From the cape of Stokksnes, our on-the-road tour of Iceland continues along the Ring Road on the south coast of the island. During this part of our route, we explore the frozen lagoon of Jökulsárlón and the amazing Vatnajökull glacier. Here we have an exciting adventure on the ice! Then we reach Skaftafell National Park to admire the enchanting Svartifoss waterfall, one of Iceland's most photogenic waterfalls!
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Our on-the-road tour of Iceland continues by following the Ring Road along the south coast of the island. Our base is the town of Höfn: we stay at the Seljavellir Guesthouse*, a family-run accommodation with good rooms and private bathrooms. We absolutely recommend it also because it is located only a few minutes from the centre of Höfn, where you will find a few restaurants for dinner. In the south, the rains give us some respite and the island gifts us with a few shy rays of sunshine. However, the wind seems stronger here than elsewhere and we soon realize this as we visit the beaches and cliffs of this rugged part of Iceland.
In any case, Höfn is a perfect starting point for exploring the amazing Jökulsárlón ice lagoon, the huge Vatnajökull glacier and, just beyond, the Skaftafell National Park. We will tell you about all these wonderful places in this article!
Arriving by airplane
Most travellers choose to reach Iceland by flight. The island is well connected to the rest of Europe and Switzerland by the national airline Icelandair. All flights from abroad land and depart from Keflavík Airport, located about 50 km from the capital Reykjavík. During the summer, a domestic flight to the northern city of Akureyri also departs from Keflavík. The airport has rental counters for all major international rental companies. You can therefore easily pick up your rental car here. By car, the city of Reykjavík is about 50 minutes away. However, if you have chosen an alternative means of transport or if you prefer to pick up your rented car in the city, you can also reach Reykjavík in about 45 minutes by a comfortable express bus service at a cost of about CHF 22,00. In addition, the airport is also connected to the capital by regular buses. This is certainly the cheapest connection option (the ticket costs about CHF 14), but it is undoubtedly also the slowest (about 90 minutes). Finally, a taxi service is of course available at the airport, but this option is by far the most expensive. All informations are available here.
Arriving by ship
Iceland can also be reached by sea. Those who choose this option usually arrive on the island as part of a North Sea cruise. In fact, there are many routes that, starting from the main port cities of northern Europe, stop in Reykjavík or even circumnavigate the whole island making some strategic stops in Akureyri and Ísafjörður. Obviously this is a travel option that does not offer any freedom in the choice of attractions to visit or things to do on the island. It is therefore only advisable for those who do not wish to spend more than a short stay in well-selected tourist destinations.
Jökulsárlón Ice Lagoon
The ice lagoon of Jökulsárlón is truly amazing! It would be an ordinary stretch of water just a few steps from the coast if it were not for the myriad of spectacular deep blue icebergs floating on its waters and following the water flow out of the lagoon towards the sea. The icebergs break off from Breiðamerkurjökull, one of the tongues of the Vatnajökull glacier, and reach the water. These huge, fascinating blocks of ice can remain trapped in the water for years before the current carries them down the Jökulsá – Iceland’s shortest river – towards the sea. Although it may seem very old, the lagoon was formed less than a hundred years ago. Until then, the glacier lapped the Ring Road towards the coast. Now, due to climate change and global warming, the glacier is receding very quickly, causing the lagoon to grow at a rather fast pace. To visit it, you can simply drive to the large car parks nearby – here – and walk there. Once at your destination, you can simply stroll around the lagoon or join one of the many boat trips on the water and around the icebergs. During the summer, you can choose between a tour on the water with an amphibious boat – quite common during the day – or a Zodiac inflatable boat tour. The last-mentioned are rather popular and the offer is limited, so it is necessary to book well in advance. You can find all the information at this link. A stone’s throw from the Lagoon, on the coast, don’t miss a stroll along the ‘Diamond Beach’, an enchanting black beach where blocks of ice – diamond-like in fact – are washed ashore by the ocean waves.
The Vatnajökull glacier is quite spectacular and is already visible from the Hringvegur (Ring Road). Some visitors try to push themselves as close to the glacier as possible, and some even on top of it, but our advice is not to do so for safety reasons: the ice cap is characterized by deep crevasses, which are often hidden by a layer of fresh snow. But don’t worry: the glacier can easily be visited by relying on professionals and tourist organizations that safely organize excursions of all types and durations. Having already experienced glacier hiking in Norway a few years ago, for Iceland we opted for something different: a tour by snowmobile and superjeep! The experience is absolutely fun, which is why we recommend it! We chose the company Glacier Jeeps – Ice & Adventure for this experience. You will be picked up at a meeting point near the Ring Road and taken on board a Superjeep. During the Superjeep tour, you will drive along the F985 off-road route, located about 35 km east of Jökulsárlón and 45 km west of Höfn, and reach the wide glacial outcrop of Skálafellsjökull. At the end of the F985 route, you will be equipped with overalls, helmet, boots and gloves, and you will begin your snowmobile adventure! However, if snowmobiling is not for you, you can opt for the superjeep excursion only, or for a hike on the glacier. Here* you will find some alternative suggestions.
Skaftafell National Park and the Svartifoss waterfall
Located a little further along the Ring Road, Skaftafell National Park is part of the larger Vatnajökull National Park. It is the country’s most visited natural area characterized by magnificent waterfalls, forests, fascinating views and the ubiquitous Vatnajökull glacier. The park is perfect for a day trip and – especially during the summer – is visited by many visitors and many tour buses. Our advice is to consult the hiking map and choose one of the many official park trails. You can find it at the visitors’ centre (for a fee), but you can also find some suggestions and a brief description of the hiking trails at this link. This will help you leave the crowds behind and enjoy the beauty of the place to the fullest. If, on the other hand, you decide to opt for a hike in one of the more remote areas of the park, our suggestion is to drop by the visitor centre and find out in advance about the condition of the trails and any hazards to watch out for. But the real star of the park is certainly Svartifoss (Black Waterfall), one of Ireland’s most photographed attractions. This particular jet of water – especially if compared with the imposing waterfalls already seen on the island – would be nothing special if it were not framed by polygonal columns of black basalt that make it particularly photogenic. The waterfall can be reached via an easy path of less than 2 km up from the Visitors’ Centre. From Svartifoss, we chose to return to the visitor centre by continuing westwards along the track to Sjònarsker and, from there, to Sel’s farm, a traditional farm with a peat roof. This approximately two-hour hike – Trail S2 – is easy and requires no special equipment. More information about the park can be found at this link.
Iceland is the home of the Hot Tubs, the hot-water pools that allow you to relax and enjoy the beauty of the Icelandic landscape and are a true tradition among the island’s locals and tourists. In the Höfn area, if you have some free time, you can visit the Hoffell Hot Tubs, about 19 kilometres from Höfn and about 3 kilometres from the Ring Road. The baths – which, however, are not the best on the island – nevertheless offer a wonderful view and a few hours of easy relaxation, perhaps after a day of walking and exploring in the area.
If you need to find a place to stay overnight near the Skaftafell National Park, we suggest the tiny village (with an unpronounceable name) of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. It is the only urban centre with services between Vík and Höfn. Here you will find some accommodation and catering options.
We have already told you several times: food in Iceland is quite expensive. Therefore, we suggest that you fill up at a supermarket with non-perishable products and take them with you in the car. They will be useful especially during a long on-the-road trip!