It is no secret that Iceland is filled with wonders that will render you speechless but there are some certain spots and places which are more popular than others. While some rank higher on popularity pole because of their ease of accessibility, others are simply gorgeous. The southern part of Iceland is both accessible all-year-round and is also stacked with many attractions – each one more beautiful than the other. South Iceland is the perfect place to witness all those natural landscapes and phenomena such as the aurora, or the midnight sun. Visitors and the citizen both, consider the southern part of Iceland as the perfect place for activities like paragliding, whale watching, puffin viewing, super jeep tours, hiking, and sight-seeing. The clean, safe paths and generally clear weather give you the freedom of exploring South Iceland either with guided tours from tour agencies or as a self-driving tour.
Know the Terrain
Before you set out to get yourself acquainted with rugged natural landscapes in the south of Iceland, you must know a few things about the place such as the weather you will be encountering, how many daylight hours you will get to explore the locations, etc.
South coast gets a record average high temperature of 4° to 2° C in winters and an average low of -0.5° to -2.4°C. Winters are harsh but they are every bit beautiful. Make sure that you are well-packed with warm layers so that you stay safe. The summers are mild with a little bit of wind. Summers get an average high of 9.7° to 13.6°C and average low temperature that ranges from 3.8° to 8.8°C.
Condition of Roads
Most of the roads in South Iceland are safe and easy to pass. Almost 20% of roads in the southern part are covered with ice or are slippery because of the rain. When it snows, the concerned roads gather 10-20 cm thick layer of ice. Make sure that you study the roads you will be traveling beforehand if you are on a self-driving tour. While most roads are paved, you can also encounter F-roads if you want to go into the highland. F roads are also known as mountain or adventure roads. Make sure that you rent an appropriate 4-wheel drive for a comfortable journey.
October gets the most amount of precipitation on the southern island, about 88 mm. On average, it rains 21 out of 23 days in October. The driest month of the year on the south coast in May. The average precipitation in May ranges up to about 42 mm. Note that precipitation can come in any form ranging from drizzle to normal heavy rainfall, hailstorms, and snowfall.
South coast is the best place to witness the midnight sun. Summers are pretty basic with about 21-22 hours of daylight hours while winters get to see daylight only for about 4- 4.5 hours only. One of the most popular places for midnight sun and aurora watching is Seljalandsfoss waterfall which is one of the most prized possession of the south coast of Iceland.
Top Place to Visit in South Iceland
One of the most beautiful waterfalls of Iceland with about 60 meters of height, Seljalandsfoss is the most visited and most peculiar of them all. The reason is simple, you can walk behind this waterfall. Seljalandsfoss waterfall is every bit beautiful as other waterfalls of Iceland but the hidden cave behind the cascading waters makes it the most special of them all. Imagine walking behind the water and watching the glimmering midnight sun. The waterfall gets its water from the mighty Eyjafjallajökull glacier volcano – known for its eruption in 2010 which filled the whole of Europe with ashes. When you head to Seljalandsfoss, make sure to explore the gorge a bit further as you will find Gljúfrabúi, a small but very beautiful waterfall. Hidden in the depth of the gorge, this beauty is sure to extend the pleasure of your trip.
Seljalandsfoss waterfall is one of those popular sites in Iceland which is often used as shooting sites for movies, tv shows, and music videos. It made an appearance in The Amazing Leg Race 6 as well as Justin Bieber’s song “I’ll Show You”. Seljalandsfoss is a whole new world for tourists and a must-visit spot when traveling to the south coast.
Unarguably, another one of the highest waterfalls in Iceland with the fifth-place form the top, Skógafoss waterfall is blessed with a height of 60 meters and a width of 15 meters. The beauty of the Skógafoss waterfall lies in its crashing force that comes with the cascading waters. You can not only view the waterfall from the bottom but also the top.
There is a flight of stairs beside the waterfall leading up to the top, so you do not need to hike up. The stairs are easy and safe to access in the summer, springs, and fall but take extra care in winters when there is snow. The water is a completely different picture in both summers and winters. The summers will present you with moss-laden cliffs surrounding the foamy white cascading waters while the winters bring brown cliff with hanging sculptures of ice. Approach the stairs beside the waterfall carefully in winters and rest assured, you will come across the best of the views for your photos.
Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon
Formed in 1934-1935, Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon is the deepest glacier lagoon of Iceland and it has been reported to have increased 4 times in size and, thanks to the global warming phenomenon, it has been increasing in size every passing day. When you sail through Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, you will come across many big and small icebergs floating across the calm waters. The views of this scenic place are peaceful yet intimidating in a way. The combination that huge floating icebergs create when combined with various sea colonies, the long-stretched range of snow-covered mountains near the Vatnajökull glacier in the Vatnajökull national park are extremely rare to find anywhere else in the world – reason enough for it to be called the “crown jewel” of the south coast, a prize that you will get when you reach the end of the maze or the treasure hunt map.
Round trip to Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon from the capital city will take up about 9 hours from your day so it is wise to pick accommodation in the nearby settlements and rest there. There are many other sights and attractions near the lagoon that you can explore when visiting.
This place is exactly as it sounds – filled with enormous diamonds – well, diamonds carved out of glacial ice. The Diamond Beach is only a 5-minute walk away from the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon so you can easily visit it on the same day. Icebergs from the lagoon wash up to the black sand beach and create an impression of huge diamonds scattered on the beach. The icebergs are washed and shaped by the waves of the ocean in a unique form every time so one thing is sure – no two visits are ever going to be the same. The black volcanic sand on the beach creates a blazing contrast with the pale electric blue icebergs. Some are as small as normal pebbles on the beach but others will be as huge as human beings. This is another ideal place to fill your camera with exquisite pictures.
Skaftafell National Reserve
Skaftafell used to be a national park of Iceland till 2008 after which it was merged with Vatnajokull national park. While Skaftafell national reserve has faced many natural calamities like infertile soil, glacial floods, and ash clouds by the eruptions in the nearby volcanos. Initially used for many different activities like meetings between chieftains of clans in the country but now it is famous for housing the highest peak of Iceland – Hvannadalshnúkur along with Morsárfoss waterfall – the highest waterfall of Iceland. Skaftafell National Reserve is also very popular as camping grounds.
Perfect for souvenir shopping, getting a bite between your trips, or finding some comfy accommodations, this coastal village is a small entity with a population of only about 300 people. With a radius of 70 kilometres, Vik stands as the biggest settlement in the surrounding area. Vík í Mýrdal is located right to the south of Mýrdalsjökull glacier and is fairly near to Katla Volcano. This keeps it high on alert for the time when the volcano finally erupts. Although Katla has been dormant since 1918 scientists have concluded that it can erupt any year now. The eruption will cause a glacial flood in the vicinity of Mýrdalsjökull glacier – large enough to drown the whole village except for the red-roofed church which is located on higher grounds as compared to the rest of the village. If you are lucky enough, you will even be able to spot the regular evacuation drills that take place in the village to prepare for the flood.
Excursions around Katla volcano from the village are a famous activity to be a part of along with a tour of the black ice caves found in the glacier-volcano. You can explore beautiful little restaurants and cafes in town or take a tour of the streets filled with colorful houses.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
The most popular beach on the south coast, Reynisfjara black sand beach is known for the volcanic black sand that it possesses along with some incredibly beautiful basalt columns on the side. The beach is located between Vík í Mýrdal village and Dyrhólaey peninsula is about 180 kilometers away from the capital city. Reynisfjara has been voted as one of the top 10 beautiful non-tropical beaches found in the world – an achievement, isn’t it?
The 15 meters high basalt rock columns are surrounded by many folklores. Some say that they used to be trolls who were petrified as the sun rays touched their bodies when they were trying to pull a boat out of the ocean. Another folklore presents the rocks as trolls frozen by a husband who was trying to revenge his murdered wife. All these and many other stories and titbits will be available for you to enjoy when you visit the beach.
A moss-covered beauty, Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon houses a 2-kilometer-long river and a twisted winding shape. The canyon has changed a lot over time and has been shaped by the river Fjaðrá. The canyon is worth visiting for every nature lover and enthusiast of the trills. The bedrock of Fjaðrárgljúfur is made with palagonite – a mineral quite similar to basalt and is formed when volcanic ashes are cooled down by the water. The formation of the canyon dates back to the cool periods of the ice age.
Also called the “smoke valley”, Reykjadalur valley is popular for the soothing hot water river that runs through it. The valley is not just an extension of the steamy river that through it though. It is covered with green hillside which contains many streams, waterfall, hot spring, and geothermal areas scattered all across the landscape. Located only 40 minutes away from the capital city, the valley finds home beside the town of Hveragerði. A friendly little settlement with about 2500 people, you can always rely on the locals from this town to know the way to the valley.
To reach the valley, you will have to drive across the town till you reach a gravel road. Driving down a bit further, you will park your car at the end of this trail and then hike up the hill for about 50-60 minutes before you reach the streams. Different sections of the river have different temperatures so you can choose your ideal one just by cruising up and down the stream a little bit.
A tranquil place with origin stories that make it out be a separate island from the mainland of Iceland, Dyrhólaey is now connected to the country’s southern coast and proves to a welcoming home for the migrating birds. If you are traveling south in search of some beautiful sight, then Dyrhólaey is the place for you to be – beautiful cliffs, towering waves, glaciers in the distance, and rich birdlife. Some parts of Dyrhólaey are inaccessible in May and June so that birds can have some privacy during the nesting period. But once the bird-watching sites are open again, you can expect to see many species including Atlantic Puffins and the Arctic Terns.
Solheimasandur Plane Wreck
Another popular site for shooting of various Hollywood and Bollywood movies, music videos and shows, Solheimasandur Plane Wreck is located between Hvolsvöllur and Vík í Mýrdal on the black sand desert of Sólheimasandur. US Navy DC-3 Plane crashed in this dessert in 1973 and the wreck has been there ever since. No casualties were reported in the accident but the plane wreck has been here for a very long time creating an ideal landscape for sightseeing and shooting movies and songs.
Getting to the plane wreck will require a bit of physical effort. In the olden times, when there weren’t many visitors aware of this site and tourism was not as big of an industry as it is now, it was allowed to drive through the black sand fields to the wreck site. Now, seeing the increase in the tourism activity near the wreck site, the local authorities have made it illegal to drive on the black sand field. So, you will either have to take a walk on the plain for about 40-50 minutes to reach the site, or book a ride on one of the trucks that drives back and forth to the plane every day. The open area and unpredictable weather conditions of the south may bring in some surprise winds so dress warmly.
Vatnajokull National Park
Vatnajokull holds the title of the largest glacier of Iceland as well as Europe and Vatnajokull National park cover almost 11% of the total surface area of Iceland which counts up to about 8100 km2. The park contains everything from ice caps, mountains, canyons and volcanoes creating a real-life justification for the name “the land of ice and fire”.
Vatnajokull is one of the three national parks in Iceland – the largest one of them all. It was created in 2008 to protect the heterogeneous wildlife in the area. Vatnajokull national park houses some of the most active volcanoes of Iceland and is predicted to have quite a lot of volcanic activities in the near future.
If you are traveling south to gain access to some exclusive thrill and adventures, Vatnajokull is the place for you to be. Most of the glacier and the national park is located in the highland which can only be accessed in a sturdy 4×4 drive through mountain F-roads of Iceland.
Vestmannaeyjar (Westman Islands)
A group of 15 islands, Vestmannaeyjar is an archipelago. Only one out of the 15 islands are inhibited by humans and holds a population of about 4200. The islands had formed recently about 10,000-12,000 years ago which makes them comparatively younger than other geological formation. The rest of the islands are completely free of humans which makes them perfect for wildlife making them archipelago perfect to be a hunting cabin. The biodiversity of the island is the most attractive thing about it. You can find everything Skuas, Puffins, Arctic Terns, Icelandic Gulls, Guillemots, and Kittiwakes. And because of the popular birdlife, Vestmannaeyjar has adapted Atlantic Puffin as the official emblem.
Seljavallalaug Outdoor Pool
Just 23 kilometers to the east of Seljalandsfoss waterfall, Seljavallalaug outdoor pool is one of the oldest constructed pools of Iceland which was designed in 1923. It used to be the largest man-made outdoor pool until 1936. While there are no specific tour services or caretakers that organize the bathing facilities, visitors can go and take a dip of their own accord.
The pool is cleaned once a year and there are no bathrooms or changing rooms near the pool. However, there is an old house nearby where you can go and change into your swimming costumes.
Be Prepared for the Trip
If you plan to travel back and forth from the capital city every day then you must not forget to pack all the essentials that you will need on the trip. However, a single-day trip to every place that you pick to experience may prove to be a bit tiring, so consider booking a room or hostel in one of the nearby towns like Vik. Your packing list should include shell waterproof and windproof jackets, warm layers, good hiking shoes, and proper base layer clothes along with other essentials like gadgets and accessories.