Iceland, the land of fire and ice, is known for its breathtaking landscapes, unique geological features, and unparalleled natural beauty. The South Coast of Iceland is home to some of the most stunning and diverse attractions in the country. From majestic waterfalls to serene black sand beaches, geothermal areas to charming towns, South Iceland has it all.
In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the best South Iceland attractions and help you create the perfect South Iceland itinerary for an unforgettable adventure.
South Iceland stretches from the South Shore to the South East and South West regions of the country. The area is characterized by a mix of coastal lowlands, volcanic mountains, glaciers, and vast lava fields.
Due to the influence of the warm Gulf Stream, South Iceland experiences a milder climate compared to other parts of the country. However, the weather can be unpredictable and change rapidly, so it's essential to come prepared for all types of conditions.
The best time to visit South Iceland depends on your preferences and interests. Summer (June to August) offers long days, warmer temperatures, and better road conditions, making it ideal for outdoor activities and sightseeing. However, this is also the peak tourist season, so expect larger crowds and higher prices.
In contrast, winter (November to February) is perfect for those seeking a more peaceful and authentic experience. While the days are shorter and the weather can be more challenging, you'll have a chance to witness the magical Northern Lights and participate in unique activities like dog sledding in South Iceland.
Spring and autumn are also great options for avoiding the tourist rush and enjoying beautiful seasonal landscapes.
To begin your South Iceland adventure, you'll likely fly into Keflavik International Airport (KEF), the country's main international gateway. From there, it's approximately a 45-minute drive to Reykjavík, the capital city. If you're traveling domestically, you may also fly into Reykjavík Domestic Airport (RKV).
Renting a car is the most convenient way to explore South Iceland at your own pace. Reykjavik Auto offers a wide range of vehicles to suit your needs, including 4x4s for more rugged terrains.
While public transportation is available, it's limited and may not provide access to all the attractions you want to visit. Be sure to book your rental car in advance to secure the best rates and availability.
Before embarking on your South Iceland adventure, keep these road safety tips in mind:
Icelandic roads can be challenging, particularly in rural areas and during winter. Follow these driving tips to ensure a safe journey:
Winter driving in South Iceland requires extra care due to snow, ice, and limited daylight. Keep these precautions in mind:
By following these tips and taking necessary precautions, you can safely explore the incredible attractions and natural wonders that South Iceland has to offer.
South Iceland is home to several stunning waterfalls, each with its own unique charm. Here are three must-visit waterfalls on your South Iceland journey.
One of the most iconic South Iceland attractions, Seljalandsfoss is a majestic waterfall cascading over a 60-meter (197 feet) cliff. What makes this waterfall truly unique is the pathway that leads behind the waterfall, offering visitors a 360-degree view and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Don't forget to bring a waterproof jacket, as you're likely to get wet from the mist!
Just a short drive from Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss is another must-see waterfall. With a drop of 60 meters (197 feet) and a width of 25 meters (82 feet), Skógafoss is one of the largest and most powerful waterfalls in Iceland. If you're up for a hike, climb the staircase next to the waterfall for a stunning view of the coastline and surrounding area.
Also known as the "hidden waterfall," Gljúfrabúi is a lesser-known gem located close to Seljalandsfoss. The waterfall is partially hidden within a narrow canyon, and reaching it requires a short walk through shallow water. Adventurous visitors will be rewarded with an enchanting view of this secluded waterfall.
South Iceland boasts several geothermal areas with hot springs, mud pools, and fumaroles. These are two popular sites worth exploring:
Located within the famous Golden Circle, Geysir Hot Spring Area is home to the Great Geysir, which gave the name to all other geysers worldwide. Although the Great Geysir is currently inactive, you can witness the powerful eruptions of Strokkur, which spouts boiling water up to 30 meters (98 feet) into the air every few minutes. The area also features several smaller geysers and hot springs, making it a fascinating stop on your South Iceland itinerary.
Nestled within the Fjallabak Nature Reserve, Landmannalaugar is a geothermal wonderland known for its colorful rhyolite mountains, lava fields, and hot springs. Actually, Landmannalaugar is not exactly in the South of Iceland, but in the Southern part of the Highlands region. Still, it is a perfect day tour from most towns on the South Coast of the country.
The area offers various hiking trails, including the famous Laugavegur Trek, which connects Landmannalaugar to Þórsmörk. After a long day of hiking, enjoy a relaxing soak in the natural hot springs.
The dramatic coastline of South Iceland is home to unique black sand beaches and striking rock formations. Don't miss these two popular sites:
Located near the village of Vík í Mýrdal, Reynisfjara is a world-famous black sand beach surrounded by towering basalt columns and sea stacks. Be sure to check out the nearby Reynisdrangar sea stacks, which, according to Icelandic folklore, were once trolls that turned to stone. Remember to exercise caution and stay away from the water's edge, as the beach is known for its powerful sneaker waves.
Dyrhólaey is a small peninsula with a stunning natural arch, offering panoramic views of the surrounding coastline and the Mýrdalsjökull glacier. During the summer months, you might also spot puffins nesting on the cliffside. Make sure to bring your camera for some fantastic photo opportunities.
South Iceland is home to numerous glaciers and ice caves, offering visitors a chance to explore the frozen beauty of the region.
Covering approximately 14% of Iceland's landmass, Vatnajökull National Park is home to Europe's largest glacier, Vatnajökull. The park offers numerous hiking trails, glacier walks, and ice cave tours for visitors to enjoy. Make sure to book your tour with a certified guide for a safe and unforgettable experience.
One of the most stunning South East Iceland attractions, Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is a must-see for any traveler. The lagoon is filled with icebergs that have broken off from the nearby Breiðamerkurjökull glacier, creating a mesmerizing landscape. Take a boat tour to get up close and personal with the icebergs, or simply enjoy the view from the shore. Don't forget to visit the nearby Diamond Beach, where icebergs wash ashore on the black sand.
Fjaðrárgljúfur is a beautiful and dramatic canyon in South Iceland, stretching for about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) and reaching depths of 100 meters (328 feet). A walking path runs along the canyon's edge, offering stunning views of the serpentine river below and the lush green moss-covered cliffs. It's a perfect spot for photography enthusiasts and nature lovers alike.
South Iceland is dotted with quaint towns and villages that offer a glimpse into Icelandic culture and history. Be sure to include these charming destinations in your South Iceland itinerary.
Vík í Mýrdal is a picturesque village located on the South Shore of Iceland and serves as an excellent base for exploring nearby attractions like Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach and Dyrhólaey Arch. The village is also home to the charming red-roofed Víkurkirkja church, which is worth a visit.
As the largest town in South Iceland, Selfoss serves as a hub for travelers exploring the region. The town offers a range of accommodations, restaurants, and shops for visitors, making it a convenient place to stock up on supplies or enjoy a nice meal. Selfoss is also close to several popular attractions, including the Golden Circle and Þingvellir National Park.
Known as the "hot spring town," Hveragerði is located in a geothermally active area surrounded by hot springs, steam vents, and fumaroles. The town is famous for its geothermal greenhouse cultivation and offers visitors a chance to explore the Geothermal Park, where you can learn about the area's geology and even cook your own meal using natural steam.
Hvolsvöllur is a small village situated in the heart of South Iceland and serves as a gateway to popular attractions like Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss, and Þórsmörk. The village also houses the Lava Centre, an interactive museum that showcases the region's volcanic and tectonic activity.
Þingvellir National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a significant historical and geological site in Iceland. It's where the world's first democratic parliament, the Althing, was established in 930 AD. The park is also located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates are slowly drifting apart.
Visitors can walk between the continents and explore the park's unique geological features, such as the Silfra Fissure, where you can snorkel or dive in crystal-clear glacial water.
Located near Skógafoss waterfall, Skógar Museum offers a glimpse into Iceland's cultural history. The museum features traditional turf houses, a church, and various exhibitions showcasing Iceland's maritime, agricultural, and industrial heritage. It's an excellent place to learn about Icelandic customs, traditions, and daily life throughout history.
While exploring South Iceland, you'll come across traditional turf houses, which were once the primary form of housing in the country. The turf houses are characterized by their grass-covered roofs and stone walls, providing excellent insulation against the harsh Icelandic weather.
Some well-preserved examples can be found at Keldur Historical Farm and the Árbæjarsafn Open-Air Museum in Reykjavík.
South Iceland offers numerous hiking trails and national parks for outdoor enthusiasts. From the challenging Laugavegur Trek in Landmannalaugar to the scenic trails in Þórsmörk and Skaftafell within Vatnajökull National Park, there are options for all skill levels. Always check the weather forecast and trail conditions before setting out and be prepared with appropriate clothing and gear.
Experience the Icelandic countryside on horseback and get to know the unique Icelandic horse, renowned for its friendly temperament and smooth gait. Numerous companies offer guided horseback tours throughout South Iceland, ranging from short rides for beginners to multi-day treks for experienced riders.
For a thrilling adventure, consider snowmobiling or glacier hiking on one of South Iceland's many glaciers. Tours are available on popular glaciers like Mýrdalsjökull, Vatnajökull, and Langjökull, and are led by experienced guides who ensure your safety and enjoyment.
During the summer months, head out to sea for a whale watching tour, where you may spot minke whales, humpback whales, and even orcas. Many tours also include the opportunity to observe puffins nesting on coastal cliffs. The town of Húsavík, in North Iceland, is known as the whale watching capital, but several companies operate from the South Coast as well.
While less common than Puffins, it is possible to spot arctic foxes and reindeer in the wild in South Iceland. Arctic foxes, Iceland's only native mammal, are elusive and primarily found in the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. However, you might be lucky enough to see one in the more remote parts of South Iceland. Reindeer, introduced to Iceland in the 18th century, can be found in the East and Southeast, particularly around Vatnajökull National Park.
South Iceland is home to an array of bird species, with puffins being the most iconic. These charming seabirds can be found nesting along the coast from late April to August. Dyrhólaey and the Westman Islands are two of the best spots to observe puffins in their natural habitat. Other seabirds you might encounter include guillemots, razorbills, and kittiwakes.
To make the most of your birdwatching experience in South Iceland, consider the following tips:
South Iceland offers numerous locations to witness the magical Northern Lights or Aurora Borealis. Some of the top spots include:
To increase your chances of seeing the Northern Lights, keep these tips in mind:
While planning your trip to South Iceland, it's essential to understand the differences between South East Iceland and South West Iceland. Each region has its unique attractions and experiences, making them both worth exploring during your visit.
South East Iceland is characterized by its dramatic landscapes, including vast glaciers, ice caves, and glacier lagoons. Some of the most popular South East Iceland attractions include:
South West Iceland is best known for its proximity to Reykjavík, the Golden Circle, and the South Coast's iconic waterfalls and beaches. Some notable South West Iceland attractions include:
This detailed South Iceland itinerary will help you plan your adventure and ensure you make the most of your time in this breathtaking region:
Day 1: Golden Circle
Day 2: Waterfalls and Beaches
Day 3: Vík í Mýrdal and Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon
Day 4: Glacier Exploration
Day 5: Outdoor Activities and Adventure
Day 6: Cultural and Historical Sights
This itinerary can be customized to fit your interests, time constraints, and travel style. Whether you prefer a leisurely pace or are eager to pack in as many things to do in South Iceland as possible, this beautiful region has something for everyone.
South Iceland offers a range of hotels and guesthouses to suit all budgets and preferences. From cozy family-run guesthouses to luxury boutique hotels, you'll find comfortable accommodations to rest after a day of exploring. Be sure to book in advance, especially during the peak summer season.
For a more immersive experience, consider staying at a farm or renting a traditional Icelandic cottage. Farm stays often offer a unique opportunity to interact with local families, learn about Icelandic culture, and even participate in farm activities. Cottages provide a cozy and private home base for your South Iceland adventures.
Camping is a popular way to explore Iceland, offering a close connection with nature and flexibility in your itinerary. Many towns and attractions in South Iceland have designated camping areas with facilities like showers and restrooms.
Alternatively, consider renting a campervan, which combines transportation and accommodation into one convenient package. Be sure to follow Iceland's camping regulations and always stay in designated areas.
South Iceland offers a variety of dining options for travelers. From farm-to-table experiences to cozy cafés and fine dining, there's something to satisfy every palate.
Farm-to-table restaurants have gained popularity in recent years, offering travelers an authentic taste of Iceland's freshest ingredients. These establishments often source their produce, meat, and dairy products from nearby farms, ensuring top-quality meals. Some notable farm-to-table restaurants in South Iceland include:
South Iceland is home to numerous cozy cafés where you can enjoy a warm cup of Icelandic coffee, homemade pastries, and light meals. Some popular cafés in the region include:
For those looking for a more upscale dining experience, there are several fine dining options in South Iceland, offering creative menus that showcase Icelandic cuisine. Notable fine dining restaurants include:
Icelandic folklore is rich with tales of elves and hidden people, believed to inhabit the country's natural landscape. South Iceland, with its dramatic scenery and rugged terrain, is particularly associated with these supernatural beings. For instance, the Álfaborg or Elf Rock, located in Borgarfjörður eystri, is said to be the home of the Elf Queen.
Trolls and giantesses are also prevalent in Icelandic folklore. Reynisdrangar, the basalt sea stacks near Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, are believed to be trolls that turned to stone when caught in sunlight. Another example is Skessuhorn, a mountain on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, said to be the dwelling of a fearsome giantess.
With its diverse landscapes, rich history, and unique culinary experiences, South Iceland has something for everyone. From the rugged beauty of South East Iceland to the iconic attractions of the South West, there's no shortage of things to see and do in this enchanting region.
Use this comprehensive guide to plan your journey, and be sure to sample the local flavors and delve into the area's storied past along the way. Your unforgettable adventure in South Iceland awaits.