The nature in Iceland is otherworldly; there’s no other way to describe it. I found myself in awe of every stunning place we visited while on a south coast Iceland road trip for a few days.
It’s impossible to visit both the north and south of Iceland with only have a few days or a week in this country. I’d heard rave reviews about the south coast and was sold on it immediately. Traveling to Iceland in winter requires planning, so we did a little research and created our itinerary. Waterfalls, glaciers…and a plane wreck? Sign me up!
Logistics of a South Coast Iceland Road Trip
My siblings and I drove from Reykjavík to Jökulsárlón in one shot to make sure we didn’t miss our ice caving tour. We stayed at Hali Country Hotel that night, saw the Northern Lights, and drove back to Reykjavík the next day, stopping along the way at some of Iceland’s most photographed sights.
When you’re on your south coast Iceland road trip, don’t miss out on these 7 beautiful places!
The Skógafoss waterfall is located where the coastline used to be before it receded about 3 miles. The sea cliff where the Icelandic highlands meet the lowlands is now Skógafoss, one of the many gorgeous waterfalls in Iceland. The sheer volume of water cascading down the cliffs sucked the air out of my lungs. I set up my self-timer and ran ahead to the waterfall. It was impossible to stay dry amidst the mist, but I didn’t care. You’re only in Iceland once, right? Although I certainly plan to go back!
Visit this waterfall in the evening if you can time it correctly. Lots of other tourists were leaving as we arrived and we didn’t have to wait to take photos with the waterfall.
Sólheimasandur Plane Wreck
I really anticipated seeing this plane wreck in real life after countless photos of it popped up on my Instagram feed. This US Navy plane ran out of fuel and crashed into the Sólheimasandur black sand beach. Luckily, everyone survived. The plane remains on the beach; it really looks like it’s on another planet.
Vehicles used to be allowed to be driven on the beach up to the plane wreck until last year. Now, there’s a path to walk from the parking lot to the crash site. My brother, brother-in-law, and I braved the windy elements and started walking toward the sea. We could hardly see the plane wreck until we were up close; it blended into the overcast grey skies. Once we got there, we explored it like kids on a jungle gym. This crash site was so interesting but still felt like an eerie plane gravesite, similar to the train cemetery in Salar de Uyuni.
Vík and Hella
The cute little towns of Vík and Hella are worth a stop on the way to or from Reykjavík. These stops are also probably necessary because there are few gas stations along the highway heading in either direction – you have to fill up when you can!
And if you live in northern California like me, you can’t pass up an opportunity to take a photo with a sign that says “Hella” (if you don’t understand, it’s a northern California thing, don’t worry about it).
The glacier lagoon at Jökulsárlón was one of the sights on the south coast Iceland road trip that I was most excited to see. The lake formed when the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier began to recede, causing icebergs to break off and float in the lake.
We stopped at Jökulsárlón a few times during our short stay in this area. I loved listening the sounds of the icebergs breaking and floating in the water; it felt so calming. The pieces of ice on the beach looked like crystals and diamonds!
Ice caves in Vatnajökull
We raced from Reykjavík to Jökulsárlón – and by race, I mean a 4 hour drive or so – to get picked up for our tour of the ice cave in Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe. This glacier is about 2 miles away from the glacier lagoon. Melted water turning into rivers that freeze-over again cause the phenomena of ice caves in this glacier.
It’s too dangerous to enter the ice caves in summer, so we got lucky with our visit in the dead of winter. The ice caves were completely surreal. I felt like we were legitimately frozen in time. The ice above me reminded me of a massive crystal chandelier. I’ll be sharing more on this experience soon – stay tuned!
We hunted the Northern Lights a few times near Reykjavík to no avail but got lucky closer to the east coast! Now the Northern Lights isn’t exactly a “place” to visit but it is a sight to see. It happened to be that after driving the south coast, the Aurora schedule showed that there was moderate activity in the area we were in. We drove for a bit before pulling over and waiting for the sky to light up. And it did. I’ll be sharing more about this experience in a new post soon. It was so incredible!
Hali and the seaside
I don’t think Hali is even a town, it’s just the location of the only hotel near Jökulsárlón. Located about 7.5 miles east of the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Hali Country Hotel was the only choice we really had in accommodation nearby without being forced to stay somewhere more east. We rented the apartment the hotel had and had plenty of space for the four of us. It wasn’t cheap for one night, but it was worth it to see the Northern Lights, the glacier lagoon, and the ice cave!
Hali Country Hotel is situated along the quiet seaside. It was such a peaceful place to wake up and watch the sunrise – granted it was at 11am so it was impossible to sleep through it. The hotel also has a barn with some cute sheep! This part of Iceland in the countryside near the mountains was very relaxing.