as a reward for braving the near-freezing water.

Once you’ve experienced enough of the rich history and natural beauty that Thingvellir has to offer, it’s time for a few stops on a day trip around the Golden Circle. The Golden Circle is a circular route covering about 300 kilometers looping from Reykjavik to Central Iceland and back.

For the most important stops on the circle, visit Strokkur Geyser, the most powerful and active geyser in Iceland which erupts about every eight minutes with boiling water that bursts up to 20 meters into the air. Next, check out Iceland’s most impressive waterfall, Gullfoss. The iconic waterfall is located in a river canyon and shows off spectacular beauty and untouched nature. Finally, a trip around the Golden Circle isn’t complete without seeing Kerið, a volcanic crater lake surrounded by stunning red volcanic rock.

If you are visiting Iceland during Northern Lights season (September-April), we recommend spending one more night outside of Reykjavik for a better chance of spotting this elusive natural phenomenon. Then spend your final day (Day 5) exploring Reykjavik before it’s time to head back home!

Hopefully our itinerary for a road trip along Iceland’s scenic Southern coast has been enough to inspire your own trip and give you a head start on your planning.

Christina Morgan

Christina Morgan

Christina Morgan is a young publishing professional and freelance writer living in New York City. She enjoys travel, books, and exploring NYC in her free time.