Welcome back to part two of the best places to stop in southern Iceland during your trip around the Ring Road! Like I said in the previous article, there are a multitude of stops to choose from when it comes to traveling the Ring Road in Iceland. And southern Iceland is no exception. Let us take a look at the other must-see locations when traversing the southern portion of the breathtaking Ring Road circuit in Iceland.
On paper, Vík is like any other sleepy fishing village in Iceland. The town’s population hovers around 300 or so residents, and the primary means of income for the inhabitants of Vík comes from the sea. So what does Vík have that places it on our must-see locations off Iceland’s Ring Road? If you have ever been, the answer seems relatively simple: puffins and black sand beaches. The basalt black sand beaches of Iceland are famous throughout the world, and Vík and surrounding areas arguably have the best of the best of the coastlines! Visitors travel to this quaint fishing village from far and wide to take in the splendor and wonder that these onyx shorelines elicit.
The other compelling reason to stop off at Vík is to see the cutest and cuddliest bird in the world: the North Atlantic puffin. Iceland is famous for being a puffin haven, and the areas surrounding Vík have some of the best puffin watching in the entire country. Nearby Dyrholaey has giant cliffs where large groups of these arctic avians reside. There are plenty of options for exploring the surrounding areas, ranging from walking tours to all-terrain vehicle expeditions. If you need to warm up before you hop back on the Ring Road, Vík is also statistically both the wettest and warmest place in Iceland. So, stop off and take a stroll down their famous black sand beaches. Or, go see some inquisitive puffins.
On your way towards the final designation on our list, you have to visit Skaftafell National Park. This incredibly diverse park was founded in 1967 and became part of Vatnajökull National Park in 2008. Skaftafell is known around Iceland for being a hiker’s paradise. The terrain has something for every level of hiking enthusiast and climber. Thrill seekers making their way through the Ring Road will be delighted to know that Skaftafell is the home of Hvannadalshnjúkur, Iceland’s tallest mountain peak. For the rest of us who are looking for something a bit more relaxing, Skaftafell is also home to the majestic Svartifoss waterfall.
Svartifoss falls are unique in their aesthetics. You would be hard pressed to find a waterfall similar to Svartifoss anywhere outside of Iceland. Massive hexagonal columns of beautifully smooth stone rise up to the heavens. Right where they end a quaint, yet powerful, waterfall cascades below. I would rank it as a must for photographers and tourists alike. The surreal and astounding nature of these falls is worth the stop alone.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon & Diamond Beach
I always save the best for last, and the Jökulsárlón Lagoon & Diamond Beach definitely won’t disappoint. These two stops aren’t technically one place, but they are in such close proximity, and they are both so stunning I always just lump them together. First, let us talk about Iceland’s premier crystal clear lagoon: the Jökulsárlón Lagoon.
This glacier fed lagoon has been a tourist attraction for years. Heck, even Hollywood got the hint and started filming scenes for blockbuster action movies here years ago. The bay is unique in its contents and its appearance. Hunks of ice which have fallen off (or melted off) the surrounding glaciers. They float aimlessly around the glacial lake until they make their way towards the Atlantic Ocean. Visitors can take tours of the lake to get up close and personal with the glaciers. Once you get face to face with a thousand-year-old glacier and look deep into its misty-blue exterior, you will never be the same. It is also important to note that this lagoon is filled with thriving aquatic mammals and fish alike. It is an incredible site that words genuinely do not do justice.
Now, onto the pièce de résistance, the best of the best, the top spot, Iceland’s Crown Jewel: Diamond Beach. Sitting just outside of Jökulsárlón Lagoon is a stretch of black sand beach that is indeed unlike anything you have ever seen in your life. To the untrained eye, it looks like the beach is littered with gigantic diamonds. Unfortunately, if you have been there, you know that your eyes deceive you. These are intact fragments of the icebergs that float in Jökulsárlón Lagoon.
Some of the tinier icebergs that leave the Jökulsárlón Lagoon break apart during their journey out into the open ocean. These fragments wash up on the onyx shorelines of Diamond Beach and create a stunning and confusing contrast between the black sand & the crystal clear ice. The entire coastline can be covered with pieces of glacier ice that range from Gatorade glacier blue (the best and only Gatorade in my opinion) to completely clear. Also, the size of the ice can vary greatly. It isn’t uncommon to find very smooth baseball-size pieces of ice in the sand, and then at the same time you can look up and be staring at a hunk of ice the size of a minivan. If you have never heard of this beach, look it up and add it to your Ring Road itinerary.
Tour of Southern Iceland: Main Attractions on the Ring Road, Part 2
Alright! We have made it to the end of our list. Remember, these are just a handful of the exhilarating stops of the southern portion of Iceland’s Ring Road. Plenty more attractions pepper the countryside, and you should always plan around your time and budget constraints. In my humble Icelandic opinion though, I would try to see at least some of these locations before making your way north. The Diamond Beach is a must, in case you are curious. Remember to stay tuned for more tips, tricks, and guides, to help you navigate Iceland and all the wonder she has to offer!