A while ago I posted a Drive It Yourself guide to the Golden Circle. Obviously this was something that people needed, judging by the positive reaction to it, so I decided it would be the first post of a Drive-It-Yourself series where I will feature feasible day tours from Reykjavík.
Today we are going to focus on the south coast which is thought by many visitors one of the most beautiful areas in Iceland. And for a good reason: on this route you will see amazing waterfalls, majestic glaciers, black sand beaches and depending on the day some of the most gorgeous vistas you’ll ever encounter. What is good about the south coast is that once you get over Hellisheiði (a mountain close to Reykjavík where the weather can be troublesome) the road is pretty comfortable and easy to drive. The area is known for heavy winds though so make sure your check the weather forecast and the road conditions before you head out (you should always do that anyway), especially in winter.
If you are a solo traveler or you don’t feel comfortable with driving yourself you can always consider doing this bus tour of the south coast – it gets great reviews on Tripadvisor and is quite affordable. If you need a rental car for your trip you can also book it here on the blog.
Reykjavík to Vík
When we talk about the south coast we usually mean the drive between Reykjavík and the village of Vík, with some pretty fantastic stops along the way. Because there is a lot to see most people leave the Golden Circle for another day or combine the two into a two or three day adventure around the south of the country. This post will assume you are doing this as a day tour but if you have time you should definitely consider expanding your trip and include a glacier walk in Sólheimajökull or similar activities along the way.
According to Google Maps the round trip to Vík and back is 391km which is about 5 hours and 10 minutes of driving. I’m pretty sure it takes me a little longer to drive that but I’ve never been good with distances. That of course excludes all the stops you will be doing on the way.
This is a full day tour so expect a long day. If you want to make a stop overnight in Vík I always enjoy the warm welcome at Vík hostel but there are also nice hotels in town that you might want to check out.
Adding Vestmannaeyjar (The Westman Islands)
It’s possible to add the Westman Islands to your day tour during the time of the year where we have more daylight. but I wouldn’t recommend this in winter. Both the south coast and the islands deserve a full day of their own but if you are pressed for time and you really want to check out the islands this is totally doable.
This summer the boyfriend and I, along with our good friends, did exactly this. We wanted to visit the Westman Islands and left Reykjavík early enough to catch the first ferry. We spent around 4 hours on the islands and then took the ferry back to land and carried on. We didn’t go all the way to Vík but we visited Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss and Seljavallalaug. You can read all about it in this post I wrote about our trip.
The ferry to the Westman Islands leaves from Landeyjahöfn and it takes around half an hour to get there. Sometimes the conditions in Landeyjahöfn (like right now when this post is written) prevent the ferry from leaving there so it goes from Þorlákshöfn instead (which is nowhere close). Make sure you check this before you leave.
Adding Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon
A lot of people ask me whether it’s doable to get all the way to Jökulsárlón and back to Reykjavík in a day and although the answer is yes, you can do this, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it. First of all you will feel pressed for time the whole way. If you do plan to do it all in a day I would prioritize the stops because you’ll probably not be able to do everything you want to do. This is a much nicer trip if you stop somewhere along the way for the night but if you have limited time and you want to cram in as much as you can this is possible.
According to Google Maps the drive from Vík to Jökulsárlón and back adds 385km to your trip or 4 hours and 22 minutes making the total driving time 9 and a half hours from Reykjavík and back. I did this in April 2012 and we were 18 hours on the road. We skipped a lot of great stops because we simply didn’t have time for them but we still had time for a zodiac boat tour on the lake and a hike to Svartifoss.
If the south shore is a full day tour then this is a fuller day tour – on steroids.
Instructions on how to use this map (viewing it larger is advised):
There are five layers on this map. To see all the layers click on the button in the top left corner. The first layers contains points of interest in the area. The second layer contains places, restaurants, pools and such that might be worth visiting in the area. The third layer iis points of interest further east.. The fourth layer is driving instructions for the south shore tour. The fifth and final layer is driving instructions from Vík to Jökulsárlón. To hide and show different layers click on the boxes next to the names of the layers (if they are visible there’s a little check mark in the box).
To make the map bigger click the bracket (next to your profile photo) in the top right corner of the map.