Iceland - Exploring the South Coast
Making bread on a hot spring, waterfalls galore, active volcanoes and delicious food
Being conscious about annual leave, (we both work full time so are ruled by our annual leave allowance each year. How dare work get in the way of travelling!) we looked into how we could see the Iceland highlights in a short break. Our trip was 5 days and 4 nights. We lost our final day to travelling home so it was time to cram in as much as we could during 4 days.
It is possible to see the highlights during a short break but I do regret not going for longer. If I had the choice I would opt for renting a camper van and driving the whole ring road. You could do this in 2-3 weeks. From Reykjavik we got as far as Fjaðrárgljúfur which is around 45 minutes East of Vik.
Rent a car
We flew from Manchester airport and landed in Keflavik. We picked up our rental car that we’d booked with Alamo. When visiting Iceland I would definitely recommend renting a car. You can base yourself in Reykjavik and join excursions which will take you around the golden circle but if you feel comfortable enough to drive, this gives you flexibility with dates and times. The weather is unpredictable in Iceland so you may need to amend your schedule as you go. Our rental car was expensive at around £240 for 5 days - ouch but like I said above, so worth it.
We started our first day in a bit of a rush as we had a reservation to make at 14:30. We left the airport and drove to Fagradalsfjall Volcano. The volcano was active and you can check of the weather and the visibility here: https://volcanoweather.is/9191/2021/09/02. Most of the natural attractions in Iceland are free but some do charge a small fee for the car parks. This is usually between 400-1000isk. There are also toilets at most car parks. The volcano car park was 1000isk. The car park is quite far from the volcano so the walk will take around 2-3 hours. As we were pushed for time we ran/ hiked our way to the top and back. I would advise you give yourself enough time to truly enjoy the volcano and visit both viewpoints, there’s a lower and an upper viewpoint. It is magnificent to see and really a once in a lifetime experience.
Our next stop was Laugarvatn Fontana. We made our 14:30 reservation which was the Geothermal bakery tour. Our guide told us all about the hot water springs which the building sits on top off and provides a natural heating system. We then walked onto the black sand beach and saw the hot springs up close bubbling and steaming away. We watched as our guide dug out a pan buried in the ground which contained the cooked rye bread. It is incredible to witness how a hot spring could bake bread. It was time for best part - the tasting. The bread was warm and had a brownie sort of texture. It was served with butter and smoked trout and there was more than enough for everyone. We were part of quite a large group, around 25-30 and everyone had around 4-5 pieces, if not more. I would definitely recommended this tour during your trip to Iceland as when are you going to see this again? The bakery tour is 1700isk per person.
After filling up on delicious warm bread we slipped on our bathing suits and headed into the geothermal baths. Fontana has 1 Finnish sauna, 3 steam rooms, 3 pools and 1 hot tub where you can bathe and enjoy the naturally heated water. Spend the majority of your time in the pool surrounded by rocks as this has the water with the most nutrients and minerals. The water has great health benefits and can be used to help skin conditions such as eczema and psoriasis. If you aren’t the designated driver you can also take advantage of the bar where you can order a window outside. The entry price for the baths is 3000isk per person.
Our third stop of the day was the Kerid Crater. We parked up and the car park fee here was minimal at 400isk. If you do the volcano hike earlier in the day you’ll be glad to know the walk from the car park to the Kerid crater is only around 20 steps. Awe at the marvel that is the Kerid crater and all of its multi-colours. It is a spectacle and the crystal clear blue water in the centre is stunning. You can walk around the whole of the top of the crater and get photos at every angle. You will only need around 20-30 minutes at this site.
It was time for us to go and check into our hotel for the next two nights. We stayed at the Land Hotel which is situated around 30 minutes from Selfoss. This hotel is modern and the decor is trendy and sophisticated. It sits alone with beautiful views of the countryside around. It would be an incredible location to watch the Northern Lights from in the winter and it is close to the start point for Iceland’s most popular hikes.
As the hotel stands alone the Land Hotel has a restaurant offering traditional Icelandic dishes so don’t worry about going hungry. A breakfast buffet is included in the price of your room and offers Icelandic yogurt, cereals, tea, coffee, freshly baked pastries and hot options such as scrambled egg and bacon. The rooms are spacious and the beds extremely comfortable. There are also smart TVs in the rooms so you can relax watching your favourite tv shows on Netflix. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at this hotel.
For dinner this evening we ate in Hella which is a town approximately 20 minutes from the hotel. We ate at Arhus restaurant which is a cosy little cabin decorated like a ski lodge and serves hearty homemade dishes.
On the way to the restaurant we thought we’d got flashed by a speed camera. Speeding fines are extortionate in Iceland so my simple advice is, don’t speed. The cameras are small, white round ones that look like CCTV cameras or with a green sign. There are signs that tell you what speed you are doing which flash but thanks to our waitress at Arhus, we found out these aren’t cameras. This meant we could relax and enjoy our food without worrying this was going to be an extremely expensive night out with a meal for two and speeding fine on top!
Day 2 arrived and started the day with breakfast at Land Hotel. Our first stop were the Seljalandsfoss & Gljufrabui waterfalls. Parking here cost 700isk, you can pay on card and contactless everywhere so don’t worry about having cash. As you approach the car park you will see Seljalandsfoss and it is breathtaking. It is only a short walk from the car park to reach the waterfall and the unique thing about this waterfall is you can walk behind it. Take a waterproof with you though to shelter from the waterfall spray. Capture your pictures from all angles and awe at this natural wonder. You can then continue to the left of Seljalandsfoss and in around 5 minutes you will reach Gljufrabui. This is a hidden waterfall where you enter a wet and dark gorge to find it. Grab the must-have photo of you standing on the large boulder in front of the waterfall. You will need around 30 minutes to fully embrace both waterfalls.
Drive around 30 minutes and you will reach Skogafoss. Another incredible and huge waterfall for you to enjoy. Parking and the entrance is free at Skogafoss. You will see the waterfall as soon as you arrive so get as close as possible for the best photos. I’d also recommend taking the steps to the top of the waterfall where you capture this from up above. From the top you can start the Skogafoss waterfall hike. If you do the full hike it can take 4-6 hours and it one of the most picturesque walks ever. You pass waterfall after waterfall and the green pastures make for stunning surroundings. The hike is there and back so you can turn around at any point. We were pressed for time so walked to the Hidden Falls and then turned around. If you want to do the full hike continue until you reach a bridge and then turn back and retrace your steps.
Crashed DC 3 Plane
Our next stop was to visit the crashed DC 3 plane. The pilot of this United States Navy plane was forced to make a crash landing in 1973. The reason for the crash landing is unknown but the plane has not moved since and what is left of it is now a popular tourist attraction. Particularly made famous by Justin Bieber in the “I’ll show you” music video.
The car park is free. You used to be able to drive closer to the plane with a 4x4 but due to the rise in popularity the road was becoming worn so now you have to walk from the main car park. Set some time aside for this as it is a 4 mile round trip. We jogged/walked to save some time as it just feels like the road goes on and on. There’s nothing around you either so it literally is just a slog until you reach the plane. The plane however is epic to see and I would definitely recommended visiting. Again this is something you’re unlikely to see elsewhere but if you don’t have time during your trip it’s not the end of the world.
We were flagging now after a day of exploring so we needed a little pick me up. We stopped at Skool Beans a converted American yellow school bus serving coffee, bagels and selling homemade jewellery and souvenirs. The owners roast their own beans and the quality of the coffee is top notch. We also had a cream cheese bagel each too and it was delicious. The bus is close to Vik so make sure you stop by en route to your next destination.
It was time to make our way to our furthest point from Reykjavik, Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon. This took 50 minutes from Skool beans. Parking is free and you will need around 30-40 minutes at the canyon. Another point of interest made famous by Justin Bieber, this canyon is worth the drive. The landscape is breathtaking with it’s serpent-like shape and green hills encasing the Fjaðrá river. There are 3 viewpoints and the view gets better as you make your way through the canyon. Continue on until you reach the Mögárfoss waterfall and have your camera at the ready.
Reynisfjara black sand beach
It was time to head back to Vik where we stopped at Vik church viewpoint. From here you can see Reynisfjara beach in the distance and the Reynisdanger sea stacks ahead. You will only need a 5 minute stop here but it will allow you to stretch your legs. Follow the road down to Reynisfjara black sand beach for one of the highlights of your trip. The most famous black sand beach in Iceland and from the stunning scenery and natural beauty it is easy to see why. The black sand is mesmerising, the hexagonal rockface is awe-inducing and the violent, crashing waves are thrilling. There are signs warning you of the dangers of the waves so don’t stand too close to the waters edge in case you are swept away. I’d say this is a must during your trip to Iceland and definitely one of our highlights.
Our final stop of the day before we headed for dinner was Dryholaey, the aptly named ‘arch with the hole.’ This is only 20 minutes from Reynisfjara and there are two view points. As you approach you will see a right turning which takes you climbing up the side of a mountain, take this road for the view down below. Unfortunately it was way too foggy when we got to the top so we couldn’t see a thing. You can then make your way back down to the lower viewpoint where you can enjoy the view and explore another black sand beach. The black sand here creates a real eerie and dramatic feel and you’ll feel as though you’ve stepped into Game of Thrones!
So it was time for a long drive to grab some dinner before making our way back to the Land Hotel. We drove to Selfoss which took around an hour and a half, which was the longest stint we’d driven without stopping. Not ideal at the end of a busy day but if you want to cram as much of Iceland as you can into 4 days, this is what you have to do.
We arrived in Selfoss feeling tired and hungry and arrived at the perfect place for comfort food, Kaffi Krus. This place is a local favourite and serves the most delicious pizzas, burgers, nachos, salads and more. We shared a chicken bbq pizza and some cheese filled bread sticks with garlic and tomato pizza sauce dip. Yes, I’m salivating just thinking about them! They were incredible. Kaffi Krus make super simple dishes into the most tasty and delicious meals. The perfect way to round off a busy day.
Day 3 exploring the South of Iceland and our first stop of the day was Stokkur Geysir. We stopped at Skalholt Cathedral on the way but were a little underwhelmed. The geysir however was incredible.
The car park is free and the geysir is a short 5-10 minute walk from the car park. The geysir is surrounded by hot springs sprouting from the ground and before you get to Stokkur, there is a little geysir to give you a taster of what is to come. The geysir erupts every 4-10 minutes. It is a natural wonder and the times are erratic so whip out that tripod, get your camera ready and wait. Once you’ve witnessed Stokkur erupt carry on past the geysir to find the multi-coloured geothermal areas. They are stunning and definitely worth a visit. If you wish, you can carry on walking up a small hill to catch a beautiful panoramic view of Stokkur and the surrounding area.
Our next stop was Gullfoss waterfall. There are two car parks, upper and lower next to each viewpoint. The car parks are free and so is the entry to see the waterfall. Gullfoss was my favourite waterfall. The different levels and force of the water was incredible to watch. I would recommending spending 20-30 minutes at Gullfoss to make sure you really absorb the beauty of the waterfall and get those pictures from all angles.
It was lunchtime and it was a 25 minute drive to somewhere I had been looking forward to the whole trip, Fridheimar. This restaurant is ran by a family who grow tomatoes all year round in their huge greenhouses. You eat surrounded by tomato vines and you guessed it, everything they sell is made from tomatoes: soup; pasta sauce; desserts and even beer. The soup is an unlimited supply and is served with homemade breads, sour cream and cucumber salad. We had the soup and fresh tomatoes with burrata and it was delicious. This is such a special and unique place and one not to be missed during your holiday.
Our afternoon was spent at the secret lagoon. The secret lagoon is the oldest swimming pool in Iceland made in 1891. The lagoon is in a geothermal area and the pool is filled with water naturally heated from the hot springs underneath. The water is supplied from nearby geysirs and stays at around 38-40 degrees all year round. There is one large pool where visitors can relax with a swimming noodle and a glass of wine for the lagoon bar. The water has so many health benefits and you can spend hours in the water knowing it is doing wonders for your skin. Tickets for the lagoon are 3000 kr pp (around £17) and towels are 700 kr (£4). Treat yourself and enjoy a relaxing afternoon at the secret lagoon.
Hotel South Coast
After feeling relaxed and refreshed we made our way to our next hotel, Hotel South Coast in Selfoss. This hotel is stunning; beautifully modern and in Scandinavian sleek and clean style. The rooms are spacious with a large shower and a fridge in the room. There is also a TV with English channels. The hotel is a short walk from the centre of Selfoss so perfectly placed to allow you to enjoy dinner and drinks during your stay.
We freshened up and made our way to Smidjan Brugghus. This is a micro brewery offering craft beers and burgers. The brewery is located in a food mall style complex with a number of bars and restaurants under one roof. This is great for pleasing everyone and satisfying their food cravings. There is a kebab stall, pizza stall, asian stall and more. This made for a great night out and has someone for everyone.
The following day, we woke and had breakfast at Hotel South Coast. The breakfast was delicious with continental and cooked options such a bacon, eggs and beans. The hotel also offer takeaway cups so you can take a coffee for the road. I could not fault this hotel and we thoroughly enjoyed our stay here.
Thingvellir national park
We were heading to Thingvellir national park which was 45 minutes from the hotel. The highlights of Thingvellir are the church and prime minister summerhouse; Silfra which is a rift formed in the tectonic boundary between the North America and Eurasian plates and Oxararfoss waterfall. The park is such a beautiful place to walk around and there are a lot of hiking trails if you want to do some walking. Snorkelling is a popular activity at Silfra as the water is said to be the clearest in the world. We spent around 2 hours at Thingvellir before making our way to Iceland’s capital, Reykjavik.
We had hoped to do some whale watching and a helicopter ride during our time in Reykjavik but unfortunately both activities got cancelled due to bad weather. We had been really lucky with the weather thus far and despite our weather app saying there was 90% chance of rain for the majority of the trip, we’d seen very little. On day 4 the weather caught up with us and we had a lot of rain.
Instead of the whale watching we joined a free Reykjavik walking tour which was 2 hours long and met in the main square, Austurvollur. Our guide, Sara was hilarious which I find astounding in a second language. She was so much fun and made the tour so enjoyable. We learnt so much about the history of Iceland, the education system and refreshingly small amount of crime. I could not recommend this tour enough and if you’re lucky enough to catch Sara on your tour, I know you will love it.
Iceland Hot Dog stand
After the walking tour we’d built up an appetite and went to Baejarins Betzu, the famous Iceland hot dog stand. This stand is so popular and constantly has a queue of everyone wanting to try these delicious hot dogs. The hot dogs are made from lamb and are served with onions, crispy onions, mustard and another secret sauce which tasted like curry. They were scrumptious and we understood why this place is so famous.
We then explored Reykjavik and walked down the rainbow road which was originally painted to show support to the LGBTQ+ community. At the end of this road you will see the Hallgrimskrikja church in the distance. This is an incredible piece of architecture and when we visited the rain stopped and we managed to catch a beautiful shot of the church with blue skies behind. Other points of interest include:
Laugavegur shopping street - to shop for souvenirs and stylish cosy jumpers
Einar Jonsson sculpture park - the gardens are free to walk around
Solar sun voyager sculpture
Harpa concert hall
The city hall - where you’ll find a huge model map of Iceland
Old harbour - try to catch this at sunset, it is stunning
The remainder of the day was spent finding the best happy hours as everyone knows, Iceland is expensive. At happy hour the prices become London beer prices at around £6/£7 a pint instead of £10/£12 a pint normally. The bars I’d recommend for happy hours are:
Karrifbarinn - with a sign like a tube station
Dillon - a rock bar
Bar Ananas - a cocktail bar
Hus mal og mennigar - a bar in a library with live music
Einstok - selling top quality beer from a local brewery
We ate dinner at Matarkjallarinn which is an extremely cosy and romantic restaurant in the centre of town. There is live music from a local piano player and the food is impeccable. We were served with a pretzel and cream cheese to start with then we had lobster filled chicken and plaice which was the fish of the day. We learnt on our walking tour that if you are looking for a reasonably priced option on the menu, always go for the fish of the day. This restaurant was flawless and I would 100% recommend visiting here during your trip to Iceland.
The following morning was spent with a breakfast stop at Braud & Co for a scrumptious pastry before heading home.