Iceland is a beautiful country. We visited in September last year, and one of the highlights was driving the South Coast of Iceland. Of course, you can’t hope to see all of this magical country in one day. However, driving the South Coast is about as close as you can get. You’ll see mountains, glaciers, rolling hills, waterfalls, a beach covered in ice, and many, many gorgeous little Icelandic horses. What’s not to like?
Before you start – any trip driving the South Coast is going to be a long one. Like I noted in my Golden Circle post, you don’t need a big car – we drove a little Hyundai i20 and it coped fine in the wind. You’ll need to leave early, and you’ll get home late. The weather will be unpredictable, and it will probably rain. You should be prepared to drive in some cagey conditions, and to wear lots of layers and a waterproof jacket. If you need extra advice on the gear to take with you, you can read my post on what to wear in Iceland. As long as you are okay with all of that – you’re ready to roll!
Our route took us about 13 hours, with only one quick stop on the trip back. The points of interest that we visited were Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss, Dyrhólaey, Vik, Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon, and Diamond Beach.
DRIVING THE SOUTH COAST OF ICELAND
Our first stop, in the drizzling rain, was Seljalandsfoss. It took us about two hours to reach the area from Reykjavik. This waterfall, featuring a 65M drop, is fed from melting water from Eyjafjallajokull volcano – the one that caused all those pesky air delays a few years back. There are a few ways to enjoy Seljalandsfoss. You can admire it from afar, or if you’re keen on getting up close and personal, you can wander behind the waterfall during the summer months. Even though it was rather chilly when we visited, it was still open to explore.
Because it was so cold, there was hardly anyone else. We walked behind the waterfall, and it’s a great experience – but you need to be prepared for a good soaking! Make sure to wear waterproof everything – I wore ski pants – and especially take a waterproof jacket. I snapped a few quick shots with my phone, but I wouldn’t recommend pulling a fancy camera out. You should also be very careful when walking on the soaking rocks. Nobody wants to go sailing over the side of a waterfall.
Next on our route was Skógafoss, one of Icelands most famous waterfalls. 30km from Seljalandsfoss, this mammoth of a waterfall is also 65M high, but 25M wide. That’s basically a huge wall of water pummeling down the side of the hill. The area around it is very quaint – lots of sheep and Icelandic ponies to be found. If you’re feeling especially keen, you can climb the 500 or so steps to the top of the waterfall for a fantastic view over the area. Given it started bucketing down as we visited, we decided to give this a miss!
If you have a bit of extra time, you can visit the Turf Museum in nearby Skóga, which contains several turf houses dating back to the 1800s.
Dyrhólaey is apparently the place to go to see puffins in Iceland. Unfortunately, we were there at entirely the wrong time of year, and not a puffin was to be seen! However, the drive in to Dyrhólaey is beautiful, and it overs gorgeous views, even in the fog and mist we experienced. Dyrhólaey is around 170 km from Reykjavík city, which takes about a 2 1/2 hour drive if you go directly. It is named after the massive arch eroded into the headland, which juts out some 120M into the sea.
From the top, you can look out over the spectacular black sand beaches that are a feature of the area. If you go at the right time of year, you might have a bit more luck then us and see not only Puffins, but also Eider Ducks roaming the rock. On the top of the rock is Dyrhólaeyjarviti, an old lighthouse first built in 1919; with the current construction being completed in 1927.
We didn’t spend a lot of time in Vik, but it is such a pretty little town. We had taken our own food with us to eat on our trip – this is always a good time saver in Iceland, rather than searching for places to eat – and we stopped to have a bite. There is also a very good information centre with lots of gorgeous local gifts, and information.
While we didn’t actually stop here for long – just to take a few photos, hence it not being on the map – this area is beautiful. On our drive towards Diamond Beach, we saw nothing. The whole area was shrouded in low mist. On the way back, it was breathtaking. We had to stop and grab some shots and admire the scenery. I highly recommend you do the same! There are lots of obvious places where you can pull off the road easily to take a break.
Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon
Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon is Iceland’s most spectacular glacial lake, and the deepest. It is a part of Vatnajökull National Park and is one of the most popular scenic attractions in the country. The lagoon has formed naturally, from melted glacial water, but its getting bigger each year as the temperature gets warmer. It was quite haunting to see massive chunks of ice snap off and float out to see. Seeing global warming first hand is rather confronting.
We were lucky – the cold weather when we visited meant that the area was relatively quiet. We spent quite a bit of time just watching the ice float by. If ever go back to Iceland, I would take the time to stay close to this area, and do an ice caving tour. The area was magnificent – and I would have loved to have spent longer there. Apparently, if you are really lucky, you might spot a seal in the lagoon!
For me, this was the highlight of the day! The chunks of ice that break away from the lagoon float down towards the Atlantic, depositing some of them on the famous Diamond Beach. By the time we had arrived, the sun was out and pieces of ice – of all sizes – were glistening in the sun. The juxtaposition of the clear or white icebergs against the black sand is breathtaking. The beach is also a breed ground for Arctic Terns and Skua, but we didn’t spy any on our visit.
This was the busiest site we visited all day. The drive back to Reyjavik took about five hours, but we took it pretty easy – especially given the rainy conditions that hit us on the way back. Don’t rush! It’s better to arrive in one piece than not at all.
- As mentioned, take a packed lunch for the day – particularly if you are leaving early. It is much easier than trying to find places to eat. While Iceland has lots of amazing food places, the last thing you want to do is waste half an hour trying to find somewhere that is open.
- If you need to use the bathroom on the trip, there are port-a-loo toilets at the glacier lagoon, and the helpful staff at the Information Centre in Vik were kind enough to let us use their bathrooms on the way home.
- Make sure you are careful while exploring in Iceland. Stick to marked paths, and be sensible. Do not attempt to climb or walk on any icebergs.
- The tour I have recommended is for summer or spring months only. In the winter, you will have too little daylight to be able to make the trip in one day.
To read more about my trip to Iceland, please visit my posts on what gear to take to Iceland, visiting Reykjavík city, chasing the Northern Lights, a tolt on an Icelandic horse, and how to self-drive the Golden Circle.