The Adventurer’s Guide to Southern Iceland

At Men’s Journal, we’re large proponents of veering off the overwhelmed path (at break-neck speeds, in an ATV, if we might help it). So when planning a visit to a significant trending vacationer vacation spot like Iceland, the plain alternative wasn’t to hunker down within the capital of Reykjavík. Or to let you know to go to the milky-blue waters of the Blue Lagoon. We set out to discover a basecamp that felt distant but homey, placing you on the heart of extraterrestrial landscapes, heart-hammering exploits, and native haunts. So we ventured to southern Iceland.

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Know this: Your guides and hosts will develop into pals. Close pals. In the primary 5 minutes of assembly, our Midgard Adventure information, Jón, an affable hulk of a person—who identifies as 50% Viking, 10% troll, and 40% one thing I can’t say out loud—turned to me and mentioned, ‘Do you trust me?’ I nodded, then mimed him as he instructed me to maintain out my arms, flip my thumbs down and rotate my palms out, then bend over and stick my arms by way of my legs. I trusted him much less now, however acquiesced. He waddled nearer, hunched his physique over mine, then grabbed my arms and counted down from three earlier than flipping my physique in a single fell swoop. It’s his trademark. So is grilling Icelandic-style scorching canines on a conveyable grill on the mouth of a Game of Thrones-worthy canyon. (Editor’s observe: They’re beef scorching canines topped with white onions; ketchup; yellow mustard; and pylsusinnep, a candy brown mustard. But dammit if it’s not the perfect scorching canine you’ll ever scarf down.)

Editor Brittany Smith trekking on volcanic sand of Mýrdalsjökull glacier Robb Leahy for Men’s Journal

All of that is to say we discovered precisely what we had been in search of—a wild, whirlwind of an journey, the place the locals make simply as a lot of an affect because the vacation spot. Use this four-day weekend information to maximize your time on this Nordic nation’s moss-covered lava fields, dramatic waterfalls, black sand seashores, and otherworldly ice caves.

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How to Get to Southern Iceland

Fly in to Reykjavík through Icelandair. If you possibly can swing it, fly Saga Class (enterprise class). It’s the perfect airline meal I’ve loved, plus the Saga Lounge is strikingly Icelandic in design. On the airplane, you’ve bought an array of cocktails and spirits, plus two three-course-meal choices to select from. The in-flight leisure is über-Icelandic, with music from native artists, domestically made movies, and even the choice to be taught some phrases and phrases earlier than the wheels contact down within the “Land of Fire and Ice.” It’s additionally price noting Icelandair’s Stopover program. It connects 23 European gateways (21 in North America), all by way of Reykjavík’s Keflavík International Airport, so in the event you’re touring abroad, you may make a pitstop in Iceland for up to seven days at no extra value.

Your vacation spot is Hella. To get there, lease a automobile at Keflavík International Airport. There are a great deal of rental corporations, simply be certain to e-book early to get the perfect deal. It’s a few one-hour drive to your lodging.

Back property of Hotel RangáBack property of Hotel Rangá Robb Leahy for Men’s Journal

Where to Stay in Southern Iceland

Hotel Rangá: This lodge-esque boutique lodge is the one Four-star property in Southern Iceland. It’s nestled alongside East-Rangá River (wonderful salmon fishing), and there are three communal geothermal-heated scorching tubs studded alongside the again of the property, the place you possibly can soak with a cocktail in-hand. Opt from 52 customary and deluxe rooms, in addition to suites, that are themed after the seven continents. The new Icelandic master bedroom completely encapsulates Nordic fashion. The showstoppers are a hand-crafted stone tub in the course of the room, and a rotating platform in the lounge that gives 360-degree views of the encompassing countryside (finest loved with a cup of espresso or dram of whiskey). The general really feel is unfussy and comfortable, with pine-log partitions and terracotta tiles operating by way of the lodge. Read a e-book in one of many cushioned nooks or play a spherical of pool; the billiards desk is festooned with an antler chandelier overhead. The Icelandic humorousness is evidenced within the quirky, kitschy particulars sprinkled across the lodge, just like the towering taxidermy polar bear within the lodge’s foyer and the cheeky (actually) bar stools on the bar (they’re ladies’s legs). The motive to come right here over wherever else is definitely three-fold.

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For one, the property has its personal observatory with a roll-off roof and two mammoth computerized telescopes. An area astronomer will level out celestial objects of pursuits on clear nights. If you’re fortunate (aka there’s excessive photo voltaic exercise, few clouds), it’s also possible to view the northern lights. There’s a button on the phone in your room to request to be woken up ought to the aurora borealis strike once you’re sleeping. Because Hotel Rangá’s in a distant, rural space, there’s little mild air pollution obscuring the dancing flares. What’s extra, the proprietor, Friðrik Pálsson, actually provides a rattling about your expertise. He makes a degree to briefly sit and chat with each visitor in Rangá Restaurant. He was within the fishing trade earlier than changing into a hotelier, and that actually reveals within the meals. The seafood is classy. You can order basic Nordic fare, like smoked puffin, reindeer carpaccio, and skyr cake—however don’t depart with out making an attempt the wild mushroom soup, salmon with candy potato purée and apples, or beef tenderloin with sunchoke purée and buttermilk crumble. Because the menu is so in depth, there’s actually no want to enterprise elsewhere for meals both. (Pro tip: Come across the holidays and feast on the Christmas Buffet.)

Southcoast Adventure Buggy Tour, with a pitstop at Gluggafoss (waterfall)Southcoast Adventure Buggy Tour, with a pitstop at Gluggafoss (waterfall) Robb Leahy for Men’s Journal

What to Do in Southern Iceland


Ride ATVs With Southcoast Adventure: Depending in your flight, and in the event you want an influence nap, you may need just some hours or a full day. If it’s the previous, head to Gljúfrabúi, street 249, for Southcoast Adventure’s 2-Hour Buggy Tour. Make certain you e-book prematurely, and observe it’s also possible to pay for choose up/drop off. Opt between shared (two individuals) or a single journey in a Four×Four ATV, then gear up with the supplied baclava, helmet, and insulated coverall. You’ll whip across the tundra discipline between Fljótshlíð (rural municipality) and Eyjafjallajökull (ice cap), stopping to discover Gluggafoss (waterfall—”foss“ means waterfall in Icelandic), Markaðsfljótaurar (black sand seashore), and the Hamragarðaheiði viewpoint overlooking Seljalandsfoss and Vestmannaeyjar (archipelago off the South Coast). Most of the tour is over gravel and sand, however you’ll additionally churn by way of small streams. Available at 10 a.m. or three p.m.

Go Trail Running Up Stóra-Dímon: When you’re driving across the tundra fields on the buggy tour, you’ll see Stóra-Dímon—much less of a mountain, extra of a steep hill. It’s simply accessible for a fast hike or run, in the event you fancy path operating, and takes roughly 15-20 minutes to scale (longer in the event you’re strolling).

Visit Skeiðvellir (Icelandic HorseWorld): This family-run horse-breeding farm has up to 100 Icelandic horses. You’ll see ’em throughout Iceland, but it surely’s price getting to know the small-but-sturdy purebreds up shut (simply don’t name them ponies). Book a steady go to to study their distinctive historical past (no horses or driving tools are permitted entry in Iceland to shield Icelandic horses from illness; horses which have been exported are consequently not allowed to return) and traits (Icelandic horses are able to executing 5 totally different gaits, together with the tölt). Experienced riders with a full day to spend can go for the Four.5-hour Under the Volcano expertise (May to September, 9:30 a.m.), driving Icelandic horses over lava fields and low rivers, all whereas taking in views of Hekla (volcano) and Eyjafjallajökull (ice cap). Only have reasonable expertise and some hours? Go for the 2-hour Country Ride (May to October, 9:30 a.m. or 2:30 p.m.), the place your horse will exhibit the tölt. And in the event you’ve by no means been on a horse earlier than, the 1-hour Mountains & Meadows tour is completely suited to freshmen. Ride on tender, vast tracks with views of surrounding glaciers and volcanoes (year-round, 10 a.m. or 2 p.m.).

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The Secret Lagoon, a natural hot springThe Secret Lagoon, a pure scorching spring Robb Leahy for Men’s Journal


Golden Circle Tour Highlights

The three scorching spots comprising the Golden Circle are Gulfoss (waterfall), Geysir (geyser/geothermal park), and Þingvellir (nationwide park). To squeeze every little thing in in the future, we suggest hitting the primary two. You can e-book a guided tour package deal or do the drive your self, which permits you to splurge on guided ventures in your different days (our advice). Here are the spots you don’t need to miss.

Háifoss: This is the fourth tallest waterfall in Iceland. The river Fossá expenses over the cliffside, dropping 122 meters right into a gorge. You’ll see the smaller, neighboring waterfall, Granni, to its proper. For a fast go to, comply with street 332 and park within the lot (south of the waterfall), then stroll the brief distance to a lookout level. You may hike to the waterfall, following Fossá (approx. 5 to 6 hours). Just observe you’ll want a automobile with four-wheel drive both manner. Stop at The Highland Center Hrauneyjar once you’re driving from Hella to Háifoss in the event you want a snack, meal, or relaxation cease.

Gulfoss: You’re gonna have to battle the crowds extra at this iconic waterfall. Rather than dropping from a spectacular peak, these falls cascade in two elements with an incredible quantity of energy. Meltwater from Langjökull glacier feeds Hvítá, a glacial river, conserving Gulfoss roaring year-round. Walk alongside the footpath that winds alongside the falls. In the hotter months, the water spray tosses rainbows; and within the winter, elements of Gulfoss freeze over.

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Geysir Geothermal Park: Boiling mud pits may not appear to be a riotously good time, however this geothermal park is geologically and traditionally important. Strokkur is an energetic geyser that blows each ~6 minutes. Come earlier within the morning or within the night, so that you’re not amongst throngs of vacationers. If you’ve got the time, inquire about a possibility to help a information in boiling eggs in one of many scorching springs, or dig up rúgbrauð, Icelandic rye bread that bakes for 24 hours underground, just under the earth’s floor. It’s candy and dense (no yeast, however quantity of syrup and buttermilk), extra just like the consistency of cake, and pairs rather well with smoked fish or butter.

The Secret Lagoon in Flúðir: The Blue Lagoon is artifical (it originated because the runoff water from a geothermal plant)—with algae, silica, and lava rock from the encompassing lava discipline lending the water skin-soothing properties. But it’s additionally mobbed with vacationers. Instead, go the place the locals go. The Secret Lagoon is a pure geothermal pool with lava rock under. Icelanders bathe bare, communally, to cleanse their our bodies and rinse out their swimsuits earlier than and after bathing within the scorching springs, so don’t be afraid to comply with go well with—actually, it’s solely bizarre in the event you don’t. We counsel reserving prematurely, and coming round sundown (relying on the time of 12 months), when the golden-hour mild and steam give an ethereal vibe.

Where to Eat

Friðheimar, a family-run tomato farm and restaurant, is a top-notch spot for lunch. Tables are set within the expansive greenhouse, the place synthetic lighting and bees preserve tomato manufacturing thriving (a few ton a day), regardless of Iceland’s harsh situations. Order the tomato soup (clearly). You can add kebabs (hen, seafood, or cheese), and gorge on as a lot freshly baked bread as you’d like, topping off the meal with cheesecake jars layered with a jam made from inexperienced tomatoes, cinnamon, and lime.

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Black sand beachRobb Leahy for Men’s Journal

DAY three 
Superjeep and Ice Cave Tour With Southcoast Adventure

Southcoast Adventure’s Super Jeep and Ice Cave Tours guarantee most stokage—not simply because they provide almost a dozen totally different itineraries, however as a result of their tour guides are additionally versatile and accommodating. They’re open to tweaking excursions on the fly relying on the climate and your preferences. Magnús Arturo, our intrepid driver and information, was keen to present us a few of his favourite spots, so we began with a winding drive previous the seafront village of Vík—climbing a treacherous street made navigable by the monstrous Super Jeep—towards a scenic overlook.

Walk the Reynisfjall Lookout Over Reynisdrangar and Reynisfjara: There are an entire lotta names that sound precisely the identical, however fast breakdown: Reynisfjall is a mountain that was shaped through the penultimate Ice Age. It shaped from a volcano that erupted underneath a glacier, creating geologically putting formations like pillow lava and basalt pillars and columns. The high of Reynisfjall creates a shocking (flat) cliff stroll that towers over Reynisdrangar, basalt sea stacks that dramatically rise from the water, in addition to Reynisfjara, an iconic black sand seashore. During the suitable season, you possibly can see puffins’ nesting colonies alongside the cliffside.

Editor Brittany Smith in Katla ice cave (Mýrdalsjökull glacier)Editor Brittany Smith in Katla ice cave (Mýrdalsjökull glacier) Robb Leahy for Men’s Journal

Tour Katla Ice Cave: Your information will drive the Super Jeep ~45 minutes north of Vík to Mýrdalssandur—and boy is it an epic drive. The volcanic sand plains had been shaped by Katla volcano’s 20+ eruptions through the years, although subsequent glacial flooding has turned it into an outwash plain; intensely black glacial sediments have been deposited by highly effective meltwater floods. Hafursey, one other mountain created through the Ice Age, juts dramatically from the volcanic sand, blanketed in vivid inexperienced scrub vegetation. Continue driving up and over sand banks till you attain Katla ice cave within the Kötlujökull glacier, an icefall of Mýrdalsjökull glacier. You’ll cross planks of wooden to navigate meltwater streams, stopping to marvel on the striated layers of ice. The glacier is sort of a layer cake, with bands of black separating white ice; the black layers are ash from Katla’s eruption strapped within the ice. Strap crampons to your boots, and stroll by way of the ever-changing ice cave. Because meltwater is indefinitely working its manner by way of the ice, new formations occur week by week. Fun truth: The Katla ice caves had been a filming location for Star Wars Rogue One.

Where to Eat

Stop by Smiðjan Brugghús, a brewpub in Vík, for lunch or an early dinner. You can gorge on a fried hen sandwich, blue cheese burger, or BBQ ribs, then wash it down with one (or two) of their 10 Icelandic craft beers on draft.

Midgard Adventure Þórsmörk Super Jeep TourMidgard Adventure Þórsmörk Super Jeep Tour Robb Leahy for Men’s Journal

DAY Four

Þórsmörk Super Jeep Tour With Midgard Adventure

This is one other day reserved for a guided tour, and we will’t suggest Jón Hostage of Midgard Adventure sufficient. Aside from expertly navigating harmful rivers in a Super Jeep, he additionally has an intensive information of Icelandic folklore.

Walk the Shores of Landeyjarfjara Beach: The tour begins at this small black sand seashore, with ship wreck stays strewn concerning the seashore. Unlike the seashores at Vík, this’ll be abandoned—and also you’ll have views of the Westman Islands and volcanoes.

Hiking summit of Valhnjukur Mountain in Þórsmörk Nature ReserveHiking summit of Valhnjukur Mountain in Þórsmörk Nature Reserve Robb Leahy for Men’s Journal

Hike to the Top of Valhnjukur Mountain: To enter Þórsmörk Nature Reserve, you’ll have to cross Krossá—a notoriously harmful river. (Do not try to cross this alone in a daily automobile. Guides know the perfect factors to cross the river, and precisely what air strain their Super Jeep tires want to roll over rocky terrain.) The climbing path to Valhnjukur begins simply previous Volcano Huts in Þórsmörk. It’s a brief hike (1.5 miles) however the views are extraordinary. Peer down at glaciers, volcanoes, and braided glacial rivers (you’ll spot Krossá and Markarfljót).

Editor Brittany Smith exploring Stakkholtsgjá CanyonEditor Brittany Smith exploring Stakkholtsgjá Canyon Robb Leahy for Men’s Journal

Traverse Stakkholtsgjá Canyon: Coined the Game of Thrones canyon, this leisurely out-and-back hike is an absolute should in your journey by way of Þórsmörk, simply observe you want to be a part of a tour supplier (like Midgard Adventure). Walk rigorously over the moist rocks and pebbles lining the canyon, as a small creek runs by way of its size. At some factors, it may be fairly excessive, be sure you’re carrying correct waterproof climbing boots. The cliffs loom on both aspect of the canyon, revealing curious caves and ravines. At the tip, it narrows, forming a slot canyon waterfall. Carefully scramble over the boulders, then stand earlier than the falls. Spray rains down on you—and, if you will get in right here with out a big group of vacationers, it’s a magical expertise that feels clandestine (and may need you believing in trolls and elves in spite of everything).

Soak Up Some Epic Waterfalls: To spherical out the journey, head to Gljúfrafoss (additionally referred to as Gljúfrabúi), a brief methods off Route 1 Ring Road. Gljúfrafoss is a “keyhole” waterfall, in that it’s nearly hidden behind a cliff. You want to stroll by way of a large crack within the rock, then enter the principle chamber, which is carpeted in tender inexperienced moss. After, stroll a number of hundred toes to Seljalandsfoss, the extra famed of the 2 falls. The river Seljalandsá feeds this waterfall, which majestically drops 200 toes from a cliff. What’s distinctive to Seljalandsfoss is its strolling pathway. Scramble—once more, rigorously—down the wood steps and onto the rocks main to the underside of the falls. You’re going to get at the very least somewhat moist from the spray, however if you would like to commit to a full ship, you possibly can bop underneath the falls (how typically are you able to say you had been doused by an Icelandic waterfall?).

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