South Iceland encompassed days 1 and 2 of our trip. There is so much to breathe in, so much to experience in this incredible part of the country.
Here's a guide of our stops on day 1 in order of our drive along the Ring Road, traveling east:
Reykjanes Peninsula - technically we didn't stop here, (not until visiting Blue Lagoon at the end of our trip) but it is where we began our drive. My first awe inspiring views of Iceland - we chased a sunrise through the dramatic, rugged landscape of volcanic craters and lava fields. We drove south on route 43 from Keflavik Airport through the town of Grindavik - east on route 427 - picking up the Ring Road (route 1) in Selfoss.
Selfoss - A scenic town in South Iceland on the banks of the Ölfusá river where there is not a waterfall, despite the fact that foss at the end of anything means waterfall. (The waterfall is located in the North). We were pretty hungry at this point and had a surprisingly great gas station breakfast at Olis.
Seljalandsfoss - the waterfall that you can walk behind! Prepare for slippery ground and to get a little wet from the spray. This fall is a really unique experience. Try to get their early before the tour buses do! We were leaving the area around 9:30/10am just as they arrived.
Seljavallalaug - a rugged yet cozy hot spring pool situated at the base of Eyjafjallajokull Volcano. It looks somewhat crowded in that one photo but people were in and out. We did not have towels but managed just fine; the nice weather in our favor. All in all a very relaxing hot spring experience and a gorgeous little hike!
Skógafoss - the waterfall with the rainbow! Well, we got lucky with that. Regardless, Skógafoss and her landscape offer another entirely different falls experience. The water pour is massive and you can walk right up to the base, get sprayed some more, bask in her greatness, and then hike up to different vertigo inducing vantage points.
Dyrhólaey - This small peninsula is definitely worth exploring. Drive the winding road up the hill to the lighthouse for 360* views: Mýrdalsjökull Glacier to the North, black lava columns to the east, the lava arch for which is it named ("hill island with the door hole") that juts south out to sea, and the vast coastline stretching west towards Selfoss. Then drive or walk down to explore the fascinating lava rock formations (how about that one twisting and punching that looks like hulks arm?) and view the waves crash along the massive sea stack at the black sand beach.
Reynisfjara - the infamous basalt columns and caves on the next stretch of black sand beach. This place is completely mesmerizing. I wished there were less people at the columns - they are so intriguing and I wanted to climb all around, but it felt like "climb up, get your photo, get out of the way". People everywhere! I guess the nice weather had us all out for sunset. It would have been fun to come here early in the morning as I assume crowds are around all day but alas you can't be everywhere at once!!
Vík - Icelands southernmost village sandwiched impeccably between mountains and along the black sand shores. One of the most photogenic towns I've ever been to!
Stay: Hotel Dyrhólaey. This hotel is perched high on a cliff among farmlands in the village of Brekkur, just 10 minutes before Vík. Rooms were inexpensive and a continental breakfast is included. Initially I tried to book these cute little Air BnB cottages on Reynisfjara, then I tried for a hotel in Vík - but everything booked up so quickly!! In the end, I was pleased with how well Hotel Dyrhólaey worked out. It is a quiet respite right in the middle of all the spots you want to explore. After Dyrhólaey peninsula, we checked into our room, took a nap and a shower (we'd definitely been up for 24 hours at this point) before heading to Reynisfjara for sunset and Vík for dinner!
Breakfast: Grill 66 @ Olis - not going to hide my love for gas station meals. The breakfast here was excellent - fried eggs, crispy bacon, toast + strong, hot coffee. Lunch: Our stomachs were growling again by the time we hit Skógafoss. There are a couple big restaurants in the area, it felt like that's where the masses / tour buses were eating. In someones front yard, we spotted a bright red fish + chips food truck with no crowd and a few picnic tables. The flaky local white fish (it was haddock or ling) and the crispy potato fries with a homemade tartar sauce hit the spot. Dinner: Strondin in Vik. Service was a delight. The menu selection was OK. We enjoyed cold Viking beers on draft and thick, creamy Cod Stew even though it wasn't the consistency we were expecting, with slices of tangy brown bread on the side.
Northern Lights: Yes! Not the best showing we'd see, they weren't really dancing, but they were there in spotlight and blanket form. Our first real look at them, illuminating they stars and sky with at first really bright white lights and then pretty green swooshes.
After day one, I'm incredibly overwhelmed (in a really good way) more so than I've ever felt being in a new place. Between the towns, the waterfalls, the hot springs and the black sand beaches, all of the spots we visited in South Iceland hold a special place.