If you’re planning on visiting Iceland, and are booking hotels in Akureyri, North Iceland, chances are high that you’ll be spending at least some time in the south of the country as well. The south, however, has just as much to offer as its northern neighbor, from beautiful seascapes and fjords to waterfalls and glaciers — and everything in between. Get to know these top five places to explore in South Iceland before your trip so you can make sure they’re on your itinerary.
Dripping with primal beauty, these natural wonders don’t come in many forms, but they are certainly awe-inspiring. The most popular waterfall destinations are Gullfoss, Seljalandsfoss, and Skógafoss. Most tours will let you hike behind or below a waterfall—which is every photographer’s dream. Be sure to bring a waterproof camera for some epic shots. Don’t forget your rain gear, as the Icelandic weather can turn on a dime.
2) Vatnajökull Glacier
At 14,100 square kilometers (about 5,400 square miles), Vatnajökull is Europe’s largest glacier by volume. It’s so big that if it melted completely, its runoff would raise global sea levels about 10 centimeters (4 inches). Skaftafell also has information about hiking on other nearby glaciers. Hikers are given crampons and an ice ax and led up the volcano Hvannadalshnukur to get an idea of how the landscape changes with altitude. From there, they can trek along Langjokull Glacier, which covers 12 percent of Iceland’s surface area but is melting at an accelerated rate due to warmer temperatures.
3) Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon
The westernmost point of South Iceland, Jokulsarlon is famous for its glacial lagoon filled with icebergs breaking off from Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier. With a backdrop of mountains including Langjokull and Hofsjöldúfjall, it’s easy to see why tourists flock here for ice caves, boat tours through enormous floating chunks of ice, and glacier hiking.
4) Solheimasandur Plane Wreck Beach
Solheimasandur is a black sand beach that’s so unique, that it’s been given a name: Plane Wreck Beach. One of its claims to fame is its resident plane wreck, which was abandoned there after running out of fuel during
World War II. The pilot made it out alive, but he left his passengers behind. It doesn’t get more dramatic than that, does it? But this site is also home to various types of seabirds and other wildlife. You can hike the soft dunes and watch the crashing waves, or you can hang out on one of the huge boulders near the edge for a more panoramic view. On your way back down, you’ll likely see some puffins flying by.
5) Skógafoss Waterfall
Standing at more than 60 meters high, Skógafoss Waterfall is one of Iceland’s largest waterfalls and arguably it’s most beautiful. It’s also among south Iceland’s top tourist attractions—which makes sense, considering just how gorgeous it is. Between all of its picturesque qualities and its easy accessibility from Reykjavik, Skógafoss has become a must-see spot for any visitor to Iceland. The powerful falls are best viewed with the sun on them, so plan your visit around sunset (or sunrise). Skógafoss is located on the Ring Road that encircles Iceland. Parking can be found on either side of the falls and it’s free to enter. Once you arrive at the falls themselves, you can explore behind them too by following the path into an Icelandic forest that leads to hidden caves and glaciers beyond the glacier Eyjafjallajokull.