In July, my husband and I spent a week exploring the South of Iceland for our belated honeymoon. I dreamed of visiting Iceland for years, and it was everything I had imagined and more. With environmental sustainability at the heart of its culture, Iceland is an absolute dream for the eco-conscious traveler! From vast landscapes unobstructed by billboards, high-rise buildings, and litter, to the fact that the entire island runs on renewable energy, Iceland sets a remarkable example of what we can do to cohabitate with nature.
After several weeks of narrowing down thousands of photos and gathering my thoughts, I'm excited to finally share my South Iceland travel guide with you! I was honestly overwhelmed when I first started the planning process back in May. It didn't help that I couldn't even begin to pronounce the names of anything. My biggest challenge? Nailing down a flexible schedule that allowed us to explore as much as possible, while also having time to relax and not have to be stuck in the car all day. I spent several hours researching and planning until I finally had a well-balanced itinerary.
To help you out, I've listed my top things to do below AND put together a FREE downloadable travel guide, complete with suggested itineraries for each day, as well as information on hotels, where to eat, what to pack, and other important things to know before you go. Enjoy!
RELAX IN THE BLUE LAGOON
Whether you arrive late at night or in the wee hours of the morning, kick off your Iceland road trip at the Blue Lagoon. In addition to being a wonderful place to relax after a long day of travel, the Blue Lagoon is actually located in between Keflavik Airport and Reykjavik. Since we landed in Iceland around midnight, we booked a cheap hotel near the airport so we could wake up early and spend our morning there before heading to Reykjavik. Plan to spend at least two hours soaking in the Blue Lagoon, if not more. A few important things to note:
- Due to popularity and limited space, pre-booking is required. The sooner you can book your tickets online, the better, as spots fill up fast.
- While the silica in the water works wonders for your skin (the free silica mask is AMAZING), the same is not true for your hair — unless you like dry, crusty locks. Take full advantage of the free conditioner provided in the shower stalls and apply a generous amount before getting in.
- If you plan on taking photos, I recommend bringing your phone out for just a few minutes to snap some photos and then put it back in your locker. A lot of guests had their phones inside waterproof cases or plastic bags (not my preference), but I just carried mine carefully to where we wanted to take pictures.
SPEND AN AFTERNOON IN GRINDAVIK
If you rent a car, stop by the small fishing village of Grindavik either on your way up to Reykjavik or when you're heading back to the airport at the end of your journey. We reserved a car through Guide to Iceland, which offers a variety of vehicles with add-ons like portable Wi-Fi and insurance for a reasonable price. The benefit of visiting the Southern region is you can opt for a small car, which is cheaper AND has a smaller carbon footprint.
While in Grindavik, drive down to Hopsnes, a small volcanic peninsula formed more than 2,000 years ago. On your way to the famous Hopsnes Lighthouse, you'll drive by several shipwrecks surrounded by massive piles of lava rocks. Familiarize yourself with Iceland's rugged terrain and hop out of the car to climb up one of these hills for an epic view of the coastline. Note: Wear shoes with good grip on the sole (I learned the hard way).
WANDER THE STREETS OF REYKAVIK
As the capitol and downtown hub of Iceland, Reykjavik is the perfect starting point for your journey. Spend a couple hours strolling along Laugavegur Street, popping into all the little boutiques, coffee shops, and bars. Walk up to the famous Hallgrimskirkja church, where you can take the elevator to the top for a bird's eye view of the city. Half the fun of this city is just wandering around, admiring the unique architecture and history.
We stayed at the Eyja Guldsmeden hotel, which is located just a few blocks away from Laugavegur Street. This Scandinavian-style boutique hotel is perfect for eco-lovers alike, complete with sustainably-made toiletries like recycled toilet paper, organic shampoo, and even bamboo toothbrushes! I totally brought one home and use it to this day.
TAKE A FERRY TO VIDEY ISLAND
While in Reykjavik, take an afternoon trip to the small island of Videy, which is a quick 20-minute ferry ride from the Old Harbor. This quaint little island is a perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of downtown, and offers a handful of walking trails and spectacular views. For more information on the ferry schedule and tickets, click here.
EXPLORE THE GOLDEN CIRCLE
You can't visit South Iceland without crossing the Golden Circle off your bucket list. While it's definitely a tourist trap, there are ways to avoid some of the craziness, especially in the summer. Start your Golden Circle road trip bright and early in the morning and go in knowing you won't be the only one admiring these beautiful landmarks. Head east from Reykjavik to Thingvellir National Park. We ended up just stopping for a few moments to admire the landscapes, but this popular site also offers plenty of hiking trails to partake in. Next, head south to Kerio Crater, which was formed by a volcanic eruption about 3,000 years ago. Finally, head north to Geysir and Gulfoss, which are located within a few minutes of each other.
Depending on how fast or slow you want to take things, you can either stay the night in Reykjavik and backtrack at the end of the day, or to get a change of scenery, spend the night somewhere in the Golden Circle or just southeast of it. Icelandair Hotel Fludir is a great location to rest for the night, and offers guests a discount to the nearby Secret Lagoon. Be careful: The geothermal spa listed on the website is NOT the one included with the hotel ... We learned the hard way, and to be honest, I wasn't a big fan.
GO FOR A WALK IN A LAVA FIELD
Home to 30 active volcanic systems, it's no surprise that Iceland is covered in lava fields. We drove by several of these otherworldly landscapes along our road trip, each of which had its own distinct character. While some of the lava fields are fenced off, there are plenty that are accessible as you make your way along the Ring Road. Find a good spot to pull over and go for a "walk on the moon!"
WALK UNDER A WATERFALL
In addition to being the land of fire and ice, Iceland is also known for its fair share of waterfalls, so much so that I honestly got a little burnt out by the end of our trip. As you take the Ring Road east to Vik, you'll drive by two of the most popular waterfalls in the South — Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss. They're nearly impossible to miss!
Be advised: You WILL get sopping wet if you choose to get an up close and personal look at these natural beauties. I would strongly recommend wearing a raincoat, and if possible, waterproof (or at least water-resistant) shoes and pants. While I didn't look very stylish, my clothes dried up within 24 hours. Meanwhile, my husband's jeans were still damp when we left Iceland a few days later.
GET A BIRD'S EYE VIEW ON DYRHOLAEY
While in Vik, take a quick drive up to Dyrholaey, a small peninsula that offers sweeping panoramic views of Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, the Reynisdrangar basalt sea stacks, and the Myrdalsjokull glacier. Dyrholaey is also one of the best places in the South to try to spot puffins in the summer ... for FREE! Seeing one of these adorable birds was high on my bucket list for this trip, so I was ecstatic when we saw a cluster of them hanging out on the side of the cliff. Sadly, I had put my camera back in the car prior to our puffin encounter because the wind was insane and I didn't want to risk damaging it. We do have a great iPhone video of us screaming, "Puffins!!!" like little kids... priceless.
TAKE A MIDNIGHT WALK TO THE D.C. PLANE CRASH
After resting up at the hotel for a bit, embark on an evening walk to the popular DC plane crash site. The entire journey is about four miles (two there, two back), and takes a couple of hours to complete. Heading east, you'll see a small parking lot on the righthand side of the road shortly after passing Skogafoss. That's your starting point. Park the car, make sure you have your camera, raincoat, and a water bottle packed, and begin your trek.
Since this site has become very popular among tourists, I highly recommend visiting at a weird time during peak season ... say midnight, after all of the tour buses have come and gone. We started the trek around 10 p.m., and other than the occasional tourist, we spent the next two hours alone, walking through an endless abyss of black sand. It was such a surreal experience walking up to the plane crash site with not a soul in sight.
FROLICK IN A LUPINE FIELD
In addition to its world-renowned black sand beaches, Vik has also become famous for it's expansive, brightly colored lupine fields, which create an interesting contrast against the otherwise desolate landscape. These beautiful flowers are hard to miss as you drive along the Ring Road past Skogafoss, and then north from Vik. Spend a few minutes frolicking through one of these beautiful fields and let your inner fairy run wild!
INTERACT WITH ICELAND'S WILDLIFE
As excited as I was for Iceland's unique landscapes, I was equally excited for its wildlife — horses, sheep, huskies, and even puffins. The South is sprawling with horse ranches, many of which you can walk right up to. As you head east, you'll also begin seeing sheep ... literally EVERYWHERE.
Since most activities in South Iceland are free, I'd highly recommend picking a couple of excursions to splurge on. We ended up doing dogsledding and horseback riding. Dogsledding Iceland offers dry land experiences in the summertime, and often at a discounted price. In my opinion, it ended up being just as fun as I imagine it would be in the winter. While in Vik, we went horseback riding along Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, which was both an unforgettable — and slightly nerve-wracking — experience for this girl who is usually afraid to get too close to large animals.
WATCH ICE FLOATING IN THE GLACIER LAGOON
If you have time, make your way up to the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon and the smaller Fjallsarlon Lagoon to witness one of the most mesmerizing effects of climate change take place before your eyes. Cross the bridge next to Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon and take a stroll along Diamond Beach, where you can dip your toes in the warm lava sand, snap some fun photos, and even pick up a few lava rocks to take home with you.
We stayed the night at the nearby Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon, which is easily one of the coolest hotels I've been to. Located next to the largest glacier in Europe, this hotel strives to lead the way when it comes to environmental issues in the hotel industry, and stocks each guest room with toiletries in recyclable packing and even a recycling bin.
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