On our two week road trip of Iceland, Justin and I spent one full day on a road trip of Iceland’s south coast. There are many points of interest to discover on the south coast of Iceland. From our cottage in Selfoss, we drove on the Ring Road (the main highway in Iceland, also known as Route 1) along the south coast for an amazing day in nature. There’s no shortage of stunning scenery at every turn, and lots of wonderful surprises on the way.
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Our self drive tour of Iceland began after one day in Reykjavik exploring the city (and another day there simply overcoming jet lag). From there, we picked up our rental car and did a self drive of the famous Golden Circle route. After a night in Selfoss, we embarked on this Iceland south coast self drive tour. Here are all of our stops along the way that you can steal for your road trip plans.
Our first stop on our south coast Iceland self drive tour was the gorgeous waterfall, Seljalandsfoss. Seljalandsfoss is a famous waterfall with a 60 meter drop. It’s possible to walk behind the waterfall. Be sure to bring your rain jacket! The Icelandic word for ‘waterfall’ is ‘foss’ – you may have noticed that most waterfalls in Iceland tend to end with the word, ‘foss’.
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.
Stunning Scenery from the Ring Road
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 is a small parking lot, so feel free to stop to take a look if you’re intrigued. The turf houses at Drangshlíð are being preserved and restored, and there is a donation box accepting money for the restoration project. There are 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, 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 meters and a drop of 60 meters. 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 beauty.
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.
Solheimasandur 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 sizable 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 in 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.
Stop for Dinner at Halldorskaffi
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 ordered 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. There’s also a vegan garlic bruschetta bread on the menu as a starter.
Where to Stay on the South Coast
Okay, I admit that I made a classic mistake when planning our trip to Iceland. Driving from one place to the next (and factoring in the time you spend at each place) takes a LOT longer than you think. I wanted our accommodation to be close to our first stop for the next day, the Jokulsarlon Lagoon, so we could continue on from that point. However, our stay at Lambhus Cabins was a little far from our final attraction on Iceland’s South Coast.
With that said, it was one of my favorite places to stay in Iceland and I only wish we had more time to enjoy the cabin and the property. We didn’t reach the cottage until 11:00pm! I feel that if you plan your time a little better than us (we spent a lot of time flying the drone and taking photos on the way), you could make it out to Lambhus Cabins quicker than we did.
Why You Should Stay at Lambhus Glacier View Cabins
First, the cabins are in one of the most beautiful settings facing rugged mountains and the glacier. It’s in the middle of the countryside where sheep, geese, and horses roam. You’ll stay in one of several hand built wooden cottages that have everything you need for a comfortable stay. There’s a kitchenette, two double beds (in bunk bed formation), and a shower.
You won’t need to make a far detour off the Ring Road to reach Lambhus Glacier View Cabins – it’s right on Route 1. The cottages are available to rent between June 1st and September 30th. Be sure to book your stay at Lambhus Cabins or read more reviews by fellow travelers.
South Coast Iceland Tips: Know Before You Go
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.
We visited Iceland during the first two weeks of June. This is a fantastic time of year to travel there. The weather was lovely and mild, and I mostly only wore a light jacket or sweater (sometimes only a t-shirt!). The crowds were minimal, 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. I recommend that you avoid July and August if you can because it’s very busy during the summer months.
|Essential Iceland Travel Guide|
|Getting There: Fly in to the Keflavik Airport near the capital city, Reykjavik. I recommend searching for cheap flights to Reykjavik online to find the best rate. The national airline of Iceland is Icelandair.|
Getting Around: We can’t say enough good things about renting a car in Iceland. It will give you the most freedom to travel at your own pace. Most attractions in Iceland are natural ones that you are free to enjoy when you like. Compare car rental prices here to find the best deal. If you don’t want to drive, there are many guided tours that will take you outside of the city for the day that I’ve listed throughout the blog post.
Fast Facts: Icelandic króna is the currency, and most places accept credit cards. Power voltage is 230 V 50 Hz using Power Sockets F or C.
SIM Cards & Mobile: You can rent a portable Wi-Fi device with unlimited data that works in 130+ countries worldwide. We’ve used our portable device all over the world and love how we’re always connected!
Travel Safety: Don’t forget to get travel insurance before your trip. Whether you have an accident, have a flight delay, experience a theft, or need to return home sooner than anticipated, it’s always best to cover your bases. Get a travel insurance quote now for the best rates.
|Browse all of our Iceland photos and read more of our Iceland travel blog posts.|
Map of Iceland’s South Coast Attractions
Want to see our recommendations displayed visually? Here’s a map of the south coast of Iceland featuring everywhere we stopped along the way. Feel free to save this map to your Google account to reference when you travel to Iceland.