Going to Iceland is like arriving in a natural wonderland. Everywhere you turn you see the most rural and diverse landscapes you could ever imagine. It seems like time stood still in this little place on earth. The South Coast of Iceland is the best example of this magical wonderland. It has volcanoes, beaches, mountains, hot springs, glaciers and waterfalls all within a couple of hours from each other. We’ve spend 4 days in the south and where able to tick most of our highlights from the list.
Vatnajökull National Park// Vatnajökull is the largest and most voluminous ice cap in Iceland. This big chunk of ice has a depth of 1km at some places and covers 8 percent of Iceland. I guess you can imagine where the country got its name? Ice climbing, guided glacier walks and riding an ice scooter are some of the excursions offered here. All of these excursions can be arranged from the nearby city Höfn.
Jökulsárlón// Jökulsárlón literally means “glacial river lagoon” and that’s exactly what this natural wonder is! The glacial lagoon is the result of the slowly melting Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. The size of the lake has already increased fourfold since the 1970s! Not the best development if you ask me. However, seeing the big pieces of ice drift onto the water was a magical sight. Be sure to come either really early or really late during the day to avoid the big tourist groups. This is a highlight after all!
Skaftafell National Park// This area is a part of the bigger Vatnajökull National Park. You can see a very interesting documentary in the visitor center about the eruption of the Grímsvötn and Gjálp. Both volcanoes lay underneath the glacier. Various easy hiking trails start from the visitor center. We did a loop of 3 hours. First we hiked to the Svartifoss, a waterfall surrounded by basalt columns. Afterwards we continued to the Nyrdrihnaukur from which you have a good view on the glacier. Although, I must admit that the view was surprisingly ugly since most of the glacier has a dark hue.
Skeidararsandur// Skeidararsandur covers 1300 km², making it the largest sand plain in the world. You actually drive on top of it when you’re driving on the ring road, so it super easy to tick this one off your list 😉
Vík í Mýrdal// Vik, the only real town in this area, can be found in the middle of the South Coast of Iceland. It’s a cozy place with a small beach, a supermarket to stock up on car snacks (I know you’ll need it :)), some restaurants and a beautiful church that also twins as the viewpoint on the area,. There’s a tourist information office that can help you out with about everything you need. Vik is known as the rainiest place of Iceland and it proved everyone right during our time there since it was pouring down!
Dyrhólaey// This is a geological formations right in front of the beach of Vik. Legend says that the stacks originated when two trolls tried to drag a three-masted ship to land unsuccessfully. When daylight broke they became needles of rock. You’ll find this kind of amusing saga all across Iceland and its just ads to the magical vibe you’ll get from Iceland.
Reynisfjara beach// Also known as black sand beach. This beach is ranked in the top 10 most beautiful non-tropical beaches. That’s enough to put it on the list, isn’t it? Along the shore you can find black, basalt sea stacks called Reynisdrangar. A large cave finishes it all of. Be aware of the powerful waves. We saw some people getting wet feet because they were too slow. In the summertime, many puffins nest on top of this cliff. Make sure to look up, because these little birds are awesome!
Airplane wrack at Sólheimasandur// In 1973, a United States Navy DC plane ran out of fuel and crashed on the black beach at Sólheimasandur. The remains of the plane can still be found in that exact spot. To get there, you need to walk 3,5 km on a gravel road towards the sea between side road 221 and 222 from the ring road.
Sólheimajökull glacier// If you don’t have much time but still want to experience a glacier, this place is the one for you. If you take side road 221, you’ll arrive at the glacier after only 1km. You can simply enjoy the view from the café or join one of the glacier walks.
Seljavallalaug// Ever seen a picture of a hot water swimming pool in the middle of the mountains in Iceland? Well, this is the one! When you’re driving on the ring road, take side road 242 (it’s close to the Iceland Erupts exhibition). Follow the road to Seljavellir, until you reach a building with the new swimming pool. This is where you park the car. Follow the hot water tube uphill into the valley for about 15 minutes. In the end you’ll see the pool peaking behind a corner. Swimming in this pool is one of my favourite memories of Iceland! It was so pure and exactly because of that, it’s the perfect Icelandic thermal experience.
Skógafoss// Probably the most easily accessible waterfall in Iceland! You can walk right up to the base of the waterfall across a pebbled beach. This makes it possible to actually feel the force of Skógafoss, which is a quite unique experience. You have a trail next to the waterfall that leads up to the top. This waterfall also has a campsite but the accommodation is quite basic and busy.
Þórsmörk hike// This perfect one-day hiking trail starts at the base Skógafoss. It’s a clearly marked trail with signs every 100m but you shouldn’t underestimate the ascent of this hike which last for about 4 hours! The first landscape you cross is one of lush green terrains, deep canyons and the most beautiful series of waterfalls I have ever seen. If you don’t have a full day, I would highly recommend doing only the first part of this hike. It already gives you a good idea of the immense vastness of the inlands of Iceland. After 2 hours you’ll cross a bridge after which the trail continues over the Fimmvörðuháls pass and across various ice caps. If you visit during the summer, a decent pair of hiking boots and a warm jacket is enough to cross this terrain. In other seasons, crampons and a guide are recommended. 17 km into the hike you have reached the most impressive part of the hike, the spectacular view of fresh lava from the 2010 eruption at Eyjafjallajökull. Climb the crater to get an impressive 360° view on the area. You’ll have 2 options to complete this trip. You can either continue for 8 km to Þórsmörk where you can take a 4×4 bus to Seljalandfoss (4000 isk) and then another bus to Skógar (2500 isk). The budget option is to return to Skógafoss by foot, which will make it a 35km hike. We went for the last option but make sure to have a certain level of fitness and good weather conditions if you want to do this. It took us 9 hours to complete the whole tour. Truly one of the most memorable experiences of our time in Iceland!
Seljalandfoss// The famous Seljalandfoss is truly a category on its own. The waterfall seems to jump over the top, while the rocks around it have been eroded to such an extent that you can walk behind the pouring water. How about that! We got lucky and spotted a rainbow at the base when the sun peaked through the clouds. We can highly recommend the campsite at this place.
Gljúfrafoss// At Seljalandfoss you’ll spot a little sign to Gljúfrafoss. Walk 5 minutes until you see a shallow stream coming from a small canyon. Walk on top of the rock into the little canyon and BAM you’re standing inside a waterfall! If you want to go for the full 360 experience, you can also climb to the top of this waterfall. A little goat trail on the outside of the canyon leads to the top. There’s an iron chain to help you at the more tricky parts of the climb.
Landmannalaugar// These green and gold mountains are some of the most magnificent volcanic landscapes of Iceland. Because of the remoteness of this area, it’s only accessible with 4×4 car of bus. It rained heavily during the previous days before our visit, which caused the rivers to rise making the trip extra hard. Therefore we had to opt out of the idea (maybe next time!). You’ll need at least 2 days to explore this area and take it all in. If you have more time, you can complete the Laugavegur hike, which will take you across all the diverse Icelandic landscapes in 4 days. The Þórsmörk hike I described above is actually the last part of this trail, so if you have less time, this is a great alternative!
The southern part of Iceland is easily accessible from Reykjavik. It’s a great option for everyone visiting Iceland on a stopover or as part of a longer road trip. Which places would you put on your travel list?