Filled with craggy peaks, thunderous waterfalls, and brooding but beautiful black sand beaches, South Iceland contains many of the storied landscapes that visitors ache to see. This makes it one of the more traveled corners of the country, but stay awhile and you’ll discover your own quiet corner.
Hveragerði is well known for its hike to Reykjadalur hot spring river, but there’s more to this unlikely town. Horse riding tours of the area’s lava fields, lush heaths, and woodlands are available starting from
Brightly-lit greenhouses surround the humble country town of Flúðir, an agricultural oasis in the Golden Circle region. The town is also home to the recently renovated Secret Lagoon hot spring.
East of Flúðir lies the unexplored valley of Þjórsárdalur. Seek out the waterfall Hjálparfoss, two waterfalls flowing strongly together down a small cliff.
At Stöng, you can explore the dilapidated ruins of an old Viking farm. Behind the farm is a short trail leading to the valley Gjáin where more lovely waterfalls await.
For those with a 4x4, a challenging F-Road (mountain road) leads to Þórsmörk, a beautiful nature reserve nestled between glaciers. Great hiking awaits in this valley named after Thor, the Viking God of Thunder, but getting here involves dangerous river crossings. For the inexperienced, it’s probably best to get the bus which leaves from Reykjavik and connects at small towns along the way – Hella is the most convenient (
Spilling over the precipice of the highlands are a number of waterfalls, tumbling down onto the southern plains before draining out to the sea. Seljalandsfoss is up first, a beautiful fall with a path that lets you go behind the curtain of water.
Just a five-minute walk to the north is Gljúfrafoss, a hidden cataract tucked into the crevice of a cliff – cross a small stream into the narrow canyon to see it.
Further south, Skógafoss is a much larger waterfall, flowing down in a perfect, pearly sheet before crashing into the river below. Also not to be missed here in the little settlement of Skógar is the Folk Museum.
Vestmannaeyjar is an archipelago made up of 15 volcanic islands, sitting just off of the south coast of the country. The ferry leaves from Landeyjahöfn to sail staunchly between the towering cliffs that flank the town’s harbor.
Heimaey is the only inhabited isle, renowned for its giant population of Atlantic puffins in the summer. Eldheimar Museum focuses on the 1973 volcanic eruption that forced the island to evacuate (
Vík is no doubt one of the prettiest towns in Iceland. Set against a formidable cliff face along the coast of black sand, the small town of 318 is a great place to stop and have a poke around.
Just before you reach the hamlet, stop by at Dyrhólaey Peninsula, offering stunning views out over black sand beaches and towards the glaciers dominating the interior.
Nearby, Reynisfjara is the most popular of black sand beaches thanks to the impressive cliff made volcanic basalt columns at one end. (The waves are very dangerous at these beaches – be sure to heed the warning signs.)
East of Vík, the horizon will soon fill with Europe’s largest glacier Vatnajökull, and many might be tempted to charge on through to reach it. But road 206 off of the main route holds a surprising beauty – Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon. Carved out by an ancient glacial river, this serpentine canyon displays vibrant contrasts of greens and browns, with a river running through the bottom.
Nearby is the last settlement of any note that you’ll see for a while, the tongue-twisting Kirkjubæjarklaustur. West of town you’ll see the vast Eldhraun lava field and the remains of farms destroyed in the
A stunning glacial lake filled with floating icebergs, Jökulsárlón is understandably famous – visitors can paddle a kayak among the bergs or explore the lagoon by boat. It can get crowded, though. For a more serene experience, stop instead at Fjallsarlon, the smaller lagoon just before it.
Want to know more about Iceland? Check out our podcast. We chat about where to capture the best photos in Iceland, how to speak like a Viking (almost), and how a social policy got the country to the World Cup.
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Explore the sights of remote North Iceland by car, from lovely Lake Mývatn and the whale-watching capital of Húsavík to Raufarhöfn, Iceland’s northernmost town.
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