30 Things To See And Do In South Iceland
There is so much to see and do on the South Coast of Iceland. You can hike through spectacular natural spaces, kick back in a hot tub, or explore the glacial caves. History buffs shouldn’t miss a visit to the shipwrecks and ancient settlements along the coast, and party lovers can head for a night out in Reykjavik. Just be prepared to stay up until the early hours!
This article will give you 30 ideas of things that you can see and do on the South Coast of Iceland. We hope you find it helpful!
The List: 30 Things To See and Do In South Iceland
Before heading out of the capital city, there’s plenty you can see and do. Here are a few ideas, but don’t hesitate to check out our city guide for many more things to do in Reykjavik!
You can take a wildlife tour right from the old harbor. In the summer you’ll have an excellent chance of seeing whales, dolphins, porpoises, and puffins. In winter, you could take the boat out to see the Northern Lights instead, which are particularly magical away from the city’s light pollution. The views you’ll see from Faxafloi Bay are truly stunning, with a striking backdrop of Mount Esja and Akrafjall.
Museums of Reykjavik
Reykjavik is also home to countless galleries and museums. You can learn about the volcanoes and glaciers or immerse yourself in the lives of Vikings at the settler museum. Some of the best museums in Reykjavik include the Saga Museum, Perlan, The Culture House, and The Whale Museum. You’ll have plenty to keep you occupied on a rainy day!
Night out in Reykjavik
Party lovers will enjoy the buzzing nightlife in Reykjavik. Just bear in mind that the clubs don’t get busy until the early hours of the morning, and it’s pretty common to dance until kick-out time at 5 or 6 am. If you head out too early, you may be in for a disappointment!
If you head South out of Reykjavik, you’ll come to the fishing town called Grindavik. The drive will take you around an hour in good weather, and it’s definitely worth the trip.
The most famous attraction in the Grindavik area has got to be the Blue Lagoon. This geothermal spa is extremely popular with visitors to Iceland, so make sure you get your tickets well in advance. People come from all over the world to soak in the mineral-rich waters beneath the open sky. And while there are many other geothermal spas in Iceland, this is the most convenient to reach from Reykjavik.
Hrafn Sveinbjarnarson III Ship Wreck
While you’re in the area, you might like to take a stroll to see the Hrafn Sveinbjarnarson III Ship Wreck. The ship came ashore in 1988, but you don’t have to worry about any ghosts. Thankfully, the coast guard saved the whole crew. You could check out Hópsnesviti lighthouse on the same walk.
A little to the East of Grindavik, you’ll find the Krísuvíkurberg Cliffs. These cliffs are one of the best bird-watching sites in the country. In the summer, you’ll be able to see Puffins and Northern Lapwings (or Peewits). Keep an eye out for whales and dolphins, which are sometimes visible from the cliffs. For everyone’s safety, make sure you give the birds and cliff edges plenty of space!
You can drive to Selfoss from Grindavik, right along the South Coast. Or if you choose to miss out on the Grindavik area, it will be quicker to go directly from Reykjavik, along Route 1.
The Golden Circle is one of the most famous sightseeing routes in Iceland. It’s easy to self-drive, and you’ll find some spectacular sites along the way. Famous stops include Geysir Geothermal Area, Pingvellir National Park, and Gullfoss Waterfall. We encourage you to check out Kerid Crater while you’re in the area!
You can stop in the Reykadalur Valley for a wild dip in the geothermal river. Make sure you stick to the clearly marked path, which will prevent you from getting burned in a mud pot. And don’t throw yourself into any old pool, as some of them are burning hot! Just follow the lovely 3km hike into the valley and look out for the swimming area in the river. You won’t miss it, because there will be other swimmers there as well as a little changing room.
After a swim in the hot river, it’s time to dry yourself off and head on to Hella. You’ll find this small town around 40 km to the East of Selfoss, nestled on the shores of the Ytri-Rangá river.
Caves of Hella
The caves of Hella are shrouded in mystery! The 12 caves were hand-carved by people, probably even earlier than the arrival of Nordic settlers and Vikings. You can take a tour of four of these caves, where you’ll find seats, crosses, and pictures carved into the walls. Some people believe the caves were an ancient religious temple, but no one knows for sure where they came from.
Keldur Turf Houses
The Keldur Turf Houses are some of the best-preserved and oldest turf houses in Iceland. So long as you are respectful of the farmers’ property, it is possible to visit them. You will leave your car in the small car park by the information panel near the turf houses and make your way down to the turf houses on foot. In summer you can go inside for a small fee, but it’s possible to walk around outside them at any time of the year. Of course, you should not go and look at the farmer’s nearby house or barns. This is a working farm and home!
The Holt Area on the South Coast is not to be confused with the district in Reykjavik. This rural location is not touristy, but you might like to explore a couple of beautiful locations it has to offer.
An experienced and fit mountaineer could hike Eyjafjallajökull Volcano in around 10 hours, so long as the conditions are reasonable. We highly recommend you do this hike with a guide who can help you safely navigate the ice and rough terrain. The volcano is active and famously brought international air travel to a halt in 2010. If you live in Europe, you may remember the thin layer of ash that showered down on the continent.
If you’d rather take your vacation more gently, don’t hesitate to stop at Holtsós. You’ll find this tidal lagoon just South of Eyjafjallajökull Volcano, which is accessible by car. It’s a beautiful place to enjoy the sunrise or watch the Northern Lights.
Skogar is a tiny little village with only around 25 inhabitants! You’ll find many such settlements along the South coast, which is actually Iceland’s “busy” region. If you were to head out West, the population is even sparser.
The Skogar museum will give you a good idea of how the early Icelanders lived. You’ll find some reconstructed turf houses, so you can see what the grass-covered homes would have looked like in all their glory. You can also see some of the 15,000 artefacts in the folk exhibition. From everyday handicrafts to fishing gear and ancient farming equipment, you’ll get a glimpse into how tough our ancestors had to be.
We also recommend that you take the time to visit Skogafoss waterfall. The water tumbles over 60-meter cliffs and is an impressive 25 meters wide. You may recognize the location from Game Of Thrones, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Thor, and lots of music videos. Once you see it up close, you’ll understand why it’s so popular as a film set!
If you keep making your way along the South Coast, you will come to the tiny coastal village called Vik. There is a surprising amount to see and do in the area for such a small place! But it’s probably best known for its black sand beaches.
The cliffs at Dyrhólaey are home to puffins and eider ducks in the summer months, but they are beautiful to visit all year round. The volcanic sea arch is particularly striking, and there is also a pretty lighthouse that you can walk to. You will also see black sand beaches, an impressive sea stack, and Mýrdalsjökull glacier in the distance. We do not recommend attempting to reach Dyrhólaey without a 4×4.
If you liked the look of the black sand beaches at Dyrhólaey, just wait until you see Reynisfjara beach. This is one of the most beautiful beaches in the whole of Iceland, with spectacular views of lava formations and the wild ocean. Talking of wild, you should not attempt to enter the water and always keep well back from the shore. Powerful sneaker waves come out of nowhere, so you should stay alert.
You can take a horse riding tour all over the South of Iceland, but Vik is a charming place to do so thanks to the black sand beaches, which you can explore on horseback. Icelandic horses are friendly and hardy, and people come especially to ride them from all over the world thanks to their unique extra gait called the tolt.
Don’t hesitate to take a walk up to Vik church while you are here. This lovely building is typical of Iceland, with white walls and a pretty red roof. The views from the church are beautiful, with the wild blue flowers contrasting the large expanses of volcanic sand.
This small museum is home to a 100-year-old ship called Skaftfellingur. You’ll have a chance to see the equipment that the hardy sailors used a century ago, as well as learn about over a hundred shipwrecks along the South Coast.
The Gígjagjá cave is also known as the Yoda cave because the cave mouth looks just like the Jedi-training alien that so many of us love. The opening scene of Rogue One was filmed in the area, and the views from inside the cave are lovely. You can enjoy some hikes in the area or head to the peaceful seaside location to watch the Northern Lights.
Skaftárhreppur is a municipality about 70km East of Vik. The distance will take you about an hour in good weather. As well as some beautiful volcanic formations, there is a lot of history in this area. Even before the Norsemen arrived, people have lived here, with the area initially being settled by Irish monks.
Kirkjubæjarklaustur Sport Center
Kirkjubæjarklaustur is a small but lovely public swimming pool that you could visit on a rainy day. There is a hot tub overlooking the mountain and a heated outdoor pool. This is a quiet spot where you can recharge your batteries, but don’t expect a Blue-Lagoon-style experience! If you’re looking for luxury, head to a spa instead.
The Dverghamrar cliffs (or dwarf cliffs) were formed by ancient volcanic activity. You can reach the stunning hexagonal canyon along a pretty hiking trail, which is easily accessible from the parking area. This is a much quieter place to see basalt columns than Reynisfjara beach.
Skaftafell is a beautiful and wild area in the Vatnajökull National Park. It’s home to glaciers, hiking trails, volcanoes, and stunning waterfalls. If you’re an outdoorsy kind of person, you won’t want to miss this location.
Hiking in Skaftafell
You can find hiking in Skaftafell for all levels. Whether you want to take a couple of hours of fresh air or spend a few nights hiking deep into the mountain trails, you will find something suitable! Long-distance hikers can take advantage of the simple campsite at the trailhead, and we recommend you drop in to the visitor center if you’d like more information on the hiking trails available. Just be aware that some of the hikes are impossible during the snowy months.
One of the hikes in Skaftafell is particularly famous. You can walk to the gorgeous Svartifoss waterfall about 1.5 kilometers from the visitor center. It’ll probably take you about 45 minutes to get there, and there are plenty of other waterfalls to admire along the way. Svartifoss is particularly impressive, thanks to the enormous hexagonal volcanic columns that it tumbles over.
While you’re in the area, you can go Glacier Hiking and Ice climbing on the Svínafellsjökull glacier. Most tours set off from the visitor center, and safety equipment like crampons and ice axes are provided. When the weather is clear, you’ll have a view of Hvannadalshnjúkur mountain. But even in lower visibility, the ice sculptures will blow you away.
Before you arrive in the Reynivellir Area, you’ll find the world-famous glacier lagoon and diamond beach. But there’s another, less touristy lagoon that you can check out too.
Jökulsárlón is the best-known glacier lagoon in Iceland. You can take boat trips out to see the Icebergs up close or just enjoy them from the lakeshore for free. Make sure you wear plenty of warm clothes, and please don’t attempt to swim in the lagoon! The temperatures get down to below 27 degrees Fahrenheit (-3 degrees centigrade). And even if you are a seasoned cold-water swimmer, the glaciers could trap you beneath the water.
While you’re at Jökulsárlón, you should hop across the road to see Diamond Beach. The beach is covered in smashed-up icebergs that washed ashore, making the sand glitter in the sunlight. It’s a beautiful place to visit, but stay well back from the shore and try to resist climbing on the melting ice formations!
Fjallsárlón is the lesser-known glacier lagoon, which is just over 10km to the West of Jökulsárlón. The waters aren’t crystal clear but rather murky due to sediment in the water. Nonetheless, it’s a beautiful place, and you take a boat trip out to see the icebergs in high season. If you prefer to avoid the crowds, you may choose this lagoon over Jökulsárlón, but it does still get quite busy at peak times.
Hofn is a fishing village in South East Iceland, surrounded by the ocean on three sides. If you’re visiting Iceland in the first week of July, you may want to head over to check out the lobster festival.
Hofskirkja Turf Church
Hofskirkja may look like it comes from a storybook, but it’s an active church. The thick stone walls and living green roof help keep the congregation warm in the winter months, and the lush green grounds have a fairy tale feel. Please note that this is not a tourist attraction, but you are welcome to come and see the beautiful building from the outside.
You can reach Ósland island over the manmade bridge, where you can explore some lovely hiking trails. This conservation area is rich in birdlife, so don’t forget your binoculars!
We hope this list of 30 things to see and do in South Iceland gave you some inspiration. Of course, there are far more things to do on the South Coast than we could list in this article. So use this post as a springboard, and don’t hesitate to change your plans as you explore everything Iceland has to offer.
If you’d like some more help planning your vacation to the land of fire and ice, you can check out some of our hand-picked tours. We look forward to welcoming you here soon!