On our second full day in Iceland, we began our self-driving tour of the famous Ring Road: Reykjavik to Vík. At 3.25 hours of driving time, our family had plenty of time to squeeze in a few meaningful stops: tons of waterfalls, a glacier, a cave, and even a couple of beaches!
Given that we spent the previous day was spent along the Golden Circle, it would have been nice to have started our day closer to Selfoss. That said, since-changed covid post-arrival restrictions complicated this a bit. Fortunately, everything went smoothly, but while our road trip was supposed to be circular, we did have to double back.
For reference, on this route, the normal headliners that most of the tours hit are Seljalandsfoss waterfall, Skógafoss waterfall, Sólheimajökull Glacier, black-sand Reynisfjara Beach, and the town of Vík at the end.
Before heading out to explore some amazing nature, we made a stop at the “Bonus” grocery store in Selfoss along the way. Not knowing what food options would look like at lunchtime, we picked up a picnic lunch and continued our drive.
We did intend to stop at the smaller Urriðafoss waterfall on the way there, but there was road construction, and it was probably a decent decision to skip because we were quite tired at the end of the day.
On a rainy day, where you’re minimizing hiking at the sites, you might consider stopping at the Lava Center, about 25 minutes past Urriðafoss. It’s a higher price-point (3,990 ISK / ~$32 for adults, 9,975 ISK / ~$80 for a family pass; less for just the cinema), but it was a nice enough and long enough day that we skipped.
About 20 minutes further and you will come to Seljalandsfoss, a popular travel destination and one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls. While the actual walking time isn’t all that long, expect to spend 30-60 minutes here.
One of the best parts of Seljalandsfoss is the ability to walk in a full circle behind the waterfall. Expect to get a little wet, but even without rain gear on, we were dry by the time we got back to the car.
This waterfall is very close to the main parking lot, but if you want to walk a little further, the Gljúfrabúi is also amazing! In my opinion, the best part is being able to walk through a little crack in the mountain to get to it!
As you walk back to the car, enjoy the beautiful wildflowers and other scenery!
Seljalandsfoss has an 800 ISK (~$7) parking fee, but use of the restrooms is free.
The next stop on this itinerary is Skógafoss, another famous waterfall about 25 minutes from Seljalandsfoss.
If you want an easy stop, simply park and enjoy the waterfall from the base. However, if you want some beautiful views from the top, you should climb the 370 steps to the top.
Parking at Skógafoss is free, but you will need to pay to use the restrooms.
Our next stop was the Sólheimajökull Glacier, the 4th largest glacier in Iceland. The glacier used to go all the way to the parking lot, but over the last 20 or so years has receded over a km, so now you need to hike along a wide gravel path to get there.
Perhaps in another year and some more time, we’d have booked an on-glacier hiking tour here – there were definitely groups of folks with helmets and crampons.
If traveling outside a tour group, it is recommended that you simply hike to the roped off area (see above). It was still nice to hike to the glacier and admire the edges of it, though in retrospect would have liked to have done a tour. There’s some real issues with quicksand and crevices, so don’t do it on your own, and think twice about doing it at all if you are traveling with kids.
So we decided to let the boys get close enough to touch the glacier, but we drew the line at climbing on it or going into the caves. This was reinforced as we watched various ice chunks break away from the main glacier and splash into the water.
On the way out, the boys had jun scrambling around on some of the boulders.
Our worst stop of the day was at Dyrhólaey. The road getting up to the top was super narrow, steep, and made of slippery gravel. We made it, but when we encountered other cars on the way up it was a little harrowing.
Then, when we made it to the top, it was enshrouded in fog and we couldn’t see any of the really cool structures and black sand beaches beyond the cliffs.
On the drive down, there were two 20-something (?) women who seemed they’d stalled out on a steep curve about halfway up and couldn’t get their manual car going again. Fortunately, a nice driver of a minivan behind them got them turned around so that they could coast to the bottom without further incident. If your family travels this road, make sure that you are up for the challenge!
Loftsalahellir Cave was pretty cool, but all of us were starting to feel cranky, so we didn’t enjoy it as much as we could have. There is a steep path up to a cave, hiking boots recommended.
And then you will be welcomed to one of the prettiest caves that I have ever seen! Unfortunately, our cameras failed to capture the true beauty of this spot…
If you have extra time and energy to hike up, it is worth a stop, but otherwise, skip it.
Next up was Reynisfjara, a beautiful volcanic black sand beach. Be aware that it’s also one of Iceland’s most dangerous beaches. Take the warnings seriously – you’re supposed to never turn your back to the waves, and not to stay too close to the water. Every once in a while a gigantic 50 foot wave will come through and take unsuspecting tourists out to sea.
Of course, the boys saw these beautiful rocks that were perfect for climbing, but also perfect for getting smashed if a sneaker wave came through. Jeremy and I held out for a while, but eventually the boys convinced us that it would be okay. Note the cave to the left that clearly looks like it was washed out by sneaker waves…
Fortunately, nothing happened and we enjoyed watching the waves come into shore.
On the way back to the parking lot, the boys had a lot of fun jumping rocks.
Our last stop of the day was the small town of Vík. We started by walking around the somewhat safer black sand beach there. There were no gigantic warning signs, but one guide book said that sneaker waves occasionally came through. Fortunately, there are no rock walls for the wave to toss you.
We watched some horse tours trot by while the boys threw some rocks and played with the waves. Eventually, we got hungry and decided to head into town for dinner. We decided to try Sudur Vik. It was quite tasty and had a reasonable view of the town from our table.
At this point, everyone was exhausted and we decided to backtrack about 15 minutes to our charming guesthouse in Vestri Pétursey. While it is quite remote, the lovely farm setting is beautiful – it’s effectively a working farm with 5 guesthouse cabins added to the property. When it was clear, we could see a mountain with a glacier from the back.
We would recommend this place, though the bed was on the harder side. Note: accommodations on the south coast of Iceland are relatively scarce, so if you do plan a trip, make sure to get your reservations made sufficiently in advance.
What a beautiful day on the South Coast of Iceland!