South Iceland Weekend Road Trip
January 1, 1970
by Nicole S. Wilson
The Icelandic countryside is like you’ve stepped onto another world. I am lucky enough to have a good friend living in Reykjavík who took me on a road trip along the south coast in the spring. I got to see so much more of Iceland’s otherworldly landscapes than I anticipated and I was struck by all of it. These were our stops along the way.
Geysir Hot Spring & Haukadalur Geothermal Area
We started our road trip from Reykjavík and drove up Road 36 to see some of the Golden Circle. We went straight to the top past Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park to the Geysir Hot Spring and Haukadalur geothermal area. Geysir and Strokkur are probably the two most famous geysers in the area. Strokkur is the geyser that erupts most frequently these days, spewing a tower of water and steam every few minutes.
Seljalandsfoss & Gljúfrabúi
From the Geysir Hot Spring area, we drove down Road 35 until we connected with the Ring Road (Route 1) at the town of Selfoss. That’s where we started our eastward journey on the south coast and stayed the night in an Airbnb somewhere between Selfoss and Hella.
We got up early and hit the road heading east. Somehow, we lucked out with the best weather we could have asked for considering the sky was incredibly clear, the sun was beautifully bright, and the temperature was warmer than it had been my whole visit thus far.
Seljalandsfoss is the first waterfall we came to on our Ring Road journey. It’s a widely-known waterfall and it’s often busy from the many waterfall tours that stop there as well as lone tourists. You can see Seljalandsfoss from the road. It has a turn-off and parking lot you can stop in to get out and view the waterfall. This waterfall is a particularly entertaining one because you can walk completely behind and around it, but prepare yourself to get a bit wet from the spray. Stay adventurous! Wear a rain jacket and get wet!
A lesser known waterfall further down the same turn-off is called Gljúfrabúi that you can walk to when you’re finished wandering around Seljalandsfoss. It’s almost hidden by a narrow canyon where it pours into a small pool at the base of the rock cliff. We climbed the huge rock face in front of the waterfall to look upon the falls. The view was absolutely incredible and I recommend not missing it, but be careful climbing the rocks because they can get muddy.
As you get back in your car and continue eastward, you’ll pass the huge volcano that no one can pronounce: Eyjafjallajökull. There is a marker on the side of the road and a small museum on a family farm that commemorates the eruption of 2010. The volcano itself is this behemoth thing your eyes can’t miss that is a volcano, mountain, and glacier all in one. Even if you don’t check out the family-run museum, you should definitely take a stop just to take in the sight of the massive thing itself.
Skógafoss & Kvernufoss
Skógafoss is another well-known waterfall just a bit down the road from the Eyjafjallajökull marker. There is a large parking lot that you can park your vehicle like at Seljalandsfoss. You can walk right on the rock bed along its stream that it flows into. There’s also a long, large set of stairs you can climb to the top of the waterfall to look down on the falls and out at the views.
Kvernufoss is the lesser-known waterfall neighbor of Skógafoss. It is my FAVORITE waterfall on the south coast of Iceland.
You have to leave the parking lot at Skógafoss and drive towards the Skógar museum. Drive past that towards the fence on the other side where there is some farm equipment and you’ll see a little ladder to hop the fence. Climb that ladder and start walking to your left along the stream. Eventually, you’ll start hearing the crashing of the waterfall. You’ll climb up a little hill and the valley of the waterfall will open up in front of you like it’s been waiting for you.
Kvernufoss has a path that leads behind the waterfall. Though you aren’t necessarily supposed to walk all the way around it to the other side because the path ends, my friend and I definitely did because adventure is out there! If you choose to cross to the other side of the valley, be prepared to get soaking wet as the wind will most likely carry the spray from the waterfall right onto you. Bring an extra set of dry clothes and be careful!
Before you reach the town of Vík, there will be a turn off for Road 215 that leads to the beach. Reynisfjara Beach is a long black sand beach that has some incredible basalt columns off the shore and has Hálsanefshellir Cave which is a columnar basalt cave that incorporates a selkie myth you can read about on a plaque outside of it. There are also distant views of the Dyrhólaey peninsula which has an arched rock formation.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon & Diamond Beach
Our final destination before we turned around and headed back to Reykjavík was the Glacier Lagoon. It’s this large pool of water filled with ice blocks created from melted run-off from the Vatnajökull glacier which is the largest glacier in Iceland. We arrived just as the sun was setting, creating the most beautiful views of the mountains in the distance. We also followed a group of seals from the lagoon across the street to the Diamond Beach as they went back out to sea. The beach is called such because the broken bits of clear ice make the beach look like it is covered in diamonds. It was the perfect place to end the road trip.
The 5-hour drive back to Reykjavík from the lagoon was under a clear night sky along the coast. I did not get to see the Northern Lights on this road trip, but I did bond with my friend on a completely new level. The wonders and beauty of Iceland bring people closer together. There is nothing like driving through the Icelandic countryside to spur conversation that connects people. Go forth and wander!