You’re going to Iceland! Perhaps this is just a dream, or you’re in the planning stages. If you’re like me, then you’ve visited at least 50 different sites telling you at least 100 different things about how to pack, what to bring, where to stay, etc.
Everything you need to know is right here. This Southern Iceland guide is both visual and interactive. It will help you have a safe, informed, and beautiful trip no matter which stage of “I’m going to Iceland” you are in.
This guide covers the South and Southeast coast of Iceland. I assure you that the South is incredibly beautiful and worth the visit even if it’s all you can do.
Table of Contents
1. Booking (Flight, Hotel, Vehicle)
2. What to Pack
3. What to Expect (People, Food, Driving)
4. Itinerary (with pictures and videos!)
Iceland is a little unique due to the Icelandair layovers when flying to Europe. In general International flights are most affordable 60-90 days prior to purchase.
You will need to do some research if you want to find the most affordable ticket. Below are some popular booking sites and what makes them stand out. I recommend using a few of these together to find the best deal.
- Google Flights – Google is Clean and Simple. The calendar and search tools are very specific and powerful.
- Kayak – This is the baseline to compare with other booking sites.
- Sky Scanner – This one is essential. You can search for a unique combination of airlines and transfers that may save you hundreds. Make sure to set alerts.
- Hipmunk – Customizable options on factors like layover times and price patterns.
- Airfare Watchdog – Set up an alert and you will get weekly updates on the cities you choose.
- Matrix Airfare Search – You can see average fares for each day of one month. It doesn’t include Southwest, and tickets must be purchased directly from the airline. This is mostly for reference.
- *Hitlist, and Hopper. You’re lucky I like you because these two apps can save you hundreds of dollars and make flight searching incredibly easy.
- With Hitlist, you can create a travel plan of where you’d like to go and/or when you’d like to travel. The app will send you notifications anytime your trip has a deal.
- Hopper allows you to enter dates and a destination. The sweet bonus is a full calendar of dates that shows when prices are expensive, fair, good, and really good. The app sends you notifications when prices rise and fall, and a cute bunny will let you know if you should wait to purchase or buy now.
Once you find your perfect deal it may be better to purchase your ticket directly from the airline’s website. It is much easier dealing with changes or potential issues when your ticket is not managed by a 3rd party.
I’m going to make this easy for you. Booking.com.
There are not many lodging options along the Ring Road. It’s mostly guesthouses and a few hotels. Booking.com will provide a combination of hotels, cottages, and guesthouses that you simply will not find on other websites, including Airbnb. You qualify for discounts when you make 5 or more bookings. Their system is very simple and efficient.
Like flights, there are many sites you can use to find a nice deal for a car. Regardless of which company you use, you will be picking up your car at the airport. There is a large building with all of the car rental companies about a 10-minute walk and a 5-minute shuttle bus from the airport.
While Kayak can be nice, I really like CheapOair. It’s like Kayak but it lets you search about 5-6 different rental sites and compare all the prices at once. Your display may get a little overwhelming, but you’ll be relieved once you find a nice deal.
Beware of reloading or leaving the page once you find your dream car. These rental sites tend to raise the price based on your cache and IP address. Sneaky, I know.
3.5 Camper Vans
If you’d like to have more freedom with your road trip, you can look into camper vans. This is not necessarily a cheaper option. It just provides more flexibility for your trip. It may also be one of your only options if you wait too long to book hotels or a car.
Below is a list of reputable Camper Van companies that have good reviews:
WHAT TO PACK
It doesn’t matter if you’re doing an entire road trip around the island or just visiting for a few days. Pack light for Iceland. You’re going to be moving around a lot and you don’t need 15 different variations of an outfit. You will be grateful when all you need to carry around is a backpack and small luggage.
Summer is June-August, Winter is December-March and Shoulder seasons are April-May and September-November. Below is a table with the average temperature in each month.
It doesn’t get colder than low 30’s in the shoulder seasons. It is typically in the high 20’s to low 30’s during the winter. The average is 60’s in the summer, and a warm day can get into the 70’s.
Iceland Met Office has an amazing weather site. This will be handy to keep bookmarked while you’re traveling. Climate of Icleand’s Wikipedia page also has a color-coded chart with temperatures in each season.
- A light raincoat. There is always a chance for rain regardless of which season you go.
- A windbreaker. Iceland will always be windy regardless of which season you go.
- Trekking shoes or very comfortable sneakers. You will be walking a lot.
- A warm beanie. I highly recommend the World’s Greatest Beanie, aptly named by Krochet Kids.
- Comfortable/breathable slacks and weather-resistant pants. Consider Uniqlo or an outdoor wholesale store like Paragon Sports.
- DON’T WEAR JEANS. You will regret it when it rains.
- Bring 1 hefty coat If you’re going in the winter. Other seasons bring a couple nice sweaters to layer.
- Sunglasses. When the sun comes out in Iceland it is very beautiful and very bright.
- Fanny Pack or Day bag. When you leave your car to go explore a beautiful waterfall or canyon, you will not want to be lugging around a full-fledged backpack.
- Water bottle. It is true that you can drink Iceland water straight from the lakes. It is delicious.
- A small camera that also shoots HD video. I recommend something from PCMag’s list of best point-and-shoot cameras.
- A small drone. DJI recently released Spark, a tiny HD drone that takes great footage.
- A GoPro Hero 5. This thing is waterproof out the gate and takes spectacular 4K footage. GoPro also has a drone that is compatible with the Hero 5 & 6.
That’s it, folks! Anything more than that and you’ll be carrying around more than you need to.
WHAT TO EXPECT
Iceland is a unique place that is worth learning about before diving in. This is especially true if you have never been to Europe. Even for those who have frequented Europe, Iceland is its own special place that stands out from the rest of Europe.
Everyone is incredibly nice and speaks English. You really do not need to learn how to speak Icelandic. Trust me on this. If you ever need help or have questions, do not hesitate to ask a local.
They also really like to drink. Especially in Reykjavik. Keep in mind that during the shoulder and summer months the sun never sets. While you’re in partying in Reykjavik it will still be bright outside at 2 AM. During the winter, the sun is only out for 2 hours at most. Consider how this might affect people who have lived in Iceland their entire life.
Eating out in Iceland is expensive. Expect to pay $30 on average for a meal. These meals will be absolutely delicious and completely worth the cost.
If you don’t want to add this to your daily budget, consider getting groceries or food at gas stations. Both options have decent food. If you’re staying at a place that has a kitchen then you can make a pretty decent meal for less than $10.
Iceland gas stations do not accept non-Icelandic credit cards. You have to use a debit card that has a PIN attached to it. Because most banks charge an international fee on debit cards, I highly recommend buying a prepaid N1 gas card at a manned N1 gas station or any major grocery store. They have $50 and $100 options. Use N1’s station map to find the most convenient locations.
DO NOT DRIVE ON THE BLACK SAND. EVEN IF YOU SEE TIRE MARKS IN IT.
I made this mistake and it took over an hour to get out with the help of 3 different groups of people who got out of their cars to help us. Just don’t do it.
It is essential to stay up to date with road/weather conditions via Road.is. The weather is unpredictable in Iceland and sometimes roads get shut down. This is true for any season. Many gas stations have this map up on a TV specifically for tourists to see.
If you have an unlocked phone, get a Síminn or Vodafone prepaid SIM at the airport. There is no need to buy this beforehand. It is incredibly easy to set up. You will need it for Maps and weather/road condition updates. Vodafone is about $15 for 1GB. Just don’t spend your entire time on Snapchat or Instagram.
It’s very easy to top up even if you do run out of data.
The fun part! I won’t break this itinerary down by day. Instead, I will provide you with all of the major sights in Southern Iceland and you can decide how you want to break it up. I’ve created a Southern Iceland Google Map that has the sights color-coded by region. Everything in Yellow is Southern Iceland and everything in Purple is Southeast Iceland. Let’s get started:
My friends and I had a running joke to call this “Sell all your lands” Waterfall because how do you honestly pronounce that? This is going to be the first major waterfall you’ll come across after leaving Reykjavik and it’s definitely worth the stop.
It’s the only known waterfall of its kind, where it is possible to walk behind it. The GPS coordinates are: 63°36’58” N 19°59’22” W and it’s directly off of the ring road. I would be surprised if you missed it!
Before Iceland was cool, this place was a hidden gem. It still feels like a hidden gem even though loads of people know about it. It’s a little confusing to get there. I’ll do my best to give directions. You can also just put these GPS coordinates in your map: 63°33’58” N 19°36’29” W
From the ring road, you’ll turn onto road 242 marked Raufarfell. After a few minutes, you’ll see a sign that says Seljavellir. This leads to a new pool that was built recently and means you’re headed in the right direction. Keep driving (it will seem a little sketch) and you will see a rocky parking area. From there you’ll have to walk about 15 minutes to the pool. The path is very direct and you will not get lost. You’ll need to get past a stream by walking on planks/rocks so make sure you’re wearing good shoes.
Once you arrive there a couple changing rooms with absolutely no privacy. Don’t go expecting a luxury experience. This is for the adventurous. The water was very warm towards the side farthest from the mountain in the background and gets progressively cooler as you get closer to the changing rooms. This was experienced in April. I imagine it would be very pleasant in the summer, though far more crowded.
Skogafoss is clearly visible from the road and even if you didn’t know it existed, you would probably end up here anyway. In any event, the GPS coordinates are: 63°31’44.4″N 19°30’47.0″W
If you’re feeling really adventurous I encourage you to go as close as you can to the waterfall before you’re stepping into water. Make sure you have no electronics on you and that you’re wearing a raincoat. You will experience nature in a way that you may never experience again.
I also encourage you to walk up the gruesome stairs to see a top view of the waterfall and the mountains/hills surrounding it. From there you can go down a hiking path that is recommended if you have the time.
You can camp at the waterfall too! There is a hotel and cafe with toilets.
Sólheimasandur Plane Crash
Seeing this plane crash is bucket list material if you’re visiting Southern Iceland. I’ll warn you now that it takes dedication to actually get to it though. While driving down the ring road the turnoff is about 2 km after crossing a bridge with blinking yellow lights and a dirt access road (221) on the right. If you’ve crossed a 2nd bridge then you’ve gone too far.
You used to be able to drive down a dirt path that leads to the plane. In 2016 the landowners decided they didn’t want people driving down the path anymore and blocked it off. This means that you’ll need to walk 4 kilometers to and 4 kilometers back to see the plane.
If you can plan it out on a day that shows relatively little rain in the forecast, do that. Otherwise, you may find yourself uncomfortably wet more than 3 miles from dryness.
Reynishverfi Rocks and Black Sand Beach
It’s only possible to see the iconic image above if you have a 4×4 vehicle. It is not possible to actually go down to this particular beach, though the view from above trumps any alternative in my opinion. This view requires a slightly terrifying drive up a steep hill which leads you to a viewing point. This area is also good to spot Puffins at the right time. Below are images from the black sand beach that is actually accessible by foot, weather permitting.
This beautiful canyon is easy to get to and worth spending at least an hour at. Fjaðrárgljúfur is a left turn onto road 206. After about 2 km it will be clear which way is to the canyon as you will spot a designated parking area to your left.
You’re not supposed to sit on the edges of the canyon cliffs, but if you’re adventurous like me you will anyway.
We didn’t end up having time to visit this beautiful park, unfortunately. Skaftafell can take an entire day or more to explore. If you’d really like to walk on a glacier, I recommend going in the winter. You must, of course, do this with a guide unless you want to risk being a statistic.
If you’d like to go hiking inland, then you must go in the summer. Most inland activities are closed during the winter and shoulder months. The famous Svartifoss waterfall known for basalt columns is a must-see here.
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
We didn’t take any boat tours for the lagoon or get any closer than you can from the side of the road. The rest of the island was calling our name and time was of essence. I encourage you though to look into exploring the lagoon more! There are opportunities to go into ice caves and see some beautiful sunsets when the glacial ice chunks gather close.
It’s worth spending some quality time at each of these places. If you’d like to make it a few days trip I recommend Einarsstadir Homestay in Vík and Hotel Smyrlabjörg if you’re going to visit the canyon, lagoon, or national park.
HAVE A NICE TRIP!
The sights in Southern Iceland are breathtakingly beautiful. Put your camera or phone down for a few minutes to really take it all in. This is honestly a place you’ll want to remember for the rest of your life.
If you enjoyed this Southern Iceland Guide, please take a look at my other travel stories and follow the blog for more photo essays/thoughts in the future. While I have a few select images of Iceland in this story, I will be uploading a complete gallery from the entire island road trip soon. Stay tuned.
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