When hiking, walking around cities or towns, or even strolling my own neighborhood, I usually pick up stray trash. I ...
This flexible Southern Iceland itinerary takes advantage of long summer days to pack a lot of beauty and fun into a 4 or 5 day visit to the land of fire and ice. We have included maps and stops, plus tips on how to adjust your itinerary if you have extra days to explore.
While guided tours are available, we encourage travelers to rent a car for maximum flexibility. Driving along the southern coast Ring Road is easy in summer, and you will appreciate being able to adjust your schedule if the weather turns.
We visited Iceland as a family with two adults and two teens, and our emphasis was on outdoor exploration and hikes. Depending on your companions and interest, your mileage may vary, but you will find it easy to pick and choose from this Iceland itinerary to suit your taste. You will find more pictures and tips for photographers in our article 8 Great Iceland Photo Destinations.
Day 1: Waterfalls and Coastal Views, Reykjavik to Vik
This Ring Road drive along the southern coastal area to Vik highlights Seljalandfoss, one of the most popular waterfalls in Iceland. The drive is gorgeous and you can fit a lot into the day with the midnight sun guiding you.
This extremely popular spot features a beautiful series of three waterfalls. Most visitors focus on the first and largest of the falls, and the path that allows you to hike behind the falls. It is a fun picture spot, but expect to find slippery conditions and be prepared to get a little wet. Be sure to hike down to the third waterfall where you can enter a cave at the bottom and look up at the falls.
This was our family’s favorite waterfall of the trip. The views from the bottom will remind you of how tiny we humans are, and the climb to the top of the falls offers gorgeous rainbow views on sunny days. Once you reach the top, climb over the fence (a ladder makes this easy) and continue to hike along the path above the falls for more waterfalls and incredible views. We could have spent a whole day hiking and relaxing here. We had lunch at the food truck near the entrance—yummy fish and chips!
There are two stops on the road to Dyrhólaey and they are both amazing. Look for a spur on the right as you near the coast, which follows a steep dirt road up to the lighthouse. You will have incredible views of the coast, the black sand beach, and the distant mountains. Back on the main road, continue straight to views of a huge natural arch and more of those black sand beaches.
Overnight in Vik
We were unable to find lodging so had to backtrack to our Airbnb in Hella, but Vik is a more convenient spot to spend the night. The town has several hotels and Airbnb properties plus convenient places to eat. We picked up sandwiches at the Vikurskali store, but Halldorskafi looked like a nice stop if you want a full service meal.
Day 2: Black Sand Beach and A Stunning Canyon, Vik to Fjaðrárgljúfur
You certainly could fit the Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach into the previous day’s itinerary, but if you overnight in Vik you will have more time to enjoy your stop and do some beach walking. After the beach, head to one of the most challenging names on our Iceland itinerary—Fjaðrárgljúfur—for hiking both above and through a gorgeous canyon.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
Fun facts—Vik is the wettest and warmest area in Iceland, and there is no land mass between here and Antarctica. Even on a calm summer day the beach is likely to be windy and the surf can be extremely dangerous, with rogue waves crashing far up the sand unexpectedly. Fortunately, there is plenty to see without getting close to the waves, including a cool cave close to the parking area, and basalt towers further down the beach.
A massive canyon formed by a glacial river provides two opportunities for hiking. The path to the right climbs the rim of the canyon. The views down into the canyon and out to the sea are beautiful. If you do not mind wet feet, hike into the canyon, with some shallow wading between sandbanks in the river.
Optional: Iceberg Lagoon in Jökulsárlón
If you want to extend your day further you can continue another 2.5 hours to visit the Iceberg Lagoon. We really wanted to see the icebergs but there just was not enough time left in the day. If you do drive out to the lagoon, you can spend the night in Hoff, but you will have a long drive back to Reykjavik the following day.
Day 3: Reykjavík
No Southern Iceland itinerary is complete without a stop in the capital city of Reykjavik. Break up the two-hour drive from Vik to Reykjavik with another stop at your favorite waterfall, or at the Fákasel Horse Park. You will see beautiful Icelandic horses at the barn or in the fields, and they have a very good restaurant serving excellent burgers at a reasonable price.
Reykjavik is a small city with a funky, walkable downtown. We suggest wandering around with a few planned stops but allow free time to explore the shops, restaurants, and bars. Dining in Iceland is expensive, but we found a great deal on a big bowl of noodle soup at Noodle Station. The pizza at Eldsmiðjan on Bragagata is also excellent.
The Sun Voyager sculpture near the waterfront is an iconic spot for beautiful pictures, and it is a short walk from there to the Harpa Center. Even if you are not attending an event at Harpa, it is worth visiting to check out the architecture both inside and out. Walk over to city hall for pretty views across a lake and to check out the blockhead businessman sculpture. Here are more ideas for things to do in Reykjavik.
Day 4: The Golden Circle and Geothermal Hike
Many tourists visit as part of Icelandair’s free stopover program, and they almost all make Reykjavik and the Golden Circle part of their Southern Iceland itinerary. The circle combines a few key destinations on a route a short distance from the city, so it is popular with tour buses and vans. While the stops were not our favorite part of our trip, they are all worth visiting.
If you do not spend too long at each stop, you will have time for a fantastic hike to a geothermal bathing area to end your day. If you run out of time for the hike, or can handle a five day Southern Iceland itinerary, make a return trip to Hveragardi the next day. You might also consider these alternatives to the Golden Circle, which we wish we had known about before out trip.
Thingveiller National Park
Thingveiller is an important stop for both geological and historical reasons. A pathway allows you to hike through the rift between the Euroasian and North American tectonic plates; a very unique experience. In a nearby submerged rift known as “coin fissure” tourists toss coins into the clear water and snorkeling tours are available. In addition to the geological formations, the park is a national shrine and the site of the world’s first parliament, assembled in 930 AD.
While the original geyser that gave this location it’s name no longer erupts, the Strokkur geyser still blows roughly every 10 minutes, making this a popular and reliable tourist stop. If you are patient and lucky, you may be able to catch the blue bubble that forms just before the spray erupts (we did!).
The huge waterfall known as Gullfoss makes a dramatic turn as it appears to plunge into the earth. A wet path leads past hills of flowers to a viewing platform close to the falls. The views from the lower platform are better than the ones from the cliff, but you should allow time to visit both.
Hveragerði Geothermal Hike (Optional Day 5)
Allow a few hours for this hike into the Reykjadalur Valley, because the 3.5 km trail is steep and you need time to enjoy a soak in the hot springs at the end. The geothermal hike was a highlight of our visit to Iceland, better than anything on the Golden Circle because it is less crowded and gave us a nice workout. If you have time, adjust our Southern Iceland itinerary and visit Hveragardi on a separate day.
The hike begins at a large parking area with a small restaurant and toilets, at the northwestern end of town. The trail climbs steeply on a paved path before leveling out and following a dirt trail along a ridge and through the valley. You will see bubbling mud pools and steaming hot springs beside the trail (sometimes quite close), and stunning, picture-worthy views the length of the route.
The payoff for your effort is a river heated by the hot springs and bordered by a wooden deck where you can walk and change clothes (FYI: the changing areas are exposed). Try several spots in the river until you find your perfect level of zen. The further up the river you go, the hotter it gets!
Southern Iceland Itinerary Tips
Depending on your arrival time at Keflavik International Airport, you may be able to plan additional sites and stops on your first partial day in Iceland. If you want to visit the famous Blue Lagoon, day one is the perfect time to do so. The lagoon is close to the airport and it is a nice way to relax and rejuvenate after your flight. You may want to reserve in advance, since summer time slots can sell out, but allow at least an hour after arrival to get out of the airport and pick up your rental car.
If you do not mind several lodging changes, spend your first night east on the Ring Road rather than staying in Reykjavik. This saves driving time on your first full day in Iceland. Selfoss and Hella are both good options for a first night location (we stayed in Hella our first two nights.)
The geothermal hike in Hveragardi was a highlight of our trip and I wish we had more time there. If possible, go for a 5 day Southern Iceland itinerary, allowing a separate day to visit Heveragardi for the hike and to see some of the town. Here are additional details and pictures of the hike.
Iceland is an incredibly unique and beautiful country, but the landscape is much more fragile than it appears. Before you go, read this article about what not to do when you visit Iceland, and learn how to protect the landscape during your trip.
Our first visit to Iceland was absolutely magical and we cannot wait to return. Next time we will allow 10 days to 2 weeks to drive the Ring Road all the way around, spending more time at favorite stops.
Have you visited Iceland or is it on your travel wish list? Please leave your Southern Iceland itinerary tips and suggestions in the comments below. Happy travels!
Article by Julie McCool, whose Virginia travel site FuninFairfaxVA.com helps locals and visitors find fun places to explore, dine, drink, and play in the Virginia, Washington DC, and mid-Atlantic region. Follow Fun in Fairfax VA on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.