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Iceland’s south coast stretches eastwards from the Reykjanes Peninsula across a diverse region that encompasses black-sand beaches and jagged sea stacks and basalt columns, and offers access to rhyolite hills further inland. It’s home to several notable volcanoes, easily accessible glaciers and a vast sweep of wilderness that offers ample opportunities for hiking, 4x4 tours, glacier walks and visits to offshore islands. Rugged mountains, powerful waterfalls and a smattering of hot pools provide a variety of experiences with a network of walking trails and off-road tracks linking the various sights.

While it’s one of Iceland’s wettest areas, I love the south coast for its diverse landscapes. In one compact area you have everything from volcanoes and waterfalls to black-sand beaches. You’re fairly close to Reykjavík here, but I recommend staying overnight to fully explore.

Iceland specialist Grace

Things to see and do on Iceland's South Coast

Geological activity

EyjafjallajökullThe south coast of Iceland is highly geologically active — Iceland’s largest volcano, Katla, is here, along with Hekla, one of its most active volcanoes, and the infamous Eyjafjallajökull, which caused the 2010 ash clouds that disrupted international flights.

The LAVA Centre in Hvolsvöllur explains the effects that earthquakes, volcanoes, lava flows and glacial floods have had over millions of years and how they created the Iceland you see today. You’ll also get to learn about the elaborate monitoring system that surveys the country’s fault lines, rifts and volcanoes for potential activity.

An hour to the southeast, the Icelandic Lava Show in Vík is the only place in the world where you can safely get close to molten lava. The show recreates eruptions by pouring white-hot, liquid rock over ice, causing furious bubbling and creating different lava structures. This can give you first-hand insight into the intense forces that have formed many of the landscapes you’ll see across Iceland.

Outdoor activities

With such a varied landscape, the south coast offers myriad options for outdoor adventure. The most accessible glacier hiking in Iceland is at Sólheimajökull, an outlet glacier of the huge Mýrdalsjökull icecap. The region is about a two-hour drive from Reykjavík and activities here are easier than you’ll find in more remote regions. We can arrange for you to enjoy for short glaciers hikes, horse riding, accessible ice caves and options for snowmobiling and quad bike tours.

You can also visit the Skógafoss, a powerful waterfall, or venture behind the cascading water at Seljalandsfoss. Between September and early April, the region is also a popular spot for observing the northern lights — many hotels and lodges provide remote access and excellent conditions.

Accessing the interior wilderness

Þórsmörk Nature ReserveThe south coast provides several points from which you can easily access Iceland’s interior and the vast wilderness that lies beyond the ring road. The tracks into the backcountry are very rough however, and you’ll need to join a tour to get there. Most areas offer hiking far from crowds, but the landscape can vary dramatically.

Lush Þórsmörk is a deep valley surrounded by three glaciers, rugged gorges and jagged rock formations. In Landmannalaugar, you’ll find lakes, mountains and hot springs surrounded by grey, pink and orange-streaked rhyolite hills.

Þjórsárdalur is a valley in the southern highlands with clear views of Hekla, and home to Iceland’s longest river as well as Háifoss, one of its tallest waterfalls. Very few venture here, making this one of the best places to avoid the crowds.

Best time to visit Iceland's South Coast

Iceland’s south coast can be visited year-round but access to places such as Þjórsárdalur, the Westman Islands and Landmannalaugar is easiest between June and September. Glacier hiking on Sólheimajökull is possible throughout the year, but you’ll have fewer fellow hikers outside the summer months. You’re most likely to see the northern lights between September and early April.

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who's been there
Audley Travel specialist Laura

Start planning your tailor-made trip to South Coast by calling one of our Iceland specialists on 01993 838 431

Suggested itineraries featuring South Coast

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