The South Coast of Iceland is it’s most popular attraction – but for good reason! If you’re taking a road trip around Iceland, I recommend starting with the South Coast, and if you’re only here for a short time, the southern region of the country is a must-see for first time travelers. This guide has some of the best things to do in Southern Iceland – from the popular coastline to the more secluded inland sights!
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What is Southern Iceland?
As you can probably guess, Southern Iceland is the southern region of the country – it’s also the most populated and most developed part. The South Coast attractions tend to be the most popular, as they’re right off the Ring Road, but there are also some places in the Highlands of this region that are a little away from the crowds!
While I definitely recommend checking out more remote areas of Iceland, like the Westfjords, too, it’s definitely worth taking some time to explore Southern Iceland – these places are popular for a reason!
What time of year is best for These Things to Do in Southern Iceland?
Iceland is known for wild weather, so while you can visit the South Coast any time of year, April through October is definitely the best (though weather can be a little unpredictable, so the ends of this range can vary each year). In the winter, weather can cause road closures and unsafe driving conditions, so driving in Iceland is definitely easiest in the summer, when there isn’t any snow.
But, if you want to go off the Ring Road and explore the Highlands of Southern Iceland, this won’t be possible in the winter. If you want to visit anywhere that requires driving on F-roads, I recommend going sometime from mid June to mid September. But again, whether the roads are open depends on the weather, so this can vary each year! Just be prepared for a change of plans.
Before you go, be sure to check out this map of road conditions in Iceland, which will tell you about any current road closures and safety concerns.
How to Get to the Best Things to Do in Southern Iceland
There are two ways that you can travel around Southern Iceland. Renting a car is one, and driving in Iceland definitely gives you the most flexibility and freedom to explore the way you want to. Discover Cars is a great place to find a car for your trip!
But, if you prefer someone to show you all the best spots, and don’t want to drive yourself, there are also a lot of tours that you can take! Tours around Southern Iceland are super popular, and an easy way to explore.
Here are a few ideas for tours of Southern Iceland, and you can check out Get Your Guide for more!
Southern Iceland & South coast Attractions Map
Here is a map of all of the best stops in Southern Iceland! I included a few of my favorite campsites, some recommendations for places to stay, and all the waterfalls, hot springs, hikes, and viewpoints.
The Best Things to Do in Southern Iceland
Here are some of the best things to do in Southern Iceland, to help you plan your trip!
Your trip will likely begin in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland and the largest city. Here, you can explore the city, try the food, visit some museums, and more. There are also a lot of amazing tours that begin here – perfect for people who don’t want to rent a car, or those who want a guide to show them the best spots!
I skipped the Blue Lagoon, but it’s one of the most popular spots to visit, and if you want to experience some luxury during your Iceland road trip itinerary, this is the place to go! You can relax in the natural hot spring, enjoy gorgeous views, book a spa day, and stay at the resort.
Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River
This five mile hike takes you to the Reykjadalur Thermal River, where you can soak and enjoy the mountain views around you! It’s a gorgeous (but popular) trail close to Reykjavik, and a great way to get a taste for hiking in Iceland.
Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir National Park is one of the main attractions in Southern Iceland, and it’s found in a valley formed by the movement of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates! There are dramatic cliffs and gorges, and you can see the one of a kind geology of the area. While you’re here, I highly (highly!) recommend snorkeling in the Silfra Fissure – or, if you’re certified, you can scuba dive, which is what I did. The visibility is incredible, and I can’t even describe the feeling of going underwater for the first time and seeing the fissure. Scuba diving Silfra was one of the most incredible experiences I had in Iceland!
Gullfoss is another stop in Southern Iceland, and it’s a really incredible waterfall. It plunges dramatically into a canyon, and though it’s definitely a popular place, you’ve got to see it!
Hrunalaug Hot Spring
Now it’s time to get away from the crowds! When we were scuba diving in the Silfra Fissure, our guide told us about this place. Hrunalaug is a lesser known hot spring – while you probably won’t have it all to yourself, there will likely only be a few other people around, and it’s a really nice break from the more crowded spots on the South Coast of Iceland! The adorable hot spring is privately owned, with a few pools surrounded by sheep and rolling green hills.
Haífoss translates to “High Waterfall,” and it was once thought that this was the tallest waterfall in the country – until three bigger waterfalls were discovered, making this one fourth! Still, this waterfall, surrounded by a gorgeous canyon, is an incredible sight, and it’s on the way to the next destination, so make a pit stop. You can see it from above without walking far from the parking lot, but if you want to go down to the base of it, there’s a hike you can take.
A 4×4 is required to drive here, or you can take a tour from Reykjavik that includes Haífoss and Landmannalaugar!
Landmannalaugar was my favorite place in all of Iceland, and this spot is located in the Highlands. That means you’ll need to drive on some F-roads to get here, which requires a 4×4 – so make sure to be prepared for the drive! Make sure you choose your roads carefully – this guide will tell you the best route to take.
Or, take a tour instead! You can have an experienced guide drive you in a Jeep – either with a group tour or your own private excursion.The journey is so worth it, and this is honestly the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. The mountains look like they’ve been painted, and I highly recommend the Bláhnúkur Mountain hike – though it’s steep, the views will truly take your breath away. After the hike, reward yourself with a soak in the hot springs at Landmannalaugar Bathing Place!
Seljalandsfoss & Gljufrabui
Seljalandsfoss is an incredible waterfall in Iceland, and you can even walk behind it! You’ll definitely get wet, so make sure to pack some rain gear. Once you’ve seen Seljalandsfoss, I recommend taking the 10 minute walk down the path to the lesser known Gljufrabui waterfall! Getting up close requires wading through the canyon, but you can see it through the canyon walls.
The drive here is easy, or you can see this one on a tour of Iceland’s South Coast!
Seljavallalaug Swimming Pool
A short walk along the river will bring you to the Seljavallalaug Swimming Pool – a pool fed by the hot spring where you can soak amongst incredible views of the mountains around you. This place is pretty popular, but there are some quiet times throughout the day!
Skógafoss is one of the most well known waterfalls, and for good reason – it’s incredibly powerful, and you can walk up to the base of it. There is also a set of stair that will take you to the top for a different view, and though it’s a lot of stairs, I really recommend doing this! Once you’re up there, you can keep going on the trail to see some more secret waterfalls – with much fewer people around.
Kvernufoss is just a few minutes away from Skógafoss, but it’s much less popular, so you’ll have a lot more privacy. This is (in my humble opinion), one of the best waterfalls in Iceland, and you can even walk behind it! The hike is short and pretty easy, so it’s a great stop after you’ve seen Skógafoss.
Reynisfjara Beach is probably the most popular black sand beach on the South Coast of Iceland, because of the basalt columns on its shore. These unique columns are fun to climb, and are a really unique sight! Be sure to stay away from the water when exploring the beach – sneaker waves can be deadly! You can see Reynisfjara on a tour of the South Coast.
Close to Reynisfjara is the village of Vik, which is a great little town to explore, with lots of cool places to stay! Check out the Hotel Vík í Mýrdal, which is an incredible hotel with glass walls, close to Black Sand Beach and under two miles from Reynisfjara. The Hótel Dyrhólaey is another incredible place, with views of the ocean! I recommend checking out the unique Skool Beans Cafe for some coffee.
This short hike is pretty easy, and it makes for a great place to stretch your legs – and the scenery is really amazing! You’ll walk along a path with several overlooks over the canyon, and it ends with a waterfall.
On your way to the next hike, make a pit stop at this glacier! There’s an overlook you can drive to, but unfortunately the road was closed when I was here – but even from the main road, Svínafellsjökull is an absolutely beautiful sight.
This was one of the most incredible hikes I did in Iceland! You’ll hike with views of the glacier, with incredible vistas overlooking Hangandifoss on the way. But don’t stop there! Keep going, and when you reach the top of the Múlagljúfur Canyon trail, you’ll see an absolutely jaw dropping view of the canyon.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
The Glacier Lagoon is really a one of a kind sight – giant icebergs float in the lagoon, with seals swimming between them! Walk along the shore of the lagoon and up to the overlook, and make sure to go to Diamond Beach, which is right next to the lagoon, where the icebergs float out into the ocean. You can watch from the shore, but you can also take a boat out on the lagoon and see the icebergs up close!
For some more adventure, take a tour of the ice cave.
Where to Stay in Southern Iceland
While you’re having your adventures in Southern Iceland, you’ll need to stop for some sleep! Since the South Coast and the Southern Region of Iceland is well developed, there are plenty of options.
Camping in Southern Iceland
Camping is my favorite way to travel, since it’s not only great for traveling Iceland on a budget, but it also gives you so much flexibility! Camping in Iceland is easy to find, whether you’re in a tent, car, or camper van. This guide has some of my favorite campsites, and a map of every campsite in Iceland.
Hotels Along Iceland’s Ring Road
You can also book hotels during your Iceland trip! Booking.com is a great resource for this, and if you need to find somewhere to stay, check out this map – make sure to zoom out and change the dates to see all of the options. You can also check out VRBO for private rentals!
What to Bring to Visit Southern Iceland
When you visit Southern Iceland, here’s what you’ll need to bring to ensure a great trip!
Iceland is known for being wet, so shoes with good traction are a must, whether you’re hiking or just getting out at some overlooks!
My favorite hiking boots are my Danner boots – they’re cute, comfortable, and waterproof! I also love hiking in my Chacos, and I wore sandals pretty much the whole time I was in Iceland. I know most people wouldn’t advise sandals in Iceland, but I prefer them! Just be prepared for sudden changes in weather.
Rain boots are another great option for muddy or wet conditions, and are definitely the easiest to clean.
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Iceland’s weather is known for being unpredictable, and it’s always best to wear layers. It’s important to bring some rain gear, since there’s a good chance you’ll get caught in a drizzle at least a few times. It’s also helpful for waterfalls, since when you get up close you can get sprayed!
The Marmot Minimalist Jacket is a great lightweight, waterproof option. For the cold, I love my Columbia puffy jacket – it’s lightweight, but keeps me warm. It’s also water resistant! For added warmth and layering, a Patagonia fleece is always a good addition.
Rain pants are also a good idea for rain, and for waterfalls.
The Marmot Precip Full-Zip Pants are light and packable, but if you plan to spend time in the snow too, the Stoic Insulated Snow Pants will be perfect for both rain and snow. You can also get some bib pants for more coverage – the Helly Hansen Pier Bib Pants are waterproof and wind proof!
When I’m bringing my camera gear, my favorite backpack is the Alex Strohl Mountain Light. It’s definitely the best camera bag out there for hiking with photo gear. If you don’t need storage for camera stuff, I recommend an Osprey Hikelite. If you aren’t bringing very much and just want a day bag, I love my Topo Designs Y-Pack for carrying everyday essentials!
Especially when you’re hiking or exploring outdoors, it’s important to stay hydrated! Single use water bottles are, of course, terrible for the environment, so avoid that and bring a reusable one!
For hiking, the CamelBak water reservoirs are convenient and easy – they can fit in your hiking backpack for water on the go. Nalgene water bottles are great for day to day, and if you want an insulated water bottle to keep your water cold and refreshing, Hydro Flasks are the best!
Planning to Explore Southern Iceland?
If you have any questions about these things to do in Southern Iceland, or you have your own recommendations, let me know in a comment below! For more adventures, I definitely recommend visiting the remote Westfjords and the gorgeous Snæfellsnes peninsula.
More blog posts about Iceland:
- Iceland Road Trip Itineraries
- How to Travel Iceland on a Budget
- The Best Stops Along Iceland’s Ring Road
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