Are you considering driving from Vik to Skaftafell as part of your Ring Road trip? If so, you’re in for a breathtaking journey through Iceland’s South Coast. Home to black sand beaches, lush valleys, and vast glaciers, no trip to Iceland is complete without spending time in this part of the country.
- Vik to Skaftafell Drive
- Best Ring Road Stops on the Drive from Vik to Skaftafell
- 1. Visit Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
- 2. See Dyrhólaey Arch
- 3. Stop by Eldhraun Lava Field
- 4. Explore Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon
- 5. Visit Skaftafell National Park (part of Vatnajökull National Park)
- BONUS: Vik to Skaftafell to Jokulsarlon Lagoon
- Frequently Asked Questions
If you’re starting in Reykjavik, consider visiting the Golden Circle as you make your way to south Iceland.
Vik to Skaftafell Drive
The drive from Vik to Skaftafell is 140 kilometers along Route 1 (aka the Ring Road) and takes a little under 2 hours without stops.
Best Ring Road Stops on the Drive from Vik to Skaftafell
The drive from Vik to Skaftafell is a breathtaking stretch of the Ring Road with a string of incredible views and must-see stops along the way. Here’s a list of places to visit along the drive, including things to do in Vik and tips for hiking in Skaftafell.
1. Visit Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
Reynisfjara Beach is a black sand beach located near Vik. The beach is not only one of Iceland’s most popular black sand beaches but also known for the Reynisdrangar sea stacks, a towering group of basalt columns just offshore. Legend says that the basalt columns were actually trolls who were trying to pull ships to shore that got turned to stone when the sun rose. For Game of Thrones fans, Reynisfjara Beach is the filming location of Eastwatch-by-the-Sea.
WARNING: Reynisfjara Beach Deaths
While the trolls are part of Iceland’s folklore, the dangers of the beach are very real. The waves at the beach can come further up and more forcefully than expected, which can pull people into the waters. Unfortunately, tourists that don’t heed the warnings to always face the waves and keep a safe distance of ~100 feet have died while visiting. If you’re careful and follow the warning signs, you should have a safe trip.
⌛TIME SPENT: <1 hour
📍ADDRESS: Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
2. See Dyrhólaey Arch
Dyrhólaey is a small, picturesque peninsula not too far from Reynisfjara Beach. Its name translates to “door hill island” in reference to the peninsula’s iconic arch, a testament to the powerful erosive forces of the ocean.
While you’re here, be sure to soak in the views of the surrounding landscapes. The most photogenic spots in the area are Dyrhólaey Sea Arch, Dyrhólaeyjarviti (also referred to as the Dyrhólaey Lighthouse), Arnardrangur (also known as Eagle Rock).
How to Get to Dyrhólaey Viewpoint
There are two viewing areas at Dyrhólaey. The first path off the Ring Road will take you to the lighthouse and the upper area where you’ll get the best views of Reynisfjara Beach and Dyrhólaey Sea Arch.
As you come down from the lighthouse, you can make your way to the lower area at the end of Road 218 near Eagle Rock. Here you’ll have a great view of this unique rock formation that prominently just out from the water. This area is also a popular spot for nesting puffins during the summer.
Tips for Visiting Dyrhólaey
Unlike other Ring Road stops in the south coast, Dyrhólaey requires some planning. Here are some tips to consider as you plan your trip:
- You need a 4WD car to drive up to the upper area. If you don’t have the right vehicle, you can park in the lower area and hike up to the lighthouse. Do note that you can’t actually go inside the lighthouse, parking is limited, and there are no restrooms here.
- Visibility in Dyrhólaey can be quite poor when the weather is gloomy. This isn’t to say that the peninsula isn’t worth visiting, which becomes cinematic and moody. Just be sure to check the weather and temper your expectations when planning your visit.
- The nature preserve is open 24 hours a day except in May and June. During the summer, the area is only open between 9 AM to 7 PM. Do note that there aren’t official hours posted anywhere so check TripAdvisor or ask your hotel to confirm.
3. Stop by Eldhraun Lava Field
Eldhraun is a sprawling lava field blanketed in moss that stretches for miles alongside the Ring Road on your drive around south Iceland. It’s the aftermath of the 1783-1784 Laki (Skaftáreldar in Icelandic) volcanic eruption, which spewed massive amounts of lava and poisonous gasses for nearly a year that destroyed Iceland’s crops and decimated a quarter of its population.
Despite its devastating history, Eldhraun has transformed into one of the most magnificent landscapes you’ll come across in Iceland.
Eldhraun Lava Field Parking
You can appreciate the vastness of Eldhraun Lava Field while you’re driving. If you want to stop for pictures and explore the area a bit, you can easily pull over along the Ring Road at various unofficial stops. The most official stop is Gönguleið um Eldhraun at the end of the road, which also provides short informational material about the moss in Eldhraun.
💡TIP: Eldhraun is best seen during the summer months when you can appreciate the green moss. In the winter, it’s very likely the entire area will be covered in snow. If you do visit in the summer, heed the signs and do not trample the moss. The moss in the area is 400 million years old
4. Explore Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon
Fjadrargljufur is a 2 million year old canyon that was carved by a large glacial river in the last ice age. Within the 100 meter canyon, the river runs like a snake through its moss-covered walls.
The canyon has become a popular destination after appearing in Justin Bieber’s music video for “I’ll Show You.” However, many parts of the canyon that were featured are now off-limits to visitors to protect tourists and the surrounding environment. Please do not climb over the ropes to peer into the canyon and stay along the paved path to avoid damaging the vegetation.
How to Get to Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon
To get to Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon, follow signs for Road 206 (206 Holtsvegur) off of the Ring Road. Once you’re on Road 206, you’ll drive about 5-10 minutes on gravel roads before arriving at the parking lot. The drive is easier if you have a 4WD but you can do it without – just drive slowly and carefully.
Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon Hike
There are 2 hikes to explore the canyon, one at the bottom along the river, and the other that runs alongside the top of the canyon walls. If you want to see these views from the top, I’d recommend navigating to “Fjadrargljufur Canyon” on Google Maps (not “Fjadrargljufur Viewpoint”) to get to the upper parking lot where you can follow the short path along the canyon rim.
⌛TIME SPENT: 1 hour
📍ADDRESS: Fjadrargljufur Canyon
5. Visit Skaftafell National Park (part of Vatnajökull National Park)
Skaftafell is a nature reserve and is part of UNESCO World Heritage Site, Vatnajökull National Park. Vatnajökull National Park gets its name from Vatnajokull, which is the largest glacier in Europe and makes up 8% of Iceland’s landmass when combined. At Skaftafell, there are a number of hiking paths and group activities to explore the reserve, including trails that will take you to the base of the Vatnajokull glacier or to the Svartifoss waterfall.
Skaftafell National Park Hikes
The hike to Skaftafellsjökull will take you to an outlet glacier of the larger Vatnajökull ice cap. The trail is an easy walk, most of which is well-paved and well-marked. At the end of the hike, you’ll find a panorama of the glacier’s blue ice, crevasses, and the surrounding mountains.
⌛TIME SPENT: 1 hour
Svartifoss Waterfall Hike
Svartifoss is a waterfall inside Skaftafell that’s famous for its dramatic basalt column formations. You can only see the falls if you complete the 1.2 mile trail but luckily the path is well-paved and fairly easy once you overcome the elevation gain at the start of the hike.
⌛TIME SPENT: 1 hour
Tips for Visiting Skaftafell National Park
- Stop by the Skaftafell Visitor Center to learn about trail conditions, brainstorm hikes and activities, book tours, and freshen up. If you’re visiting during the winter, carve out more time in your itinerary to explore ice caves or go snowmobiling.
- If you’re hungry, you can grab lobster bisque, fish and chips, or BBQ ribs from the food trucks located in the parking lot near the visitor center.
- The two most popular hikes in Skaftafell are to Skaftafellsjökull and Svartifoss. Do note that both hikes are out-and-back trails that don’t intersect and start on opposite sides of the visitor center. If you plan on doing both hikes on the same day, you’ll want to spend at least 2-3 hours in the park.
Is Skaftafell worth a visit?
Yes, but with a caveat. If I could redo my visit, I’d definitely skip the hikes and opt to do a guided glacier hike instead. We intentionally skipped the guided hike because we weren’t sure if we had the time and were feeling slightly budget conscious (it costs about $85 per person and takes about 3 hours) but in retrospect, we could have made it happen.
While the pros of hiking yourself are that it’s free and you can see how big the glacier is from ground level, the cons outweigh the benefits for us. We felt like we couldn’t get that close to the glacier and the surrounding landscape was nice but not very memorable, especially when shrouded in fog. I imagine it’s an entirely different feeling when you’re walking on top of the glacier and see nothing but ice for miles on end.
TIME SPENT: 2-3 hours
📍ADDRESS: Skaftafell Visitor Centre
BONUS: Vik to Skaftafell to Jokulsarlon Lagoon
Depending on how early you start your day, you may be able to also include a visit to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. Jökulsárlón refers to a small branch of the Vatnjökull glacier that formed in the 1930s when the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier tongue started rapidly melting. As global warming continues, the lagoon grows and changes with each visit. One of my favorite activities in Iceland was taking the zodiac boat tour in Jökulsárlón, which I’d strongly recommend. If I had the time, I would have gone twice – once during the day, and once during sunset. You can also make a quick stop to Diamond Beach located right across Highway 1.
Stop at Svinafellsjokull
On your way from Skaftafell to Jokulsarlon, you can stop at Svinafellsjokull. Part of the Skaftafell area of Vatnajökull National Park, we actually preferred the views here than what we saw at Skaftafell. We happened to discover this spot after pulling over to the side of the road and we’re so glad we did. You can get to stop at this part of the Vatnajökull glacier by navigating to the “Svinafellsjokull Parking.” There should be a very short path that will take you to a small lake at the base of the glacier, where the glacier spills into.
Frequently Asked Questions
Reynisfjara Beach, the Reynisdrangar stacks, Dyrhólaey Arch, and Dyrhólaey lighthouse are all things to do in Vik.
The drive from Reykjavík to Skaftafell is roughly 330 kilometers and would take around 4.5 hours.
Hofn is a great area to stay in if you plan on visiting Skaftafell National Park and Jokulsarlon. It’s about an hour away from the park and anywhere between 20-60 minutes away from Glacier Lagoon depending on where you stay.
final Thoughts on DRIVING FROM Vik TO Skaftafell
If you’re planning a trip to Iceland and are considering a visit to the south of Iceland, make sure to drive from Vik to Skaftafell. With a bit of planning and an early start, you can see magnificent waterfalls, unique rock formations, and stunning landscapes that are representative of the south of Iceland.
Start in Vik and visit Reynisfjara black sand beach and the cliffs of Dyrhólaey. Along the way, stop by the moss-covered landscapes in Eldhraun and Fjaðrárgljúfur. Once you’re in Skaftafell, hike to the glacier tongues inside the reserve or trek to the black waterfalls of Svartifoss. Depending on the time of year (and your budget, you can even join an ice caving tour or glacier hike in the Vatnajokull National Park.
Whether it’s your first trip to Iceland or you’ve been there many times before, the route from Vik to Skaftafell is a great place to explore the stunning landscapes in the south of Iceland. As usual, feel free to leave comments if you have any questions & I will always reply 😊