There’s so much to see and do in Iceland, so where do you start? A popular idea is to drive the Ring Road, a road that goes all the way around Iceland. However, that could take a week. If you don’t have enough time for the ring road, you might want to plan your itinerary around specific things you want to see – and there are so many great things to do in South Iceland.
The south of Iceland has a lot of wonderful sights and attractions, mainly due to its stunning natural landscape. On one side, there are miles and miles of black sand beaches. And on the other side is the raised elevation of inland Iceland, from which glaciers snake down the side of volcanoes and waterfalls drop spectacularly.
Whether you’ll be passing through as part of a ring road adventure, or South Iceland is the destination for you, this list of the 15 most stunning destinations in South Iceland will help you plan what you want to do and maximise your time in Iceland.
I’ve skipped the Golden Circle in this post because it is kind of its own thing (and I might write on it in the future). I’ve also included several that are technically defined as South-East Iceland – because, actually, these are some of the best places to visit in my opinion!
South Iceland attractions Map
If you’re planning a trip to South Iceland or South-East Iceland, all the attractions I recommend are marked on this map.
Everything in this list is easily reached from the ring road – no 4x4s needed – and I’ll list them in geographic order, as if you’re driving anticlockwise around Iceland, starting from Reykjavik.
Disclosure: this article contains affiliate links and if you were to buy something after clicking on them, I may earn a small commission. This is at no extra cost to you, and I only share things I use and love.
Things To Do In South Iceland
1.Walk Into Kerið Crater
Iceland has literally been made from volcanoes, and it is covered in dramatic craters. Many of the really spectacular ones are in the highlands in the centre of the island, so you need a 4×4 or even a super jeep to see them.
However, Kerið crater is easily reached by road and is great for a short stop to stretch your legs on your way into South Iceland. It is about 70km from Reykjavik.
It is a small, round, distinct crater with a reddish colour to the rock, with a teal coloured-lake in the middle. There’s a path to walk around the crater’s rim and one down to the edge of the crater lake. It is a very short route and it isn’t challenging, nor very steep.
There’s a small charge of 400ISK (about £3) to get into the crater, which might feel steep considering you’re unlikely to need more than 30 minutes here, but it isn’t much to pay.
2. Feel The Spray At Skógafoss Waterfall
About 150 km from Reykjavik and 113km from Kerið, you’ll come to one of the most stunning South Iceland waterfalls. In fact, Skógafoss could be a contender to be the most beautiful waterfall in all of Iceland.
The Skógá river carries meltwater from the glacier high above it and it spills over the limestone ridge and falls in a wide steep flow over a drop of 82m. In summer, the surrounding hills are bright green and purple heather covers the fields in front of it – so it really is picturesque.
You can walk on a path up the hillside to get a view from above the waterfall – and if you’re really into hiking, this trail (called the Fimmvörðuháls pass) goes all the way to Thórsmörk mountain ridge over a 2-day hike.
You can also walk close to the waterfall itself. This is exhilarating – and you’ll be struck by the power of the water. Mist fills the air all around it, and you will get wet way before you actually get close to the water! If you’re lucky, you might catch a rainbow in the spray.
There is a restaurant & bar next to Skógafoss, so if you do get wet and cold, you can warm up with a cup of hot chocolate.
The hamlet of Skógar is also a good place to stay – there’s a number of accommodation options including a 4-star hotel, some guesthouses and a campsite.
3. Hike a Glacier at Sólheimajökull
The biggest glaciers are further east, but it is possible to get close to and onto a glacier, just 2 hours from Reykjavik.
Sólheimajökull glacier is a long thin tongue of ice that ends in a meltwater lagoon about 12 miles from Skogafoss and about 5km from the ring road. There’s a car park, after which you can follow a trail to the glacier. Ice walking tours are available, but you have to do this with a professional outfit: it is dangerous to try to get on the ice without the right equipment and an experienced team. If you don’t want to actually hike, it is still a spectacular sight – and for many, the first glacier they see up close in Iceland.
However, I won’t pretend it’s the most attractive… A lot of the glaciers in Iceland have grey stripes on them, the remains of volcanic eruptions that scattered ash on them over the thousand years or so that the ice has been frozen. The snout of Sólheimajökull is especially grey, and its lagoon is very silty-looking. I know it sounds like I’m image-shaming a glacier! I just wanted to make it clear if you want the stunning ‘blue glacier’ spectacle, this isn’t it – though there are some more like that further east.
4. Explore The Plane Wreck At Sólheimasandur
One of the only non-natural attractions in Iceland is the plane wreck at Sólheimasandur. It was a US Navy plane that wrecked in 1973. Apparently, they were using the wrong fuel tank and thought they had run out of fuel.
The plane sits where it landed – in the missile of a big black gravel plain. The tail and much of the wings have since been removed and there’s graffiti on what is left. It’s a common Instagram shot to stand on top of the wreck (though I don’t recommend that, as the wreck is old).
To get to the site, you can park at a car park just off the ring road, about 9km from Skógar. You then need to walk across the gravel plain to the plane. It is a long way – around 4km, taking approx. an hour each way. And there’s not much to look at along the way – the plain is pretty flat! There is a path, but it is rocky, so it’s worth having sturdy shoes on. And don’t go if the weather report is bad – there is no shelter and sadly two tourists died in January 2020 after being caught in a storm.
As you get closer, the path will veer to the left and soon you’ll see the plane. It is a favourite with photographers, so even though it is remote, there may be other people there, too.
Top tip: once you’ve had your fill of photographing the plane, walk the extra it out to the black sand beach, because the chances are it will be empty. Knowing we were close to the sea, I couldn’t resist walking a bit further to see it. There are way more famous and photogenic beaches in Iceland, but the experience of being on this one – raw, completely deserted and seemingly endless – was special. It was just me and the elements.
5. Enjoy The View From Dyrhólaey
One of the most iconic attractions in south Iceland is Dyrhólaey. It is a rocky area of cliffs at the southernmost point of Iceland, about 28 km from Skógar.
It is famous for its natural archway of rock and for its spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. In the summertime, you might be lucky enough to see Puffins there.
There’s a car park at the bottom of the slope, and a path you can walk up to the top, where there’s a lighthouse. Along the way, you’ll have views of Kirkjufjara beach, which I liked because of how pitch black it is.
At the top, you can see Dyrhólaey itself, which is the archway – though you can’t walk out onto it. You can also go up to the lighthouse and there is a stunning view along the black sand beach of Sólheimasandur (the same one the plane crash is on, though you won’t be able to see if this far away). I was struck by the gradations of black on the beach – the shore is ringed by stripes of black and grey, something some people photoshop out of their photos to make the beach look even blacker.
There are other viewpoints near the car park, including one eastwards across the dramatic Arnardrangur rock and the Reynisfjara beach. Frustratingly, I didn’t know that when I went there, and I completely missed this stunning view, so don’t make the same mistakes I did!
6. Feel The Elements At Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
The place to get onto Reynisfjara beach is at its eastern end, not the Dyrhólaey end – and it feels like a long route by road because you have to circle around the get there rather than going direct.
It is a very popular tourist spot, largely because of the craggy black stacks of rock that jut out from the sea. The legend is that the stacks were originally trolls that tried to drag ships to shore, but when daylight broke, they became needles of rock.
There’s also an impressive cave made from hexagonal basalt formations.
You have to be sensible here, though: there are signs warning people not to underestimate the sea because there have been cases of people taking selfies with their back to the surf and being surprised by big waves that knock them off their feet. Tourists have died this way, so please respect how powerful and cold the sea is here!
When I went to Reynisfjara, this corner of the beach was crowded and filled with selfie-takers, which was a bit of a shame. However, I really liked the experience of walking along the beach away from the cave and the stacks, where there were hardly any people.
I loved the black sand beaches of Iceland… the raw blackness of the volcanic sand… the stark contrast with the surf… plus the brutal wind and the roar of the sea. It’s just so visceral.
7. Enjoy The Picture-Perfect Town of Vík
So much of Iceland’s appeal is its craggy landscapes and dramatic scenery. But some of the villages you’ll pass have their own charm. Vík í Mýrdal (its full name) is a small town near Reynisfjara. It looks out onto those twisted sea stacks and a black sand beach and to its rear are mountains.
Just above the town, there’s a quaint church with a red roof. In the summer, it is surrounded by heather.
It’s a popular spot – so much so that when I visited, it was too expensive to stay there (perhaps I left it too late to book), but it was a great place to grab lunch. There is a nice restaurant and by the petrol station, there’s a burger bar for a cheap lunch – great if you’re doing Iceland on a budget.
Things To Do In South East Iceland
8. Walk The Craggy Clifftop At Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon
Fjaðrárgljúfur is the work of water and time. The river Fjaðrá carved this beautiful canyon, up to 100m deep, after the last ice age. It looks stunning from the air (I only know this from other people’s drone photos), but it is also gorgeous from the ground.
You can reach it by turning left off the ring road 65km after Vik, and driving approx. 3km down the road.
Once there, you can take a path up onto the top of the canyon edge. I imagine the views are phenomenal… However, I didn’t have time to explore it because we were on our way east towards the glaciers and glacial lagoons. One for next time I visit, Iceland!
9. Marvel At The Delicate Waterfall At Foss á Síðu
The area around Fjaðrárgljúfur shows a different side of Iceland. I love craggy, dramatic, moody Iceland as much as anyone, but when the summer sun shines, it can be a very bright and cheerful place (and even somewhat warm).
When we passed this gorgeous little waterfall approx. 20km after Fjaðrárgljúfur, we couldn’t resist stopping for a photo.
I love the soft shapes of the rock and the symmetry of this perfect waterfall at Foss á Síðu. You can’t get very close to the waterfall, as it is on private land, but it is a very scenic spot to stretch your legs and capture a photo of something different.
10. Hiking At Skaftafell
Skaftafell is a wilderness area and hiking centre within Vatnajökull National Park, offering a variety of walking routes during summer. It is 57km from Foss á Síðu.
A popular hiking route in Skaftafell is to Svartifoss, a unique waterfall where the water cascades over a complex of black hexagonal basalt columns.
Another good route is to the Skaftafellsjökull glacier. and it was here I saw my first glacier. It was a dreary day when we took the short trail to the snout of the glacier. It was overcast, cold and wet, but the scale and drama of this gnarly ice monolith were absolutely awe-inspiring.
There’s not much infrastructure at Skaftafell – there’s a car park, a visitor centre and a campsite, but if you don’t want to camp, you’ll need to stay further away.
I chose to stay at Hof, a small town about 20km further along the ring road. There’s an affordable adventure hotel overlooked by craggy mountains and a gorgeous little turf-roofed church.
11. Wander The Shore at Fjallsárlón Glacial Lagoon
Fjallsárlón glacial lagoon is just off the ring road, 47km east of Skaftafell.
Wandering the shore in the crisp cool air, I was struck by the stillness. This huge body of ice has been flowing down the side of a live volcano system for thousands of years. Such patient power.
Fjallsárlón is just down the road from the more spectacular Jökulsárlón, but worth the detour on the way or the way back. Being much smaller, you can kind of take it all in a bit better than the vast Jökulsárlón.
Off the ring road, you can drive a short way to a car park, and then walk the rest of the way over gravel ridges.
I’m told there are boat rides available at some times of the year, though there were none when I was there. I didn’t mind, though: it was very still and quiet when we went. It was just us and the ancient ice.
12. Boat Ride Amongst Icebergs In Jökulsárlón
I rarely use this adjective, but it is fitting here: this place is awesome. So whilst I truly loved Fjallsárlón, if you only make it to one glacial lagoon, make it this one.
It is just overall more spectacular than Fjallsárlón – the lagoon is much bigger, the water is clearer and the icebergs are huger and bluer.
Jökulsárlón is 57km from Skaftafell and you’ll know you are close because you’ll probably see the icebergs from the Ring Road! There’s a sizeable car park right next to the lagoon, and you have a choice of activities. You can walk around the shore of the lagoon, you can go on an organise ice hike on (and sometimes into) the glacier itself. And you can take a boat onto the lagoon itself.
I loved my boat ride with Zodiac tours, in their small inflatable boats. The tour lasts about an hour and costs ISK10,500 (around £60). Before we were allowed in a boat, we had to get dressed in a bright yellow floatation suit, just in case we fell in the icy water!
We raced across the lagoon to the snout of the glacier, the bracing against the speed and the cold air.
We were also able to get very close to huge floating chunks of ancient ice, marvelling at the different hues of blue and grey – and their intriguing shapes. It was breathtakingly beautiful.
13. Wander Amongst Ice At The Diamond Beach
The Diamond Beach is named because it is strewn with ice, the fragments of which look like listening diamonds against the black sand.
These small pieces were once part of the massive icecap behind Jökulsárlón. Over a thousand years, the ice flows down and onto lower, flatter ground, where it starts to melt. Huge chunks calved off and float in the lagoon. As they melt small enough, they wash out of an outlet river, where they met the ferocious North Atlantic sea.
Here they get battered by the surf and wash up on the black sand – just forlorn, pretty fragments of something once great.
It’s a stunning sight – and it is really easy to get to. It is just across the road from Jökulsárlón, and there are car parks on both sides of the outlet.
14. See Imposing Vestrahorn Mountain
Vestrahorn is another location that does well on Instagram. It’s a jagged black mountain with steep sides of scree that seems to look out to sea defiantly, surrounded by black sand beaches. It captures that ‘moody Iceland’ vibe very well!
To see Vestrahorn, you need to take a private road off the ring road to Stokksnes, which is 87km east of Jökulsárlón. There’s a small charge for entry, which you can pay at the Viking café. You can also visit a ‘Viking village’ here, which was built as a film set, but that didn’t interest me.
Once you’d paid, you go through a gate down the small road to the Stokksnes peninsular. The road has marshy lagoons on either side, and you can park on the side of the road and clamber up on the dunes to get a view of the mountain.
There’s not much to do there other than photograph the dramatic scenery and wander along the beach – but that’s OK because it is the landscape that is the big draw here. There were some people with surfboards when I visited, but you’d have to really know what you were doing to attempt that: the surf is fierce and the water incredibly cold!
15. Enjoy Freshly Caught Seafood In Höfn
If you’ve made it as far east as Vestrahorn, you’ll probably want to stay nearby, and the town of Höfn is your best option. I found a budget guest house with a shared bathroom for a reasonable price here.
It’s a fishing town, so as well as providing a place to rest your head, you could also have a very tasty meal of freshly caught seafood.
Try Pakkhús restaurant where you can get a giant plate of Langoustines with garlic butter. At around £50 a plate, if you’re doing Iceland on a budget, you might not be able to stretch to it. But if, like me, you like to save money in order to splurge occasionally, this could be the perfect place to splash out.
When is It best to visit Iceland?
I recommended June to August as the best time to visit Iceland in my post on How to Visit Iceland Without Going Bankrupt, so check that out. You’ll get some tips on how to save money also (Iceland is expensive for most of us!), and there’s a link to Iceland’s Covid entry information.
What to pack for Iceland?
This does depend on what time of year you go, but whether you go in summer or winter you will need a couple of basics:
- A good pair of walking boots. I used the same pair of Salomons I bought for the Inca Trail, and they were great for Iceland.
- A warm coat. I can’t recommend one warm enough for winter, because I haven’t been to Iceland in winter. I went in June, and I chose a lightweight down jacket with a hood from Mountain Warehouse. And I wore it and was thankful for it every day!
I hope you make it to Iceland and that you have an amazing time!
Let me know if you go to any of these places – I’d love to hear about your experiences. And if you have time after exploring South Iceland, do consider a day trip to the wild and wonderful Snæfellsnes peninsula.