South Iceland is a treasure trove of natural wonders. The South Coast makes for the perfect road trip, because you are spoilt for choice as to what to see along the way. Your day can start with a soak in a hot river, and end surrounded by floating icebergs. Iceland’s scenery is ever-changing and is equally impressive at all stops along the way. From awe-inspiring waterfalls to beautiful, dramatic black sand beaches, you’re in for a special taste of all the beauty that Iceland’s nature has to offer.
Road tripping through South Iceland is great for any time of year. Be sure to check the road conditions, but unlike more remote parts of Iceland, the roads along the South Coast tend to stay open almost all year long. With a few exceptions, the big tourist draws in South Iceland are just off the side of the road, making them easily accessible. Because there is so much to see in South Iceland, we’ve put together a list of some of the best stops to help you plan your trip. The list contains a combination of extremely popular tourist destinations and some lesser-known gems. Get ready to hop from one landscape to the next, eyes wide open and awestruck all the while.
10 Stunningly Beautiful Places To See In South Iceland
This 200-foot waterfall is right off the Route 1 (Ring Road) on the South Coast of Iceland. There is no hiking required to see this waterfall. It is just a short walk from the parking lot, and can even be seen from farther away as you drive up to it along the Ring Road. Though Iceland is graced with an endless display of stunning waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss’ unique quality is that it is possible to walk behind the waterfall.
A path leads from the parking lot up to the front of the waterfall, and then loops around the sides and back so you get a view of the waterfall from every angle. We suggest wearing raingear, as you’ll likely get a little wet, particularly on a windy day. With a waterfall as powerful as Seljalandsfoss, the spray is far-reaching. It is entirely worth walking the loop though, and being that up close and personal makes you appreciate the sheer size and power of the waterfall.
Seljalandsfoss is fed by the famed glacier-capped volcano Eyjafjallajokull, that erupted in 2010 disrupting air traffic across Europe. The waterfall is relatively narrow, but its power is mighty as is evident particularly when standing behind it inside the cove in the cliff. In the summer, the cliff and ground surrounding Seljalandsfoss are a brilliant green, and everything is dotted with yellow wildflowers creating a colorfully picturesque landscape.
Though the path gets wet, particularly on the backside of the waterfall, it is a well marked path, and easy to navigate. In the winter, when the snow turns to ice and the path gets slippery, the path is often partially closed off. This is for your own safety. Don’t try and circumvent the restricted area. Though closures may alter your experience, it isn’t lessened. Seljalandsfoss is beautiful even in winter. For much of the winter, everything is coated in white, and the impressive waterfall becomes part of a winter wonderland. At any time of year, this South Iceland beauty deserves a stop.
Gljúfabúi is often overlooked as it is slightly hidden, and is smaller than it’s towering neighbor, Seljalandsfoss. However, we suggest that anyone making a trip through South Iceland should take some time to explore this hidden gem as well. Gljúfrabúi is within walking distance of Seljalandsfoss. When you finish your loop around Seljalandsfoss, head to the right (if you’re facing the parking lot), and walk until you hit the campgrounds. On your right will be a sign for the waterfall, and you’ll see a cavern with a river running through it. To get to the waterfall, you’ll have to walk through the river, so be prepared with waterproof boots or a change of shoes.
Oftentimes, the river rocks will rise out of the water just enough for you to step from rock to rock and avoid getting anything more than the soles of your boots wet. After a heavy rain though, the water level rises, and it becomes a bit trickier to maneuver your way into the cavern. Once inside the cavern you’ll be greeted with a beautiful waterfall that looks as if it’s pouring through a skylight in nature’s ceiling. The sun lights up the cavern, illuminating the green mossy walls and highlighting the streaming crystal clear water. There’s a giant boulder in the middle of the cavern, which is easy to climb and perfect for taking pictures. When you’re done, you’ll exit the cavern the same way you came in. Just be careful to wait your turn and make sure no one is on the rocks trying to enter the cavern at the same time.
It’s also possible to view the waterfall from above, looking down on the waterfall from the skylight opening. The pathway up the hill though is steep. Particularly after it rains, the path also becomes muddy and slippery, so if you go this way, use caution. Though the waterfall is of course still beautiful when viewed from above, the best view is from inside the cavern where you’re surrounded and almost consumed by your natural surroundings.
Located in South Iceland a little further down the coast, Skógafoss is just a 25 minute drive from Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrabrúi. It is also visible from the road and is easily accessible from the parking lot. At 197 feet, Skógafoss is roughly the same height as Seljalandsfoss but its width is an impressive 82 feet. The Skógá River flows along a wide pebbled path leading right up to the waterfall. The path is flat and easy to walk. The waterfall is forceful, and you will get unrelentingly sprayed as you approach it from its base. But the feeling of standing that close to such a powerful force of nature is incredible. You might even see a rainbow on a sunny day, adding it’s finish touch to an already stunning waterfall.
After you’ve spent some time appreciating the enormity of the waterfall from its base, you can climb the steps to view the waterfall from above. There are a little over 500 stairs to the top of the waterfall. It is definitely a quad workout, but the view is worth it. From the viewing platform, you can see the Skógá river which flows to the top of the waterfall before plummeting over the edge. This is a much less photographed view of Skógafoss, but it’s still remarkable.
After spending some time viewing the waterfall from above, most people head back down the staircase to the parking lot. However, there is a hiking trail that follows the Skógá River back into the valley, and it’s filled with additional waterfalls if you’re up for a long, extended day hike. Assuming you are returning to the parking lot, you’ll turn back to face the staircase and be greeted with a beautiful, sprawling view of South Iceland below. Iceland’s South Coast is an impressive work of nature, and the view from Skógafoss only solidifies that feeling.
Right next door to Skógafoss, is the waterfall Kvernufoss. Kvernufoss is one of South Iceland’s less frequented gems. Fewer tourists know of its existence, but it’s certainly not lacking in beauty. To get to Kvernufoss, you’ll take the same exit off the Ring Road as you would to get to Skógafoss, but instead of following the signs to the left for Skógafoss, continue straight down Skógar to the end of the road and turn right. You’ll park near Hotel Edda and walk the rest of the way into the valley. In the summer, it takes about 10-15 minutes to reach the waterfall. The walk is comfortable, requiring very little in the way of elevation hiking or rocky terrain. From the hotel you’ll climb a short ladder over a fence and make your way back into the valley where the path is clearly marked. You might even run into a few Icelandic horses grazing by the river.
The waterfall itself is similar in looks to its south coast neighbor, Seljalandsfoss. Unlike Seljalandsfoss, it is not possible to walk all the way behind Kvernufoss, and at 98 feet it is also much smaller. The path ends right up alongside the waterfall and provides you with plenty of excellent viewing spots. The whole valley is beautiful. It’s green and lush in summer, and sparkling white in winter. Best of all, it’s not overcrowded with tourists at any time of year. Though the path is easily navigated in the summer months, in the winter, it is often covered in ice and can be dangerous. Bring crampons to stabilize your feet on the slippery ground and exercise caution. It might be best to view the waterfall from farther away.
Right on the edge of the highlands in South Iceland sits Háifoss, an impressive 400 foot waterfall. It is one of the highest waterfalls in Iceland. Háifoss thunders down right next to its partner waterfall, Granni (which translates to neighbor). Though Granni’s flow is slightly less powerful, the two waterfalls side by side are a sight to behold. Haáifoss by itself eclipses most other waterfalls you’ll see in your lifetime. The two waterfalls are located in a gorge created by the Fossá river. It is possible to hike down to the falls if you’re spending a significant amount of your day at the waterfall and it’s surrounding valley, but the view from the top is incredible, and easily accessible from the parking lot. From the parking lot you can walk along the edge of the gorge taking in the waterfalls from multiple viewing points.
In winter, Háifoss is usually inaccessible unless you are driving there in buses or jeeps designed for winter weather and icy gravel roads. Don’t attempt the drive unless you are in an appropriate vehicle. Even in summer, the gravel roads are rocky and full of potholes, and require slow driving and patience. Because of it’s distance from the more popular Golden Circle stops along the South Coast, and the rockiness of the road, the gorge is never crowded, and there’s always plenty of time and room to take pictures and take in the waterfalls in all their glory. If you can brave the drive to get there, the view at the end of the road is unforgettable, and you won’t regret making the drive, however bumpy.
The Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is one of Iceland’s most famous and heavily trafficked tourist routes, and for good reason. This South Iceland road trip hits 3 major stops; the Þingvellir National Park, Gullfoss (the golden) Waterfall, and the Strokkur geyser. Other stops such as Kerið crater and the Secret Lagoon can be added to your Golden Circle itinerary as well. Though each destination tends to be heavily packed with tourists, they are well worth the visit. Unlike most of the other South Iceland recommendations, these major stops are not located along the coast. However, they are still easily accessible as part of a longer South Iceland road trip, or visited by themselves as a day trip. These stops make for a great introduction to all that Iceland’s nature has to offer.
Though it’s not necessary to tackle the route in any particularly order, it generally makes the most sense to begin your journey at Þingvellir National Park. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is where Iceland’s first parliament was formed back in 930 AD. It was conveniently accessible from all corners of the country by horse or foot. This is where the chieftains met to create and change the country’s laws. Meetings continued to be held there until 1798. The parliament would later be moved to Reykjavik in 1844. Þingvellir National Park is also the site of a giant rift valley, which marks the meeting of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. Between the impressive rift valley, unbelievably clear waters, and Öxarárfoss waterfall, Þingvellir National Park rightfully earns it´s spot among the best that South Iceland has to offer.
Þingvellir National Park will be followed by Geyser, the geothermal hot spot. While the actual Geyser is no longer active, it´s neighbor, Strokkur still erupts at 5-7 minute intervals. Crowds of tourists gather around Strokkur in anticipation of its burst of water and steam shooting up into the air. While the main attraction is the geyser, the surrounding landscape is full of pots of boiling water. As you might expect, the water would be dangerously hot to the touch, so steer clear and enjoy the natural phenomenon at a safe distance.
This South Iceland road trip is completed with a trip to Gullfoss Waterfall. In the summer months it is common to see a rainbow arching over the waterfall, earning it the name Golden Waterfall. Though Iceland spoils you with an abnormally large number of impressive waterfalls, Gullfoss is rightfully among the top. It’s an impressive sight at any time of year. The waterfall has both upper and lower viewing platforms, and we suggest spending some time at both.
Reykjadalur Hot Springs
If you’ve ever wanted to bathe in a hot river right in the middle of nature, you should make Reykjadalur Hot Springs a part of your itinerary. Located in South Iceland, just 45 minutes from Reykjavik, Reykjadalur Hot Springs is the perfect day trip from the capital, or stop on a longer round trip down Iceland’s South Coast. The hike to the hot springs is roughly 45 minutes-1 hour, and is easy to moderately difficult.
The hike starts with a relatively steep uphill climb before leveling out. The path is well maintained and clearly marked. Your hike will take you through a valley filled with steam, past a cascading waterfall and many grazing sheep. As you approach the hot springs you’ll be greeted with the distinct smell of rotten eggs, which is attributed to the sulfur in the boiling water surrounding the hot springs. The boiling water is mesmerizing, but don’t touch it. The real prize is waiting for you, just mere steps away.
When you reach the part of the river that is safe for bathing, you can change on a wood platform with partitions. Privacy is lacking, but no one cares. Everyone is there to relax and have a good time. Find your perfect spot in the river and enjoy bathing while the sheep suntan 10 yards away. The best spots in the river are right up against the rock piles dividing the river into sections. There you’ll find the deepest pockets of water.
In summer, the water in this section of the river resembles that of a Jacuzzi and is perfect for bathing. As the weather gets colder, you may need to hike a little further upriver to find a spot warm enough to enjoy for extended periods of time. Arrive in the early morning or late evening (when you can enjoy the midnight sun) to avoid the biggest crowds. There is nothing quite like bathing in a river surrounded by stunning nature, and you’ll no doubt be glad you made this stop to kick off or end your South Iceland road trip.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
One of the more famous stops along Iceland’s South Coast is Reynisfjara Beach, known for its signature black sand and towering basalt columns. This beach is among Iceland’s most impressive black sand beaches, and was even featured in the TV show Game of Thrones. There are so many incredible spots along the beach to enjoy. However you should be aware that the beach is developing a reputation for its large sleeper waves. So take your pictures, but be aware and don’t let your desire for the “perfect” photo affect your judgment.
The beach and its surrounding waters boast an impressive collection of rock formations, including the cliff of basalt columns that seems to rise out of the sand. This is a prime photograph location, and you’ll see many tourists climbing the uneven columns to pose for a picture. When facing the roaring Atlantic Ocean, to the left are the Reynisdrangar rock formations. These pointy basalt pillars rise straight out of the ocean, like man made sculptures in the water. To the right is the Dyrholaey rock formation, an arched bridge-like formation with a large hole in the bottom.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Though the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is a 5 hour drive from Reykjavik, it is well worth the trip. This South Iceland stop is so vastly differently from anything else you’ll have seen along the rest of the coast. Located in the east part of South Iceland, Jörkulsárlon is a stunning lagoon filled with floating icebergs. The lagoon is ever-changing as the surrounding glacier continues to melt, and new ice blocks fall. During the summer, you can take a boat tour through the lagoon and get an up close view of the icebergs. All year long you can view the lagoon from the shore, walking along its edge to see the icebergs from varying angles. The enormous glacier looms large in the background.
Across the street is a black sand beach called Diamond Beach. It sets itself apart from other black sand beaches like South Iceland’s Reynisfjara Beach, because the entire beach is covered in clear, sparkling ice. Pieces of the icebergs floating in the glacier lagoon break off and wash ashore, scattering themselves around the beach. The contrast of the black sand against the clear ice is striking, and makes for some powerful photographs. The beach becomes even more fairytale-esque at sunset when the sky is painted yellow. As the day comes to a close you’ll be thrilled you continued your drive up the coast to this South Iceland beauty.
Sólheimasandur Plane Wreck
This popular South Iceland tourist destination is the result of a DC-3 US navy plane running out of fuel and crashing on Sólheimasandur beach in 1973. Fortunately everyone survived, but the body of the plane was abandoned. The parking lot to access the plane wreck is only a 10-minute down the South Coast Ring Road from Skógafoss Waterfall. The white wreckage of the plane is in sharp contrast with the black sand of the beach, and together they make for hauntingly beautiful photographs.
As you continue through South Iceland along the Ring Road, you’ll come across a large parking lot designed for visitors to the Sólheimasandur Plane Wreck. Though at one time you could drive right up to the plane wreck, you now have to walk 2 miles from the parking lot. The path is flat and relatively easy, but will take you roughly 45 minutes-1 hour each way. There is very little to see besides a vast expanse of rocks and black sand, and on a windy day the walk can be particularly frustrating, as you have to fight the wind resistance as well.
The plane doesn’t come into sight until the very end of your walk. Get your camera ready, and be prepared to photograph the wreckage. There’s a lot of tourists and slim windows for getting pictures without other people in them. So bring a friend and catch up on life as you hike to this unique, beautiful wreckage stranded in the middle of the beach on Iceland’s South Coast. If you’re willing to power through the walk, it’s worth the trip.
It’s hard to go wrong with a road trip to South Iceland. These 10 suggestions make up only a handful of all that this region of the country has to offer. Driving through Iceland’s nature is a unique experience in and of itself, and taking time at each these impressive stops is icing on the cake! We hope these get you excited about planning your South Iceland road trip. Please let us know in the comments if you have any thoughts or questions.