The South Coast of Iceland holds some of the most beautiful natural attractions in Iceland. The area boasts of a unique mix of volcanoes and glaciers, geysers, hot springs, lava fields, and waterfalls, along with multiple historic sites like the UNESCO site of Thingvellir. Most of the attractions are easily accessible right off the Ring Road 1 and mostly found within close proximity of one another. Don’t bother putting your camera away, you will want to have it at hand at all times. Let’s get to know the magical South of Iceland!
The Golden Circle
You’re headed into the ‘volcano zone!’ South Iceland is a masterpiece of volcanic activity and home to some of the island’s most celebrated natural wonders along the ‘Golden Circle’ route which is a real must for sightseers. Its centerpiece is Thingvellir (UNESCO), where settlers established an assembly in AD 930 which has evolved into the world’s oldest parliament today. Thingvellir is also a masterpiece of nature, with a scenic lake and rifts which mark where the continental plates of America and Eurasia meet.
Other Golden Circle highlights include Gullfoss, the ‘Golden Falls’, a mighty two-tier waterfall on the Hvita River, and the geothermal fields of Geysir, where the spouting spring Strokkur erupts every ten minutes. This very geyser is actually the namesake for all the other geysers in the English language. It used to erupt at a skyscraper’s height but after a series of earthquakes in the early 2000’s it has cooled down…at least for now. However, his baby brother Strokkur now picks up the slack, spouting every 4-10 minutes right next to his quiet counterpart. You can easily see the natural waterwork go off multiple times and there is no admission fee!
Places to visit on the South Coast
The forces of nature in south Iceland have shaped not only the land but man’s life too. Off the south coast, the Westman Islands were evacuated in 1973 due to a volcanic eruption. However, the inhabitants soon returned and are now up to 4500. The island can only be reached by ferry or plane but is well worth the extra effort. The soaring steep cliffs, the surrounding small islands, the roaming sheep and the clear volcanic evidence make up the most incredible setting. Topped up by the amazing culture and atmosphere amongst the locals. Additionally, made even better with amazing restaurants and bars.
However, back onshore. The road from Reykjavík, the capital, first takes you into Hveragerði. Truly the town of flora and fauna. It is where the path to Reykjadalur begins, which leads to a natural hot river you can bathe in!
Next up is Selfoss, often dubbed the capital of the south. Furthermore, a good place to do grocery shopping before heading further east. Their local swimming pool is also an excellent dip to enjoy!
Onwards you have Hella and Hvolsvollur villages but right after the waterfalls and glaciers begin. Here you are about 1-1,5 hours out from Reykjavík. This is the location of Iceland’s star Eyjafjallajokull, the unpronounceable volcano that lies under a glacier that made itself known to the world in April 2010.
In the village of Vik, you’ll find the dramatic Reynisdrangar cliffs rising from the ocean, along with Reynisfjara beach, known for its black sand and spectacular patterns of basalt columns. A neighboring cliff Dyrholaey is also known to draw attention, mostly recognized for its stellar bird scene but also for being a spot for pilot dare-devils in Iceland, but small airplanes have been flown through the hole a couple of times!
Into the Southeastern parts of Iceland
Next up are the glaciers, and they just keep getting bigger the farther east you go. Kotlujokull is the one with the all-year-round ice cave, Solheimajokull is the one you can go ice walking or even climbing on a day trip out from Reykjavík. However, the crown jewel is always Vatnajokull. Europe’s largest ice cap and all its outlet glaciers. They are hard to beat!
The southeast offers Europe’s largest glacier at Vatnajokull National Park where you can also experience the awe-inspiring Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon, renowned for its boat cruises among dancing icebergs. Furthermore its incredibly active birdlife and the cutest little seals that pop up all around the lagoon.
As the icebergs descend from the lagoon they often drift ashore the black sand beach Solheimasandur that resides beneath the lagoon. The visual is absolutely mesmerizing. When the crystal-like icebergs meet the staggering black beach and have given the beach its name the Diamond Beach.
Kirkjubaejarklaustur is another settlement about an hour from Vik. It is a quiet place with a slow-paced lifestyle. Where sheep and horses roam the fields and people walk to the shops and restaurants. There are a few great hotels around and the area is beautiful to stay at.
Few places in Iceland can match the wealth of contrasts found at Skaftafell National Park. Where green woodlands and black mountains converge with the sheer white glacier in the shadow of the country’s highest peak, Hvannadalshnjukur.
Waterfalls on the South Coast
Touring the south coast of Iceland is extremely popular among tourists. Therefore, two magnificent waterfalls located there have become the most renowned waterfalls in Iceland along with Gullfoss. Firstly we’re talking about Seljalandsfoss, special for the fact that one is able to walk behind it. And, secondly, the powerful Skogafoss waterfall, which is also the starting point of the Fimmvorduhals hiking trail.
Many don’t know this but right next to Seljalandsfoss you can find the water-charmer Gljufrabui. Tucked away in a gorge about 100 steps from the famed cascade. They are both equally worth the visit!
However, once you enter Hvolsvöllur (before Seljalandsfoss) you can also take a turn inwards into Fljotshlid and onwards to the Gluggafoss parking lot. This place is usually empty, as it is known to only a few but it truly is a hidden gem!
Systrafoss and Stjornarfoss are in Kirkjubaejarklaustur and can be found within walking distance of one another. They are a must for anything staying there!
Lastly, we will mention Svartifoss. Also known as The Black Waterfall, located inside Skaftafell nature reserve. This happens to be the inspiration to Hallgrimskirkja church but the basalt columns that surround it frame the water drop in an awe-inspiring manner. Surely a stunning hike to make and great before or after a glacier hike on the surrounding glaciers!
For more detailed information about attractions, villages and activities in the South coast be sure to go through our destination guide.