The 200km stretch of Ring Road from Kirkjubæjarklaustur to Höfn is truly mind-blowing, transporting you across vast deltas of grey glacial sand, past lost-looking farms, around the toes of craggy mountains, and by glacier tongues and ice-filled lagoons. The only thing you won’t pass is a town.
The mighty Vatnajökull dominates the region, its huge rivers of frozen ice pouring down steep-sided valleys towards the sea. Jökulsárlón is a photographer’s paradise, a glacial lagoon where wind and water sculpt icebergs into fantastical shapes.
The bleak coastal deserts of glacial sand are remnants of calamitous collisions between fire and ice. Further inland is the epicentre of Iceland’s worst volcanic event, the Lakagígar fissures. With so much desolation on display, it’s not surprising that Skaftafell is so popular. This sheltered enclave between the glaciers and the sands throbs with life and colour, and the footfalls of hikers.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Southeast Iceland.
A sign off the Ring Road indicates Fjallsárlón – this is an easily accessible glacier lagoon, where icebergs calve from Fjallsjökull. There are Zodiac tours among the bergs, plus walking trails around the lagoon, and it's a good alternative to busy Jökulsárlón, 10km further east. If you have the time, we recommend you stop at both lagoons, as they have different qualities: Jökulsárlón is much larger and more dramatic, while from Fjallsárlón's shores you can see the glacier snout. Both lagoons offer boat rides, and Fjallsárlón wins brownie points for building a handsome new visitor centre with a spacious cafe.
Heading east on the Ring Road from Skaftafell, a sign points the way to the glacier Svínafellsjökull. A rough, potholed dirt road leads 2km to a car park, from where it’s a short walk to the northern edge of the glacier and some fine photo ops. Don't be tempted to stride out onto the glacier unaccompanied – join a guided walk. In summer 2018, geologists became concerned over the risk of rock landslide in the region around Svínafellsjökull; at the time of research, guided glacier walks were no longer operating here (companies offering hikes on Svínafellsjökull have moved to other nearby outlet glaciers).
Kvíárjökull glacier snakes down to the Kvíá river and is easily accessible from the Ring Road; look for the sign for Kvíármýrarkambur just west of the bridge over the river. Leave your car in the small car park and follow the path into the scenic valley.