The Sights of Iceland’s South Shore

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When I went to Iceland for the first time (way back in 2012, before the country became an Instagram darling), I arrived with very few plans – mostly because I hadn't done a ton of research before going.

But my lack of plans lasted for about 5 minutes after boarding the Flybus from Keflavik International Airport.

There, in the seat-back pocket, was a brochure outlining all the awesome tours and excursions you could do in Iceland. The Golden Circle, snorkeling in between tectonic plates, horseback riding… But one tour in particular caught my eye: the South Shore Adventure.

Iceland landscape

Described as a tour “ideal for nature lovers of all kinds,” I knew it would be perfect for me.

And, indeed, the South Coast ended up being my favorite part of Iceland on that particular trip. (Now THIS is probably my favorite part of Iceland, but it's very close!)

So, why exactly is Iceland's South Shore so special?

Well, let me count the reasons!

Jokulsarlon in Iceland

Highlights of Iceland's South Coast

If you have a rental car in Iceland, you can explore the South Coast over the course of a couple days. If you don't have a car, there are several tour companies that do day trips and even overnight tours to this part of iceland.

The “South Shore” generally stretches from just south of Reykjavik past the village of Vík í Mýrdal and on to Vatnajökull National Park. Along the way, you can see everything from glaciers to volcanoes to waterfalls to black sand beaches.

Here are some of the more popular highlights that are included in most South Shore tours:

Eyjafjallajökull

The volcano famous for snarling thousands of flights back in 2011 really isn't all that much to look at (nearby snow-draped Hekla was much more impressive), but it's nevertheless interesting to drive alongside fields just now recovering from being buried under layers of ash. I was constantly amazed by just how unpredictable and moody the land under most Icelanders' feet can be.

Iceland landscape

Plus, I never tired of hearing Icelanders say “Eyjafjallajökull.” After years of wondering how the hell to pronounce this strange word with far too many consonants, finally hearing it roll easily off tongues was like magic.

Mýrdalsjökull

On one of the flanks of Eyjafjallajökull, a giant glacier by the name of Mýrdalsjökull looms. I've been up close with glaciers before (in both Alaska and New Zealand), but I never tire of seeing them.

Getting to Mýrdalsjökull requires a rumbling ride down a pothole-filled road. The glacier is sadly retreating at an alarming rate — an abandoned cafe marks the point where the glacier used to reach just a few decades ago. These days, you have to drive another few minutes to reach the face.

Mýrdalsjökull
Mýrdalsjökull

You can walk right up to the face of the glacier from the parking area, but I do not recommend climbing up onto the ice without a guide and proper gear – glaciers can be very dangerous!

Mýrdalsjökull glacier in Iceland
Up close with a glacier

The way to Mýrdalsjökull's face was all ash and snow. The glacier sits atop Katla, an active volcano, and near Eyjafjallajökull, which explains all the ash. The contrasts are striking.

Mýrdalsjökull glacier in Iceland

Seljalandsfoss

Chances are you've already seen photos of this waterfall, as it's one of the most-photographed waterfalls in Iceland. And it's not difficult to understand why.

Seljalandsfoss waterfall in Iceland

Seljalandsfoss cascades over a fairly substantial cliff into a rounded pool surrounded by green moss. Because of the way the cliff face is formed, you can actually walk all the way around the back of this waterfall, which you definitely want to do!

Behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall in Iceland
Behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall

If you have time, also make sure to look for the “hidden” Gljúfrabúi waterfall, which is very close by.

Gljúfrabúi Waterfall in Iceland
Gljúfrabúi, the “hidden waterfall”

Skógafoss

Not far away, one of Iceland's biggest waterfalls tumbles over another cliff that marks the country's former coastline.

Skogafoss waterfall in Iceland
Mighty Skogafoss

Legend has it that a Viking settler in the area buried a treasure in a cave behind the waterfall, and people have been searching for such a treasure for centuries. It's told that someone found the chest at one point and grabbed one of the rings on the side, only to have the ring pop off and the chest to disappear agagin. The alleged ring can now be found on display at the Skógar Museum, right next to the waterfall.

Iceland
Skógar Museum

Legend or not, this is one impressive waterfall.

Reynishverfi Beach

Iceland is famous for its black sand beaches, and Reynishverfi Beach is perhaps the most famous of those. Visit this beach during the day in the summer months, and you definitely will NOT have it to yourself.

But, I dunno, I still think it's kind of worth it.

Reynisfjara beach in Iceland

Wind-swept with huge Atlantic waves crashing a bit too close for comfort, Reynishverfi is the epitome of of what you probably picture when you think of an Icelandic Beach.

Reynishverfi Beach

This is certainly not a place you go to sunbathe, but it's still beautiful in its own, wild way.

Columns at Reynisfjara beach

When I first visited, our guide told us about the puffins who call the sea caves here home in the summer months, and also told us one of the local troll legends, which explains the Reynisdrangar sea stacks just off shore (according to him, they're really night trolls who were turned to stone in the sunlight; you'll hear lots of troll stories in Iceland).

Reynisdrangar in Iceland
Sea stacks or trolls?

Vík í Mýrdal

At some point, you'll reach the small town of Vík í Mýrdal, or just simply Vik. This is often where you'll stop for lunch on a guided tour, as it's roughly the halfway point along the coast.

Vík í Mýrdal

Jökulsárlón

The famous glacier lagoon is often as far as most South Shore tours will take you. Here, large chunks of ice break off the glaciers in Vatnajökull National Park and slowly make their way out to sea.

Jokulsarlon in Iceland

Make sure you visit the nearby “Diamond Beach,” which is a black sand beach where you can find sea-polished bits of glacier ice.

Glacier ice beach in Iceland
Diamond Beach

During the warmer months, you can take boat tours in Jökulsárlón to get even closer to the icebergs.

Vatnajökull National Park

Lastly, if you're visiting during the winter months, you won't want to skip a visit to Vatnajökull National Park, which is home to the largest glacier in Iceland (and one of the largest in all of Europe). During the winter, brilliant blue and black ice caves open up beneath the glacier and you can book tours to explore them.

Vatnajokull ice cave
Into the glacier

ESSENTIAL INFO

Want to explore Iceland's South Coast? Here are some tours to check out:

And check out my Iceland packing list to know what to bring!

Out of these South Coast sites, which would YOU be most excited to visit?

 

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Things to see on Iceland's South Coast

Things to see on Iceland's South Coast | #Iceland

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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41 Comments on “The Sights of Iceland’s South Shore

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  1. Gorgeous!! Now, can I have a request for a post? I’d like to see you try to pronounce those names haha! Wow, those are some hard looking names!!

      Thanks!

      And hahaha, I actually AM planning to do an Iceland language post at some point, in which I may indeed try to pronounce some of those words!

        Your South Shore pictures from 2012 are gorgeous. My son and I are in Reykajvik now and just did the tour today. I know you would love it in the winter – the sun came out and we had beautiful blue sky against the snowy mountains and waterfalls. Unfortunately a tourist was swept away last week and we could not get as close to the rocks on the Black sand beach, but it was a sight to behold nonetheless. Thanks for sharing this!

          Thanks! And actually all these photos were taken in the winter, too (in March). There just wasn’t a ton of snow on the ground. 🙂

    What a beautiful country– I’d love to go! What camera are you using? The photos are so sharp!

      Definitely go! I’m pretty sure I’m in love.

      And as for my camera, I actually got a new one right before I left! I bought an Olympus PEN Mini (E-PM1) micro 4/3 camera, along with an extra zoom lens. So far, I LOVE it and the photos I’ve been taking on it!

        just got back from Iceland yesterday 28/11/13 and did this trip on 27th and yes it is awesome as is golden circle

    AWESOME photos! I’ve never felt inspired to go to Iceland before but this certainly tickles my feet a bit 😀

      Thanks, Jeremy!! Good to hear I’ve got you interested in Iceland now!

      Loved the pics and the narrative throughout. The weather looked to be a bit chilly. When do the “natives” say is the warmest and sunniest time of the year?
      I am a wimp when it comes to the cold!

        I suppose it’s warmest in the summer months when the days are long (June-August), but I don’t think it ever really gets “hot” in Iceland!

    Wow – I don’t know what to say! These landscapes are truly unique, and only make me want to visit Iceland more! Beautiful photos and great post!

      Thank you! I took SO many photos in Iceland — partly because I’d never seen anything like it before!

    Lovely photos!

      Thanks, Matt! My camera was definitely put through its paces in Iceland.

    Wow, fantastic photos! I can’t wait until we drive the south coast of Iceland in October it looks such a stunning country.

      That will be so awesome! I really want to go back and do the Ring Road sometime.

    Indeed extraordinary landscape. I hope to get back there very soon. Thanks for the great photos!

      It’s amazing how unique the landscape is. Iceland is certainly a fascinating country!

    What an incredible place! And you’ve captured it well.

    We are thinking about Iceland for next year, is 10 days enough time?

      Thanks, Cam!

      As far as whether 10 days in Iceland is enough, I think it could be. Are you planning to base yourself out of Reykjavik, or would you be driving the Ring Road? Either way, 10 days would be fine I think (I’m told you need at least 8 days to see everything along the Ring Road).

    You’re camera sure was a good buy! These photos are breath taking and make me wish that I wasn’t just visiting Iceland during a layover in July! This post is definitely inspiring!

      How long of a layover do you have, Heather? Enough time to go out and see any of the country??

    Yes you’ve convinced me to visit Iceland’s south shore! Wow – your pictures are beautiful. Love the beach.

      Whoo hoo! I’m glad I’m raising the profile of Iceland a bit! 🙂

      The beach was awesome. I took SO many pictures there!

    I’ve been making a list of things to do on my RTW trip next year, and because of your gorgeous photos, this is going on the list! Thanks for sharing 🙂

      Awesome to hear!! Right now, I think Iceland is still one of those amazing destinations that most people don’t really know about… so definitely go now!!

    The glacier is stunning, and I love how you got so close to it (and how you went behind the waterfall)! I would have probably wanted to spend a whole day around the glacier, yet glad you didn’t, because the rest of the south shore seems incredible! How did you protect your camera from the rain / waterfall?

      There was another tour called “A Walk on the Ice Side” that I could have booked which would have included hiking on the glacier for a few hours instead of going to the beach, Vik, and the museum. But, since I’ve done glacier hiking before, I decided to just do the sightseeing tour — which was definitely a good choice!

      And as for protecting my camera, I tucked it inside my coat and only brought it out for a few seconds at a time to take photos. 🙂

    Great pictures! People are really starting to come around to noticing the beauty of Iceland (I believe it just placed near the top in a “Most Desired Places poll”).

    I bet the spelling on this post was an adventure in itself.

      Thanks, Ryan! And yes, I feel like a lot more people are talking about Iceland these days, and really wanting to go there. Which is great, because it’s well worth visiting!

      And yes, spelling Icelandic words is ALWAYS an adventure. 😉

    Amazing photos! Truly inspiring! I hope to see Iceland for myself some day soon.

    These are absolutely gorgeous landscapes, you’ve captured well their essence.

    I juust got back home from my trip to Iceland, and the South Shore was my favourite. Just so stunning and dramatic. We went with a smaller tour company (https://www.bustravel.is/), which I can’t recommend enough, in case anyone else is reading for a future trip.

      Thanks for the recommendation! I don’t think it matters what company you go with, though – the South Shore is simply amazing!

    I love your photos. It looks so much different than when I went in autumn before the snow. I really have to go back in Winter!

      I quite enjoyed it in winter! Though now I want to go back to see it in summer!

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