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Iceland's south coast, from east to west

The South Coast of Iceland is the country's most visited sightseeing route, along with the Golden Circle.

This incredible shoreline stretches from the greater Reykjavík area in the west to the magnificent Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in the east and is lined with countless natural wonders such as cascading waterfalls, volcanoes, black sand beaches and glaciers.

Geography, Nature & Wildlife

The South Coast is the most easily accessible part of the country’s southern region, found along the Route 1 highway (the Ring Road), which encircles Iceland. The area consists of a diverse lowland that transitions between, marshlands, bays, cultivated pastures, estuaries and black sand deserts.

Underneath the soil rests a vast lava field, known as Þjórsárhraun. Its edges reach several hundred metres offshore where the ocean waves crash upon them, thereby protecting the lowland from the invasion of the sea. This results in the South Coast being unusually lacking in the deep fjords that so distinctly characterise the rest of Iceland's shoreline.

Unlike much of the rest of Iceland, the South Coast (as seen from Seljalandsfoss) has no fjords.

The region boasts vibrant bird life during all seasons. Freshwater birds nest in the marshlands and around the estuaries, while seabirds flock around the cliffs of Reynisdrangar and Dyrhólaey, including the North Atlantic puffin between May and August. Some species stay throughout the harsh Icelandic winter, including the northern diver, the loom and various species of gulls and ducks.  

Seals are often found along the shore, particularly around the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach. As with everywhere in Iceland, you should always keep an eye out to sea, as whales and dolphins reside all along its coastline.

Highlights of the South Coast

The South Coast offers an unprecedented array of natural wonders that draw thousands of visitors each day.

When driving the route from Reykjavík city, the first major features are the two great waterfalls of Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, which sit beneath the notorious subglacial volcano, Eyjafjallajökull. On clear days from these beautiful cascades, the Westman Islands can be seen across the ocean.

A little further down the route is the glacier Mýrdalsjökull, which covers one of Iceland’s most explosive volcanoes, Katla. Many glacier hikes are taken here upon the outlet of Sólheimajökull.

The aforementioned Dyrhólaey cliffs are next, home to many seabirds. Even if you come outside of puffin season, they are well worth a visit; jutting out to sea is an enormous rock arch of the same name, which you can marvel at from many angles.

The South Coast has many wonders, some natural, some not...

Adjacent to the village of Vík is the famous black-sand beach, Reynisfjara, home to the rock pillars of Reynisdrangar, said to be two trolls frozen by the light of the sun. Though beautiful, this area is gaining notoriety for its dangerous sneaker waves, so visitors should be sure to stay well away from the edge of the water, even on a calm, still day.

There are no landmasses between Reynisfjara beach and the continent of Antarctica, so you can imagine how the waves can build momentum.

After passing through Vík, you will cross the glacial sand plain of Skeiðarársandur, before entering Vatnajökull National Park, home to the largest ice cap in Europe, Vatnajökull itself, dozens of glacial outlets and the magnificent Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon.

While almost all of these sites can be seen from Route 1, they make up a fraction of what the South Coast has to offer. The vast sand plains of Sólheimasandur are home to a crashed DC-3 Plane Wreck, and within the Vatnajökull National Park is the dramatic Skaftafell Nature Reserve.

Less than a kilometre from Seljalandsfoss is the hidden gem of Gljúfrabúi waterfall, and short distances from Jökulsárlón you will find the Diamond Beach, where icebergs wash on the black-sand shore, and another glacier lagoon, Fjallsárlón.

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