Alison MacNeil

Alison is a musician, writer and artist from Canada. She's lived in Reykjavik since 1999. 

7 minute read27 Apr 2017

GetLocal's Guide to: The South Coast

The south coast of Iceland has quickly become a must-see day tour for the many people visiting Iceland every year. We thought it was just about time to give our readers an overview of the different sights you will see on this tour, which is one of our top selling tours.

The trip south along Iceland’s Ring Road is packed with some of the most beautiful scenery you will ever see on this planet. Waterfalls and dramatic landscapes are just a few hundred meters from the highway, known as the “Ring Road”, and a single day of touring along this route affords you the opportunity to see some of the most photographed places in the country.

A trip to the South Coast in any weather is beautiful, but even in the sunshine, prepare to get wet if you walk behind the falls.

Seljalandsfoss

The first stop on our tour of the South Coast is the 62m high Seljalandsfoss, which is fed by the river Seljalandá and is about 30km west of Skógar. It is particularly photogenic and is used in nearly every tourist brochure of the country. It has even appeared in a brochure for another planet - in the movie “Passengers” in 2016.

You can walk behind Seljalandsfoss, which is a particularly zen - and occasionally very wet - experience depending on the weather. Like many of the attractions on this trip, this sight is only a few hundred meters from the highway and takes a very short time to see, but you could probably spend a whole day sitting there if you were so inclined.

Skógafoss is shown here without its usual double rainbow, but beautiful nonetheless.

Skógafoss

Skógafoss may not appear in quite as many brochures, but it is known for its frequent host to double rainbows. It’s one of the largest falls in the country with a spread across of about 25m and a drop of 60m from the top. The waterfall is featured in local folklore as the hiding place of a treasure from one of the first settlers of the area, but it hasn’t been found yet. Above the falls, there is a hiking trail that leads up to the famous Fimmvörðuháls trail, which leads between the glaciers Eyjafjalljökull and Myrdalsjökull.

The DC-3 plane that crash landed on this beach in 1973 was thought to be wrecked due to pilot error, but the mystery was never solved.

Sólheimasandur

Not every tour is allowed to ride all the way onto the beaches of Sólheimasandur, so you would be well-advised to check with one of our guides before you book a tour of the South Coast to find out whether the tour actually goes there. Often people take one of the ATV tours to see the wreckage of the DC-3 plane that ran out of fuel mid-flight and crash-landed on the beach in 1973. The road to the plane was closed by the landowners in 2016 due to the behaviour of tourists in the area, so if you do find a tour that has been allowed to visit the plan, please be respectful of the nature there (and everywhere else).

The basalt formations around Reynisfjara are an inspiration for much of Iceland's unusual architecture.

Reynisfjara and Dyrhólaey

Our next stop on this virtual tour of the South Coast is the beach Reynisfjara, with the incredible rock formations at Dyrhólaey, not too far to the west of the beautiful town of Vík í Myrdal.

Seen from above, the rock formations look like the most difficult place in the world to build a summerhouse.

Literally, Dyrhólaey means the “hill-island-with-door-hole” and from the top of the promontory you can get the most spectacular view of the black sand beaches with the famous geology that inspired so much of Icelandic architecture (for example, Hallgrímskirkja, the National Theatre and the Harpa). Occasionally, you’ll even see some puffins nesting along the cliffside.

The rock formations are thought to be trolls dragging people out to sea.

Pay attention to the warnings that are posted on the beach and don’t get too close to the sea, since the waves are unpredictable and can quickly sweep you out to the waters, which get very deep, very quickly. Follow the advice of the guides on your tour and don’t take unnecessary risks, since the nature can be beautiful, but it can also kill you.

This beach is beautiful in any weather, but best enjoyed with caution.

Like many interesting rock formations in the seas around Iceland, those found at Reynisfjara often appear in local folklore as trolls who have been frozen in the daylight (either when dragging people in from the passing ship or when they’re dragging people off the land and into the ocean).

The town of Vík will be flooded if Katla ever explodes.

Vík í Myrdal

The end of the South Coast sightseeing tours is often around the town of Vík in the Myrdal valley. Longer trips of the South Coast will often go all the way around to the glacier lagoons under Vatnajökull, but those trips take longer to drive and are usually better if you stay in the area and take your time over two days.

The little white church at the top of the hill will probably survive the flood.

The town of Vík sits right next to a glacier, Myrdalsjökull, which is in turn sitting directly on top of one of the biggest volcanoes in Iceland, Katla. That volcano hasn’t erupted since 1918, but a large eruption would cause massive flash flooding in the area. The church in Vík, a quaint and unassuming white building with a red roof is thought to be the only building that would survive such a flood. Such is life on this island, barely balanced between staggering beauty and epic destruction.

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