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 scenic road that goes all the way around Iceland. However, that could take a week. If you don’t have enough time for that, 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 itinerary, or South Iceland itself is the destination, this list of the 15 most stunning things to do in South Iceland will help you plan what you want to do and maximise your time in Iceland.
I’ve skipped the Golden Circle (including Þingvellir, Gullfoss and Geysir) 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 attractions that are technically defined as South-East Iceland – and these are some of the best places to visit in my opinion! I definitely encourage you to explore further along the coast than Vik, which is where many stop.
Disclosure: This article contains affiliate links. These are links to products or experiences I recommend and if you were to buy something after clicking on them, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Any earnings go towards the upkeep of this blog, which I appreciate.
Map: Things To Do In South Iceland
Here are all the best things to do in South Iceland and South-East Iceland, 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.
How To Use This Map: click the tab in the top left-hand corner of the map to view the layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each one. If you click the star next to the title of the map, it will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu, go to ‘Your Places’, then click Maps and you will see this map in your list.
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 quick 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 £2.50 or $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. Walk Behind A Waterfall At Seljalandsfoss
About 130 km from Reykjavik and 85km from Kerið, you’ll come across the first waterfall in this tour of South Iceland’s highlights.
Seljalandsfoss is a lovely waterfall with a narrow stream of water that drops 60m over mossy cliffs. It is special not just because it is beautiful but also because it is one of the few waterfalls where you can actually walk behind the water! There is a path that goes all the way behind the waterfall and out the other side. It is very cool – but very wet! – thing to do in South Iceland. I tried to keep my camera dry back there, but I failed!
A word of warning: the path behind Seljalandsfoss is uneven and slippery, with some biggish steps. I did see someone struggle to get up over the rocks on their way out and they needed help.
The waterfall is very close to the Ring Road and although it is free to explore, the car park is one of the rare ones in Iceland where you have to pay (though it is only ISK700, which is around £4 or $5).
3. Feel The Spray At Skógafoss Waterfall
Just another half an hour (30km) along the Ring Road and you’ll come to another stunning South Iceland waterfall. 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 are a number of accommodation options including a 4-star hotel called Hótel Skógafoss, some guesthouses and a campsite right by the waterfall.
4. Hike a Glacier at Sólheimajökull
Sólheimajökull glacier is a long thin tongue of ice that ends in a meltwater lagoon about 12 km from Skogafoss and about 5 km from the Ring Road. There’s a car park, after which you can follow a trail to the glacier. Glacier hiking 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 on the glacier, 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 (which I’ll get to later).
5. 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 middle 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 a bit further 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.
Also, if you’re into quad bikes, it is possible to do ATV quad bike riding on the gravel plains in this area of South Iceland.
6. Enjoy The View From Dyrhólaey
One of the most iconic things to do in South Iceland is to visit Dyrhólaey. It is a rocky headland 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 probably won’t be able to see it this far away). I was struck by the gradations of black on the beach – the shore is ringed by stripes of black and grey.
There are other viewpoints near the car park, including one eastwards across the dramatic Arnardrangur rock and Reynisfjara Beach.
7. Feel The Elements At Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
Visiting Reynisfjara Beach is one of the most famous things to do in South Iceland.
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. These are called ‘sneaker waves’ and they are very dangerous. Tourists have died this way, so please respect how powerful the sea is here!
Both times I’ve been 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.
8. 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 a black sand beach and those twisted sea stacks 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
9. 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. Note: the gravel road is very pot-holed and uneven – making it a tricky road if you’re driving Iceland in a camper van.
Once there, you can take a path up to the top of the canyon edge. The path is well-maintained and easy to walk – and the views into and over the canyon are wonderful. The craggy cliffs and green mossy banks feel like something out of a fairytale!
10. Marvel At The Delicate Waterfall At Foss á Síðu
The area around Fjaðrárgljúfur shows a different side of Iceland. I love 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.
There’s also a quaint sandwich shop just across the road from this stunning spot.
11. 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.
From Skaftafell, you can take a guided hike onto Vatnajökull, Iceland’s largest ice cap!
If you are not up for that, but fancy some less challenging hiking, a popular route 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 glacial lagoon, 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, which is is overlooked by gnarly mountains and has gorgeous little turf-roofed church. There’s an affordable hotel called Adventure Hotel Hof.
12. Over-look a Glacier at Svínafellsjökull
Just down the road from Skaftafell (literally 2-3km) is another opportunity to see a glacier. This one is blue-hued and you can get a good look at it from up high – making it a great thing to do in South Iceland!
This glacier is called Svínafellsjökull and you can reach it along an old road just off the Ring Road. You can no longer drive down the road – they closed it for some reason; possibly the condition of the road, which is quite rocky. Instead, you can park in a layby next to the blocked-off road and walk down the road to the viewpoint over Svínafellsjökull. The walk is approx. 2.5km (30 mins) each way, and it is largely flat.
Once you get to the end of the road, there’s a viewpoint on the rocks overlooking the snout of the glacier and the glacial lagoon. The ice is blue and cut through by deep crevasses – it is really dramatic!
When was there, I stepped over the fence on the viewing platform and climbed up the rocks to get a view from higher up, where I could see more of the glacier further up the mountain. However, there are signs warning you to be careful on the rocks and two people disappeared there, so it is not something I advise anyone else to do.
13. Wander The Shore at Fjallsárlón Glacial Lagoon
Fjallsárlón glacial lagoon is just off the Ring Road, 47km east of Skaftafell. It is astonishingly beautiful.
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 bigger Jökulsárlón, but it is 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.
Turning 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 both times I went there. It was just me and the ancient ice.
14. Boat Ride Amongst Icebergs In Jökulsárlón
I rarely use this adjective, but it is fitting here: this place is awesome. I find it hard to choose between Fjallsárlón and this glacial lagoon, but most people choose this one.
It is 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 as you approach on 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, including a tour of ice caves! And you can take a boat onto the lagoon itself – it is one of the best outdoor adventures in Iceland.
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 or $75). Before we were allowed in a boat, we had to get dressed in a bright yellow flotation 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.
15. Wander Amongst Ice At Diamond Beach
Diamond Beach is named because it is strewn with ice, the fragments of which look like glistening diamonds against the black sand beach.
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.
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 on a budget, so check that out. You’ll get some tips on how to save money also (Iceland is expensive for most of us!).
What to pack for South 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 hiking boots with Goretex that 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. And I wore it and was thankful for it every day!
I hope you make it to South 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 or into the less-visited East Iceland and North Iceland.
And if you want to explore more of Iceland, consider my 7 day Ring Road itinerary.