This post showcases the best of South coast attractions in Iceland. Most first-time visitors to Iceland go to the south shore of Iceland. The picturesque Iceland South coast sights are on everyone’s list, and for a good reason. It offers panoramic vistas, glaciers and ice lagoons, black sand beaches, beautiful waterfalls and more. So if you are a first time visitor, Iceland south coast itinerary would definitely be part of your travel plan besides Reykjavik.
The scenic south coast in Iceland stretches from Selfoss town on the ring road at one end and Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon at the other end. If you are visiting Iceland for 7 days or less and are a first-time visitor, my recommendation would be to limit your time to the southern parts of Iceland. If you have atleast 10 days, then do look at this 12 days Iceland ring road itinerary covering the entire island.
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10 main South Iceland attractions
Do note that weather conditions have to be accounted for in Iceland. We had to cancel a couple of Iceland south coast sights on our 3 day itinerary, simply because of weather. And if the tour company cancels due to weather, in peak summer season, you are unlikely to get the tour re-scheduled for the next day. Most of the tours for main attractions are sold out in advance. So my recommendations would be a 3 day itinerary for all the main South Coast Iceland highlights.
That said, we visited Iceland in the month of June which had the advantage of long hours of daylight and the weather is not too cold or warm. June is not too crowded as July or August tends to be, which matters in South Iceland. So June is a good time to visit Iceland.
Prettiest South Iceland town: Vik i Myrdal
You would be likely based in Vik i Myrdal (or just Vik) to explore most of the south coast highlights. Vik is a sea-facing town in south Iceland that has many attractions nearby. It is also the wettest place in Iceland, and you should come here with proper rain gear even in summer.
There are many apartments, hotels and restaurants despite the tiny size of the town, making it a good base to explore Iceland south coast sights. One new attraction in Vik is the Icelandic Lava Show. Do check out horse riding options in Vik.
We stayed a night in Hofn in east Iceland and another 3 nights in Vik to explore the main highlights of south coast of Iceland. We drive on the main ring road from Hofn to reach Vik, but it is easily accessible from Reykjavik as well.
Iceland South Coast highlight: Vatnajokull Glacier
Vatnajokull Glacier, being the largest glacier in Europe, features on most south coast Iceland tours or self-drive road trips. The glacier is the highlight of the Vatnajokull National Park in south Iceland.
Vatnajokull national park is the second largest in Europe and is a UNESCO heritage site in Iceland.
You need to go with a guide and some gear to get on the glacier. We booked a tour with Arctic Adventures for Day 1 of our South Coast Iceland itinerary. We stayed the night at Hofn which is much closer to Skaftafell, the meeting point than Vik is. It was raining the evening when we reached Hofn and continued in the morning as well. Though it would have been nice to walk on a glacier on a bright sunny day, we got in rain gear and started the tour.
A short bus drive from the meeting point got us to the start of the trail. We needed hiking waterproof shoes to trek over the gravel path towards the glacier. And then the moment came to put on crampons and try on walking on ice. It wasn’t so difficult though the rain did not relent during the tour. Our guide gave us information on Vatnajokull glacier, how much it is receding due to climate impact, what causes the blue colour of the ice.
On the way back, he rain caused the water on the gravel path to swell up and cover it entirely. It seemed a herculean task to get through fast flowing and icy cold water to make it to safety. But all the tour guides formed a human chain and helped more than 50 odd people left on the glacier to cross over. We were a bit wet, cold and high on adrenaline when we ended the tour!
Check these options for exploring Vatnajokull Glacier:
Iceland South Coast highlight: Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
One of the main attractions of Vatnajokull national park is Jokulsaron glacier lagoon. Large chunks of icebergs that have broken off the glacier float across a large water body before getting into Atlantic Ocean. Jokulsarlon has been formed in the past century due to melting glaciers and continues to grow rapidly as the temperatures go north due to climate change.
This beautiful glacier-fed lake has been featured in many Hollywood movies: Die Another Day, Batman Begins and Lara Croft Tomb Raider.
The stormy conditions continued when we finished our glacier hiking tour and the second part of the tour, Zodiac boat ride at Jokulsarlon Ice Lagoon got cancelled. We tried rescheduling the ice lagoon tour for the next day but it was all sold out for that week! So much regret for missing out on this Iceland south coast sight.
Another contender for kayaking or boat ride tours in this area is Fjallsarlon ice lagoon. It is smaller in size than Jokulsarlon, but not less beautiful with its glistening icebergs. Had we stayed in Hofn for another night instead of driving further south to Vik, we may have scheduled a boat tour at this lesser crowded lagoon.
You would need to book your tour to experience this glacier lagoon:
Iceland South Coast highlight: Diamond Beach
Diamond Beach is so named because some large chunks of ice instead of getting of drifting to the ocean get washed up on the shore. The sun rays glint on the ice chunks and make the entire area dramatic and surreal to look at.
Glistening chunks of ice against black sand beach, quite a combination!
Diamond Beach featured high on our Day 1 itinerary for South coast of Iceland. Alas, it was a regrettable miss due to stormy conditions that continued through the day. We drove to Vik further down on the south coast to end the first day.
South Iceland waterfalls: Seljalandsfoss
Amongst all South Iceland waterfalls, Seljalandsfoss is quite unique. We started Day 2 of our South coast Iceland itinerary with a visit to Seljalandsfoss. The drive from Vik on ring road to this waterfall is quite scenic. There is a car park and some fast food options near the falls.
Seljalandsfoss is one of the few waterfalls that can go view from behind. Though the fine mist makes it difficult to take photos.
There is a footpath over wet rocks that takes to the back of the falls. The view is quite epic and the spray is very strong! And to come back to the front, you would cross under a part of the falls, so do wear quality rain gear if you do not want to be soaked. The waterfall is beautiful both during summer and winter months.
You can also continue ahead of Seljalandsfoss on a paved path to go to Glijufrabui, another small waterfall which is partiially hidden behind a rock.
South Iceland waterfalls: Skogafoss
Skogafoss is one of the prettiest South Iceland waterfalls. Also one of its biggest waterfalls with a drop of over 60 metres and a width of over 25 metres. This waterfall can be seen from the main ring road itself and comes before Seljalandsfoss, as you drive from Vik.
Anytime the sun shines on the falls, you are sure to see a rainbow due to the amount of mist that Skogafoss produces as its cascade hits the ground.
You can easily walk right upto the bottom of the falls, though be prepared to get your clothes dampened with the heavy mist. You hear the loud roar of the waterfall tumbling down and the mist makes it difficult to take clear photos as you get closer. A different experience from the Glymur, the highest waterfall in Iceland that is accessible.
On Day 2 of South Coast attractions, we went to Skogafoss after viewing Seljalandsfoss. I even climbed over 500 steps next to the falls to get a top view. This is where a lovely hike – Skogafoss Way or The Waterfall Way – starts. But in my opinion, the top view is nothing compared to the feel of the waterfall at the bottom. So you can easily skip the climb if you are not hiking. There is Skogar Museum and Turf Houses located about 2 km from the waterfall that might interest some.
Solheimasandur plane wreck
Further down Skogafoss lies a dramatic black sand beach. Against the backdrop of gravelly black sand beach lies an abandoned US Navy DC plane that crashed here in 1973! This abandoned plane wreck has become a popular tourist attraction in south Iceland in recent times.
I don’t get the reason for this popularity being one of the Iceland south coast sights, to be honest.
The setting is epic to be sure! Vast plains of black beach ending in a ocean with waves crashing onshore.
Vehicles are now forbidden on this beach to protect the flora so the way to reach the plane wreck is on foot. It is a little over a one-hour hike one way from the road. Also, there is no signage from the main road as to where to turn for the plane wreck. And if the weather is stormy, as it was when we visited this area, it gets way more adventurous than what one would have in mind.
We chose a 2-hour ATV tour (booked via Arctic Adventures) that covered the plane wreck site. However, we visited the area when wind speed was over 25 knots or more than 50 km per hour. When we parked the ATVs and got off to view the plane wreck, we couldn’t even walk straight without the wind knocking us back. With our orange coveralls and helmets, we walking to the plane wreck was a scene straight from a space exploration movie!
Iceland South Coast highlight: Kalta Ice Cave
Northern lights and natural ice caves are Iceland attractions in winter time, right? Not quite true.
Katla ice cave is the only natural ice cave that is open all year round. So if you are headed to South Coast of Iceland for a 3-day itinerary (or more) during summer, make sure to book a Katla ice cave tour. The tour was done by Southcoast Adventure.
This ice cave is a 45-minute drive from the town of Vik. The drive on a Super Jeep is through stunning black volcanic plains with green mountains looming on the horizon. Katla ice cave is a sub-glacial cave beneath the Katlajokull, an icefall of the beautiful Myrdalsjokull glacier. We put on crampons before we started on the icy path. Exploring the ice cave took a little over an hour and was a really cool experience. Read more about our Katla cave tour in South Iceland.
Browse through these tours from Vik:
Iceland South Coast highlight: Black sand beach in Vik
Reynisfjara is the most famous black sand beach in Iceland. It is adjacent to Vik, so it is easy to fit in the South Coast Iceland itinerary. This beach with its unique basalt columns and roaring ocean waves is not just accessible, but one of the highlights of Iceland South Coast.
Voted by National Geographic in 1991 as one of top 10 non-tropical beaches on our planet, Reynisfjara would leave an impression.
This volcanic black sand beach is a bit similar (except for the basalt columns) to Bali’s black sand beaches.
Iceland South Coast Sights: Dyrholaey Peninsula
The closest landmark to Reynisfjara is the Dyrholaey Peninsula. When you drive to the lighthouse at the top, it provides dramatic views of Iceland’s south coast. You get to see dramatic black sand beaches on both sides and the Atlantic Ocean out in the front.
Other Iceland South Coast Sights
Besides the above South coast Iceland highlights, there are many other smaller attractions or hidden gems. If your Iceland South Coast itinerary is more than 2 days, than some of these can be explored.
Vestrahorn or Stokknes
Vestrahorn or Batman Mountains is one of the Iceland South Coast highlights for a photographer. It sits quite close to Hofn but an hour drive eastwards towarrds Jokulsarlon ice lagoon. We missed visiting it because of the heavy downpour we encountered upon reaching Hofn and even the next day before our glacier hiking tour.
Vestrahorn is over 450 metres tall and is surrounded by a sandy coastline. Most people touring the south coast of Iceland don’t venture this far. However, if you are taking the ring road from the east side of Iceland, it is an easy stop.
If you are spending more than 2 days in South Iceland and are an avid hiker, you could consider Fjadrargljufur Canyon. This is the largest canyon in Iceland. There is a viewing platform to give a panoramic view of the canyon.
South Iceland waterfalls: Svartifoss
Unlike the more popular South Iceland waterfalls, Svartifoss waterfall is accessible via an 1.5 km hike. It is located in the Skaftafell nature reserve.
Like Vatnajokull glacier, you can hike on Solheimajokull glacier only with a guide. But it is definitely the best places to get close to one of the tongues of Vatnajokull glacier. Many glacier hiking tours start here.
So, you see why the South Coast of Iceland is on everyone’s itinerary. But I think you need atleast 2 days to explore the south coast attractions, though 3 days would be the best.
Stay and Food recommendation
Our main base was Vik to explore the South Iceland attractions. But we did make a stop at The Milk Factory in Hofn before we started our glacier hike tour. Hofn in southeast Iceland is closer to Vatnajokull and Jokulsarlon, so you might consider a night stay there. This guesthouse has a family room with a attic that worked very well for us. Hofn has some charming restaurants like Otto Mattur & Drykkur and Hali Country Hotel restaurant offering Icelandic cuisine, but we went in for a late dinner and opted for a pizza and soup place nearby.
We were based at Hotel Kria for 3 nights in Vik. There is an apartment block across the parking lot of the hotel that offers large apartments suited for families. Both the Hotel Kria and this apartment block are well located. When you cross the road, there are petrol pumps. Icewear outlet and several restaurant options – Black Crust Pizzeria and a cute Asian spot for ramen noodles.
There is a fine dining restaurant named The Dranger at Hotel Kria which serves excellent Icelandic fare. Sudur restaurant in Vik is another great option for Icelandic meals.
Planning a trip to Iceland? Do check out these posts –
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Have you visited the Land of Fire & Ice? What has been your favorite destination or experience there?
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