South Iceland is the most visited part of Iceland, largely because of its proximity to Reykjavik and its easy access for those visiting on a quick Iceland Air stopover. But more importantly, it is one of the most beautiful parts of Iceland with so much to see and do. You could spend an entire week in southern Iceland without even seeing all it has to offer. Waterfalls? Check. Glaciers? Check. Volcanoes? Check. Hiking trails, horseback riding, and clear blue water? Check, check, and check. Below are some of the spots that should be at the top of any trip to southern Iceland.
Seljalandsfoss and Gljufrabui
At first glance, Seljalandsfoss seems like a quick stop. Right off the road, you can see the waterfall from kilometers away. It was so obvious and easily accessed from Route 1 that I quickly didn’t expect much from this stop. However, Seljalandsfoss is only one part of this stop and there was actually a lot to love.
When you walk up to the waterfall, there’s a path that takes you behind the waterfall, so you can really view it from all angles. On a clear day with blue skies, this would be a phenomenal vantage point. Unfortunately for us, it was cloudy so it’s difficult to distinguish between water and sky in our photos. Sun or clouds, the water is still blue as ever – a trend we saw throughout Iceland.
Once we were done at Seljalandsfoss (about 30 minutes), we followed signs for another waterfall at the same location. Gljúfrabúi is a waterfall hidden from plain sight and is just a 5 minute walk from Seljalandsfoss. You have to walk between a narrow passageway between two looming rocks. We hopped along rocks in a stream through the narrow passageway into what was a supper cool canyon waterfall. Our shoes only got a little wet, and it was so worth it.
What we found inside was the most amazing waterfall. Surrounded on four sides by giant, moss covered rocks, this waterfall transported us to another world. There was a giant rock in the middle of the canyon that provided the perfect vantage point. The best part was that most people ignored the signs to Gljúfrabúi, so we had it completely to ourselves. Despite our many attempts, the photos just don’t do justice to the magic of this waterfall.
We opted to hike a glacier in Iceland and chose Solheimajokull because it fit best in our schedule. With so much to see and do in Iceland, it was difficult to figure out where we could make room for scheduled tours. Since you need a guide and equipment to venture onto a glacier, this was one place where we opted to do an organized tour. We booked through Icelandic Mountain Guides and really enjoyed the it – though the hike definitely tested our strength and endurance. We were in a group of 12 people and spent about 45 minutes preparing to get on the ice, about 2 hours on the ice itself, and then about 45 minutes walking to the glacier and back to the parking lot.
Hiking Solheimajokull is one thing you could cut out of your trip to allow for more time at some of the other sites. But is an Iceland adventure really complete without getting out onto the country’s namesake environment? We absolutely loved the experience and dedicated an entire post about what to expect during a glacier hike in Iceland.
The day we visited Skogafoss was filled with waterfalls and they were all right off of Route 1. We didn’t dedicate as much time to this waterfall purely because we were tired and the day was coming to an end by the time we made it to this site. However, you could easily spend an hour or more here taking in views of the waterfall from below and above.
As an added bonus, this waterfall is surrounded by fields of sheep. We visited at the end of May and there were tons of babies on the fields. These sheep are something you’ll see on the side of the road throughout Iceland, but without areas to pull off we were rarely able to get close to them. This stop was the closest we were able to get to these fluffy babies and I had so much fun in our staring contests.
It was here where Henry started what became a tradition of baa-ing at the sheep every time we passed. Baa at a sheep and it will baa back. It’s also a pretty useful tool to get them to look at the camera like these little lambs did. We were talking to these lads for a solid 10 minutes.
Dyrhólaey was one of the places where our pictures actually captured the beauty of the location. Now if only we could bottle up the smell of the sea or feeling of sea breeze blowing in your face! The parking lot looks out over these amazing views. Rumor has it that you can walk along the black sand beach in the below picture. Known as Reynisfjara, the beach was not accessible from this side of the rock. We didn’t see anyone walking on the beach so it’s either Iceland’s best kept secret or it has been blocked off on the other side as well. We didn’t have time to try and find out but if you skip a glacier hike or have a few days to spend in the area, you should definitely have enough time to explore.
When you enter Dyrhólaey into Google Maps, it takes you to a large parking where most people stop. However, at the top of a nearby hill is a charming lighthouse (which is now Iceland Air lodging) and even grander views of the ocean. To access the lighthouse you have to climb a very steep, winding dirt/rocky road that truly challenged the abilities of our small VW Golf. You can also hike to the top, though this would take what we estimated to be about an hour. The drive was worth it though because at the top we had the best vantage to see some pretty cool rock formations.
The black sand made the ocean water look so gorgeously blue. This was hands down one of my favorite places in all of Iceland. I could have sat perched on these rocks all day long listening to the waves crash against the beach.
I don’t think there has ever been a more charming costal town than the town of Vik. Yes, coastal towns are notoriously charming, but Vik really takes the cake in Iceland. The sun was shining, purple lupine were blooming, and there was blue water and black sand as far as the eye could see.
Plus, this red roofed church was the cutest thing ever sitting at the top of the hill overlooking the water, town, and surrounded by vibrant green mountains on three sides. We loved every minute and didn’t want the night to end. Fortunately for us, it was summer and the sun never really went down – we ended up exploring until about 11:00 p.m.
After seeing a pin on Pinterest of Fjaðrárgljúfur, I could not wait to visit. Here you get to follow a crystal clear river either from the tops of cliffs or along the rocky banks below, with stellar views from both angles.
You can get to this gorgeous spot by simply typing it into Google maps or by simply paying attention to the street signs. There’s a sign for Fjaðrárgljúfur off of Ring Road on the left side if you’re traveling counter-clockwise. You follow a dirt road for several miles before reaching a small parking lot. There were bathrooms at the lot, but not much else.
I can only imagine how beautiful this place is when the grass has fully come back to life. I was really excited about this place, so we definitely spent more time here than is probably necessary. You could see Fjaðrárgljúfur in about an hour, but we definitely took time time to just sit and take in all the beauty. We also spent quite a while trying to get the best vantage point for photos.
We tried really hard to follow along the river at the ground level after viewing it from above, but after several failed attempts to stay dry we gave up and headed for the car with squishy shoes. If you want to hike along the base of the river, you’ll be most successful in shorts and water shoes. You’ll want a towel to dry off and should be prepared for very cold waters. When we tried to cross, we stopped when the water was halfway to our knees and it got even deeper if we had gone further. I wish we were better prepared because the view from below seemed just as amazing as the views from the top!
Svartifoss and Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður National Park
Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður National Park is huge and could easily be explored over the course of a week, not just a few hours. But alas, we found ourselves in yet another place that we’d only be able to explore in part. Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður National Park is home to glaciers, waterfalls, and miles of hiking trails. We used Google Maps to get to a small parking lot beyond the major parking lot and campground site near Svartifoss. This took us on a trail where we only ran into one other person, versus the trail on the other side of the river where there were dozens of people. We followed the signs at the base of the parking lot toward Svartifoss.
On this trail, which was clearly the route less traveled, we were able to explore several lookouts to a lesser known waterfall called Hundafoss.
The coolest part of this trail was all the different angles we were able to get of the waterfall. At one point, we were able to walk out right to the edge of the falls, which was amazing.
You keep following the trail and soon cross a bridge that joins to the trail most traveled on the other side of the river. This leads you to the magnificent Svartifoss, a waterfall surrounded by dark lava columns in the middle of a lush green forest.
When you’ve snapped all the pictures you like, cross the bridge at the base of the waterfall and head back to the parking lot on this extended scenic trail. There are a lot more trails that fork off and take you to different sites. You can explore to your heart’s content and get some pretty beautiful 360 degree views.
If you are lucky, your Iceland adventure doesn’t end here and you can start heading north along Iceland’s Eastern Fjords. Here’s a sneak peak at what the less talked about eastern Iceland beholds, beautiful in its own right. Check out our full blog post on what we believe is one of the most underrated sites in Iceland.