If you ask anyone what their bucket list destinations are, there’s a pretty good chance that Iceland is somewhere at the top of the list. If you had told me years ago that I would travel to Iceland and love it, I probably wouldn’t have believed you! Fortunately, the beautiful country has received the visibility it deserves as a top vacation destination and more people are flocking to the land of fire and ice! While the country is quite small and you can easily drive around it in a week or so, I chose to focus my 4 days in mid-March exploring Iceland’s southern coast by car. There are also many tour companies that stop at the same scenic destinations, but I chose to drive for the flexibility (unless you are going in winter, I would advise you take a tour company if you aren’t comfortable driving in winter conditions). If you plan on visiting Iceland, keep on reading for details on my itinerary, including tips for your visit!
Day 1: Soaking in the Blue Lagoon and an Evening in Reykjavik
Immediately after landing at Keflavik Airport, I picked up my bags and went to pick up my rental car to head to the first destination on my list: the famous Blue Lagoon! If you aren’t familiar with this popular tourist destination, the Blue Lagoon is a geothermal spa and is also known as the place of your Instagram daydreams!
I’m glad I followed prior suggestions to visit the Blue Lagoon when either arriving/departing because it is very close to the airport (about 20 minutes) but is an hour away from Reykjavik. There also really isn’t anything else to see near the lagoon, so it makes sense to visit when you are near the airport. Once I arrived, I was quickly given my wristband and entered the changing room area where everyone is required to shower before entering the lagoon. There are private showers, lockers, and other amenities to help you store your belongings or get ready when you are prepared to leave.
There are two ways to enter the lagoon: from indoors, where you can enter the warm water before opening a door that leads the rest of the lagoon, or you can step outside and enter the lagoon that way if you are feeling brave! I decided to enter from inside because it seemed easier (and let’s be honest, I wanted to stay warm!). I spent my solo time at the lagoon wading through the warm waters with my Go Pro, enjoyed the sight of people in silica mud masks and enjoying a beverage, and I even enjoyed some masks and a glass of wine myself!
If you plan to visit the Blue Lagoon, make sure you make your reservation well in advance! It’s extremely popular, requires reservation anyway, and booking ahead will ensure you get the date that best suits your schedule (especially because it’s most recommended to visit the spa on your way from the airport or on your way to the airport). I also suggest that you bring a waterproof case for your phone (I bought this one from Amazon) to take photos in the lagoon. Otherwise, feel free to keep it in your locker.
After the Blue Lagoon, I drove to my AirBnB in Reykjavik and checked in. I stayed in a quaint neighborhood near the marina, which turned out to be the perfect location because it was walkable to everything. I had a Northern Lights tour scheduled for the night so I took a short nap and got ready for the tour. However, I later found out that the tour was cancelled due to super cloudy conditions. Since I was already at the marina, I decided to walked to into a restaurant and enjoyed dinner with wine before returning back to my room for some much needed sleep.
Day 2: Driving the Golden Circle
The next morning my travel buddy arrived and we made it our mission to drive the Golden Circle in four hours. Ambitious? Yes, but also totally possible if you plan your stops in advance and leave early! When researching for this trip, I knew there were a few key areas to stop along the route: Thingvelir National Park, Strokkur Geysir, and Gulfoss Waterfall. Of course there are other scenic stops along the way, but this is where the tour companies usually stop and what was advised as the “must-sees” along the Golden Circle (with the exception Kerio Crater, which we did not see due to time constraints).
Along the route, we also saw a safe place to pull off and see some beautiful Icelandic horses (it looked like it was open to the public as well). They are literally everywhere and you will likely find them close enough to the fence for you to pet. This was probably one of the highlights of the trip for me because anyone that knows me well knows I love horses! Just a word to the wise: be careful where you stop! The roads in Iceland are very easy to drive, but there is only one lane for each direction of traffic. There will be many scenic spots along the way, so make sure you pull over to a safe spot on the side of the road that will allow cars behind you to move past.
We managed to make amazing time and made it back to Reykjavik by 4 p.m. where we had plenty of time to explore the city, and of course, eat the famous Icelandic hot dogs before we planned to hunt the Northern Lights that night. As luck would have it, the tour company didn’t pick us up so we quickly tried to find somewhere near the city but with low light pollution to find the Northern Lights ourselves. We quickly found somewhere on Google and set up our cameras. Unfortunately, once again there was too much cloud coverage and the photos we got were either blurry or showed only the slightest hint of a hint of green haze.
Day 3: Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss, and Sólheimasandur Plane Wreck
We left Reykjavik bright early around 7:00 a.m. after having a quick breakfast and coffee at the marina. We knew this would be a long day, so we each packed a thermos of hot tea and coffee and hit the road! We drove about an hour and half to our first stop, Seljalandsfoss waterfall. We arrived just early enough to miss to the hordes of tour buses that arrived afterwards. After marveling at the waterfall (which you can walk behind in the summer time), we took our photos and headed off to the next waterfall. As you’ll see on the map above, it is very easy to drive in Iceland and all of the major sights are just off route 1.
The next stop on our Southern Coast adventure was Skogafoss waterfall. It’s the epic waterfall you have most likely seen when you look up photos of Iceland. Skogafoss was a short 25-30 minute drive from Seljalandsfoss and just as easy to access. The crowds were already thick and it was raining pretty heavily by the we arrived, so our visit was a brief one but not before we stared at the beauty of the falls and its surrounding landscape. There is also a set of stairs to the right of where I am in the photo above which provides a view of the waterfall from above.
If you’ve ever seen photos of the famous DC-3 wreckage (also known as the Sólheimasandur plane wreck) where in 1973 a US Navy plane crashed on Iceland’s beach (everyone survived) and wondered how to access it, you’re in luck! The wreckage site is a 10 minute drive from Skogafoss and right along route 1. While it was ultimately easy to find, we had trouble finding the parking lot at first. Since it can be easy to miss, I suggest plugging “Sólheimasandur Parking” in your Google Maps. It will take you right to the parking lot where you will see a clearly marked path leading to the wreckage by the beach. It will take you about 45 minutes to an hour to walk to the wreckage site (and another on the way back). The path is all flat and very walkable – don’t let the word “hike” intimidate you! Once you make it, you will be rewarded with stunning and eerie views of a real plane crash on a black sand beach
Once we made the trek back to the car, we realized it was only 3 p.m. and we were already so close to our destination for the night – a quaint but charming fishing town called Vik. Since we had made great time and had plenty of time, we ate lunch and checked into the hotel. The hotel was having a happy hour so we decided to indulge ourselves a bit before driving the few minutes to Reynisfjara Beach (otherwise known as the black sand beach with the basalt stacks) and Dyrhólaey, a peninsula with incredible views of the beach, lighthouse, and unique arches in volcanic rock. By the time we made it out to the scenic spots, it was pouring rain and the cloud coverage was so thick that it was also getting darker. We decided to return in the morning for photos (weather permitting) but we still tried to enjoy what we could, despite the weather.
Day 4: Reynisfjara Beach, Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, and Diamond Beach
Our patience was rewarded and we woke up to a rain-free morning with slightly better cloud conditions. We immediately headed back to Reynisfjara around sunrise in hopes of being there with few crowds. We were extremely lucky again and found that we were the only ones there! This provided the perfect opportunity for me to get the photos I’ve been daydreaming of for months – a bright red dress against the moody, jet-black basalt stacks (what can I say, I’m a Game of Thrones fan!). It was freezing cold, but I braved the weather anyway. As the only people there for about 45 minutes, we were able to fully appreciate this beach and how incredible it is.
That same morning we hit the road once again and drove the 2.5 hours from Vik to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach. There was some initial confusion when we arrived to the glacier lagoon (pictured above) because we didn’t see the black sand beach with scattered pieces of glaciers, which we had seen in other photos. After some quick Googling, we realized that they are in fact two different places. Luckily, they are only right across the street from each other! With that in mind, we enjoyed the amazing blue and serene waters at the glacier lagoon. It was very busy with tourists, but we found a pathway that wrapped to the other side of the lagoon where we were able to separate ourselves from the crowds.
Finally, we drove across the street to Diamond Beach and our jaws literally dropped! It’s one of the coolest sights you’ll ever see. It’s a jet black sand beach with so many pieces of glacier scattered all over the beach. I don’t even think the photo above does the actual destination any justice. Similar to the glacier lagoon, this was also packed with tourists but it wasn’t too hard to find a patch of empty space for photos. Afterwards, we hit the road and drove back to Reykjavik which took us approximately 5 hours with only one stop for gas.
Overall, while it was a short trip, we felt like we spent enough time exploring Iceland’s southern coast. I can’t wait to return in the future to visit the rest of the country, especially in other seasons! Maybe next time we will have better luck catching those elusive Northern Lights 😉 If you have any questions on Iceland or the itinerary I described above, feel free to comment below!