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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 booking a winter trip to Iceland.
But my lack of plans lasted for about 5 minutes after boarding the Flybus from Keflavik International Airport.
There, in the bus’ seat-back pocket, was a brochure outlining all the awesome tours and excursions you could do in Iceland. The Golden Circle, horseback riding, snorkeling in between tectonic plates… But one tour in particular caught my eye: the South Shore Adventure on Iceland’s South Coast.
The South Coast ended up being the first part of Iceland I really experienced (after the Blue Lagoon). And it’s the one part of Iceland that I’ve visited on all FOUR of my trips to Iceland.
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. Either way, it’s a part of the country you won’t want to miss!
RELATED: An Epic 10-Day Iceland Ring Road Itinerary
An introduction to Iceland’s South Coast
The South Coast of Iceland has no official “start” and “end,” but most people would agree that it starts around the town of Selfoss, stretches through the village of Vík í Mýrdal and Vatnajökull National Park, and ends roughly around the town of Höfn.
(Höfn is of course technically in East Iceland, but we’ll just call that area the southeast coast; it’s still incredible.)
The distance between Selfoss and Höfn is 400 kilometers (about 250 miles), and the way to travel is via Route 1 AKA the Ring Road AKA Þjóðvegur 1. All the sites I’ll include here are either along the Ring Road, or easily reachable from it if you’re doing a Ring Road road trip.
The South Shore has some of Iceland’s most iconic landscapes, from thundering waterfalls to black sand beaches to glaciers and ice caves. And since I’ve been there several times in just about every kind of weather you can imagine, I’ll share my thoughts on which spots are must-sees and which ones you can maybe skip if you’re short on time.
When to visit the South Coast
Iceland’s South Coast is a popular area for tourists to visit year-round. The Ring Road does not close except in the most inclement weather (which can technically happen any time of year, but is more likely in the fall and winter).
The most popular time to visit Iceland is during the summer – mainly July and August. Anytime from June-September is a good bet though in terms of being able to access everything. This is also the time of year when the greatest number of tours are running.
Here are some examples of good times to visit the South Coast in terms of what you want to see:
- Mid-May through mid-August – Experience the Midnight Sun, when the sun barely sets, or sets very very late.
- Mid-May through mid-August – Your best chance to see puffins nesting.
- Mid-June through early July – See fields of purple lupins blooming along the South Coast.
- September/October – The days start to get short enough to possibly see the Northern Lights.
I last visited all 25 of the spots listed below during an August trip to Iceland, but I’ve also visited in November.
25 epic things to do on Iceland’s South Coast
To make this list easier to navigate, we’ll “travel” along the South Coast in order from west to east.
I’ll list all the most popular sights, and give you my opinion on whether I think each one is worth stopping for or not.
What you’ll find in this post
1. Town of Selfoss
Type of sight: Town
We’ll start in the town of Selfoss, which is less than an hour’s drive from Reykjavik on the Ring Road. The town is the largest in South Iceland – but with a population of under 7,000, it by no means feels like a big city.
Most people drive right on through Selfoss on their way to other sights on the South Coast, but it’s worth making a quick stop.
The town sits on the Ölfusá River, and is home to the Bobby Fischer Center, which is a small museum dedicated to the famous chess player. An old milk factory in the center of town has recently been transformed into a food hall and collection of shops; at the very least, stop in for a coffee at the very cute Konungs Kaffi.
Worth it? Yes, for a coffee break or lunch.
Good to know: Most of the restaurants in the food hall are only open until 9 p.m.
Type of sight: Waterfall
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 cascades 200 feet over 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’ll definitely want to do!
The trail is fairly short (you can see it from the parking area), but it’s wet and can be slippery in spots. Know that if you want to walk the loop all the way around behind the falls, there’s some rock scrambling involved on the far left side if you’re going counter-clockwise.
Worth it? Yes, it’s a very pretty waterfall and walking behind it is fun.
Good to know: This is a very popular spot, and you have to pay to park in the dedicated parking lot (there’s a pay station). Since it’s so popular, though, there are services here – including restrooms.
Type of sight: Waterfall
If you visit Seljalandsfoss, you’ll notice that the trail continues on past the first famous waterfall. Not as many people make the 10-minute walk, but those who do can visit Gljúfrabúi, or the “Canyon Dweller.”
This 130-foot-tall waterfall cascades down into a small gorge, almost completely hidden from view. Those who don’t mind getting wet can walk/wade into the canyon and see this impressive waterfall.
Worth it? Yes, but you will get VERY WET, so I highly recommend fully waterproof coat, pants, and boots to visit this one.
Good to know: You have to walk/wade through a shallow river to get inside the canyon, but once you’re inside there are large rock slabs to stand on. Obviously do all of this at your own risk!
Type of sight: Waterfall
Also known as Merkjárfoss since it’s on the river Merkjá, Gluggafoss is another waterfall worth visiting in this area. It’s located just a 25 minute drive north of Seljalandsfoss, and is often much less crowded since most people don’t seem to know about it.
This waterfall is actually a series of falls that have carved out interesting holes in the rock that resemble windows (and the Icelandic word for windows is “gluggar,” hence the Gluggafoss name). The top section of the waterfall plunges 145 feet, while the bottom section is about 27 feet tall.
A flat trail goes right up to the falls from the parking area, and you can walk behind the lower section of the falls here, too.
Worth it? If you have the time to make this detour, yes! It’s a nice waterfall and usually not crowded.
Good to know: Gluggafoss is located off Road 261, which is a paved road that meets up with Route 1 in Hvolsvöllur. IF you want to travel from Seljalandsfoss to Gluggafoss (or vice versa), the shortest route will be via Road 250, but know that Road 250 is a gravel road (though one that is usually passable in a small car).