After spending a wonderful 4 days exploring Reykjavík we took our rental car and headed south. I didn’t know what to expect, but our South Iceland road trip turned out to be our favorite part of the trip!
As mentioned before we had rented a 4 wheel drive vehicle, which proved useful in the snowy March weather. The roads around Reykjavík are very well maintained, however heading south there is a pass which, despite the snowplows, was rather precarious because of the heavy snowfall. If you are driving in winter and have a 4 wheel drive vehicle you will be fine as long as you take it slow.
After you get over the pass you will be greeted with some of the most beautiful countryside! We pulled over multiple times to snap pictures of little sheep farms, staggering cliffs and frozen puddles. I have also heard that some of the longboarding scenes from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty were filmed here, along the Ring Road on the southern coast.
The turn off for Seljalandsfoss waterfall was well marked and located just off the Ring Road. This waterfall is unique in that you can actually walk behind it and get some awesome shots. However, when we went it was bitterly cold and windy so we opted to not walk behind the waterfall. When it is windy you will definitely want a rain jacket on if you are going to go near it, you will get wet!
Skógafoss Waterfall was another beautiful waterfall we had heard about, and located not much further east. We were still recovering from the cold so skipped visiting Skógafoss. I had a terrible cold this part of the trip and Jake was still recovering from his foot injury which had sent him to the hospital a few days earlier. You will find that we had to sit out on a few exciting activities on this leg of our trip due to our health or the weather.
We had fun trying to pronounce the name of this volcano. **hint it’s EYE-a-fyat-la-jo-kutl***
I remember it well when Eyjafjallajökull erupted in 2010. Jake was nearing the end of his deployment to Iraq and there was concern on how to get the soldiers home because of all the ash polluting the sky in northern Europe. It all worked out in the end, but it was kind of ironic to be so close to the volcano that had caused us so much worry.
There is a small visitor center on the Ring Road, and just past it a dairy farm on the left side of the road at the base of the volcano. We pulled off in front and there are some informational boards you can read about the eruption and the dairy. The clouds were covering the volcano both times we passed, but it was still a nice little stop.
Vík is a charming town which is famed for his black sand beaches. You will find that nearly all beaches in Iceland are black sand, but the basalt rock formations on the cliffs make the views especially unique and gorgeous. We didn’t spend much time here because the Arctic wind was brutally cold, but in better weather you could easily spend a few hours exploring the different beaches and the quaint town.
Vík also has a lovely church on the hill which will give you great views of the town and beaches below.
For the next few hours there is honestly not much to see. The views are vast, gorgeous and absolutely desolate. We continued on until we reached Kirkjubæjarklaustur, which had a small gas station and quick place to eat. There was little else in this small village that we could see though.
Staying on a Sheep Farm
We stayed at Guesthouse Nypugardar in rural Nýpugarðar. Our guesthouse was located a bit off the main road on a small sheep farm. The family that runs the guesthouse was warm and inviting. When the owner saw Jake limping she was kind enough to hunt him down 2 more pillows so he could get his foot elevated after a long day of driving.
We had a small room with a shared bathroom on the first floor. There was a large window at the head of our twin beds which would have been perfect to view the Northern Lights if the weather had cooperated with us a little better.
Dinner was served at the guesthouse; which was good because a trip to town would have cost us at least an hour each way to get back to the rural guesthouse. Lamb from the farm and delicious schnitzel (popular in Iceland) were both served and were incredible. We were both exhausted, so we cuddled up on our twin beds with Viking beer and watched The Big Short (one of the best movies I’ve seen!). It was the perfect end to a fantastic day.
Vatnajökull Winter Ice Cave Tour
Our first full day in rural southeastern Iceland started bright and early, as we had a Ice Cave tour booked with Glacier Guides. We were to see the winter caves on Vatnajökull. Unfortunately, upon arriving to the meeting place in Skaftafell we were told that the tour was canceled. The weather had been unseasonable warm and due to the rain the day before ice had started falling. We were refunded, but still quite bummed since it was an activity we were really looking forward to.
The sun had barely risen, so we decided to make the best of the day, and started our day by exploring a stop along the ocean we had seen a few vans pull off to. It turned out to be we were at Jökulsárlón, a large glacial lagoon at the end of Vatnajökull National Park. Some chunks of glacial ice break off and float out of the lagoon and in a river that carries the ice to a beach and then into the ocean. After snapping some pictures here we headed across the street to the lagoon. You can go on a boat tour of Jökulsárlón, but we decided not to. I regretted it after the fact, I think we would have really enjoyed it.
We decided to head to the east coast of Iceland and see what we could find in the small village Höfn. I say small, but it is actually the second largest in Southeast Iceland with just over 2,000 people. I absolutely adored this town! From the friendly fisherman, to the killer views; I could have easily spent more than a day here.
We drove around the small village for a bit looking for a place to eat. We came upon a fishing boat and Jake started talking with one of the fishermen. We learned that some of the best langoustine in the world is caught in this area, so we had to give it a try. We ate lunch at Pakkhus Restaurant, where I tried some langoustine and Jake had the lamb. We were impressed by everything we tried here! The restaurant was filled with locals and a few travelers like ourselves too.
3 sides of Höfn are surrounded by the sea, so you will find beautiful views everywhere you look. After walking around and snapping pictures I decided to get to get to a higher vantage point so I could see the rest of the snowy hills I was only catching bits and pieces of. We ended up driving through some commercial property (processing plant?) and walked a bit. It certainly paid off, as we were rewarded with views of the snowy hills, beautiful water and caribou grazing.
We were both tired from our early started and decided to head back to the Guesthouse for a nap. We stopped a few more times to take pictures of caribou crossing the road, Icelandic horses and some snow geese. We explored the property a little more when we got to the guesthouse, since the sunny day had melted nearly all the snow. The rest of our day was uneventful and relaxing; just what we needed after a whirlwind week. The following morning after a traditional Icelandic breakfast (homemade bread, cucumbers, meats and cheeses, fruits) we started the long journey back towards Reykjavík.
Þingvellir National Park
We had a hostel booked in Selfoss, 20 minutes from Þingvellir National Park. Part of why we booked this hostel was due to the proximity to Thingvellir. We had booked a snorkeling excursion in the Silfra fissure; where the North American and European tectonic plates meet. You can literally swim between continents. How cool is that?! The water temperature is 2-4°Celsius year round, which is about 35-39°Fahrenheit. As much as I desperately wanted to do this tour we had to cancel since we were both sick. It was disappointing, but life happens. We had also wanted our last night in Iceland to be somewhere in the country, so we might have a better chance of seeing the Northern Lights. It was less than an hour drive from Reykjavík so it really was the perfect location.
We stayed at Ljósafossskóli Hostel, which had been recently been converted from an old primary school. You can easily tell that the hostel use to be a school due to the unique layout. There was gym and gym style showers. There was only 1 other guest at the hostel when we were there, so it felt like we had the huge place to ourselves! The owner was the sweetest lady. She visited with us during breakfast the following morning and helped us print our boarding passes. By the time we left the next day I felt the compulsion to give her a hug. It felt like we were saying goodbye to a sweet, older relative!
Our time at Ljósafossskóli Hostel was extra special because we finally experienced something we have both dreamt about since we were kids. We finally saw the Northern Lights!
Overall our time on the Southern coast of Iceland made up some of our best travel memories.Everywhere you looked it was a new kind beauty; the scenery was like nothing we had seen before! The people were also so friendly and inviting wherever we went. If you are looking to have a true adventure in Iceland then head outside of the city for a few days.
**Note: there are affiliative links in this post, which means we will receive a small commission if you book through it while you pay the same great price!***