Iceland, the land of Fire and Ice. There is so much to see in this wonderfully raw country, but a particularly good place to start is the country’s south coast. The Icelandic south coast boasts many of the country’s major sights and ever-changing landscapes. Plunging waterfalls, wild tundra, black stone beaches, desert wastes, glaciers and lagoons, the south coast has it all.
While staying in the country’s capital of Reykjavik, I organised a 2 Day Tour with Extreme Iceland. Setting out from Reykjavik early in the morning in a minibus, we got onto Route 1, the ring road that circles the country. Even early on, the views from the road were fantastic with coastal towns on one side and looming mountains and volcanos on the other.
Our first stop along the road was the waterfall of Seljalandsfoss. This high waterfall is impressive as you approach, but you soon realise there’s a path that leads behind the falls. If you’re not afraid of getting a little damp, being behind the falls just bolsters your respect for the waterfall’s mighty power. There’s nothing like that kind of raw natural power, up close.
A little further down the road we pulled up at a farm with a small sign explaining that the mountain we saw in front of us was actually the unpronounceable Eyjafjallajökull volcano. Eyjafjallajökull was the volcano that famously erupted in 2010 halting air traffic in Europe for days. After we all tried and failed to properly pronounce the volcano’s name, we headed over to a nearby herd of native Icelandic horses to get up close with these beautiful creatures.
Icelandic horses are a small breed of horses that originate from the isolated island country. Although descended from the horses brought over from Norway during settlement 1000 years ago, the horses have become their own breed due to the country’s isolation and through selective breeding. To prevent diseases harming the horse population, no horses are allowed to be imported into the country and exported horses are not allowed to return.
Next up only a little further down the road was the Skógafoss waterfall, another mighty waterfall. Skógafoss is set in its own natural enclave, with a series of stairs you could climb to the top of the falls. The views from above the falls were impressive and you could also see up the river that feeds the falls, as it cut through the wild and sparse landscape.
After Skógafoss, we continued along the ring road and stopped for the first time by the ocean at Reynisfjara beach. Reynisfjara is a dazzling black sand beach typical of Iceland, with fantastic contrasts between the beach and the white sea foam. Running into the beach is Reynisfjall mountain, with its incredible rock formations reminiscent of the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland. You can actually climb up them part way, but it’s no easy feat. Just off the coast from Reynisfjall is Reynisdrangar, two large rocky sea stacks rising from the ocean.
Other sights along the road were some charming traditional churches and drastic changes in the terrain and landscape. One minute you were looking at hills and tundra, the next vast rocky deserts or mossy lava fields. Due to the number of active volcanoes in Iceland and especially along this coast, the landscape is constantly changing. With one volcanic eruption, what may have been fertile farmland could turn into inhospitable desert waste. This is really why my favourite word to describe Iceland is “raw”.
Our final port of call for the first day was the glorious Jökulsárlón glacial lake. Jökulsárlón sits below an outlet of Vatnajökull glacier, the largest of the country, and is fed by the melting glacier. This lake, which freezes over in winter, has been used as a filming location for many movies including the James Bond film Die Another Day and Batman Begins.
What makes Jökulsárlón special is the huge chunks of ice that break free from the glacier and become icebergs in the lake, to spectacular effect. When we arrived in the afternoon, most of the icebergs had drifted to the mouth of the river that feeds into the sea. Even still, walking along the banks of the lake was magical, particularly when admiring the icebergs as long as a truck or the blue tinge in the ice. Over the lake you could also spot the glacier that feeds into the lake.
Just up the road from Jökulsárlón, we reached our accommodation for the night at Guesthouse Gerði. While nothing fancy, the rooms were spacious and comfortable and the restaurant stocked with pleasant meals and local beer.
After a peaceful night’s sleep, we were on our way back towards Reykjavik, first returning to Jökulsárlón. The difference at the lake between the previous afternoon and in the morning was astounding. This time the lake was scattered with icebergs everywhere under moody clouds. The weather really lent the site an utterly different atmosphere, the lake and glacier felt far more severe and extreme. Jökulsárlón truly is a jaw-dropping place and a must-see for any visit to Iceland.
At the end of the river that leads out of Jökulsárlón are rocky beaches where chunks of ice from the lake wash up. It’s a pretty cool and rare sight to see something like this, so we all savoured the moment, walking between the ice and picking up little chunks here and there. We all agreed that the chunk of ice below looked like a dolphin, leaping from a wave. Agree?
The last stop on our tour on the way back to Reykjavik was at Svínafellsjökull Glacier, another offshoot of Vatnajökull glacier. We were here to walk out onto the glacier for an hour hike, complete with gear like crampons and ice picks. Having never been on a glacier before, this was actually quite fun despite it simply being walking on ice. The views out over the glacier were incredible, made even more special by the fact that a favourite show of mine in Game of Thrones filmed here. You can actually do ice climbs here as well, which I would love to do given the chance to come back. The glacier made for a perfect end to our deeply enjoyable tour of the glorious Icelandic south coast.
For more information on the Icelandic South Coast, have a look here at Visit South Iceland.
Well, those are the amazing sights to be seen along the Icelandic South Coast. Have you experienced the wonders of Iceland? Always wanted to go? Was that a dolphin? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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This post is part of Weekend Wanderlust linkup put together by A Brit and A Southerner. Please follow the link for more great posts.