Travelers to Iceland will agree that one of the most beautiful spots in the country is along the southern coast. A south coast Iceland tour makes a lovely, yet long day trip from Reykjavik, but is completely worth it. If you’ve come to Iceland to see incredible waterfalls and black sand beaches, add this self-drive south coast Iceland tour to your itinerary!
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Driving in South Iceland
Driving to the southern coast of Iceland from Reykjavik takes a little bit more time than other popular places in Iceland. On a good day, it will take you a little under two hours to reach the first stop. If you are visiting Iceland in the winter, you will want to allow yourself more time for driving based on the weather.
Even though it will take a little bit more time, seeing the scenic spots along the south coast is definitely worth the time in the car. There are some cute small towns you can stop in if needed, like Hella or Selfoss, where you can top off on gas or find a cute coffee shop. There are also several scenic turnoffs along the way, so definitely take advantage of these as time permits! I recommend making yourself a good driving playlist to help pass the time. My travel companion and I filled ours with lots of songs from our youth. We enjoyed watching Iceland’s scenery pass by to the tunes of the Cheetah Girls and N*SYNC.
I can’t end this section without mentioning my biggest pet peeve about driving in Iceland: Please don’t park like idiots! I found that so many people had parked their cars with huge spaces
South Coast Iceland Tour Itinerary
If you’re doing a self-drive south coast Iceland tour as a day trip from Reykjavik, you are going to want to make the most out of the daylight hours you get. This day trip is going to take a full day, so if you’re visiting in winter when there are fewer daylight hours you may want to consider overnighting in the south coast so you don’t have to rush through the sites or make the long drive back to Reykjavik in the dark at the end of the day.
I recommend starting the drive to the south coast from Reykjavik around
The first stop you’ll reach on your south coast Iceland tour is Seljalandsfoss waterfall. If you’ve come to Iceland to see amazing waterfalls, this one with certainly not disappoint! These falls are gorgeous and drop 200 feet from a large plateau. Fed by Iceland’s famous Eyjafjallajökull Glacier (which we’ll talk more about later) this waterfall is a very popular stop along the south coast. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about this waterfall is that you can take a short hike all the way around it.
Getting up close and personal with Seljalandsfoss waterfall means you will undoubtedly get wet. The mist from the powerful falls hovers in the air, and the slightest gust of that Icelandic wind can send gushes of water in any direction. If you decide to hike behind the waterfall, be prepared for the Splash Zone. In addition, the trail can be muddy and slippery so make sure you wear sturdy shoes.
You do have to pay 700 ISK for day parking or you will get ticketed. I saw plenty of little parking violation slips in the parking lot, so do take the parking fee seriously. However, you can also drive a little further past the waterfall to the entrance for the campground at Gljufrabui, and you won’t have to pay anything. It’s an easy walk to Seljalandsfoss from this free lot.
Around Seljalandsfoss, you can also find free toilets, a small souvenir shop, and a snack truck with food and drink. If anything, take advantage of the free toilets, as those are few and far between in Iceland.
A quick walk from Seljalandsfoss will bring you to Gljúfrabúi waterfall. This site is also known as the “Hidden Waterfall,” due to it being mostly hidden by a tall cliff-face. There is a small crack in the cliff where you can see a glimpse of Gljúfrabúi waterfall. But in order to see the full waterfall, you’re going to have to put your adventure pants on! The only way to access the falls is to walk through the freezing cold glacial stream that leads through the crack in the cliff-face.
Once you reach Gljúfrabúi, there is a small landing area where you can allow your frozen feet to regain some feeling. From here, you can see the full waterfall. Hiking inside to Gljúfrabúi, you will 100% get wet, but it is totally worth it!
Eyjafjallajökull and Þorvaldseyri
About 20 minutes after leaving Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrabúi, you’ll see a small parking lot in front of a large clearing. This stop wasn’t on my original driving itinerary, but my interest was piqued. The red and white buildings in the distance make up a site named Þorvaldseyri. This is a historic farm from the late
But the more interesting site here is actually above the farm. This is Eyjafjallajökull: the glacial volcano that erupted in 2010. One of Iceland’s most famous volcanos, Eyjafjallajökull is about 1527 feet high, and the glacier that site on top covers around 39 square miles. Luckily for us visitors, the volcano is not expected to erupt again for another few hundred years. At this point, the scariest thing about visiting Eyjafjallajökull is trying to pronounce it!
After another 10 minutes on the road, you’ll be able to see the next incredible waterfall from the road. Turn off on Skógar Road and follow the signs for Skógafoss to get to the parking lot. This is another very popular site on the south coast of Iceland, so there will probably be a crowd here.
But the crowds are for good reason. Skógafoss Waterfall is another beautiful, full waterfall. The best thing about this waterfall is that you can walk right up to it if you wish. Just know that the closer you get, the wetter you’ll get as well! On sunny days, you can often find rainbows at
Skógafoss. My travel buddy and I were even lucky enough to see a double rainbow! I’m pretty sure that means unicorns live here.
You can also take a stairway to the top of the waterfall and see the water as it pours over the cliff. There is a hiking trail that extends from here and follows the river inland. This trail is called Fimmvörðuháls, and it’s a challenging 25-kilometer hike. My research says you can do the hike in one day, but personally, I’d rather force-feed myself a bowl of Iceland’s famous fermented shark than hike 25 kilometers in a day.
Dyrhólaey and Kirkjufjara Beach
The next stop on your south coast Iceland tour is to the actual coast of Iceland. Dyrhólaey is a very picturesque stop. From the very top, you can see some interesting rock formations in the water, and far along Iceland’s coastline. However, the road to this site is very rocky, bumpy, and a bit steep. I recommend skipping Dyrhólaey if your rental car isn’t a 4×4 or if you didn’t pay for extra insurance. My rental car probably could have made it to Dyrhólaey, but after hearing the crunchy clang of the rocks as they hit the underside of my car, I made the judgment call to skip it this time.
Instead of turning right to drive up to Dyrhólaey, you can follow the main road where it will dead-end into a different scenic spot along the coastline. This is Kirkjufjara Beach. Here you will get the first glimpses of that famous Icelandic black sand, as well as some of the interesting rock formations along the coast.
Since you’re near the water it will most likely be much colder and windier at this spot. Layer on another coat for warmth, and hold onto your hats! Kirkjufjara Beach is also a great place to wait and watch the water for any wildlife that may pop up. I’m almost positive I saw a seal!
Parking is free at Kirkjufjara Beach. There are some restroom facilities here, but you do have to pay 200ISK to use them.
Even though you can see Reynisfjara Beach from Kirkjufjara, it takes about 20 minutes of backtracking around an inlet to drive there. This famous beach is another very popular spot with visitors, as you can finally get up close with the black sand and Iceland’s powerful Atlantic coast. That being said, parking can be a bit of a nightmare here. Be prepared for a short walk to get to the beach.
The black sand at Reynisfjara Beach is made of cooled volcanic lava that has broken down into tiny sand particles throughout thousands of years. It’s utterly fascinating to visit Reynisfjara Beach and know that the floor is literally lava!
The black sand isn’t the only object of geological fascination here. Volcanic lava also played a part in forming tall basalt columns along the beach. Not only are they interesting just to look at, but you can climb on them as well!
With the black sand and other geological formations along Reynisfjara Beach, it’s no wonder the site is so popular. But d
Seljavallalaug Hot Spring Pool
After enjoying Reynisfjara Beach, it’s time to start heading back to Reykjavik. You can also make this stop right before Skogafoss waterfall, but I recommend doing it on the way back. This is for two main reasons:
1) Stopping on the way there would make you arrive at Skogafoss and the rest of the destinations at prime tour-bus-crowd time.
2) Ending your day in a hot spring is basically the best thing to do in Iceland.
Seljavallalaug Hot Spring Pool was built in 1923 in order to help locals learn how to swim. Today, it is one of the oldest pools in Iceland still in usable condition.
Fed by water from natural hot springs pumped into the pool, the water stays comfortably warm throughout the year. It’s also one of the few places in Iceland that you are not likely to deal with crowds. It takes a short, bumpy and pothole-riddled ride down a rocky side road to get to the trailhead for Seljavallalaug. Then, it takes another 15-20 minute hike to get to the actual pool. This actually ended up being my favorite short hike while in Iceland!
Seljavallalaug is completely free to visit, and is maintained by a small group of volunteers. The pool is only cleaned once a year, and because of this it tends to get a good layer of slimy green algae. There are some rustic changing areas built by the pool, but don’t expect anything glamorous. With no other facilities around Seljavallalaug, make sure you’re well fed, hydrated, and have used the restroom before setting off to the pool.
How to get to Seljavallalaug Hot Spring Pool
After about 30 minutes of driving back from Reynisfjara Beach, turn right onto on road 242 (also called Raufarfell). This road kind of loops around, so make sure to take the second entrance for road 242, so that you don’t have to deal with as many potholes.
From there, follow the signs for Seljavellir until you get to a small parking lot. Park your car here and follow the trail that heads towards the mountains. You may have a small creek to cross, but there should be some rocks in place to help you skip across. The hike is easy, doesn’t take long, and is well worth it for the pool and the beautiful Icelandic scenery.
Back to Reykjavik
After spending the rest of your day relaxing in the waters at Seljavallalaug, it’s time to say goodbye to the south coast and head back to Reykjavik. It should take a little under 2 hours of driving on a nice day to get back to the city center. If you’re visiting the South coast of Iceland in winter, make sure that you monitor the weather as conditions tend to change quickly throughout the day, and you may have to head back to Reykjavik sooner than you’d like.
Tips for Visiting South Coast Iceland
- Many other south coast Iceland itineraries will have you visiting the small village of Vik after Reynisfjara Beach. While the town is cute, there’s really not much to do there other than to just see it. If visiting the south coast as a day trip from Reykjavik, I recommend skipping Vik and spending more time at the other scenic spots. Plus, from
Vikit’s a 2.5-3 hour drive back to Reykjavik and that’s a long drive to make at the end of the day.
- If you have more time at the end of the day, you can also check out the Skogar Museum, near Skogafoss. It’s an interesting cultural heritage museum. The open-air museum is particularly interesting, showcasing different examples of historic Icelandic architecture (The cute little houses with grass roofs.) Admission is 2000ISK for adults and 1500ISK for students.
- Another popular stop along the south coast is the Sólheimasandur plane crash site. If you have time (3-4 hours), a love of hiking, and a good weather day, you might consider doing the hike out to the plane crash. But, at this point it’s so popular, I’ve heard it can get really crowded and its starting to fall apart. Plus, it’s a 4-mile hike each way, so ask yourself if the ‘Gram is really worth it…
- If you plan on having any fun at all on your south coast Iceland tour, you are going to get wet. Getting anywhere near these thunderous waterfalls will soak your clothes. You will definitely want your rain gear and maybe some waterproof pants for this adventure day. But if you don’t want to invest in an expensive, waterproof wardrobe, just pack an extra outfit in the car along with a towel.
- Personally, I think that a self-drive tour is the best way to explore the south coast. It allows you the flexibility to stay as long as you want at each stop or to make side stops as things catch your eye. But, if you aren’t renting a car in Iceland, you can still visit many of these spots along the south coast! There here are some great south coast Iceland tours you can join on Viator!
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