What are some of the most popular attractions found on Iceland’s South Coast? What activities can visitors partake in here?

What are some of the most popular attractions found on Iceland’s South Coast? What activities can visitors partake in here? How long does it take to travel from the capital, Reykjavík, and is it possible to travel the south all year? Read on to find out all you need to know with this Ultimate Guide to South Iceland. 



Contents

An Introduction To South Iceland                

Iceland’s picturesque south is among the most popular regions for visitors to the country. It is, after all, home to some of Iceland’s most beloved natural attractions, such as “The Crown Jewel of Iceland” Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon and the awe-inspiring Vatnajökull National Park



Dyrhólaey Peninsula is the southernmost tip of Iceland, and boasts incredible views over the country's South Coast.

Those travelling along this strip of scenic coast will be privy to nearly endless dried lava fields, awe-inspiring cliffsides and quintessential fishing villages. To this day, visitors consider South Iceland to be the ideal spot for hiking, paragliding, Super Jeep tours and sightseeing, among other activities.

Many people chose to explore the south in different ways, either through guided tours or Self-Drive packages, yet few are disappointed by the plethora of sights, sounds and experiences they uncover here. 




Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is widely considered the end of the South Coast. Situated four hours and 22 minutes drive away from Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík (on a good day with clear roads), meaning that, without stops, you’ll be driving for nine hours in total if you decide to head there and back in one day. 



This is doable in summertime, though it’s likely you’ll feel pressed for time and will have to skip over some of the other southern attractions. If looking to head out that far, it is recommended to spend a couple of days on the South Coast, making an overnight stop somewhere like Hvolsvöllur or Höfn.

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall             

As seen from inside the cavern behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall is considered a staple stop on the South Coast sightseeing route, in large part due to the fact that visitors can actually walk behind the cascading water here. This makes the feature particularly beloved by nature photographers who jump at the chance to snapshot the waterfall from behind. 



Standing tall at 60 metres (197 ft) high, the water of Seljalandsfoss originates from the volcanic glacier, Eyjafjallajökull. Eyjafjallajökull is, of course, famous for its 2010 eruption, which simultaneously managed to both shut off European air traffic and instigate the Icelandic tourism boom.

Visitors to Seljalandsfoss will often continue north along the trail until they discover Gljúfrabúi, another small waterfall, this time hidden away inside of a gorge in these ancient sea cliffs. Once again, photographers jump at the chance to photograph Gljúfrabúi and its unique surroundings.


Seljalandsfoss has featured widely in international film and television. Arguably, the waterfall’s most famous appearances was a waypoint during the first leg of The Amazing Race 6, as well as taking a starring role in the music video for Justin Bieber’s track, “I’ll Show You”. 

Skogafoss Waterfall                  

Visitors to Skógafoss can walk right up to the curtain of cascading water.

Skógafoss is one of the largest waterfalls in Iceland, boasting a drop of 60 metres and a width of 15 metres, and again, acts as one of the major attractions along the South Coast.

Visitors to Skógafoss can walk right up to where the cascading water crashes into the ground, making for fantastic photographs. Photos are made even more amazing by the sheer size of the mist and spray clouds constantly formed by the waterfall, creating rainbows in the light. 



Standing at such proximity also allows you to experience the sheer power of this natural feature. Be careful during the winter months, however, as the rock at the base of Skógafoss often become incredibly icy, making it dangerous to approach.

It is also possible to view the waterfall from the top if you ascend the staircase right beside it. Be careful in the winter months, however, as these stairs become laden with snowfall, making accessibility difficult. 


Because Skógafoss is only found a short distance from Seljalandsfoss, the waterfalls are often paired in travel guides, considered as something like cousins. Like Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss has made numerous appearances in the media, including on History Channel’s ‘Vikings’ and in the film 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty'.

Vik i Myrdal Village                    

Vík í Mýrdal is found directly beside Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach.

Vík í Mýrdal is a small coastal village found on Iceland’s South Coast, often utilised as a lunch stop and souvenir shopping destination for those partaking in on a sightseeing tour. 



The village is home to approximately 300 people, yet stands as the largest settlement in a 70-kilometre radius. Because of this, Vík í Mýrdal is considered an important staging post and administrative centre between Skógar and the Mýrdalssandur glacial outwash plain.

Vík í Mýrdal is located directly south of Mýrdalsjökull glacier, meaning it is at constant threat from Katla volcano, which sits beneath the ice cap. Katla has not erupted since 1918 which, according to scientists, means the chance of a new eruption increase with each day.




It is thought that Katla’s eruption would cause glacial flooding large enough to completely destroy the town, save for the red-roofed Vík í Mýrdal church which is positioned on a hill higher than the rest of the town. 

Because of the threat, residents of Vík í Mýrdal regularly hold evacuation drills at the church. Scientists and guests who stay in one of Vík í Mýrdal’s 1400 hotel rooms are warned in advance of the possibility of an eruption. 

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach              

Reynisfjara black sand beach. Reynisdrangar rock stack can be seen in the centre of the photo.

Reynisfjara is a black sand beach, found adjacent to Vík í Mýrdal village, roughly 180 kilometres away from Reykjavik. Reynisfjara is an excellent example of the volcanic shorelines that so characterise Iceland’s coasts, making it one of the most popular stop-off points for sightseeing tours along the South Coast. 



Here, guests can stand in awe of this ancient and mystic vista, a landscape defined by its distant mountainscapes, towering cliff faces and captivating rock formations. In 1991, National Geographic voted Reynisfjara as among the Top 10 most beautiful non-tropical beaches found in the world

Reynisdrangar rock stacks are one of South Iceland's most iconic images.

Of particular note is the 15-metre high basalt rock stack, Reynisdrangar, which protrudes from the ocean just off the coastline. Over the years, there has been much folklore surrounding Reynisdrangar; some claim it to be the petrified remains of three trolls, frozen solid in the sunlight as they attempted to pull a boat from the water. 



Others suggest it the frozen imprint of a long-lost, three-masted ship, whilst another theory suggests Reynisdrangar is all that's left of a frozen troll after a vengeful husband froze them after learning that they’d murdered his wife. Whatever the case, Reynisdrangar is home to a wealth of nesting seabirds including Puffins, Fulmars and Guillemots. 

Walking along the coast, guests will also observe the hexagonal rock formations that decorate the cliffsides running along the length of Reynisfjara. These basalt columns are known as Gardar and are reminiscent of the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland. 

Fatal accidents have happened at Reynisfjara black beach in Iceland

Gardar was formed after a historic eruption, where lava cools over time, leading to a process called “columnar jointing”. Once again, a visit here is sure to provide you with a deep insight into Iceland’s geological processes.

A word of warning for those looking to travel to Reynisfjara, however. This beach is infamous for being the site of a number of accidents over the years, a fact due to the unpredictable “Sleeper Waves” that flow rapidly up the coast. 



These waves are powerful and the currents of Reynisfjara are strong, meaning that if you’re caught up suddenly in the tide, the odds are immediately against you. Make sure to pay good attention to the warning signs here and keep away from the shoreline—it might just save your life!

Dyrhólaey Peninsula                 

Dyrhólaey rock arch, just one of the many attractions that draw people to the peninsula.

Dyrhólaey’s origin story can be traced back to when it was a volcanic island, separate from mainland Iceland, known as “Cape Portland”. Today, Dyrhólaey has connected to the rest of the country, becoming a small peninsula unto itself. 

This promontory is best known for its fantastic views over Iceland’s South Coast, as well as the birdlife that utilises Dyrhólaey’s towering cliff faces and the enormous rock arch that dominates the scene.



Dyrhólaey lighthouse, guiding ships in the Icelandic night.

Those travelling to Dyrhólaey for the views will be in for a sure treat; to the north, you will be able to Mýrdalsjökull glacier, while to the east and west respectively, you will have views over Reynisdrangar and the southern coastline towards Selfoss. 

Do note, however, that parts of Dyrhólaey are closed off during May and June in order to leave the nesting birds undisturbed. Guests looking to see birdlife can see a variety of species, including puffins, but be aware of the Arctic Tern who are known to divebomb aggressively when protecting their nests. 

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon                        

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon is undeniably beautiful, but pretty difficult to pronounce for non-Icelandic speakers.

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon is a two-kilometre river in South Iceland, approximately 100 metres deep, with steep walls and narrow pathways. Fjaðrárgljúfur, notoriously unpronounceable, is said as [Fyath-raor-glyuer-fur]. 

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon has changed a lot over the nine thousand years it has existed; today, guests can explore the feature either from the walking path above the canyon or actually inside of it (though this will require some wading).




The bedrock of Fjaðrárgljúfur is palagonite, dating back to cool periods during the last Ice Age, approximately 2 million years ago. The canyon has taken on its strange and winding shape due to the river Fjaðrá, which begins at the mountain, Geirlandshraun. 

Kirkjubæjarklaustur Village                        

Kirkjubæjarklaustur has a long and ancient history of farming and settlement in the South Coast.Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Gino maccanti.  

Kirkjubæjarklaustur, often known as simply “Klaustur”, is a small hamlet found on Iceland’s South Coast, to the east of Vík í Mýrdal, in the municipality of Skaftárhreppur. This village, with a population of approximately 500 people, is the only location between Vík and Höfn where it is possible to utilise local amenities, including a petrol station, supermarket, post office and bank.



Kirkjubæjarklaustur has a long and important history in Icelandic culture, making it just one of the major reasons as to why a village of such a diminutive size can be so popular amongst tourists.

To begin with, it is widely agreed that Kirkjubæjarklaustur was home to Irish Monks long before the Settlement of the Norsemen. Then, in 1186, a convent of Benedictine nuns was to call the village home until the Reformation in the mid-1500s.


In ancient times, the village was called “Kirkjubær” (Church Farm), and served as the location where the local pastor delivered his “Fire Sermon”, a prayer that is said to have halted the furious Laki Eruptions of 1783 and saved the town’s church. Today, visitors can see the 1924 memorial chapel built as a testimony to this incredible event.

Kirkjugólfið (“The Church Floor”)                   

Despite its artificial appearance, Kirkjugólfið is an entirely natural phenomena.Flickr. Credit: Andrew Bowden. 

Kirkjugólfið (“The Church Floor”) is an 80 m² square stretch of columnar basalt rock, imprinted in a field just east of Kirkjubæjarklaustur village. Despite this attractions name, Kirkjugólfið is entirely natural, a result of cooling lava flow that becomes contracted then cracks into a series of separate hexagonal columns.

Thus, there has never been a church on the site, merely an allusion to one. Despite this, the entire area does have its history deeply rooted in mysticism; it is said that Kirkjubær was so enchanted and sacrasant to the early Christian settlers that pagans could not set foot there.



Kirkjugólfið makes for a great stop during your travels on the South Coast.Wikimedia. Creative Common. Credit: Tillea.

Legend claims that Irish hermits (Papar)—the earliest settlers to the area—were the ones to lay down this protective spell. One story even states that a young pagan, Hildir Eysteinsson, failed to believe such magic could be possible and therefore attempted to move to Kirkjubær. Upon setting foot on the land, he fell down dead at once.

(As a side note, be aware that this enchantment has now, apparently, been lifted. Pagans are free to roam Kirkjubær to their heart’s heathen desires.)

Dverghamrar (“Dwarf Cliffs”)               

It's clear to see why Dverghamrar is often thought to have been constructed by supernatural creatures.Credit: Jennifer Boyer. 

Dverghamrar (“Dwarf Cliffs”) is an area of hexagonal basalt columns found in South Iceland, approximately 10 kilometres east of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. Dverghamrar is a protected national monument. 

Dverghamrar is an excellent example of how mysterious and puzzling Icelandic nature can be, a fact driven home by the attraction's mythological name.



According to folklore, Dverghamrar was once the home of dwarves, elves, hidden folk and all another manner of supernatural beings. Not only were they supernatural, but they were also a major part of Icelandic interpretation of Christianity, acting as followers to this new monotheistic religion. Christian "hidden folk" are referred to as "Light Elves" in Icelandic folklore. 

Guests to Dverghamrar are asked to treat this protected monument with respect.Flickr. Credit: Stéphanie Perrin. 

One reason that Icelanders believe this is due to a folktale revolving around a young woman in 1904 who claimed to ethereal singing originating from Dverghamrar, despite the fact she could see the site was empty. Listening closer, she could recognise the song as a Christian hymn, ‘The Father in Heaven’. 

It is said that Dverghamrar was built by these ethereal creatures, a justified explanation given the lack of scientific understanding on the part of early Icelanders. Just like Kirkjugólfið, modern understanding dictates that the basalt columns were formed from cooling lava that quickly contracted, thus causing deep and distinctive cracks in the rock.  

Lakagígar (The Laki Craters)                      

Lakagígar (“the craters of Laki”), stand out tall and proud from the landscape.Wikimedia. Creative Commons. 47Mhg491Vgb. 

Laki, otherwise referred to as Lakagígar (“the craters of Laki”) is, perhaps, South Iceland’s most famous volcanic fissure, making up part of the Grímsvötn system and surrounded by picturesque green and black plains. The fissure can be found in close proximity to Kirkjubæjarklaustur village and  Eldgjá canyon. 

Laki’s most infamous and violent eruptions occurred between June 1783 and February 1784. The resulting outcome could not have been more horrifying.

50% of the island’s livestock perished under the ash clouds, leading to a famine that would eventually kill one-quarter of the Icelandic population, the lava flow having decimated over twenty villages. During this eight-month period, Laki ejected 42 billion tons of basalt lava. 


The eruptions even had consequences in other parts of the world. Given the fact that 120 millions tons of sulphur dioxide were poured into the Northern Hemisphere, global temperatures dropped significantly. This caused a change in the monsoon seasons of Africa and India, as well as crop failure across Europe. Many consider the Laki eruptions to have been the catalyst for the French Revolution of 1789. 

English naturalist, Gilbert White, wrote of the time in his personal journals, “By my journal I find that I had noticed this strange occurrence from June 23 to July 20 inclusive, during which period the wind varied to every quarter without making any alteration in the air.

Lakagígar is the final, visible remnants of the violent 1789 eruption that rocked not only Iceland, but the world.Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Credit: Chmee2/Valtameri. 

The sun, at noon, looked as blank as a clouded moon, and shed a rust-coloured ferruginous light on the ground, and floors of rooms; but was particularly lurid and blood-coloured at rising and setting. All the time the heat was so intense that butchers' meat could hardly be eaten on the day after it was killed; and the flies swarmed so in the lanes and hedges that they rendered the horses half frantic, and riding irksome [...]

Eldgjá Canyon              

Eldgjá Canyon is a beautiful, yet haunting location.Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Credit: Borvan53. 

Eldgjá is the largest volcanic canyon in the world and can be located directly between the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur and the hiking paradise that is Landmannalaugar. Stretching an incredible 40 kilometres, Eldgjá is 270 metres at its deepest, and 400 metres at its widest.  

The canyon was discovered by Icelandic geologist and geographer, Þorvaldur Thoroddsen, a man famed for his passionate academic excursions into the wilds of Iceland's nature. 

Inside of the chasm, guests can look upon the waterfall Ófærufoss. Ófærufoss once had a natural rock bridge that spanned the full falls, making the site appear as though it had been plucked straight out of the pages of fantasy. Today, the bridge has eroded away due to excess glacial flooding. 

Ófærufoss as photographed with its original rock bridge in 1984.Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Credit: Roger Goodman. 

In March 2018, a group of medieval researchers from the University of Cambridge came up with the hypothesis the Icelandic poem, Völuspá, was in fact written about the 939 AD eruption of Eldgjá. Given the poems visceral imagery and dramatic, descriptive storytelling, it is thought visions of this eruption were invoked in order to speed up Iceland's transformation from a Pagan to a Christian country.  

Skaftafell Nature Reserve                 

Skaftafell Nature Preserve can be found in Öræfasveit, the western region of Austur-Skaftafellssýsla in Iceland.Photo from Tour to Skaftafell from Reykjavik. 

Skaftafell is a preservation area located in the region of Öræfi (“The Wasteland”), southeast Iceland. Skaftafell was once a national park in its own right, having been established in 1967, but as of June 2008, has been incorporated into the enlarged Vatnajökull National Park. 



Skaftafell was originally inhabited as a farmstead not long after the initial settlement of Iceland and was even the location for a number of administrative meetings between different Chieftains. The Öræfajökull eruption of 1362 decimated the community in its entirety, making the area uninhabitable for long stretches at a time. Hence, the area has been referred to as “the wasteland” ever since.

Farmsteads continued to be re-established in the area, though each was met with insurmountable challenges, ranging from the infertile soil to frequent glacial flooding and ash clouds from the nearby volcano, Grímsvötn. Farming was finally discontinued in the area in 1988. 

Vatnajokull National Park           

Vatnajökull National Park is a landscape of mountains, natural slopes and glittering glaciers.Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Andreas Tille. 

Vatnajökull is the largest glacier in both Iceland and Europe, with a total surface area of 8,100 km2 and an average width of 400 metres to 600 metres. Vatnajökull reaches a maximum ice width of approximately 1000 metres and boasts over thirty different outlet glaciers, giving you some idea as to the glacier's scope. 

Vatnajökull National Park covers approximately 11% of the country, blanketing canyons, mountains and even volcanoes, thus proving to be an excellent example as to why Iceland is known as the "Land of Ice and Fire".



Some of the island's most active volcanoes currently rest beneath the glacier, including Grímsvötn, Öræfajökull and Bárðabunga. Scientists expect there to be a high level of volcanic activity in Vatnajökull over the next half-century. 

The dazzling interior of an Icelandic ice cave.

Vatnajökull is just one of the three national parks in Iceland, but is, without doubt, the largest, having absorbed both the historical Skaftafell National Park (est. 1967) and Jökulsárgljúfur (est. 1973).

The other national parks in the country are Thingvellir National Park, roughly forty minutes northeast from Reykjavik, and Snaefellsjokull National Park. Vatnajökull National Park was established in 2008 in order to protect the area’s eclectic wildlife.

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon               

Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon is often thought to be the Number 1 location to visit when travelling in Iceland thanks to its incredible, ethereal ambience.

Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, one of the prettiest vistas in Iceland, an area of serene beauty characterised by its peaceful icebergs, the curious seal colonies and sweeping views over the ice caps and mountains of Vatnajökull National Park. Upon visiting here, the reasons become evidently clear as to why Jökulsárlón is colloquially titled “The Crown Jewel of Iceland”.



Driving here from the capital, Reykjavik, will take approximately four and half hours without stops, meaning a return trip will see you driving for approximately nine hours. Many visitors choose to spend an evening overnight at accommodation along the South Coast, either at Höfn, Vík í Mýrdal or Hvolsvöllur

Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon at

With that being said, many do choose to make the trip in a single day, especially during the warm summer months when the Midnight Sun allows for nearly 23 hours of illuminated sightseeing. 

After making such an extensive trip in a single day, I can say from personal experience that nothing beats the sensation of dipping into your private accommodation's hot tub, somewhere back amidst the civility of the city centre, reflecting on the wealth of experience undertaken in just one day.



If Jökulsárlón is the ‘Crown Jewel’, it’s also the ‘Prize’, the gold at the end of the winding rainbow we call the Icelandic South Coast.

Diamond Beach                   

Diamond Beach allows for some truly fantastic photograph.

Only five minutes walk from Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, guests will stumble across the aptly named Diamond Beach, a strip of coastline where icebergs wash up onto the jet-black, volcanic shoreline.



Diamond Beach is particularly beloved by photographers who relish the opportunity to snapshot the striking contrasts made between the pale blue ice and volcanic black sand. Thanks to the icebergs' natural formation, no photo is ever alike, and the rolling tide presents a fantastic chance to experiment with timelapse, creating fantastic and surreal pictures that perfectly capture the area's unique, ethereal nature. 



Höfn í Hornafirði         

The harbour at Höfn í Hornafirði.Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Credit: Debivort. 

Höfn í Hornafirði (often shortened to simply ‘Höfn’) is a fishing village in southeast Iceland, sitting just near the Hornafjörður fjord. Between 1994 and 1998, the village was known officially as Hornafjarðarbæ, before taking the name it is known by today, meaning “Harbour”. 

Today, the village is the second largest urban settlement in southeast Iceland and boasts incredible views over Vatnajökull glacier. The surrounding landscape is characterised by shifting shoals and glacial rivers, with several small islands lying to the east of the village such as Mikley and Krókalátur. 



Höfn í Hornafirði boasts a great number of amenities, as well as points of interest, making it an excellent stop while travelling in the South.Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Credit: Diego Cupolo.

As for amenities, Höfn boasts more than most towns of its size (est. population: 2100). For one, the village contains a domestic airport, two banks, four schools, four hairdressers, a supermarket, a flower shop and computer repairs outlet, a gym, a golf course and numerous restaurants and hotels. 

Of particular note in the village, visitors can experience the Höfn Glacier Museum where, through their wealth of displays, they can learn about Vatnajökul's geology, ecology and history. Guests may also like to pay a trip to Gamlabúð ("Old Shop"), the oldest house in the village still in use today. 

Höfn í Hornafirði is often utilised for overnight stops for tours travelling along the South Coast, particularly those that travel as far as Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, or for those continuing east, rather than returning west to the capital. 

Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands)            

Heimaey, the only inhabited area of the Westman Islands.Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Credit: Hansueli Krapf. 

Vestmannaeyjar is both a town and archipelago found off the South Coast of Iceland. The islands are often anglicised as the Westman Islands, alluding to the area's first settlers, Irish monks, or "Men from the west".

All in all, Vestmannaeyjar is comprised of 15 islands, as well as around 30 sea stacks and skerries, and are thought to have formed 10,000-12,000 years ago, making them quite young in geological terms. 

The largest island, Heimaey, is the only one within the archipelago that is inhabited, currently boasting a population of approximately 4200 people. The other islands are either completely untouched by human hand, or sport a solitary hunting cabin, only taking visitors in the warm summer months. 

Herjólfsdalur, Wikimedia. Creative Commons. Credit: Trabajo Propio.

One particular draw that attracts guests to the Westman Islands is its natural biodiversity. Here, you'll find every one of Iceland's seabird species, including Guillemots, Skuas, Arctic Terns, Puffins, Icelandic Gulls and Kittiwakes.

Thanks to the area's microclimate, millions of birds nest in the islands' cliff face each spring, departing again at the end of the summer months. Because of the birdlife's importance to the islands, the Atlantic Puffin has been officially adopted as the emblem of Vestmannaeyjar. 


Did you enjoy our article, 'The Ultimate Guide to South Iceland?' Have you visited Iceland's scenic South Coast, and if so, what was your favourite location? Are there any handy hints that you'd like to share with future travellers to South Iceland? Make sure to leave your thoughts and queries in the Facebook comments box below.