South Coast Iceland is a beautiful and wild place, where stunning nature can be found in its most raw and dramatic state. Steaming volcanoes rise behind black sand beaches, while thundering waterfalls plummet from towering cliff tops, and all of this is within easy reach of the Icelandic capital, Reykjavik.
Touring the south coast of Iceland is one of the best trips you can make to really immerse yourself in the land of ice of fire. Take the time to stop in the small coastal villages and towns that dot the single-lane highway that leads through this glorious landscape.
Begin to appreciate the vast and powerful nature that holds this island in its grip but that makes it so unique and otherworldly. Enjoy the stunning vistas, unusual geothermal activity, and endless glaciers that Iceland is so famed for.
There is much to see on the south coast, and the only limit to your itinerary will be the time you have in Iceland to experience all that it has to offer. Here’s our guide to the best, must visit places along the extensive southern coastline, but remember, in Iceland, there is always something unexpected waiting around every turn in the road.
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Iceland (Travel Guide)
Defining the South Coast of Iceland
Table of Contents
Traveling the south coast of Iceland can be described as a vague concept because the contours and limits of the scenery make the definition of this beautiful landscape all but impossible when planning a travel itinerary. Luckily though, because of this turbulent and wild landscape, there is just one road to follow along the coast, and this road connects all but the most unreachable of tourist sights along the way.
Route 1 begins and ends in Reykjavik, after traversing the entirety of Iceland. When traveling the south coast, the road heads south-east from Reykjavik, taking in many beautiful stops along the way. Many travelers will carry on as far as Vik, a distance of 200 kilometers. After this, the road begins to head northeast, but if you have the time, you can carry on as far as the unreal glacial lagoon of Jokurslason or even as far as the town of Hofn, and still be along the southern coastline.
Check out this helpful Iceland (National Geographic Adventure Map)
8 Best South Coast Iceland Sights to Visit
There are many great stops to make and sights to see along the south coast of Iceland. Here are our favorite attractions to visit.
The Blue Lagoon
The Blue Lagoon is one of Iceland’s most well known and visited attractions. This giant, the outdoor thermal spa is a great place to unwind and relax, and it’s found just south of Reykjavik. It’s the perfect way to start or end your tour of South Coast Iceland and to experience both a truly local pastime and the country’s vast geothermal energies.
Our top recommended tours of the Blue Lagoon:
- Golden Circle, Kerid Volcanic Crater, and Blue Lagoon Day Trip from Reykjavik
- Day Trip to the Golden Circle and Blue Lagoon from Reykjavik
- Blue Lagoon Coach Transfer from Reykjavik
Along the south coast, from Reykjavik to Vik you will find many enthralling waterfalls. Seljalandsfoss is the first one you will encounter when heading south, and it is quite literally on the side of the road.
This towering waterfall plummets over the edge of wide and dramatic cliffs, while behind the falling water, is a huge cavernous space beneath the rock that allows visitors to walk right around and behind the plunge zone for utterly unique views.
Follow the cliffs along a short hiking path from Seljalandsfoss and you will soon reach Gljufrabui, a waterfall that drops from the cliffs into a hidden cave. If you don’t mind a bit of spray, then walk through the dark entrance and you will see the water falling from the rock above.
Just a few kilometers down the road can be found the equally spectacular Skogafoss. Again, this waterfall is just off the main road and is just as dramatic. The waterfalls from a high clifftop, and it’s possible to hike up the rocks to see the spectacle from above.
Our top recommended waterfall tours:
- Day Trip to Iceland’s Beautiful South Coast from Reykjavik
- Southern Iceland Glaciers, Waterfalls and Beaches Day Tour
- Private South Iceland Day Trip from Reykjavik
A little-visited stop along the south coast are the Vestmannaeyjar Islands, which lie just a few kilometers off the shore. This small archipelago is sparsely populated, making it a place of almost untouched scenery, home to a population of puffins and other Icelandic wildlife. Take a ferry from Landeyjahofn on the mainland to reach these rugged islands.
Book your South Coast Classic Day Trip from Reykjavik today with Viator.
Icelanders along the south coast live in the shadow of the giant volcano, Eyjafjallajökull. This is a volcano that the world knows best for causing massive disruption to air traffic in 2010 when it inconveniently erupted, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of people and closing down airspace across Europe.
From the road, you can see its distinctive peak inland, and you can visit the Eyjafjallajökull Erupts exhibition at its base. Viator offers a variety of tours to Eyjafjallajökull volcano. Below we have listed some of their top-rated tours.
Our top recommended tours to the Eyiafjallajokull Volcano:
- Full-Day Small-Group South Coast and Eyjafjallajökull Tour from Reykjavik
- Small-Group Day Trip to Thorsmork and Eyjafjallajökull from Reykjavik
- Eyjafjallajökull and Thorsmork Super Jeep Private Tour
Black Sand Beaches and Plane Wrecks
Otherworldly black sand beaches line the south coast of Iceland, formed from the ash and debris of years of volcanic eruptions across the island. One of the most epic black sand beaches is Sólheimasandur, and here, you can also find the overly dramatic wreck of an aircraft that crash-landed in the 1970s.
Book the Elements of the South Coast tour to see these sights
The small town of Vik is found at the real southern edge of Iceland and is a wonderfully remote place to explore or to spend the night. At Vik, you can find small-town life in its element, as well as even more beautiful black sand beaches and incredibly scenic, jagged, and broken cliffs that stretch out into the tumbling waves of the ocean.
Our top recommended tours to Vik:
- Southern Coast and Waterfalls Full-Day Bus Tour from Reykjavik
- Snowmobiling Experience on Mýrdalsjökull Glacier
- Quad Bike Tour on Black Lava Sands from Vik
- Private Day Trip to the Icelandic South Coast from Reykjavik: Seljalandsfoss, Skogafoss, and Reynisfjara Black Beach
Jokulsarlon is technically located in ‘eastern’ Iceland, however, it’s a destination that can easily be included in a south coast itinerary, not just because of its proximity to Vik, but because it’s a completely unbelievable sight to see.
Jokulsarlon is a huge lagoon that’s full of drifting icebergs that are carved off the nearby Vatnajokull Glacier. It’s a strange, beautiful and almost ephemeral sight to witness.
Our top recommended tours to Jokulsarlon:
- South Coast and Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon Day Tour from Reykjavik
- Guided Glacier Lagoon Tour
- 3-Day Ice Cave Tour by Jokulsaron with Glacier Hiking, the Golden Circle and the Northern Lights
- 3-Day Tour: Golden Circle, Blue Ice Cave, Jokulsarlon, and Waterfalls
Hofn is where the south coast really ends and the east begins as the road turns north towards the Arctic. This is the perfect small town in which to end a trip to South Coast Iceland, or indeed, to continue the trip around the ring road.
The fishing town is steadily catching on to tourism, as nearby the Vatnajokull Glacier can be visited, and many adventurous sports can be undertaken by those looking to really experience the wild, icy climbs of Iceland.
Visit Hofn on this Iceland Complete – Classic Circle Tour
How to Travel South Coast Iceland
For ultimate freedom and to make the most of every opportunity that you will encounter along the south coast, the best way to travel is to self-drive. Cars can be rented in Reykjavik, although in peak, summer season, make sure to book ahead to ensure you get the type of vehicle you want.
Any time of year, make sure you keep an eye on the weather conditions, as even the main highway can be closed without warning when extreme storms hit. The route is easy to follow and everything is well signposted.
If you aren’t confident self-driving though, there are plenty of tour companies catering to the ever growing number of tourists looking to escape Reykjavik and to see the rest of the country.
You can easily book tours of the south coast in advance of your arrival, or even once you land, but again, in peak season, make sure you try to get a spot secured beforehand, and check that the tour visits all the spots you are looking to see.
Hot tip: Book a small group tour. You will get to places faster and have more time. The big buses can be miserable.
There’s very little public transport around Iceland, and aside from the occasional bus between the larger towns, it’s difficult to travel independently without a car, although in summer, when the weather is pleasant, it can be possible hitchhike your way through the south.
How Much Time Do You Need?
The amount of time you need really depends on how many stops you would like to make and where your endpoint will ultimately be. It is entirely possible to tour as far as the town as Vik in a day trip from Reykjavik, but any further and you would need to stay overnight along the way before turning around – at least if you want time to spend time at the sights.
To really enjoy the south coast, it’s advisable to take at least three days from the capital. Many travelers will ultimately combine a south coast itinerary with a trip that then continues around the entire ring road, and back to Reykjavik. The only real limit is your own time limit in the country.
Best Time of Year to Visit South Coast Iceland
Iceland experiences very extreme weather and a sunny day can quickly turn into a stormy day even in summer. The best time of year to visit the south coast will, of course, be summer when the weather is more than likely to be pleasant. This is also when there is the most daylight – including the fabled midnight sun – and when road conditions are best for driving, hiking and exploring.
The spring and autumn can also be great times to visit, as everything is much quieter. The weather though can already be extreme, and you will need to keep an eye on potential road closures during this time.
Winter can put a halt to travel around the country as roads become snowed in and the hours of daylight become less and less, and it is not advisable to travel during this period, particularly if self-driving.
|Best of Iceland
Trip Type: Small Group
12 - 15 People
Trip Type: Small Group
12 - 15 People
Trip Type: Small Group
12 - 15 People
More on Iceland:
- Silfra Iceland: Unreal Snorkeling Between Continents
- Golden Circle Iceland: 7 Stops You Cannot Miss
- 15 Incredible Things to do in Reykjavik
- 9 Unreal Northern Lights Tours
- 7 Excuses to Visit Iceland
- Travel Insurance for Europe Vacation & Do I Need It?
- When is the Best Time to Visit Europe?