South Coast of Iceland. Truly spectacular.
On our two week road trip around Iceland, we spent a day driving the south coast of Iceland. There are many points of interest to discover throughout the day. We traveled to Iceland from the end of May until mid-June. This was a great time of year to visit. The weather was lovely and mild (wore a light jacket / sweater / sometimes only a t-shirt). It wasn’t very crowded as we didn’t travel during the peak times of July and August. And we took full advantage of the midnight sun. When the sun doesn’t set until after midnight, you can cover a lot of ground with continual daylight.
Taking a self drive tour is just one of the many exciting things to do in Iceland. We spent two days in Reykjavik exploring the city and overcoming jet lag. From there, we picked up our rental car and did a self drive of the famous Golden Circle route. For our fourth day, we drove on the Ring Road (Route 1, the main highway in Iceland) by the south coast for a memorable day. There was no shortage of stunning scenery at every turn, and even a couple of surprises along the way.
This map shows our route, starting in Selfoss and traveling to Vik.
Our first stop was the gorgeous waterfall, Seljalandsfoss. The Icelandic word for ‘waterfall’ is ‘foss’ – you may have noticed that most waterfalls in Iceland tend to end with the word, ‘foss’. Seljalandsfoss is a famous waterfall with a 60-metre drop. It’s possible to walk behind the waterfall. Be sure to bring your rain jacket! We admired the waterfall from a few vantage points on the path around it. Justin and I didn’t want to get too soaked as it was the beginning of our south coast journey.
Beyond the waterfall, the scenery is breathtakingly beautiful. We were surrounded by lush, green hills that extended up to the sky. Other smaller streams of water rolled down the grassy knolls. From Seljalandsfoss, we continued to walk down the path traveling west of the waterfall. There were some shorter, slightly muddy hills that we climbed to be even closer to the landscape. From there, we admired panoramic scenes of the countryside, the Ring Road, and beyond.
Gljúfrabúi is a secret waterfall in the same area as Seljalandsfoss. It has a cute name, “the one who lives in the canyon”. As we continued to walk on the path, we could only see the very top of Gljúfrabúi peeking out from the large cliff (called Franskanef). However, there’s a narrow entrance in the Franskanef Cliff, thought to be the home of elves. Even at the entrance, we could feel the power of this waterfall. There was a never-ending wave of mist blasting in our direction. As we didn’t want to get too wet, we observed the waterfall from inside the canyon, just at the opening to the base of the falls. You can walk right up to the base of the falls, but prepared to get very wet!
There are also ways to climb the rocks outside to observe the top of the waterfall. There’s a chain that you can grab to hoist yourself up onto the rocks. Perhaps we’ll attempt that one another time because I heard that the view from up top is equally spectacular.
We spent a couple hours at Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrabúi. Time flies when you’re enjoying such a pretty place!
We continued traveling east on the Ring Road. Even from the car, we encountered such incredible views. Be sure to factor in some time to account for stopping in random places to take pictures. You’ll be tempted to stop every five minutes. Go for it! After all, if you’re driving around Iceland on your own, you have the freedom to stop wherever you want. Just make sure that you pull over to the side of the road safely, or stop where there is room to do so. We came across some rather foolish tourists who decided it would be safe to stop their car in the middle of the highway. Even though there aren’t that many people around, it’s still the main road in the country. Be smart and safe.
TURF HOUSES OF DRANGSHLID
Just west of Skógafoss, we noticed some turf houses from the road. There was a small parking lot, so we stopped to take a look. The turf houses at Drangshlíð are currently being preserved and eventually, restored (there was a donation box accepting money for the restoration project). There were a few old homes built into the hillside, with grass and turf comprising the roofs. Though the turf house tradition was practiced in many countries throughout the world (Norway, Scotland, and Ireland, to name a few), the technique was only used for the poorer class of citizens. In Iceland, however, turf housing was constructed for all types and classes of buildings, including homes, churches, and stables. The turf house tradition in Iceland dates back to the settlement days of the 9th century.
The waterfall, Skógafoss, is one of the largest in the country with a width of 82 metres and a drop of 60 metres. It’s a waterfall that you must visit when you travel to Iceland! It’s very easy to access from the Ring Road, and it’s a stunner. From the base of the waterfall, there is a staircase built into the side of the mountain. We hiked up to the top of the waterfall for amazing views of the coastal lowlands and the Icelandic highlands.
Want to see more beautiful photos of South Iceland? Check out our South Coast Iceland photo album! You can purchase prints and other household items of our photos, too!
PLANE CRASH SITE
A popular place to visit that’s off the beaten track is the Sólheimasandur plane crash site. In 1973, a United States Navy Douglas Super DC-3 airplane had to make a crash landing due to extreme icing. Fortunately, everyone survived the plane crash. The wreckage remains near the Sólheimasandur black sand beach. You used to be able to drive right up to the plane crash. The farmer that owns the land was growing tired of tourists ripping up his land, so he closed it off. Don’t worry, the site isn’t shut down to visitors. There’s still a sizeable parking lot at the entrance to the site. The walk to the plane crash takes about 45 minutes. Witnessing the crumbled wreckage of this small plane is well worth the trek.
This is a very popular site, so it might be tricky to take photos without any other people in them. I was a little dismayed to see people climbing all over the plane wreckage. Obviously, the plane itself is in poor shape. The sand has weathered the exposed interior, and the wings are falling apart. With tourists stomping around on top of the plane, posing for selfies, it’s going to eventually be completely destroyed for everyone. Please be respectful of places like this so everyone can continue to enjoy them in the future.
To reach the plane crash site, drive about 2km east of Skógafoss. You’ll see the parking lot on the right side of the road. The Sólheimasandur plane crash site is even marked on Google maps if you do a search!
BLACK SAND BEACH, VIK
For our last stop, we explored the dramatic black sand beaches just before the town of Vik. The beach itself is called Reynisfjara. From the Ring Road, we drove down Route 218 to a parking lot at the end of the peninsula. Justin and I admired the views from the peak before venturing down to the nearby Kirkjufiara Beach to put our own footprints in the sand. There’s nothing quite like this scenery – deep blue waters, black sand beaches, and far off rock formations, shaped over centuries.
Walking down to the beach itself, we discovered jagged rocky cliffs and small caves. Many people had assembled piles of rocks inside one cave that we stumbled upon. It was unlike any walk on the beach that I’ve ever done. These tiny black rocks are reminders of the numerous volcanic eruptions that Iceland has endured over the years.
After a long day exploring the unbelievable sights of Iceland’s south coast, we stopped for a quick bite at a restaurant in Vik called Halldorskaffi. As vegans, we were able to order a vegetable pizza without cheese (there’s a veggie burger, but it has cheese in it). We gobbled it up quickly as we were pretty hungry after such an adventurous day.
Definitely rent a car and explore southern Iceland! It isn’t terribly far from Reykjavik. You could travel to this region for the day, even if you just have a few days in the country. Get out and see Iceland’s beautiful nature – it’s one reason why it’s such a magical place!
Looking for more things to do while keeping your budget in check? Here are some fabulous budget tips for Iceland!
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Have you ever traveled to this area of the world? What’s your favorite place in Iceland?