Fjaðrárgljúfur is a beautiful, dramatic canyon in South Iceland, close to the historic town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur.
Fjaðrárgljúfur is little known and is thus far less crowded than other sites in the area, such as Skaftafell nature reserve, and Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. Its beauty and isolation make it a dream location for photographers and hikers alike.
Though the valley was only formed at the end of the last ice age approximately 10,000 years ago, the bedrock here is much older, dating back two million years. The ravine was created by the runoff from a glacial lake, which wore away the soft stone and left only the more resistant rocks behind.
Fjaðrárglúgur is about 100 metres (328 feet) deep and 2 km (1.25 mi) long, with sheer walls dotted with many waterfalls.
It is possible to walk along the ridges above, or in the valley itself. The site is popular amongst photographers for the contrasts between the dark rocks, foaming waters and verdant moss. Of course, if the midnight sun or northern lights are out, it is a shutterbug’s paradise.
If taking the latter route, know that the river Fjaðrá runs through the canyon, and though its waters are often shallow, those exploring may have to wade through it. While this is safe, you will want either waterproof, sturdy boots, or sandals with a strap on the back that you can easily change in and out of.
This tributary runs into the greater Skaftá river.
The closest settlement to Fjaðrárglúgur is Kirkjubæjarklaustur, often nicknamed Klaustur by locals. This is a place with a long religious history; it was home to the country’s first convent, and is said to be the only place in the country that the Old Norse faith was never practiced.
Many local sites are named after the nuns who once lived in the area, such as Systrastapi (Sister’s Rock) and Systrafoss (Sister’s Falls).
The South Coast itself is lined with other features to visit during your travel. These include the dramatic waterfalls Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss; the former is famed for its scale, and the latter for the fact that you can walk all around it.
You will also see sites such the beach Reynisfjara, with its great sea-stacks, Reynisdrangar, said to be trolls frozen in the light of the morning sun. Other coastal features include the Dyrhólaey cliffs and arch, which is a paradise for birdwatchers in summer, due to the fact that it is home to thousands of nesting puffins.
The South Coast can be explored in a day, but to get to all the sites and enjoy them properly, visitors are encouraged to spend two or three days in the region.