My Guide to the South Coast of Iceland

The South Coast of Iceland is one of the most beautiful regions of my stunning country and it is super easy to get drive there from Reykjavik.

In this blog I will try my best to give you some brief but hopefully awesome local info on driving in Iceland, Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfall, natural hot springs in Iceland, where to see puffins, the Black Sand Beach, camping in Iceland, glaciers, the incredible glacier lagoon, food, canyons and more! 

… Sounds awesome, right?
But first, a little current mood update: I am Super HAPPY, listening to Kaleo & ridiculously motivated after hosting a successful Reykjavik Food Walk tour today with a huge camera crew from Raw Travel TV program from the big US. And of course, I am still recovering from my South Coast trip this past weekend. 

But now, lets’ get on with it …  

Tanja has one of her best friends, Olivia, from Sweden visiting her in Iceland for a week and we wanted to do something special with her. She (Miss Sweden 2014, just saying) is visiting for the second time and what she wanted the most was to experience some of the largest waterfalls. So, we decided to take off for a big self drive road trip around the South Coast of Iceland. It is definitely possible to do everything in one day but just to make sure that we could see everything we wanted we decided to sleep one night in Vík. And then … we had such a great time so we decided to stay two nights in Vík, but everything I will list here is more than possible in 1-2 days.

First things first, for my Icelandic friends reading this – I have actually never owned my own tent so we did a little research and took care of that. It was a big surprise for me how cheap basic camping gear everything was, and for an example our super easy & nice tent only costed us 10.00 ISK. We got that & a few other things in Rúmfatalagerinn.

Now, finally on to the trip.

1. DRIVING in Iceland

I absolutely have to mention this first. After having travelled all around Italy earlier this summer, I just have to point out how AWESOME it is to drive in Iceland. There are no huge motorways where you drive straight for hours and don’t see anything special – Furthermore, the roads are forever winding to the left & right or up & down and the views will be literally breathtaking from the moment your depart and until you reach your final destination. Whether it will be tall and powerful mountains, lava fields, waterfalls, animals or the beautiful coastline.

South Coast Iceland self drive

1.5 Ice cream at Huppuís

Alright, maybe not worth being “point 2” here but it definitely deserves to make it as “1,5”. When I drive anywhere on the South Coast, or to be more precise -> Almost always when I drive through a small town called Selfoss – I just have to stop in one of my favourite ice cream shops which is HUPPA ice cream shop, or Ísbúð Huppu in Icelandic. Just felt like letting you all know, not a must but seriously recommended.

2. Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

One of the most beautiful waterfalls ever and one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland. I barely need to introduce this one but it is still an absolute must see part of your Iceland South Coast road trip. It is located approx. one and a half hour drive from Reykjavik.

Seljalandsfoss is not only extraordinary beautiful to look at, but what makes it even more unique is the fact that you can actually walk behind it, into a small cave! For anyone that hasn’t experienced this yet it of course sounds too good to be true. Seljalandsfoss has it’s origin in the Volcanic glacier Eyjafjallajökull.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall

2.5. Gljúfrabúi

Alright, I know what you are thinking, what are all those second points, “1,5 and 2,5”??? It looks like this post won’t be brief at all! But I promise … I think it will only be those two …

Basically, what I wanted to tell you is that when you visit the famous Seljalandsfoss waterfall, you should not forget it’s more carefully hidden smaller brother – Gljúfrabúi.

Gljúfrabúi is an incredibly beautiful hidden waterfall, just a few minutes walk to the left (north) from Seljalandsfoss. It is located in a small cave behind a farm.

3. Skógafoss waterfall

For me personally, Skógafoss is the perfect waterfall. The size, form and the incredible power is just really unique. I think it would not be easy to find anything else like it.

Skógafoss is about 25 minutes drive further than Seljalandsfoss and it’s as different as it could be from the other two waterfalls. You can both explore it from the bottom or walk all the way up to the top of it to get a birds eye view. Skógar is also a beautiful campsite.

Skógafoss waterfall

4. Seljavallalaug “natural” hot spring

Oh wow, where to begin?

Seljavallalaug is the first ever man made swimming pool in Iceland and it was abandoned a long time ago … Still people visit since it is simply too beautiful to be forgotten and you can find it laying in the middle of nowhere, between two large mountains on the South Coast.

There are changing rooms outside the pool but please note that the pool is abandoned which means there are no showers, no one is cleaning the changing rooms and maybe most importantly … nobody is cleaning the pool. That results in a super sexy green “slime” floating in the pool … but still, everyone has survived a bath yet.

All that matters is that the green colour makes it way cooler and even more beautiful. The pool itself is wonderful and the views from there are amazing. I love this spot and recommend a visit if you are in the area!

PS. I would recommend a shower later in the day after bathing.

I actually don’t have a good photo of this otherwise ridiculously photogenic gem. Borrowed this photo from ‘The Outbound’

5. The small coastal town of Vík

The small, cute and beautiful coastal town of Vík is a common stop for travellers on their way to and around the South Coast of Iceland. For most people exploring the South Coast from Reykjavik in one day, Vík is as far as they go. It is definitely possible to travel further but then the driving distance is quite a lot in one day.

Tanja, Olivia & I decided to make Vík our base and camped here. The campsite is wonderful and the location is perfect to explore Vík, the South Coast and to go further East.

PS. Vík is located just at the edge of Mýrdalsjökull glacier that is covering the powerful … and dangerous Katla volcano that many people believe might erupt anytime now!

Camping in Iceland
One camping hunk in the wild. I promise, it was more fun than it looks in this photo haha!

6. The Black Sand Beach

Another important must see stop along the South Coast is Reynisfjara beach, or the Black Sand beach as it is commonly called in English by travellers.

Reynisfjara is located just minutes before you arrive in Vík and is a really, really cool stop. To be honest, I had not visited this gem to often and before this small trip of ours I hadn’t been in years. So I was really impressed all over again. First and foremost it is a really beautiful beach – And the sand is of course, black! In addition, huge parts of the Reynisdrangar cliffs are covered with lava columns and at one part they form a huge cave at the beach.

Another thing you must keep your eyes open for is what hides above the large caves and lava walls … Many people forget to look up in the air but around this area, you will find tons and tons of wild puffins. Those fun and colourful little creatures nest in the huge cliffs and can be spotted anytime from approx. April – September.

PS. I personally think it’s a really fun fact that this black sand beach has become one of the most sought after travel destination in all of Iceland, and mainly for the fact that the beach is black! However, many Icelanders are surprised by this – Because almost every single beach in Iceland is in fact black. That is just how our sand is and we even travel to other countries, because we like much more to lay in white sand, like what you can find in Spain, France etc.

Black sand beach Iceland

7. Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon

Fjaðrárgljúfur is 40 minutes drive from Vík and has recently become a really popular stop on the ring road of Iceland. That hype had a huge increase after my main man Justin Bieber filmed a music video there for his song, “I’ll Show You” in 2015.

For me, I have absolutely loved this place for years as my family had a summer house here when I was a kid and we visited the canyon quite often. Fjaðrárgljúfur is basically just a really beautiful canyon and most people will only walk at it’s entrance or walk along a path above the canyon itself. The views are amazing – But my favourite thing is to walk into the whole canyon and to it’s end. For this you will need to get wet, as it’s more or less covered by water!

We did unfortunately not go in this time, as we weren’t blessed by the weather gods and I feel like you shouldn’t go swimming in glacier rivers unless it is at least 15°C / 60 F!

Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon Iceland

8. Svínafellsjökull glacier

WOW. This place is incredible! I’ll just begin by highlighting that because I am still so amazed by the effable views and it took me by such a huge surprise. I also can’t remember having stopped here anytime before – Which is amazing since I have travelled the whole ring road in Iceland probably ten times and I am still finding beautiful spots that I have yet to see!

Svínafellsjökull glacier is a part of Vatnajökull glacier that is the single largest ice cap in Europe and covers roughly 8% of Iceland. It is about 1 hour, 40 minutes drive east of Vík.

PS. Please note: You cannot enter the glacier (or any glacier) on your own or without a knowledgable local guide. The glaciers are super unpredictable & dangerous. 

svinafellsjokull glacier

svinafellsjokull glacier

9. Jökulsárlón // the Glacier Lagoon

Jökulsárlón is one of the natural wonders of Iceland and it is, like the name suggest a huge glacial lake where huge ice bergs from Vatnajökull glacier melt down and slowly float to sea.

The views are really beautiful and the lagoon has been the setting for many movies that I really love, such as Batman Begins and the James Bond classics, A view to Kill and Die Another Day.

Here are four other awesome things that are definitely worth mentioning as well;

  1. You can explore the lagoon on a huge boat.
  2. There are wild seals in the lagoon. Warning, the look super cute but they are more dangerous than they look.
  3. Just off the glacier lagoon, there is a beach that is often called the ‘Diamond beach’. It has its name from the ice bergs that often float to land. The views can be superb.
  4. I just learned that it is possible to do some paddle board tours on the lagoon. I haven’t done that myself but that sounds absolutely crazy and I would love to do it sometime!

glacier lagoon iceland

10. Eating on the road

Lastly, I thought I might suggest a few restaurants or places to eat around this area.

To be honest, I think that as soon as you leave Reykjavik, your options for amazing food get really limited. Still, there are of course some great gems to be found. There are two restaurants that I have already written about and are not exactly on this route, but are located in South Iceland and can easily be accessible on the road from Reykjavik. One is Þrastalundur and the other is Friðheimar.

Friðheimar is an absolute gem. It’s a restaurant inside a geothermal green house and their signature is their fresh tomato soup. I just cannot recommend it highly enough if you find yourself anywhere close to the area.

During our trip, we stopped at small farm / hotel / restaurant called Hunkubakkar. There are not many restaurants around that area and we stumbled upon it as it is located just at the roots of Fjaðrárgljúfur. The setting was quite beautiful and the food was good!

Another restaurant that isn’t on this exact route but I simply have to mention is Slippurinn in the Westman Islands. We didn’t visit the Westman Islands during this trip as the weather wasn’t supposed to be really great there. However, I believe the Westman Islands are one of the most beautiful parts of Iceland and Slippurinn is my single no.1 favourite in the country. So, if you find yourself in Vestmannaeyjar Islands, make sure to swing by!

Any last words?

Wow. I really don’t know how to write short posts …

I hope from the bottom of my heart that this has helped/inspired or entertained you and please don’t hesitate to comment below or get in touch if I can help you with anything at all.

All the photos above are mine unless stated otherwise. For more photos and to keep on following the adventure as it happens, be my friend on Instagram! @egillhalldorsson

Until next time!