From Iceland — Going South: Road Tripping For N00bs

Going South: Road Tripping For N00bs

Published May 24, 2011

Photo by
Vanessa Schipani

The classic road trip is as old as roads themselves. Planning a road trip shouldn’t be a daunting task, but for any highway newbies out there, here’s one idea for an easy trip that will leave you feeling on top of the world.

My travel buddies and I took a car for a one-day jaunt on Route 1 to the town of Vík í Mýrdal. Roundtrip from Reykjavík, it totals at about 370 kilometres, or five solid hours of driving. Leaving plenty of time to soak up the scenery, the trip lasted ten hours, which was easily doable in one day.

Vík road trip by Vanessa Schipani


Knowledge of the trip ahead of you is probably the most important thing to have on any trip, so don’t skimp on the research. Major sights along the way are the waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, you pass by the glaciers Eyjafjallajökull and Sólheimajökull, and the beach at Dyrhólaey is definitely worth a detour. There’s not much to do in Vík besides taking pictures, but it’s beautiful and quaintly Icelandic, and about as far south as you can go on the island.

Choosing a car is obviously another big part of planning a road trip. Luckily, Route 1 from Reykjavík to Vík is totally paved and clear of ice most of the year, so a cheap compact car may be all you need. However, if you find some interesting sights off the beaten path, a larger vehicle with 4WD could be a wise investment.

Vík road trip by Vanessa Schipani


I rallied my companions and set out at 11:00 and hit the road (another helpful tip: if you’re riding with someone else, BE READY ON TIME). Within minutes, I realised one thing for which I had not planned: I didn’t bring any music. Unless you’re a fan of the agonising mixture of American pop and radio static ubiquitous on Iceland’s FM dial, make sure to bring a formidable music library.

It was about the time we passed through the town of Selfoss, I realised another total n00b mistake I made. I didn’t bring any snacks. It’s amazing how hungry you can get staring out the window, so bring tons of snacks. Munching is also a good way to break up the monotony of driving. Music and snacks: don’t leave home without ‘em.

Vík road trip by Vanessa Schipani

After two hours, we finally arrived at Seljalandsfoss. Although the amount of water flowing over the falls isn’t that much compared to some of Iceland’s other waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss is impressive due to its sheer height, and you can take a trail behind the falls. Wear good boots, because by the time I got back in the car my shoes were carrying an extra two pounds of mud. We spent an hour taking photos of Seljalandsfoss from every conceivable angle before setting off.

Only twenty minutes away is another gem, Skógafoss. A wide waterfall with a high volume of water, and respectable drop of 60 metres, Skógafoss is a classic scene. Seriously, ask anyone to draw a waterfall and they’ll come up with something that looks like Skógafoss. There’s a convenient staircase to the top of the falls and a tiny path where the brave/foolish can look over the edge.

Vík road trip by Vanessa Schipani


We continued on toward Vík. This is where good research paid off. Earlier that morning, I was flipping through my guidebook and spotted a small blurb about a beach facing the island Dyrhólaey. It didn’t sound especially spectacular, and I don’t know what about it piqued my curiosity, but it’s always better to indulge that sense of adventure. On any road trip, don’t ask yourself, ‘why?’ Ask yourself, ‘why not?’ Sometimes the best experiences are the ones you almost missed.

So off we went in our little Toyota down the rough gravel road. This is where a big SUV would have been nice. The short detour became a minefield of potholes, mud ruts, and huge rocks just waiting to take chunks out of the bottom of the car. But curiosity was rewarded with stunning black sand surrounded by huge rock formations. We took photos, ran on the beach, wrote messages in the sand, and just revelled in the sheer beauty. So cliché, I know.

Vík road trip by Vanessa Schipani

We bounced back to the main road and twenty minutes later we were in the tiny town of Vík. One unique feature is the church, built on the highest point in Vík and the only refuge should nearby Mount Katla wake up and destroy the town. We grabbed a bite to eat and made our way back to Reykjavík as the sun began to set.

When all was said and done, the trip cost around 25.000 ISK for rental and fuel, but that could change depending on what car you choose and what time of the year you go. If you’re a road trip first-timer, the south road journey is a great way to dip your toes in and test the water.

The Most Utterly Basic Roadtrip Checklist: 1) Research! 2) Music (unless you love awkward silences). 3) Snacks (no pungent odours, I’m looking at you, fish jerky), and most importantly: 6) Good travel buddies.

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