8 Spots You Need to Explore On Your Trip to Southern Iceland

Iceland is a country with such overwhelming beauty everywhere that you look that you might run into the same problem I did. With so many options and extreme landscapes around every corner, where should I go?? This article covers some solid options in the Southern regions of Iceland.

1. Fjaorargljufur (aka the green canyon)

Say this five times fast, go ahead I'll wait. From towns and streets to the landmarks and sites themselves, I can't stress enough that everything in Iceland is impossible to pronounce, and I know I'm not in the minority here. Seemingly everyone I ran into while road tripping around Iceland had issues. Which letters do you pronounce and which ones don't you? How can we possibly know?

Of all the nearly impossible names of things in Iceland, this one ranks pretty damn highly on the “I shouldn’t even try to pronounce this” list! Once you get past attempting to pronounce it, then you soon realize it’s truly a can’t miss location in Southern Iceland that is unfortunately often overlooked by travelers in this region. Perhaps its the off the beaten path location or the poor signage. Perhaps the internet hasn’t discovered it enough yet for it to catch on, but either way, it should not be missed.

Rolling green cliffs zig and zag along with the underlying crystal clear rushing river and mossy rock formations covering the whole location from head to toe. This is the Iceland version of the Grand Canyon in a sense, just a little more green. 

You can hike all along the tops of the ridge on the right hand side to explore the many vantage points for yourself. From the parking lot (which has bathrooms, by the way) to the end of the canyon it’s only about 1-2km in total, so not the most challenging to access. Does that take out some of the fun, absolutely, but with so much to see in Iceland, some time savers that are easy to access could be nice for many people!

2. Svartifoss 

Just another waterfall in Iceland? I think not! Svartifoss (Black Falls) is well worth the short 1.5 mile hike from the parking lot in Skaftafell National Park. The rock formations carved out from lava give it a truly unique obsidian block look you cannot find elsewhere on planet Earth! Then again, what on Iceland actually looks like it's from this Earth?

Over centuries, lava flows cooled at a languid pace in Iceland’s frosty air, gently forming the stacked hexagonal crystals that provide the backdrop for the falls. Turned to a striking black color over its creation, the cliffs contrast with the green flora and cascading falls and provide the site with its name.

Although the falls are so beautiful you might be tempted to step in for a dip, it is far from recommended as the bottom of the falls are covered with sharp rocks. That's the word on the street, at least. For this shot I merely played rock hop (basically my version of frogger) to get to the middle, as large stones cover the creek for any photography enthusiasts.

3. Skaftafell Overlook

Branched off from the Svartifoss hike would be the Skaftafell overlook. It's not amazingly well signed off but there’s a trail that leads all the way up to it without a large amount of elevation gain. Simply look for the big fork in the road on the way back from Svartifoss and take it left through the trees - it’s only another 2km! Bonus points if you’re here for golden hour like I was, because I can confirm that these views are more than deserving of the effort. On a side note i'm not entirely sure if I can refer to the hour before sunset during Iceland's summer golden "hour," as they get about 22 hours of daylight. The sun sets VERY slowly compared to anywhere I had ever experienced, so the colors in the sky linger for about two hours. If you're into photography, there's a good chance that this is your dream come true.

Along the short hike you will find wildflowers, breathtaking mountain views like the one below, you will see massive glaciers in the distance, and another waterfall (as if there wasn’t enough jam packed into a quick trek)! How can you possible get more rad than a dramatic mountain backdrop during a two hour sunset? Yup, place a waterfall to your left and a glacier to your right, it doesn't get much better. 

My friend and I had this spot at the time all to ourselves, as the poor signage makes it very challenging for anyone to find it. Combine that with the fact that this "sunset" was taking place at midnight (they don't call it the land of the midnight sun for nothing), and you have some serious solitude up at the top.

4. Black Sand Beach (Vik)

Just outside the cozy little town of Vik, lies a dramatic black sand beach (humbly named exactly that) that should NOT be missed if passing through the area. Much like Svartifoss, volcanic activity from long ago created misshapen rock formations along the cliff walls all along the black sand beach. Combined with the Obsidian colored sand/pebbles it’s a one of a kind landscape and certainly not your typical day at the beach. You may want to leave your beach towel and swim shorts at home as well, because that just wouldn't end well for anyone.

Aaron's fun fact of the day; in 1991, the American journal Islands Magazine ranked this beach in Iceland as one of the 10 most beautiful non-tropical beaches on Earth, if that doesn’t say a lot then I don’t know what does.

Vik itself is Iceland’s southernmost village and faces the open Atlantic Ocean, beautifully framed by a long black volcanic sand beach. The iconic red church of Vik is a popular option for photography as well with the ocean and rock formations in the background. 

To throw in another tip for anyone on a road trip, it should also be noted that Vik is one of the last stops for gas in the area, as gas can be a little far and wide afterwards. So it would be best to fill up if you are anywhere below half a tank!

5. Seljavallalaug Hot Springs

Go ahead and ask me how long it even took me to type this one correctly, it's bad, I know. Seljavallalaug is not actually a natural pool at all, but a man-made 25 meter long and 10 meter wide construction built on top of the geothermal activity from the volcano. The hot water that trickles into it is completely natural though and the pool is constructed into a mountainside in a narrow valley with breathtaking natural surroundings of the volcano, rolling green mountains, and waterfalls coming down said mountains, like nothing I’ve witnessed before. 

Something that should be noted about Seljavallalaug is that there are actually “changing” rooms for people to leave their clothes in. It’s a makeshift locker room, but if you look at where you are, you will just be happy to take whatever you can get. Better yet, my recommendation would be to just wear swimming clothes under your hiking gear, works like a charm!

Just seven years ago Seljavallalaug was completely covered with ash from the eruption in Eygafjallajokull, the volcano that towers above. The volcano is quite the spectacle in itself to have as a background for your hot springs chilling, but to add even more awesomeness there are about eight waterfalls cascading down the mountain directly behind the locker room shack. Iceland was just showing off at that point.

6. Kvernufoss & Skogafoss

About a solid 15 minute walk from the ever-famous Skogafoss would be the somewhat hidden waterfall of Kvernufoss. While all the recognition usually seems to go to the monstrous Skogafoss, I found this one to be even more impressive!

It’s a little trickier to find than one might think as you have to hop over a fence in order to get there. It’s legal here I swear, and there are not any signs for it. 

The 600 meter walk from the fence to the falls showcase a beautiful crystal clear river running alongside the trail as you quickly find your way into the little green canyon. Once you’re at the falls you can actually go behind the waterfall for the best view, unless it’s a really windy day you will not get very wet behind the falls and it’s a good place to chill out and take it all in!

This is all not to say that you still shouldn't go right next door to the thunderous Skogafoss (they even have camping at the base of the waterfall). The sheer size of Skogafoss is enough to impress, no matter how many waterfalls you've seen in your life.

7. Jokulsarlon (Ice Lagoon)

For this one I was honestly just waiting for Morgan Freeman to start narrating it for me. Jokulsarlon is a massive lagoon filled with ice chunks reminiscent of the one that sank the Titanic (sorry, Jack). Stay for awhile and walk up and down the ice lagoon beach. You’ll witness the ice breaking apart and dropping off into the water all around you if you’re here in the summer time. It’s hard to miss as this action makes a lot of noise, creating gigantic wakes in the water, it’s more fun than it sounds, trust me. It truly is one of the most popular stop offs in South Iceland for a reason. Sometimes things are on the traveler trail for a reason: they’re freaking awesome.

This seems to be as close as you can get to recreating “March of the Penguins” without actually having penguins (though there are puffins in the area), and without actually being in the Arctic Circle. Even with the large amounts of tourists here there’s so much ground to cover that you can find your own little slice of freezing cold heaven for some chilling out (bad pun) and some photography, of course! Common trend as usual; if you're here for sunrise or sunset the place will be much less populated and you can't beat the mix of colors of the sky with that crazy blue water and influx of massive icebergs all around you, priceless.

8. Solheimasandur Airplane Wreckage

There's a good chance you've seen this while furiously scrolling through your Instagram feed. It's everywhere these days. That does not mean that you should miss it though! 

First, a little bit of a history lesson on this one; In 1973 a United States Navy DC airplane ran out of fuel and crash landed on this black beach at Sólheimasandur, on the south coast of Iceland. Fortunately, everyone in that plane survived, the plane itself, not so much. Later it turned out that the pilot had simply switched over to the wrong fuel tank. Go figure, am I right? The remains are still on the sand very close to the sea, and draws a crowd daily to gaze at the haunting wreckage along the black sand surrounding. The ghostly plane lying motionless on a black sand beach, often with fog surrounding the area, makes for quite the scene to explore. 

The “hike” to this spot is basically just a long walk, as you used to be able to drive right up to it, but now the person who owns the property has since closed the gates to vehicles. You must now walk 4km on a straight path to the plane wreckage, but don’t worry it’s all flat and it’s impossible to get lost. 

Published: August 30, 2017

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Aaron HagenExplorer

Montana

Adventurer, Photographer and Traveler from straight outta Montana, though I'm typically found roaming outside the US these days. Follow along with my travels on Instagram via @hagendaasphoto!