South Iceland, nestled in the heart of the Land of Fire and Ice, is an enchanting region that effortlessly marries the raw power of volcanic landscapes with the delicate beauty of glacial wonders. From the famed black sand beaches to the majestic waterfalls cascading over ancient basalt cliffs, South Iceland offers an otherworldly journey into the heart of Iceland’s dramatic natural allure.
In this guide, we invite you to embark on an eight-day adventure through South Iceland, a region that captivates the imagination and ignites the spirit of exploration.
The allure of South Iceland extends far beyond its breathtaking landscapes. Here, you’ll witness the Northern Lights dancing across the winter sky, bask in the ethereal glow of the Midnight Sun in summer, and explore the lush greenery of the coastal plains and farmlands that unfurl under the watchful gaze of mighty glaciers and rumbling volcanoes.
Every twist and turn in South Iceland reveals a new marvel, from the awe-inspiring Vatnajökull, Europe’s largest glacier, to the sweeping panoramas of the Golden Circle. By the end of your journey, you’ll have woven a tapestry of unforgettable experiences, creating a bond with this magical region that will draw you back time and time again.
- Getting To South Iceland
- Major Towns and Cities in South Iceland
- Top Things To Do in South Iceland
- Cultural Experiences in South Iceland
- Food and Drink Options in South Iceland
- Where To Stay in South Iceland
- Travel Tips For South Iceland
- Frequently Asked Questions About South Iceland
- Final Notes on Traveling To South Iceland
Getting To South Iceland
Embarking on your adventure to South Iceland promises an exciting journey filled with awe-inspiring vistas. The process of getting to this enchanting region is straightforward, whether you choose to drive, take a bus, or join a guided tour.
How to Get to South Iceland from Reykjavik
From the vibrant capital of Reykjavik, South Iceland is easily accessible via the Ring Road, or Route 1, which circles the entire country. The journey to the southernmost town of Vik typically takes around two and a half hours by car. Along the way, you’ll be treated to the magnificent landscapes that Iceland is famed for, making the drive itself a memorable part of your adventure.
Traveling To South Iceland By Car, Bus, or Tour
The freedom of traveling by car offers you the chance to explore at your own pace. Car rentals are readily available in Reykjavik, as well as from the Keflavik airport, and Iceland’s well-maintained roads make for an easy drive. Alternatively, several bus services run from Reykjavik to the main towns in South Iceland, providing a budget-friendly option.
For a more structured experience, consider a guided tour. Numerous tour operators offer packages to South Iceland, including transportation, accommodation, and visits to the major sights. This is an excellent option for those seeking local insights and a hassle-free travel experience. Viator has some great options, which can be found here.
Major Towns and Cities in South Iceland
In South Iceland, charming towns and cities nestled amidst stunning landscapes invite you to explore the region’s culture, history, and natural wonders. Here’s an overview of six must-visit towns and cities in South Iceland, each offering unique attractions that make them worth a stop on your journey.
- Vik: Vik is the southernmost village in Iceland and serves as a base for exploring nearby natural attractions. Notably, it’s known for its black sand beaches, Reynisdrangar sea stacks, and the iconic Reyniskirkja Church.
- Selfoss: As the largest town in South Iceland, Selfoss offers a variety of amenities and serves as a gateway to the Golden Circle route. Its location by the Ölfusá River also provides stunning water views.
- Hvolsvöllur: Situated near the notorious Eyjafjallajökull volcano, Hvolsvöllur is a small town filled with rich Viking history. It’s also the starting point for numerous hiking trails and the location of the Lava Centre, an interactive geological museum.
- Hella: Hella’s tranquil setting along the Ytri-Rangá river is perfect for fishing enthusiasts and those seeking peace. The town is also conveniently located for trips to the highlands via the scenic Kjölur Route.
- Skógar: Though tiny, Skógar is home to one of Iceland’s most beautiful waterfalls, Skógafoss, and the excellent Skógar Museum, which provides a fascinating look into Iceland’s cultural history.
- Eyrarbakki: Eyrarbakki is a picturesque seaside village known for its well-preserved, old wooden houses. The town is also famous for Rauða Húsið, a restaurant offering the best lobster soup in the country.
Top Things To Do in South Iceland
South Iceland brims with a variety of natural wonders and exhilarating activities that make every day an adventure. From chasing waterfalls to exploring geological marvels, here are some must-do experiences that encapsulate the essence of this spectacular region.
Visit the Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss Waterfalls
Two of Iceland’s most iconic waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss, provide unforgettable sights. Seljalandsfoss, known for the path that runs behind the waterfall, offers a unique perspective as you watch the water crash down from behind the cascade. Skógafoss, meanwhile, is sheer power personified, creating a near-constant rainbow in its spray on sunny days.
The waterfalls are easily accessible via Route 1, and can both be viewed from the road, so they are near-impossible to miss. While they are stunning year-round, they are particularly beautiful in the late spring and summer when the surrounding flora is in full bloom. Remember to wear waterproof clothing as the spray from the waterfalls can get you wet, especially at Skógafoss.
Explore the Black Sand Beaches of Vik
The town of Vik is renowned for its dramatic black sand beaches. Reynisfjara Beach, the most famous of these, offers an otherworldly vista with its dark volcanic sands, towering basalt columns, and the eerie Reynisdrangar sea stacks rising from the ocean. Remember that while the beach is beautiful, it can also be dangerous due to “sneaker waves,” so always keep a safe distance from the water and never turn your back on the ocean.
Reynisfjara is easily accessible from Vik and is a sight to behold all year round. However, during the winter months, it’s essential to check the weather and sea conditions before heading out due to high waves and strong winds.
Discover the Wonders of the Golden Circle
The Golden Circle is a popular tourist route in South Iceland that covers about 300 kilometers looping from Reykjavik into the southern uplands and back. It includes three primary stops: the national park Þingvellir, the waterfall Gullfoss (meaning “golden falls”), and the geothermally active valley of Haukadalur, which contains the geysers Geysir and Strokkur.
The Golden Circle is accessible year-round and is typically completed in a day trip from Reykjavik. The route is well marked, and there are numerous tours that offer guided trips, which include insights into the history and geology of the area.
Trek on the Solheimajokull Glacier
A hike on the Sólheimajökull glacier is a thrilling way to appreciate South Iceland’s glacial landscapes. Walk on centuries-old ice, observe deep crevasses, and marvel at the stunning blue ice formations under the guidance of professional glacier guides.
Glacier hikes are available throughout the year, but the best time to visit is in the summer months when the weather is typically more agreeable. You will need sturdy hiking boots, and all other necessary equipment is usually provided by the tour companies that operate the hikes.
Take a Dip in the Secret Lagoon
No trip to Iceland is complete without bathing in a geothermal pool. The Secret Lagoon, or Gamla Laugin, offers a rustic hot spring experience. It is one of the oldest natural hot springs in Iceland and maintains a year-round temperature of 38-40 Celsius.
The Secret Lagoon is located in the small village of Fludir and is open year-round. It’s recommended to book your tickets in advance due to its popularity. Don’t forget to bring your bathing suit and a towel, although these can also be rented on site.
Cultural Experiences in South Iceland
South Iceland offers a range of cultural experiences that delve into the region’s rich history, tradition, and folklore. Museums such as the Skógar Museum and the Lava Centre in Hvolsvöllur provide fascinating insights into Iceland’s geological wonders and historical way of life. The former houses a collection of artifacts showcasing rural Icelandic life through the centuries, while the latter provides interactive exhibits on the volcanic and seismic activity in Iceland.
For those interested in Iceland’s Viking heritage, the Saga Centre in Hvolsvöllur is a must-visit. The museum is dedicated to Njála, one of the most famous sagas, offering a detailed glimpse into the Viking era. It is also the starting point for the Saga Trail, a journey through various important historical and saga-related sites in the region.
South Iceland also hosts various festivals that showcase local traditions and customs. One of the most notable is the annual summer festival in Vik, which includes live music, traditional games, and plenty of local food.
Visiting historical sites like the ancient parliamentary assembly site at Þingvellir National Park not only educates travelers about the region’s past but also instills a sense of awe for the centuries of history that have shaped the culture and identity of Iceland.
These experiences are not just sightseeing opportunities; they are gateways into the heart and soul of South Iceland. They provide context to the natural wonders that abound, drawing a thread through history that connects the landscape to the people who inhabit it, making a visit to South Iceland a journey through both space and time.
Food and Drink Options in South Iceland
South Iceland offers an array of dining experiences, from cozy cafes serving hearty breakfasts to restaurants offering exquisite Icelandic cuisine. Whether you’re refueling during a busy day of sightseeing or enjoying a leisurely dinner, the region’s culinary scene is sure to satisfy your taste buds.
Best Breakfast in South Iceland
- Tryggvaskáli Restaurant, Selfoss: Known for its generous breakfast platter, featuring a range of traditional Icelandic ingredients.
- Halldorskaffi, Vik: This quaint café offers a selection of filling breakfast sandwiches and excellent coffee.
- Kaffi Krús, Selfoss: A friendly café serving a variety of breakfast options, from pancakes to eggs and bacon.
Best Lunch in South Iceland
- Fjörukráin – Viking Village, Hafnarfjörður: Offers a unique dining experience with traditional Viking food and performances.
- Rauða Húsið, Eyrarbakki: Known for its delicious seafood, especially the lobster soup.
- Sudur Vik, Vik: Serves up delicious pizzas and salads, with vegan and gluten-free options available.
Best Dinner in South Iceland
- Otto Matur & Drykkur, Selfoss: An upscale restaurant known for its Icelandic lamb and fresh fish dishes.
- Eldsto Art Café / Bistro, Hveragerði: Offers a range of Icelandic dishes in a cozy, artistic environment.
- Hotel Rangá Restaurant, Hella: Enjoy gourmet dining with a focus on Icelandic ingredients and the Northern Lights in the background during winter.
Best Dessert in South Iceland
- Ice Cream Barn (Ísbúðin), Selfoss: Known for its homemade ice cream using fresh local ingredients.
- Systrakaffi, Kirkjubæjarklaustur: Don’t miss out on their famous waffles topped with jam and whipped cream.
- Fridheimar, Reykholt: While mainly a tomato farm offering tomato-based dishes, they serve an amazing tomato ice cream you must try.
Where To Stay in South Iceland
Accommodation in South Iceland spans a broad spectrum, catering to different travel styles and budgets. Whether you’re looking for a budget-friendly guesthouse, a comfortable mid-range hotel, or a luxury resort with all the frills, South Iceland has something to suit your needs. Additionally, there are numerous campsites available for those who prefer a closer connection with nature.
Budget Accommodations in South Iceland
- Puffin Hostel Vík: Located in the heart of Vik, this hostel offers both private rooms and dormitory-style accommodation.
- Guesthouse Hamar, Hella: A friendly and affordable guesthouse with comfortable rooms and a shared kitchen.
- Hjá Marlín, Hvolsvöllur: This guesthouse provides budget-friendly rooms and includes a shared lounge and kitchen for guests.
Mid-Range Accommodations in South Iceland
- Hotel Selfoss: Located by the river Ölfusá, this hotel offers comfortable rooms, a restaurant, and a spa.
- Hotel Katla Hofdabrekka, Vík: Nestled near the mountains, this hotel provides comfortable rooms, a hot tub, and easy access to the area’s main attractions.
- Fosshotel Hekla, Selfoss: This hotel offers stunning mountain views, an outdoor hot tub, and an on-site restaurant and bar.
Luxury Accommodations in South Iceland
- Hotel Rangá, Hella: This 4-star resort offers beautifully decorated rooms, gourmet dining, and optimal conditions for Northern Lights viewing.
- ION Adventure Hotel, Selfoss: This luxury hotel is set in a stunning location with modern rooms, a high-end restaurant, and a beautiful geothermal heated outdoor pool.
- Umi Hotel, Hvolsvöllur: Offering panoramic views of the mountains and sea, this hotel features modern rooms and a restaurant that uses locally sourced ingredients.
Travel Tips For South Iceland
When planning your adventure to South Iceland, it’s crucial to take into account the different seasonal offerings, safety measures, and the local customs that make this region so unique. This section will help you navigate these considerations.
- Spring (March–May): As winter recedes, South Iceland starts to bloom. While some highland roads might still be closed due to snow, many attractions such as waterfalls, geysers, and coastal areas become more accessible. The weather is variable, so pack layers and rainproof clothing.
- Summer (June–August): This is the peak tourist season, with long days (up to 24 hours of daylight in June) and the warmest temperatures, though still cool by most standards. It’s the best time for hiking, camping, and exploring highland areas that are otherwise inaccessible.
- Fall (September–November): As the crowds lessen, fall brings stunning colors to the landscapes. It’s also a good time for Northern Lights viewing. However, the weather becomes more unpredictable, so prepare for colder temperatures and potential storms.
- Winter (December–February): Winter is marked by short days and lots of snow, but it’s the prime time for viewing the Northern Lights. Many roads are closed due to snow and ice, but popular attractions along the south coast remain accessible. Pack warm, weatherproof clothing.
Quick Safety Tips
Travel in South Iceland is generally safe, but it’s essential to be mindful of the natural elements. Weather can change rapidly, so check the forecast often and dress in layers. If you’re hiking, always let someone know your plans or register your travel itinerary with Safetravel.is.
Follow signage and stay on marked trails to protect the delicate natural environment and ensure your safety. When driving, be aware that roads can be narrow, winding, and icy, so drive cautiously and check road conditions before heading out.
Regional Quirks or Customs to Know
In South Iceland, as in the rest of the country, respect for nature is paramount. Off-road driving is strictly forbidden as it can cause irreversible damage to the environment. Also, while wild camping used to be a common practice, it is now limited to certain areas with the necessary facilities, so always check local regulations before setting up camp.
Lastly, tipping is not customary in Iceland as service charges are included in the bill, but it is appreciated for exceptional service.
Frequently Asked Questions About South Iceland
What is the best time of year to visit South Iceland?
South Iceland can be visited any time of year, depending on what you want to see. The summer months (June to August) offer long days and are ideal for hiking and exploring the highlands. Winter (December to February), with its shorter days, is perfect for viewing the Northern Lights. The transitional seasons of spring and autumn also have their charms, with the landscapes changing dramatically.
How can I best view the Northern Lights in South Iceland?
The Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis, can typically be seen in South Iceland between September and April, although this is heavily dependent on solar activity and clear skies. To increase your chances, seek out areas away from city lights, and check the Aurora forecast. A stay at a countryside hotel, like Hotel Rangá, offers excellent viewing opportunities.
Is it necessary to rent a car in South Iceland?
Renting a car is not necessary but can offer more freedom and flexibility in your itinerary. South Iceland is well-served by guided tours and public buses that cover most major attractions. However, if you plan to venture into less touristy areas or the highlands (in a 4×4), a rental car might be advantageous.
Are there any unique local dishes I should try in South Iceland?
Absolutely. Don’t miss the chance to try the fresh seafood, particularly lobster, available in coastal towns like Eyrarbakki. Lamb is also a staple in Icelandic cuisine and is usually served roasted or in a hearty soup. For a unique experience, visit Friðheimar in Reykholt, where you can sample dishes made from their homegrown tomatoes, including a surprisingly delicious tomato ice cream.
Can I camp in South Iceland?
Yes, you can camp in South Iceland, but it’s important to note that wild camping, or camping outside of designated campgrounds, is now restricted to protect the environment. South Iceland has numerous campsites with facilities. Always check the local regulations before setting up camp, and remember to leave no trace.
Final Notes on Traveling To South Iceland
This comprehensive guide to South Iceland provides a roadmap to the region’s many attractions, customs, and gastronomical delights. From the captivating natural beauty of its waterfalls and glaciers to the warmth and hospitality of its towns and cities, South Iceland beckons with experiences that are as diverse as they are memorable.
Whether you’re a first-time visitor or a returning traveler, there’s always something new to discover in South Iceland. Be it a sunrise hike in Skaftafell, a surreal walk between continents at the Bridge Between Two Worlds, or an indulgent feast on fresh Icelandic lobster, the region’s unique blend of natural and cultural attractions is sure to leave a lasting impression.
Remember, each journey to South Iceland is as unique as the traveler undertaking it. The region’s expansive landscapes and awe-inspiring sights hold different meanings and evoke different emotions for each visitor. And that, perhaps, is the most magical part of traveling here – South Iceland not only offers a glimpse into the unspoiled beauty of our world but also a journey into self-discovery and personal growth.
We encourage you to embrace the adventure that awaits in South Iceland. Immerse yourself in the region’s breathtaking nature, engage with its rich culture, and savor its delectable cuisine. From the moment you set foot in this remarkable region, you’ll be starting a journey that, we promise, will be an unforgettable one. Here’s to your South Icelandic adventure – Skál!