The south coast is one of the most popular places for a sightseeing day tour from Reykjavík. The area has a high concentration of diverse natural phenomena – striking mountains, glaciers, and waterfalls – with long stretches of black sand beaches and deserts and verdant farming communities in between.
The road south from Reykjavík crosses Hellisheiði heath, where you can stop at the Hellisheiði power plant and geothermal energy exhibition. From there, you travel down into the valley around Hveragerði, a town built on a geothermal hot spot. There are columns of steam rising from the ground, a clear sign of the geothermal heat underground, and there’s even a restaurant which cooks food with the steam from the ground!
The south of Iceland has a lot of geothermal heat and a history of volcanic activity (ever heard of a little volcano called Eyjafjallajökull?). Stop by the Lava Centre at Hvolsvöllur to learn more about the fire underneath the area. Moving on, you’ll drive past amazing mountains and valleys along the coastline until you get to the magical Seljalandsfoss waterfall. The waterfall comes down in the mouth of a cave in such a way that you can walk the whole way around it.
This is followed by Skógafoss, an even larger, more powerful waterfall, right by the tiny community of Skógar, which has a fascinating local museum and a couple of hotels. This is also where the mountain trail of Fimmvörðuháls starts off, a popular but long hiking trail leading up to the Þórsmörk preservation area. Be careful to check the conditions and get advice before attempting the hike.
Farther along is the town of Vík, where you can walk along Reynisfjara black sand beach with a view over the strange rock formations of the coast. (IMPORTANT: stay far away from the water, the riptide is EXTREMELY dangerous and there have been fatal accidents there). You can also visit the brand-new Icelandic Lava Show, where you can experience hot lava up close! Katla and Eyjafjallajökull volcanoes and Mýrdalsjökull glacier watch over the south coast of Iceland and you could easily throw in a guided tour of the glacier or a hike to spice up your journey. If you decide to do that, just be careful and take precautions, ask advice, always let someone know where you’re going, keep your phone charged, bring warm clothes, and make sure you have good shoes!
You shouldn’t leave Iceland without experiencing the wonders of its glaciers. Glacier hiking is the best way to get up close and personal with Iceland’s elements. Visiting the glaciers under the guidance of a professional glacier guide is a safe way to explore the rugged ice crevasses, sink holes, jagged ridges, ice walls, and amazing ice formations.
The Glacial Lagoon
The otherworldly Jökulsárlón glacial lagoon, surrounded by a black sand beach, is a sight well worth the trip. The ice-cold water is filled with icebergs that have broken off the vast Vatnajökull glacier, the largest glacier in Europe. The blue and black chunks of ice look great from afar, but even better up close, so consider taking a boat tour on the lagoon (May-September).