If you are visiting Iceland for the first time, it’s fair to say that you may feel overwhelmed at the myriad of amazing natural attractions waiting for you to discover. The truth is that Iceland is home to an eclectic blend of natural beauty and unless you are visiting for a couple of weeks, it may be more appropriate to focus on one particular region. Why not start with the south coast which is frequently renowned as the popular hotspot for first-time Iceland visitors? Let’s take a look at the best things to do in South Iceland!
Best Things to Do in South Iceland
From the iconic Golden Circle that is easily accessible from the south coast ring road to the gorgeous waterfalls that can be found along the coast, this part of Iceland is understandably a frequently visited part of the island.
Whether you opt to take day trips from Reykjavik courtesy of the various tour companies that offer daily excursions or you choose to rent a car and explore on your own, we hope that our guide will give you the inspiration to visit the very best things to do in South Iceland.
Did I also mention that you may even spot an Icelandic horse or two on your adventures around South Iceland?
The south coast is generally renowned as a hotspot for gorgeous waterfalls and Seljalandsfoss is certainly an impressive sight. Seljalandsfoss is 60m in height and is a single drop but the power generated from the water flowing over the edge of the cliff is certainly enough to create a picturesque scene.
One of the most popular aspects of this waterfall that makes this unique and different to many of its Icelandic counterparts is the fact you can actually walk behind it during the summer months and explore this gorgeous natural landmark from a completely different angle.
The short hike can be challenging given the slippery rocks that you have to climb up in the latter part of the trail but it’s definitely worth the effort to enjoy a completely different perspective on the Seljalandsfoss waterfall. It’s a popular trail so be prepared to take your time as the majority of this is only wide enough for one person.
We strongly recommend taking appropriate rain gear as you can expect to get pretty wet with the spray of Seljalandsfoss frequently hitting the trail behind the falls. Unfortunately, we found out the hard way what happens when you walk this trail without appropriate clothing but regardless, it was an amazing experience and we have zero regrets at all about doing this!
If you choose to road trip from Reykjavik, Seljalandsfoss is likely to be the first iconic attraction you will visit on your journey through the best things to do in South Iceland. This is also a popular spot for tour groups either on the drive towards Vik or on the return trip.
2010 was an iconic year for Iceland and the impact this nation had on the European continent for several weeks. The eruptions of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano may be relatively small in terms of size but the disruption this caused on flights heading across Europe was substantial due to the amount of volcanic ash that spread from this eruption.
Today, visitors can gaze towards the Eyjafjallajökull volcano and imagine what life was like here for locals that had to endure the possibility of further eruptions during the summer months of 2010.
The Þorvaldseyri Visitor Centre is a family run business devoted to sharing information to visitors on what life is like living in the shadow of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano along with details of the spectacular event that took place in 2010.
For those of you that are simply passing through, a series of informative boards are available on the side of the road providing a glimpse of the first photographs that were taken after the eruption. I can only imagine what it must have been like for the farmers in this region and locals that had to continue their lives after this natural disaster.
If you read our recent post on the best waterfalls in Iceland, you will know that Skogafoss was one of our favorites around this beautiful country.
Not only is this an incredible sight from the base, visitors have the opportunity to hike 475+ steps to the summit and admire the spectacular natural attraction from a birds-eye perspective.
Skogafoss is one of the picture-perfect waterfalls used on postcards throughout Iceland. Every gift shop we visited, we stumbled across a postcard or magnet with Skogafoss. When you visit it for the first time, you will quickly see why. With a drop of almost 200 feet, this is the second tallest waterfall in Iceland after only Glymur.
For those that prefer to camp while visiting Iceland, the ground in front of Skogafoss is a popular spot given that this is the perfect setting to wake up to in the morning. In terms of campsites around Iceland, this is one of the more expensive options but it’s worth it for the experience you will have.
Sólheimasandur Plane Crash
Just a short distance from the town of Vik is one of Iceland’s most dramatic photography spots – the plane wreckage along the Sólheimasandur Beach. In 1970, a United States Navy Douglas Super DC-3 airplane was forced to land on this black sand beach and although all of the crew survived, the airplane was left and today has become one of Iceland’s craziest tourist attractions.
Although vehicle access is no longer available due to local landowners closing access, visitors can take a 4km hike along the beach to reach this lone piece of wreckage. Although we opted against this, it is renowned as a challenging yet rewarding hike given the strong winds that generally can be found along this stretch of coastline.
A visit to the beach may not be the first thing you associate with a trip to Iceland but when you experience Reynisfjara you will realize why this is a must-see spot along the south coast.
A black pebble beach is one of the various features at Reynisfjara that makes this an iconic location but perhaps the Reynisdrangar basalt sea stacks in the heart of the ocean that are real attraction here.
As you take a stroll along the black pebble beach, take a glance to the nearby cliffs and admire the basalt columns that create a pyramid-like structure known as Hálsanef. When you hear that this is a popular spot for wildlife including puffins, fulmars, and guillemots, you will quickly realize that this is a haven that you cannot afford to miss.
Reynisfjara is one of the most iconic beaches in the world. After spending some time here, I realized that you don’t need the pristine golden sands that you associate with tropical islands to enjoy an awesome beach experience.
In fact, the beach at Reynisfjara is the exact opposite and it’s likely that you will be visiting with plenty of layers given the cold breeze you can expect from the ocean. But this is a spot you may well fall in love with…I know we did!
The coastal town of Vik is the southernmost village in Iceland and sits in the shadow of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier. Whether you are using Vik as a spot to stay overnight while exploring the rest of south Iceland or you are exploring the gorgeous black pebble beaches and Reynisdrangar basalt sea stacks along this coastline, this is undoubtedly a popular spot for visitors.
We recently visited Vik on our way back to Reykjavik and stayed overnight at the campsite. However, this was a very different experience to our first visit a couple of years ago when we explored Vik in the heart of winter.
The iconic sight of the church on top of the hill overlooking the town is one that makes Vik a town easily recognizable but it’s those natural landmarks located off the coast that is the main attraction for visitors.
Fjallsárlón is a glacier lake associated with the Vatnajökull glacier. Sitting in the shadow of the infamous Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon, this should take nothing away from the gorgeous sight of the Fjallsárlón lake.
A short hike from the car park reveals a breathtaking scene with the glacier directly behind the lake and opportunities for visitors to clamber down the rocky slopes to the lake shore.
Large chunks of glacial ice can be seen floating on the surface and during our visit, we had the opportunity to experience a shift in the glacier as a large noise that sounded like an earthquake happened.
Although we didn’t see any ice break away from the glacier, it was apparent that something had happened as the calm waters of the lake quickly changed and everyone exploring the shore had to take a few steps back as the water started to rise.
We visited Fjallsárlón late in the day but for those of you visiting earlier, you will have the opportunity to experience an iceberg safari to enjoy this breathtaking scenery as you float alongside the icebergs and a giant glacier.
Iceland has many “must-see” natural attractions and the glacial lagoon known as Jökulsárlón is certainly one of these. Whether you are taking a zodiac boat tour around this lagoon to have an up close and personal interaction with the icebergs that are floating around or simply admiring this natural phenomenon from the shoreline, anyone looking for the best things to do in South Iceland will need to have Jökulsárlón at the very top of their list.
Located on the edge of Vatnajökull National Park, Jökulsárlón is not only a popular attraction because of the glacial lagoon that truly is an incredible experience but also because of the icebergs that float along the Jokulsá River and out into the ocean.
A visit to Jökulsárlón will be accompanied with a visit to the so-called “Diamond Beach” where you can walk along the beach and stumble across large pieces of an iceberg that have been washed to shore.
Did you know that Jökulsárlón is a popular spot for movies? If there are any James Bond fans out there, you will recall this glacial lagoon in A View to a Kill and Die Another Day while Batman Begins and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider has also shot scenes here. It’s an incredible landscape and certainly worthy of featuring in the blockbuster movies.
A word of warning for anyone visiting Jökulsárlón…we visited Iceland in the heart of summer and the majority of the country was comfortable in terms of temperature but it was substantially colder at this glacial lagoon. Be sure to have appropriate clothing because it will likely be very windy and you will want to spend some time outside exploring this gorgeous natural attraction.
The charming village of Höfn is another gem along the south coast of Iceland. This is the perfect place to stop if you are planning on venturing further east to stock up on groceries etc. at Netto, while also spending some time exploring the local attractions.
We walked around the harbor which was home to a number of vessels preparing to head out to sea, while we also noticed a number of restaurants that were pretty popular among visitors that opted to stay overnight in Höfn.
The town of Höfn offers scenic views of Vatnajökull (largest ice cap by volume in Europe!) but perhaps the most famous reason for visiting this town is to learn about the lobster catch which the local community is proud of. A large volume of Iceland’s lobster population can be found here as local fishermen proudly bring back their catch from their daily excursions out at sea.
It’s interesting that the word Höfn simply means ‘harbor’ when translated because the focal point of this fishing village can be found on the coast. Whether you are looking to mingle with fellow travelers or simply interact with the locals, you will always find someone taking a stroll around the harbor in Höfn.
Iceland is blessed to have what seems to be an unlimited amount of amazing attractions worth experiencing. On our recent trip, we spent a week exploring the whole island, covering over 1,800 miles in the process, yet leaving with a feeling that there is still so much to see.
When you think about the best regions to explore, South Iceland is certainly at the very top, not only because of the myriad of attractions and place worth visiting but also because of the easy access to other spots such as the Golden Circle that we barely touched on.
Looking for the best things to do in South Iceland? Well, I hope this guide has given you a few ideas and will inspire you to book a trip to Iceland in the near future! We are 100% sure that you won’t regret it.