The best stops from Reykjavik to Vik: along the south coast of Iceland

Eyjafjallajokull farm on Iceland south coast

Driving along Iceland’s south coast from Reykjavik to Vik is something that you can do even if you don’t have much time to spend in Iceland.  This post covers the best stops from Reykjavik to Vik and includes a map so you can see exactly where everything is.

There’s so much to see along this route, and the list of sights include some of Iceland’s best known natural attractions.  You can get a good look at some of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls, beaches and volcanoes along this stretch of coastline.  While we took a trip with our two kids, there’s nothing specifically aimed at children along this route and I’ll mention activities and other attractions that you can do if you don’t have kids, or with older children as well. 

We visited Iceland in August and spent 10 days exploring Reykjavik and  driving around the ring road with our two small kids.  On the first day of our ring road trip we made for the seaside town of Vik i Myrdal, about halfway along Iceland’s south coast.

That old cliche is a good one for this trip – it was definitely all about the journey and not the destination!   Not that there’s anything wrong with Vik – there’s just a lot to do along the way.  Read on to see what there is to discover!

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Things to do between Reykjavik and Vik along the South Coast

Okay, so there are some major stops along this route – you’ll find many of Iceland’s best things to do between Reykjavik and Vik. The main thing to remember is that Iceland is so gorgeous that you’re going to want to pull over all the time just to drink in the views.  So take it easy, and if you see something that looks interesting, there’s probably a lay-by or car park by the side of the ring road where you can stop safely.

View down to Iceland's south coast

As you leave Reykjavik, you’ll drive on a road through an immense lava field covered in a carpet of bright green moss.  As this comes to an end make sure you stop in the lay-by to take in the view before you descend the mountain and drive along the coast.  Look out for some huge volcanoes on your right as you drive towards Seljalandsfoss.  I’m guessing that the largest was Hekla but I could be wrong!

You can make a stop at Hvolsvollur, the last town before you hit the main attractions, to see its new Lava Centre.   While we didn’t visit the Lava Centre (we went to a different volcano museum, now closed), it looks really interesting and especially good for kids.

Seljalandsfoss

Seljalandsfoss waterfall on the way from Reykjavik to Vik

The first major stop along the route from Reykjavik to Vik is Seljalandsfoss waterfall.  It’s right by the main road – you won’t miss it.  Seljalandsfoss is a delicate waterfall fed by the glacier on Eyjafjalljokull – possibly Iceland’s most famous volcano, whose eruption caused travel chaos back in 2010.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall on the way from Reykjavik to Vik Iceland

As well as being photogenic, you can walk behind Seljalandsfoss, a unique experience.  The rocks are slippery and you have to do a bit of scrambling to get over them so we didn’t take the kids and took it in turns to walk behind it.  Instead, the kids had a great run around in front of the waterfall and found plenty of rocks to collect.

Walking behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall Iceland south coast

Bear in mind that you won’t be able to walk behind Seljalandsfoss in the winter.  Make sure you’ve got hiking boots and a waterproof raincoat on – you’re going to get wet!

You can also walk further away from the ring road to see another nearby waterfall, Gljufrabui, which is partially hidden by a large rock.  You can walk into a sort of cave to get closer to the waterfall.  We didn’t have wellies with us and didn’t fancy wading through the icy water so we gave this one a miss this time, but it looks worth exploring!

Eyjafjallajokull

Eyjafjallajokull farm on Iceland south coast

Between the two famous waterfalls, try to stop at the viewpoint for Eyjafjallajokull.  Sitting at the bottom of the volcano is a pretty farmstead and opposite we found a museum which documented the eruption of 2010.

Inside the museum we watched a short film narrated by the family who still live in the farmhouse today.  When Eyjafjallajokull finally blew its top, the farmstead was buried deep in ash and the roads nearby were swept away in the glacial meltwater.  The family displayed extraordinary resilience and determination to get their farm up and running again.  It was fascinating to see a real human story behind the eruption, rather than a documentary about volcanic eruptions in general.  Our kids even sat through this film without a peep.

Unfortunately it now looks as though the museum has closed permanently.  Even if the museum is closed, the view to the farm and the volcano looming above it is very pretty and worth a quick stop.   The Lava Centre in Hvolsvollur is a good alternative.

Skogafoss

Skogafoss waterfall Iceland south coast with kids

Not far away from Eyjafjallajokull’s farmstead is Skogafoss, the other very famous waterfall on this route.  Much bigger than Seljalandsfoss, visiting Skogafoss is a very different experience.  You can get really close to the bottom (again, make sure you’re waterproofed) which is great fun.

View from the top of Skogafoss Iceland south coast

If you want to punish your legs then walk up the 500 or so steps next to the waterfall to get a great view.  It was hard going with two kids – the husband carried the Cub and I took Bee in the sling.  But the views were worth the effort.

Skogafoss waterfall Iceland south coast

Nearby you’ll find the Skogar museum which has rebuilt turf farmhouses where you can see how Icelanders lived in the past.  There’s also the folk museum where you’ll find Viking artefacts and discover how Icelanders fished and farmed the land.

There were plenty of people camping outside Skogafoss and you’ll find facilities, a restaurant and a convenience store to stock up if you’re camping.

Solheimasandur plane wreckage

Solheimasandur plane crash Iceland south coast

A few minutes past Skogafoss is access to Solheimasandur beach and the wreckage of a US Navy plane which crashed on the beach in 1973 (no fatalities, happily).

This spot is a real draw for the amazing photos that you can take of the silver plane against the black sand of the beach.  We had planned to visit, but in the end we skipped the plane crash because of the difficulty in getting to it.

From the road there isn’t a signpost so you’ll have to go really slowly to see the small car park at the side of the ring road.  You can’t drive down to the beach – you’ll have to walk and it will probably take you at least 45 minutes.  This is why we didn’t manage to get there – an hour and a half’s worth of walking on top of our already busy day was too much for our kids.

You need to use co-ordinates to find the wreckage. Solheimasandur plane wreckage is at: 63°27’32.8″N 19°21’53.2″W

Good luck!

Dyrholaey

Dyrholaey archway

Photo: iceland.is

The next stop along the ring road is the rocky outcrop of Dyrholaey.   This is a great place for views over Iceland’s south coast.  The sea has carved a huge archway in the cliffs which you can see from the nearby cliff edge or from the beaches either side.  There’s also a lighthouse for you to check out too.

Puffins at Dyrholaey Iceland south coast

Dyrholaey is especially good to visit in the summertime as the cliffs are home to hundreds of puffins.  These gorgeous little guys make their fishing runs from the safety of the cliffs.  You can get fairly close to them and they don’t seem to be bothered by people taking photos of them.  See if you can spot seals swimming in the water below.

You can get a great view over the black sand beach of Reynisfjara which is where you can stop next, especially if you don’t go down to the beach at Dyrholaey.

Reynisfjara black sand beach

Reynisdrangar at Reynisfjara black sand beach Iceland

Reynisfjara black sand beach is where you can find a fantastic example of basalt columns created by volcanic eruptions.  They stretch up the cliffside and form some caves where you can get a good look at the end of the columns.   Out to sea you can’t miss some spiky sea stacks, the Reynisdrangar.  According to legend they were once trolls turned to stone by the sun.

On the cliffs in the summer you’ll see hundreds of seabirds; puffins, guillemots and fulmars among others.  Our kids had a lovely time playing with the black pebbles on the beach.  You can get a superb view back to Dyrholaey from Reynisfjara beach.

Basalt columns at Reynisfjara black sand beach Iceland

Reynisfjara is a popular spot with tourists but you do need to be really careful about the waves here.  Rogue waves, called sneaker waves, can surge up the beach unexpectedly and sweep you out to sea.  There are plenty of warning signs.  Keep a close eye on your kids just in case and don’t turn your back to the sea.

Dyrholaey from Reynisfjara black sand beach Iceland

Vik i Myrdal

And finally, just around the headland is the pretty little town of Vik i Myrdal, or Vik for short.  Vik is one of the main stops along the south coast, and is much smaller than I thought it would be.   Still, you’ll find lots to do here, from hiking to paragliding and horse riding. There’s a tourist information centre in the middle of the town.

Vik i Myrdal Iceland south coast

Vik is where you’ll find much of the accommodation in the area.  Be sure to book as far ahead in advance as possible – we had to retrace our steps a long way to find budget accommodation.  There are also several restaurants if you don’t fancy self catering, and if you’ve got the energy to head out again after seeing all of the above!

Other things to see along Iceland’s south coast

There are many adventures to be had along this stretch of Iceland between Reykjavik and Vik.  Some of the more adventurous things aren’t suitable for very small children though, so choose carefully.  You’ll need extra time for the activities and so we didn’t get around to them.

You can take a side trip into the mountains towards Landmannalaugar where you can see some amazing scenery in Iceland’s interior.  Here you’ll find geothermal pools and rainbow mountains.  There is a 4 day hike from Landmannalaugar to Þorsmork that you can take in the summer but this is only suitable for older teens if you’re travelling with kids.  Taking a guided tour for this hike is recommended.

If that’s a bit too adventurous or you don’t have the time to spare, then you can go snowmobiling near Eyjafajallajokull.  Younger children will enjoy the hikes and horse riding opportunities in the area.

If you want to do something totally different then you could try heading to the Westman Islands, just off the coast near Sejalandsfoss.   You can fly or take a boat there independently, or join up with a tour.  Heimaey island has a really interesting history; in 1973 one of the towns was almost destroyed by a lava flow.  The locals used an ingenious idea to divert the lava and save their town and their important fishing port.

Reykjavik to Vik road trip: Know before you go

Can you drive from Reykjavik to Vik and back in a day?

If you set out really early and are prepared to get back late, then yes you can.  The total Reykjavik to Vik driving time is about 2.5 hours but it will take you longer as you will be stopping often.  This is a good option if you don’t have much time in Iceland and won’t be driving the ring road.

It’s best to do this day trip in the summer as the winter daytime hours are short and you may not get to see as much as you’d like.  Perhaps take a tour if you visit in the winter as then you don’t have to worry about difficult driving conditions or driving in the dark.

 

Where to stay on Iceland’s south coast

Icelandic farm on south coast with Westman Islands

As this is a popular route to take, you’ll find lots of accommodation options.  However, if you’re travelling on a budget make sure to book as far in advance as possible.  If you’re continuing along the ring road the next day, you might want to stay near Vik so you don’t have to backtrack.  We had to backtrack quite a long way, staying near Seljalandsfoss.

Booking.com has lots of options ranging from budget to more luxurious accommodation.  Around Vik, the Black Beach Suites get great reviews and are family friendly.  Take a look at the latest prices and availability here.  

If you prefer to stay in an apartment try the Nausthamar Apartments which are in central Vik.  Get more information and prices here. 

You could also try Guesthouse Carina which is also recommended for families.  They’ve got a wide range of room options, and a high rating.  Check out the latest prices here. 

In the town centre Icelandair Hotel is another great family-friendly option.   See if it’s free for your trip here.

If none of these places are available, try your luck with AirBnB as there are quite a few options on this site.

Getting around Iceland’s south coast

If you are driving this route yourself then it’s really easy to find all of the above sights.  They’re right by the side of the road and/or well signposted for the most part.

Always check the weather before you travel in Iceland.  It’s very changeable so you need to be prepared in case the weather closes in, even in the summer.  Remember that you need to take extra care and allow more time for your journey in the winter.  You can find more information on driving around Iceland here. 

Make sure you know where you’re going to refuel as there aren’t that many petrol stations on this road.  There are several options once you get to the coast but the towns and options quickly peter out.  Of course you can refuel at Vik but after that it’s a long drive to Kirkjubæjarklaustur.   Check this map to see where you can refuel.

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Have you been to Iceland’s south coast?  What was your favourite thing to see?  If I’ve missed anything let me know in the comments!

 

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Journey along Iceland's south coast from Reykjavik to Vik i Myrdal. Stop at the waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss. Explore Solheimasandur beach looking for US Navy plane wreckage. Find out about Eyjafjallajokull's explosion and catch a glimpse of puffins on Dyrholaey before exploring Reynisfjara beach and the small town of Vik.

10 thoughts on “The best stops from Reykjavik to Vik: along the south coast of Iceland

  1. Nigel William says:

    Hi, Emily! This is an amazing article! Besides providing all of the important pieces of information, you really made it sound so magical and I hope more people will be motivated to follow your family`s footsteps on this adventure. Photos are breathtaking, these views are definitely worth an extra effort. I was wondering, is there anything you wish you knew before going on this trip?

    • Emily Cole says:

      Hi Nigel! Thanks for your kind words. It was an incredible country, and we had a fantastic time.
      This was one of the more straightforward days; I think the things we wish we’d known about Iceland in general were that it takes you longer to get anywhere than you expect. Don’t believe the timings that google maps gives you! You also don’t need to bring cash with you (unless your bank will charge you loads of using your card). And I wish that we had brought more snacks from home with us as the food was much more expensive than we thought.
      But I would encourage anyone to visit Iceland as it will be more beautiful than you think, even if you go with high expectations!
      Have a great new year!

  2. Suren says:

    Thank you so much for such a detailed article. We will be driving the ring road during last week of Aug. You have made this part uncomplicated. Thanks Again

  3. Yin says:

    Hi Emily, love your writing and itinerary so much that we had to copy! We are going in late August and trying to follow your itinerary but we only have 12 days vs. 14, so had to cut out 2 days. We will not be doing the whale watching and will skip most museum visits as my kids are not interested in that. Any advice on how to condense your 14 day itinerary into 12, anything to skip? We have older kids so maybe can (9, 11, 13) so maybe can move along faster? For day 3, Rey I read some try to add in a glacier hike. Solheimajokull Glacier hike or cave tour to Myrdalsjokull glacier? What do you think about doing a Glacier hike on day 3? We are only up to day 3 of planning!! haha. Thank you in advance!

    • Emily Cole says:

      Hi Yin, thank you so much – I’m glad the post has been useful for you! We spent 11 days in Iceland and managed ok but with a couple of really long driving days. You could skip out Seydisfjordur and keep going on the ring road from Akureyri? You will probably be able to move a bit quicker than we did too. If you don’t mind a long drive then you can also skip the east fjords and go from Hofn to Lake Myvatn but it will take you a lot longer than google maps says! We didn’t do a glacier hike as our kids were too small but it sounds great! But that cave looks amazing so I’d go for the cave tour; again the kids were too small for this one. That’s a personal preference! You should be able to fit it in if you’re not whale watching as well. Hope you have an awesome time and please ask if you’ve got any more questions.

  4. Nancy says:

    Fantastic Info and pictures! I am wondering what the roads are like? Not the conditions but whether they hug a cliff or not. We have recently developed a bit of a fear of certain roads after driving on some crazy roads in Corsica where you could see car parts down the cliffs where there were no guard rails and just enough room for one car on a two way road. Similar roads in Greece and other places. Just took a trip to California and unfortunately ran into the same issue in Big Sur. Traveling to Iceland in March, were not afraid of snow since we live in NY and are used to snowy roads but can’t handle driving narrow roads where another car could easily push you off!! Planning on going from Reykjavik to Gulfoss (Golden Circle) to Vik to Selfoss then the Blue Lagoon and back to Reykjavik. May cut out Vik entirely if the roads are crazy. Appreciate your feedback and thanks for all the great info you’ve posted here.

    • Emily Cole says:

      Hi Nancy,

      Thanks for your comment; glad the post has been helpful! The ring road along the south coast is actually very flat for the most part; you’re quite far away from the mountains driving along a flat expanse between them and the sea. I don’t remember any sections where the road hugs the cliff as you describe. The same goes for the Golden Circle route we took. There may be roads like that in Iceland but we didn’t drive along any of them (we were on route 1 for the most part). Driving in Iceland was easy and relaxing – my husband didn’t mind and he usually grumbles about driving! Hope this has helped to reassure you. Have a great time if you decide to go!

  5. Susan Manis says:

    Thank you for this great information! We will be in Iceland in early July 2019. I was thinking that we could drive straight to Vik on the day we arrive (at 3:10 pm) and spend the night there. Then on our second day, we could make the leisurely drive back to Reykjavik making all the stops along the way. Then we would stay in Reykjavik for the next few days as we explore the Golden Circle Tour, the Blue Lagoon, and the Reykjavik area. Would this be a good plan for a 5 night/6 day visit? How long does it take to drive from the airport to Vik if we don’t make any stops?
    Thank you for all your help!

    • Emily Cole says:

      Hi Susan, thanks for your comment. Yes, I would think this is feasible. Google maps says it will take you 3 hours from Keflavik but I would definitely add more time to this to take weather into account – you should probably allow 4 hours for the drive. You don’t need more than a few hours for the blue lagoon so I’d do this before you fly home or visit the secret lagoon on the Golden Circle route instead. A day for Reykjavik and another for the Golden Circle is enough.
      With 6 days you could also get to Jokulsarlon which is another couple of hours on from Vik – I’d really recommend seeing this if you can find the time. You could also make a detour to the Westmann Islands which aren’t far off the south coast and I hear good things about them! Enjoy your trip!

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