The Iceland South Coast is by far the most visited part of our awe-inspiring country. This is due to its proximity to Reykjavik and the concentrated number of magnificent wonders along the coast of southern Iceland. Whether you’re here during the more popular summer months or the frostier winter months, you will be astonished by the breathtaking terrain. Let's get up close and personal with this unforgettable zone.
Iceland South Coast: A quick overview
Because we are an island, the coast of Iceland surrounds us on all sides. But there's quite a lot to see and do, especially along the South Coast. We’ll assume you've already experienced the impressive Golden Circle and are ready to move on and continue exploring. The highlights of southern Iceland we’ll cover range from Seljalandsfoss waterfall to the stunning Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and more. This is some of the most magical, picturesque territory in Iceland, so prepare to have your breath taken away.
Reykjadalur geothermal valley in the South Coast
Once you've picked up your car rental in Iceland, it's time to hit the road! You've got the freedom to roam, and your first stop should definitely be the hot springs in Reykjadalur valley. The best thing to see and do here is the geothermally-heated hot river. After parking your car and doing the hot springs hike, the valley opens up and you'll see bathers enjoying the heated waters. Throw on your swimsuit and join them as you watch the steam rise from the water and feel your stress melt away.
South Iceland: Seljalandsfoss waterfall
Once you've left the geothermal Reykjadalur valley, it's time to continue east on the Ring Road. Our next destination is Seljalandsfoss waterfall, considered to be Iceland's most beautiful. In fact, it's nicknamed The Beauty due to its aesthetic appeal. This is no small feat in a country with over 10,000 waterfalls.
The unexpected surprise when visiting Seljalandsfoss is that there is a small cave just behind the flowing waters. This means but you can take a walk behind the cascade to take in views and snap photos from an uncommon point of view.
An additional stop in this area is the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar). You can take the ferry to Heimaey, the main city on this volcanic archipelago. Explore the area known for its natural beauty and wildlife and visit the imposing Elephant Rock.
Hidden gems along the way
While visiting South Iceland, you obviously want to hit up the main tourist attractions. But it's also nice to strike a balance and take some off-the-beaten-path detours. As you continue your journey along the Ring Road, some options to get away from the crowds are the Seljavallalaug outdoor pool and Sólheimajökull glacier.
The Seljavallalaug outdoor pool gives you the chance to partake in Iceland's bathing culture. Be forewarned, however. There are minimal facilities and the pool does not have much upkeep. The water is also not as warm as other thermal pools, so this is a destination for those more into roughing it.
Sólheimajökull glacier, by contrast, is a better option if you're looking to do activities like a glacier hike or just see an Icelandic glacier. It's part of Mýrdalsjökull glacier and the turnoff is between Skógafoss and Solheimasandur. It’s quite a sight to see and has those streaks of turquoise and white hues our glaciers are so well known for.
Skógafoss: Another stunning Iceland waterfall
As you make your way towards the tiny fishing village of Vik, there's another famous Iceland waterfall you should pay a visit to. Skógafoss is unique and that you can walk right up to the waterfall. So you want to make sure you pack your raincoat and waterproof hiking boots. There's also an observation deck up top and buried treasure supposedly behind the waterfall. Who knows? Maybe you'll discover it and go on a shopping spree in downtown Reykjavik.
Solheimasandur plane wreck site
One of the coolest sights you'll see in Iceland is the crash site of the US Navy Douglas DC-3 plane wreck. All that remains of this 1973 aviation disaster on Solheimasandur beach on the South Coast is the plane’s fuselage. In addition to being visually appealing and a mecca for photographers, the site also has a very interesting story.
Due to weather conditions, the plane went down, but miraculously everyone walked away unscathed. Neither the Icelandic government nor the US government would pay to clean up the wreck. So the hollowed-out remains of the plane still sit in their original spot like a ghost. This is now one of the major attractions for those willing to make the 45-minute walk from the parking area.
Vik and Reynisfjara volcanic black sand beach
A favorite area to spend the night for those traveling the South Coast of Iceland is Vík í Mýrdal village. Often shortened to Vik, this quaint seaside fishing village is known not so much for the town but rather for its surrounding areas. Dyrhólaey peninsula and Reynisfjara black sand beach are within driving distance and are considered a must for any Icelandic road tripper.
We all know that Iceland is famous for lava fields and the volcanic activity that shaped the island. But this beach is particularly special thanks to the rock formations, basalt columns, and sea stacks along the shore. These striking, onyx hexagonal basalt columns are volcanic rocks that jut out from the cliff face. It's no wonder this was chosen as a Game of Thrones filming location.
More off-the-beaten-path destinations
Now that we've seen some of the most frequented places to visit in the south, let's take a step back and discover a few more hidden gems. The first is Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon, a lovely river canyon with a seemingly unpronounceable name. You can explore it from the walking path above or descend and get your feet a little wet.
Next up is the tiny hamlet of Kirkjubaejarklaustur village. It’s wonderful to visit not only for the spectacular nature surrounding it, but also for more practical reasons. Besides its religious history with Irish monks and Benedictine nuns, Kirkjubaejar (Church Farm) has some local amenities you'll find useful. Replenish necessary supplies at both the local gas station and supermarket and stop by the bank or post office if you need them.
Lastly, stop by Kirkjugólfið (Church Floor), which is Iceland's own mini version of the Giant's Causeway in Ireland. It looks like a lily pond, except that instead of lily pads there’s a small expanse of columnar basalt rock. The natural wonder was formed by rapidly cooling lava that contracted and turned into the geometric shapes we see today.
Dverghamrar (Dwarf Cliffs) are another gorgeous yet mysterious basalt monument in the area.
Vatnajökull National Park in Southern Iceland
Another must-visit destination in Iceland’s south is Vatnajökull national park. It's not only Europe's largest national park, but it's home to the largest glacier in Iceland. This massive icy mammoth is famous for both glacier hiking and the ice cave excursions you can partake in. The Skaftafell section of the park is home to a larger glacier tongue where you can do these exciting outdoor activities. You will also find the basalt column Svartifoss waterfall here.
You can also go snowmobiling on the glacier or hiking in the park itself.
Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon
South Iceland is also home to one of Iceland's most well-known and most enchanting sights: Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. Melted runoff water from outlet glaciers of Vatnajökull has pooled to form a beautiful glacier lake nearby. The sheets of ice that break off from Vatnajökull glacier slowly float in this gorgeous body of water as they make their way to sea. The result is a haunting landscape of icebergs with various sizes and shapes.
Once you make a stop at the glacier lagoon, it's quite easy to head across the highway to view another spectacular locale. Just across the Ring Road is the Diamond Beach, another special destination along the Iceland south coast. Unfortunately, you won't find jewels dotting the black sand shores of this volcanic beach. You will, however, find the treasure of otherworldly scenery in the form of ice blocks of varying sizes scattered along the dark sand. They range in size from a coffee mug to the more eye-popping ones as large as an SUV.
Jökulsárlón and the Diamond Beach are generally considered the end of South Iceland. But if you have a little extra time, continue northward for a few another hour to visit the village of Höfn. It's got a glacier museum and is the beginning of Iceland’s East fjords region.
South Coast Iceland: The best places to visit
A trip along the South Coast of Iceland is a must-do on any traveler’s bucket list. You'll see amazing sights, have exhilarating adventures, and enjoy once-in-a-lifetime experiences. So what are you waiting for? Book your car rental and get ready to explore.