My Iceland road trip – the South coast

The southern coast of Iceland is where most of the island’s notable landmarks are located. There is no better way to explore Iceland than by car, so over the week-long Easter break we set off on a road trip through the land of fire and ice. One week is not enough to explore the whole country, so I had to make a selection of what I wanted to see in the limited time that we had, and having a car definitely helped to make the most of our time and cover decent distances in a bunch of days. I should begin by saying that most of the education I got about the beauties of Iceland came from two music videos, both set in the South of the country.

I first heard the song Fjara by Sólstafir when YouTube suggested it based on my music taste. I fell in love with the song immediately (YouTube really knows me) and the video got me hooked on the beauty of Icelandic landscapes. I remember being absolutely intrigued by the plane wreck seen at 3:52, it was such a surreal setting it seemed staged.

But it was not. The plane is actually there – and has been ever since it crash landed on the beach at Sólheimasandur in 1973. I have a creepy fascination for wreckages, so I knew that the plane would have been one of the things to see once I visited Iceland. It ended up being the very first stop of our road trip.iceland plane wreck
In order to reach the plane one has to walk 4 Km from the parking lot towards the sea. The beach is a slight slope, so despite being a totally flat landscape with no obstacles to block the sight, the plane is not visible until you get pretty close to it. This can make the walk there quite frustrating, as you get the feeling you’re walking aimlessly through a flat and desolated landscape with no signs to understand how far you got. The wreckage is quite a popular tourist attraction, so we were walking there together with many other people, and were seeing many coming back during our endless walk. In the end for me it was totally worth it, but it got me questioning why walk a total of 8 Km through a desert beach to go see a plane wreck if you’re not into plane wrecks or Sólstafir?iceland plane wreck
The other features that dominate the music video for Fjara – and that Iceland is rightfully famous for – are waterfalls. On our trip across the southern coast we managed to see three: Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss and Svartifoss. The first two are easy to spot from the main road and are directly accessible from the parking lots nearby. Svartifoss is a little bit more hidden and requires a minor hike to be seen. At this time of the year the cold temperature still turns the waterfall mist into frost, which was what prevented us from being able to walk behind Seljalandsfoss.

seljalandsfoss waterfall
Seljalandsfoss
skogafoss waterfall
Skogafoss
svartifoss waterfall
Svartifoss

Those charming basalt columns at Svartifoss, that I have renamed “the giant pencils”, are a recurring feature in the geology of Iceland and can be found in other parts of the country, too. I first learned about them in another music video, this time by an old favourite of mine, Tarja Turunen.

Learning about Northern Europe stuff from metal music… how unoriginal, eh? Tarja’s video was mostly shot at Reynisfjara, a black sand beach in the municipality of Vík, famous for the basalt columns and the sea stacks, Reynisdrangar. We took a little detour before visiting the actual beach, to see the Dyrhólaey arch.

Reynisfjara black beach
Reynisdrangar seen from Dyrhólaey
Reynisfjara black beach
The basalt columns at Reynisfjara
Reynisfjara black beach
Dyrhólaey arch seen from Reynisfjara

I have to say something unpopular, but up to here I was not overwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong, the black beaches and impressive waterfalls were absolutely beautiful, but the country as a whole was giving me mixed feelings. Beautiful, but not more beautiful than other places I have seen. I had read so much about Iceland being absolutely overwhelming and I was not finding it like that. I started wondering if I had become such a travel snob I was not able to see the beauty anymore. Then I realized that it’s just that I do not find beaches and waterfalls overwhelming. What overwhelms me are mountains, glaciers and icebergs.Jökulsárlón glacier lagoonAwe struck the following day, when we drove to Jökulsárlón, the easternmost point we reached on our itinerary. Jökulsárlón is a glacier lagoon filled with icebergs of various sizes that detach from the  tongue of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier in the backdrop and float in the glacier lake that has formed in front. The current and tides pull some smaller icebergs out of the lake towards the Atlantic Ocean through a short river that connects the lagoon to the sea.Jökulsárlón glacier lagoonThe current of the Atlantic pushes some of the icebergs that make it to the sea onto the black sand beach that runs along the ocean’s shoreline. Many get stranded there and glow bright against the dark sand. This occurrence earned the beach the poetic name of Diamond Beach. We were so awed after visiting the lagoon (we even spotted some seals!) that we almost didn’t notice the beach on the other side of the road. Luckily we double checked and headed there before driving away. We ended up spending even more time at the Diamond Beach than at the lagoon itself. Jökulsárlón glacier lagoonJökulsárlón glacier lagoonI had never seen an iceberg before. Witnessing such beauty made me finally get it, now I was finally overwhelmed.

There is this Icelandic proverb that says that if you don’t like the weather you should just wait 5 minutes. I learned this when I was studying in Oslo and the fast changes in the weather were confusing me. Norwegians like to claim this proverb is also true for them. On our first night in Iceland I got to learn something more about this Icelandic saying. The host in our first guesthouse added a line: If you don’t like the weather wait 5 minutes… it’ll get worse. So if in Norway the 5-minute wait was somewhat reassuring, because you knew the weather would change and it could always go for the better, in Iceland you know it can only get worse. Not so reassuring.

Giving the moody quality of the weather in Iceland I was prepared to witness any kind of it and I didn’t mind. Also, coming in April I was actually hoping for some episodes of snow. I tried keeping an eye on the forecast days before the trip, as I usually do before travelling somewhere, but to no use, it would constantly change, so I was just prepared for anything and didn’t make any particular wish for shining sun. Except for one day, the one we were scheduled to visit Jökulsárlón. I had seen pictures of the white icebergs floating in the water that reflects a milky white sky. And I had seen pictures of the white icebergs floating in the bluest water on sunny days. I had prayed for that blue and my wish came true. (Don’t worry, I got plenty of storms in the following days to make up for all that luck!)

28 thoughts on “My Iceland road trip – the South coast

  1. Ho letto e sentito racconti sull’Islanda pieni di entusiasmo, e mi fa piacere trovare un punto di vista un po’ diverso. E’ un paese che mi incuriosisce: mi attirano i paesaggi lunari, le spiagge deserte e selvagge. Non riesco a immaginare che reazione potrei avere, dalle foto sembra incredibile. Ma si sa, di persona è sempre diverso… e poi molto dipende, immagino, dal clima che si trova. Il sole cambia tutto!

    1. Il clima è proprio una cosa su cui non contare, il tempo cambia continuamente. Il giorno della laguna ghiacciata era in realtà l’unico in cui il beltempo è stato stabile. Se andrai a vedere le foto della penisola Snæfellsnes, post che uscirà martedì prossimo, vedrai quante differenti condizioni meteorologiche ho fotografato in due giorni! Comunque io ho trovato la natura islandese terribilmente inospitale. Sarà anche il fatto che non cresce nulla di più alto di un arbusto, e non ero mai stata in un posto interamente privo di alberi. Ha il suo fascino, ma mi ci sono voluti due giorni per apprezzarlo.

    1. Hi Telma!
      To be very honest – yes, Iceland is pretty expensive. Comparable to Norway, especially the prices of restaurant food. We kept the price of feeding ourselves down by going grocery shopping and packing our own lunch, and that was not not properly “cheap” either. Car rental with extended insurance was also quite pricey. That’s unfortunately something one needs to consider when budgeting for a trip there. Still totally worth going, and possible aurora sightings definitely make it even more precious.

    1. Hey Bri! I’ll be featuring more posts about Iceland (currently devoting a mini series to this country on my blog) also next week, so if you’d like to see more photos you’ll be welcome here again 🙂 Thanks for your comment!!

    1. I saw you visited in winter, I am guessing that might have been why. Thanks for stopping by, I am so glad I found you! I absolutely love your style.

    1. End of May is one of the best times for northern Europe in my opinion. I visited Norway several times in May because there’s no better time for Norway than May to me. I hope you have a great time there!!

  2. I love your photos. I was also very inspired by Icelandic music when driving it in winter. Super calming and loved the landscape. 🙂

  3. It looks like you had beautiful weather when you were there! We had a few rainy days, which definitely wasn’t ideal to be walking all that way to the plane wreckage but hey, it was worth it. Looks like you loved Iceland as much as we did. Beautiful shots!

    1. I had very mixed weather, really, but got extremely lucky on the day we visited the glacier lagoon. We got hail and snow on the Golden Circle unfortunately, but I kind of expected it. Thanks for stopping by, I really like your blog!!

    1. Thank you! Capturing the magic of Reynisfjara was not easy, I visited at the worst possible time of the day (the afternoon) when it was swarmed with people. Couldn’t take a wider pic of the basalt column or I would have included people climbing them. I’m glad you still managed to see the unreal feel it has, because I tried my best to get the place without the hordes of people. When scheduling all the stops I made the mistake of choosing that place at the wrong time of the day. If I ever return to Iceland I’ll go there in the morning.

  4. These pictures are gorgeous. Iceland has been on my list for awhile. I didn’t realize it was so expensive. Flights out there seem to be pretty cheap. Maybe one day. Great post 🙂

    1. Thanks Riley! Iceland is unfortunately pretty expensive, as nearly everything needs to be imported. My personal highlight was finding Polish food in a supermarket – something I can’t say no to – and paying for it about four times the price I would have spent in Poland. But if you don’t get tempted by Polish croissants like I did you can easily save some money on food by buying it in supermarkets and makig it yourself rather than eating in restaurants. And yes, flights there have often very reasonable prices.

  5. Great post. Really love your photos – the last set are fantastic. A friend visited Iceland last year and came home to NZ raving about it. Now your post and photos have reinforced that Iceland has to go on our list!

    1. Thank you! I am very proud of the glacier lagoon series, but I can only be thankful for the awesome weather there. Iceland is really an interesting country, mostly for its peculiar landscapes. I guess that if you don’t mind the cold it can be pretty spectacular all year round, but I think that spring was a great choice. The only thing that lascks in the spring is the green of the meadows, but we got some fine April snow and you don’t get that in late summer 😀

  6. Breathtaking…absolutely breathtaking! Funny about your thoughts on waterfalls — they’re a dime a dozen back in the Hawaiian Islands, so I don’t think much of them. What impresses me wherever I travel is the panoramic view of a sea horizon. For some reason, oceans really touch my soul.

    1. See, I’m more of a mountain person. I grew up near the mountains and far from the sea, so it probably has to do with this.
      But yeah, some sights were absolutely breathtaking. It took me a couple of days to acclimatize to that strange island country, but I left loving it.

  7. Iceland captures your heart doesn’t it? I adored my visit so much I am going back in August. We didn’t go as far as Jökulsárlón, but we are exploring this area next time. I loved walking behind Seljalandsfoss. We are doing a movie location tour next which will be fun

    1. So cool to hear you are going back! Make the most of your time at the glacier lagoon and diamond beach, it’s utterly beautiful. Great to hear you managed to walk behind Seljalandsfoss in March. I gave up, the stairs were covered in a thick layer of ice so I just didn’t dare. Had been extremely windy, I guess that created that frost, but I might be wrong as I’m no expert on Icelandic weather (how can you possibly be one? It’s so unpredictable!).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *