If you’re traveling to Iceland and you’re pressed for time, you have a few options. Explore Reykjavik, check out the Golden circle, maybe head to Snæfellsnes Peninsula? If I were you, I’d consider trekking down Iceland’s South Coast
Even if you don’t have time to explore the entire Ring Road, visiting Iceland’s South Coast is a must do! During our recent trip, Zach and I went from Reykjavik to Foss Hotel Glacier Lagoon in one day, and spent the night there. Even though it is a long 4-hour drive, we had stops planned frequently, which made the driving worthwhile.
Here’s how we did it:
Day 1 on Iceland’s South Coast
We left Reykjavik around 9 am and prepared sandwiches to have as a “lunch on the road.” Pro tip: get your sandwich bread from Brauð & Co… it’s incredible. If you don’t want to pack lunch however, there’s a cafe at Reynisfjara beach (your third stop) that seems like a good option.
Stop #1: Skogafoss
Skogafoss is a huge attraction, and a must see. There is another waterfall (you’ll quickly realize that “foss” means waterfall in Icelandic) called Seljalandfoss, which we visited later (and I recommend you do too). Both of these waterfalls get quite a bit of attention due to their close proximity to Reykjavik.
I highly recommend getting to Skogafoss before 11 am, because right around noon is when all of the large tour buses arrive and it gets very crowded. Skogafoss is a powerful waterfall, some 60 meters tall, that also allows visitors to walk right up to the base of it. There is also a set of stairs that you can climb to a viewing platform on top (it’s a trek, but it’s worth it).
If you plan on getting close to this waterfall definitely wear a rain jacket, the power of Skogafoss makes it feel as if it is raining! Icelandic folklore even says that Þrasi Þórólfsson (that’s a person) hid a chest full of treasures in a cave behind the waterfall that nobody has been able to retrieve…
Stop #2: Dyrhólaey
About 30 minutes after your stop at Skogafoss you’ll turn off of Ring Road for Dyrhólaey. Drive a few kilometers down the road and then up a mountain (you can’t make this stuff up), and you’re in for a pretty site.
Dyrhólaey overlooks Reynisfjara Beach (the next stop on your South Coast tour), and to get there you travel up a very steep gravel road. You definitely need a 4×4 car. If you don’t have a 4×4 car there is a paved road further down but it is quite the hike to get to the top (especially will all that wind!)
Don’t forget that Iceland is the third windiest country in the world. As you approach the summit to overlook Reynisfjara you will be experiencing some very windy conditions — don’t be too surprised! Nonetheless, stopping at Dyrhólaey provides some of the most incredible non-waterfall views in Iceland, and it makes for a good spot to eat your packed lunch. Win-win!
Stop #3: Reynisfjara Beach
Just a few short kilometers up Ring Road is the turn off for Reynisfjara Beach. Hook a right and drive no more than 8 kilometers down this road and you’ll see a massive parking lot.
If you watch Game of Thrones you will mostly likely recognize this beach. The beach is known for its powerful waves, black sand, and naturally formed basalt columns. Many visitors enjoy climbing on the columns (and this is a perfectly ok thing to do!) but you must keep a safe distance from the waves due to how powerful they are.
Stop #4: Hotel check in
We arrived at Foss Hotel around 4 pm and dropped our bags off and relaxed before heading to Jökulsárlón for sunset.
Stop #5: Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach
About 20 minutes from Foss Hotel you’ll begin to see gravel parking lots on the left side of the road. If you park your car and walk over the hill you will see Glacier Lagoon. This is a glacial lake containing chunks of the glacier; some of the icebergs are over 1,000 years old!
Just like the glacier, this lagoon is constantly changing and growing, plus if you are lucky you can spot seals here! Later on continue driving and on the right side of the road (before the bridge) there will be a parking lot, much larger than the ones for the Glacier Lagoon, for the Diamond beach. This is where the icebergs that are contained within the lagoon wash up on the shore to create much more clear and glistening ice sculptures!
Diamond Beach will be packed, but it’s worth the stop.
Stop #1: Vatnajökull National Park
After resting up at our hotel we used Day 2 to further explore Iceland’s South Coast. Our first stop was Vatnajökull National Park.
This park is home to Iceland’s most stunning and largest glacier (the second largest in Europe). Here we glacier hiked and toured an ice cave. If you’re not up for traversing a glacier, have no fear! There are other activities such as snowmobiling and traditional hiking/camping on the grounds.
Access to the park is relatively cheap, costing no more than $10 for an SUV to park there for the day.
Vatnajökull National Park and the glacier hike was the highlight of my trip to Iceland. If you have a chance, I highly recommend visiting and signing up for a glacier hike tour. Here is my recap on the experience and what you need to know before you go. Skaftafell park is also a popular location for camping along with hiking trails such as Svartifoss. If you stay at Foss Hotel this is only a 20-minute drive away.
Stop #2: Seljalandfoss
As we headed back towards Reykjavik we decided to stop at another “must see” waterfall. About two hours after leaving Vatnajökull National Park we arrived at Seljalandfoss.
We decided to stop at the waterfalls on different days (Skogafoss and Seljalandfoss) to give us some “waterfall breaks” (Iceland has a LOT of them). Seljalandfoss is a very popular waterfall since there is a cave behind it that you can walk behind weather permitting. Like Skogafoss this waterfall is also packed with tourists, so if you can go early, do it.
Planning Your Iceland South Coast Trip
Iceland’s South Coast is home to many of the most incredible attractions the country has to offer. Even if you are only there for a few days, I highly recommend you get out and explore it! There are even more stops than the ones I recommended that you can easily swap out with:
- Solheimasandur Plane Wreck
- This one takes about 45 minutes to walk to from the parking lot, and we were both exhausted from the glacier hike.
- Seljavallalaug (We skipped this one due to the weather)
- Another glacier just in case you don’t make it all the way to Vatnajökull (which also offers glacier hiking!)
No matter what, you owe it to yourself to make the trip down Iceland’s South Coast. Use the guide above as a framework for your stops and be sure to let us know how your trip goes in the comments below. Safe travels!
Do it for yourself!
Here is a downloadable Google Map to help plan your trip! This map has the stops we did in blue, and the ones we didn’t in yellow, along with parking information.