If you could have a wish list of natural wonders to visit in your lifetime, you may well find them all located along Iceland’s South Coast.
From waterfalls to glaciers, volcanoes and rugged coastlines, Iceland is on everyone’s bucket list for a reason.
Iceland has become one of the most popular places to visit and thanks to the increase in flights from the US, UK and Europe, it’s super easy to access provided the weather is playing in your favor.
The wild conditions of this island nation can be unpredictable and like nothing you’ve ever seen before, but they’re usually followed by gorgeous light and a little magic. It’s a country where one minute can be a total blizzardy whiteout and the next rainbows or sparkling aurora.
Having visited Iceland three times now to compile content for my guide to Iceland’s Best Photography Locations, the first thing I recommend to anyone planning a trip there is this. Hire a car. Having wheels will allow you to see so much more and experience a real adventure as you cruise past epic scenery and stop whenever you like.
So, lets move on to the good stuff! Here are my picks for ten spots you can’t miss along the Iceland South Coast.
1. Seljalandfoss + Gljúfrabúi Waterfalls
As one of the first major natural beauties you’ll come across on the drive from Reykjavik, Seljalansfoss is one of the highlights on a trip to Iceland. At over 60m in height, the waterfall drops over a giant cave which you can walk behind in the right conditions and feel the intensity and power up close.
As one of a series of waterfalls connected by a little walking path, if you stop here you need to wander to the left and see the others. At the end you may start to see people returning a little drenched and that’s because they’ve found Gljúfrabúi. Gljúfrabúi is hidden in a cylinder-live cave of mist which you can access by walking upstream into it’s watery lair.
Be sure to take a raincoat and waterproof camera because it’s well worth getting completely soaked to experience what it’s like inside the cave.
2. Skogafoss Waterfall
Rumored to be guarding treasure beneath its cascading veil, Skogafoss is my favorite of all the waterfalls in Iceland. There’s something so simple yet stunning about it’s formation, falling perfectly off the cliff which was once the coast of Iceland.
Skogafoss at sunrise, midday, sunset and under star filled skies is worth visiting but to avoid the crowds aim for either earlier or later. As an easy to access location it’s a hot spot for tour coaches on day trips so can fill up very quickly during the day.
One thing you need to do here is capture that classic shot standing beneath Skogafoss (see below) and then climb the 500+ stairs to a platform above. After your legs have recovered from the climb you can look down over the edge and watch as the thundering water tumbles down from the Skógá River.
3. Reynisfjara Beach
Where the rough seas of the northern Atlantic crash onto black volcanic shores. Reynisfjara Beach is one of the most photogenic along the south coast. The major drawcard here are the giant basalt cliffs stacked high on the shores and wrapping around the headland into Hálsanefshellir Cave.
While it may look photo worthy, and by all means it is, you need to be really weary of the sea on this beach. When you arrive, take a few moments just to watch as the monster waves creep up then appear to flip on top of themselves, doubling in size just before they crash against the sand. You’ll no doubt see at least one unsuspecting tourist get a little wetter than intended as it’s very dangerous to get too close to the water.
On the other end of the beach you’ll find the Dyrhólaey Lighthouse which is another popular stop for people hoping to capture the immense scale of the beaches below. Accessing the lighthouse is actually by another road entirely though. Take Dyrhólavegur Rd to access the headland looking down over Reynisfjara Beach and also drive up to the lighthouse.
Sunrise overlooking Reynisjara is an incredible sight to witness!
On the drive between Vik and Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon you’ll pass the mighty Lómagnúpur mountain. Sticking out with it’s steep ascent and rocky cliffs above the ring road, it’s worth stopping here for a picnic lunch to gaze at it’s glory.
If driving from Vik, there’s a small dirt track that leads from the ring road and there’s enough space for 2 or 3 cars to park and enjoy the area. There’s usually a very shallow pond that works perfectly for reflection photos due to it’s volcanic sand base.
The mountain is just under 700m tall and differs in appearance depending on whether you’re driving from east or west. You’ll find giant boulders scattered in the immediate area around the base of Mount Lómagnúpur, a little reminder that one can come crashing down at any moment!
5. Fjallsárlón Glacial Lagoon
While most people will keep driving straight for Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, there’s another beauty hidden barely 10km away.
The Fjallsárlón Glacial Lagoon is an impressive sight to witness. Walking up from the carpark you’ve got no idea what lies over the hill until you suddenly see the icebergs and giant glacier tongue appear. You can get up a little closer to the glacier here than at Jokulsarlon and it appears as though the glacier is rolling down the hill towards you, it’s an awe inspiring natural landscape!
6. Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon
There’s so many words that can be used to describe the beauty on display at Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. With the mighty Breiðamerkurjökull outlet glacier looming in the distance, it’s filled with chunky icebergs as they break off and float out to sea.
Arriving to Jokulsarlon is one of those jaw dropping moments where you’ll probably be a little lost for words. Or just be like me and repeat the word ‘wow’ over and over until someone slaps you.
Experiencing the magic of Jokulsarlon is one of the highlights of any trip to Iceland, regardless of the season you visit. In fact, when I visit, I opt to spend at least two to three days in the area just so I can spend as much time around the lagoon as possible.
You’ll find icebergs floating in the lagoon year-round and in summer it’s possible to take a boat ride and get up close to them. In the cooler months it’s a great place to wait in the darkness for aurora to dance above, or to just watch as seals play or get some sun while lying on the ice.
Just across the bridge from the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is Diamond Beach. As the spot where all of those floating icebergs end up after being washed back to shore, it’s not hard to see how it got its name. At sunrise Diamond Beach is a photography hotspot with people arriving early to secure an iceberg to capture as the sun rises above the horizon.
It’s possible to arrive and there be no icebergs on the beach, it’s really up to nature and depends on how rough the seas are.
As Europe’s third largest glacier, Vatnajokull Glacier is immense in size. From the main ring road of Iceland you won’t see even 5% of it, in fact you’ll simply see the very edge as it crawls down the hill like frozen fingers.
In the winter months from roughly late November to early March, you can explore within the glacier into the ice caves beneath. Have a read of my post ‘Photographing Inside an Ice Cave of Vatnajokull Glacier’ for a series of photos and more details about caving.
You’ll need to book a tour for this because the caves can collapse at any moment, but a local guide will know where and when to go for the best experience. Standing in a cave beneath ice that’s formed over centuries is a totally surreal experience. A little like what I imagine standing inside a beautiful freezer would look like…minus the ice cream.
Another one of Vatnajokull’s glacier tongues, Svínafellsjökull allows you to get up nice and close to see the cracks, crevices and colours of a glacier without needing hiking gear and crampons.
There’s a dirt road that leads toward the glacier from the ring road just after the turn to Skaftafell. It takes roughly five minutes to drive to the parking area due to some pretty giant pot holes but once you’re there, the glacier is staring right at you.
Landscape photographers and horse riders flock to this beach that lies in a section of quiet coastline after the fishing town of Hofn.
With sharp ridges rising up from the ocean as waves roll in to black sandy shores, the scenery here is like stepping into a movie set. It’s dramatic, rugged and wild, all the good things about Iceland rolled into one location.
On the drive out to Stokksnes you’ll pass Iceland horses in paddocks so be sure to stop the car and meet them. The Icelandic horses are known for their friendliness and also their very stylish manes which look like they’ve all been to the salon for a little do.
To access the beach at Stokksnes you’ll need to pop in at the Viking Café and pay an entry fee which on my last visit was ISK 800. This fee goes towards upkeep of the private road, which in my opinion is well worth paying to access such an incredibly beautiful pocket of Icelandic magic.
If you’ve been to Iceland and have somewhere to add to the list, feel free to do so in the comments below and share your secret spot!
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