The South Coast probably has the most stunning and awe inspiring landscapes in Iceland. The largest glaciers, most famous volcanoes, most dramatic cliffs and beautiful waterfalls combine to make up extremely varied landscapes which are only a few hours’ driving distance from Reykjavík.
1. Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrabúi - the most exciting waterfalls in Iceland
Seljalandsfoss is a stunning waterfall that drops 60 m (197 ft) and you can even walk behind it! Located less than a two hours’ drive away from Reykjavík, next to the ring road, Seljalandsfoss is one of Iceland’s superstar attractions.
If that isn’t enough, walking for just five minutes to the west, following the cliffs you will discover a small stream flowing out of a cave, hidden inside a crevasse. Following the cliff, you may have to walk through some shallow water - in a minute you will find yourself inside the cave. Looking above you will see a totally hidden waterfall, falling from an opening in the roof of the cave, this tumbling cascade is absolutely magical!
2. Eyjafjallajökull, the notorious volcano glacier
As we continue eastward, the notorious Eyafjallajökull is the next stop on the South Coast. It is a 1,651-meter-high (5,417 ft) volcano mountain, covered in thick glacial ice. This volcano erupts relatively frequently, most recently in 2010, an event which remains memorable due its effect on air travel across the globe. Over 107,000 flights were cancelled during an eight-day period, disturbing the travel plans of nearly ten million passengers across Northwest Europe and even curtailing flights to and from other continents.
Eyja - fjalla - jökull literally translates to ‘island-mountain-glacier’. It is pretty challenging to pronounce, but if you want to try, here is a guide: ei-ya-fyat-la-yer-kitle. For real Icelandic enthusiasts, download this app.
3. The scenic Skógafoss waterfall and the Skógá canyon
Skógafoss is another great celebrity when it comes to Iceland’s nature. This waterfall has an impressive total height of 60m (200ft), and a width of 25m (82ft ), it is even more scenic than Seljalandsfoss, if that is possible! You can't walk behind this one but you can walk up to the top to see it from above.
As legend would have it, a Viking in the 10th century hid a chest filled with treasure behind these falls. Centuries later someone found the chest and tried to retrieve it. He was able to grab the ring on the side of the chest, but somehow it broke off, and the chest with all of its treasure disappeared. However, the golden ring remained as a proof of its existence, today this ring can be found in the Skógar Museum.
Following the path along the river towards the mountains you will come to a breathtaking canyon with many more impressive waterfalls. The path then continues to rise as it leads towards the mountains, passing between glaciers and volcanoes. The trail is called Fimmvörðuháls and it is one of the most beautiful hiking trails in Iceland.
4. Mýrdalsjökull and Sólheimajökull glaciers
Traveling along the South Coast, the most characteristic elements of the landscape are the thrilling glacier tongues and falls of blue ice. Continuing our journey eastward, the first glacier tongue that we will see is the rugged Sólheimajökull, or ‘sun-home-glacier’. Since it is easily accessible from Reykjavík, Sólheimajökull is one of the most popular glaciers with glacier hikers.
Sólheimajökull is an outlet glacier of Mýrdalsjökull, this famous glacier is the ‘mire dale glacier’ or ‘the mire valley glacier’. Under its 700-meter-thick ice cap lies the much feared Katla volcano, which is due to erupt in the near future, possibly very soon.
5. Sólheimasandur - the abandoned US Navy plane wreck on the black desert sands
Not far from Sólheimajökull glacier in South Iceland, a United States Navy DC-3 plane crashed onto the black sand beach in 1973. The plane had run out of fuel and the pilot was forced to find a place to crash land, fortunately, no one suffered serious injuries in the accident. The wreck, remaining in situ on the black sand, close to the beach, has turned this spot into a dream photography location.
6. The famous Black sand beach - Dyrhólaey, Reynisfjara and Vík
Beautiful beaches can be found all around Iceland, but the most spectacular black sand beach of all can be found here on the South Coast. It stretches 5 kilometers from Dyrhóleay to Reynisfjara and Vík.
The fine textured and pitch black sand is unique in the world, so it was no surprise at all that this beach was ranked as one of the world's most beautiful beaches, by National Geographic.
Here you'll find thilling sea cliffs and sea stacks, basalt columns and other impressive rock formations. From May to August these cliffs are home to thousands of cute puffins.
7. Eldhraun lava field
Continuing along the ring road eastward, you will soon find yourself in an unearthly landscape, in the middle of a 565-square-kilomete lava field.
Eldhraun, the ‘fire-lava’, was formed during one of most disastrous volcanic eruptions in history. Five cubic kilometers of lava surged to the surface in 1784. Enough poisonous volcanic gases were released to cause the death of almost all of the domestic animals and 20% of the human population in Iceland.
Today, the lava field has long since solidified and it is now covered by a thick, soft layer of moss. This eye catching terrain is the source of many folk and fairy tales, and, allegedly, it is also home to elves.
The moss is very fragile, so walking on the lava field or stepping onto the moss is not allowed. When damaged, it takes centuries for it to recover. There are parking lots and established viewpoints along the road where you can admire the beauty of nature without damaging it.
8. Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon
Only one or two kilometers away from the ring road to the north, a scenic, 100-meter-deep and 2-kilometer-long canyon can be found. Many of those who have visited it would agree that Fjaðrárgljúfur is one of the most beautiful canyons in the world.
It is hard to put this dreamy panorama into words or to express what it feels like to walk along the curiously shaped and moss-covered cliffs. The best would probably be to say, it feels like having wings and flying.
9. Skaftafell Nature Reserve: Svínafellsjökull and Falljökull glaciers
Two highly scenic glacier tongues, one of Iceland’s most unique waterfalls, a lush birch forest and a vast network of hiking trails stretching over an area of 4807 km2 (2884 mi2) will give you plenty of reasons to stop in Skaftafell on the South Coast.
Svínafellsjökull, the ‘pig-mountain-glacier’, and Falljökull, the ‘falling-glacier’, are the highlights of the Skaftafell area. Both outlet glaciers belong to the largest ice cap in Europe, the colossal Vatnajökull glacier.
Beautiful Svartifoss, the ‘black waterfall’ can also be found in Skaftafell. The falls drop 12 meters (39tf) cascading from the surrounding black columnar jointing formations. These hexagonal columns provided inspiration to the architect of the famous Hallgrímskirkja church in Reykjavík.
10. The crown jewels of the South Coast: the Glacier Lagoon and Diamond beach
Finally, after traveling all along the South Coast, you will reach the easternmost end and the most thrilling highlight of all: Jökulsárlón Glacier lagoon and the Diamond Beach.
These places are, beyond any doubt, the crown jewels not only of the South Coast, but also the whole country.
Massive pieces of ice break away from Breiðamerkurjökull, a glacier tongue of Vatnajökull. These incredible blue icebergs float through a lagoon towards the sea, where the waves keep pushing them back onto the coast, so they finish up on the black volcanic sand.
For hundreds of meters these with sparkling blue and white ice rocks can be seen decorating the coast, akin to precious diamonds. Jökulsarlón Glacier Lagoon and Diamond beach are the most photographed places in Iceland.