Iceland's South Coast is easily accessible by car from Reykjavik and is an ideal self-drive day trip if you're planning a shorter stay in Iceland and don't have time to drive the entire Ring Road. I took a short 4-day trip to Iceland with three colleagues from my 'day job' in June 2017. We stationed ourselves in Reykjavik, rented a car, and planned various day trips during our stay (e.g., a self-drive around the Golden Circle and a visit to the ethereal Blue Lagoon). I was particularly intrigued by the possibility of seeing puffins from land. I'd read that puffins could often be found along the craggy cliffs at Dyrhólaey Peninsula not from from Vik so I was sold on this South Coast adventure!
Iceland's Seljalandsfoss Waterfalls
There is plenty to see along the road when traveling by car between Reykjavik and Vik. We stopped at Seljalandsfoss waterfall on a blustery morning. The water tumbles over the rocks into a wildflower lined river below. The stunning scenery was part of the appeal of this Iceland South Coast road trip.
Gljúfrabúi Waterfall - Dweller of the Gorge
When stopping at Seljalandsfoss make sure to take your time and hike the winding trail along the base of the waterfall to your left as you're facing the falls. I almost turned back too soon and nearly missed Gljúfrabúi Waterfall. Situated about a 10 minute walk up the trail from Seljalandsfoss, you can climb over slippery rocks and into a back chamber at the base of the waterfall. Be prepared to get wet and wear waterproof gear to avoid being soaked and miserable later. I've never seen anything like Gljúfrabúi in my travels to date.
Dine at Gamla fjósið on the South Iceland Coast
My regular readers know that I love using Google Maps to find interesting places to eat on our travels. Driving between Reykjavik and Vik, I discovered Gamla fjósið. We filled up on a delicious all you can eat beef soup with Icelandic Skyr for dessert. Restaurants are few and far between on Iceland's Southern Coast so yes, lunch was expensive (most things in Iceland are expensive), and cost us more than the equivalent of $20 USD for this humble meal.
See Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland's Volcano that Brought Air Traffic to a Standstill in 2010
Driving along Highway 1 in Iceland between Reykjavik and Vik takes visitors past a farm with a stunning caldera behind it. A plaque marks the spot where you can view Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland's volcano that erupted in 2010 bringing air traffic to a standstill and throwing travel into chaos. It's hard to believe that this quiet, picturesque landscape was the site of a violent eruption just seven years ago.
Check Out Icelandic Houses with Grass Roofs that Blend Into the Mountainscape
Driving along Highway 1 between Vik and Reykjavik, we discovered an adorable house that almost blended into the surrounding craggy peaks. Traditional Icelandic houses feature sod roofs. Seeing one felt like being transported back in time.
See Puffins from Land at Dyrhólaey Peninsula
Dyrhólaey Peninsula is a little over two hours drive point-to-point from Reykjavik. With the sightseeing that we did and our stop for lunch, we arrived at Dyrhólaey in the mid-afternoon. Now for the million dollar question: would we see puffins from land? I don't particularly like traveling by boat so I welcomed the opportunity to avoid the risk of seasickness and do some puffin-watching from land. I was discouraged at first. We saw plenty of Eider ducks and other birds but no puffins. It was only when I started scanning the distant cliffs with the 65x zoom lens on my camera that I spotted something black and white. Puffins!
Puffins look deceptively big in photos. They really are tiny birds and can be difficult to spot from land. However, with a big enough zoom lens, it is possible to see puffins from land at Dyrhólaey Peninsula. Scanning the water, I managed to spot a flock of puffins floating in the sea searching for fish.
Admire the South Iceland Landscape at Dyrhólaey Peninsula
Even if you're unlucky and don't manage to see puffins, Dyrhólaey Peninsula features some amazing scenery in its own right. Watch the waves roll into the sheer cliff faces. Marvel at Reynisfjara beach with its surprising black sand.
Brave the Drive to Dyrhólaey Lighthouse
Dyrhólaey Peninsula is easy enough to get to with a regular car. If you have a 4 wheel drive SUV like we did, you could consider braving the unpaved and winding road up to Dyrhólaey Lighthouse. One of my colleagues was driving and I was hanging onto the "Oh Sh**" bar for the entire ride up and down from the lighthouse so I didn't take any pictures of that crazy road. It was worth it in the end though. We were able to park, walk around and see some amazing views of mountain peaks, seaside cliffs, and black sand beaches.
We walked right up to the cliff's edge. Stunning.
Take a Break in Vik Before Driving Back to Reykjavik
The small town of Vik is a convenient refueling point (for both the car and the humans inside) before turning around and driving back to Reykjavik. We arrived in Vik at around 4:30 pm. We made many fewer stops on our return to Reykjavik and thus arrived back from our day trip driving around Southern Iceland just in time for a late dinner. Fermented shark and whale, anyone?