South West Iceland Highlights

 

You can download the printable version (pdf) here

 

Introduction

The southwestern part of Iceland is the most densely populated region of the country. Here we have the capital of Iceland, Reykjavík, and five other towns that together form the Greater Reykjavík area. However, many world famous highlights are also situated here, as for example the hot spring Geysir, the waterfall Gullfoss and the former parliament site Þingvellir. The peninsula Reykjanes juts out in the southwest and is home to the famous Blue lagoon as well as to hot mud springs. It is covered with lava and parts of it look like an abandoned stone desert. Along the south coast in contrast, there is green farmland, beautiful waterfalls, impressive bird cliffs and many other things to explore, not to forget the glaciers. Though this tour covers only a small part of the country it offers many highlights and an astonishing variety of landscapes and nature scenes.
 

Extensions possible:

The Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar), 2 days, stay at Vestmannaeyjar Hostel
      


Day 1: Reykjavík → Laugarvatn/Árnes


 

- leave Reykjavík driving ring road no. 1 heading north, passing the small town Mosfellsbær

- just after Mosfellsbær turn right on to road no. 36 to Þingvellir
 

Gljúfrasteinn

- interesting museum a few km from Mosfellsbær just to the right of road no. 36

- former home of the most famous Icelandic novelist and Nobel prize winner Halldór Laxness (1902-1998)

- continue on road no. 36
 

Þingvellir National Park

- most important place in Icelandic history

- National Park since 1928

- situated on the banks of lake Þingvallavatn, the largest lake in Iceland (84 km²)

- The historical Icelandic parliament (Alþingi) was founded here in the year 930. It was the biggest annual event for Icelandic farmers. They came together for two weeks every summer to meet each other and to follow the parliament sessions. At this site, Icelanders voted to become Christians in the year 1000.

- Þingvellir is a large lava field, situated right on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the European and North American plates are moving apart.

- service station and tourist information during summer

- excellent multimedia exhibition on geology, wild life and history near the view point above the gorge Almannagjá

- many hiking trails, information spots
 
- leave Þingvellir along the lake Þingvallavatn (road no. 361 or 36), turn left onto road no. 365, heading for Laugarvatn, very interesting landscape

 

Laugarvatnshellir

- cave, still inhabited by an Icelandic family until 1974

- situated to the left of road no. 365, follow the signs

- get back on road no. 365 heading for Laugarvatn

 

Laugarvatn

- lake with geothermal heat on the banks and the bottom

- When the Icelanders in the year 1000 voted to become Christians many of them were baptized in the warm spring at the bank of Laugarvatn (Vígðalaug).

- village with a number of schools, a College of Physical Education, sport grounds, natural steam baths (Laugarvatn Fontana) and greenhouses
 
- drive road no. 37 and road no. 35 to reach the Geysir area

 

Geysir

- hot spring area in the valley Haukadalur, named after the famous hot spring Geysir

- eruptions of Geysir itself are unpredictable, but the hot spring Strokkur erupts every 5 to 10 minutes

- restaurant, cafeteria and gas service station, souvenir shop etc.

- interesting multi-media exhibition on the geology of this area called Geysisstofa
 
- continue on road no. 35 to reach Gullfoss
 

Gullfoss

- famous and very impressive waterfall in the river Hvítá, the name means Golden Waterfall

- The water falls into a gorge, which is 70 m deep. The waterfall itself is 32 m high and 250 m wide, falling in two cascades.

-  exhibition on the nature reserve of river Hvítá situated in an information center called Sigríðarstofa

- cafeteria, souvenir shop etc. just beside Sigríðarstofa

- parking recommended “upstairs” on the parking lot at the service center
 
- turn back on road no. 35, passing Geysir and heading south

- to visit Skálholt turn left onto road no. 31

 

Skálholt

- former most important religious and educational center, bishopric founded 1056

- 1784 it was destroyed by an earthquake and the bishopric was moved to Reykjavík

- Many historical events are connected to Skálholt, in 1550 the last catholic bishop of Iceland, Jón Arason, was beheaded here, today there is a memorial stone in memory of bishop Arason.

- interesting modern memorial church, built in the 1950s with a remarkable tapestry-like mosaic by artist Nína Tryggvadóttir and fascinating stained glass windows by artist Gerður Helgadóttir

- ongoing archeological excavations

- cafeteria in the nearby school

 

Accommodation

- accommodation recommended at Laugarvatn Hostel or Árnes Hostel


- to get to Laugarvatn drive back and turn left onto road no. 35 and then right onto road no. 37

- to get to Árnes continue on road no. 31 until you get on road no. 30, turn left and then right onto road no. 32
 

(Distances: Reykjavík-Þingvellir 42 km, Þingvellir-Laugarvatn 23 km, Laugarvatn-Gullfoss 43 km, Gullfoss-Skálholt 41 km, Skálholt-Laugarvatn/Árnes 28 km/19 km; total: 177/168 km)


 


Day 2: Laugarvatn/Árnes → Skógar/Vík


 

- from Laugarvatn Hostel drive back in direction to Skálholt (road no. 37, 35, 31), pass Skálholt and Laugarás, turn onto road no. 30

- from Árnes Hostel drive back on road no. 32, turn left onto road no. 30
 
- drive road no. 30 to the south, at the junction turn left onto ring road no. 1 in direction to Hvolsvöllur (to the east)
 

Hvolsvöllur

- small town situated at road no. 1

- 700 inhabitants, living on trade, service, industry

- all necessary service, bank, supermarket, post office, fuel station, cafeteria

- if you are interested in the Icelandis Sagas you should stop at the Saga centre in Hvolsvöllur
 
- continue on road no. 1, after crossing the bridge over river Markarfljót turn left onto road no. 249, after a very short drive you reach Seljalandsfoss

 

Seljalandsfoss

- very beautiful waterfall in the river Seljalandsá, 40 m high, narrow but powerful waterfall

- sensational walk on a foot path behind the waterfall

- bird colonies, fulmars

- facilities
 
- turn back to the main road and continue on road no. 1, now you have the glacier Eyjafallajökull to your left, after a while you reach Skógar
 

Eyjafjallajökull

- magnificent looking glacier on top of the mountain Eyjafjöll, 1666 m high

- the icecap covers 100 km²

- active volcano underneath the glacier, last eruption was 2010

 

Skógafoss

- one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland, 60 m high, walking path beside the waterfall to climb up the mountain.

- not far from Skógafoss (just some 100 m down the road), you find the folk museum of Skógar

 

Skógar

- the name refers to two farms, a school and an open-air museum, near the waterfall Skógafoss

- very interesting folk museum: a church replica, various types of traditional stone and turf farm buildings and two modern building for exhibitions

- countless artifacts of former everyday life in a farming and fishing society, collected over more than five decades

- exhibition on history of transportation and infrastructure in Iceland

- guided tours available, nice café, worth a prolonged stay

- get back on road no. 1, drive east

- just a few kilometers from Skógar you cross the glacier river, behind the bridge starts a gravel track to the glacier Sólheimajökull
 

Sólheimajökull

- one of the glacier tongues that jut out of Mýrdalsjökull

- rather narrow, 8 km long glacier

- stop at the parking lot

- from the parking lot, it is a 15 minutes walk to the glacier

- Be very careful. Do not climb the glacier without guidance; the melting ice can break very easily.

- mountain guides provide guided tours
 

Mýrdalsjökull

- fourth largest glacier in Iceland, 701 km², 1480 m high

- many glacier tongues jut out from the main glacier

- the active volcano Katla is under the Mýrdalsjökull

- last eruption of Katla was 1918, it usually erupts every 70 to 80 years

- eruptions of Katla cause destruction by floods of glacier water
 
- return to road no. 1
 

Accommodation

- accommodation recommended at Skógar Hostel or Vík Hostel

- if you are going to stay at Skógar Hostel, turn left onto road no. 1 and drive back to Skógar

- if you are going to stay at Vík Hostel, turn right onto road no. 1 and drive east

 

Vík

- small village in the picturesque landscape near the valley Mýrdalur, 300 inhabitants

- southernmost village in Iceland

- restaurant, cafeteria, service station, wool factory, handcrafts.

- great view of the impressive cliffs Reynisdrangar (66 m high, folktales say they are trolls that turned to stone at first daylight)

- walking path on the mountain Reynisfjall, good opportunity for bird watching
 

(Distances: Laugarvatn/Árnes - Hvolsvöllur 85/60 km, Hvolsvöllur-Seljalandsfoss 23 km, Seljalandsfoss-Skógar 27 km, Skógar -Vík 35 km)
 


Day 3: Skógar/Vík → Gaulverjaskóli

 
- from Vík drive road no. 1 back to the west

- from Skógar you need to drive 20 km to the east on road no. 1 if you want to visit Dyrhólaey

- to get to Dyrhólaey turn onto road no. 218
 

Dyrhólaey

- small peninsula with 120 high cliff and offshore stacks with a good selection of breeding sea birds, including puffins, gulls and fulmars

- rugged cliffs rising over a long expanse of black sand

- all the cliffs, rocks etc. are a protected area, be careful not to disturb the birds or damage the vegetation

- during early summer Dyrhólaey can be closed for the protection of the bird colonies

- lighthouse built by a famous Icelandic architect (Guðjón Samúelsson)

- take your time, it is a beautiful place, great views

- Be careful not to stand too close to the edge of the cliffs
 
- turn back to the main road, drive road no. 1 to the west, and pass Hvolsvöllur and Hella
 

Selfoss

- modern town on the banks of the river Ölfusá, about 4.300 inhabitants

- mostly living on service and trade, but there is also a big dairy industry here

- the bridge over Ölfusá is the most important connection between the Reykjavík area and the south of Iceland, the first bridge there was built in 1891, after that the town started to develop

- all necessary service available, including swimming pool, shops, cafes, supermarket, fuel station etc.
 
- from Selfoss turn onto road no. 34 to get to Eyrarbakki and Stokkseyri

- before getting to Eyrarbakki you could also turn right and visit the impressive estuary mouth of the biggest river in Iceland, Ölfusá

 

Ölfusá

- biggest river in Iceland, glacial river with grey “muddy” water

- impressive estuary into the ocean in the southwest of Iceland

- stop near the bridge Óseyribrú
 
- turn back on road no. 34 to get to Eyrarbakki and Stokkseyri
 

Eyrarbakki and Stokkseyri

- two former fishing villages, today very quiet but most attractive

- during the middle ages Eyrarbakki had one of the most important harbors, here all the goods for the bishopric Skálholt were unloaded from the ships and stored, farmers came to Eyrarbakki to trade their goods

- near the harbor you can see a model of the former stores, there you can also climb the storm wall, that protects the area against the often stormy sea

- very attractive timber houses from early 20th century, church from 19th century

- very interesting folk museum, Húsið (the house), main focus is on fishery and education

- in Stokkseyri, you can find the Ghost Centre

- lovely restaurants, specialized in seafood and fish

Accommodation

- accommodation recommended at Gaulverjaskóli Hostel

 
(Distances: Vík-Selfoss 129 km, (Dyrhólaey 10 km), Selfoss-Stokkseyri 14 km; total: 153 km)
 
 


Day 4: Gaulverjaskóli → Keflavík Airport


 

- from Gaulverjaskóli Hostel drive back to Eyrarbakki

- from Eyrarbakki drive road no. 34. From Þorlákshöfn, you can follow a new road, Suðurstrandarvegur (no. 427) all the way to Grindavík, and then onwards to Keflavik Airport 

- in the bay Selvogur, you can visit the church Strandarkirkja
 
 

Strandarkirkja

- timber church from 1888

- it is the only remains of a former flourishing community in this area

- during the Middle ages farms here were very rich, until nature destroyed the farmland by lava flows and sand fogs

- many gifts are donated to the church, it is believed to have special power

- monument, Landsýn, by Gunnfríður Jónsdóttir, shows an angel that rescued fishermen

- find the local guide to tell you the story

- seals are often seen here

- facilities
 
- turn back onto road no. 42, turn left and drive to the west
 

Krýsuvík (Seltún)

- Krýsuvík is actually the name of an abandoned farm and a former church

- nowadays people use the name for the hot spring area Seltún

- hot mud and steam springs

- stop at the parking lot and enjoy a walk on a path

- this landscape changes very much, new springs appear at the surface, others „die“ or explode

- it depends on the weather how much water there is on the surface

- be very careful, this hot springs can be dangerous, stay on the path

- facilities (during summer season)
 
- drive back to the junction, turn right onto road no. 427 in direction to Grindavík
 

Grindavík

- small town, 2.300 inhabitants

- living on fishing, fish processing, recently reconstructed harbor

- new church, school buildings

- very interesting museum on salt fish processing, salt fish (cod) was one of the main trade Icelandic goods until frozen fish products took over

- The motto of the museum „Lífið er saltfiskur“ (Life is salt fish) is taken from a novel by Halldór Laxness, Salka Valka.

- restaurants, bank, shops
 
- from Grindavík drive road no. 43 to get to the Blue lagoon
 

Blue Lagoon

- one of the most famous and unique attractions in Iceland

- pool of pale blue warm water (38°C), especially rich of minerals

- situated in the middle of black lava fields, often it looks very surreal, especially whan fog swirls over the water

- The artificial lake was actually created by accident when geothermal seawater was used to cool down nearby power station in the 1960s. The run-off water was meant to sink into the ground, but at a point the lava would not absorb any more water and a lake appeared. Experience and reasearch have proved that the water is very healthy for several skin diseases and it is an unforgettable experience to relax in the hot, salty water. A new Blue lagoon was created and a modern service centre built 1998.
 
- restaurant, cafeteria, souvenir and cosmetic shops etc.

- walking path along the lake (500 m)

 

- for more information, and to pre-book a tour with transport from Reykjavík to the Blue Lagoon, please see here 


- continue on road no. 43 and 41 to Keflavík Airport or head back to Reykjavík.

 

Recommended accommodation in Reykjavík: Reykjavík City HostelReykjavík Downtown Hostel, or Loft Hostel

 

(Distances: Eyrarbakki-Strandarkirkja 37 km, Strandarkirkja-Krýsuvík 14 km, Krýsuvík-Grindavík 23 km, Grindavík-Blue lagoon 5 km, Blue Lagoon-Keflavík Airport 20 km; total: 99 km)


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Map

Image of a map of the Highlights in the South itinerary


Day by day plan


Reykjavík → Laugarvatn/Árnes

Sights: Gljúfrasteinn, Þingvellir, Laugarvatnshellir, Geysir, Gullfoss, Skálholt


2
Laugarvatn/Árnes → Skógar/Vík

Sights: Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss, Skógar museum, Sólheimajökull


3
Skógar/Vík → Gaulverjaskóli

Sights: Dyrhólaey, Stokkseyri, Eyrarbakki


4
Gaulverjaskóli → Keflavík Airport/Reykjavík

Sights: Strandarkirkja, Krýsuvík, Grindavík, Blue Lagoon



Combinations possible:

- combine this tour with the WEST ICELAND including SNÆFELLSNES and the WEST FJORDS (7 days), starting from Reykjavík and getting back to Reykjavík

 

Extension: Westman Islands

- transportation to the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar) is possible via ferry or plane

- for further information on ferry transportation see here

- scheduled flight to Vestmannaeyjar goes from Bakki Airport and from Reykjavík Airport

- for further information on flights see here

- accommodation is recommended at Vestmannaeyjar Hostel

 
Vestmannaeyjar
- a group of small islands south of Iceland, part of the state Iceland

- the biggest island, Heimaey, is inhabited by approx.  4500 people

- the town Heimaey is centered around the harbor, the “life line” of Westman Islands

- people live on fishing, tourism and services

- in 1973 inhabitants experienced a catastrophe when the volcano Eldfjall erupted and its lava and ashes destroyed half of the township, it also threatened to block the harbor

- fortunately nobody lost his life and harbor conditions afterwards were better than before

- in 1974 most inhabitants turned back and started rebuilding their homes

- today you can still feel the warmth of the volcano and people call Heimaey “little Pompeii”

- grassy hills and sea cliffs are home to bird colonies of puffins, fulmar and guillemot

- guided tours by bus, boat and foot, swimming pool, cinema, Volcanic Film Show, folk museum, archeological excavations

- in 1963 the island Surtsey was formed by a submarine eruption, today it is a nature reserve

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