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Iceland’s South Coast is host to majestic waterfalls, snow capped peaks, volcanos and impressive coastal rock formations. South Iceland’s fantastic natural landscape will ensnare your imagination and hold your undivided attention!
This guide to the South Coast region in Iceland goes over the highlights and main attractions along the way, providing you with inspiring photos and tips to help you plan your own South Coast, Iceland road trip. If you’re more inclined to have someone take care of the details, this post will serve to whet your appetite and prepare you for a brillant action-packed day!
Best of South Coast, Iceland
Driving from Reykjavik along the Ring Road the initial coastal plains dotted with pastoral farmhouses give way to mountains and glaciers. It is possible to take public transit along the way but for the ultimate flexibility we recommend renting a car! Let’s go!
The beautiful 60m tall Seljalandsfoss can be seen when driving along Route 1. What makes this waterfall unique is the ability to walk behind the falls and experience it from a different angle! Expect to get wet when walking alongside Seljalandsfoss. Bring waterproof rain gear and sturdy shoes! Turn off Route 1 onto Route 249 to reach Seljalandsfoss. Expect to spend 700 ISK for parking.
Gljúfrabúi or Gljúfrafoss is a hidden waterfall inside a cave. It is situated only 400m North of Seljalandsfoss along Route 249 and sees a fraction of the visitors that flock to the sister waterfall. Wear waterproof clothing and boots as you will find yourself directly at the foot of the waterfall after navigating the slippery rocks upon entering.We found it to be a unique and intimate experience to be so close to Gljufrafoss while surrounded by steep canyon walls. The Hamragardar campsite is next to the falls if you wish to spend a night.
Seljavallalaug Swimming pool
Take Road 242 North of the Ring Road until you see the dirt path of Seljavellir. At this point, expect a bumpy drive on pothole ridden. Suitable for 2WD if you go slow. From the parking lot a 15minute walk will bring you to one of the oldest swimming holes in Iceland. The water is lukewarm and often green but this outdoor swimming pool is free (yay!) and the lush, green surroundings are sublime. Bring your swimsuit and towels!
2.3km West of the turnoff before the turnoff to the town of Skógar, a curious attraction can be seen from the road. A rustic wooden house can be found embedded into the rock above. Nearby a series of grass mounds and small turf houses sit side by side against the rock outcrop. Situated on private private but open for public viewing for the time being.
The pint sized village of Skógar is home to the beautiful Skógafoss waterfall that drops dramatically over from a 60m high cliff. Rainbows frequently appear but if you walk closer to the foot of the falls, expect to get wet from the spray!
Along the hillside of the waterfall, 527 steps will bring you to the observation platform above Skógafoss Waterfall. You will have views of the falls below and the North Atlantic Ocean to the South. If you have more time, consider lacing up your hiking boots and following the path North to view twenty more waterfalls of varying heights and volumes.
You can camp at Skógafoss but facilities are very limited and there will be immense foot traffic throughout the day. Excellent hotels and apartments are available in town.
Solheimajokull is a glacier tongue of the greater Mýrdalsjökull glacier that partially overlays the seismically active Katla volcano. The effects of global climate change can be seen clearly here. The glacier tongue used to extend to the location of the current parking lot but has retreated a staggering 800m.
You can walk along the path next to the glacial lagoon to the toe of the glacier for a better view but do not climb onto the glacier without the proper equipment and skill set.
Guided glacier walks are available and will suit you up with the necessary safety equipment. Booking in advance is recommended in high season (summer).
The United States Navy DC-3 Plane crashed on Sólheimasandur Beach, Iceland in 1973 with no fatalities. The plane has since long been abandoned on the black volcanic beach and stripped of anything of value over the decades. The walk is 8km roundtrip along a flat, rocky path. Expect an hour an a half to two hours depending on your pace.
For spectacular views of the coast, the rocky plateau of Dyrhólaey doesn’t disappoint. Rising a mere 120m above the surrounding pastoral plains, you will gain access to views of the Mýrdalsjökull glacier to the North, the sea stacks of Reynisdrangar to the East, and a vast coastline to the West. Walk to the Southern edge of the plateau passing an eggshell white lighthouse and you will have a view of the iconic volcanic sea arch.
In the summer, this nature reserve the peninsula is visited by puffins and other bird life. During nesting season, access to the plateau is not possible by car.
Getting there requires driving onto Road 218, off of Route 1. The road will later split off with one path going up to the plateau along a steep and narrow dirt road with switchbacks to the plateau itself. Continuing along the paved Road 218 you have great views of the beach and the arch of Dyrhólaey from below.
Dyrhólaós and the Cave of Loftsalahellir
After visiting Dyrhólaey, consider stopping at the estuary of Dyrhólaós and the cave of Loftsalahellir. The mudflats of Dyrhólaey are an important breeding ground for migratory birds along with the Dyrhólaey. The cave of Loftsalahellir is a short climb up the hill and will reward visitors with a view of Dyrhólaey, the surrounding plains and the mudflats. Peak inside the decrepit abandoned house nestled in the grass.
Black sand beaches, basaltic column stacks, and sea stacks can be found at Reynisfjara. Stand next to or climb onto the step-like hexagonal basalt columns situated at the base of Reynisfjall mountain. Walk around and you’ll find yourself in Hálsanefshellir Cave.
We arrived early in the morning when the sun was still low in the sky. The light was perfect for capturing the sea stacks of Reynisdrangur. Sunny, blue sky days in Iceland are absolutely incredible and everyone you meet seems to have a spring in their step!
In the morning Reynisfjara’s black beach is the ideal spot for photographing the Dyrhólaey arch to the West while the sun rises in the East. In the afternoon, situate yourself on Dyrhólaey to photograph the sea stacks of Reynisdrangur to the East while the sun sets in the West.
Vík í Mýrdal
The community of Vík is not only Iceland’s most southern village, it is also the rainiest spot in Iceland! We wouldn’t have know that though by the beautiful day we had when we were in the area. From the town’s black sand beach you are able to view the sea stacks of Reynisdrangur emerging to the East of Vik.
The church above Vik has lovely views of the town and ocean below. East of the church walking paths are available if you want to stretch your legs.
If you want to stretch your legs, visit the cave or hike up, Hjörleifshöfði, a small, isolated 221m hill that rises above the black sands of the Mýrdalssandur outwash plain. At the top you should find ruins of an old farm, an burial plot, and great views of the Southern coastline.
Remember to have your lights on at all times and have your seatbelts buckled. The speed limit is 90km/hour.
Self driving the South Coast of Iceland gives you the wonderful opportunity for a custom tailored experience.
If you’re coming from Reykjavik the drive will take 3hours and 40minutes to stop at all the places listed above up until Vik (not including Seljavallalaug since google maps doesn’t want to route to it) so the earlier you get out of the city the better!
Zoom in and out to look around the map to view the attractions and locations listed in this guide. Click here to download the itinerary and have access to detailed step by step directions for offline use.
It’s not necessary to rent a GPS from your vehicle rental company if you download the map above or utilize the app Maps.Me, an excellent offline map and navigation tool which we use frequently.
South Coast Iceland Accommodation
You can visiting the Southern Coast as a day trip from Reykjavik or stay closer to the action in the pleasant town of Vik so you don’t have to travel far to get where you want to be. There isn’t as much little light pollution in the area as can be found in the city and we saw an aurora from Vík at 2am in the morning! Places you can rest your head for the night:
Planning a Trip To Iceland soon?
We never leave home without emergency medical and trip protection cover. We utilize travel insurance from World Nomads for short trips abroad. Protect yourself and your wallet from unexpected injury, sickness & theft abroad.
Rather Join a Tour?
If you’re anything like my family who like to be taken care of and not lift a finger on vacation, consider joining a tour group. They will take care of all the driving and logistics for you while you sit back and enjoy the ride and maybe have a snooze on the way home after the long day.
Iceland Travel Guide
The Lonely Planet Iceland book travelled with us the entire time we were in Iceland. We found it to be a comprehensive and useful book for both pre-planning our trip to Iceland and during the journey itself. 2015 Edition
We also own a Iceland National Geographic Adventure Map. At night during our spare time we would ink in the roads we’d driven on our road trip in Iceland!
Another excellent book to pick up is the Frommer’s Easy Guide to Iceland, a great resource for hiking and outdoor adventures.
Finally, if you’re interested in garnering a better understanding of contemporary Iceland, pick up a copy of Alda Sigmundsdottir’s entertaining and readable “The Little Book of Tourists in Iceland“.
Dress Appropriately for the Weather
Iceland is notorious for its unpredictable and versatile climate. It’s not uncommon for the weather to change in the blink of an eye. Be prepared for sun, rain, hail, and wind.
We recommend waterproof jackets and boots, quick drying pants, warm layers to take on and off depending on the weather. Shop our favourite Iceland travel essentials to keep you warm, dry and comfortable all day!
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Are you planning a trip to Iceland? Would you rather visit waterfalls, glaciers or catch the sea breeze? Let us know in the comments below!