Warning: This guide to South Iceland is the most comprehensive look at Iceland’s southern coast online, at well over 6,000 words. As such, it is a very, very long read. A bit below the fold, we have included a high-level table of contents to assist in navigating this guide.
The south coast of Iceland is a wonderful myriad of experiences and adventure. Along this beautiful, rugged coastline, travelers are privileged to partake in many adventures. This includes lava fields, villages, museums, and waterfalls. It includes glaciers, jagged cliffs, crashing waves, snow covered peaks and much, much more.
Why this guide to South Iceland exists
Activities offered in the cities and towns along the South coast of Iceland include such diverse options as hiking, snorkeling, glacier walks, parasailing, shopping, swimming and more. The opportunities are truly endless.
If you as a traveler are looking to explore memorable locations unlike anything you’ve seen before, but still wish to remain close to the culture and energy offered by the capital city of Reykjavik (where 70% of the population of Iceland resides), the South coast of Iceland will satisfy those exploratory urges. A trip up and down the South coast will provide a plethora of immeasurable experiences, and display a solid chunk of what Iceland offers.
In our own personal research for the trip (our full itinerary can be found here), we found that comprehensive information for the different parts of Iceland were fragmented. There was plenty of knowledge out there, sure, but it was difficult to find “one source of truth”. After copious notes, research and firsthand accounts, we have developed that one source of truth here.
The popularity of South Iceland is incomparable
Iceland’s south coast is one of the most visited regions of the country. This is mainly due to easy accessibility year-round, and quick access from the capital city of Reykjavik. Reykjavik is where 70 percent of the nation’s population resides. It is also a short drive from Iceland’s largest airport, Keflavik International Airport. Reykjavik boasts throngs of visitors into the millions. With tourists from all over the world bustling to see its alien landscapes.
One of the biggest struggles with driving the south coast of Iceland is the need to stop every five to ten minutes to get out of your car and see some beautiful sights! There are so many things to see in this region of Iceland. We have developed this in-depth guide to assist in your exploration of this incredible area.
Dissecting Climate of Iceland’s South Coast
The South Coast of Iceland extends from Laugarvatn along the coastline to Hofn. The average daytime temperature from May to September is 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Winter weather can average around 14 degrees Fahrenheit, though.
The temperature drastically drops in winter, as there are complete days without more than four hours of sunlight. The same is true in summer, where there are days without darkness. Note: A comprehensive overview of day and night hours in Iceland can be found at Time and Date.
Extensive daylight in the summer can be advantageous, as it leaves far more time for adventure. However, this can also have disadvantages, such as not being able to view the Northern Lights.
Common weather patterns prevalent in South Iceland
There can be strong glacial winds and rain in South Iceland, yet thunderstorms are extremely rare in this region. Bearing this in mind, the South Coast of Iceland will be accessible year-round, barring the stray snow storms that pepper the winter. Here is one example.
Suggested attire for enjoying Iceland in all types of weather includes jackets, scarves, waterproofed clothing and waterproofed boots. The local weather stations will advertise when these storms approach, as well as when and which roads are closed off due to storms. Additionally, Vedur is one of the most accurate forecasts for weather in the South.
We have a full suggested packing list further into the guide.
Festivals in South Iceland
There are many opportunities to experience the festive, wondrous culture of the southern coast of Iceland year round. There are a variety of festivals that help travelers grasp the full spectrum of culture in this geographically and historically diverse landscape.
Reykjavik, the gateway to the South Coast, hosts a massive array of festivals, events and parties all throughout the year. From the plethora of music festivals, to festivals dedicated to food and culture, fashion and art and more, Reykjavik has everything you could need to immerse into the culture of South Iceland.
Towns of South Iceland
There are several important townships in South Iceland. They serve as wonderful stopping and resting points when traveling. Five of the most commonly visited are:
- Reykjadalur Valley
- Höfn í Hornafirði (shortened usually to Höfn)
- Vestmannaeyjar (roughly translated to the Westman Islands)
- Vík í Mýrdal (shortened usually to Vik)
Below is a quick overview of each of these five towns.
On the outskirts of Reykjadulur is the Reykjadalur Valley, or “Smoke Valley.” The valley is located beside Hveragerði, also known as the “Earthquake Town“. This valley features deep green foliage, with veins of streams and waterfalls cutting through the area.
The highlight of this region are the geothermal springs and hot pools Iceland is so well known for. These geothermal springs are quite popular and are accessible to the public. We have curated a guide to the Reykjadalur Valley, and they are also featured in our look at Iceland hot springs.
Höfn í Hornafirði
Höfn í Hornafirði, shortened to ‘Höfn’ by locals, is a fishing village in southeast Iceland. It resides near the Hornafjörður fjord. The name Höfn is Icelandic for “Harbor”.
The village, whose people were once known as Hornafjarðarbær, is the second largest in southeast Iceland, with a recent population noted as 2,167. Its landscape feature highly-photographed views depicting sandy beaches, rivers at the mouths of glaciers, and a spattering of small islands right off the coastline.
This town is a common turnaround point for those whose itineraries don’t factor in the full Ring Road. It is also a common stopover for a night of sleep before tackling the Eastern coastline.
Vestmannaeyjar (the Westman Islands)
Known as both a town and an archipelago, Vestmannaeyjar (or the Westman Islands) is a collection of 15 islands and 30 sea stacks situated off the south coast. These islands were formed by underwater volcanic eruptions. These two volcanoes are still considered active, evidenced by the fact that the most recent island, Surtsey, was formed in late in 1963.
These volcanic eruptions are featured in the Eldheimar Museum on the island of Heimaey, whose most recent eruption devastated the island in 1973. Some 400 buildings were destroyed by this eruption, however the town has built back up sufficiently since then.
The islands are well known for their biodiversity. All of Iceland’s seabirds can be found on these islands, including the Puffins and Kittiwakes. One of the reasons for this biodiversity is its remote nature. The islands are accessible via ferry from Landeyjahöfn harbor, or from a flight from Bakki airport. Most islands are too small to be inhabited. The only inhabited Westman island is Heimaey, with a population of roughly 4,500.
Vík í Mýrdal
Vík í Mýrdal is a small coastal village found on Iceland’s South Coast, often utilized as a lunch stop and souvenir shopping destination for those partaking in a sightseeing tour.
The village is home to approximately 300 people, yet stands as the largest settlement in a 70-kilometre radius. Because of this, Vík í Mýrdal is considered an important staging post and administrative center between Skógar (whose runoff leads to Skogafoss) and the Mýrdalssandur glacial outwash plain.
Vík í Mýrdal, also known commonly as Vik, is the southernmost village in Iceland and the largest settlement in Iceland. It is located south of Mýrdalsjökull glacier. This area is at constant risk from eruptions from Katla. Due to this concern over eruptions, residents of Vík constantly run evacuation drills at the church, which is the only site expected to survive an eruption from Katla.
There have not been eruptions for one hundred years, and excursions are offered year round to Katla volcano. Near the volcano, there are ice caves naturally formed to explore and glaciers to climb. Vik also offers valleys, cliffs, mountains, and black beaches. Close by Vik is the Dyrholaey Arch, one of our favorite locations in all of Iceland. A special white-walled and red-roofed feature of Vik is a church named Vikurkirkja that has become a feature of the village.
Kirkjubæjarklaustur Village, often shortened to simply “Klaustur”, is a small village of 500 people found to the east of Vík. It is the only town stretching the long distance between Vik and Höfn. The importance of this village includes it being the residence of Irish Monks long before the Settlement of the Norsemen. This site was also the location where the “Fire Sermon”, a prayer that is said to have paused the Laki Eruptions and saved the town’s church.
Within the small town of Hvolsvöllur (less than 1000 residents) is a historic church of note. It can be found along the Golden Circle (about 60 miles east of Reykjavik). Within this town is a museum called the Saga Center, which is dedicated to the education revolving around early Vikings and their settlements in Iceland as well as their legends.
Within this museum, they tell the stories of Viking’s medieval sagas, including, most notably, the Njal’s Saga, as it took place in this area. If folklore is not appealing to you, the nearby Lava Center features a hands-on exhibition that educates the masses regarding volcanic activity, earthquakes, the tectonic plates, and the creation of Iceland from these factors millions of years prior, is also located in this area.
National Parks and More in South Iceland
South Iceland is a beautiful, natural wonder all on its own. However, along this coast are some incredible national parks, nature reserves and more. Below are four of the most commonly known and visited.
Vatnajökull National Park
Vatnajökull National Park is one of three national parks in South Iceland, and is the home of Vatnajökull, the largest glacier in Europe. Vatnajökull is estimated to have a maximum width of 1000 meters and over thirty branching glaciers. The park housing this glacier claims 11% of the country’s area.
Besides the glacier, the landscape includes mountains, some of the islands most active volcanoes, and canyons. This park contains three volcanoes that reside below glaciers, Grímsvötn, Öræfajökull and Bárðarbunga. Scientists predict significant volcanic activity in Vatnajökull over the next fifty years.
Skaftafell Nature Reserve
The Skaftafell Nature Reserve is a preservation area located in the region of Öræfi. Skaftafell was once its own national park, however it was recently absorbed into Vatnajökull National Park. Once known as farmsteads, the area was decimated after the eruption of Öræfajökull, it was converted to a reserve. This reserve contains the country’s tallest peak, birch forests, black sand plateaus, icy lagoons, and the country’s tallest waterfall, as well as the stunning Svartifoss.
It is possible to see the Vatnajökull glacier from here. The Skaftafell Reserve boasts hiking trails of easy accessibility that lead to the peak and to the waterfalls and camping sites. The reserve has also been used as a site for movies such as Batman Begins, Game of Thrones, and Interstellar.
The small town of Hveragerði’s contains a notable Geothermal Park, Seljavallalaug. It was originally settled because of its geothermal activity.
It provides its visitors and residents with unique hot springs experiences. This area also includes a natural clay foot bath, horseback riding, hiking and an underground geothermal oven used to bake local breads.
Below, we go into more detail on the incredible swimming pool located in Seljavallalaug, with one of the most beautiful settings of any location we have seen in Iceland.
Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir National Park is known as the birthplace of Iceland. It was home to Alþing (Althing), the site of Iceland’s first parliament from the 10th to 18th centuries. It is the location of a memorial to this founding Icelandic parliament as well as Þingvellir Church and the ruins of old stone shelters. This site sits atop and is home to the tectonic plates of Eurasia and North America meeting.
There is a footbridge that crosses this divide as well as a stairway to descend into the Silfra fissure. This site is also known as one of the best diving sites, as it’s crystal clear waters allow for the possibility of diving between the tectonic plates. Scenic sharp and abrupt cliffs dot this park and feature such landmarks as the Almannagjá fault.
Waterfalls of South Iceland
South Iceland has some of the highest concentrations of breathtaking waterfalls anywhere on Earth. From the extremely popular Skógafoss and Seljalandsfoss to the less-travelled Urridafoss and Foss á Síðu and more, waterfalls are South Iceland’s forte. Below we have highlighted just six of the dozens of falls in this part of the country.
With a drop of 60 meters (200 ft) and a width of 25m (82ft), Skógafoss is one of the largest waterfalls in Iceland. The vast size of the mist and sprays emitting from the waterfall create rainbows in the light. It is recommended to take special care when visiting in the winter, as the area becomes icy and makes it dangerous to visit if not paying attention.
There is a trail of stairs to climb to the top of this waterfall. Once reaching the top, there are other hiking trails that can be taken that travel past the Skógá River, which this waterfall is fed by.
Gljúfrabúi, meaning “the one who lives in the canyon”, is known as a secret waterfall near Seljalandsfoss. This waterfall resides in a canyon, creating a large amount of mist. Many miss this waterfall, simply because of how well-hidden it is. However, if you follow the brightly-colored jackets of tourists, you will most definitely find this beautiful waterfall.
Waterproof clothing is strongly advised if entering the canyon to view the waterfall. There are climbing trails to venture up the rocks with the assistance of chains attached to the rocks for the bravest of hikers.
Seljalandsfoss waterfall is featured as a waterfall that visitors can walk behind to fully experience.
It stands at 60 meters (197 ft) high. The home of this waterfall is Seljalandsá River, which claims a volcanic glacier, Eyjafjallajökull as its origin. Along the trail of this waterfall is another smaller waterfall, Gljúfrabúi, which can be found within a gorge in sea cliffs.
This is one of the most well-known, highly-visited, and strikingly visible waterfalls in all of Iceland. Don’t be surpri
Foss á Síðu
Foss á Síðu, is narrow and standing at 30 meters tall, is a popular waterfall in Iceland. It is possible to see this waterfall as you travel through the Golden Circle. It is surrounded by mossy cliffs, sheep and horses.
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. If desiring a closer look, this waterfall is accessible by a hiking trail up to Þórutjörn.
Gullfoss waterfall is located in a canyon of the Hvítá river that is birthed by the by Langjökull glacier, standing at 105 feet tall, it is unique in that it drops in two distinct stages that forms what is described as a “staircase” by observers, resulting in a final fall of 32 meters. As an additional feature, there is ample parking and a local restaurant to enjoy.
Urridafoss waterfall is not known for its height, but for the volume of water carried over its face. Urriðafoss features the most of water by volume out of any other waterfall in the country. This waterfall is also viewable by Route along the Golden Circle.
Glaciers, Lagoons, and Hot Springs in South Iceland
One of the most defining features that is quintessentially “Iceland” are how much water plays into the landscape. Between glaciers and hot springs, water appears naturally in all shapes, sizes, colors, and temperatures across the South. Below are some of the most well-traveled glaciers, lagoons, and hot springs throughout South Iceland.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
At the end of the South Coast of Iceland is the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon, also known as The Crown Jewel or the Prize of Iceland. It is labeled as Iceland’s deepest lagoon. It is ever increasing in size and formed by glacier calving by the Vatnajökull glacier and global warming. Icebergs break off this glacier and float into the lagoon.
This area is also the home to seal colonies, icebergs, ice caps, and mountains. It is housed within the mountains of Vatnajökull National Park. Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon has been the location of movies such as Tomb Raider, and the James Bond film: Die Another Day.
Solheimajokull Glacier is part of the larger Mýrdalsjökull glacier. It is a common place for glacial hikes. There are advanced hikes available, but beginner hikes are also available. The hikes usually last an hour. The paths are uneven, so proper shoes are required. Upon exploration of this glacier, crevasses and ice sculptures can be found.
Svínafellsjökull is a glacier formed from Vatnajökull glacier. This glacier is over 1000 years old and is found at the base of a beach on the coast, surrounded by rock formations. Sólheimajökull is an extension of Mýrdalsjökull glacier. It is highly advised that visitors do not attempt hiking here alone. There are guided tours available if hiking is desired.
The Mýrdalsjökull glacier mentioned above is known as the “mire dale glacier” or “the mire valley glacier.” It is 700 meters thick and lies atop the Katla Volcano. The Sólheimajökull glacier, also known as “sun-home-glacier” is an outlet glacier of Mýrdalsjökull.
Both of these glaciers are known for their glacier tongues and blue ice in the sunlight. Due to their accessibility, these two glaciers are two of the most popular sites for visitors.
Eyjafjallajökull, also known as Eyja, is a 1651-meter-high glacier-volcano that is encased completely in an icecap. This volcano is considered active and its last eruption was in the spring of 2010. This volcano was the cause of several airline disruptions and resulted in the grounding of several planes over a large portion of Europe.
Seljavallalaug Hot Springs
A short hike from the road will lead to the Seljavallalaug Hot Springs is found at the base of a mountain. As a caution, the water at these hot springs is not intensely hot, and can be enjoyed by all. These springs are easily accessible from the Golden Circle and can be found through Google maps, if necessary, but there are many signs along the road advertising these springs. Please note that proper footwear is required, as the hiking path goes over a small river.
Seljavallalaug Outdoor Pool
Near these hot springs is the Seljavallalaug Outdoor Pool. It is a man made construction around a natural hot spring from 1923 and is one of the oldest and largest swimming pools in Iceland. The emerald green pool is free to the public but is described as luke warm, as the hot springs water reaches the pools by tricking down the mountainside. There are no showers or restrooms on site at this location, however there is a changing station available to visitors.
The Beautiful Beaches of South Iceland
South Iceland is home to some of the most unique beaches on earth. From standard beaches to stark black sand beaches, rock formations and basalt columns, plane crashes and more, the beaches of South Iceland are something to behold. Below are the two most well-known and most visited beaches in South Iceland, however there are plenty to see.
Between Vík í Mýrdal village and Dyrhólaey, you will find Reynisfjara. Reynisfjara is a pitch black sandy beach resulting from volcanic activity. The landscape of this black beach includes cliffs, caves, lava and rock formations and 15 meter high hexagonal basalt rock stacks, also known as Garðar. Common folklore attributes these rock stacks to the petrified remains of three trolls who were frozen in sunlight as they attempted to pull boats from the water.
These black beaches are also home to seabirds including Puffins and Guillemots. A caution about traversing this beach is that it is famous for its “Sleeper Waves.” These waves flow rapidly up the coast, are powerful and have strong currents. It is recommended to maintain a distance of 20 to 30 meters from the ocean to avoid being caught by these dangerous sneaker waves.
Reynisfjara and Reynisdrangar is one of the most sought-after locations for modeling and “Instagram-style” photos while traversing the South coast of Iceland. Also, a few miles away is the Solheimasandur Plane Crash, which is typically worth the hike if you have the time and energy. We cover it a bit more down below.
Breiðamerkursandur, also known as The Diamond Beach or Crystal Beach, resides five minutes away from the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. This beach is called the Diamond Beach due to decades old pale icebergs washing up on this volcanic, pitch black shoreline.
This coastline is ever changing due to the tide and the continual myriad of icebergs (with colors ranging from transparent, opaque, white, deep blue or clear blue. Others include grey striations due to volcanic eruptions), and is attractive to photographers year round due to the contrast between black coast and ice.
Additional Attractions and Highlights in South Iceland
While the above covers an impressive amount of things (especially considering you can drive across the whole of South Iceland in one full day), there is far more than meets the eye in South Iceland. Below are ten additional attractions worth mentioning along the South coast.
The Golden Circle
The most rewarding and productive route to see all that the South Coast of Iceland offers is to travel a route called the Golden Circle. The Golden Circle, a term that does not have a reference to Icelandic folklore, is a popular sightseeing route that travels down the Southern Coast of Iceland with Reykjavik as a home base and ending point. It covers roughly 300 kilometers.
The Golden Circle usually refers to the area between Reykjavík and the village of Vík. Three primary stops along the Golden Circle are the Þingvellir National Park, the Gullfoss waterfall, and the geothermal area in Haukadalur, which contains the geysers Geysir and Strokkur.
This route is accessible by both solo travelers and those who prefer guided tours. Guided tours of the southern coast include basic and extended routes that can include single or multiple day excursions. Tours for this route can be found on Trip advisor with great reviews. A car can also be rented for this experience.
The basic tour is averaged a little over five hours, excluding stops for sights along the way. It is suggested that this route is taken during the time of year where more daylight is available. The following locations can be found along this route.
United States Navy DC-3 Wreck
In 1973, there was an airplane wreck resulting from a fuel failure. The United States Navy DC-3 plane wrecked onto Iceland’s black sand desert, called the Solheimasandur. This wreck is located between Hvolsvöllur and Vík í Mýrdal. The airplane wreck is located not far from the Sólheimajökull glacier along the south coast of Iceland.
As a fortunate consolation, there were no casualties resulting from this airplane wreck. Instead of removing the wreckage, it was decided that the wreckage would stand. The plane is a curiosity of many, with its fading and peeling paint in contrast with the volcanic black sand desert.
The plane wreck cannot be seen from the Ring Road. In fact, it is also illegal to drive to it (but biking is permitted), therefore, to reach the US Navy DC-3 wreck, visitors must park their car and then begin their trek to the site. The walk is on flat land and will take roughly 45-60 minutes to reach. Please be advised that there is little shelter on the route, so dress warmly for the elements.
The Dyrhólaey Peninsula originated after a volcanic island separated from the mainland of Iceland. This peninsula is also known as “Cape Portland.” This area is known for its photograph worthy views of the South Coast of Iceland. Views that can be seen from the Dyrhólaey Peninsula include Mýrdalsjökull glacier. Reynisdrangar and the southern coastline can be seen, including the town of Selfoss as well.
It is also known to bird watchers for the diversity of avian species that can be found in this area. The diversity is supported on the high cliffs and rock arches that pepper this landscape. Please note that areas of the Dyrhólaey Peninsula are unavailable for exploration during the months of May and June. These months are barred due to nesting birds.
During these months, the variety of species, including puffins, of birds are nesting and it is banned from exploration to not disrupt them. As another advisory, there is a species of bird, called the Arctic Tern that are known for their aggression during this time and have been witnessed protecting their nests if visitors do not avoid the restricted area.
The Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon is composed of palagonite and is every changing due to the constant flow of water within. The river has been carving its way through this canyon since the last Ice Age, nearly 2 million years ago. It is also open for exploration year round for visitors. It is possible to venture down into the canyon to observe the 100-meter-deep river, called the Fjaðrá river. This river originates in the Geirlandshraun mountains, which can be seen in the distance of this canyon.
The paths in this area are narrow with steep walls, so caution is advised. If venturing into the canyon, suggested footwear and attire is waterproof, as wading into the river is likely to occur in particular points in the path. It is also requested that visitors take care with their steps, as stepping off the path risks damaging the delicate grass and moss that has formed within the Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon.
Kirkjugólfið, also known as “The Church Floor” is a completely natural phenomenon. It is the result of cooling lava flows that contract in cool air and forms cracks in a series of hexagonal columns. This 80-meter stretch is comprised of basalt rock. Located near the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur.
Despite its name, there is no church that has existed at this site. The title alludes to the mysticism that has been linked to the area. Per locals, “Kirkjubær was so charmed and sacred to the early Christian settlers that pagans could not cross the threshold into the area.” Local folklore says that the earliest settlers to this area, the Irish Papar, laid down protective spells to Kirkjugólfið.
The legend specifically states that one pagan Hildir Eysteinsson, attempted to disprove and/or did not believe the warnings of the spells worked upon the area and attempted to move onto the land. Legend states that Hildir Eysteinsson was struck dead immediately upon setting foot there. Locals assure us that this spell has now been lifted and it is safe to visit.
The Dwarf Cliffs, known as Dverghamrar another area known for their basalt hexagonal formations. These formations can be found near Kirkjubæjarklaustur and is now a protected national monument and also a conservation site. In order to find this formation, simply find Foss á Síðu waterfall, which is clearly marked for the avid nature enthusiasts. As a special treat, once Dverghamrar is reached, you will witness the Foss á Síðu waterfall falling in among the two Dverghamrar structures.
Folklore describes that this formation was home to dwarves, hidden folk, elves, and various other forms of supernatural entities (It should be noted here that this folklore of the supernatural played a major part in the incorporation and interpretation of Christianity in Iceland). Legend claims that Dverghamrar was created by these superhuman and supernatural hidden folk. However, science explains these formations to have been formed by cooling and contracting lava which resulted in unique cracks in the rock.
Dyrhólaey Cliffs, which is loosely translated to “The Hill Island With The Door Hole” is actually a minor peninsula that has been shaped by nature into a 394 foot high arch formation. It has been declared a Nature Reserve since 1978. It is also home to a famous bird sanctuary, where countless visitors come to observe puffins and a multitude of other bird species in their innate locale along the grassy hills.
Visitors are advised to keep a respectful distance, as some species become aggressive while protecting their homes and young during nesting season (most notably the arctic terns). For this reason, in addition to desiring not to disturb these species during their nesting months, the cliffs are blocked for visitation during May and June. However, there is a lower portion of the cliffs that remains open to automobile traffic that is also welcoming to visitors wishing to get a glimpse of these nesting beauties.
This path for observers can be found between Lágey and Háey. It remains open between 9am and 7pm. As a special bonus, along this path, onlookers have the possibility of seeing seals.
The formations reside on the black sand beaches of the village of Vik. An advisory is almost always in effect in this area for the powerful waves on these beaches, so please do not venture too close to the water or the waves. The currents are strong and waves unpredictable. Upon the Dyrhólaey Cliffs is a lighthouse that is best described as castle or fortress shaped. The interior has been fully renovated and is now acting as a hotel for the area.
Eldhraun Lava Field
The Eldhraun, or “fire-lava,” lava field is found along the Golden Circle of the Southern Coast of Iceland. This landscape is best described as unearthly. These fields were formed during a lava surge resulting from a volcanic eruption from 1784. At the time of this eruption, poisonous volcanic gases were released and resulted in the extermination of almost 20% of the human population of Iceland and countless domestic animals residing in the areas.
These gases have since dispersed and the fire lava fields have settled and are now covered by a soft layer of moss. Locals request that visitors take care with observing and do not step on this moss, as it can take centuries for the damage to be recovered. Due to this, there are specific designated areas set aside for parking and observation. Owing to these alien landscapes, it is no wonder that this area is also home to much folklore and tales of the hidden people, including elves, dwarves, and giants.
On the Hellisheiði heath is host to a geothermal power plant. To further education on the science behind it, the Hellisheiði heath also has an exhibition on the geothermal energy and how to utilize it. This active power plant offers guided tours multiple days of the week. To reach the Hellisheiði heath, simply approach the village of Eyrarbakki. The village of Eyrarbakki is a 150 year old small town that once contained the largest port in Southern Iceland. This heath is also the site of multiple historic locales and even features an altarpiece painted by Queen Louise.
Between Vik and the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, you will find these picturesque mountains. These mountains stand just less than 700 meters tall and are known for their rocky and steep cliffs, abrupt ascent, and giant boulders. The highest peak is known as Mount Lómagnúpur. There are multiple paths leading up the mountain from a dirt road arising from Vik. Coming this way conveniently offers parking and picnic areas for visitors.
Additional Tips For South Iceland
Planning your route in advance is crucial
Pay special attention to how much time you would like to spend at each site as well as how many sites you intend to see. The majority can be explored in a day. A three day itinerary is recommended to traverse the main Golden Circle, which covers most of the Southern Coast of Iceland. Five days is recommended for inclusion of other off the beaten track sites. Some of these additional sites include dog sledding, horseback riding, glacier climbing, and snorkeling.
It may be worth taking a tour
There are multiple touring options available at almost every site along the Southern Coast of Iceland. These tours can include guided tours along the landscape that feature glacial hikes, volcanic trails, or rock climbing up mountains. A popular option for tourists are the Jeep tours prevalent in the main cities.
A benefit of these Jeep tours is that they enable their guests to view sites not ordinarily accessible via 4 wheel drive in remote areas or when most roads would be inaccessible due to the elements. Helicopter tours are also popular, but also pricey, but the views are described as priceless. The most popular of these helicopter tours is found in Reykjavik.
Additionally, while whale watching tours are far more prevalent in North Iceland, they are still present in South Iceland. In fact, South Iceland has a large potential for sighting the majestic orca, or killer whale.
There are ample places to stay in South Iceland
Visiting requires lodging. The lodging options along the South Coast of Iceland are diverse. There are countless hostels and hotels available, but Airbnb is alive and well in these areas.
The military base camp of Midgard, located just outside Hvollsvollur, also offers private rooms and bunk beds in shared rooms for a quick rest. Hvollsvollur resides roughly 60 miles away from Reykjavik. Midgard is a common resting spot for those wishing to explore the Icelandic highlands.
Seeing the Northern Lights in South Iceland
As a special note on when to experience the natural phenomenon of the Northern Lights, they can technically appear year round. They are, however, most likely to appear in the winter. Venturing out along the Southern Coast, away from the bright cities, is the best way to chance seeing the Aurora Borealis. The local weather stations are reliable in rating the likelihood of the appearance of the Northern Lights.
Places to eat in South Iceland are abundant
Eating and drinking along the South Coast of Iceland is an experience with every mile. There are countless family owned restaurants, and it is highly recommended that one experience these. Local fare includes variations on lamb and langoustine soup as well as fresh seafood. Craft breweries are also on the rise in this area. So it is highly recommended that visitors take advantage of sampling these brews and take advantage of the various tours offered at the local breweries.
Our Final Thoughts on South Iceland
Visiting the South Coast of Iceland is a multi diverse experience of all visitors, whether the interest is natural or cultural. The recommended means of exploration is, of course, the Golden Circle, which, as mentioned above, serves as the conduit for experiences. Visitors to this area can experience lava fields, waterfalls, hot springs, and glacial volcanoes.
When taking a break from nature, visitors can experience the various museums that keep the culture and legends of Iceland alive. Optimistically, this guide will help plan a fruitful and safe adventure to the South Coast of Iceland. Whichever season that your visit will occur in, the Southern Coast of Iceland is predominantly accessible year round and will provide a myriad of experiences to be had.