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A road trip through the Nordic nation of Iceland is an unforgettable travel experience. The beautiful scenery is endless. The landscapes dramatically change from one element to another and are some of the most stunning in the world, especially that of the South Coast. There are incredible waterfalls, large glaciers, active volcanoes, and black-sand beaches.
There’s no better way to explore Iceland than by driving the Ring Road. Iceland’s Ring Road, or Route 1, encircles the entire country and is its main road. It covers 1,322 km (821 mi) and connects most of Iceland’s inhabited parts. Continue reading to discover the best stops on Iceland’s Ring Road in this 5-day South Coast itinerary.
How to See Iceland’s Ring Road
Renting a car and traveling independently is the best way to see everything the Ring Road has to offer. However, there are tours available that depart from Reykjavik. The Ring Road is fairly easy to drive. Route 1 is well-paved and has plenty of gas stations and rest areas, but Iceland’s weather can vary greatly and can be challenging. A 4×4 vehicle is recommended in wetter months or if you plan on visiting more remote locations. Many of Iceland’s most popular attractions are found along the South Coast. I suggest making it the focus of your trip.
The Best Time to Drive Iceland’s Ring Road
Summer is the ideal time for an Iceland road trip. The months between June and August have the mildest weather, the longest days, and the most activities available. However, summer is also the high season and both lodging and car rental rates are at their highest. These months generally see temperatures with a high of 50–55 °F (10–13 °C).
September or early October visits can be great as well. Children are back in school and crowds will be fewer. Temperatures remain mild but you may encounter rain. May sees longer daylight hours and can be a good option but some roads may still be closed from the winter snows.
The weather should be taken into account when planning the length of your trip. The entire length of the Ring Road can technically be driven in under 24 hours, but you can expect it to take at least a week when making stops along the way. During the summer months, 8-10 days is ideal and 2 weeks is recommended for the winter months. You never know when you might have to unexpectedly stop and wait out a snowstorm during the winter.
Iceland South Coast Itinerary:
Day 1 | Arrive in Reykjavik
Reykjavik is Iceland’s capital and the main hub for international travel. Most travelers will either begin or end their journey here. It’s a great place to spend some time soaking up Icelandic culture. The small and artsy city of Reykjavik is full of colorful houses, quirky cafes, and museums.
There are also many great day trips that can be done out of Reykjavik. The Golden Circle is one of Iceland’s top attractions and is an absolute must. I suggest spending a few days in Reykjavik upon returning from your road trip.
Hallgrimskirkja Church is a Lutheran parish church and the largest church in Iceland. It’s also one of the tallest structures in the country. The church is 74.5 m (244 ft) tall and for a small fee, visitors can visit the top and take in its magnificent views. Hallgrimskirkja is located in the center of Reykjavik and is almost impossible to miss. The church is open daily with the exception of Sundays when it is closed for mass. The entrance fee is 900 ISK ($7 USD).
The world-famous Blue Lagoon is a must-do on your Iceland itinerary. The Blue Lagoon is a massive man-made geothermal spa that is heated to a constant 100° F (38° C). You can spend time relaxing in the lagoon or choose from a large menu of spa services. The lagoon is located just outside of Grindavik and is about a 45 min drive from Reykjavik. It’s the perfect way to spend an evening after a long day of traveling. Admission starts at 6,825 ISK ($53 USD) and a reservation is recommended. A ticket with transportation included can be purchased here.
Where to Stay in Reykjavik
Kex is a trendy hostel in what was once an old biscuit factory. It’s conveniently located in the city center and is one of Reyjavik’s hippest places to stay. It has a great bar and patio area and is just a short walk from Laugavegur shopping street.
Fosshotel Reykjavik is a 16-floor hotel with modern and stylish rooms. It has an on-site restaurant and even a beer garden. The location is great and is within walking distance of many of Reykjavik’s attractions.
Day 2 | Reykjavik to Vik
The drive from Reykjavik to Vik is 185 km (115 mi) and is about 2.5 hours without stops. This stretch has some of the best attractions on the South Coast so I recommend an early start.
Seljalandsfoss is the first stopping point and is a little under 2 hours from Reykjavik. It’s one of Iceland’s most visited waterfalls, mainly due to its location right off the Ring Road. It can actually be seen from the road and is nearly impossible to miss. Seljalandsfoss is fairly large with a drop of 60m (200ft). It may not be as large as some of Iceland’s other falls, but it does have a unique feature. Visitors can actually walk behind it and get a completely different perspective. Just be prepared to get wet.
Seljavallalaug is a swimming pool tucked away in the mountains. It was built in 1923 and is one of the oldest pools in Iceland. The pool is built into the landscape and the secluded area is a great place to relax. To reach the pool, continue driving down Route 1 for about 40 min and then turn onto Route 242. From the parking lot, you will begin hiking north. The hike is short and takes about 20 minutes each way. The terrain can be a bit rocky and wet so make sure you have the proper footwear. The pool is free to use and there is a changing room on-site; however, there are no showers.
Another 20 minutes down Iceland’s Ring Road is Skogafoss. Skogafoss is one of the country’s largest waterfalls. The waterfall is 62 m tall (200ft) and 25 m (82 ft) wide. It sits on the Skoga River and water flows from two different glaciers, the Eyjafjallajokull and Myrdalsjokull glaciers.
A series of 370 steep steps can be found on the side of the falls. The climb is exhausting but the view is worth it. There’s an observation deck that sits over the waterfall and the coastline can be seen for miles. It’s impossible not to get wet, so visitors will want to dress in rain gear.
Solheimasandur Plane Crash
In 1973, a US Navy DC plane crashed on the black sand beach of Solheimasandur. It is said that the plane either encountered severe weather or it ran out of fuel. All the crew members survived, but the fuselage was abandoned. It remains there today, on a desolate stretch of beach, slowly deteriorating away. The site is easily accessible but is also easy to miss.
After departing from Skogafoss, visitors will want to pay close attention to the road. Not far on Route 1 will be a bridge with blinking yellow lights and an access road to Solheimajokull Glacier on the left. Continue driving straight for another 2 km (1.25 mi), until you come to a dirt road on the right. There will be a gate and a parking lot. If you go over a second bridge, then you have gone too far.
Vehicles are no longer allowed to drive to the plane wreckage and visitors must walk. The walk is 4 km (2.5 mi) from the parking area to the plane and will take about 40 minutes each way, depending on the conditions when you visit.
Day 3 | Vik
This day can be much more leisurely. Allow yourself to catch up on sleep before heading out to see the sights around the town of Vik.
Dyrholaey is a small peninsula located near the village of Vik. It’s famous for its giant volcanic arch, which the area is named after. Dyrholaey translates to “door hole”. The Peninsula is about 20 minutes from town and is accessed by taking Route 218 off of Route 1. The peninsula is divided into upper and lower portions. I recommend visiting the upper portion first.
From Route 218, make a right and drive up the hill. An old lighthouse sits at the top and the views are wonderful. To the north is Myrdalsjokull glacier, to the east are the lava stacks of Reynisdrangar, and to the west is the gorgeous coastline made up of black sand beaches. To continue to the lower portion, just drive downhill. At the end of the road is a beautiful beach to explore.
Reynisfjara Beach & Reynisdrangar Rock Stacks
Reynisfjara & Reynisdrangar are located near town. Reynisfjara is one of Iceland’s most stunning black sand beaches and has even made it on National Geographic’s top ten list of the most beautiful non-tropical beaches in the world. Large basalt sea stacks can be seen in the water. These are the stacks of Reynisdrangar. According to Icelandic legend, the sea stacks were once trolls. The trolls were in the process of dragging a ship from the sea when the sun rose and they became frozen.
If you look along the beach, you’ll see the mountain of Reynisfjall. At its base is a cave and a pyramid of tall basalt columns. The hexagonal-like columns are commonly formed near water when lava is slowly cooled over an extended period of time. The lava expands and contracts which gives the rocks their interesting shape. Just be mindful of your proximity to the water as the waves here are extremely powerful.
Village of Vik
The remote seaside village of Vik is Iceland’s southernmost town. Set aside some time to explore the small village and grab some lunch. Halldorskaffi is a great option for a meal. The restaurant serves locally sourced food and is popular with both locals and tourists.
A must-do while in town is the Vik i Myrdal Church. The traditional Icelandic church was built in 1934. It was built high on a hill during a time of depression in Iceland so when people looked up they would see the church and have hope. The surrounding views are breathtaking and you can even see Reynisfjara and Reynisdrangar.
Where to Stay in Vik
Black Beach Suites
Black Beach Suites offers a sun terrace with beautiful views of the sea. Each unit is fitted with a kitchen; including a microwave, toaster, fridge, and coffee machine. It’s the perfect spot if you are looking to save money and prepare your own meals.
Hotel Vik i Myrdal
Hotel Vik i Myrdal is a beautiful hotel not far from Vik’s black sand beaches. The property has 78 hotel rooms, 15 self-service apartments, and 5 cottages. The cottages are made up of two twin rooms and are perfect for families.
Dream Guesthouse Vik
Dream Guesthouse Vik is a budget-friendly option. The comfortable guesthouse has basic amenities and is also in close proximity to the beach.
Day 4 | Vik to Skaftafell
The drive from Vik to Skaftafell is 140 km (87 mi) and takes just under 2 hours. Give yourself some extra time if you plan to stop along the way. I recommend getting an early start so you have plenty of time to hike around Skaftafell and take in its beautiful sights.
Laufskalavarda Stone Stacks
Laufskalavarda is a lava ridge surrounded by stacked stones, called cairns. The stones are a long-standing tradition and have piled up over the years. At one point in time, travelers began stacking the stones for good luck before trekking across the desert-like plains of Myrdalssandur. Laufskalavarda is located about 30 min east of Vik and is a quick stop off Iceland’s Ring Road.
Eldhraun Lava Fields
Not much farther down the road is the beautiful moss-covered lava field of Eldhraun. Eldhraun resulted from one of the most devastating volcanic eruptions of all time. The Lakagigar eruption took place in the 1780s and caused lava to spread over 650 km (404 mi). The fields can be seen from the road, but I recommend stopping at one of the turnouts to take some photos.
Skaftafell National Park
Skaftafell was originally established as Skaftafell National Park in 1967 but became part of the new Vatnajokull National Park in 2008. It’s a popular destination for hikers and favorite attractions include Svartifoss Waterfall and Skaftafellsjokull Glacier. Svartifoss Waterfall is known for its spectacular black lava columns that surround the waterfall.
There are plenty of hiking trails around and park rangers offer short tours during the summer months. Glacier walks can be booked in advance or on-site. To reach the park, continue on Route 1 and take Skaftafell Road. Follow it all the way to the visitor center.
Where to Stay Near Skaftafell
Hotel Skaftafell is located just 10 minutes from the park. The three-star hotel has beautiful mountain and glacier views and offers a free breakfast. Staff can help arrange excursions and tours to the nearby glaciers.
Day 5 | Skaftafell to Jokulsarlon
The Jokulsarlon Lagoon area is 60 km (36 m) from Skaftafell and the drive takes about 50 minutes. This day isn’t packed with activities but I still recommend getting on the road early to avoid the large tour busses arriving at the lagoon in the afternoon.
Fjallsarlon Glacier Lake
Fjallsarlon is about 40 minutes east of Skaftafell. It’s a stunning glacier lake that often gets overlooked. Many people tend to skip over it and go straight to the larger Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. To reach the lake, make a left onto Fjallsarlon Rd from Route 1 and you’ll see a large parking area. The area is much quieter than that of Jokulsarlon and is a great place to relax and take in the scenery. Large chunks of ice from the Vatnajokull Glacier line the shoreline and a beautiful mountain range can be seen in the distance.
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is located another 15 minutes down the road from Fjallsarlon. It’s the deepest and most incredible glacier lake in Iceland. Global warming has caused the size of the lake to quadruple in size since the 1970s. It currently covers 18 sq km (7 sq mi) and continues to grow each year. Ice breaks off of the Vatnajokull Glacier and floats into the lagoon before eventually drifting out to sea.
To really experience the lake, I recommend booking a boat tour with Glacier Lagoon. They offer two types of tours. The first option is the amphibian boat tour which takes a medium-sized group out on the water. A guide shares information about the lake and you can sit back and relax as beautiful blue and black pieces of ice float by. The other is a zodiac tour which is on a much smaller boat. It allows you to get closer to the ice and even pulls right up to the glacier, weather permitting. Both tours are great. Make sure you are prepared with warm clothes and gloves.
Diamond Beach is not to be missed. It was my favorite stop on the South Coast and is one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen. The icebergs that escape from Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon are washed out to sea and eventually come ashore at Diamond Beach. The ice originates from the Breidamerkurjokull Glacier and the beach is actually called Breidamerkursandur in Icelandic.
Tourists nicknamed it Diamond Beach after its glistening pieces of ice resembling diamonds on the black sand. The beach is just minutes from Jokulsarlon and is located near the bridge on the opposite side of the highway from the lagoon.
I recommend spending the night near Jokulsarlon and departing in the morning. At this point, you can either turn around and head back to Reykjavik or continue driving the remainder of the Ring Road.
Where to Stay Near Jokulsarlon
Foss Hotel Glacier Lagoon
Foss Hotel is a modern hotel chain that can be found throughout Iceland. Foss Hotel Glacier Lagoon is fairly new and its great location makes it a popular choice. It’s located between Skaftafell and Jokulsarlon. It is also a good option for the night near Skaftafell if you wish to move around less. The rooms are large and clean, and many have beautiful mountain views.
Hali Country Hotel
Hali Country Hotel offers simple hotel rooms and apartments on a family-run farm. The apartments have a living room and kitchen. Rates are reasonable and the hotel is located just ten minutes east of Diamond Beach.
Tips for Driving Iceland’s Ring Road
- Request a vehicle with GPS and bring a physical map. I found that Google Maps isn’t always reliable and doesn’t recognize some destinations. The GPS in our rental car seemed to be more accurate. I also recommend bringing a physical map as you never know when you might be without phone service.
- Gas is expensive. Make sure you budget correctly. At the time this was written, gas was averaging around 264 ISK per liter or about $8 USD per gallon. If you find your card doesn’t work at the pump, just go inside the station. Many of the pumps won’t take foreign cards.
- Check the weather regularly and be flexible with your itinerary. The weather can change drastically from one day to the next. Winds can be extremely strong and you can even push your vehicle while driving. Don’t let them catch you off guard.
- If you need a rental that is automatic or 4-wheel drive, make sure you request one in advance. They won’t always be available, especially during the high season.
- Pick up a SIM card at the airport or purchase/ rent a portable WIFI to save on phone costs. Rentals can be arranged prior to your arrival and delivered to your hotel.
Have you visited Iceland’s south coast? What did you think of Iceland’s Ring Road? I’d love to hear about your experience. If you’ve enjoyed this post, please leave a comment or share using the social media buttons below. Spending a few days in Reykjavik? Continue to my post, “Six Easy Day Trips from Reykjavik, Iceland”.