Backpacking in Iceland on the South Coast
If you’re wondering where to go on your next holiday, Iceland is the answer. This Nordic island is known as “the land of fire and ice” thanks to its spectacular natural scenery—active volcanoes, gushing geysers, unfathomable glaciers, and incredible waterfalls. If you want to see nature at its most epic, grab your backpack and road trip the south coast of Iceland!
Why choose Iceland?
If Iceland’s beauty isn’t enough to seal the deal, it’s the least populated country in Europe, a peaceful country mostly run on renewable energy, one of the world’s lowest crime rates, and a society where corrupt bankers were jailed after recession. Not to mention, they have reindeers and arctic foxes. Ideal!
When to go?
In summer, Iceland experiences almost entire day-time, with midnight sun in June/July, so it’s worth packing an eye mask to get some shut eye! Temperatures rise to the low 20s from June-August, perfect for hikers.
In winter, it can drop to -30°C (Dec-Feb), so pack all your thermals! With just a few hours of sunlight, it can limit sightseeing time, but Iceland is magical in winter, with many waterfalls freezing over and complete snow cover.
The island’s ring road (Route 1) is open year-round and serves most of the sightseeing spots, though minor roads are often impassable from Oct-June. Opt for snow tires or a 4WD.
If you’re looking for:
- The Northern Lights: Visible between Sept and April; most active Feb-March and Sept-Oct.
- Orcas: Boat tours in Feb and March.
- Puffins: Breeding season May-August.
Who to book with?
- The international airport (Keflavik) in Reykjavik is served by many airlines flying from the USA and Europe.
- There are several coach tour companies, and Gray Line is the biggie.
- There’s plenty of car and campervan rental companies, and it’s worth taking out all of their extra insurance due to the weather conditions!
- Iceland is included on some Norway & Fjord cruises.
How to do it?
The best way to experience Iceland is backpacking, getting on the road to see the sites without being weighed down by tons of luggage! You can book coach tours from Reykjavik, though to enjoy it at your own pace, hire a car or campervan and road trip it. A few pointers…
- There’s barely any traffic, and most sites are well-signposted off the 1, so no sat nav required.
- The south coast can be sparse in terms of food and petrol, so stock up in Vik and Kirkjubaelarklaustur.
- Hiring a campervan is cheaper in autumn and campgrounds remain open (and free!). Though do a big shop at a supermarket in Reykjavik before hitting the roads.
- Iceland is expensive, and the cheapest places to eat are petrol station diners.
- In winter, there are secluded hotels offering great opportunities to see the northern lights from your room (particularly Fosshotel Nupar).
- Plan your itinerary around hotels and campsites in advance so you don’t miss anything. (places to stay: Reykjavik, Selfoss, Skogar, Vik, Kirkjubaelarklaustur, Nupar, Skaftafell, Hof, Höfn).
- Plan half the activities for the route back to maximise time and sightseeing.
Where to see?
The drive from Reykjavik across South Iceland is a mere 10-hour round trip without stops, but you could spend a week or longer checking out the amazing sites.
- Explore the adorable capital Reykjavik and enjoy the view from Hallgrímskirkja church tower.
- Drive the “golden circle” (Route 36) in the UNESCO World Heritage Þingvellir National Park. Walk between the tectonic plates, fuss Icelandic horses, and check out Gullfoss waterfall, Strokkur Geyser, and Kerið Crater Lake.
- Join Route 1 in Selfoss. Walk behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall in summer. Check out Iceland’s most famous waterfall Skógafoss.
- Go snowmobiling on Mýrdalsjökull glacier.
- Pack your crampons and walk on Sólheimajökull glacier.
- Visit Reynisfjara, the beautiful black sand beach, at Vik.
- In summer, check out the puffins at the Dyrholeay cliffs.
- Admire the moss-covered lava of Eldhraun.
- In Skaftafell National Park, take the easy hike to Skaftafellsjökull glacier or the more challenging hike to Svartifoss waterfall. Visit an ice cave.
- Must-see! Jökulsárlón Glacier Lake and Diamond Beach. Arguably the most beautiful place to go Backpacking in Iceland on the South Coast.