Iceland Road Trip: Top 7 Attractions in Southern Iceland

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Overlooking the town of Vik with Reynisdrangar (sea stacks) and Reynisfjall (mountain) in background
Overlooking the town of Vik with Reynisdrangar (sea stacks) and Reynisfjall (mountain) in background

A mere 2 hours drive from Reykjavik (capital), Southern Iceland plays host to some of the most dramatic waterfalls, coastlines and glaciers in the country; most within relative proximity of each other. For those with limited time to explore beyond Reykjavik, Southern Iceland is an obvious recommendation.

This post is part of our comprehensive blog on how to plan for an Iceland Road Trip. Read also:

The following are the Top 7 Attractions in Southern Iceland. (Listed in random order)

(Reviews based on our Jun-2014 road trip)

 

#1: Seljalandsfoss (map)

“Great waterfall visible from Ring Road”

Seljalandsfoss, Iceland.
Seljalandsfoss, Iceland.

Though not the biggest or most dramatic waterfall you’ll find in Iceland, it nevertheless is very popular. If driving eastwards on the Ring Road (after passing Selfoss), Seljalandsfoss can clearly be seen some distance away.

At a height of ~60metres, Seljalandsfoss is one of the few waterfalls in Iceland that is possible for visitors to walk behind it (a raincoat would be extremely useful here; expect to be drenched).

Seljalandsfoss, Iceland. There's a path behind the waterfall.
Seljalandsfoss, Iceland. There’s a path behind the waterfall.

Some accommodation can be seen in the area and there’s a café at the carpark that provides good coffee to warm up in the Icelandic cold. There appears to be bus services to some nearby towns.

Enjoying coffee at the carpark of Seljalandsfoss, Iceland.
Enjoying coffee at the carpark of Seljalandsfoss, Iceland.

 

 

#2: Skógafoss (map)

“Excellent waterfall. MUST do!”

Skógafoss. One of the biggest and most beautiful waterfall in Iceland.
Skógafoss. One of the biggest and most beautiful waterfall in Iceland.

One of the biggest and most beautiful waterfall in Iceland; little wonder this famed beauty was used as a backdrop for a number of movies. A flight of stairs beside the fall leads to the top and onto some hiking trails.

Skógafoss Iceland. A flight of stairs on the right side of the fall leads to the top and onto some hiking trails.
Skógafoss Iceland. A flight of stairs on the right side of the fall leads to the top and onto some hiking trails.
View from the top of Skógafoss
View from the top of Skógafoss

“The Skógafoss is one of the biggest waterfalls in the country with a width of 25 metres (82 feet) and a drop of 60 m (200 ft). Due to the amount of spray the waterfall consistently produces, a single or double rainbow is normally visible on sunny days.” (Source, Wikipedia: Skógafoss

The waterfall is clearly sign-posted and visible from the Ring Road. You’ll never miss it. There are some accommodation/eatery in front of the waterfall and some visitors were seen camping there.


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#3: Mýrdalsjökull Glacier (map)

“Excellent alternative to guided glacier tours”

Mýrdalsjökull is the southernmost and fourth largest glacier in Iceland
Mýrdalsjökull is the southernmost and fourth largest glacier in Iceland

Mýrdalsjökull is the southernmost and fourth largest glacier in Iceland. It covers an active volcano called Katla.

Accessible with a short walk from the carpark, you could walk onto the glacier without having to join a guided glacier tour. The only drawback is that without crampons/axes (which guided tours would provide) you couldn’t go far up the glacier, as it is too slippery. Having said, the edge of the glacier is flat enough to venture with normal shoes, and offers impressive views of the glacier. Excellent for those whom had never explored glaciers! Hey, it’s free!

Directions: If coming from the west (on Ring Road), soon after passing Skógafoss, look out for road#221 on the left. Turn into #221 (gravel road) and drive a few minutes before reaching the first carpark that has the office of a glacier tour company. You could park here or if you’re lazy to walk, continue driving pass the office and come to a second car park at the end of #221. The second car park is slightly nearer to the glacier (save you an easy 5-10 minutes walk).

 

 

#4: Crashed DC-3 Plane (Plus how to get there!)

“A MUST visit while in southern Iceland! Miss and you WILL regret!”

Crashed DC-3 Plane, Southern Iceland
Crashed DC-3 Plane, Southern Iceland

Definitely one of the BEST site in my Iceland road trip. Not many places in the world can boast a military plane wreck on a remote and scenic black sand beach with few tourists. Truly a heaven for photography buffs.

This United States Navy DC-3 (with the United States inscription on the fuselage is still visible) crashed in Nov-1973 with fortunately no fatalities and had remained on the beach since. Actual reason for the crash was not known (at least publically), and there appears to be no attempt to recover the wreck; instead leaving it to the arctic elements for the past few decades.

Click here for directions

 

 

#5: Reynisfjara, Halsanefshellir, Reynisdrangar and Reynisfjall (map)

“Magical coastline, breathtaking view!”

Simply spectacular! The unique basalt formations, dramatic sea cliffs and mysterious black sand make the area a stunningly scenic coastline. There are a number of prominent features on this coastline:

Reynisfjara (black sand beach). The most renowned black sand beach in Iceland.
Reynisfjara (black sand beach). The most renowned black sand beach in Iceland.

Reynisfjara (black sand beach)

The most renowned black sand beach in Iceland. With pitch-black volcanic sand covering the entire coastline and relentless waves from the North Atlantic Ocean pounding its shore, this is nature’s beauty at its best.

 

Halsanefshellir (sea cavern; bottom right). A vaulted cavern on the Reynisfjara black sand beach, formed by the uniquely shaped basalt columns at the foot of Reynisfjall (mountain in background).
Halsanefshellir (sea cavern; bottom right). A vaulted cavern on the Reynisfjara black sand beach, formed by the uniquely shaped basalt columns at the foot of Reynisfjall (mountain in background).

Halsanefshellir (sea cavern)

Halsanefshellir is a vaulted cavern on the Reynisfjara black sand beach, formed by the uniquely shaped basalt columns at the foot of Reynisfjall (mountain & sea cliff). The cavern is very near to the shoreline and its opening directly faces the sea. As such, the approach to the cavern can be dangerous during strong waves and inclement weather.

Reynisfjall (mountain)

Reynisfjall is the mountain adjacent to Reynisfjara black sand beach. Approximately 340 metres high, Reynisfjall has dramatic sea cliffs on the side facing the beach. Halsanefshellir cavern is at the foot of the cliff, facing the ocean.

Reynisdrangar (3x basalt sea stacks)

Reynisdrangar refers to the 3x basalt sea stacks (~60 metres high) that are slightly off the coast of Reynisfjara black sand beach. The sea stacks can also be view from Vik and Dyrholaey (see attraction #6).

Reynisdrangar (the 3x sea stacks off the coast) and Reynisfjall (mountain in background) as viewed from Vik (town).
Reynisdrangar (the 3x sea stacks off the coast) and Reynisfjall (mountain in background) as viewed from Vik (town).

Directions: From the Ring Road turn into road#215 (Reynishverfisvegur), which is a short distance west from Vik. Once on #215, drive to the carpark at the end (carpark is right by the beach). From here, you could view Reynisdrangar sea stack and Reynisfjall Mountain, access Halsanefshellir cavern and Reynisfjara black sand beach. Dyrholaey can be seen in the distance.

 

 

#6: Dyrholaey (map)

“Scenic view of the surrounding coastline”

Dyrholaey. Overlooking Reynisfjara (black sand beach), Reynisfjall (Mountain) and Reynisdrangar (sea stacks) in the distance.
Dyrholaey. Overlooking Reynisfjara (black sand beach), Reynisfjall (Mountain) and Reynisdrangar (sea stacks) in the distance.

Dyrholaey is a promontory right off the coast, with the steep cliffs on its ocean side. Due to its height, you have a bird’s eye view of the entire coastline; overlooking Reynisfjara (black sand beach), Reynisfjall (Mountain) and Reynisdrangar (sea stacks) in the distance. Puffins are known to populate the cliffs of Dyrholaey during summer.

Dyrholaey. Bird's eye view of the entire coastline.
Dyrholaey. Bird’s eye view of the entire coastline.

 

Directions: Just a short driving distance west from Vik and Reynisfjara black sand beach, Dyrholaey can be accessed via road#218 from the Ring Road. There is a carpark at the end of #218.

Tip: There is a lighthouse (built 1927) at the top of Dyrholaey. To access, after turning into #218 (from the Ring Road), look out for an unmarked gravel road on the right before coming to the end of #218. Turn into the gravel road (it leads uphill) and drive to the end. Most people miss this gravel road and hence, the chance to visit the lighthouse and its surrounding area which is particularly scenic.

Lighthouse (1927) at the top of Dyrholaey.
Lighthouse (1927) at the top of Dyrholaey.
Lighthouse (1927) at the top of Dyrholaey.
Lighthouse (1927) at the top of Dyrholaey.

 

 

#7: Landmannalaugar (map)

“One of the most magical landscape I’ve ever seen!”

Campsite at Landmannalaugar.
Campsite at Landmannalaugar.

Landmannalaugar is an exceptionally picturesque place in the Fjallabak Nature Reserve, which is in the highland (interior) area of Iceland. It is located beside Laugahraun lava field, which was formed around 1477 during an eruption.

Hiking at Landmannalaugar: 2-hour hike to Mt. Brennisteinsalda.
Hiking at Landmannalaugar: 2-hour hike to Mt. Brennisteinsalda.

Landmannalaugar is most famous for its scenic hiking trails, and is the northern start point of the hugely popular Laugavegur hiking trail (3-4days) to Þórsmörk. There are also a number of short trails, including the impressive 2-hour hike through the Laugahraun lava field to Mt. Brennisteinsalda (“Sulphur Wave” in English) (more details below).

“The Laugavegur is a famous trekking route in South-West Iceland from the hot springs area of Landmannalaugar to the glacial valley of Þórsmörk. It is noted for the wide variety of landscapes that are experienced in just 55 km.” (Source, Wikipedia: Laugavegur)

 

Drive to Landmannalaugar (via F225)
Drive to Landmannalaugar (via F225)

Drive to Landmannalaugar

There are 3 main routes to Landmannalaugar from the southern Ring Road. This website has more info on the routes.

I took the F225 route (2.5hrs from Hella to Landmannalaugar). The drive itself was nothing short of magical! You’ll cross lava landscape, snow covered mountains, beautiful lakes and streams. I couldn’t help stopping and taking pictures numerous times along the way. The drive itself was worth the trip!

If you’ve never driven 4×4 in off-road conditions, this will simply take your breath away. The route is extremely fun and YET the fording portion is manageable (however, it is best to check with locals before driving as the streams’ volume can vary significantly).

Click here and here to view the video of us fording some of the streams. 

Views enroute to Landmannalaugar (F225)
Views enroute to Landmannalaugar (F225)

Arriving in Landmannalaugar

Once in Landmannalaugar, proceed to the Ranger hut and ask for advice on which hiking route to take. Based on the time that you have, they will advice you accordingly.

For myself, I took the 2-hour hike to Mt. Brennisteinsalda. The trail took me through Laugahraun lava field and up to the thermal areas of Mt. Brennisteinsalda, before returning via a small but scenic stream behind the ranger hut/cooking area. Exceptional hike!

 

 

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4 Responses

  1. Go Iceland Car Rental
    | Reply

    Unfortunatley but fully understandable, the road leading to the airplane has been closed by the landowners until further notice. (14th of March, 2016). Too many people have been driving off road there, destroying private property. Read all about it here including a detailed description on how to find the plane, you can always walk there!
    http://www.goiceland.com/blog/the-solheimarsandur-airplane-wreck/7760/
    Safe travels!

    • Allan See Toh
      | Reply

      Hi. Thanks for the latest update in the situation at the wreck. The closure to vehicles is most unfortunate, luckily as you’ve correctly mentioned, the wreck can be accessed via foot (4km walk, one way) from the gate along the Ring Road. Let’s hope the status quo maintains and visitors can continue to visit this amazing wreck. Cheers! =)

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