Discover Iceland’s Scenic South Coast 

Skógafoss waterfall on the South Coast in Iceland

The magnificent South Coast in Iceland makes for a diverse and exciting adventure for sightseers. But what are the best sites en route, and how long does it take to experience? Are there tours that will escort you along the South Coast, or is it better to drive yourself? Read on to learn more about this beautiful region.

There are several routes in Iceland that have become famed for their beauty, most notably the Golden Circle in West Iceland, and the Diamond Circle to the north. 

The South Coast is part of this pantheon, offering an esoteric mix of attractions that are sure to delight even the most seasoned of travellers. 

Why experience the South Coast in Iceland? 

South Coast travellers
Photo: Golli. The South is one of Iceland’s most stunning regions.

The South Coast is among Iceland’s most beloved sightseeing routes. Waterfalls, canyons, glacier lagoons, black sand beaches and desert – all lie in wait for those venturing along this pristine stretch of shoreline.

Thankfully, the South Coast happens to be incredibly accessible, strengthening its popularity amongst foreign guests. Travellers need only follow the Ring Road – or Route 1; the major tarmac road circling the island – east from the capital, Reykjavík. This route will pass by each of one of its major stops.

Frankly, the South Coast has something to offer everyone. Be you a landscape photographer seeking out picturesque vantage points. Or a road warrior looking to cover as much ground in Iceland in the limited time available to you. The South Coast provides. 

What major sites are on Iceland’s South Coast?

Travellers in Iceland's south
Photo: Golli. Behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall

As is the case with so much of Iceland, the South Coast in its entirety is a sight to behold. Driving between sites, you are just as likely to have your breath taken away by the passing visuals as you are at each of its famous attractions. 

With that said, there are places that are more worthy of discussion than others, be it because of their interesting geological makeup, importance to Icelandic culture, or stunning aesthetic.

Let’s learn more about each of the attractions you’ll pass when leaving from Reykjavík.

Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss Waterfalls 

Skógafoss in the mist
Photo: Golli. Skógafoss waterfall.

The famous waterfall alley of South Iceland. The first waterfall visitors will stumble upon is Seljalandsfoss, with Skógafoss being around half an hour’s drive east. Both of their waters originate from the mighty Eyjafjallajökull glacier, famous for its violent eruption in 2010. 

Seljalandsfoss allows guests to walk behind its narrow waterfall, offering truly fabulous photography opportunities for capturing the surrounding landscape through a natural filter of cascading water. This gorgeous natural landmark falls 60 m [200 feet] over an ancient sea cliff, making for unbelievable visuals when seen besides the enclosing meadows and nearby shoreline.

A twisting staircase leads up the side of Skógafoss. This presents visitors with the chance to see this feature from the top and bottom. This waterfall is just as high as Seljalandsfoss, but has a much greater width at 25 m [82 ft.] According to legends, treasures hide behind the waterfall, but we would not recommend venturing too close for fear you may be crushed. 

The hidden falls, Gljúfrabúi 

Gljúfrabúi hidden falls
Photo: Golli. Gljúfrabúi is the among Iceland’s hiddden falls

While Seljalandsfoss is one of the most well-known waterfalls on the South Coast, Gljúfrabúi (Canyon Dweller) is within easy walking distance, nestled away inside a diminutive gorge of its own. 

Gljúfrabúi remains something of an open secret in the area. Quite the feat given the many thousands who visit Seljalandsfoss each day.

The waterfall is 40 m [131 ft] tall, and trickles into the oceanbound stream, Gljúfurá. Those who want a closer look at this feature will have to hopscotch their way over the trickling water to the best vantage point. 

Kvernufoss 

 

Standing at 30 m [98 ft], observing Kvernufoss waterfall feels akin to discovering treasure given that it’s hidden inside a mossy gorge. 

Just like Seljalandsfoss, it is possible to traipse behind Kvernufoss by following its conveniently placed walking path. Given the great plumes of mist that erupt at the base of the falls, anyone hoping to look upon the waterfall from this inside angle should expect to get wet!

Vík í Mýrdal

Vík i Myrdal Church
Photo: Golli. Vík i Myrdal Church in Iceland

Better known simply as Vík, this pleasant coastal village is found 180 km [112 mi] from Reykjavík, making it the perfect place to stop, breathe, and grab a bite to eat during your trip along the South Coast. 

Home to little under 400 people, Vík has become something of an attraction in its own right on account that its isolated position and seafront architecture present a side of Icelandic life rarely seen in the capital. 

To many, Vík is defined by its amazing surrounding scenery. It lies at the base of Mýrdalsjökull glacier, which itself covers the once ominous Katla volcano. 

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach 

Reynisfjara black sand beach on the South Coast in Iceland
Photo: Golli. Reynisfjara black sand beach.

By now, much has been discussed about the inherent dangers of Reynisfjara, given the fact that its unpredictable wave patterns have cost lives, and created many incidences of panic among visitors. 

Despite this, Reynisfjara does remind one of the country’s most beautiful shorelines, and is well worthy of appreciation at a distance. 

This is not so much for its glassy black pebbles – a bonafide staple of many beaches in Iceland – but more so because it’s home to Reynisdrangar; impressive basalt sea stacks that loom over the adjacent coastal village of Vík í Mýrdal. 

Dyrhólaey peninsula

Dyrhólaey peninsula
Photo: Golli. The epic landscape of Dyrhólaey peninsula

Closeby to Reynisfjara, Dyrhólaey Peninsula (Door Hill Island) is a true geographical marvel thanks to its breathtaking, arch-shaped rock formation. 

The dramatic hole in the basalt rock is the result of wind and water erosion, reminding its observers of the natural forces that continue to shape Iceland to this day. The site is home to various bird species, including skuas, guillemots, and in summer, the iconic Atlantic Puffin.

This promontory offers panoramic views of the black sand coastline and adjoining ocean, making it a fabulous spot for landscape photographs. 

Katla Ice Caves  

Katla Ice Caves
Photo: Golli. Katla ice caves in South Iceland.

The Katla ice caves are a worthwhile stop for travellers interested to learn more about the underworld beneath Iceland’s glaciers. If ever there was a place to take your camera, this would be it! 

Katla’s ice caves lack the crystal blue ice that has made those beneath Vatnajökull world-famous. Instead, these caverns are better characterised as being white with snowfall, with black volcanic ash mixed in, creating an aesthetic all its own. 

During your caving tour at Katla, your certified guide will provide you with a pair of spiked crampons to help your feet grip the icy surface, as well as a pair of hiking poles for anyone seeking extra support. You will also wear a protective helmet so as to protect you should slips or stumbles occur. 

Solheimajökull Glacier

 

 

Solheimajökull is an outlet glacier originating from the larger Mýrdalsjökull ice cap – the very same that looms over Vík í Mýrdal. It is a popular spot for glacier hiking, an exciting activity which sees visitors walk across great ice plains in spiky crampons, taking in its dramatic moulins and crevasses. 

Solheimajökull is approximately 10 km long and 2 km wide, though it blends in with the Mýrdalsjökull ice in such a way as to appear much larger. Its exterior surface is a mixture of white ice and black volcanic ash, creating scenes reminiscent of a science fiction film. 

The DC Plane Wreck at Solheimasandur

The DC Plane Wreck at Solheimasandur
Photo: Golli. The abandoned wreckage

An artificial monument, of sorts. The metallic husk of a US Navy Douglas R4D-8 aircraft lays on the flattened dunes of Solheimasandur black sand desert. It has ever since it crashed there on November 21st 1973. Its degraded grey metal, twisted and hollow with time, stands separate to the emptiness of the surrounding landscape.

What could have been a catastrophe actually turned out to be an astounding stroke of luck for its crew. Not a single person died in the crash. The accident was caused by the pilot accidentally switching to the wrong fuel tank. What otherwise had been a routine flight as part of the US defence agreement with Iceland quickly devolved into an emergency landing. 

Interestingly enough, the DC plane wreck is not held in such high regard by the Icelanders as it with tourists. It is, actually, tourists who have taken it upon themselves to grant it a special spot among the South Coast’s attractions. Hence its inclusion in this article. 

Be aware that the wreckage cannot be seen from the Ring Road. And there are no clear signs. It is only advised to trek here in the company of those who are certain of its location, and never in the wintertime, given the copious amounts of snow that fall over Solheimasandur. 

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon

 

 

With 100 m walls of rock rising on either side of the Fjaðrá river, the dark, dramatic Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon is a bewitching sight. It is found close to the Ring Road, nearby to the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur, and trails 2 km through across the landscape. 

It is believed the canyon is around 9000 years old, only enforcing the idea that better belongs in a fantastical, storybook setting. Its origins lie at Geirlandshraun mountain, which would have seeped vast amounts of glacier water across the landscape at the end of the last Ice Age.

Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon & Diamond Beach 

Jökulsárlón lake
Photo: Golli. Jökulsárlón lagoon

Jökulsárlón lagoon sits at the base of Breiðamerkurjökull outlet glacier, a single tongue that slithers off Europe’s largest ice cap, Vatnajökull. 

This glistening, ice-berg filled water body is just one part of the UNESCO World Heritage site, Vatnajökull National Park, and is often considered the last stop people will make on the South Coast. 

Jökulsárlón is one the most photographed spots in the entire country. It is very popular among guests, many who add to the experience with an amphibious or zodiac boat tour. Others are content to stand at the water’s banks, appreciating the incredible ice formations as they float peacefully on their way out to the ocean. 

You can read more in our full article: Visit Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in South East Iceland 

How long does driving the South Coast take? 

South Coast driving
Photo: Golli. Driving on the South Coast

In reality, this depends on how long you wish to spend enjoying this pristine route. Reaching what is considered to be the last stop on the South Coast, Jökulsárlón, will take you five hours when travelling directly along Route 1.  

So, if you are hoping to see everything the South Coast has to offer in a single day, you should expect to be driving for a minimum of twelve hours, taking into consideration that you will stop and appreciate many of its sites along the way. 

Is the South Coast free? 

A Reykjavik Excursions coach
Photo: Golli. There are many coach tours along the South Coast.

As with most things in Iceland, travelling the South Coast is not completely without cost. There is the price of fuel to consider, and any stops you make along the way for food and respite. Some sites may also incur parking fees, so it is most certainly wise to keep cash on hand. 

Naturally, tour operators can also transport you along this route, stopping from one site to the next. Prices vary greatly depending on the type of experience they offer. For example, private tours will require more payment. But they do allow for you and your family to enjoy Iceland’s southern region in a quieter, more personal way. 

For a lighter cost, but less freedom, you can opt for a coach tour. This means travelling with a larger group. In these circumstances, you are tied to the whims of the group-at-large, not to mention the coach driver. And you will have less wiggle room when it comes to scheduling.  

What towns and villages offer a place to eat on the South Coast? 

Friðheimar farm
Photo: Golden Circle — Platinum Tour | Small group. Visitors to Friðheimar farm.

The South Coast is an expensive area, covering 401 km in total. So where exactly you should stop to eat depends on your preference, and whether amenities can be found closeby. Taking that into consideration, let’s start by shining a light on a handful of the eateries on the western side of this southerly coastal route. 

Places to eat on the western side of the South Coast

Prized by travellers as a restaurant and boutique hotel, Varma is located in the geothermal town of Hveragerði. It offers delicious meals like slow-smoked salmon, langoustine soup, and sourdough steak sandwiches. The dining space is situated in an airy, greenhouse-style area. As such, it allows for beautiful views of the rural surroundings. 

Also in Hveragerði is Ölverk Pizza & Brugghús. Unsurprisingly, it specialises in wood-fired pizza and craft beer brewed on-site. Hveragerði is only 45 km east of Reykjavík, making it a great town to eat at the beginning or end of your journey. The same can be said of Selfoss, only fifteen minutes drive away. This lovely town also boasts such places as Kaffi Krús and Tryggvaskáli. The latter placing emphasis on locally-sourced ingredients. 

A delicious meal served on the Golden Circle route
Photo: The Elite Golden Circle with lunch at farm & luxury hot sea baths

Places to eat on eastern side of the South Coast

Further east, closeby to the famed waterfall that shares its name, visitors can stop to eat at Hótel Skógafoss Bistro and Bar. The restaurant offers a variety of breakfast, lunch, and dinner plates, both Icelandic and international dishes. 

In Vík í Mýrdal, there are a good number of places to chow down. How about the iconic Black Beach Restaurant (​Svarta Fjaran), or the great lunch spot, Suður? You could also stray towards American or European dishes at the old-fashioned Halldors Kaffi in a beautiful historic home. 

There are many other restaurants, snack bars, and cafes found further along the South Coast. The Glacier Lagoon Café is located beside Jökulsárlón and offers an array of delicious sandwiches and soups. At the far east of the South Coast in the town of Höfn, travellers can pay a visit to such places as Hali Country Hotel Restaurant, the lobster-mad Pakkhús Restaurant, or the harbour-side Íshúsið Pizzeria

In Summary 

Eyjafjöll - Undir Eyjafjöllum Kýr á beit
Photo: Páll Stefánsson. Cows at Eyjafjöll, South Iceland

What else is there to say? If you’re planning on taking a trip to Iceland for a week or more, the South Coast is highly recommended. 

Regardless of how you experience it, expect to be left in awe of Iceland’s beautiful natural scenery. Its quaint coastal towns. Its memorable activities.  

Make sure to browse our selection of South Coast tours before you go! 

Visit Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in South East Iceland 

Jökulsárlón glacier lake in South Iceland

Whereabouts is Iceland’s famous Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, and why is it considered a staple stop during the classic Iceland vacation? How much time should you spend at this beloved lake of ice, and what stops can be seen en route? Read on to find out all there is to know about Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. 

Over the years, Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon has been bequeathed with a rather regal nickname –  the ‘Crown Jewel of Iceland.’ It’s not difficult to see why. As one of the star attractions within Vatnajökull National Park, this gorgeous lagoon sits at the base of Breiðamerkurjökull outlet glacier. 

 

A Glacier Lagoon Like No Other


Arriving from the Ring Road, travellers will find themselves in a place quite like no other. Behold a placid lake of aquamarine water, host to thousands of varieties of icebergs, each floating harmoniously with the majesty of their environment.

Often, writing about Iceland’s bewitching locales leans towards the flowery and hyperbolic, but in this case, Jökulsárlón truly is a slice of heaven. 

Despite its gorgeous surface-level appearance, Jökulsárlón is the deepest lake in Iceland. It stretches down to an amazing 248 m (814 feet). Overall, this sparkling water body covers 18 sq km (7 sq mi), making it four times larger than it was in the 1970s. 

An aerial views of icebergs at Jökulsárlón
Photo: The Elite Private South Coast & Glacier Lagoon. Icebergs at Jökulsárlón.

The reason for this growth is somewhat troubling. With climate change becoming an evermore tangible threat, Breiðamerkurjökull glacier tongue diminishes in size with each passing year, its meltwater feeding into the lagoon. Just over the last century, the outlet glacier has receded by 5.6 km (3.5 mi.)

In that sense, Jökulsárlón will continue to change in future. But that’s hardly a reason to stop international guests from enjoying it today. Jökulsárlón is not just one stop along Iceland’s spectacular South Coast – it is often the final destination; the very site that visitors are looking to arrive at, while making the most of other detours along the way. 

Unsurprisingly, Jökulsárlón has been an in-demand shooting location for Hollywood. Many blockbuster movies having filmed there. Such classics of celluloid include Thor: The Dark World, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Tomb Raider and James Bond: Die Another Day. Camera in hand, you too will, no doubt, feel the compulsion to capture this lake yourself. 

Where is Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon?

 

 

As mentioned previously, Jökulsárlón is located within the UNESCO World Heritage site, Vatnajökull National Park, in south east Iceland. 

Specifically, it is 380.2 km [380.2 mi] from Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital city, sitting between the towns of Vík í Mýrdal and Höfn. 

Nearby to Jökulsárlón is another, smaller lagoon named Fjallsárlón. Less famous, but no less beautiful than its nearby neighbour, Fjallsárlón is far less busy, allowing space for guests to nurture a more personal relationship with the site. 

How to get to Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon? 

The bridge at Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon
Photo: Glacier Lagoon Private Tour

Jökulsárlón is approximately 5 hours drive from Iceland’s capital, Reykjavík. It is off the Ring Road – the one major route that circles the entire island. 

Jökulsárlón is about as far as one can go from Reykjavik and still make the return journey back to the city in a single day. For this reason, visitors often struggle with whether they should attempt this journey in one swoop. Another option is to split their time on the South Coast into a couple of days. 

Understand, this loop is not recommended for most people as it requires an entire day of driving, upwards of 11 hours. However, if you’re prepared to skip over some of the South Coast’s sites, or are quite content to spend plenty of time in the car, there should be no advising you otherwise. 

For those who are not interested in driving themselves, there are plenty of South Coast tours available that will take you from the city to the lagoon.

Countless buses and Super Jeeps make the journey each day, so long as the weather allows for it. Naturally, those wanting a more intimate and luxurious ride through the region can opt for a Private Tour

What season should I visit Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon? 

A mighty glacier in South East Iceland
Photo: Glacier Lagoon Private Tour

It is quite possible to visit Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon in both seasons. But, if one were to be pressed for a definitive answer – the wintertime!

It is during Iceland’s coldest months  – from November to March – where Jökulsárlón is at its most spectacular. This is for the simple reason that only then are its floating icebergs at their largest, and therefore, most dramatic.

The site is still incredibly beautiful in the summer, especially as the ice glints with the light of the Midnight Sun. Be aware, however, that Skua birds live in the area during this time, and are infamous for being extremely protective of the nests they build all around the lagoon. 

As such, it is a common sight seeing people run for cover as these proud, winged parents divebomb aggressively from above. You have been warned! 

How long should I spend at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon?


The amount of time one wants to spend at Jökulsárlón is very subjective, but there should at least be a couple of hours allocated to enjoying its ethereal ambience. 

Stop by Diamond Beach 

An iceberg washed ashore at Diamond Beach in South Iceland.
Photo: Golli. An iceberg at Diamond Beach.

Extending one’s time at Jökulsárlón is rather easy thanks to the close proximity of another, yet lesser known natural attraction – Diamond Beach. This stretch of black sand shoreline is famous specifically for the contracts created by icebergs beaching themselves against the black sand shoreline.

Unlike Reynisfjara, further west on the South Coast, Diamond Beach is a safe place to walk by the water, marvelling in the ambience. 

Just like Jökulsárlón, Diamond Beach is a brilliant spot for photographs, as well as nature lovers in general. Guests to the lagoon need only walk for five minutes to the coast to arrive at this graceful strip of ice-laden pebbles. 

What tours are available at Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon? 

A boat tour on the glacier lagoon in South Iceland
Photo: Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon & Boat Tour

While it is quite lovely watching the ice from shore, some people can’t help but one to get closer. Hence why boat tours are the most popular option at Jökulsárlón. 

There are two types of boat tours available. The first, and most exciting, is the zodiac tour. This sees guests climb aboard a small, rigid, and inflatable vessel capable of picking up high speeds. By taking a passenger seat on one of these small crafts, visitors are able to get as close to the icebergs as safety allows. Zodiac boat tours are a particularly good option for families and small groups looking for a more personal experience. 

The second type available is boarding an amphibious craft. This type of boat is just as capable of traversing the land as it is the water. Amphibious crafts provide an added novelty to your adventure, but they do allow for more customers on board. 

Whichever boat tour you choose, the operator will provide you with an inflatable life vest and warm overalls to help keep you safe and comfortable atop the water. 

Conclusion 

Glacier ice breaks away into the lagoon
Photo: Glacier Lagoon Private Tour

For those with only a short amount of time in Iceland, the desire to see Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon might add some unnecessary stress to their vacation. This is especially true when so many other beautiful sites can be found further to the west. However, with one or two weeks in the country, this otherworldly lake should be considered an absolute must-see. 

Glacial Flood Expected in West Iceland

Hraunfossar Waterfalls

A relatively high water level in a glacier lagoon by Langjökull glacier, West Iceland, suggests that a flood can be expected from the lagoon in the near future. Such floods have occurred before and are known to cause a very rapid water level rise in the rivers Svartá and Hvítá in the Borgarfjörður area.

The Volcanology and Natural Hazard Group and the University of Iceland published satellite images of the lagoon and surrounding area yesterday, showing a high water level in the lagoon. At least three floods have occurred from the lagoon before in the last few years; in August 2020, August 2017, and September 2014.

Eldfjallafræði og náttúruvárhópur Háskóla Íslands / Facebook. 

Typically, the floodwater runs under the glacier toward the southwest, where it runs into Svartá and then from that river into Hvítá. The Icelandic Met Office is monitoring the situation, in part with water level measuring equipment in Hvítá, which will be able to detect the peak of the flood.

The flooding could be dangerous to those travelling on or near the two rivers.