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A Complete Guide to The South Coast of Iceland

The South Coast of Iceland is an extremely special and beautiful place.

The South Coast of Iceland is an extremely special and beautiful place. It has it all – waterfalls, glaciers, beaches, glacier lagoons, mountains, volcanoes, nature reserves, and small villages. If you are looking for an adventure not so far from Reykjavík, the South Coast is a great place to go! We have compiled a list of amazing places and activities for you to explore on the South Coast of Iceland.

Posted by: Melissa Masvaleix


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Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Seljalandsfoss waterfall is one of the most popular sites in Iceland. The waterfall cascades from ancient sea cliffs, dropping over 60 meters (197 feet) with intense power into the pool at your feet. The water flows from the Seljalandsá river, which has its origin at the infamous volcano glacier, Eyjafjallajökull.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall is unique because it is possible to walk behind the waterfall, where you can see the world from the other side through the falling water. The views and the sounds from behind the waterfall are astonishing!

Beautiful Seljalandsfoss waterfall - the one that you can walk behind

Beautiful Seljalandsfoss waterfall - the one that you can walk behind

Plus, if you go there on a sunny day you will have great chances of observing a rainbow within the watery spray. You can access the path to go behind the falls easily during summer even if you will get a little bit wet from the drizzle. However, it is not recommended to take this path during the winter months as it becomes too slippery and dangerous.

Seljalandsfoss is only about a one and a half-hour drive from Reykjavik, or 120 kilometers.

Eyjafjallajökull Volcano

Eyjafjallajökull is a glacier-volcano completely covered by a massive 100 km2 icecap. The volcano is 1651 meters tall at its highest point and the crater itself has a diameter of 3-4 kilometers. Eyjafjallajökull is not only known for its famous volcanic eruption, but also for its unpronounceable name!

Eyjafjallajökull is a glacier-volcano

Eyjafjallajökull is a glacier-volcano

It has erupted quite frequently, most recently in the spring of 2010. On March 20th, after being dormant for 180 years, an eruption began at Fimmvörðuháls, just 5 kilometers from the Eyjafjallajökull crater, spewing lava and forming two new lava craters.

On April 14th, a new eruption commenced, this time from the Eyjafjallajökull crater, it caused massive flooding because this was a subglacial eruption. When meltwater got into the vent the eruption became really explosive, with giant boulders being thrown high into the air, the electrical storms and lightning were truly spectacular.

800 people were evacuated, and air travel was severely disrupted across North-West Europe for six days, this disruption continued on and off for a few weeks into May. Finally, on May 23rd, the London Volcanic Ash Advisory Commission declared that the eruption has stopped. In August 2010 the volcano experts declared the eruptive phase had ended.

Skógafoss waterfall

Skógafoss waterfall is one of Iceland’s most well-known waterfalls. It is 60 m tall (197 ft) and 25 m wide (80 ft), making it one of the largest waterfalls in the whole of Iceland. It is located near the village of Skógar along the Ring Road, around a two-hour drive away from Reykjavík, making it the perfect place for a day out.

Skógafoss is a very powerful waterfall, and due to the amount of spray it produces, single and even double rainbows are often seen on sunny days.

Skógafoss waterfall

Skógafoss waterfall

It is possible to hike to the top of the waterfall to admire its majestic beauty from above. You will have to walk up many steps to get to the top but the spectacular views from the top make the effort worthwhile - seeing this waterfall from above is just so amazing.

Skógafoss is very popular all year round, it drops into the Skógá river which is well populated with salmon and char, so, between July and October you will quite often see fisherman nearby.

There is a wonderful legend connected to Skógafoss. It is said that a chest filled with gold and treasures has been hidden behind the cascade. According to the legend Þrasi Þórólfsson, the first Viking to have settled at Skógar, hid the chest of precious treasure underneath the waterfall around the year 900, the person who manages to recover the chest is entitled to keep the treasure!  

Sólheimajökull/Svínafellsjökull – Glacier Hike

When you visit Iceland, the land of fire and ice, exploring at least one glacier is a must-do. Glaciers are made up of fallen snow (they are not frozen water as some might think). The glaciers came into existence by compression due to the weight of the snow, as more snow accumulates the compression increases.

Hiking on Svínafellsjökull glacier in winter

Hiking on Svínafellsjökull glacier in winter

It is just like taking a handful of fluffy snow and squeezing it into a hard snowball and then continuing to do so for hundreds of years. The ice eventually becomes so compressed that most of the air is forced out of it, making the glacial ice appear crystal blue.

A glacier hike usually lasts around one hour, and it should be suitable for everyone over the age of ten, who is comfortable with walking on uneven surfaces. You need to wear good hiking shoes when you go glacier hiking since you will be given crampons to wear on your feet.

You will go safely with an expert glacier guide exploring crevasses and seeing natural glacial ice-sculptures. Make sure to check out either Sólheimajökull (Solheimajokull) glacier or Svínafellsjökull (Svinafellsjokull) glacier, both are located on the south coast.

Sólheimajokull glacier is part of Mýrdalsjökull, Iceland’s fourth largest glacier which covers the infamous volcano, Katla. It is located near Vík village.

Svínafellsjökull is an outlet glacier from the massive Vatnajökull glacier, where the ice is over 1000 years old. It is located near Skaftafell Nature Reserve, further to east.

Dyrhólaey Cliffs

Dyrhólaey, which can be translated into English as ‘The Hill Island With The Door Hole’, is a small peninsula famous for its naturally shaped 120-meter (394 feet) high arch formation. You see wonderful views of the black sand beaches around the village of Vík from here. Going down to explore these beaches, you will appreciate how powerful these waves can be.

You shouldn't stand too close to these waves, nor go too close to the water, because they can roll much higher up the beach. A truly spectacular sight but dangerous if you get too close! The century-old castle-shaped lighthouse at Dyrhólaey is no longer just a regular lighthouse. The interior has, in fact, been renovated and converted into a luxury hotel.

Dyrhólaey lighthouse in South Iceland

Dyrhólaey lighthouse in South Iceland

Dyrhólaey was declared a Nature Reserve in 1978. The area is a well-known bird sanctuary, where each year thousands of visitors observe the puffins in their natural habitat, there are many other bird species to enjoy as well. During the summertime, the birds nest in the grassy hills around Dyrhólaey, sometimes they can be a little aggressive when it comes to defending their nests.

The Arctic terns are particularly well known for this kind of behavior, so visitors should keep a safe distance, and avoid approaching their nests too closely. It should be noted that these cliffs are closed to traffic from the middle of May to late in June to protect the area during the nesting season.

The lower part of the cliff area remains open to car traffic and visitors are can walk in a restricted part of the area, following the lovely marked trail between Lágey and Háey - this is open between 9 am and 7 pm. So even at nesting time, Dyrhólaey is well worth visiting! Seals can also be potentially spotted close to Dyrhólaey so keep your eyes open!

Dyrhólaey is about 174 kilometers from Reykjavík, or about a two and a half hour drive. You just drive on Highway 1 from Reykjavík (heading east), then turn right onto Road 218, you then you have two choices: you can continue all the way to the parking lot near the lower part or turn right to go up to the higher part.

Dyrhólaey sea cliffs

Dyrhólaey sea cliffs

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach

Reynisfjara has nothing to envy from the typical golden-sandy beaches. This volcanic beach with basalt columns, lava formations, towering cliffs and basalt column caves is totally unique and breathtaking. In fact, it has been ranked as one of the ten most beautiful non-tropical beaches in the world by the American journal, Islands Magazine.

Reynisfjara is located very close to the fishing village of Vík, which is only a two-hour drive from Reykjavík (180 kilometers).

Reynisfjara black beach

Reynisfjara black beach

The beach was formed from lava which flowed into the ocean and then cooled instantly as it touched the cold sea. The huge natural pyramid of basalt columns by the shoreline resulted from flowing lava which then contracted rapidly.

The cliffs and sea stacks here are home to thousands of nesting seabirds including puffins, fulmars and guillemots, making this beach a great destination for bird-watching. In the distance you will see Dyrhólaey, a magnificent 120 meters (400 feet) high promontory.

Offshore you will also see the Reynisdrangar peaks, basalt rock stacks that rise from the sea. According to an Icelandic legend, these mystically-shaped pillars were trolls who broke the unbreakable rule! They were turned into stone when they faced the morning sun when they came back late from a fishing trip.

It is important to be aware of the potential dangers present at the beach. First, never turn your back on the waves when you are close to the water´s edge, those waves are extremely powerful, sometimes crashing much higher up the beach than you would expect.

It is recommended to keep a safe distance of 20 to 30 meters from the ocean to avoid being caught out by a dangerous sneaker wave - better to be safe sorry! So, just pay a little attention to the ocean when you take photos and explore the incredible basalt column cave.

Basalt columns on the black beach

Basalt columns on the black beach

Vik Village

The small seaside village of Vík, also known as Vík í Mýrdal, is the southernmost village in Iceland.  It has around 300 inhabitants, making it the largest settlement in the area.

It is situated 180 kilometers from Reykjavík, along the ring road. Vík is surrounded by beautiful valleys, black beaches, cliffs and mountains, offering extremely varied landscapes. Mýrdalsjökull glacier is very near to the village of Vík, this glacier has the threatening volcano, Katla, lurking beneath it, for sure this is one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes.

Vík is an important local commercial and service center for the travel industry and the local people. You can find lovely cafes, restaurants, accommodation, shops and all of the most important services.

One thing you can’t miss when you are in Vík is its white church with the red roof, named Víkurkirkja, it is located at the top of the village. Built in the years 1932-1934, it has become, nowadays, a totem of the village and an important stop for tourists.

The cliffs around Vík are one of the best places in Iceland to see puffins and other seabirds, mostly during the summertime.

The charming village of Vík

The charming village of Vík

Foss A Sidu Waterfall

The waterfall Foss á Síðu (Foss a Sidu) is one of the most photographed waterfalls in Iceland. Located around 10 km from the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur, it catches the eye of everyone who is traveling on the Ring Road. Because of its proximity to the Road 1, people feel compelled to stop for a few minutes to take photographs.

The particularly astonishing setting around this 30-meter tall waterfall makes it resemble a picture taken straight out of a fairytale book, the surrounding moss-covered cliffs add greatly to its beauty and lush fairytale ambiance. Sometimes sheep and horses gather close to the waterfall - making this a really perfect picture of Icelandic nature.

Foss á Síðu is a relatively narrow waterfall but it is extremely beautiful. The small amount of water dropping down can sometimes flow in every direction, even uphill, when a very strong wind is blowing a certain way. The spectacular surroundings of the waterfall are sure to catch your attention as this is a unique and stunning place to explore.

You can take the hiking trail up to Þórutjörn, the small lake near the farm in front of the waterfall, this walk will take you closer to the waterfall and give you an even better view.

Foss á Síðu waterfall

Foss á Síðu waterfall. Photo: Ron Kroetz - Flickr

Dverghamrar

In front of the Foss á Síðu waterfall, you will find Dverghamrar, two large columnar basalt rock formations, created by the surging sea, around the last ice age the ocean rose much higher than it does now. Standing in front of Dverghamrar, you will see Foss á Síðu dropping right in between the two Dverghamrar formations.

Dvergharmar

Dverghamrar. Photo: Jennifer Boyer - Flickr

Dverghamrar directly translated into English means ‘Dwarf Rocks’. According to Icelandic folklore, this place is thought to be the dwelling place of some of the country’s hidden people. The dwarfs living there are believed to be Christian, in 1904 a young girl said that she heard them singing a Christian song, which, apparently, means that they belong to the race known as the Light Elves.

Dverghamrar is a protected natural monument and a listed conservation site. This area is the perfect place to enjoy exploring the Icelandic nature. Never forget to stay respectful in this kind of place if you want to stay on the safe side. Who knows if you will get to see a dwarf, or what such supernatural beings might be capable of?

Skaftafell Nature Reserve

Skaftafell Nature Reserve (4,807km2) was established in 1967 and became part of Europe’s second largest National Park, Vatnajökull (14,200 km2 including Skaftafell) in 2008. Skaftafell offers breathtaking scenery as well as many outdoor activity opportunities, such as ice climbing, ice hiking, visiting ice caves, and so much more.

From volcanoes to glaciers, black sand plateaus to icy lagoons, rivers to impressive mountain peaks, the landscapes of Skaftafell are very diverse. Hvannadalshnjúkur, the highest peak in Iceland (2,110 meters), can be seen in this Nature Reserve.

One of the many glaciers in Skaftafell

One of the many glaciers in Skaftafell

Skaftafell has been used several times as a setting for famous movies such as Batman Begins, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty and the James Bond movie A View to A Kill. Game of Thrones and Interstellar were both shot around Svínafellsjökull glacier, which is now often called ‘the Hollywood Glacier’.

To get to the National Park, you need to follow Highway 1 for about 330 kilometers, traveling south then east from Reykjavík, you then need to turn left onto Road 998 for 2 kilometers until you reach Skaftafell Visitor Centre. This takes approximately 4 hours, without counting the photo stops no one can resist making along the road.

Inside the park, there are no roads but many beautiful hiking trails leading to different and amazing places. For example, you can hike to the wonderful Svartifoss waterfall, this is just a 1.5-kilometer hike away from the Visitor Centre along a marked trail.

Svartifoss waterfall in Skaftafell

Svartifoss waterfall in Skaftafell

Svartifoss is only 20 meters high but it is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland, ´cradled´ by a massive black basalt lava wall - it is truly one of the most photogenic sights in Iceland. The ‘Black Falls’ are fed by the icy melt-water from Svínafellsjökull glacier.

Skaftafell Visitor Centre provides a lot of useful and interesting information about the National Park. You can find out all about the history and the geology of the park, as well as guides to the hiking trails and details of their characteristics. There is also an exhibition about the glaciers and volcanoes in the area at the Visitor Centre.

There is also a campsite near the Skaftafell Visitor Centre, which can welcome around 400 tents. It is open from early May to late September and has a cafeteria nearby with a small shop and washing machines.

Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon

Jökulsárlón (Jokulsarlon) is a stunning and dream-like glacier lagoon situated at the southern end of the Vatnajökull glacier. The glacial lake first appeared in 1934, and it has grown from 7.9 km2 in 1975 to at least 18 km2 today because of heavy melting of the Icelandic glaciers.

Located right beside the Ring Road between Höfn and Skaftafell and about 5 hours from the capital, Jökulsárlón is the deepest lake in Iceland and the largest glacier lake in the country.

Jökulsarlón in its full beauty

Jökulsarlón in its full beauty

There are icebergs of all shapes and sizes floating around in Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. The icebergs break off from the glacier and float into the lagoon. This thrilling environment is constantly changing as the massive glacier tongue retreats more and more.

It is well worth spending some time in the cold admiring the wonderful ice sculptures whilst looking out for seals. You can also take a kayak or a zodiac boat tour on the lagoon to get closer to these icy wonders.

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon has also been the filming location of many Hollywood movies such as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, and the James Bond film: Die Another Day.

The glacier lagoon in sunset

The glacier lagoon in sunset

The Diamond Beach / The Crystal Beach

The Diamond Beach, or the Crystal Beach, is located one kilometer from Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. If you go to the glacier lagoon, you should make sure to visit this stunning beach just across the road, where you can see chunks of decades-old glacial ice that have washed up on the seashore.

The black sand contrasting with the crystal blue color of the icebergs makes this place magical and a fabulous location for photographers. The official name of the Diamond Beach is Breiðamerkursandur, so you will often see this on maps, especially older ones.

Huge ice bergs at the Diamond Beach

Huge ice bergs at the Diamond Beach

This place has something unique as it never looks the same. Indeed, the beach changes completely from day to day, new icebergs are always appearing, and others will have melted. The icebergs are extremely diverse in their forms and colors, they can be transparent, opaque, white, deep blue or shimmering crystalline blue.

Some even have stark gray slashes passing through them, formed from the ash of volcanic eruptions, others have gray exteriors because sand from the beach has stuck to them. Some of these icebergs are over 1000 years old, so in a land as volcanically active as Iceland, it is not surprising that volcanic material has become encapsulated within the nation´s glaciers.  

When the icebergs break free from the glacier they are huge chunks, they break into smaller icebergs and melt as they travel across the lagoon and through the short Jökulsá á Breiðamerkursandi river. They are then tumbled in the surf for a while where they melt more rapidly in the salty waves, receiving a final ‘polish’ before being washed ashore.

People love to propose marriage and get engaged on the Diamond Beach. Putting a Diamond ring on your finger at the Diamond Beach - you cannot get much more romantic than that!

A Complete Guide to The South Coast of Iceland

 

 

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