I used to live in Iceland for about half a year and the south part of Iceland is certainly one of the most amazing destinations in the whole country. It is also a very touristy place. But either way, that is more or less because there is a lot of things to do in South Iceland and if you go to visit the country, you shouldn’t miss it.
Best things to do in South Iceland
South of Iceland looks very different from the north, where the fjords are more similar to Norway’s scenery. Nature is full of vulcanos and new nature that always comes around after a volcano erupts.
At the same time, you got there a lot of waterfalls, glaciers and other places that are just waiting to be explored. Also, as I mentioned earlier, nature here is amazing and there is a lot to see. But it is not necessary just scenery. One of the most popular things to do in South Iceland is watching puffins. And there is a lot of places for doing that.
So in general, you will never be bored with all the hikes, waterfalls and hot springs around here.
Widely popular get-away from Reykjavik. The golden circle has four attractions that are doable in one day. It is also a very popular day tour from Reykjavík. Mainly because it doesn’t take a long to get here and at the same time you will get to see a lot just in one day.
Thingvellir national park
Head to Þingvellir national park. This park is very often being considered first stop on the Golden Circle. The main thing why is because it is only 45 minutes from Reykjavík. The whole park is full of wonderful nature and if you have ever google anything about Iceland, be sure that there are probably some pictures of Thingvellir.
There is a couple of reasons why to visit this place. One of the most popular ones is that the national park is located exactly in the place where is a bridge between continents. Or in other words – it is a place between European and American tectonic plates. Because of this specialty, there are quite usual earthquakes in the areas. But nothing too horrifying.
Because of these earthquakes, the cracks are regularly filled with water from the glacier. In these cracks, you can get to see one of the clearest water with visibility up to 100 meters. A lot of people are diving or snorkeling here. It is also an easy thing to do, but just know that the water has about 8 degrees celsius.
Another stop on your Golden Circle day should be Stokkur, which is natural geysir. This natural diamond lies in Haukadallur Valley. And it is about another 45 minutes from Thingvellir.
It is very easy to observe, it erupts more or less every 10 minutes, so it is just about waiting around. Most of the people would like to see it several times, mainly because one time is on picture and second time on your own eyes. It is very easy to locate the geysir, there are ropes all around the area and also arrows that will lead you through the place. Whatever you do, do not go behind the safely marked areas. There might be cracks in the soil and the water is really hot and full of sulfur.
Enough of dangers. This place is especially beautiful in winter, where you can spot, where the soil is hot and where it isn’t. There is also a hiking path, which is quite popular especially if you want to know something more about geothermal energy.
Last but not least, visit Gullfoss. One of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland. It is also one of the most massive waterfalls in Iceland and maybe in Europe as well. In the summer, when the flow is heaviest, about 140 cubic meters of water go through the waterfall every second. That is how massive it is.
You can come very close to the waterfall itself. There is a path leading directly to the waterfall. However, if you feel like observing it from distance, you can go through another path, that is designated more for people who don’t feel comfortable going so close, or for handicapped (the road is graved, so you can go there with stroller or wheelchair).
The waterfall is located only about 10 minutes drive from the Stokkur Geysir. It is fine to visit it both in summer and in winter, but in winter you should be especially careful on the downer path from the waterfall because it will become very slippery.
Waterfalls of South Iceland
When it comes to waterfalls, South Iceland has a lot to offer. The most famous ones are here. By the most famous ones I mean the ones that you have probably seen on all social media and travel magazines as well. So let’s have a closer look.
Seljanasfoss is the one waterfall where you can go behind the water stream and walk about the waterfall. If you do that, make sure you will wear a rain jacket and good shoes otherwise you will be all wet and muddy. It is one of the most famous waterfalls overall and it is even in several music videos. Yes, it was in the Justin Bieber music video.
Little bit more info about the waterfall – the waterfalls from 60 meters and it is from a river called Seljaland. The same river is on the way from Thorsmork, one of the most popular hiking areas in Iceland. Most of the water comes from melting glaciers called Eyjaffjallajökkul – the famous glacier/volcano that erupted back in 2010.
Getting to this waterfall is easy. If you drive on route 1, which is the main road in Iceland, you will see it from the car. There is a special turn to get to the waterfall.
Another waterfall, that is certainly hard to articulate. Gljufrabui is very close to Seljalandsfoss. When I say close, I mean about 50 meters. It is a little bit of a hidden area. If you follow the stream of the river, an about 5-minute walk from Seljalandsfoss is a little cave and in this cave, you can find this magical waterfall.
Gljufrabui is about 40 meters high and similarly to Seljalandsfoss, it also gets most of the water from the famous volcano. But there is a big difference between Seljalandsfoss and Gjufrabui. Even though both waterfalls are located in the rather most popular location, Gljufrabui is very often overlooked by tourists. Because the waterfall is hidden behind a cave-like cliff, not so many people are coming to visit it.
If you decide to have a look at this waterfall, make sure that you have rain shoes. Because there is a little stream coming from the waterfall that you will have to get through. There are some stones to step on, but they can be very slippery and not completely safe to step on.
Skógafoss is both a village and a waterfall perhaps 30 km from Seljanasfoss. It is said to be one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland. It is also one of the most popular waterfalls in Iceland. Skógafoss played important landmarks in movies like Thor: The dark world, Secret life of Walter Mitty. It was also featured in series like Vikings when Floki discovers Iceland, this waterfall is one of the first things that he will see. And from the popular culture, it has been in Game of Thrones as well.
Besides that, Skogafoss is one of the waterfalls that you can hike to the top. There is a lot of stairs right next to the cliff that Skogafoss is falling from. It is also the start of one of the most popular hikes to Thorsmork valley.
To get to Skogafoss, you need to drive on road n. 1. You will see the waterfall directly from the road. It is not so difficult to get to it. If you feel like spending the night around, there is a camp right under the waterfall. The camp is functional mainly in summer months.
Iceland is like capital for a population of puffins. They are in several locations here. And the south is particularly known for it. There are a couple of areas, where you can see them.
Rock coast on the south of Iceland. Also one of the most southern areas of Icelandic mainland. You can see here amazing cliffs that will take your breath away. You can find here the bird sanctuary so it is possible to see puffins here. And not just puffins a lot of bird populations lives on these cliffs. They are still not too friendly with humans, so take a good camera to take pictures of them.
When mentioning this coast there is a very famous black beach. You can find it by name Reynisfjara. It is the beach with weird cubic shapes caves around. It is very popular for walking around. You can see the cliffs of Dyrhólaey from here. And because the Black beach is surrounded by a lot of cliffs, you will get to see puffins here as well. However, seeing puffins from here is a little bit more difficult, mainly because they tend to live in higher parts of cliffs that might be hard to see from the ground.
If you are finding accommodation to go for the next adventure, go to Vík. It is the biggest town in the South and it is classic northern architecture. It is like a sanctuary for tourists. So it is great for refreshing, withdraw money and find a good restaurant here.
The biggest sanctuary for birds and puffins especially. Down on the south coast of Iceland are a couple of little islands. They are called Westman islands and they are super popular for watching puffins here.
There are a lot of cliffs all around the islands and the bird population, in general, reaches high numbers here. Very often over one million birds come here in mating season to lay their eggs and grow their babies.
You can get to Westman islands by ferry that is very close to the Seljalandsfoss waterfall. The ferry usually goes 11 times per day and it pays off to spend one day there.
South Iceland hiking places
When it comes to real wilderness and hiking between mountains and volcanos, there is Langmannalaugar and Thorsmork. Both of them are surreally beautiful and you will be surprised how it looks over there. It is entirely possible to spend a holiday just camping and hiking in these places. Mainly because some of the hikes in these areas are multi-days. They are not to miss when visiting south Iceland.
Both of those places have basic accommodation in the form of camping or glamping places. Both of them go with showers. Usually, around these areas you also have a basic shop with very basic things, so you would have something to eat or drink. Langmannalaugar has even natural hot springs that are amazing after a long hike. The hikes both on Thorsmork and Langmannalaugar are described very carefully, so you know where to go and what difficulty it is, also how long it will approximately take.
To get to both Landmannalaugar and Thorsmork, you will have to drive here with a 4×4 vehicle. The terrain here is increasingly difficult. There is also a possibility to take a bus to these areas if you have decided not to rent a car.
Where to find hotels in Sout Iceland
We already get the attraction of south Iceland and that is great, but let’s get someplace to sleep as well. There is a couple of towns or villages that you can try and find accommodation with.
If you are hanging out around Golden Circle, the easiest place to find accommodation would be Selfoss. It is one of the bigger towns in southern Iceland where you can find all supermarkets and other shops. Selfoss also has a decent amount of hotels.
Another popular city for staying over would be Vík. Vík is one of the biggest stops in southern Iceland. it is a very charming town with a nice church and gorgeous surroundings. There is a lot of hotels here as well. Among other things, you can find here ATM and petrol station.
If you are driving and looking for accommodation that would be perhaps more in the middle of nature, I can recommend both hotel Selid and hotel Ranga. Both of them are between Golden Circle and Seljalandsfoss, which is a really good location. Hotel Ranga is a little bit more luxurious with a nice restaurant. Selid is also nice with gorgeous nature around. It has a basic restaurant with very good food as well.
When is the best time to visit South Iceland?
Well, most of the attractions in this part of Iceland are within very good reach, so you can visit them both in summer and winter. The only exceptions are the hiking areas. Both Landmannalaugar and Thorsmork are difficult to get to due to the rough terrain in the highlands and most of the time, the roads there are closed from October until April.
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