Southern Iceland truly is a magical place, about as other worldly as you can imagine. The skyline stretches for miles in every direction only to be occasionally interrupted by beautiful mountain ranges. As you venture further from Reykjavík towards more remote places the mountains change from green to white, blending almost seamlessly with the clouds. After visiting such an incredible place it isn’t a wonder why Iceland has landed itself on most people’s bucket list. And if you’re reading this, I’m guessing it’s on yours as well.
A month after returning from an amazing week in Iceland, I can tell you it’s definitely a trip worth saving up for. Whether you’re hoping to go soon or sometime in the distant future keep reading for the breakdown of how my father and I spent our time in Southern Iceland.
Getting Around Southern Iceland
There are two options for getting to and around southern Iceland: tour bus or car. The most southern point and major tourist destination is Vik which is just under two and a half hours from Reykjavík. There are several tour bus options that will take you on a day trip from Reykjavík stopping at the major sites along the way. While tour buses provide a certain level of ease, I wholeheartedly recommend renting a car. My dad decided to upgrade to a 4×4 after learning that they were the only cars allowed on the f-roads. He’s a bit of an adventurer so it came in handy for some unplanned off road adventures that we decided to go on. Another perk of renting a car is that you get to make your schedule, so you literally can take roads less traveled and enjoy all the sites at your own pace.
Where to Stay in Southern Iceland
One thing a lot of people don’t mention is that the further you get from Reykjavík the smaller the towns become, so your lodging options are limited. Coming off an entire day on the Golden Circle we decided to spend the night in Hella which put us halfway to Vik. We found the perfect Air BnB on a horse farm that offered dinner and breakfast, for an additional cost of course. For us it was just what we needed, a warm shower, a cozy bed and an amazing view to see the stars and watch the morning rain storms roll past. They also had a very friendly outdoor cat.
Since we planned to spend two full days in the southern pocket of Iceland we decided to make Vik our base. Instead of traditional lodging my dad really wanted to enjoy the great outdoors, not being a fan of traditional camping we compromised after we came across a Glamping listing on Air BnB. After everything was said and done my dad and I both agreed that it was less like glamping than we envisioned and more like camping. The tents were fairly spacious and the furnishings simple: two cots laid on pallets, bedding, heated blankets and an outlet. Just outside the shared guest barn you could find the showers and toilets, neither of which were heated, and inside the barn there was an open kitchen, washer and dryer, plus wifi. The first night we got caught in a rain storm which made it a little hard to fall asleep with the rain pouring and the wind threatening to blow the tent away at any second. At least that’s what it felt like to me. Luckily the second night, after the 32mph winds died down, the evening fell eerily silent. I kept waiting for the winds to pick back up but it turned into a clear, calm night where you could see every star in the sky making the experience really enjoyable. For those looking for something different I’d say to check it out, but proceed with caution.
Where to Stop On Your Way to Vik
There’s such an interesting change in landscape as you travel further south, the terrain almost appears extraterrestrial. The beauty of driving is that you can stop whenever something unexpected catches your eye, and trust me a lot of things will. While we did enjoy a few unscheduled stops, our favorite sites worth seeing on the way to Vik were:
- Seljalandsfoss– This is one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls because you can walk behind it. If you’re really brave there’s a path you can wander down that takes you almost right up to the waterfall so you can really get a sense of its strength.
- Skógafoss– Another noteable waterfall. What I loved most about this waterfall was the way the sun would hit the mist coming off the falls and creating a beautiful double rainbow. Similar to Seljalandsfoss you could walk right up to the waterfall to really experience its power.
Things to Do in Southern Iceland
- Dyrhólaey. What I loved most about this stop is that most tour buses seemed to skip over it. If you have a 4×4 you can get much closer to the lighthouse and the arches which also meant it was less crowded. It also offered a unique vantage point of Iceland’s amazing black beaches. Be warned though the winds can be pretty brutal up there in September.
- Reynisfjara Beach. While Iceland has several black beaches, this one is the most famous because of the basalt columns that have formed. It was an easy drive and if you were able to stand the rain you could even manage to get the beach mostly to yourself, even if only for a few short minutes.
- Fjaðrárgljúfur. Just over an hour past Vik, this canyon is definitely worth the drive. And is now fairly famous thanks to Justin Beiber’s music video. Again if you have a 4×4 you’re able to get much closer to the canyon than by tour bus making it another fairly uncrowded stop.
- Jökulsárlón. While this is about 2.5 hours from Vik this is also another site worth the journey. Though there are other glacial lagoon this one is not only home to glaciers but provides you with an opportunity to see wild sea lions and even puffins since it’s connected to the ocean!
Where & What to Eat
Since we were on the road a lot we relied heavily on cafes to pick up breakfast, sandwiches and other snacks to bring along on the trip. Here are some places we’d definitely recommend you eat at while in southern Iceland:
- Ice Cave Bistro– After a long day on the road in the wind and rain we were craving something warm. Thankfully Ice Cave had some delicious meat soup to satisfy our bellies.
- LAVA Cafe– This was a perfect place for picking up breakfast and snacks for the road. We tried some of their pastries for breakfast and grabbed a pulled lamb sandwich for the road which I highly recommend! They also had a variety of smoothies for those wanting healthier options.
What to Pack
If you’re going in September then make sure to pack your best fall gear! It was roughly 50-60F for most of the trip. That being said also expect rain. Similar to tropical storms the rain in Iceland doesn’t usually last long except in the mornings and evenings. At the very least be sure to pack the following:
- rain poncho or jacket
- waterproof boots
- waterproof fanny pack or backpack
- layering pieces (i.e. tank tops, long sleeves and leggings)
- beanie or head band
As I mentioned in my postcards from Reykjavík post, my dad bought us Frogg Togg rain jackets and pants that we wore over our clothes when it was raining and for the waterfalls. I also wore a pair of water resistant Lululemon leggings under all my pants to help wick away moisture.
And there you have it — Southern Iceland in a nutshell! I would most definitely head back without any hesitation — it’s really unlike any where else I’ve ever been, an other worldly-like destination that stays with you long after you made it back home. And hopefully some of you, after reading this, feel empowered to head there as well.
Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for part three of our trip on Things to do in the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. If you’ve been to Iceland please share any recommendations of your own below!