After the capital city of Reykjavik, Iceland’s South Coast is probably the most visited part of the country. The natural wonders found along this volcanic stretch of land are varied and numerous. From the cascading waterfalls of Seljalandsfoss to the black sand beaches of Vik and the icy glaciers in Vatnajökull National Park, there is so much to see and do on this side of the Nordic island. The best way to see everything is to drive along Route 1, also known as the Ring Road. The highway, which circumnavigates the entire country, will take you to it best sights and most popular attractions. Let’s pull out our Iceland map and take a trip along the South Coast.
You’ve already visited the Golden Circle and the Blue Lagoon as day trips from Reykjavik. Traveling counterclockwise around the Ring Road, you’ll pass Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls, the Douglas DC-3 plane crash site, Reynisfjara peninsula and the town of Vik, and finally Vatnajökull National Park. The south is chock-full of outdoor activities and must-see destinations.
Some of the Most Beautiful Waterfalls in Iceland
Seljalandsfoss is known as “The Beauty” and is probably one of the most photographed waterfalls in Iceland. What makes this particular cascade stand out from its peers is the fact that there is a small cave behind it that you can hike to. This unique viewpoint of the waterfall has become a favorite for both visitors and photographers alike. The unusual rock arch opens out to views of rushing water and an expansive, lush, green valley below. Sunsets are a particularly striking time at Seljalandsfoss, as the sky turns shades of orange, purple, and pink. The waterfall is 128 km (80 mi) southeast of Reykjavik on the Ring Road. You’ll turn left onto Road 249 to access the parking area for the falls. They are just a few minutes away from the main road.
Skógafoss is about half an hour away from Seljalandsfoss via the Ring Road. Just continue heading east and again, you’ll need to turn left on the road to drive to parking for the waterfall. While not as famous as Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss is still quite gorgeous in its own right. As you approach the falls, you’re likely to feel the mist on your face or even see a rainbow rises from its sprays. It’s a great place for kids and families.
Vik and Reynisfjara’s Black Sand Beaches and DC-3 Plane Wreck
Make your way back to the Ring Road and drive east towards the town of Vík. Before reaching the coastal village, you’ll want to take a small detour to visit Sólheimasandur beach. This is the site of the Douglas DC-3 plane wreck that you’ve seen in all of those iconic images of Iceland. All that remains of the 1973 crash is the military aircraft’s fuselage, but the juxtaposition of the white plane against the black sand is quite haunting. If you feel that visiting the crash site of an airplane seems inappropriate or macabre, you should know that thankfully everyone on board survived.
The small, fishing village of Vík is a popular place for an overnight stay when exploring South Iceland or traveling along the Ring Road. It’s black sand volcanic beaches, and cute little white church with a red roof give it a distinctly Icelandic look and feel. Vik is located right on Route 1. A short, 10-minute drive from Vík you’ll find the Reynisfjara peninsula. In addition to midnight-hued beaches, you’ll also find hexagonal basalt columns made of volcanic rock. There’s also the Dyrhólaey (door hole) lighthouse and promontory point. In low tide, ships can pass right through the peninsula’s arch.
Vatnajökull National Park
Vatnajökull National Park is Europe’s largest national park and is quite vast. It not only encompasses parts of southern Iceland but the eastern and northeast regions as well. There are not one, but two massive glaciers in the park. Skaftfafell and Vatnajökull glaciers are both home to different activities such as glacier hikes, glacier caves, and ice cave exploration. Dress warmly and don’t miss out these exciting outdoor experiences. There are plenty of companies and tour operators in the area to choose from. Be sure to stop by Svartifoss (black falls) in the Skaftafell region of the park.
The waters and chunks of ice from Vatnajökull eventually make their way to the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon. From here, they slowly make their way out to sea. A fun activity here is to take one of the boats that go out into the lagoon to see the floating icebergs. You can also head across the street to check out the Diamond Beach. The black shores are littered with chunks of ice ranging in size from a box of cereal to an SUV! While there are no real diamonds here, it’s still pretty neat to see the abandoned pieces of ice scattered across the beach.
Main Stops on Iceland’s Ring Road: The South Coast
As you can tell, there’s a lot to see and do along the Ring Road in South Iceland. The wide variety of outdoor activities and natural attractions make this one of the most popular zones in the country. So grab your keys, hop into your car, and begin making your way around our small, Nordic island. And remember to bring your sense of adventure with you.