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The Best of Iceland’s South Coast

The Best of Iceland's South Coast

Exploring Iceland‘s South Coast offers a treasure trove of natural wonders and stunning landscapes that will leave you in awe. When you plan your adventure along this stretch of Iceland, you’ll encounter a variety of attractions, from thundering waterfalls and vast glaciers to black sand beaches and charming coastal villages. The South Coast is a region that exemplifies Iceland’s raw, wild beauty and is easily accessible, making it a must-visit for any traveller.

Your journey might start at the Seljalandsfoss waterfall, where you can walk behind the cascading water, or Reynisfjara, a world-famous black sand beach framed by basalt columns and roaring Atlantic waves. Not far from these sights, the glacier tongue of Sólheimajökull beckons, offering the chance to step onto the ice and experience the chilling thrill of a glacier walk. Planning your trip will benefit from careful attention to weather conditions and daylight hours to maximise your experience.

With geysers, hot springs, and the ever-present opportunity to glimpse the Northern Lights, your itinerary along Iceland’s South Coast can be as packed or as relaxed as you desire. Whether you’re sipping coffee in a cosy café in Vik, taking a boat tour among the floating icebergs of Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, or simply soaking up the epic landscapes, you’ll understand why this region is celebrated as one of the most beautiful in Iceland.

Planning Your Adventure

Embarking on a journey along Iceland’s South Coast requires a well-thought-out plan. To take in the sweeping landscapes and magical attractions like a seasoned traveller, you’ll need to focus on creating a precise itinerary, choose the most suitable time for your visit, understand your map options, explore lodging choices, and know how to get around efficiently.

Creating an Itinerary

When crafting your itinerary, start in Reykjavik before heading towards the famous Golden Circle. Make sure your plan includes key attractions such as Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls, Reynisfjara black sand beach, and the remarkable Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. Aim for a balance between popular spots and lesser-known locales for a full experience.

  • Day 1: Reykjavik – Thingvellir National Park – Gullfoss – Geysir
  • Day 2: Seljalandsfoss – Skógafoss – Reynisfjara
  • Day 3: Skaftafell – Jökulsárlón

Best Time to Visit

The ideal time to explore the South Coast is during the summer months, from June to August, when the weather is milder and roads are clear. However, if you’re after the Northern Lights, visit between September and March.

Season Pros Cons
Summer Long daylight hours, better road conditions Tourist crowds, higher prices
Winter Northern Lights, fewer tourists Shorter days, potential road closures

Navigating with Google Maps

Google Maps is an indispensable tool for your road trip, offering real-time updates on the Ring Road conditions and helping you locate points of interest. Remember to download offline maps as mobile signals can be unreliable in remote areas.

  • Tip: Bookmark your accommodation and attractions for easy access.

Accommodation Options

Finding where to stay along the South Coast varies from hotels in major towns to countryside guesthouses. It’s recommended to book in advance, especially in peak season.

  • Reykjavik: Largest selection of hotels and hostels.
  • Vik: Convenient for exploring the nearby attractions.
  • Hof: Ideal for those visiting Skaftafell and Jökulsárlón.

Transportation Tips

Renting a car is the most flexible way to explore, allowing you to stop at will for photography or short hikes. Stick to the Ring Road for the main route, and check local guidance for off-road driving rules.

  • Car Rental: Choose a 4×4 for winter travel or if planning to explore F-roads.
  • Fuel: Service stations are less frequent outside towns – keep your tank topped up.
  • Driving Laws: Keep to speed limits and always wear seatbelts; note that off-road driving is illegal.

Natural Wonders and Waterfalls

A man standing next to a waterfall

Iceland’s South Coast is a treasure trove of cascading falls and mesmerising natural scenery. You’re in for an unforgettable adventure.

Beholding Seljalandsfoss

One of the most captivating waterfalls you’ll encounter is Seljalandsfoss. Famous for its unique feature that allows you to walk behind its thunderous curtain of water, this 60-metre drop is a sight to behold. Pack your waterproofs, as the mist from the falls guarantees a refreshing experience.

The Majesty of Skógafoss

Skógafoss stands as a monolith of natural power at 25 metres wide and 60 metres tall. The waterfall’s might creates a constant mist that, on sunny days, offers a display of stunning rainbows. If you’re up for a bit of exercise, climb the 370 steps adjacent to the waterfall to see incredible views from the top.

  • Skógafoss Facts:
    • Height: 60m
    • Width: 25m
    • Rainbows: Often visible on sunny days
    • Hiking: Staircase to top view

Exploring Kvernufoss

Tucked away in a serene gorge, Kvernufoss is a hidden gem often overlooked by travellers. A short hike rewards you with a picturesque 30-metre tall waterfall that you can walk behind. The surrounding greenery and tranquillity make this place magical.

  • Kvernufoss Hiking Info:
    • Distance: Short trek
    • Walk Behind It: Yes
    • Scenery: Serene gorge, lush with moss and ferns

The Grandeur of Svartifoss

Surrounded by distinctive hexagonal basalt columns, Svartifoss, or ‘Black Falls’, is one of Iceland’s most arresting sights. Situated in Skaftafell National Park, this waterfall requires a moderate hike but seeing the contrast of the dark columns against the white water is certainly worth the effort.

  • Svartifoss Trail Details:
    • Terrain: Moderate hike
    • Columns: Hexagonal basalt
    • Located: Skaftafell National Park

Iconic Beaches and Geology

In Iceland’s south coast, you’ll find some truly unique beaches with stunning geological features. From the black sands to the glittering ice, each location has its own story, sculpted by the island’s volcanic activity.

Mystical Reynisfjara Beach

Located near Vik, Reynisfjara Beach is famous for its striking black sand and the impressive basalt columns that you can see towering over the shoreline. These natural columns form a symmetrical pattern, creating an almost man-made appearance. Remember to keep a safe distance from the waves as they can be unexpectedly powerful.

  • Location: Near Vik
  • Known for: Black sand, basalt columns, powerful waves
  • Ideal for: Photography, sightseeing

Diamond Beach’s Sparkling Ice

Just by the bridge over Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, Diamond Beach gets its name from the chunks of ice scattered across the black sand, resembling diamonds. These ice pieces originate from the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier and make their way to the sea, offering you a stunning contrast for photography.

  • Location: Adjacent to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
  • Features: Ice chunks on black sand
  • Photography tip: Capture the contrast of ice and sand during sunrise or sunset for brilliant hues

Always be mindful of the fragile geology and respect the natural environment when visiting these places. Your photographs will capture the enchanting landscapes, while your memories will carry the essence of Iceland’s geological wonders.

Glacier Exploration

A couple of explorers sailing between Icelandic glaciers

Glacier exploration offers an exhilarating experience where you can get up close with Iceland’s magnificent frozen landscapes. Prepare to strap on crampons and tread on age-old ice while you witness stunning crevasses and ice formations.

Glacier Hiking on Sólheimajökull

Sólheimajökull, an accessible outlet glacier of the larger Mýrdalsjökull icecap, offers a fantastic opportunity for glacier hiking. Here’s what you need to prepare for:

  • Equipment: Ensure you have crampons and ice axes provided by the tour guides.
  • Safety: Always follow your guide’s instructions to navigate safely.
  • Experience: No prior experience is necessary. Just bring a sense of adventure!

Ice Adventures at Jökulsárlón

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is a real spectacle where icebergs calve from the mighty Vatnajökull and float on serene waters. While you’re there:

  • Boat Tours: Embark on an inclusive boat tour to weave between icebergs.
  • Unique Views: Each iceberg presents a unique form, offering an extraordinary photographic canvas.

Remember, wear warm and waterproof clothing as the weather can be unpredictable!

Ice Climbing Challenges

For the more adventurous souls, ice climbing on Svínafellsjökull Glacier in Vatnajökull National Park offers a thrilling challenge. Your adventure will look like this:

  • Skilled Guides: They will teach you how to use ice axes and ropes for climbing.
  • Physical Demand: It’s a physically demanding activity, but your exertion will be rewarded with stunning vistas from the ice.

Always listen to your guides to ensure the safest and most rewarding climb.

Coastal Treasures

Iceland’s South Coast is a wonderland where you can witness floating icebergs and epic canyons. Get your camera ready for these breathtaking locations.

Visiting Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon

At the Fjallsárlón Glacier Lagoon, you’re in for a spectacular sight. This lesser-known lagoon is a tranquil spot where icebergs from the retreating Fjallsjökull glacier gather before drifting out to sea. Here’s how you can make the most of your visit:

  • Boat Tour: Embark on an unforgettable boat tour. Glide among majestic icebergs and keep an eye out for the playful seals that often pop up to say hello.
  • Photography: Capture the unique shapes of ice against the dramatic backdrop of the glacier. The best light is often early in the morning or during the late afternoon golden hour.

Remember, Fjallsárlón is part of the larger Skaftafell Nature Reserve. Hence, you’re well-positioned to explore other natural attractions after your lagoon adventure.

Venturing into Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon

Fjaðrárgljúfur is a stunning canyon believed to be around two million years old. To fully experience its grandeur:

  • Hiking Trails: Follow the marked trails along the canyon’s edge for panoramic views. Wear sturdy shoes as the paths can be slippery, especially after rain.
  • Appreciate Nature: Be mindful not to disturb the delicate flora and fauna. The canyon walls host a range of moss and lichen, evident of the area’s raw beauty.

Both Fjallsárlón and Fjaðrárgljúfur capture the essence of Iceland’s dynamic landscapes, leaving you with a profound appreciation for nature’s artistry.

Adventures in the Vicinity

A woman celebrating climbing up a mountain

Iceland’s South Coast teems with extraordinary landscapes, and amidst these, you can immerse yourself in thrilling activities. Whether you adore exploring verdant valleys or aspire to reach icy summits, adventures here promise memories that will last a lifetime.

Thorsmork: The Valley of Thor

Thorsmork, the Valley of Thor, is a wonderland for hikers and those seeking a tranquil escape.

  • Activities:
    • Hiking: Traverse marked trails varying from easy to challenging.
    • Camping: Set up camp surrounded by rugged mountains.
  • Highlights:
    • Scenery: Thorsmork boasts dense birch wood forests and panoramic mountain views.
    • Access: Reachable by super jeeps or buses adapted for river crossings.

Ascending Hvannadalshnúkur

Hvannadalshnúkur, reigning as Iceland’s tallest peak on the Vatnajökull Glacier, offers a demanding yet rewarding climb.

  • Activities:
    • Climbing: Guided tours are suggested for a safe ascent.
  • Preparation:
    • Fitness: Ensure you’re physically fit as the climb is demanding.
    • Equipment: Proper gear is needed, which can often be rented.

Engage with the vastness of Vatnajökull Glacier as you ascend, and revel in the breath-taking views from Iceland’s rooftop.

To further enrich your trip, consider visiting the Sky Lagoon near Reykjavik for a soothing geothermal bath, or take a scenic drive to Hvalfjörður, a stunning fjord offering picturesque hikes and tranquil views. These destinations provide a perfect complement to your South Coast adventure.

Cultural Insights

Your journey through Iceland’s South Coast offers a tapestry of rich cultural experiences, from exploring historical treasures to unwinding in the warmth of geothermal waters.

Learning at Skógar Museum

Skógar Museum is a window into Iceland’s past where you’ll discover an extensive array of artefacts and buildings. Get up close with traditional Icelandic turf houses, an emblem of resilience against the harsh Nordic environment. Inside, you can peruse textiles, handicrafts, and tools that tell tales of Iceland’s seafaring and farming heritage. Don’t miss the opportunity to visit the museum’s souvenir shop for unique keepsakes, reflecting the spirit of Icelandic culture.

Relaxing in Geothermal Hot Springs

Iceland’s geothermal hot springs are a testament to the volcanic activity that shapes the island. Geysir, one of Iceland’s most iconic hot springs, may not be ideal for swimming, but its eruptions are a majestic sight to behold. For a relaxing dip, visit the local swimming pools across the south coast, many of which are naturally heated. The sublime blend of relaxation and the invigorating properties of mineral-rich waters makes these pools a local and traveller favourite alike. Your cultural immersion is incomplete without this quintessentially Icelandic experience.