Ditch the expensive tours, Iceland is best seen on a road-trip.
Following on from my "Two nights in Reykjavik" post I'm excited to be able to publish the article I have been dying to write, our road trip around the south of Iceland. Reykjavik is awesome and well worth dedicating a few days to but please - if you're going to Iceland for more than a weekend hire a car and see as much as you can. This post will be a little picture heavy as I discuss my favourite stop offs, but I'm sure you will enjoy it!
Once you get out of Reykjavik city centre driving almost immediately stops becoming a chore, there is amazing scenery everywhere, honestly it's like living in a car advert with stunning views and long sweeping roads.... oh and monster trucks, not 4x4s with big tyres; full blown monster trucks.
The Secret Lagoon
Once we had left Reykjavik we made the 90 minute drive to The Secret Lagoon in Flúðir which is right in the heart of the Golden Circle, a natural geo-thermal pool in the middle of some farm land. You can see the glow from the green houses as you approach. Compared to the other famous geo-thermal lagoons the Secret Lagoon is fairly cheap, around £20pp, while the Blue Lagoon costs around £60pp. The water is beautifully warm, probably more so than The Blue Lagoon, and you can stay in as long as you wish. Whilst there were of course a lot of tourists, there were also a good number of more local dialects/accents, which I always think is a good sign. If you are looking to experience the Golden Circle The Secret Lagoon might be a good shout over the Blue Lagoon, its a similar distance from Reykjavik, 1/3 the price and looks more authentic compared to the developed Blue Lagoon spa.
Vik - the southern most town in Iceland
Once we'd had enough of the Secret Lagoon we needed to head to Vik to see the Black Beach and have an evening meal before making our way to our guest house for the night. The drive to VIk from the Secret Lagoon takes about 2 hours (according to Google Maps, I'm sure it was longer!) and it is a beautiful drive, this is where hiring a car pays for itself - as you get towards Vik, which is the wettest place in Iceland, the land gets so green and full of life.
Vik itself is a fairly small town but it has a fair few landmarks in and around it, and appears to be a popular stop over for tourists making their way to the iceberg fields in the east - as we were doing. Once we arrived the weather was terrible, so maybe not the ideal time to see the black sand beach, but this was the only opportunity. The beach is awesome to see, the black sand against the immediate green of the surrounding hills is stunning so it is well worth a detour is you are passing though, just do not bank on the weather.
Once we'd got our fill of heavy drizzle and black sand we headed for a meal at the Suður restaurant, which was very good to be fair. From what we've heard its best to try and book or turn up early, as there are only a couple of restaurants in Vik and they fill out quick, and sitting at the bar until you get a table is an expensive proposition in Iceland!
Kirkjubæjarklaustur - What a name!
I've not got much to write about Kirkjubæjarklaustur as we only stayed the one night and had to make an early getaway to make the glaciers in good time and get all the way back to Reykjavik but i'm not going to leave a name like that out am I? Come on.
Kirkjubæjarklaustur is a small village in between Vik and Höfn, the drive in was a bit of nightmare because of one of the daily flash storms that Iceland seems to have, but in the morning I couldn't believe the view I was treated to, because it was a glorious day it truly hit home how beautiful Iceland is, especially when you're in the countryside!
Driving to the Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon and the Diamond Beach
Upon leaving the Bjork Guesthouse we set our sights on the Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon on the far east of the island - a good 1-2 hours from Kirkjubæjarklaustur (still, WHAT A NAME!!!), which sounds like another big slog but my word it is worth it! The views you get are breath taking, you simply have to pull over and take it in at various points. Again, this is where forking out for a rental car really pays for itself (top tip; speaking of paying, get petrol in towns, the ones you see in the country side are a bit of a rip off). I'm not much of a driver but the empty, winding roads into the wilderness meant that a day of driving was if not the highlight, certainly one of the highlights of my time in Iceland! The photos below demonstrate this point more than I ever could!
Once you arrive at the estuary in which the glacier ice drifts out to sea you will be greeted with a truly awe-inspiring vision as dozens of pieces of giant ice slowly drift out in to the Atlantic. After the long drive you should probably spend an hour or so wondering around so you can take it all in - I don't know of anther place in Europe in which you can get this sight!
Also be sure to walk down to the Diamond beach, I had no idea why it was called this until we arrived to it was a nice surprise, there are hundreds of small (and not so small) pieces of iceberg which have been washed up on to the shore, and because the water they're made from is so pure most of them are completely see-through.
The Final Stop - Laugarvatn
Our final two nights in Iceland were spent in Laugarvatn, comfortably within the golden circle. Here you can see the famous geysers, Gullfoss waterfall and the geo-thermal Fontana Spa (for me, a lot better than the blue lagoon! and around half the price) in which you can take a dip in the near freezing lake before you get in the geo-thermal pool!
Most impressively for me, in the golden circle you can go diving/snorkelling in the glacier lakes, and because the water takes about 30-50 years to filter though all the volcanic rock from the glaciers it is unbelievably clear! Its like swimming in glass, unfortunately my Go Pro had some form of meltdown and the battery failed me, so I've only memories. But to prove my point, the water is so pure you can take your snorkel out and drink to your hearts content. However your face will be totally numb so its a little hard to get your snorkel back in!
I absolutely adored Iceland, and it is 100% worth the time and money to spend a few extra days, rent car and do a road trip out of Reykjavik! The only thing we missed out on was the northern lights, but its a reason to go back.
Cheers for reading guys!