The South Coast Iceland has EVERYTHING! Your guide to waterfalls, hot springs, glaciers, and everything else you need to do on your trip.
The south coast of Iceland is where it’s at. Other than The Golden Circle, it’s the most popular region for tourists to visit in Iceland outside of Reykjavík. The South coast has everything – massive waterfalls, lava fields, glaciers, charming houses, hot springs and more. Luckily for you, I’m going to tell you everything you need to know to get the max out of your trip!
In order to see everything, you’ll want to budget at least 2 to 3 days to cover the trip from Reykjavík to Glacier Lagoon and the Southeast coast of Iceland.
Without further ado, let’s jump in to my guide for the South Coast of Iceland! The guide starts at Glacier Lagoon on the Southeast Coast and moves west towards Reykjavík.
South Coast Iceland Travel Guide
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. It’s also one of the saddest. The lagoon is filled with pieces of ice – broken off bits of nearby Vatnajökull glacier that are melting due to global warming. In fact, it’s only been in existence for about 90 years. It’s heartbreaking really, but I still think it was my favorite thing we saw in Iceland.
The lagoon is about 600 feet deep and packed with constantly shifting bits of glacier. The glacier pieces themselves are vibrant blues and white, with lines of grey that represent volcanic ash from past eruptions. We also saw seals swimming happily in the lagoon.
Glacier Lagoon Travel Information
It’s easy to get to, located directly on the Ring Road in Southeast Iceland between Höfn and Skaftafell. You really can’t miss it – on the Ring Road you’ll be driving over the bridge in the photo above! It was the last stop on our road trip to see the South and Southeast coasts of Iceland.
Without stopping, Jökulsárlón is about 4 1/2 hours from Reykjavík. We took three days to drive from Reykjavík to Glacier Lagoon, to see all the sites you’re reading about in this post. On the way back though, we drove from near the lagoon to Reykjavík in a half day to get back for a glacier tour, so it’s possible, just not ideal.
We admired Glacier Lagoon from the shore, as well as the easy walking trails that line the lagoon. There are also (expensive!) boat tours you can take. We didn’t have time but I would have done this in a heartbeat if we did. Glacier Lagoon is also directly across the road from Diamond Beach, another stunning Iceland landmark. Without doing the boat tour, I would budget an hour for each place.
Diamond Beach in Southeast Iceland
It’s immediately clear why Diamond Beach got its name. The black sand beach is lined with glittering chunks of ice in various sizes, from small enough to hold to even taller than a person. The ice chunks are glacier remnants from Vatnajökull glacier and the Glacier Lagoon. The last bits before the ice melts completely and is just sea. It’s also a sad phenomena that only exists thanks to global warming.
Funny story – have you ever wondered if the iPhone 7 is waterproof in ice water? Neither have I. I managed to drop my phone on the beach while we were admiring it and we walked almost back to our car before I noticed I was phone-less. Face palm. Thankfully someone had picked it up and it worked perfectly even before its ice water bath.
The funniest part though? When I was looking back at our photos from the trip, there is photographic evidence that my phone was dropped. Can you believe it?! I’m forever indebted to the kind stranger who grabbed it up off the beach before it was washed out to sea forever.
Diamond Beach Travel Information
Diamond Beach is located directly across from Glacier Lagoon (see above) on the Ring Road between Höfn and Skaftafell. As I mention above, it they were the last stops on our road trip to see the South and Southeast coasts of Iceland.
Without stopping, Diamond Beach is about 4 1/2 hours from Reykjavík. We took three days to drive from Reykjavík to Glacier Lagoon, to see all the sites you’re reading about in this post. On the way back though, we drove from near the lagoon to Reykjavík in a half day to get back for a glacier tour, so it’s possible, just not ideal.
Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon
Real talk – Iceland is very expensive and really doesn’t have much in the way of unique or exceptional hotels. Most guesthouses are plain, have average customer service and sparse amenities. We paid $200 per night for a room that didn’t even include toiletries! Oh, and $250 for an attic room that had a ceiling so steep I couldn’t sit up in bed. Ouch.
Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon is an exception to the rule. The room was one of the most reasonably priced of our stay and it was absolutely gorgeous! The entire hotel from entryway to bathrooms is beautifully designed, super comfortable and very luxurious feeling. It was our favorite hotel of our entire stay, not to mention the huge breakfast buffet that is included in the room price. I wish we could have spent a week there! This is the place to stay for exploring South and Southeast Iceland.
More photos of Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon:
South Coast Iceland Hotel
Fosshotel Glacier Lagoon
Hnapavellir, 785 Öræfi, Iceland
Reynisfjara Black Sands Beach
The beaches all along the south coast of Iceland are black due to volcanic ash. The best place to see the black sand is just outside of Vik, where there are also basalt columns rising out of the sea. It’s a pretty astonishing sight – almost like a pipe organ. The basalt columns are formed after a volcanic eruption when lava cools faster on the outside. Only basaltic lava does this because it’s hotter and faster flowing than other types of lava. The result is hexagonal forms almost perfectly stacked up forming massive cliffs. There are basalt columns all over Iceland but the ones in the South are black, which makes them twice as cool.
Be careful! We saw people climbing up high on the stacks and I just shook my head. What’s the point you dummies? Also be careful of high tide. People have gotten stuck on the stacks when the tide comes in, which is just awful to think about.
Black Sands Beach Travel Information
Reynisfjara is about a 2 1/2 hour drive from Reykjavik just a five-minute drive off of the Ring Road. It’s about 10 minutes from Vik. The salt stacks you see below are Gardar (sounds very Lord of the Rings, doesn’t it?). There are also huge stacks that rise out of the ocean called Reynisdrangar.
Sólheimasandur Plane Crash Iceland South Coast
Chances are you’ve seen photos of Iceland’s eerily beautiful plane crash on Sólheimasandur beach on your Instagram feed. It’s become a popular tourist stop on the Ring Road, especially for photographers! The plane is a United States Navy Douglas Super DC-3 airplane that crashed Saturday November 24, 1973. Thankfully all crew members survived the crash, so you don’t have to feel guilty about enjoying the photo-op.
Sólheimasandur Plane Crash Travel Information
Even though the entrance pathway to the plane crash is unmarked, you won’t have trouble finding it. Just put the GPS coordinates for the parking lot in your phone and look for the random patch of cars right on the ring road in the middle of nowhere. It looks like this:
Parking Lot GPS Coordinates
There’s a road that leads all the way up to the plane but it’s closed to cars. You’ll have to walk about 4 kilometers to get to the crash itself. Short reflective posts made the road easy for us to follow but it might be trickier if it’s snowing. Luckily you can just type the GPS coordinates in for the site itself to get you there:
Airplane Crash Site GPS Coordinates
We were a bit short on time so we decided to make a workout of it! It was super gusty (30 m.p.h winds) so we got our Arcteryx Beta SL hybrid wind shells on and set out. The path is totally flat so getting there was a breeze (no pun intended). We went early in the morning and thanks to our speed, we were only the second ones at the crash. We passed at least six groups of people on the way there. Yesssss. Armpit vents to keep me from getting sweaty? Check.
Solheimajokull Glacier South Iceland
Solheimajokull glacier is located on the south coast of Iceland. I know the name is very long, but ‘jokull’ means ‘glacier’ in Icelandic, so just memorize that suffix and you’ll at least know you’ll be seeing something icy!
Seeing a glacier is such a privilege. At the current rate, all the glaciers in Iceland will be melted in 80 years. That means only a few more generations will have the opportunity to marvel at these enormous ice structures. I urge you to take a moment and think about that when you see a glacier in Iceland.
From the rocky path that leads up to the glacier the view is impressive, but nothing compared to Glacier Lagoon or Diamond Beach.
Here’s a drone’s eye view to give you a better idea of how impressive Solheimajokull glacier really is:
As you can see from the rest of the photos our view really just scratched the surface.
Solheimajokull Glacier Travel Information
The hike that goes along the side of the glacier is about a 10 minute drive from the Ring Road. You’ll need a 4 wheel drive car or a lot of patience to access the hike on your own as the road is very rough.
By foot you’ll only be able to see the southern bit of the glacier. The accessible part of the hike is very short – maybe give minutes. After that it gets really steep and narrow.
There are also tours that will take you on the glacier itself. You absolutely must not go on to the glacier by yourself. The glacier is constantly shifting and what looks like firm footing may not be at all. It’s dangerous without a guide.
Skogafoss Waterfall Iceland
Skogafoss is one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls. That’s saying a lot as it seems like there’s a different waterfall on the Ring Road about every 100 feet! If you catch Skogafoss on a sunny day, you might get lucky and see a stunning double rainbow across the falls. Definitely bring rain gear though – even when it’s nice out the mist from the falls will soak you if you get too close.
The hike to the top is over 400 steps, but totally worth it to see the view from above.
And here’s what Skogafoss looks like via drone:
Fish & Chips Food Truck at Skogafoss
Just like lodging, food options outside of Reykjavik are really not that impressive. Food is mainly sustenance – which is fine when your eyes are feasting on nature! The exception to that was this awesome Fish & Chips food truck located a short walk from the base of Skogafoss waterfall. The battered fish was steamy hot and the chips were perfectly crispy. It’s definitely worth checking out for lunch while you’re driving the South coast.
Seljavallalaug Hot Springs
Part of the magic of Iceland is the hidden geothermal pools all over the island. Seljavallalaug is one of these secret spots that hasn’t been discovered by the masses. It’s an absolutely incredible hot springs at the base of a mountain. The day we went it was super windy, but we braved it because hot springs at the base of a mountain. We just couldn’t pass it up!
Unfortunately, the water wasn’t super hot. You may have a different experience – the wind was so strong I think it was blowing some of the heat off. The magic spot was in the far corner where the hot spring water was being piped into the pool. It was still 100% worth it – even the hopping out and changing back into our clothes part.
Seljavallalaug Hot Springs Travel Information
Seljavallalaug will show up in Google maps if you put it in. We missed the turn and ended up winding around a three house town. Many roads in Iceland are upside down U-shaped, starting and ending on the main Ring Road. We took the further south leg of the U, which lead us past these buildings:
There were lots of signs that said ‘private property’ and ‘hot springs —>’. I could just hear the locals annoyed with all the lost tourists looking to bathe in their secret hot springs.
Just keep driving and you will find the other side of the U. As you’re about to turn left to go back towards the ring road, you’ll see a right turn that will lead you to the springs. If you pick the correct leg of the U (the Northern one) the first time, it’s a straight shot.
It’s a twenty-minute hike to get to the springs from the parking lot. The hike looks like this:
You just wind your way along the left side of the river and follow it to the springs. There is a stream crossing (1 foot of running water when we went in May) involved in the hike so wear practical shoes! You will probably think you are going the wrong way at least three times but just be patient, follow the stream and you will get there.
The spring itself has a small bathhouse to change but no toilets. There is no entry fee or lifeguards. The geothermal spring is maintained by volunteers and donations. Alcohol use is forbidden.
Stop and Pet Iceland Ponies
Ponies! Icelandic ponies are a highly recognizable sight in Iceland. My instinct was to want to stop every time we saw them, which of course we couldn’t because they are everywhere. Most of them had no interest in us and we had no apples packed to bribe them with. There are many places where you can do horseback rides all over Iceland, but I can’t comment personally on which ones are best.
Iceland’s Moss Covered Lava Fields
The south coast of Iceland is dotted with these otherworldly patches of pale green moss that have set up on ecosystem on the cooled lava rocks from past eruptions. Be careful not to walk on the moss itself as the plants are very delicate and easily crushed.
Stop Every 5 Minutes
This is the best part of Iceland – the spontaneous stops to see natural beauty that isn’t on any “Top 10” list. A massive waterfall that is just randomly located in someone’s back yard. A rushing stream. Sheep climbing a hill with a little shelter built into the rock. This is Iceland at its best.
You’ll be constantly stopping to take pictures and marvel at the nameless sights that are right along Route 1. Yes you can drive from x to x in 1 hour, but you won’t want to. Take your time and soak it all in.
What do you think, did I miss anything? If you’ve been to the south coast of Iceland, I’d love to hear your recommendations!
Looking for more things to do on your trip to Iceland? Check out my guide to the Golden Circle!