As an island with a long history of sea-faring, Iceland has long been known to make use of lighthouses. The jagged volcanic cliffs and occasionally rough seas have made lighthouses in Iceland a necessity for fishers over the centuries.
As a result, these structures can be found on every coast of the country, and many are still active today. By visiting each of these lighthouses in turn, you’ll have a great view of Iceland’s beautiful coastline. Let’s take a look at a popular route: Iceland’s South Coast Lighthouse Trail.
All About The Trail
This route runs along the southern coast of Iceland, beginning at Selvogsviti lighthouse, passing Hafnarnesviti lighthouse and finishing at Knarrarósvi.
The distance is only around 45 km (28 miles) but there is a lot to see on the way. You should plan to make multiple stops, not only at the three lighthouses but also in between them. The southern coast is regarded by many as the most beautiful and picturesque area of Iceland.
This route is different from the standard path, as you are not following the Ring Road (Route 1). Instead, you drive along roads that run right up against the coastline, affording you wonderful views the entire way. Before we get into what you can do on the trail, let’s look at the lighthouses themselves.
If you’re driving from Reykjavík or the airport, your first stop will be Selvogsviti lighthouse. Standing at a whopping 15 meters (49 feet) tall, it was first built in 1919 and then rebuilt in 1931. Nowadays, it is completely automated and in addition to its 3.3 meters high light, it’s also fitted with a critical radio transmitter.
About 19 km (12 miles) from Selvogsviti sits Hafnarnesviti lighthouse, located next to the town of Þorlákshöfn. This lighthouse, completed in 1951, is the smallest of the three at 8 meters (26 feet). It was built to service the small harbor in the town, from which fishermen could access rich fishing waters.
Last along the route is Knarrarósviti, the tallest of the trio at 22 meters (72 feet), completed in 1939. It’s about 27 km (17 miles) from Hafnarnesviti and was the first lighthouse in Iceland to be made from reinforced concrete.
This lighthouse is actually open to the public in the summer months and it’s definitely worth a visit. In between Hafnarnesviti and Knarrarósviti you’ll pass through two small villages: Eyrarbakki and Stokkseyri.
What to Do Along The South Coast Lighthouse Trail
First of all, you have multiple options for how you travel along this route. You could drive the highways with your rental car and turn in at each lighthouse, or you could walk, cycle or even ride a horse. There is a walking trail that follows the coastline and connects the three lighthouses and villages.
While 45 kilometers is a lot to complete in a day, you could stretch the route further, since two or three days gives you time to walk at a leisurely pace and enjoy the views on the way. And because this is not one of the country’s more famous hiking routes, you’ll have some peace and quiet to soak in along the journey.
You’ll also be able to see the many species of seabirds that make Iceland their home in the summer. This includes up to ten million puffins, which breed in Iceland every year. The villages on route also have a lot to offer in addition to food and accommodations.
Þorlákshöfn, like most towns in Iceland, has a naturally heated swimming pool with hot tubs. This would be a great place to relax after your walk from Selvogsviti. There’s also a campsite in this town right next to the pool if you fancy a rustic accommodation.
Past the town is the Ölfus black sand beach, which runs all the way to the Ölfusá river. After you’ve crossed it, you’ll reach the Eyrarbakki village. This was once one of the largest urban areas in Iceland, bigger than Reykjavík. Nowadays, it contains less than 600 people, and the village’s oldest house (Husið) dates back to 1765.
Finally, there is Stokkseyri, which contains a mix of old and newly-built houses. Like every urban setting on the island, the village is home to a large church. Throughout The Land of Fire and Ice, churches are often the centerpieces of towns and cities and are beautifully crafted.
What about Þrídrangar Lighthouse?
What about other lighthouses in Iceland, you ask? There’s a chance may have heard about Þrídrangaviti lighthouse, or seen it in Kaleo’s music video.
People often remark that it’s a great place for an introvert to live, or the ideal setting to survive a zombie apocalypse. This is because it’s perched atop a very thin rock about 10 km (6 miles) off the main coast. The lighthouse is on one of three isolated rock pillars (Þrí-drangar= three rock pillars) and was built in 1939.
It serves the fisheries of the Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar) one of Iceland’s most important fishing ports. The lighthouse can only be reached by helicopter, which lands on the small helipad in front of the building. It cannot be visited by the public, only by maintenance staff (and occasionally, rock bands).
A helicopter or boat tour will take you near the site, and Vestmannaeyjar is much worth a visit.
Other Lighthouses in Iceland
Another lighthouse that’s well worth visiting is Grótta, which is located near to Reykjavík. It lies at the tip of the Seltjarnarnes peninsula, only a short drive from the capital.
In the winter, Grótta is a great place from which to see the northern lights. A black sand beach is nearby, and close to the car park there is a small man-made hot spring. This is essentially a foot bath, and it makes for a romantic setting. Soak your legs in the water as you look out across the bay, and maybe the aurora will present itself.
Northern lights aside, Grótta is also a wonderful place from which to stargaze. It’s close enough to the city to reach easily, but far enough away to experience grand, clear skies.
Reykjanesviti is Iceland’s oldest lighthouse and is found at the end of the Reykjanes peninsula, not far from Keflavík Airport. The original was built in 1878, but was unfortunately destroyed by an earthquake.
The current structure was built in 1929 and is unique in that it still has a resident lighthouse keeper. The building is 31 meters (102 ft) tall and stands at 73 meters above sea level.
A World of Lighthouses
In addition to Iceland’s South Coast Lighthouses trail, see how many lighthouses you can spot on your road trip around the island. They shouldn’t be hard to miss, as there are over a hundred!
Lighthouses, as well as providing vital guidance for ships, make great features in landscape photographs. With the Atlantic Ocean and Iceland’s clear skies as the backdrop, there’s no picture like an Iceland lighthouse snap.