Road-tripping Iceland’s South Coast in winter

Though The Golden Circle is the most popular tourist trail in Iceland (and for good reason. Read our self-drive guide here.), we found Iceland’s south coast to be more scenic and less crowded.

Our itinerary: travel round-trip from our hotel in Reykjavik to Vík, with stops along the way at Seljandsfoss, Skógafoss, and the wreckage of the American DC-3 plane that crashed onto Sólheimasandur beach in 1978.

According to Google maps, the distance from Reykjavik to Vík is about two hours, and we planned to allow plenty of time for stops.

We were apprehensive because we were traveling in March and, given our track record with weather, we half-expected to end up stranded in a blizzard or burned alive in a volcano eruption (see here and here).

Further complicating matters was that we were driving a rental car that was manufactured before Sam or I were born and shook so violently my teeth chattered every time Sam hit the brakes (we rented from SADcars and became concerned when we realized “sad” wasn’t an acronym…)

Nevertheless, we set out from our hotel optimistically at around 9:00am. After all, we were in Iceland!

Seljandsfoss

Seljandsfoss, Icleand

Our first stop was Seljandsfoss, a beautiful waterfall located about an hour and a half drive from Reykjavik.

Warning to those traveling during winter: though beautiful, the waterfall is situated a short walk from the parking lot and the freezing temperatures combined with spray from the waterfall and frequent flurries turn parts of the walkway into a virtual ice rink.

Seljandsfoss

Though I’m no Michelle Kwan, I managed to slowly stumble my way along the path. Others weren’t so fortunate.

Sam, being a southern gentleman, offered to blaze the trail. He did pretty well for five steps until his foot slipped, his legs flew out from under him, and he skidded the rest of the way on his behind, attracting bemused smiles from the handful of other people braving the ice. Luckily, nothing was permanently injured besides his ego.

Free public bathrooms are available by the parking lot.

Skógafoss

Skogafoss, Iceland

About a thirty-minute drive past Slejandsfoss you will run across Skógafoss, a 200-foot waterfall that has appeared in movies such as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and Thor: The Dark World. In a country bursting with picturesque landscapes, Skógafoss was my favorite stop of our trip.

Skogafoss

Skogafoss

If you’re ready for a leg-burning workout that would make Tony Horton wince, climb the steps beside the waterfall for a different perspective. I preferred the view from the ground, as the banks of the waterfall obstruct much of the view at the top. But the higher vantage point did give us a good outlook of the Icelandic countryside.

Plane wreckage

DC-3 Plane Wreckage

Topping Sam’s must-see list for Iceland was the DC-3 plane that crash-landed on Sólheimasandur beach in November 1973. Everyone on board survived the impact, and the eerie wreckage of the plane still remains on the beach.

After reaching the dirt access road that leads to the plane (about 10 minutes past Skogafoss), we saw a sign that indicated only 4×4 vehicles were permitted beyond that point (Since our trip all vehicles have been forbidden on the beach).

While our wheezing little steed had performed nobly on paved roads, we agree only a fool would tempt fate. So we decided to abandon our car at the entrance and continue on foot.

Little did we realize that the walk to the plane is nearly 3 miles (Besides bad weather, the most consistent element in our travels is walking far more than we want, intend, or are physically capable of doing).

I’ll admit I’d lost some enthusiasm along the way, since my legs were already limp from climbing the steps at Skogafoss and it seemed an undue strain on my body to see a plane that couldn’t even fly.

DC-3 Plane Wreckage

But once we arrived, even I agreed that the sight was incredible.

Because few people are crazy enough to walk nearly 3 miles one-way to a broken plane in the dead of an arctic winter, we only had to share the view with a handful of other people (mostly photographers!) 

Vík 

Vik Beach

Our final stop before returning to Reykjavik was Vík, Iceland’s southernmost village. Though Vík is fairly small, it has one enormous draw: black sand beaches.

Standing on the volcanic beach by the basalt sea stacks and watching the white foam waves roll in was an other-worldly experience.

Vik Beach

Vik

We didn’t enjoy the view long, however, as it was also windy and freezing. My hands went numb after taking my gloves off to snap a few pictures on my phone and my fantasies of warmth quickly overtook my resolve to savor the moment.

Before heading back to Reykjavik we grabbed a burger at Víkurskáli and drove up the hill to Vik’s quaint little church.

Vik Church

We returned to our hotel shortly after sunset amid a light flurry of snow, tired, sore, and extremely satisfied.


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Road-Tripping Iceland's South Coast

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