I’m excited to share with you my Iceland trip reports from our five mega days spent in this outer-worldy country. When my sister and I booked flights to London, we teased the idea of visiting our bucket list destination, Iceland. The issue was, there just wasn’t enough time in our schedule – we only had about five days spare and most people recommend at least a week in the country so that you can drive around the whole Ring Route – the road that circles the country with the majority of the sights along the way. We dwelled on the decision for ages and eventually, decided it was better to see a bit of the country than not to see it at all. So, we booked flights to Iceland! There are two airlines that fly to Iceland from London – Iceland Air (a slightly more expensive airline but includes luggage, etc) and WOW Air (the budget airline where you have to purchase even cabin luggage).
Our itinerary for Iceland was a bit of a messy one. We had about four and a half days on the ground which was enough to see quite a bit of the country (we were there in summer, so long days helped) but not enough to drive around the entire country in a circle. This meant that all our trips were a little inefficient in that we did return drives up and down the same stretch of road. But it was the only way we could do Iceland with the time we had and I’m so glad we decided to do it, despite our time constraints.
Here’s what we got up to on the first day and a half, where we explored the South Coast of Iceland..
Mind you, it was jam packed!
1. REYNISFJARA BLACK SAND BEACH
The beaches in Iceland are not your typical kind. Yes, there are some typical white sand beaches, but there are also quite a few black sand beaches – made of what I believe is broken down lava pieces, due to all the volcanic activity in the country. Reynisfjara, the one we visited is, is one of the most famous black sand beaches and is right off the Ring Route so it’s easy to get to. There’s free parking right at the beach and paid toilets too (important information for anyone on the road!).
The beach is an open stretch with crazy basalt column formations on one side and crashing waves on the other. It feels eerily beautiful here – much like something you’d see in a movie based on another planet. About an hour would be a good amount for a quick stopover here if you’re in a rush but if you have plenty of time on your sleeves, I can easily forsee spending 2+ hours here just wandering around the coastline, marvelling the beauty of mother nature.
There are so many waterfalls in Iceland that it’s insane. You could drive along the Ring Road (Route 1) and see about 5 right next to each other, every hour. We couldn’t fit every waterfall we passed in our itinerary, but we tried our best to fit in all the unique ones. One of those of which was Seljalandsfoss. This waterfall is a popular tourist stopover because it’s one of the only waterfalls where you can actually walk behind it and see it from behind. Tip: make sure you wear waterproof shoes, a raincoat and if you have some, waterproof pants because you are guaranteed to get wet, especially if the wind is blowing the water your direction. Check Instagram for a video of what it’s like from behind the waterfall (coming soon!).
Parking here is ticketed (700ISK) + there’s toilets and a little food stall and souvenirs stall too. Expect again to spend 1 hr here at least. There’s also a smaller waterfall next to this one which is nice to check out if you have time.
3. FJAORARGLJUFUR CANYON
Fjaorargljufur is a totally EPIC looking canyon along the south coast. It’s also along the Ring Road / Route 1 and can be a bit difficult to find. What you need to do is turn left on ‘206’ (if you are heading east on the Ring Route). You can either park at the bottom of the canyon and walk up, or park at the top of the canyon but walk down (but the road to the top of the canyon is an F road from memory so you should only take it if you have a 4WD or suitable vehicle). The walking path alongside the canyon is quite steep going up but totally doable. Expect to spend at least 1.5-2 hrs here if you want to walk up and down and really enjoy your time there. I thought the views were absolutely stunning here! We didn’t expect the walk to be so long so our stopover here put our glacier chasing under great pressure – we almost missed seeing Jokulsarlon in the light!
3. JOKULSARLON GLACIER LAGOON
I feel like I’m going to say this for every location but Jokulsarlon was totally my favourite!! We packed our itinerary super tight during our trip in Iceland and after a longer than expected stay at Fjaorargljufur, we almost missed seeing Jokulsarlon. It was so lucky of us to arrive minutes before last light and we were totally blown away by the sheer magic of this place. It was absolutely incredible and a hundred times surreal than what I would have ever imagined. Completely like you’ve stepped into another planet. Because it was so late at night, there were only a few other tourists wandering around so the area was completely quiet. You could literally hear the sound of the icebergs floating and the seals swimming about, I swear. We loved it here so much that we so, so unfortunately forgot to visit Diamond Beach – the beach right next to Jokulsarlon that is scattered with icebergs. Please don’t forget to do this – next time I’m back in Iceland (if I ever make it back) I will sure remember.
PS. It’s freezing here, as you’d expect!
Another waterfall we decided to hit up was Svartifoss, because of its unique basalt pillar columns surrounding it. Unlike many other waterfalls which are right next to the Ring Road / Route 1 / Ring Route (cannot remember the name now!), Svartifoss requires a bit of effort to get to. The waterfall is about 30 minutes walk from the carpark. It is a largely uphill hike to reach and along the way, you will pass some other smaller waterfalls. About halfway through the hike, you will get your first glimpse of Svartifoss. What surprised me most about this waterfall was how small it actually was compared to the others we visited. When you approach the base of the waterfall, it is still definitely bigger than it looks. It’s definitely a unique waterfall, in the middle of a mountain (basically) but if you were extremely pushed for time, I would suggest skipping it and just visiting the other ones I have mentioned so far. But if you have time to take your time, love a good hike and enjoying the Icelandic air, then definitely give it a visit.
After being blown away by Jokulsarlon, we decided to add another glacier stopover to our itinerary. Svinafellsjokul was along the way we were heading so we made a quick stopover to have a look around. The view of icebergs never get old. It’s just so magical to think that such beauty exists on this Earth!
The carpark for the glacier is right next to it, if you’re only here for a peek, 30 minutes is plenty. I can’t remember seeing toilets here.
6. TURF HOUSES
I can’t remember exactly where these turf houses were spotted but we first saw them driving east from Reykjavik and then made a mental note to look out for them again when we drove west back to Reykjavik. Icelandic turf houses are spotted all over the country, and are really interesting to look at. Apparently they provided superior insulation in the past but these days are preserved as an tourist attraction for a look back into what architecture here used to be like.
Leaving the best til last, Skogafoss was the most impressive waterfall I ever witnessed. The sheer size of Skogafoss is completely insane. It’s bigger than you will have ever imagined – apparently even higher than Niagara Falls. All you can hear when you approach the waterfall is the rapid gushing of water. The size of it does also mean that you are very likely going to get drenched in water so be sure to pack your waterproofs. There’s a pathway of stairs along the side of the waterfall that allows you to climb to the top to see an alternative view. It’s about 400 steps up. Or, just enjoy it from the bottom. There’s not much to do here than enjoy the view, but man, you are going to spend so long just staring at it.
Stay tuned for all our other Iceland Trip Reports coming up as fast as I can write them!
PS. We hired a camper for our time in Iceland from Go Campers (one of the few companies that actually hire automatic transmission cars). Totally recommend travelling by camper – I will try to put together a big post on Iceland travel tips soon and go into it more info there.
Photos: Connie Cao & Rowena Cao