Iceland hasn’t previously been the most obvious travel destination (Iceland? land of ice you say? It’s pretty cold and grim, no?), however in recent years, and this year in particular, it’s popularity has exploded; ‘tourism is now the largest revenue-generating sector in Iceland’ (Reykjavik Grapevine). This is probably something to do with people discovering that Iceland isn’t actually as cold as you’d first think (in fact both times I have visited it’s only been a few degrees cooler than our UK weather) and grim it certainly isn’t.
Most visitors will base themselves in Reykjavik, and incredible as the world’s most northerly capital city is with it’s colourful mismatched architecture and friendly cafes, venturing out of town is where you’ll discover what Iceland is all about.
On our first trip to Iceland we’d completed the fantastic Golden Circle, indulged in a good handful of Reykjavik’s geothermal pools and dazzled ourselves with a weeks’ worth of Northern Light sightings. This time around we’d set our hearts on experiencing the Glacier Lagoon in South Iceland, but – slight issue – we had, like most, based ourselves in Reykjavik for the week.
So can you do it? Can you go to Jokulsarlon and back to Reykjavik in one day?
After a slap up breakfast of Skyr, we left our hotel (Fosshotel Baron) at around 8am. This was a bit later than we’d originally planned; we had a few rental car issues – one flat tyre certainly wasn’t going to get us far. We had to wait for the main garage to open for them to swop our car to one with four working wheels.
Now on the road, we made our first stop after just less than two hours. As we reached Seljalandsfoss, a beautiful waterfall on the left of the ring road, the sun was beginning to rise over the mountains. In the summer you can walk behind these falls, in the winter it’s far too snowy.
We then took a second stop on the route to see the great Skogafoss a few minutes later (again very easy to find on the left hand side of Route 1 as you drive to the East, although a little bit further back from the road).
The next major planned stop was the small town of Vik for the black beaches. White sand is so overrated – this black sand was amazing. It was this really heavy jet black colour contrasting with the white snow. You’ll also see some fantastic basalt rock formations out to sea and the gorgeous red-roofed Vik-kirkja (Vik Church) perched on the top of the hill.
This was the last main town we were going to visit before driving the final few hours to Jokulsarlon, so it was a quick hot dog, bathroom break, top up of the the gas and back in the car.
The stretch of road after Vik is admittedly relatively plain and flat without much to see as you drive along, but after an hour or so it starts getting much more mountainous again… and then you start coming across these flecks of blue bursting between each peak.
The road then meanders back towards the coast and takes you between a large hill and the ocean, which is where you can peer to your left and catch glimpses of the Glacier Lagoon peeping out between the gaps. We then parked up in the roped off areas and hiked up the bank for a spectacular view of the lagoon.
We were the only ones there at the time; it was so silent, all you could hear was the ice moaning and cracking. Incredible.
Jokulsarlon is also a pretty special place for me, as I was proposed to on the bank of lagoon (Of course I said yes!)
The entire journey took around 12 hours, including stopping at the two waterfalls, the black beach and the Glacier lagoon, plus any other random photo stops along the way. It probably took us a little longer than most; in the last two hours of the journey, upon encountering some particularly bad weather, our window wipers didn’t feel up the job any longer and failed to engage. Urgh. Just our luck.
Whenever the heavens opened, or a car passed us on the other side of the road, the spray would splatter up our window, completely obliterating our vision. We had no choice but to pull up, manually wipe the windscreen and solider on. Every. Two. Minutes.
It was knackering. It was like an endurance test; when you realise that you’re on the return journey, having already driven for 7 hours, and you’re still got another 4 or 5 left to go (!!).
But, I got to see the Glacier Lagoon, and it was amazing.