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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Seljavallalaug Pool, Black Sand Beaches, Dryhaoley Arch and Vik- Iceland

Day 3 in Iceland focused on the South Coast of Iceland. We started the day with the two waterfalls before stopping at Seljavallalaug Pool and the Black Sand Beaches and Dryhaoley. This day in Iceland was as diverse as the country. Waterfalls to pools tucked away in canyons to beautiful black sand beaches. 

There is so much to do in this area and you could easily spend a few days. We narrowed our list down, taking the Sólheimasandur Plane Crash off our list to spend more time at the waterfalls and pool. The plane crash had a lot of cars parked at the trailhead and a lot of people heading out to the crash site. The time it would take to walk out and back to this tourist trap with crowds of people, (and of course, there was the pouring rain) we decided to skip the plane crash. 

Seljavallalaug Pool

After visiting Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, our third stop was the Seljavallalaug Pool. This site is often overlooked for the more popular sites in Iceland (i.e. plane crashes and waterfalls). It does involve a little bit of a hike out to the pool which may be another reason it isn't as popular as the other sites.  It was so nice to get away from the crowds after seeing the very crowded waterfalls.  We only saw 2-5 people at the pool and only passed one smaller group walking out on our way back from the pool.

walking to Seljavallalaug Pool

River by Seljavallalaug Pool

River by Seljavallalaug Pool

Following the path to Seljavallalaug Pool

The pool is at the end of this narrow valley below Eyjafjallajökull and it’s known as the oldest pool in Iceland that is still standing, was built in 1923. The visionaries that had the idea and built the pool wanted to provide the locals with a place where they could learn how to swim. 

Seljavallalaug Pool changing hut

The pool is mostly maintained by volunteers and of donations (there is a small box on the changing building) The 25 meter x 10 meters pool is built next to a rock wall that makes up one of its four walls and the water is piped from a natural hot spring close by and fed into one corner of the pool. Disclaimer: There was really nothing hot about this pool and I would call it barely lukewarm (it is a pool where warm water is piped in).  If you don't mind the chilly pool temperature, there are dressing rooms where you can change but no showers. Unfortunately, the place had been highly abused and the changing rooms were full of graffiti, alcohol leftovers, clothes and garbage. We didn't jump in the pool but if nothing else, the view is worth spending some time in the canyon, soaking up the amazing landscape of mossy greens, blacks and browns and of course, waterfalls. 

KW Worth the Trip? Yes!
Crowds: No (it was so nice to get away from the crowds)
Fees: No
Bathrooms: No
Parking: A gravel lot and you will have to walk out to the pool
Access: Easy

Dryhaoley Arch

After leaving the pool, our next stop (and last stop) of the day was the Dryhaoley Arch and black sand beaches. When you land in Iceland and pick up your rental car, they warn you about the severe winds and the power to blow off your car door. Yes, when you get out of your car you need to hold your door so the insane wind does not blow it off your car. Well, this is the place you need to hold on to your car door.

Dryhaoley Arch

Dyrhólaey is a 120-metre high promontory, not far from Vík. The area was declared a nature reserve in 1978 for the purpose of protecting and preserving the landscape and ecosystem of the area, especially the bird life. Various birds calls the rocs and pillars in this area home, and even puffins can be found on the vegetated precipices. 

Black sand beaches of Iceland

The area is most famous for the arch that can be seen from overhead. The name Dyrholaey means “door hill island” in Icelandic. The reason behind the name, is that the arch is so big, that ships and even small airplanes can pass through it at certain times. It is the power of the ocean that has worn the black basalt into this 120-metre high arch (394 ft).

Amazing views from the area to view Dryhaoley Arch

The area has amazing views all around. While there isn't a ton to do here, it is a great place to get out of the car, stretch your legs, and take in the Icelandic coastline. There are walking trails right along the coastline where you can stretch your legs and enjoy the view. 

Wide black sand beaches in this area 


There has been a lighthouse on Dyrholaey since 1910. The lighthouse keeper was also a sheep farmer for several decades after the lighthouse was built and ruins from that time can be seen a short distance from the lighthouse. Dyrholaey was exploited for centuries in terms of bird meat and eggs and it is also known as a local fishing port since the time of settlement. 

Monoliths along the black sand beaches

While the area is known for the arch, I found the other features on this beach so much more interesting. The landscape in this area is simply wild. The monoliths sticking out of the water and the waves washing up on this wide black sandy beach was on the top of my list for best views in Iceland.

Amazing landscape in this area

KW Worth the Trip? Yes!
Crowds: Yes but dispersed
Fees: No
Bathrooms: Yes, for a fee
Parking: Plenty
Hike: Walking trails available

Access: Easy- road with switchbacks up to this area (go slow!)

Basalt columns

L O G I S T I C S 

To end the day we drove into the quaint town of VIK where we checked out the famous basalt columns.  The weather was grim and the waves were coming in so we just spent a few minutes in this quaint spot learning about "sneaker waves" and taking in the views.

Driving into Vik

 The drive to Vik was a highlight as we approached this adorable little Icelandic town.
We checked into our guesthouse (Giljur Guesthouse just outside the main area) and grabbed dinner  in downtown Vik at the highly recommended Sudur Vik.

Giljur Guesthouse

Giljur Guesthouse

The guesthouse was quaint but looked a little dingy from the outside.  The owner knew very little English but showed us to our clean rooms with shared modern bathrooms.  This was one of our pricier lodging options not because we splurged on a nicer hotel, but instead because this area is generally more expensive.

At Sudur Vik, we started with the fried camembert appetizer (1,150 KR, ~ $11 ).  For dinner, I had the local pan fried Atlantic Char with sunflower seeds (3,900 KR ~$37), Thatcher had the chicken curry (2,700 KR ~$26), and Amanda and Braden had a pizza (2,100 KR ~$20) and breadsticks (1,200 KR ~$11).  The atmosphere was homey and quaint (newer restaurant in an older building/house) and the food was delicious.  There was a line so be prepared to wait t a little while as the restaurant is small. The prices are in the $20-$50 range and worth the wait and the price for authentic Icelandic cuisine.

Char entree at Sudur-Vik

Dinner:  Sudur Vik $72.43 for dinner for two and an appetizer. Located at Suðurvíkurvegur 1 in Vík- highly recommend.  Get there early or make a reservation. 

Guesthouse:  Giljur Guesthouse  $361 for four people (two rooms two twin sized bed) shared bathrooms.  Cheaper option just outside the main area. 

Driving:  2.5 hours without stops

Safety:  "No landmass divides the Atlantic ocean from the Antarctic all the way to Iceland. The waves that build across this distance, which stretches for thousands of kilometres, arrive at the South Coast with immense power. Due to the seabed at Reynisfjara, they often rise suddenly before making land, and are dubbed sneaker-waves as a result. They can rush high up the shore, and have caught many people off-guard who were too close to the water." #1 in Dumbest Things You Can Do in Iceland

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