As you (likely) already know, Iceland is brimming with natural beauty: waterfalls, glaciers, volcanoes, active geysers and more. And nowhere are nature’s wonders more clustered than in Southern Iceland.
Southern Iceland was my favorite region to explore during my one-week trip to the island because it is only a few hours from Iceland’s capital city, but makes you feel like you’re in the middle of the wilderness. You will see a rainbow-ringed waterfall followed by a 4,000-year-old glacier followed by a black sand beach all in one day—there is so much incredible natural diversity packed into a small area!
On a tour of Iceland, it’s worth dedicating at least a day or two to exploring this beautiful part of the country. The top spots to hit up? These eight are a pretty good place to start…
Just steps away from the iconic Seljalandsfoss waterfall off of the Ring Road, Gljúfrafoss is a lesser-known but no less impressive waterfall in Southern Iceland. It is easy to see both Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrafoss in one stop since they share a parking lot!
Gljúfrafoss is tucked away behind a large crack in the rock and you need to walk through a small cave in order to find the falls. Once through the cave, you will be greeted by the moss-covered rock walls and the water crashing into the shallow pool below. Since it is lesser-known, there is a good chance you may be the only visitors inside the cave. Climb up to the top of the fallen boulder for an incredible photo and some fresh glacial mist on your face!
Vik is a remote seaside gem and Iceland’s southernmost city. Its close proximity to interesting sights makes it a great jumping-off point for exploring several of the stops on this list.
Don’t miss a visit to the adorable Flatanger Church in town. It is constructed in the quintessential Icelandic architectural style and offers a beautiful vista over the town thanks to its location on the top of a windy bluff. Amenities, such as gasoline or food, in the eastern part of south Iceland become sparse, so Vik is also a great place to stock up on supplies.
Not far from Vik there is a stunning volcanic rock arch called Dyrhólaey. In Icelandic, the name Dyrhólaey means “hill island with door hole”, which aptly describes this naturally-formed oceanic archway. You can hike up to the promontory point of the arch, a short walk that’s appropriate for all ages and physical abilities. Once to the top, you can see as far north as the Mýrdalsjökull glacier and as far east as the Gerduberg basalt columns. It is best visited in the late afternoon when cloud cover is less intense.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach & Sea Stacks
Well-known by travelers, the black sand beach at Reynisfjara is a must-see on any tour of Southern Iceland. It was ranked by National Geographic as one of the top 10 most beautiful non-tropical beaches in the world! The sand at the beach is made up of crushed volcanic rock, the origin of the black color.
To the east of the beach, you will notice a wall of enormous basalt columns which naturally cooled into hexagonal columns. Ensure you grab a patio seat and sandwich at the beachfront Black Beach restaurant for a relaxing afternoon on the oceanfront.
Often considered one of the most beautiful canyons in Iceland, Fjaðrárgljúfur is an easy stop off the Ring Road. It is about 100 meters deep and 2 kilometers long with steep, sheer walls carved through erosion by the Fjaðrá River below. There is a well-trafficked and straightforward hiking trail at the top of the canyon, though more adventurous souls might opt to walk in the bottom of the canyon through the shallow riverbed. Regardless of which path (or both!) that you choose, the canyon’s carving serpentine shape offers magnificent photo opportunities.
Located several kilometers into the Vatnajokull National Park, Svartifoss is not accessible from the road but is well worth the 90-minute round trip hike to see one of Iceland’s most unique waterfalls. Translating to “Black Falls”, Svartifoss is unique because of its black basalt columns that form the steep wall from which the water falls. It is an open freefall foss which means you can get incredibly close to the cascading water. Pack yourself a small picnic lunch for a romantic afternoon hike to this stunning spot!
The fishing village of Hofn is another good location to stop for accommodation on your tour of Southern Iceland. Hofn is located on a thin peninsula with surprisingly great views of the biggest glacier in Europe, Vatnajökull. Serving as an active port, you can watch Icelandic fisherman bring in their daily catch to the harbor for a truly authentic Icelandic experience.
Take the opportunity try some of the fresh catch at one of Hofn’s delicious restaurants such as the lobster-forward Humarhöfnin Veitingahús or the cozy farm-to-table, Pakkhus.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Does floating on a boat among 4,000-year-old icebergs sound like a magical experience? It is, and you can do it at the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, one of the undisputed highlights of the area.
This large arctic lagoon serves as a catch basin for the Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier. It is regularly filled with floating glacier pieces in deep blue and white hues that you can see up-close on a boat tour of the lagoon (boat tour included on this 10-day trip). This lagoon is a dream for photographers and you can watch the ‘bergs float out to the sea via the river. If you go in the winter, you will see also seals feasting on the fish that collect in the lagoon for warmth!
Regardless of how you get there – a solo adventure or a small group tour – you are sure to fall in love with the incredible diversity and beauty of Southern Iceland. These 8 stops will start your adventure, but there are many more hidden gems to explore. From waterfalls to black beaches to delicious restaurants, Southern Iceland has a little bit of all the best parts of Iceland!
Ready to explore this stunning part of the world? Check out Intrepid’s range of trips in Iceland.
(Image credits from top to bottom: Intrepid Travel, Megan Arzbaecher, Intrepid Travel, Megan Arzbaecher, Intrepid Travel, Megan Arzbaecher, Intrepid Travel.)