South Iceland, a four days road trip

Let’s make it simple : in Iceland, in winter, there is only one reasonable way to travel around. And that’s a car. Although there are buses and Iceland is known for a good hitchhiking country, I would have died if I had spent half an hour waiting outside in the snow, as often happens with these modes of transportation. With a car, you can run back and turn on the seat warmer whenever you feel you’re about to loose your fingers, and that’s a necessity, not a comfort.

See also my photo essay around the road trip here!

See also my photo essay around the road trip here!

This road trip, starting from Reykjavik and driving on the road one all along the south coast of Iceland, could be done in any season and with any kind of vehicle. In Iceland, some roads are only allowed if you’re driving a four wheel drive, and others are forbidden to rental cars altogether (the F-roads). There’s also the simple fact that, in winter, a reasonable driver will refuse to engage on some roads that are not properly cleared. In any case, this road trip is available to everybody in any weather, so enjoy!

DAY 1 – FROM REYKJAVIK TO SELFOSS

Here is the Google Map for day 1

Driving out of Reykjavik gives you the opportunity to drive the popular Golden Circle. Big tourist buses will show you the way no matter what.

Thingvellir is a national park with a beautiful view on a huge lake. You can pretty much stop wherever you want, although there’s one official stop where several walking trails start (once again, you’ll find it easily, it’s full of tourists buses and there’s only one road). In summer, you might want to stop here for the day if you’re a hiker.

snow lake church

moi snow-6 (by billy young)

Photo credit : Billy Young.

Further along, the Geysir area is a geothermal hot spot with several bubbling streams and smallish geyser. The main attraction is the Strokkur that explodes every seven minutes in a huge column of water (at least 10 meters high)! You can also walk up the hill behind the area in about ten minutes to get a beautiful view of your surroundings.

geysir snow

geysir snow steam light

The Strokkur bubbling.

And BOOM! Photo credit : Billy Young.

And BOOM! Photo credit : Billy Young.

The last item on the Golden Circle is Gulfoss, which is so big it’s hard to call it a waterfall. A small path leads down to a good view point (packed with tourists, obviously). To be honest, the pictures might look amazing, but I don’t remember much. The waterfall is very powerful and was sending droplets of water everywhere, making it so cold that I had to walk the last meters towards the waterfall backwards, and then turn really quickly to have a look. I ended up running to the store at the start of the path because my fingers were hurting like hell and I was starting to have frostbites image flashing through my brain. When I got back to the car, it indicated -15°. Bring good gloves.

Just look at the people on the left to get an idea of the size of that thing.

Just look at the people on the left to get an idea of the size of that thing.

Driving towards Selfoss, you can make one last stop at Skalholt, a little church surrounded by a handful of houses and a beautiful countryside.

snow church

Selfoss is nothing much but has a really good hostel open all year : Bed and breakfast Selfoss (Austurvegur 28). If it’s empty, don’t hesitate to ask lower prices, the owner is really nice.

DAY 2 – FROM SELFOSS TO VIK

Here is the Google Map for day 2

Warning, this was my favorite day, be prepared for some mind blowing scenery!

A few minutes outside of Selfoss is Urridafoss, a big waterfall with a path along the edge of the water. I enjoyed it much more than Gulfoss, because it was less cold, but also because the masses of “Golden Circle tourists” were gone.

frozen lake snow-2

Keep going on the road 1 and be careful when you go through Hvolsvollur, that’s the last gas station before Vik!

There’s a big drive after Selfoss before reaching the next spot of interest, although Iceland is so beautiful that there’s always something on the edge of the road, some view point, to stop for. The Seljalandsfoss Waterfall is clearly visible from the road. There’s a path going behind the waterfall, which must be slippery in summer, but in winter was completely frozen over and seriously dangerous. Still, it’s a beautiful spot.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall snow

Seljalandsfoss waterfall ice

You can see the path running behind the water.

But you had to go this way first, so no...

But you had to go this way first, so no…

Just a few minutes further on the road, the Skogafoss Waterfall is another popular stop. I was lucky enough to see a rainbow on the waterfall, and there’s a stair climbing all the way so that you can stand above the waterfall. I highly recommend the view!

Skogafoss waterfall rainbow snow

The view from the top.

The view from the top.

Now we’re arriving at the weirdest spot : the Solheimasandur Plane Wreck. The road is in theory only accessible for 4×4, so if you have a small car you can park in front of the gate and then walk the two little kilometers (or get a lift from someone with a big car). The plane crashed there on the edge of the sea during WWII, and the owner of the land decided it was his property now and made them leave it there. The good news is that no one was killed in the crash, and the good news is that now it’s just there to offer the best photography opportunity ever (yep, no bad news with me)! It kind of made me feel like I had stumbled inside a Lost episode, and it also gave me my very first view of the sea. You just have to walk for about five minutes from the wreck to land on a black sand beach face to face with the powerful freezing waves. I’ll ramble on about Iceland’s coast later.

plane crash snow-3

coast black sand waves

As we’re getting nearer to Vik, we’re also driving closer to the sea. Turn on the 218 to reach Dyrholaey. Two car paths are available from this road, I recommend you do both. One will take you just a tad above sea level, and the other climbs (narrow path, slippery in winter, be careful) up a hill to a lighthouse. From there, you have a beautiful view on the cliffs, with birds flying everywhere. It’s a puffin nesting ground, so you might even get lucky and see some. The famous arch is also clearly visible from both spots, standing in the sea.

Dyrholaey coast beach

Dyrholaey coast symetric

Dyrholaey coast arch sea

Just before reaching Vik, turn on the 215 to get to Reynisfjara. This is Vik’s beach, my favorite spot, and I’ve already dedicated a whole post to its incredible beauty, so I won’t bore you more.

vik beach moon color light

In Vik, I recommend sleeping at the Nordur-Vik Youth Hostel (first on the left after the river, follow the road to the end), it’s a little bit apart from the city and standing on a hill, so it’s a good spot to maybe catch an aurora (this is where I saw mine, in any case).

DAY 3 – FROM VIK TO HOFN

Here is the Google Map for day 3

After driving about one hour out of Vik, turn on the 206 to reach Fjaorarglijufur (no idea how to say that one), a river inside a deep canyon, with a path climbing on the side over the cliff. The view is beautiful and there was no snow there for some reason.

canyon river shadow

light sun river cliffs

Next stop is Skaftafell at the feet of the glacier. There’s plenty of long or short walks to do from there to get nearer to the glacier or deeper into the national park. The best is to park next to the information center and to ask them directly which way you can walk, because in winter some ways might not be open. There’s also a small exhibit on the glacier inside the information center. One of the most popular walks is the one to Svartifoss, a waterfall surrounded by basalt columns. The path is easy and lasts less than one hour.

Svartifoss waterfall stalactites basalt rock ice

Back in the car, just after the information center (about 2 kilometers), take a path on the left. There’s a parking lot and then a five minutes walk that will lead you to the very feet of the glacier, the Svinafellsjokull! You could also walk there from the information center if you have time.

Skaftafell glacier-2

Skaftafell glacier iceberg-2

The last stop before Hofn is one of the most famous places in Iceland. The Jokulsarlon is a lake in which huge blocks of ice float, looking like a scene straight out of the Titanic movie. A little bit further on the other side of the road, there’s a black sand beach also covered by these mysterious blocks of ice. At sunset or sunrise, the light makes it all breathtaking. Jokulsarlon is also a prime spot for Aurora watching, because the lights reflect on the ice, creating a completely surreal scene, but I was not lucky enough to catch them there!

jokulsarlon glacier

Photo credit : Billy Young.

Photo credit : Billy Young.

There’s no need to drive to Hofn is you’re not on a budget, but in winter, it’s the only place that has an open hostel (Hvannabraut 3), so the drive is worth your money.

DAY 4 – FROM HOFN TO REYKJAVIK

Obviously, you have to turn back at some point, and bring the car back to Reykjavik. It’s a rather long drive, but you can still use it to stop again at your favorite spots (Vik’s beach, hum hum).

For your Pinterest board!

For your Pinterest board!


I rented a car at Sixt car, which was really cheap, especially if you manage to fill up the car (which I encourage you to do).

13 Comments on South Iceland, a four days road trip

  1. between the sea and the sky // February 21, 2016 at 7:45 pm // Reply

    beautiful photos!

  2. We just did part of this! One thing I would add – just before Seljalandsfoss there is a road down to where the ferry brings you out to the islands – beautiful black sand beach, long path out into the ocean on big black rocks with massive rocks and a small harbor where you can actually walk up close to the water without fear of being swept away. In Vik I would also eat lunch or dinner at Halldorskaffi and get the special burger. Selfoss to Vik was our favorite day too smile emoticon Also there are many places you can stop to see Icelandic Horses! The ones we saw were completely uninterested in the apples we brought, maybe try carrots instead?

  3. these photos are absolutely beautiful. iceland has long been on my list xx

  4. Hello, thank you for sharing the story and the map (genious idea)! Regarding to the car, did you have 2×2 or 4×4? We’re going there from 10th to 17th March and don’t know which one should we choose. We don’t want to go off the main road, so..
    Well, best from Poland!

    • I had a small car and it did fine (a bit scary in snow storms, but you shouldn’t have that problem in March). I don’t think you need a 4×4 if you stay on the road 1 anyway, whatever the month!

  5. All right, thank you again! 🙂

  6. The landowners where the road to the airplane at Sólheimarsandur goes has been closed until further notice. Read more about it including a detailed description on how to get there for you can always walk there.
    https://www.thepathshetook.com/en/south-iceland-four-days-road-trip/
    Safe travels!

  7. Great article, love your sharing so much, thank you!

  8. Woow, this looks really amazing,
    This is really on my have to do list before i get into my 40’s

    Keep posting,
    Kind regards
    Stefanie

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