Iceland’s South Coast: 4 Days in the Land of Fire and Ice

This year’s March break trip we opted for something different. People told us we were crazy for booking Iceland. “Why wouldn’t you go somewhere warm” or “Isn’t cold enough here?” was asked of us so many times we lost count. We avoided the crowds of the south and filled our souls with the spirit of the island in the North Atlantic. All I can say is that the moment you leave the airport and head down the highway, you’ll understand.

Day 1

Our flight from Toronto landed in Reykjavik shortly after 0430 in the morning. We grabbed a bite to eat at the airport after passing through customs and waited until 7 for the car rental company to open. We had learned the day before that a section of the ring road we were travelling had been closed due to high winds therefore we had a few extra hours to burn in Reykjavik before setting off along the south end of the country. Reykjavik is a beautiful city with volcanic mountain views surrounding it. We were exhausted from our overnight flight so we spent the morning searching for cheap coffee (spoiler: it doesn’t exist) and touring the downtown streets of Reykjavik.

A windy morning in the harbour.

We headed back on the road towards Kerid for our first stop. Kerid is home to a massive volcanic crater that has a frozen lake in the center.

With 80km/h wind gusts chilling us to the bone, we circumnavigated the crater. The stark beauty of the volcanic landscape was breathtaking. We knew it would only get better as the trip went on.

We hit the road again, once we confirmed the highway had opened. Our next stop was Skogar. A town with a population of 25 that was home to the towering waterfall, Skogafoss.

Legend has it that one of the first settlers hid a treasure chest behind the waterfall. We didn’t find the treasure but we found some of the most amazing views in Iceland.

We were in a hurry to make up time so we headed down Highway 1 to Reynisfjara. Reynisfjara is home to the famous black sand beach with towering sea stacks.

Legend has it that the basalt sea stacks are the remains of trolls that attempted to drag a ship to shore but got caught in the morning sunlight.

The beach is truly a unique place. Volcanic black sand is contrasted by the fury of the rolling waves of the Atlantic. It’s truly a place of beauty.

A few minutes down the road from Reynisfjara is the town of Vik.

Those looking for lodging options will find them in Vik. The beach still has the same beautiful black sand with next to no crowds compared to Reynisfjara. The town like all Icelandic towns has a charm about it.

After spending some time in Vik, we headed back to our accommodations in Skogar and had dinner with Skogafoss thundering in the background.

You can check out our accommodations here.

Day 2

Sunrise in Skogar

Day 2 saw us heading further east with the end goal of reaching Jokulsarlon. The further east we headed, the more Iceland’s beauty showed itself. At times you had towering cliffs to your left and the ocean to your right. Waterfalls littered the landscape as the snow and ice melted off the mountains.

A waterfall tucked into a farm off Highway 1

Soon we began seeing more and more glaciated terrain. It became clear that we were nearing Vatnajokull (the largest glacier in Europe).

Skaftafellsjökull Glacier

We arrived at Jokusarlon with enough time to spare in the morning to see the famed Diamond Beach and Glacier Lagoon. Although the area was crowded with tourists, everyone has enough space to find their own slice of beauty.

These chunks of ice have washed ashore as they float out to sea from the lagoon. As global warming continues to heat the ocean, the lagoon has grown significantly in size and some figures estimate the water extends a significant distance underneath the glacier.

After admiring our surroundings it was finally time for what we had been looking forward to all day. A guided trek on the Vatnajökull Glacier to the Anaconda Ice Cave. Our guide, Tate, was one hell of a guy. He entertained us with stories of Icelandic Folklore, the time he met Harrison Ford (and Nirvana before that), and the history of the glacier.

A little spot called Blue Heaven

The glacier is massive. Ice as far as the eye can see. The glacier officially holds the title as largest glacier in Europe but is receding by hundreds of meters each year. Tate informed us that the terrain changes weekly and each year produces caves with different features.

We reached the massive entrance to the cave just as snow began falling. The inside is a spectacle unlike anything I’ve ever seen. In spots there is clear ice where you can see for feet into the glacier and others are lit by blue sunlight peering through. Ridges formed by warm water travelling through five the illusion of being in an alien world. The gave has only been explored to a depth of 800m but it’s speculated it likely reaches much deeper under the glacier.

By the time we made it back to Jokulsarlon there was a full blown winter storm in effect. We grabbed some hotdogs for the road (10/10 would recommend) and headed out into the storm.

If it wasn’t for being Canadian and a little help from AWD with studded tires we plowed through the storm. There was easily 20cm of snow on the road in spots.

And then just like that it cleared.

Beautiful blue sky and snow for miles. We repeated this cycle for almost 3 hours.

The plan was to hike Svartifoss at Skaftafell in the afternoon but the weather put a damper on our plans.

We reached our guesthouse in the middle of a blizzard. We were received a warm welcome and wonderful accommodations.

Check out our accommodations for Day 2 here.

Day 3

Icelandic mornings don’t disappoint. We awoke to an amazing breakfast and great conversation with the owners and fellow travellers. The storm had cleared off revealing the mountains and glacier in the distance.

The plan for the day was to see a waterfall in the morning before making our way up to Thingvellir before dropping our car off at the airport in Keflavik.

Seljalandsfoss

We made our quick stop by Seljalandsfoss and hit the road again quickly. You can hike behind the waterfall but the sheer number of tourists in the area made safely accessing it difficult.

We made a change to our itinerary provided for us by Arctic Adventures. The itinerary is meant as a guide to help travellers pack as much of Iceland as possible into their trip. Rather than go to the overpacked and ridiculously expensive Blue Lagoon, we opted to visit Thingvellir. The site of the world’s oldest parliament.

The weather stayed consistent with the theme of the trip as the low hanging clouds in the mountains began producing fluffy snowflakes.

Thingvellir National Park is a UNESCO world heritage site due to its cultural significance to Iceland. It’s part of the classic Golden Circle of Iceland and was the site of Iceland’s first parliament in 930 AD.

The area is beautiful any time of year. We walked through the massive rifts caused by the areas tectonic activity, visited the Law Rock, and the famous Drowning Pool.

After taking our time to enjoy this important place in Icelandic history, we returned our car to the airport at Keflavik.

We spent the night in Reykjavik. The city combines Icelandic charm with modern flair. The night life is good any night of the week and the food scene is fantastic.

Check out our accommodations for the night here.

Day 4

We spent our last morning in Iceland, admiring the sights of the city and the tastes of the local bakeries.

Hallgrimskirkja Church

The church has a prayer tree with different strings representing different prayers that the church would pray for at Easter. We added ours to the tree.

Alex enjoying some amazing Icelandic baking

Before we knew it we were flying back to Canada. Iceland didn’t disappoint. We can’t wait to go back!

Things to Know

  • We booked our flights through WowAir. Very affordable and great service!
  • Arctic Adventures provided our self-drive itinerary (we modified it a bit), accommodation bookings, car rental booking, and ice cave tours. I would highly recommend them. Very professional and they even called me before hand to alert me to a winter storm.
  • Enterprise Car Rental provided excellent service. We received a free second driver and in car wifi. Also make sure to buy the best insurance you can. We were involved in a collision 30 minutes into the trip. Don’t worry we weren’t at fault!
    Blue Lagoon is overrated. Ask Icelanders for better options.
    This country is expensive! Burger joints and pizza are your friend but still make sure to try the local cuisine!
    Alcohol is cheapest at the airport duty free.
    N1 gas stations have issues taking Canadian Visas. Make sure to buy a prepaid gas card before hitting the road.
    Know how to drive in any weather condition. You’ll likely encounter many.
    The Icelandic hot dogs live up to the hype.
    Iceland has many roundabouts, one way bridges, and numerous other features unique to driving there. Orient yourself before venturing out.

Check out the map of our trip:

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