With over 10,000 waterfalls etched into spectacular landscape, Iceland is an essential travel destination. Amazing places are found throughout the island – from glacial lagoons to towering volcanoes to vast canyons. There’s no shortage of incredible places to see, and with so much to do you’ll even find beautiful spots off the beaten path and free of tourist crowds. Unless you have huge amounts of time, you’re best off exploring just one region of this picturesque country. If it’s your first time in Iceland, you can’t go wrong exploring the magnificent destinations found in the Southern Region. Home to the famous golden circle route, some of Iceland’s best-known attractions are found here. To make best use of your time, we recommend hiring a car. Not only does renting a car mean you can arrive at sites before they get busy later in the day, but doing so is also one of the best money saving tips for Iceland. Check out the list below of 10 must see places in South Iceland – all of which can be accessed without a 4×4.
Gulfoss – the largest volume falls in Europe – is one of Iceland’s most popular attractions, and can be found on the country’s golden circle route. This powerful two-tiered waterfall is formed of glacial water from Langjökull – Iceland’s second largest glacier. It’s possible to get up close to both stages of the falls on a trail running alongside, as well as appreciating it all at once from viewing platforms above. During winter, the water freezes over and blankets of snow cover the surrounding areas– giving another dimension to the falls’ beauty. With no entrance fee, Gulfoss is simply a must see when visiting South Iceland.
Formed around 9,000 years ago, this magnificent, meandering canyon is indicative of the dramatic landscape throughout Iceland. Stretching for around 2 kilometres and reaching depths of 100 metres, the canyon is home to the Fjaðrá River. While it’s safe to walk inside the canyon itself, as water levels are often relatively low, you’ll have to wade often. Instead, follow the trail above the canyon and marvel at incredible viewpoints of this spectacular landscape. Carved out by glacial waters, the canyon’s distinctive moss covered walls and sheer drops make for hair-raising views. Although Fjaðrárgljúfur is actually in South East Iceland, it’s definitely a must see place if you have chance. At just over 3 hours from Reykjavik, it can be a long drive – but your efforts will be rewarded with a sight you won’t forget in a hurry!
The colossal Mýrdalsjökull glacier is easily accessed by a short detour from Iceland’s ring road. Turn off at route 221 and continue until the car park at the end of the road. From here, an easy 15-minute walk will lead you to viewpoints for brilliant views of Iceland’s 4th largest glacier. Mýrdalsjökull is unique as it covers the active volcano Katla. Water from the glacier feeds into the river Jökulsá a Sólheimasandur, where small blocks of ice lay like mini icebergs. Just taking in the view of this incredible place is well worth it, although if you have the budget for it, it’s possible to hike on the glacier and explore secret ice caves. For your own safety, it’s important to never go onto the glacier without professional guidance and appropriate equipment. Aside from that, enjoy the view!
This small seaside village is home to just over 300 people, yet is a popular stop for those travelling Iceland’s Southern Region. Vik is most famous for the nearby Reynisfjara beach where deceptively large waves crash against volcanic black sand relentlessly. Take care as unsuspecting tourists have been pulled under and drowned here – even if the sea seems calm, it may sneak up on you. Close to the shore you’ll find impressive basalt rock columns rising skywards in similar fashion to Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. This is also one of the best spots in Iceland to see Puffins – which nest in the cliffs from April to September. From nearby Dyrhólaey nature reserve you’ll have views spanning the entire beach as well as large jagged rock formations protruding from the sea.
The village itself is home to the picturesque Reyniskirkja church, which overlooks the area and can be seen when driving through on the ring road. Around 25 kilometres from Vik, you’ll find the remains of a crashed plane on Sólheimasandur beach. Since crashing in 1973, the wreckage has endured 40 years of rough Icelandic weather and must be reached on foot – taking approximately an hour and a half each way. It’s certainly one of the more eerie points of interest in Southern Iceland.
Seljalandsfoss is one of Iceland’s most well recognised waterfalls. Clearly visible from the country’s ring road, you’ll be futile to resist stopping for a closer look. With water powering over a 60-metre drop, prepare to get wet as spray rises from the pool below. For the best experience, follow the trail round to get a unique perspective from behind the waterfall – although take care when doing this, as the path can be slippery. From here you’ll get a real sense of Seljalandsfoss’ strength, as the water powers down just metres away from you.
Cross the bridge to the left of the waterfall and walk for around 5 minutes, passing some smaller falls, to reach the hidden Gljúfrafoss waterfall. Found behind a giant boulder, you’ll need to balance on rocks in a shallow stream to get up close. Once inside you’ll be rewarded with another spectacular waterfall with far fewer people about – if any. Parking at Seljalandsfoss costs 700 Icelandic Króna and lasts for the whole day. We’d recommend arriving as early as possible to avoid large crowds, especially as a number of tour buses stop here.
Just 30 kilometres away from Seljalandsfoss, you’ll find yet another cascading waterfall. At 25 metres wide and with a drop of 60 metres, the sheer force of Skogafoss sends spray racing upwards from the pool below. As a result, on sunny days vivid rainbows are visible at the base of the falls. If you don’t mind getting a little wet, you’re able to get extremely close to the bottom of Skogafoss – although you’ll feel insignificantly tiny next to this giant force of nature! For a different perspective follow the steps up the nearby cliff to admire the falls from above. When visiting in winter you’ll find Skogafoss encompassed in snow yet still flowing forcefully. If you’re a fan of camping it’s even possible to camp in view of this breathtaking waterfall.
Like Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss is viewable from the ring road but has the added advantage of free parking and no entrance fee. Both falls are essential stops for any South Iceland itinerary.
Found on Iceland’s notorious golden circle, Kerið is a stunning blue lake inside the crater of a volcano. Surrounded by red volcanic rock and partly coated with moss, the contrasting colours are a sight to behold. Take time to enjoy views from the top overlooking the lake, as well as to descend the short trail to the water itself. If you’re visiting during winter months, you may even find the lake frozen over. Although there is free parking on site, spaces are very limited and so we’d recommend arriving early to avoid a wait. Entrance costs just 400 Króna per person, which is well worth it for such a naturally beautiful spot.
Þingvellir national park
Þingvellir national park is undisputedly Iceland’s most important historical site and is a must see in South Iceland. In 930AD, it was here that the Vikings formed the world’s first democratic parliament – known as the Alþingi. Since then it has been the site of significant moments in the country’s history – such as the declaration of independence from Denmark. Notably, Þingvellir sits on the Mid-Atlantic rift – the point at which the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates border one another. The rift valley of Þingvellir exists as a result of these plates pulling away from each other, moving around 2 centimetres every year.
In the national park itself you’ll find striking landscape created by the plates, the man-made Öxaráfoss waterfall, the world famous Silfra dive site and more. Among divers, Silfra is regarded one of the best spots to explore for two reasons. Firstly, it’s the only place in the world where you’re able to dive between two continental plates. Secondly, the underwater visibility is over 100 metres due to the crack been filled with extremely clear glacial water. Whatever you decide to do, there’s plenty to explore whether it’s just walking around and enjoying the park’s nature or jumping into freezing cold waters! Parking at Þingvellir costs 400 Króna, but there’s no entrance fee to the park itself.
While it may not be one of the towering waterfalls you immediately associate with Iceland, Faxi has a charm of its own. The drop itself is just under 7 metres, yet at over 90 metres wide the water still flows with force. As other waterfalls on the island are far more popular, you’ll find that Faxi is far less crowded. If you’re early enough, you may even have its beauty all to yourself. Approximately 12 kilometres from the Geysir geothermal area, you’ll find a small car park on site and no entrance fees, making it a perfect place if only for a quick stop.
Geysir Geothermal Area
One of the must see spots in South Iceland is the Geyser geothermal area. The term geyser originates from this very area, deriving from the geyser referred to simply as ‘the Great Geysir.’ Unfortunately, this geyser is no longer as active as it once was and rarely erupts anymore. In its heyday it would shoot water 170 metres high! Nowadays, the nearby Stokkur geyser steals its limelight. Stokkur catapults boiling hot water up to 30 metres high – a natural phenomenon that occurs every 5-10 minutes. Witnessing this spectacle is a must in Iceland, and is completely free. Make sure to be careful and respect barriers to the geysers as the water can reach extremely high temperatures.
Find exactly where these amazing places are on this South Iceland map.
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