When planning your trip to Iceland, you have probably been inspired by pictures on Instagram by one of those bloggers (I’m one of them) and have been overwhelmed with the amount of cool stuff there is to see in Iceland. And now you’ve stumbled upon this page. Great, yet another guy with an opinion on Iceland! Don’t close this page just yet, I’ve tried to add a bit of information here and there that I hadn’t seen anywhere else on the web. I also tell you the minimum amount of time you should ideally spend at each location. Let’s take a look at which natural attractions in South Iceland are an absolute must-see.
1. Thingvellir (30 min -1hr)
Thingvellir (Þingvellir) is your ideal starting activity when you get to Iceland. Coming from Keflavik airport or Reykjavik, take route 36 – or aptly called Þingvallavegur – towards Thingvellir. It’s a magical place. The tectonic-plate boundary where Europe and North-America are tearing away from each other appeals to the imagination of many. I mean, walking between the cracks of earth, how cool is that! Go after 6, park your car on the abandoned parking lot and you’ll have the place completely to yourself. It’s a common misconception that Iceland is now overly crowded with tourists. The beautiful Öxararfoss is also located in the nation park.
By going from Reykjavik straight to Thingvellir you’ll have successfully skipped the busiest (and ugliest) part of route 1.From Thingvellir, continue driving south to Selfoss to make your way back to Route 1. Our GPS said road 361 would be a shortcut, but that gravel road is tougher (read: slower) I only advice that piece of road if you can’t get enough of the beautiful scenery.
2. Kerið (15-30 min)
Having reached the end of route 36, turn left on number 35 and you’ll eventually see Kerið popping up. As most attractions in South Iceland, it is easily accessible. You can park almost on the edge of the 3000-year old crater. There’s a kiosk occupied by day where they charge you an entrance fee of 400 isk to view the crater, which you can literally see from the car park. In the evening, the kiosk is closed so it’s free! If you’re a good Samaritan, you can leave 400 ISK in a letter box. The entry fees have been used to build a brand spanking new staircase down towards the crater. The colors of Kerið make for some incredible pictures!
3. Seljalandsfoss and Gljufrabui (1-2 hrs)
Two of Iceland’s best known waterfalls. We were there early in the morning around 7. Don’t be fooled by what they say on Instagram, they are easily accessible. I’ve seen people posting stuff like: ‘after a long hike we discovered this waterfall!’ Absolutly ridiculous! Seljalandsfoss is located right next to Route 1 and can be seen from the road.
You can make some awesome long exposure shots there, but prepare to get wet! Cover your gear when you don’t need it.
There’s a campsite right next to Gljufrabui. Early in the morning the campers are still sleeping and you won’t have to worry about someone with a fluorescent rain coat walking into your frame. Put on your boots to enter the cave where the waterfall is located in without getting your feet wet!
4. Solheimajökull (1,5 hrs)
Solheimajökull is the first glacier tongue you’ll come across if you do the ring road counter clockwise. The path from the parking lot to the glacier gets longer every year (damn you climate change!). The first bit of the glacier can be done on normal shoes or boots but after a while it gets tricky and you’ll see signs that say it is prohibited without the proper gear after this point. Karma ninjas will do their job by tripping tourists who go too far on the glacier.
If you do want to climb the glacier, book a tour and you’ll be fully equipped with helmets and ice picks to tackle this bad boy.
5. Solheimasandur abandoned plane (skip)
Solheimasandur, the beach where a DC3 plane crashed, is one of the most iconic and haunting locations, they say. Perhaps it would be haunting if it weren’t for all the other tourists there. Since some time you are no longer allowed to drive on the beach towards the plane. You have to leave your car on the parking lot next to the road and do a 40 minute walk on the windy beach (and back). Just to see the plane, without wings but with graffiti! I’m glad to see they’ve made the car park bigger since Solheimasandur is getting incredibly popular, but that also means more people on-site. No chance of being there all by yourself during daytime.
6. Dyrholaey (30 min)
Probably the most photographed location in Iceland. The road towards Dyrholaey is very steep but doable with a normal car. From there you have a beautiful view of the famous black sand beach and Dyrholaey Arch. I was hoping to be able to walk on the huge arch to do an epic drone shot there but it was very windy that day and the signs said no trespassing and no droning anyway. From there, you’ll have an amazing view over South Iceland!
7. Reynisfjara (30 min)
Reynisfjara is located right next to Dyrholaey! You can see it from there. So theoretically speaking, it’s not far. However you have to drive all the way back on road 218, do a hilly section of route 1 and turn right on road 215. Lots of tourists, but you can still make some good pictures of Halsanefshellir cave or the basalt columns. Obnoxious tourists are being surprised by sneaker waves on a regular basis, despite the gigantic warning signs. Do not get too close to the water on this location and you’ll be fine!
8. Fjaðrárgljúfur (1-2hrs)
On the ring road, look for the sign for road F206 towards Laki. An F-road, but you’ll get to Fjaðrárgljúfur with a regular car without worries. Fjaðrárgljúfur is a beautiful location! There’s a path next to the canyon that takes you to all the photogenic spots. Or you can go down into the river, but you’ll need some thigh high boots as there are a few deeper sections to cross.
9. Svartifoss (2-3hrs)
Svartifoss is the signature attraction of Skaftafell National Park.
Those who have a bit more trouble walking on uneven surfaces can take the asphalt road next to it, for the first part of the hike. I appreciate their effort to create a path through the trees but with the asphalt road right next to it, it’s just a bit silly. I think it takes about an hour getting to Svartifoss, and you can continue hiking in Skaftafell if you want, it’s really beautiful there with all the trees (another myth busted).
10. Jökulsarlon (1hr)
Last one of my 10 must-see natural attractions in South Iceland: Jökulsarlon. I learned the glacier is both growing and shrinking at the same time. Sadly, shrinking faster than it’s growing. You can drive right up to the glacial lake for a close encounter with the effects global warming.
Since they narrowed the part were the lagoon meets the ocean to construct a bridge there, they accidentally created a new natural phenomenon: during low tide the seawater flows back into the lagoon and the large chunks of ice that had made their way into the ocean are now being thrown back onto the beach! The one-way bridge is an original spot to take a great picture of Jökulsarlon, but beware of oncoming traffic as it is narrow there!
There are of course a lot more must-see natural attractions in South Iceland. But if you only have a few days in Iceland, you can visit these and get a fairly good impression of what the country is all about. If you have some more time, you can combine your trip to South Iceland with a visit to the gorgeous Snaefellsnes peninsula!