Iceland South and Snæfellsnes Guide
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While many travellers spend upwards of a week in their campervan touring Iceland, the reality for many is that they just don’t have enough time for that. A longer trip could break your budget, or you might just not have enough leave from work. But Iceland is still a great place to go for a shorter break; flights from both Europe and America aren’t very long, but the country is so wildly different to anything found in either continent that it still can feel like a grand adventure. So, the question becomes how can you get the most out of your trip with the limited time you have? This article will outline the absolute best itinerary for those with around 3 to 5 days. It’s jampacked – you're here for a good time, not a long time.
For the purpose of this itinerary, we’ll assume that you will be able to pick up your campervan sometime between 8:30am and 10:00am. Most flights from North America will land early in the morning, meaning that you can grab a coffee and a nap while you wait for 8:30am to roll around, the first airport pickup for the day. Flights from Europe do land a little bit later in the morning/afternoon, so if you’re using this itinerary just remember that you might have to stop for the day before reaching the final destination outlined below.
North or South?
With this short amount of time, usually we would recommend heading along the south coast. It’s crowded, but for good reason; this region boasts some of the most famous and gorgeous sights in all of Iceland. The landscapes are dominated by the largest of glaciers, hiding away brooding volcanoes. Waterfalls cascade over the precipice of the highland plateau, and there are more than a few opportunities to experience the geothermal hot springs as well that Iceland is so famed for.
Day 1: The Golden Circle
Day 1 sees you leaving Reykjavik in what is hopefully a well-organised campervan, stocked with supplies for the days ahead. Head north out of Reykjavik towards the Golden Circle, the most popular tourist route in the country thanks to its proximity to the capital. Many of you will have read about this route and the stops that make it up: Þingvellir National Park, the explosive Geysir, and finally the incredible Gullfoss waterfall at the top of the circle. There are a few other options open in this area as well: Kerið is a volcanic crater filled with a milky blue water; the Secret Lagoon in the small town of Flúðir is a great place for a dip, and; the waterfall Bruarfoss still flies under the radar of many travellers.
After making your way through this gorgeous area of the country for the day, it’s time to start heading towards the south coast. Most roads will lead south towards Route 1, and depending on how much time you have, you might even be able to get a head start on your day 2 itinerary and camp at one of the waterfalls.
Night 1 Possible Campsites: Hella, Hvolsvöllur, Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss.
Day 2: The South Coast
With so many things to see along the south coast, and because of the fact that you’ll be driving back along this road the day after, it’s best to pick and choose what to stop at and leave some others for the return journey. It’s easiest to stop off at the two waterfalls that capture so much attention, Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, as they’re almost impossible to resist once you sight them from the road. After these two, drive onwards to Vík, only another 20 minutes from Skógafoss. This beautiful hamlet is Iceland’s southernmost point – make sure to enjoy the view from above the church, which takes in the impressive sea stacks out in the ocean.
From Vík, it’s a straight 2.5-hour drive to get to the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, no doubt one of the best sights in all of Iceland. Huge chunks of glacier are breaking off Vatnajökull, which you can see floating around in the water, before they are carried by the currents out into the ocean. It’s easy to spend a couple of hours on the shores of the lagoon and out at the coast, where the glaciers eventually get pushed back up onto the black sand by the tide. Depending on your time, it’s probably best to begin backtracking and camp at either the Svínafell or Skaftafell campsites – Höfn, although a slice of civilisation, just adds another hour onto the drive the next day.
Night 2 Possible Campsites: Skaftafell, Svínafell
Day 3: Back Towards Reykjavik
The third day in this itinerary is taking you back along the south coast towards Reykjavik, but this time you’ll be stopping at a few of the places you missed along the way that are hiding a little bit off the ring road. On your way back towards Vik, make sure to pull in at Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon just past the small town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. This snaking canyon was carved out by a glacial flood a long time ago, and has exploded in popularity mostly thanks to the location featuring in Justin Bieber’s music video for I’ll Show You.
Next up is Vík again, but this time drive past it to visit Reynisfjara, the most famous black sand beach in Iceland. This has acted as a shooting location for many films and tv series, including the wildly popular Game of Thrones.
After the black sand beach, drive on a little bit further until you reach a big parking lot beside the road (if you hit Skógafoss, you’ve gone too far). This is where you’ll be able to walk out towards the abandoned plane wreck that’s lying on the black sand beach. It takes around 50-60 minutes to reach the plane. Another popular detour is to visit Seljavallalaug, Iceland’s oldest swimming pool, found at the base of Eyjafjallajökull. Check out our article on hot springs for more information.
For the last evening in Iceland, many will opt to drive all the way back to Reykjavik. The Reykjavik Campsite is open year-round, and is a 20-minute walk from downtown. If you can’t make it all the way into Reykjavik to camp, there are a few other options as well – Selfoss and Hveragerði are both big towns along route 1 back into the city, offering good options for food and camping.
Night 4 Possible Campsite: Reykjavik, Selfoss, Hveragerði
Days 4 and 5 – The Snæfellsnes Peninsula
If you do have a couple of extra days on hand, we recommend to take it a bit easier than the pace of the above itinerary. On top of that, the extra time is perfect for exploring the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and all that it has to offer.
Along the southern edge of the peninsula you’ll find windswept beaches, rocky coastline and tiny fishing villages. The highlights of this area include stopping off at the isolated Búðir church, hiking along the coastline between Hellnar and Arnarstapi, visiting the Rauðfeldsgjá gorge that cuts into the mountainside, and Snæfellsjökull National Park. An ideal option to stay overnight on the peninsula is with our good friends at the Freezer Hostel, which is a campsite, hostel, theatre and cultural centre all rolled into one.
On the second day on the peninsula, the northern coast is where you’ll find Kirkjufell, the most photographed mountain in Iceland and Game of Thrones shooting location. Further on is Stykkishólmur, a picturesque fishing town that featured in Ben Stiller’s movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.Go Back
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