The Very Best of Iceland’s South Coast
Iceland’s South Coast arcs around from Reykjavik to the southerly reaches of the vast Vatnajökull National Park. This stretch of the coastal ring road can be driven in about 4-6 hours. However, with so many incredible sights you are going to want to take much longer about it than that. This travel itinerary includes so many of Iceland’s many and varied natural wonders. From lava fields and ice caps to black sand beaches and thundering waterfalls. Prepare yourself to be dazzled by the sheer wonder of nature on the singular island of Iceland.
Exploring the south coast of Iceland by camping rental is a great idea. It is a relatively compact area so you won’t spend too much time on the road. It also has good access year round, even in the winter months. The ring road remains open throughout the year and there are regular service stops for petrol and groceries. There are also some of the very best campgrounds in Iceland within easy reach. Exploring the South Coast of Iceland by camper van is a wonderful introduction to the country. You will need about a week to do it justice. You should be able to include the Golden Circle sights in this timeframe too. As ever in Iceland though, the longer the better! Here’s our guide to the top sights of Iceland’s South Coast.
The elegant Svartifoss Waterfall is found in the scenic Skaftafell area that forms part of the Vatnajökull National Park. It is a beautiful wilderness region of dark lava sand plains. Within it the Svartifoss Waterfall plunges down twenty metres into the river below. What makes this waterfall so unique is the impressive rock formations that surround it. The cliff is made up of neat basalt columns that are positively architectural in structure. It is an incredible sight and a scenic round walk of about 2-3 hours to reach it.
Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon
This beautiful glacial lagoon is a coastal lagoon just outside the borders of the Vatnajökull National Park in southeast Iceland. It is fed by the mighty glaciers of the national parkland and is the deepest lagoon in the country. It holds a very special kind of wonder, as it is possible to see floating icebergs make their way right across its surface. Ice is constantly breaking off of the ice caps and gliding across the lake and out to sea. These glowing blue ice pieces vary in size and create a mesmerising sight. In summer visitors can take boat tours out onto the lake and see the icebergs up close.
Not far from the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon is another sublime and icy sight. The black sand Diamond Beach glitters and glints in the sunlight with hundreds of ice ‘diamonds’. From tiny flecks and pebble size ice pieces to larger chunks of ice that roll with the waves. This unique beach is very much favoured by photographers. The dark sand and glow of the ice make for a photogenic contrast of colour and texture.
This frozen ‘river’ of ice can be easily accessed from the little town of Vík í Mýrdal on the South Coast. The Mýrdalsjökull Glacier is the fourth largest ice cap in Iceland and a popular place. This is one of the few glaciers in Iceland that can be accessed year round. So even in summer visitors can take snowmobile rides or guided hikes across its surface. This presents a wonderful opportunity to get a taste of winter in Iceland even during the summer months.
Vatnajökull National Park
The wonderful Vatnajökull National Park is the largest national park in Iceland. It makes up a quite astounding 14% of the country’s landmass. This is a tribute to the high regard that Iceland places on its natural environment. Its girth means that only a small portion of the national park reaches into South Iceland. The rest of it spreads out to the north encompassing the whole of the mighty Vatnajökull ice cap. In the south you will find sublime landscapes, waterfalls and rivers. Park up your motorhome and make the most of camping in nature. There are some great campsites here and you can explore on foot across the park’s many hiking trails.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
The weird and wonderful beauty of Reynisfjara has to be experienced. Sheer basalt cliffs rise up dramatically from the black sands of the beach. Wild Atlantic waves lash at three towering basalt columns in the bay. The whole place has a unique and otherworldly feel to it. So much so that it has been named as one of the National Geographic’s best beaches in the world. We couldn’t agree more! Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach is easily accessed from the town of Vik, a great base to explore the more western reaches of Iceland’s south Coast. There are two very good campgrounds near the town, so you can park your Iceland rental camper and enjoy.
The Westman Islands
This archipelago of islands is made up of 15 islands and around 30 other rocky stacks and outcrops. Of all the islands only one is inhabited. Heimaey Island, which means ‘home’ has a population of around 4,000 people and almost as many puffins! This is a great place to see much of the birdlife of Iceland, including guillemots and arctic terns. For an extra cost you can bring a motorhome to the island and camp. The island’s campground is a good base from which to explore its hiking trails on foot.
Seljalandsfoss is one of the most impactful waterfalls in a country of many seriously impressive waterfalls. You can see this beauty from the ring road so make sure that you pull over first before admiring it. With a drop of over sixty metres into a pool below Seljalandsfoss creates a lot of spray. So you may well see rainbows dancing across it on a sunny day. What makes this waterfall even more unique is that visitors can walk all the way around behind the falling curtain of water. Note that the path behind the waterfall is closed in winter, as it can get dangerously slippery. In summer it’s important to stick to the path too. If you visit in dusk or darkness you will see the waterfall lit up.