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Guide to the 10 Best Southern Iceland Attractions

Iceland has always had that certain sense of mystique to it, based on its alluring history of fire and ice, Viking folklore, and other-worldly appearance.  It was a place that I never imagined I would be able to go, until the recent combination of social media spotlighting and more frequent and cheaper flight routes.  It is easier to get to Iceland and take advantage of the wealth of Iceland activities now than it ever has been in decades past.  Great news for me, but on the flip side, you don’t want to wait much longer to experience the best places to visit in Iceland, because the word is getting out! This humble little island offers something completely foreign and unique in terms of its history, culture, and especially its landscape, and one of the best ways to experience all this is by embarking on your own south Iceland tour.  I am not sure if there is another country that has been as blessed with such raw, natural, awe-inspiring beauty, as you will see in this guide to the best southern Iceland attractions!

 

Disclosure: Below are some affiliate links-these are all products I highly recommend. I won’t make any recommendations on this page that I haven’t tested or personally used!  Enjoy this guide to the best south Iceland  attractions and activities!

 

Countryside views of southern Iceland
Countryside views of southern Iceland

 

Guide to the 10 Best South Iceland Attractions and Activities

 

There is a seemingly never ending menu of Iceland activities to do here in the south of the island, no matter what your cup of tea is, and the plethora of Iceland activities will fit every level of outdoor appreciator out there.

This guide covers the following 10 best South Iceland attractions:

  • Map of South Iceland attractions
  • Pingvellir National Park
  • Vik’s Black Sand Beach and the DC Plane Wreck Hike
  • Myrdalsjokull Glacier
  • Seljalandsfoss Waterfall and Glijufurofoss Waterfall
  • Skogafoss Waterfall
  • Reynisfjara Beach
  • Geysir Geothermal Area
  • Gullfoss Waterfall
  • Diamond Beach
  • Urridafoss Waterfall

 

Map of the 10 Best South Iceland Attractions and Activities

 

Use this map of the 10 best southern Iceland attractions to plan out your itinerary!

 

Map of southern Iceland attractions, including national parks, black sand beaches, glaciers, and waterfalls

 

#1 South Iceland Attraction: Pingvellir National Park

 

Up first, Pingvellir National Park, where the Icelandic Parliament first convened in 930, and where Pingvellir gets its namesake.  Located in southwestern Iceland on the shores of Lake Thingvallavatn, this park is one of 3 National Parks in Iceland. 

 

To get to my favorite walking spot here, take Road 36 north from main Road 1, follow along the pristine shoreline of the lake, and upon entering the park borders, take the almost immediate left at the split in the road (Road 361).  This split hugs the shoreline and takes you straight into the heart of Pingvellir. 

 

Look for the Oxararfoss Waterfall cascading over the towering black cliffs to guide you to the parking lot.  Here you will find an almost informal “loop” of paths approximately a mile and a half long that make for the perfect easy day walk if you are looking to see ominous cliffs, rough gorges, stunning waterfalls that morph into gentle streams, mountain backdrops, marine bird life, and several historical buildings.

 

Oxararfoss waterfall is one of the best southern Iceland attractions
Oxararfoss waterfall in southern Iceland

 

We choose to go straight to the resident waterfall here, Oxararfoss Waterfall.  This waterfall with the strange green “ribbon” appeared to have been hewn straight from the jagged black cliffs, and continued on to tumble over submerged boulders until it wound its way to the base of Pingvellir to become gentle streams and crystal clear pools perfectly mirroring the surrounding range.  Being able to watch the transformation of a water source from its most powerful to its most humble was quite surreal.

 

The walk to Oxararfoss is well maintained along a wooden boardwalk path, bordered on both side by the aforementioned cliffs, although at the base of the falls there is no type of fencing or roping, so take care how close you are to the path’s edge, especially with young children!

 

Pingvellir National Park is one of the best southern Iceland attractions
Walking through gorges at Pingvellir is one of the best places to visit in Iceland

 

To the right of Oxararfoss, the path continues through the chasm of cliffs towards a narrowing in the gorge, and transitions from wooden slat walkways to a rough hewn and irregular rock path.  The path gently climbs to several lookout spots where visitors can peer down on Pingvellir, and into the chasm they just emerged from.  This little path has a slightly more rugged feel to it, but take care as the rock path can be slightly wet and slippery.

 

The the left of Oxararfoss, the path continues into the lower base of Pingvellir, where you can see the gentle aftermath of the raw power above.  Still bordered by high cliffs on the right hand side, the left side opens up to display the meadow below with its streams and panoramic views. 

 

Here we saw several forms of resident marine birds, including some newborn geese.  There are also several interesting historical buildings as well, including an old church named Pingvallakirkja, a quaint cemetery, and buildings housing the summer home of the king of Denmark.  In a country whose architectural color schemes are dominated by reds and whites, these green bordered buildings seem to quietly proclaim a subtle form of importance.

 

Pingvellir National Park is one of the best places to visit in Iceland
Some marine wildlife at Pingvellir

 

Pingvallakirkja church
Pingvallakirkja church

 

Be sure to read the informational boards throughout this walk, as they will provide you with a very interesting take on some of the history of the best places to visit in Iceland.  For example, we learned that Pingvellir was formerly a very popular place for all forms of capital punishment – hangings from the cliffs, intentional and forced drownings in the river, and public burnings in its gathering places.  At least seventy-two people are documented to have been publicly executed here, including eighteen women who were drowned as punishment.  Quite a chapter of dark history for a place that does such a good job at being stunningly beautiful!

 

Pingvellir does not stop here at this little loop path.  It extends around the lake, with several spots for hiking and camping there, as well as hiking, camping, and diving opportunities in the surrounding parts of Pingvellir.  If you want to experience more of the further reaching corners of Pingvellir, simply follow Road 36 north.

 

#2 South Iceland Attraction: Vik’s Black Sand Beach 

 

Another of my favorite south Iceland activities is the short, easy day walk found at the black sand beaches of Vik, the southernmost spot in Iceland.  No, you cannot walk directly on the black sand beaches, but there are pathways that trace along the edges of the cliffs here at Vik, giving visitors a bird’s eye view of the coast.

 

Vik's black sand beach is one of the best southern Iceland attractions
Black sand beach at Vik along the south coast of Iceland

 

This path all together probably would take no more than 10 minutes to walk, although its farthest most point is best accessed by a car as it involves going up a steep, winding road to the final lookout spot.  On the lower end, this walk takes you to a viewpoint in which you can see the actual town of Vik, and several basalt rock formations protruding from the ocean.

 

Vik is one of the best places to visit in Iceland
Overlooking jet black beaches and the town of Vik along the south coast of Iceland

 

As you walk along the coast towards the higher points of the path, you can witness even more fascinating basalt sea stacks, rectangular, prismatic rock formations along the cliffs, as well as several sea “windows” carved into the cliffs.  At the furthest most point along the path, after ascending the steep, windy road, you can find the still in use Dyrholaey Lighthouse overlooking sheer dropoffs into the ocean and never ending shoreline.  On a clear day, you may even be able to see glaciers to the north.

 

"Windows" in the arches
“Windows” in the arches

 

Dyrholaey lighthouse
Add the Dyrholaey lighthouse to your list of Iceland activities

 

One of the other perks to this walk is being able to view some of Iceland’s native bird life.  We were not there during peak breeding season, when these cliffs are supposedly teaming with wildlife, but we still observed several species of birds sunbathing on the sand and flying in and out of the various cliff side crevices.

 

If you want to explore a slightly eerie hike just off of Vik’s black sand beach, take on the DC plane hike, a 2 mile hike along a gravel path to an abandoned plane wreckage on the shoreline.

 

#3 South Iceland Attraction: Myrdalsjokull Glacier

 

The shortest day walk on this list of south Iceland activities and south Iceland attractions is the 5 to 10 minute walk to the Myrdalsjokull Glacier.  For me, this remains one of the most foreign and stunning things I’ve witness in southern Iceland.  The drive into Myrdalsjokull is fascinating just in itself, as the land begins to transform into what I imagine Mars would look like if its surface was covered in thick green moss.

 

Glaciers are one of the best southern Iceland attractions
The Myrdalsjokull Glacier emerging from around the bend

 

The simple gravel road leading from the parking lot winds around its first curve, and then you can see the mammoth Myrdalsjokull looming in front, with thin, floating ice chunks gliding slowly at its base.  This walk is short and simple, but the payoff is just breathtaking.  If you have never seen a glacier up close and in person, you need to.  It is a humbling and surreal experience, and a reminder to just how encompassing Iceland’s landscape is. 

 

If you want to take your glacier walk up a notch or two, there are guided tours offered that take you up and actually onto the glacier, or deep into its internal caves.  Definitely another worthy addition to your list of Iceland activities, for those looking for a little more hint of adventure and intrigue!

 

Myrdalsjokull Glacier is one of the best places to visit in Iceland
One of the best places in Iceland is Myrdalsjokull Glacier

 

#4 South Iceland Attraction: Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

 

Driving around Iceland, you will notice that waterfalls pop up there the way that traffic lights pop up in New York City.  They are literally everywhere, and while you cannot go wrong with any of them, there are some that just excel at upping the mystique factor.  My favorite place for a little falls-viewing jaunt is just a little further west along Road 1 from the Myrdalsjokull Glacier.

 

The highlight of this short, mile or so walk, is the Seljalandsfoss Waterfall.  What is unique about this waterfall is that unlike the other waterfalls in south Iceland, you can walk up to and behind this one.  If you have ever wanted to stand behind a waterfall and look out on the world from its vantage point, this is the walk for you.

 

Seljalandsfoss waterfall in south Iceland
Seljalandsfoss waterfall is unmistakably one of the best places in Iceland

 

Being able to walk behind the falls makes this one of the best places to visit in Iceland
Behind the falls of one of the best places to visit in Iceland

 

This walking path starts right at Seljalandsfoss, and once you have had a chance to fully experience this fall, do yourself a favor and continue walking down the path! It is hard to imagine that there could be anything quite like the scale of Seljalandsfoss, but there is! Almost immediately, you will pass several smaller sister waterfalls, all within eye shot of their big sibling Seljalandsfoss.  Some of these smaller waterfalls are mere trickles by the time they reach the reach the walking path, and pass underneath your feet with barely a whisper.  As before at Oxararfoss, it is a fascinating transition to watch a water source at its most powerful and then most humble simultaneously.

 

Sister falls
Sister falls

 

The remnants of one of the best places in Iceland
From towering to trickle

 

The walkway terminates at what appears to be one final waterfall hidden behind a large cliff face, but upon closer inspection, there is a small opening in the cliff and a chasm that leads directly to the base of the fall.  It is a slippery and slightly precarious crossing, if not a very short one, that involves wading through shallow water, hugging the slippery, moss covered cliff walls, and trying to gingerly balance along the tops of the least submerged rocks until you reach the opening in the cave and are looking directly up at the mouth of the fall.  If being able to stand behind the powerful Seljalandsfoss was awe-inspiring, standing at the base of Glijufurafoss in a hidden cave succeeded at rivaling that experience!

 

Glijufurafoss waterfall is one of the best places to visit in Iceland
The chasm into Glijufurafoss

 

At the base

 

Standing at the base of one of the top southern Iceland attractions

 

 

#5 South Iceland Attraction: Skogafoss Waterfall

 

Skogafoss Waterfall is another iconic waterfall on Iceland’s southern coast.  It is both massive and majestic, and you can walk right up to the base and stand in front of its powerfall waterfall!

 

There is a large, free parking lot, and from there it is a brief walk to the base of Skogafoss.  However, if you want the chance to get a little more activity in, you can scale the long staircase for a view from the top of Skogafoss Waterfall!

 

Skogafoss Waterfall is one of the best south Iceland attractions
Skogafoss Waterfall

 

The top of Skogafoss Waterfall in south Iceland
The top of Skogafoss Waterfall

 

For the truly adventurous, you can continue on the Skogafoss Waterfall Way hike, which proceeds from Skogafoss Waterfall for 10 miles roundtrip out and back, paralleling the Skoga River.  Along the way on this open, green expanse, expect to see many more smaller waterfalls, canyons, glaciers, and volcanoes.  Whether you hike this trail in its entirety, or just partially before turning around, this hike provides visitors with a chance to escape the crowds and immerse yourself in the wildness of southern Iceland!

 

#6 South Iceland Attraction: Reynisfjara Beach

 

Reynisfjara Beach is another breathtaking black sand beach, like the one at Vik, except it contains black basalt columns and stacks, making it a unique sight to behold.  Search out mystical caves to explore along Reynisfjara Beach.

 

Reynisfjara Beach is one of the best south Iceland activities
Reynisfjara Beach in southern Iceland

 

#7 South Iceland Attraction: Geysir Geothermal Area

 

Visiting the Geysir area brought back memories of my multiple trips to Yellowstone National Park, which is brimming with fascinating geothermal activity as well.  At the Geysir Geothermal Area, you can witness inky blue pools, steamy springs, fuming vents, bubbling mud pits, and of course, geysers!  While exploring the area, don’t miss out on walking the dirt path to the top for a panoramic view from above!

 

Geyser Geothermal Area is one of the best places to see in south Iceland
Geysir Geothermal Area in southern Iceland

 

Geysir Geothermal Area is one of the top south Iceland attractions

 

Geysir Geothermal Area is one of the top south Iceland activities

 

#8 South Iceland Attraction: Gullfoss Waterfall

 

Gullfoss Waterfall contains some of the best views of all the south Iceland attractions, thanks to its wide, powerful, double tiered waterfall!  The walking trails here allow you to get up close and personal to the waterfall, and I could even feel the spray during my visit!  The best view is the overlook from above Gullfoss!

 

Gullfoss Waterfall is one of the best south Iceland attractions
Gullfoss Waterfall

 

#9 South Iceland Attraction: Diamond Beach

 

Diamond Beach is aptly named, for the frozen chunks of broken up icebergs that wash up on shore here.  The stark contrast between the black sand beach, littered with glittering ice, is quite a magical sight to see.

 

Black Diamond Beach in south Iceland
Black Diamond Beach in south Iceland

 

#10 South Iceland Attraction: Urridafoss Waterfall

 

For some reason the Urridafoss Waterfall is not one of the more popular waterfalls in south Iceland, but that just means you get more of it to yourself.  This tumultuous, rock strewn waterfall doesn’t contain some of the trademark looks of other long, dainty, cascading waterfalls in southern Iceland, but that makes it stand out as its own unique sight!  It lies on the Pjorsa River, which is Iceland’s longest river, and it just so happens to be the most voluminous waterfall in country!  Look for fisherman on the shores in summer, as Urridafoss and the Pjorsa River are popular salmon fishing spots.

 

Urridafoss Waterfall is one of the best places in Iceland
Urridafoss Waterfall

 

 

These Southern Iceland highlights represent the best natural experiences found amongst southern Iceland activities, all of which can be enjoyed by simply walking.  This collection can be done in succession in about 1 to 2  days, due to their relative closeness to each other and easy accessibility.  No matter if you have the chance to do one or all, you will be treated to the best places to visit in Iceland, and some of the most unfiltered beauty that will have you no doubt craving more! There’s a reason that there are so many repeat travelers to Iceland!

 

 

*Insider Tip: if you are looking for a centrally located launching spot for seeing these south Iceland attractions, I would suggest the town of Selfoss.  It is conveniently located off of Ring Road 1, and has plentiful lodging options in the immediate vicinity, including hotels and vacation rentals.  

 

 

 

**READ MORE:  Now that you’ve read up on the best places to visit in Iceland’s south, are you intrigued by other forlorn, magical islands of the north? Did this list of Iceland activities pique your curiosity? I have another great option for you – Greenland’s wealth of outdoor adventures!

 

 

 

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The best places to visit in Iceland include waterfalls

 

The best places to visit in Iceland

 


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21 Comments

    1. I’ve always heard about there being so many repeat travelers to Iceland, and now I understand why!

  1. Man, Iceland is gorgeous. I have to get there! Thanks for the great post. I’ll be saving it for future reference!

  2. Iceland is just awesome. I love your waterfall pictures. I am thinking of going back to Iceland in the summertime to see it blossom.

    1. Iceland is covered in blooming lupines in the summer, absolutely stunning purple colors everywhere!

  3. I’ve only visited Iceland in winter, I would loooove to go back and do some of these hikes in summer, especially to see all those stunning waterfalls!

    1. Josy it was a very interesting experience visiting in the summer, because there are only two hours of darkness every day! Lots of daylight to see all those waterfalls…

  4. I will be there in November! Do you think it will be much different in the winter? I really want to see the black sand beach! I have never experienced one and I am super stoked for the opportunity! Thanks for sharing all this information and I pinned to help me start planning this awesome trip!!!

    1. Michelle I imagine the weather will be a little different, as well as the amount of daylight. There was only two hours of darkness when I was there, but I hear in the winter it stays darker longer, which also means you will have better odds of seeing the northern lights! The black sand beach was gorgeous! There is a old plane wreck on one section of the beach, apparently it is a several hours long hike, but you should check it out if you have the time!

  5. I can’t wait to go back to Iceland again! I had a 24-hour stopover last summer, so I didn’t leave Reykjavik, but I loved what I saw!

    1. Leigh, ironically on my trip I did not even stop in Reykjavik, but hopefully can go back someday and check out the area, it looks so charming. And I would love to try some of the unique cuisine also.

    1. Jennifer I agree three days is not enough, I hope to someday go back for several weeks and backpack to other places in Iceland, like the northern areas.

  6. Iceland is a place which is definitely on my travel list (not got there yet!), and this has definitely given me an extra incentive. It looks so otherworldly. I also love waterfalls, so it definitely looks a good place for me! Gorgeous photos too; thanks for sharing!

    1. Nicky, if you like waterfalls, then Iceland is definitely the place for you! It’s a country literally overflowing with them at every turn. Even what is considered to be some of the “smaller” waterfalls there are just beautiful!

  7. Walking in Iceland is so cool! Back in 2010 we walked up towards Eyjafjallajokull when it had erupted – all the snow was covered in ash and looked black. It was such a hard walk, but so rewarding! Thanks for sharing a few other ones!

    1. Kathi that sounds like a great walk! What I loved so much about Iceland is so many places just seem other worldly – sounds like that’s what you experienced at Eyjafjallajokull too! Thanks for sharing!