Iceland’s South Coast over the last 10 years has become the “it” place to visit for travelers to the island nation. I have a skepticism for trends, and working in the travel and leisure industry over five years has made it clear that trends will always exist, and many are absolutely absurd. Think, the Museum of Ice Cream and the Blue Box Cafe.
However, one thing I have learned, is that popular natural and historic wonders are almost always worth it, you just have to figure out when there are less crowds. As an avid “shoulder season” traveler, I find that the rewards are greater if less than two people are breathing down your neck.
So, in my skeptical self who goes into the weeds on 80% of what I do at any given time, I was worried that the South Coast would be completely packed with tourist. think front of Buckingham Palace, lines around Versailles, European tourist highlight crowds. I have no doubt that at times in the summer there is something to this fear, and the massive “Hummer’s Gone Wild” tourist vans that are inevitable through Iceland are plentiful. Yet, in my little slice of October heaven everything was delightful. Absolutely Delightful.
Where to Start
I decided to travel the ring road in a clockwise pattern from Grindavik. This meant I started in Grindavik the day I traveled the South Coast. You can come at it any way you want. Many people travel from the Golden Circle or Reykjavik with the same success. Of course you can also travel East to West if that’s how you find yourself traveling.
The Big Sites
If you have plans to visit the Blue Lagoon – I suggest making that part of another day or stay somewhere along the way. I also suggest, breaking the south coast into a couple different days. While it’s easy to see it takes “4 hours” to travel form A-D, with stops along the way, prepare to have a lot more stops (Ummmm everything is fucking beautiful) and that you will want time to enjoy each location. ALSO – don’t plan on being able to see everything – this is an fool’s errand, and impossible. Pick your “must sees” (mine were waterfalls) and anything else is extra on top.
The South Coast, at first glance has a few main sites, but in reality there are many hidden gems that often get missed by the buses and road warriors. I suggest blending a little of both into your time!
Waterfalls – West to East
Coast – West to East
* = sites I stopped at in a one day tour
Cities & Pitstops
The South Coast, in large part due to its popularity, has ample locations to pull over for a coffee, get a nice hotel room, see some of the famous Icelandic Horses and Sheep, and just greatly enjoy the drive! I even saw a KFC in this area (Selfoss)!
When I was traversing – there was very little traffic, and since the highway (Road 1/Ring Road) is only two lanes, this made traveling very comfortable and easy.
Most gas/service stations have restrooms you can use, just be kind and buy a coffee or something as a thank you. Many of these also have delis with fresh sandwiches, sometimes soups, etc. This isn’t an easy option if you have food allergies or restrictions, but everyone else should do ok.
Keep in mind that “coffee shops” in an American way don’t really exist in most of the country (especially in the East) and that gas station coffee really IS your choice for a morning cuppa. The good news is that it was always fresh and very good, and a single cup (sometimes two) always did the trick. If you are looking for breakfast options, pastries are widely available and my personal favorite was a serving of Skyr!
VIK is the biggest “city” in the area. Which really means it’s the best option for several restaurants, a few hotels, and a couple tourist sites in the town. They are also known for their hilltop church *a must see* and access to their black volcanic beaches and rock formations. It really was one of the most beautiful locations in Iceland and easy to see the attraction for visitors and locals alike.
As I mentioned above, most of Road 1 is two lanes (one lane each way) meaning that it’s not built to handle massive amounts of traffic, and luckily in October it was not busy. However, I know there are a few things that are common on the South Coast to be mindful of when traveling.
- Wind can be so severe they actually close Road 1 – this means it might help to have a backup dates to visit the area, or alternative routing.
- Because of the wind – snow and rain can mean the area is even more dangerous! Use caution and read up on what is happening via the Road.is website.
- F-Roads (OHV Roads) are only to be driven with a 4×4 (4-wheel-drive) vehicle. And believe me, this is is important! They also close around the beginning of October, so if you want to go somewhere off of an F-Road plan on a summer visit and renting a 4WD vehicle.
- Don’t be surprised by animals in the road (anywhere in the country), running water, single lane bridges, road work, gravel, etc.
- Most natural sites may not have a paid entry, but instead charge a “parking fee”. Many can be paid via an app or by credit card to a resin or kiosk.
- Pay attention and you’ll be fine!
All around if you are visiting Iceland for a few days or a few weeks, put the South Coast somewhere on your list. You will not be disappointed by the amazing greenery, out of this world natural wonders, friendly faces, fine dining, and much more that is available as you drive the area! If you go for the day, don’t plan your day too heavily and take time to “stop and smell the…moss”.
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