South Iceland Travel Guide
South Iceland is, by far, the most visited area in Iceland. The usual route is to first (or last) to drive the Golden Circle and from there, take the Ring road all the way to the famous glacier lagoon Jökulsárlón. In this South Iceland Travel Guide we’ll skip the usual suspects and show you what’s more to be found in the southern parts off the Ring road.
When you are leaving Reykjavík and driving south, you really only have to do one right turn and from there drive straight to Höfn. When you leave the city, you’ll drive over a river and will soon drive under a bridge after passing an N1 gas station to your right. When you have passed the first bridge, you’ll see another one a little bit further along, you will be taking a right so you’ll drive on the road going over that bridge and now you are on the Ring road. After a 22km/13.7 miles drive you will come to your first turn off the Ring road. Take a right here and you will be driving through a small valley but be very careful here. Legend has it the area is packed with ghosts who wants nothing else but to make your life unpleasant like stalling/killing your car, making sure you will feel their presence! 🙂
If you will survive the ordeal with the dreaded ghosts, you’ll soon be driving by the ocean, almost the only time you will be driving really close by the sea.
Þorlákshöfn – Eyrarbakki – Stokkseyri
All these three little villages has their own charm and are fun to visit. When you have visited Þorlákshöfn, take a right turn by crossroads 2 (see map) and drive east. The drive itself along the dunes is just fantastic. If you are hungry or just want an ice cream, stop by the restaurant Hafið bláa, a restaurant with the most amazing views. If you are really hungry for lobster, then drive to Stokkseyri and get a table at Fjöruborðið where all things, almost, are delicious lobster.
The town of Eyrarbakki is a very charming little village where the houses are small, old and very well kept. It’s fun to walk around there and they also have a camping site more or less in the middle of the village.
Stokkseyri has the same spirit as Eyrarbakki and is equally charming to visit and not to forget they have a fantastic lobster restaurant! (see map) 🙂
When you are finished with this area, you can continue east on road all the way to Selfoss or take a right turn at crossroads 3 and then another right turn you will encounter. That will also take you back to the Ring road and is a very pleasant ride in the countryside.
The edge of the highlands
One of the most beautiful drives on the south side is the one going through the valley Þjórsársdalur. To reach it, take a left at crossroads 4 and drive 13km/8.1 miles until you reach crossroads 5 where you will make a right turn. You are soon in the valley and it is a joy to drive. There is also a wonderful little campsite you can’t miss (and marked on the map). This area is weighted with history and if road conditions allows, you can drive to Stöng (see map) and experience a real house from the viking era. There you’ll find ruins dating back to the sagas, this one particularly to Njáls saga. It’s a small hike to the house but very much worth it. The caretakers have built over the old grounds exact replicas of the houses but the foundation, some walls and stuff are still there. This might be the best time ever to experience a real Viking long house. While in the area, visit the waterfall Gjáinn too.
When you are done in this area, you have two choices. Either to track back where you came from but we suggest you continue east on on road nr:32, up the the edge of the highlands (not during winter). When you reach crossroads 6, take a left turn onto F26 (the road number is 26 in the other direction where you will drive going back to the Ring road) and continue 13km/8.1 miles to Hrauneyjar, the last outpost for the open, desolate highlands. There you can fill your tummy and your camper before turning back. You can’t go much further for the road will turn really bad. There is not much really to see up here but it’s the feeling of being there that is magnificent and you can say you really have been up in the highlands when you have driven this stretch. As mentioned, this area is totally off limits during winter time.
Going back, just keep on driving 75km/46.1 miles on 26 (do not turn into the road you came from, keep on driving straight) until you reach the Ring road again and take a left turn to continue your journey. This stretch of road has a long chapter of unpaved road but is safe to drive on. Just take it easy and enjoy the ride along the roots of Hekla volcano. You can also use the opportunity to stop by the beautiful waterfall Þjófafoss (Thief’s fall, see map). Like always, despite the road looks desolate and empty, don’t stop in the middle of the road to take pictures. Always park safely.
Hella & Hvolsvöllur
Hella, Hvolsvöllur and further east is big, big agriculture lands, horses and more important places in the Icelandic sagas. Around both villages you’ll find horse rentals everywhere. Both villages has stores, gas stations, banks and whatever you might need. When you reach crossroad 8, take a left turn and drive road nr: 261, all the way to the end well marked on the map (road conditions permitting). From there you will have a great view over the volcano no one outside Iceland can pronounce. The volcano Eyjafjallajökull! Here you will have to turn your camper and track back to crossroad 9, take a left and have a nice and easily drive back to the Ring road road condition permitting. Take a left and continue your way.
The waterfall road
When you are back on the Ring road, you only drive for a minute and Seljalandsfoss will be on your left, the first of a few waterfalls on this stretch. Just to the left of Seljalandsfoss you have Gljúfráfoss (Gljúfrabúi).
A visit to the pool Seljavallalaug is on this route too. Take a left at crossroad 10 and just continue to drive until you reach the parking lot. It’s only a 3km/1.8 miles drive. From there you have to hike a little to reach the pool. Don’t forget your swimwear.
Next waterfall is Skógafoss and you will see it clearly on your left side. If you visited the pool, it’s only a roughly6km/3.7 miles to the falls. You can camp by Skógafoss and if you are going to spend some time there, use the opportunity to hike above the falls. There is a trail on the right side leading to the top and beyond.
When driving further you come to crossroad 11. If you turn left there you’ll come to the famous cliff with a hole in it, Dýrhólaey. A little bit further, at crossroad 12, you’ll find the black sand beach Reynisfjara. Both sites requires a short hike from the parking lot. Please follow the warning signs. Don’t be a statistic like the tourists here! A few of many.
Now you are very close to Vík which is just around the corner. Vík has an excellent camping site but we recommend you drive just a bit further and take a left at crossroad 13 and drive 16km/9.9 miles to the campsite Þakgil, a really fantastic campsite with great protection for all winds.
When you are done with everything around Vík, you’ll drive east towards Kirkjubæjarklaustur. Back in the day, the open area between Vík and Kirkjubæjarklaustur used to be all black sand but after ambitious efforts to bind down the sand with for example Lupin, it isn’t all black anymore.
When you reach crossroad 14, turn left and drive for 3km/1.9 miles and you will arrive at the beautiful canyon Fjaðrárgljúfur. Park safely and take a stroll along the banks and enjoy the nature, drink the water, be in awe.
Before you leave Kirkjubæjarklaustur, fill up your camper with fuel and groceries.
Just north of Kirkjubæjarklaustur you have a very charming waterfall called Stjórnarfoss. When you drive there, you will have Kirkjugólf on your left side (Kirkjugólf = church floor), rocks that looks like the floor of a church, basalt columns sliced down like tiles.
It’s only about 0.7km/0.43 miles between the waterfall Stjórnarfoss and Kirkjugólf and you have a parking lot in between them.
Vatnajökull National Park
When you continue east from the area around Kirkjubæjarklaustur, you’ll soon have a vary impressive site as you are getting closer to Vatnajökull glacier. One of the more fun features driving this stretch of road is that you’ll be driving on a very long and beautiful bridge. The bridge is a single lane one but there is nothing to worry about as there are plenty of places where traffic can let each other pass.
It’s a 69km/42.9 miles joyful ride from Kirkjubæjarklaustur to the campsite in Skaftafell which we highly recommend you stay a night or two. From the campsite you can hike up to a few gorgeous waterfalls and you are with view of Iceland’s highest peak, Hvannadalshnjúkur. There are plenty of hikes to choose from and you can also take a glacier tour from here. You are also not far from Jökulsárlón! Just “around the corner”, you also have Svínafellsjökull, a glacier you park almost on it. Well worth the visit.
Continuing further east you will pass not one but three glacier lagoons. The first one is Fjallsárlón and it’s a 47km/29.2 miles from the campsite at Skaftafell to Fjallsárlón. It is the lesser know glacier lagoon but nonetheless definitely worth a visit. From there you can hike (not the easiest hike) 3.2km/2 miles to Breiðárlón. A beautiful lagoon left alone by so many. We don’t know why the lagoon doesn’t show up on the map above but we have marked the place on the map. You can see it in this map. For anyone committing to the hike will be greatly awarded. Make sure you let others know where you are going.
From Fjallsárlón to Jökulsárlón it’s only 11km/6.8 miles. By Jökulsárlón you can take a cruise on the lagoon, walk to the famous Diamond beach by the ocean and just take a load off and enjoy life. There is no camping by the lagoon so you will either have to track back to Skaftafell or drive to Höfn, the end of south Iceland but the beginning of East Iceland.
From Jökulsárlón to Höfn
When driving further east from the lagoon, you really feel a big drop-off of tourists as the lagoon is often the turning point for buses and many who have rented a car. After 14km/8.7 miles you have a very interesting museum to honor the author Þórbergur Þórðarson. The museum is a great place to reconnect to a bit of culture but just to see the museum itself is a treat as it looks like one big, book shelf. (see picture to the right)
It’s a 79km/49.1 miles drive from Jökulsárlón to Höfn, the gateway to east Iceland and it’s a beautiful one. The landscape is big and beautiful. You’ll find small roads here and there but most of them leads to private farms and/or are just too rough to drive on in regular campers..
The full drive from Reykjavik and the routes described here above is 625km/388.6 miles. There are stretches where you really need to be aware of your speed and surroundings. The drive to Hrauneyjar is truly a road less traveled, especially by tourists but offers such a unique experience. As always, do not stop all over the place to take pictures and remember that you need to camp in campsites.
If you want to show your support for the conservation of the Icelandic nature and to show you are a responsible tourist, take the Icelandic pledge and sent a screenshot of your confirmation together with your CamperStories, we’ll add the badge to your cover pic! 🙂
Happy Camping! #WohoCamper
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