4 days in Iceland’s South Coast

Day 1 Reykjavik

We spent day 1 in the capital city of Reykjavik. We had about half a day in Reykjavik which is plenty of time to explore the rather small city. The highlight of our short stay in Reykjavik was the walking tour we took from https://citywalk.is/

Here are a few quick pictures from day 1.

Left to right (1) Hot dog at the famous hot dog stand; supposedly Bill Clinton ate here and said it was the best hot dog he ever had (2) Citywalk walking tour; highly recommended, we learnt a lot
Inside the Harpa Concert Hall
Left to right : Harpa concert hall outside and in
The Sun Voyager ; an Icelandic’s artist’s ode to the Sun
Hallgrímskirkja church and the view from the top

Quick Iceland facts and figures

  • Iceland was a danish colony and gained independence in 1943.
  • Iceland has a population of about 300k people and over 200k of them live in capital city of Reykjavik.
  • Iceland is experiencing a tourism boom. In 2014 Iceland saw about annual 1M visitors up from 400k in 2010. It is estimated that in 2018 over 2.2M people will visit Iceland. While this has generally been good for the country’s economy; the local people are divided on the tourism growth due to the effect on the country’s identity and ecology.
  • Due to most things being imported, Iceland is hella expensive though prices of good can vary as much as +-500% depending on where you buy them from. A great option is to visit the Bonus or Kronan grocery stores in Iceland which have the best deals.
  • Due to its rather peculiar landscape, almost no crops grow natively on Iceland. However, the country has a national network of greenhouses producing various crops. Note that everything from the soil to bees to pollinate the crops are still largely imported
  • Iceland is sub-arctic country but is still relatively warm given its latitude. Icelanders say that the winter in Reykjavik is warmer than NYC. This is due to its network of geothermal energy sources.
  • Icelanders have harvested the geothermal energy in very unique ways. All the heating in Iceland is driven by Geothermal energy which makes Iceland one of the greenest countries in the world. Not only is conventional heating (eg water, house and industrial heating) but you will notice that your floors are always warm and the roads do not need cleaning in winter due to geothermal vents running underneath them.
  • Iceland has no army, navy or any armed force and is also simultaneously ranked amongst the safest countries in the world.
  • Iceland was discovered and settled by the Vikings around 800 AD. The Icelandic language is a form of old Norse which is the language used by the Vikings over a 1000 years ago. Due to its isolation, the Icelandic language has remained mostly unchanged, while Norwegian and other Scandinavian languages have evolved to the point of being unintelligible from Icelandic.

Day 2: Golden Circle and Waterfalls

We setoff early on day 2 to drive around Iceland’s famous Golden Circle.

The plan was to visit famous sites like Thingvellir National Park, Geysir; waterfalls like Gulfoss and Seljalandsfoss sand end our day on the southern town of Vik

However it was a rainy and cold day, leading to quick stops at most sites with limited photo opportunities, but we got a few good pictures in

Icelandic horses can be seen all over the country side
Icelandic horses are a little smaller and have a more exaggerated mane, though not visible due to the rain

Waterfalls (Seljalandsfoss and Selfoss)

Selfoss : Probably Iceland’s most famous waterfall
Selfoss : We came back the next day when the sun was out

Seljalandsfoss: You can get up close and behind this one

Day 3 Black Sand Beach and Glaciers

Game of Thrones did a bunch of filming in Iceland and the Reynisfjara beach (located near Vik) is probably one of the best known locations. That was a first stop on Day 3 and it did not disappoint. The weather also finally let up after more than a day of almost torrential rainfall.

Reynisfjara beach; The sand is as black as the night

These basalt column structures are a completely natural formation

Taken from Dyrholaey peninsula; it was a very gloomy but that adds to the drama

Glaciers

Iceland has plenty of glaciers. From the Vik area in the South Coast the Mýrdalsjökull and Sólheimajökull are a short 30 min drive away.

Jökulsárlón, a glacier lagoon; 2 hours west of Vik is worth a visit


Sólheimajökull; a outlet glacier of Mýrdalsjökull

Sólheimajökull (jökull means Glacier)

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon

Jökulsárlón is a lagoon with icebergs scattered all over. Its a bit of a drive from Vik (almost 200km) but probably still worth a trip. You can also make several stops along the way at Skaftafell national park

Floating icebergs at Jökulsárlón

Day 4 Blue Lagoon

On our last day, we spent a few hours at Icelands most famous attraction. The Blue Lagoon. It was a little touristy and expensive but worth a visit.

Video


Iceland Tips and Tricks (for a Summer time visit)

  • For a 4 day trip first time trip; stick to the south coast of Iceland. It just is not possible to drive around the entire country and actually experience Iceland; plan for at-least 7–8 days if you want to do that. I would also recommend skipping the Golden Circle entirely with the possible exception of the tomato greenhouse farm http://fridheimar.is/en. Definitely go there and make a reservation. The Golden Circle is far too touristy for my liking.
  • Renting a car makes a ton of sense compared to organized tours in busses imo. Although car rental in Iceland is expensive (about $50–60/day for a basic compact car; it is still more cost effective than bus or group tours and helps you manage your schedule as per your preference. For example, you can visit the sites either earlier or later in the day to avoid the crowds.
  • Parking is expensive in Reykjavik; around $3-5 USD an hour during business hours. Parking is mostly free outside Rekykavik although someplace charge though its not well enforced. We did not encounter any tolls in the south coast.
  • Stick to renting a car from a major car rental company in Reykjavik (KEF) airport. I’d avoid some of the cheaper off airport rentals like Nu car. Their cars though cheaper are quite beaten up and not entirely safe for the Iceland roads and weather conditions.
  • Hotels in Iceland are expensive; deal with it. Budget for $200 USD a night for a very basic 2–3 star hotels. Most hotels have breakfast included which is a good value given how expensive food is. You could probably find Airbnb’s for around 150/night. You could also camp or rent a RV or similar and save off your lodging bills though the weather can be interesting challenge for outdoor living even in the summer.
  • In summer, you dont really need a 4x4 though I would highly recommend it even if you have no intention of driving off road. Many of the roads are not super well maintained and have a lot of gravel on them. The conditions of the roads can also change due to Rain , Hail and wind storms which is common even in the summer
  • And if you’re considering serious off roading; then you’ll need something much more than a basic 4x4
  • Once you get outside of Reykjavik; the F road is almost exclusively a two lane highway with speed limits well under what you might be used in USA or Europe.
  • The weather is highly unpredictable so pack layers , rainwear and budget time for inclement weather. Cary gloves and hat and a good windbreaker
  • Try to hit up the many many free natural lagoons and hot springs in Iceland; not Blue Lagoon Secret Lagoon etc. like this one for example. We missed this on our trip
  • Credit cards work everywhere. We didn’t spend a single Icelandic Krona anywhere in the south coast of the country.
  • Yes the Blue Lagoon is as touristy as you think it is; but it still worth it
  • Everyone in Iceland speaks English
  • Buy groceries/snacks/food to go at Bonus or Kronan and fill up gas at Olis
  • You can find pretty much everything you need for your Iceland trip on https://guidetoiceland.is/