At some point, when planning a trip to Iceland, you may likely ask yourself if driving all the way out to the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is worth the time investment? We eventually decided to make the trek, and, while beautiful, I’m not sure we’d recommend it. Keep reading to see our honest thoughts on Jokulsarlon, the black sand beaches of Vik, as well as a few additional South Iceland highlights (waterfalls! hiking!!) from our trip this past summer.
Driving To South Iceland from Reyjkavik
One of the best parts of South Iceland was the drive there! It’s astonishingly beautiful. We drove from Reyjkavik late at night, with the setting sun behind us, and had to keep stopping to just….watch the show. Truly breath-taking. The drive (to Vik) is roughly 2.5 hours.
Seljalandsfoss Waterfall At Sunset (And Buy An Icelandic Sweater at the Gift Shop)
Seljalandsfoss is the waterfall in South Iceland where you can walk behind the water. It’s a cinch to get up there, and right off the main drag, soooooo….yeah: tons of tourists. However, if you time it right, by sunset most of the folks remaining are serious photographers armed with tripods, and this group is pretty good at taking turns, allowing you to not only have a leisurely walk behind the waterfall, but to snap a pretty epic family pic.
The gift shop was a happy surprise. It’s chock-full of gorgeous Icelandic sweaters, all hand-knit in Iceland with local wool. By the time we were done walking around, we were soaked, freezing, and realllllly happy to don our new Icelandic sweaters (with a cup of hot cocoa).
Pic taken at the Westman Islands, but it shows the sweaters from the gift shop. Also, ignore Pax’s face, haha.
See Rainbows at Skogafoss Waterfall, Then An Epic Hike
Roughly thirty minutes past the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, there’s another, insanely powerful one, Skogafoss. You really want to visit this one during the day, not at sunset – the rainbows at the bottom are something else. There’s also a hike following the river that feeds this waterfall – it should NOT be missed. Even with kids. This was one of the most epic hikes of our entire trip. It was such a family favorite that I have a whole other article on just the Skogafoss experience (including the insanely good fish-n-chips place nearby).
Take a Ferry To The Westman Islands
I can’t say enough about this experience – it was one of the biggest highlights of our trip. You can read all about our volcano hiking, rope-swinging, puffin-viewing adventures in the Westman Islands, here.
The Black Sand Beaches of Vik (And Eat There)
Here’s the thing: the black sand beach are gorgeous, but….dangerous. Like really, truly, don’t-mess-around dangerous. The reason behind this dire warning are ‘sneaker waves’ which sweep in, unannounced, and flood the beach, taking unsuspecting tourists with them. Our understanding from the locals is that these types of waves can come at any time, regardless of how calm the ocean might appear.
So. While I had visions of us relaxing on the black sand beaches, enjoying a sunset with a bottle of wine, staring into each other’s eyes while our kids played nearby…..the reality was not nearly so relaxing. However, the black sand beaches are like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and totally worth a stop if you are driving through south Iceland.
As a bonus, the Black Beach Restaurant, located right on the beach, is delicious. During the day they serve homemade soup, salads, and sandwiches (cafeteria style), and at night, they switch to table service with a few additional entrees. The atmosphere is good – neither touristy or cheesy – and the views are gorg.
Ignore our tired faces. It was a beautiful day, so we ended up moving to an outside table.
Then afterwards, we strolled the beach…..
Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon (Is It Worth It?)
While planning our week in Iceland, I let everyone choose ONE THING they really wanted to do, and then I tried my best to accommodate everyone’s top picks. Raines wanted to bathe in natural hot springs (“nothing that looks like a regular pool, mom”), Pax wanted to ride Icelandic ponies, Mike (hubs) wanted to hike, and my pick? I picked the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon.
I agonized over this decision, I really did. I spent hours googling phrases like, “Is Jokulsarlon worth the drive?” and wayyyy too much time on TripAdvisor trying to figure out if I was nuts for scheduling in an activity that would require a four hour drive….one way. (NOTE – this is the drive time from Reyjkavik.)
We ended up staying a few nights in the South of Iceland which brought the drive time down to a little under three hours each way…..but that’s still one heck of a drive for a family who would much rather be exploring than driving around.
In the end, was Jokulsarlon worth the long drive? Nope, not for us. If you are driving the ring road, or if you happen to be in that general area than YES. It is absolutely worth a stop – it is seriously cool. But what I didn’t realize at the time is that it’s also seriously small. And that the “boat tour” is under 30 minutes, and you won’t get nearly as close to the glaciers as pictures imply. And that if you happen to be a girl from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, there’s a good chance you’ve seen frozen phenomena on Lake Superior that may rival anything on the Glacier Lagoon.
Mike, documenting my sheepish laughter.
I don’t want to be a total hater – it’s always amazing to see glaciers up close. And the boat ride was entertaining (we got to “taste” 1000 year old ice, haha), they were really good to our kids, and if this had been a stop on our journey rather than a destination we went out of the way for, I may have come away with a different opinion.
And I’d also like to point out that Jokulsarlon is one of those places that seem to photograph better than it actually is. Meaning….I look at our pictures and think, “THAT DOES LOOK AMAZING!” So be warned.
Fjaðrárgljúfur (That’s a Canyon, Folks)
In an attempt to make our insanely long drive worthwhile (and since we were done at Jokulsarlon approximately an hour after arriving), I frantically googled for another adventure close by. And found….Fjaðrárgljúfur, a river canyon whose bedrock is estimated to be two million years old. Even better, the hike is only 2km long, right off the ring road leading back to Reyjkavik, and you can choose to hike on the top of the canyon, or along the riverbed.
We decided to hike along the riverbed. Now…..this was a good idea in theory. We knew – from the googles – that we’d have to cross the river a few times, but it was a nice day, our boys love water, and our hiking boots were waterproof.
What we didn’t realize, however, is that “a few times” is approximately fifteen, and that the river was not only cold but rushing and rock-covered, and that while it wasn’t deep, per se (no lives were in danger), it was much, much deeper than our hiking boots, rendering them completely useless.
We saw some locals splash by us in old, ratty running shoes they had brought for the occasion, then stared longingly after them as they hiked down a kilometer to have a picnic lunch in a sunny patch of grass on the riverbed.
It truly is a magical place, so if you think to bring tevas or a ratty pair of running shoes, this could be a seriously amazing experience.
On Our List For Next Time? Seljavallalaug
Oh, the irony. During the trip planning phase, I was waging a fierce internal debate between Jokulsarlon (which eventually won) and Seljavallalaug, Iceland’s oldest pool. It’s geothermally heated, a little tricky to find, but sounds like quite the adventure. It’s also verrrrry close to both Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss waterfalls, which would’ve bought us at least another day of adventuring. We skipped it, hoping to mayyybe squeeze it in, but no dice. If you go, this article from Tremendous Times has the best explanation for how to find the hiking trail (and what to expect when you get there – I love a good, candid take.)
All in all, we had a seriously amazing time. I think this picture sums it up nicely:
Yeah, Pax. You nut.
You can find all of the articles from our trip to Iceland, here.