Where to go in Southern Iceland: The Cant Miss Stops

For anyone who has begun doing any type of research on traveling Iceland, you will more than likely come to the conclusion that your options of things to see in this magnificent country are honestly a little bit overwhelming! Glaciers to volcanoes, hot pools to mountains, ice lagoons to northern lights, waterfalls to caves, the list goes on and on. If you can think of a landscape out of your wildest dreams, there’s a good chance that it exists in Iceland. I remember stopping the car almost every 10 minutes just to gaze out at a view, take some pictures, or get out and explore a new area that I had no idea existed, and this isn’t even exaggerating.

For this post I’ve decided to show off some of my favorite stop offs from the “Ring Road” in Southern Iceland from Reykjavik to Stokksness (just north of Hofn on the east coast). If you were to drive from one town to the other without stop offs (you would be crazy to do this), it would only take you 5-6 hours. It is not much of a distance as Iceland is not a very large country, but what it packs into this distance is like nothing I could have ever imagined. If you are looking for an in depth guide on how to make this Iceland road trip dream a reality for cheaper than you think then take at my post on How to Roadtrip Iceland on a Budget . The following are my favorite spots in South Iceland, so let’s get started shall we?

1. seljavallalaug hot springs

Seljavallalaug (say these Icelandic names 5 times fast I dare you) is not actually a natural pool at all but a man-made 25 meter long and 10 meter wide construction built on top of the geothermal activity from the volcano. The hot water that trickles into it is completely natural though and the pool is constructed into a mountainside in a narrow valley with breathtaking natural surroundings of the volcano, rolling green mountains, and waterfalls coming down said mountains, like nothing i’ve witnessed before.

Ain’t no party like a volcano hot tub party

Something that should be noted about Seljavallalaug is that there are actually “changing” rooms for people to leave their clothes in. It’s a makeshift locker room, but if you look at where you are, you will just be happy to take whatever you can get, or my recommendation would be to just wear swimming clothes under your hiking gear, works like a charm!

Fun fact also that just 7 years ago Seljavallalaug was completely covered with ash from the eruption in Eygafjallajokull, the Volcano that towers above.

Chasing Icelandic waterfalls

2. black sand beach/vik

Black Sand Beach from above (short hike to get here without a 4×4)

Just outside the cozy little town of Vik, lies a dramatic black sand beach (humbly named exactly that) that should NOT be missed if passing through the area. Volcanic activity from long ago created misshapen rock formations along the cliff walls all along the black sand beach, combined with the Obsidian colored sand/pebbles it’s a one of a kind landscape.

In 1991, the American journal Islands Magazine ranked this beach in Iceland as one of the 10 most beautiful non-tropical beaches on Earth, if that doesn’t say a lot then I don’t know what does!

The famous Vik Church on a foggy day

Vik itself is Iceland’s southernmost village and faces the open Atlantic Ocean, beautifully framed by a long black volcanic sand beach. The iconic red church of Vik is a popular option for photography as well with the ocean and rock formations in the background. It should also be noted that Vik is one of the last stop offs for gas in the area, as gas can be a little far and wide afterwards, so it would be best to fill up if you are anywhere below half a tank!

Random cave across from the Black Sand Beach (name unknown)

3. Kvernufoss

Hidden in plain sight

About a solid 15 minute walk from the ever-famous Skogafoss would be the somewhat hidden waterfall of Kvernufoss. While all the recognition usually seems to go to the monstrous Skogafoss, I found this one to be even more impressive!

It’s a little trickier to find than one might think as you have to hop over a fence in order to get there, it’s legal here I swear, and there are not any signs for it. If you would like a short little guide on how to find this waterfall, then just take a look at this write up via “Hit Iceland”, they provide a step by step instructional guide on how to find it.

The 600 meter walk from the fence to the falls showcase a beautiful crystal clear river running alongside the trail as you quickly find your way into the little green canyon. Once you’re at the falls you can actually go behind the waterfall for the best view, unless it’s a really windy day you will not get very wet behind the falls and it’s a good place to chill out and take it all in!

The thundering Skogafoss, directly situated next to Kvernufoss

4. svartifoss & Skaftafell viewpoint

Just another waterfall in Iceland? I think not! Svartifoss (Black Falls) is well worth the short 1.5 mile hike from the parking lot in Skaftafell National Park, as the rock formations carved out from lava give it a truly unique obsidian block look you cannot find elsewhere on planet Earth!

Over centuries, lava flows cooled at a languid pace in Iceland’s frosty air, gently forming the stacked hexagonal crystals that provide the backdrop for the falls. Turned to a striking black color over its creation, the cliffs contrast with the green flora and cascading falls and provide the site with its name.

“Black Falls”

Although the falls are so beautiful you might be tempted to step in for a dip, it is far from recommended as the bottom of the falls are covered with sharp rocks, word on the street atleast.  For this shot I merely played rock hop to get to the middle, as large stones cover the creek for any photography enthusiasts.

Branched off from the Svartifoss hike would be the Skaftafell overlook, not amazingly well signed off but there’s a trail that leads all the way up to it without a large amount of elevation gain. Simply look for the big fork in the road on the way back from Svartifoss and take it left through the trees, it’s only another 2km I believe! Bonus points if you’re here for sunrise/sunset like me, because I can confirm that these views are more than deserving of the effort.

Along the short hike you will find wildflowers, breathtaking mountain views like the one below, you will see massive glaciers in the distance, and another waterfall as if there wasn’t enough jam packed into a quick trek!

The Midnight Sunset at Skaftafell

5. jokulsarlon (ice lagoon)

For this one I was honestly just waiting for Morgan Freeman to start narrating it for me, Jokulsarlon is a massive lagoon filled with ice chunks reminiscent of the one that sank the Titanic (sorry Jack).  Stay for awhile and walk up and down the ice lagoon beach, you’ll witness the ice breaking apart and dropping off into the water all around you if you’re here in the  summer time. It’s hard to miss as this action makes a lot of noise, creating gigantic wakes in the water, it’s more fun than it sounds, trust me. It truly is one of the most popular stop offs in South Iceland for a reason, sometimes things are on the traveler trail for a reason, they’re freaking awesome.

This seems to be as close as you can get to recreating “March of the Penguins” without actually having penguins (though there are puffins in the area), and without actually being in the Arctic Circle. Even with the large amounts of tourists here there’s so much ground to cover that you can find your own little slice of freezing cold heaven for some chilling out (bad pun) and some photography of course!

6. solheimasandur airplane wreckage

First, a little bit of a history lesson on this one; In 1973 a United States Navy DC airplane ran out of fuel and crash landed on this black beach at Sólheimasandur, in the South coast of Iceland. Fortunately, everyone in that plane survived, the plane itself, not so much. Later it turned out that the pilot had simply switched over to the wrong fuel tank, go figure am I right? The remains are still on the sand very close to the sea, and draws a crowd daily to gaze at the haunting wreckage along the black sand surrounding.

Finally found that Malaysian Airways flight, what do I win?!

The “hike” to this spot is basically just a long walk, as you used to be able to drive right up to it, but now the person who owns the property has since closed the gates to vehicles. You must now walk 4km on a straight path to the plane wreckage, but don’t worry it’s all flat and it’s impossible to get lost. Seriously, if you get lost here please turn in your hiking boots because it really is painfully obvious.

If you’re looking for where that old Malaysian Air flight from a few years ago that went missing ended up, I’m pretty sure that this is it. Should I call somebody about this? Probably.

Fun fact: Dierks Bentley (American country singer) filmed the music video for his hit song “Black” here in Iceland and a good portion of the scenes are from this airplane wreckage. So if you’re into good music and gorgeous Iceland shots, give it a look HERE.

7. Fjaorargljufur (green canyon)

Of all the nearly impossible names of things in Iceland, this one ranks pretty damn highly on the; “I shouldn’t even try to pronounce this” list! Once you get past attempting to pronounce it, then you soon realize it’s truly a can’t miss location in Southern Iceland that is unfortunately often overlooked by travelers in this region. Maybe the internet hasn’t discovered it enough yet for it to catch on, maybe it’s the middle of nowhere location of it, or more than likely it’s the pot holed road that leads up to it, but either way, it should not be missed.

don’t look down?

Rolling green cliffs zig and zag along with the underlying crystal clear rushing river, with mossy rock formations covering the whole location from head to toe. This is the Iceland version of the Grand Canyon in a sense, just a little more green.

You can hike all along the tops of the ridge on the right hand side to explore the many vantage points for yourself. From parking lot (which has bathrooms by the way) to the end of the canyon it’s only about 1-2km in total, with the added benefit of being paved the whole way unless you choose to go off path like I did below.

going off the paths for the real views

 

To wrap this all up a bit if I’m going to be honest it is much more challenging to NOT find spectacular views anywhere that you roam in Iceland, the whole country is filled to the brim with dramatic landscapes straight out of your wildest dreams. My only hope is that this article helped give you a little more wanderlust for Iceland, or perhaps you’re already planning a trip to Iceland and you can now add an extra stop off or two from this list. If you found this article helpful, then hey please let me know I love feedback of all sorts! Be sure to like/comment/share on your favorite social medias, or tell a friend. Thanks for reading!!

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