If you’re looking for a destination that’s a “pinch me, is this even real” type of amazing, then look no further, my friend, Iceland is it. From the endless green hills to absolutely unreal waterfalls, I could not get enough of Iceland’s South Coast. Iceland’s South Coast continues to top traveler’s bucket lists (along with Iceland’s majestic Golden Circle and the ever-famous Blue Lagoon), and it is for good reason. Not only is the area extremely easy to reach, but the South Coast offers some of the most diverse, pristine landscapes in the world.
Set out on a journey of a lifetime to Iceland’s South Coast and take in stunning fairytale vistas complete with waterfalls, glaciers, and black sand beaches. Iceland’s South Coast stretches from Reykjavik to the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in the east. Keep in mind that this list just covers 10 sights that I would consider “must-see,” but that there are SOOOO many beautiful, unique things to do and see on Iceland’s South Coast.
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What is Iceland’s South Coast?
This is kind of obvious based on the name alone…it’s the South Coast of Iceland, which you can reach by driving southeast from Reykjavik. It is one of the most easily accessible parts of the country, which you can reach via the Ring Road (Route 1).
You can find basically every cool natural phenomenon…in one day I saw volcanoes, waterfalls, glaciers, and black sand beaches. So if you’re looking for dramatic landscapes, indecisive weather, and some seriously tongue-twisting names, you have to check out Iceland’s South Coast.
Should I Self-Drive or Take an Iceland South Coast Tour?
There are pros and cons to each, so let me help you out here.
Self-drive: You can stop where you want and take photos of every single waterfall and field of flowers. If you haven’t been to Iceland, trust me when I say you’ll want to pull over and take photos literally every 5 minutes. Tourists’ cars sitting on the side of the highway at the most random locations is proof of this. Cons include navigating yourself (I always get lost), high gas prices, expensive rental cars, and occasionally difficult road conditions (read: a Floridian trying to drive in snow).
Iceland South Coast Tour: All of the planning is done for you, but the stops are also pre-planned, so you have less flexibility. However, the guides will give you Icelandic history tidbits the whole way (loved these!), and it’s totally acceptable to nap along the way.
Decision: As a solo traveler, it made sense for me to choose a tour. I opted to do the GeoIceland South Coast Tour, and absolutely loved it. The small group size (11 people) was ideal, the guide worked in a stop for a pretty field of flowers, and he was full of random Icelandic knowledge. For example, did you know Reykjavik means “smoke bay,” since it always looks like it’s smoky? Side note: it is not actually smoky, but it does have a lot of geothermal steam!
One of our bonus stops was to stop and frolic in this field of lupin! These purple flowers are actually not native to Iceland, and were introduced about 80 years ago to stop wind erosion. They’ve basically taken over, but have also done a marvelous job of stopping wind erosion.
10 Must-See Sights on Iceland’s South Coast
This is probably the hardest part…you could probably make about 1000 separate stops, but that would take a really long time, so I went ahead and picked some of my faves for you!
Brown Trout Falls
Iceland’s government doesn’t publicize this one too much, since they want to convert it to a hydroelectric dam. My advice? Hurry up and go!
Aside from being gorgeous (and freezing!), Skogafoss is also featured in Justin Bieber’s “I’ll Show You” music video. I definitely wasn’t expecting it going in, but I learned a lot about Biebs that day.
You can hike up to the glacier (I may have ignored the don’t continue past here sign) and actually touch it!
There are surprisingly few towns outside of Reykjavik, but Vik is one of them. For a town with a population of only 300, they got ONE MILLION visitors last year. Do the math: that’s 3,333 visitors per inhabitant! I don’t know about you, but I’m definitely not that popular.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
This is the black sand beach you see in all of the photos (and for good reason). It’s definitely not a swimming beach, but will live up to the dramatic views that Iceland’s South Coast promises.
Stop here for views of the black sand beaches from above. Plus, you get the added perk of this arch!
Yes, that’s right…the volcano that spewed ash back in 2010 and brought European air travel to a screeching halt. Personally, what I remember most were the newscasters trying to pronounce this volcano’s name (and failing so miserably).
Fun fact: Icelanders tend to string a bunch of nouns together to name a place, so Eyjafallajokull actually means islands-mountains-glacier…now wouldn’t that have been easier to say? Also, I completely butchered it every time I tried to say it, but it sounded so nice rolling off the tongue of a native Icelander.
This is a fun one…you can actually run behind the waterfall here…or walk very safely! Turns out the waterfall had very cold water, so this Florida girl had to move quickly. I’d advise wearing a rain coat!
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Boat through the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon—I was so sad to miss this, but needed another day in Iceland. The glacier lagoon looks like a magical place to boat through the icebergs. It’s on my bucket list!
It’s basically a deep lake that fills with icebergs as the large Breiðamerkurjökull glacier breaks apart. It’s also a beautiful place to catch a sunrise or sunset; I will definitely be making a trip back to Iceland for a boat ride in the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon.
Hike the Falljökull glacier from Skaftafell –Make your way up some icy slops and watch the glacier in action. This is about a half day experience, so if you’re interested, make sure to plan in advance!
Flying to Iceland
Finding cheap flights to Iceland has never been easier, as airlines continue to expand their routes. I’d recommend searching through eDreams.net. They scan tons of different travel discount sites and feature special flight deals. You can typically find good flights on IcelandAir.
You’ll fly into Iceland’s Keflavík Airport, which is about 45 minutes outside of Reykjavik. As a nice perk, the airport offers free unlimited WiFi, which I used to pass the time as I waited in the immigration line.
Where to Stay in Reykjavik
Most folks begin or end their Iceland South Coast itinerary in Reykjavik, so I’ll provide hotel recommendations for the city. While you’re at it, you’ll probably have a little extra time to explore the city, so don’t miss these top 10 Insta-worthy photo spots in Reykjavik.
Boutique Hotel: Stay at Hotel Ódinsvé—this hotel has an awesome location downtown, and offers cool amenities like a terrace and café bar. Try and book one of the rooms with a balcony so you can enjoy the views!
Mid-Range: I’d recommend Hotel Frón; this hotel is also centrally located and even has kitchen facilities in the apartments, which definitely comes in handy if you end up using Reykjavik as a home base.
Budget: If you’re looking to avoid hotels and go the hostel route, I recommend checking out Hostelworld; there are plenty of options in Reykjavik! My personal hostel recommendation is Loft Hostel. You have an amazing location in the heart of the city, and I absolutely loved the ambiance of the common area/bar and outside terrace.
Local Stay: Another option to forgo the hotels and stay at this adorable house in the heart of Reykjavik. You’ll enjoy views of old town and the harbor while being surrounded by quaint restaurants and shops. One of the cool things about the house is that it is owned by a family of artists, which gives the home many unique touches. Also, the house includes parking, which is somewhat rare in Reykjavik these days!
Where to Stay in Vik
If you’re continuing your road trip through Iceland instead of heading back to Reykjavik, Vik is a natural stopping point for the evening before continuing on. There are plenty of options for hotels, restaurants, and shops (compared with the rest of Iceland’s South Shore, at least). My recommendation is Hótel Kría. The hotel has its own cocktail bar, a restaurant authentic Icelandic cuisine, and you can reach the black sand beaches in a 5 minute walk! Plus, you can enjoy breathtaking mountain views from the property.
I hope this guide to the Iceland’s South Coast was helpful! What other recommendations do you have for visiting Iceland’s South Coast? Let me know in the comments. And remember, always chase those waterfalls!