What to See on the South Coast of Iceland

The South Coast is characterized by the iconic black sand beaches, sculpted by the rough crashing waves and the volcanoes that lie just a little further inland. With plenty of interesting lava formations and quaint villages, the South Coast has a unique charm, drawing in travelers from all over, locals and tourists alike.


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Dverghamrar/Dwarf Rocks

Dverghamrar (Dwarf Rocks), a protected natural monument just east of Foss, are peculiar and beautiful formations of columnar basalt. On top of the columns there is cube-jointed basalt. The landscape is thought to have been moulded at the end of the Ice Age, as the sea level was higher at that time and it is believed that the waves caused the peculiar look of the rocks. Columnar basalt is formed when lava flow gets cooled and contraction forces build up. Cracks then form horizontally and the extensive fracture network that develops results in the six sided formation of the columns.

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Dynkur or Budarhalsfoss in Thjorsa river, the waterfalls Hrauneyjarfoss and the sometimes turquoise colored Sigaldafoss are all easy to reach. It is also a good idea to drive and see the majestic waterfall Dynkur in the River Thjorsa. The road is signed but it is only suitable for 4wd vehicles. It is also an excellent trip to drive down to the waterfall Fagrifoss in the Kaldakvisl canyon on the way. There are also many other waterfalls to visit in the region.

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Dyrhólaey is a 120-meter high promontory, not far from the village of Vík. The place got its name from the massive arch that the sea has eroded from the headland. The headland is thought to have been made in an underwater volcanic eruption late in the glacial period, not unlike the eruption of Surtsey. There are beautiful views to be seen in all directions from Dyrhólaey.

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The friendly village of Eyrarbakki used to be the largest commercial community and the main harbour on the south coast of Iceland in earlier times. A large number of preserved houses from the period 1890-1920 are situated in Eyrarbakki and therefore a visit is like reverting a 100 years back in time. Other popular tourist attractions are The Eyrarbakki Maritime Museum and the Árnessýsla Folk Museum, located at the legendary "The House" in Eyrarbakki, built in 1765, the oldest timber house in Iceland. The primary school in Eyrarbakki is also the oldest in the country, founded in 1852. In Eyrarbakki there is also a fine camping site, a guesthouse and a restaurant. On the rocky shore you can witness an amazing view of the Atlantic Ocean, as well as watch the surf break. It is an ideal spot for hiking and bird-watching. The Flói Bird Reserve lies northwest of Eyrarbakki and is an important nesting area.

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Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon is a magnificent canyon which is up to 100 m deep and about 2 kilometers long, with the Fjaðrá river flowing through it. It is located nearby the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur. The bedrock of the canyon is said to be about 2 million years old, and made of palagonite from the Ice Age. Most people choose to walk along a walking path up on the canyon's edge while simultaneously enjoying the view above the canyon.

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Gjáin Gorge

There is a breathtaking place in Þjórsárdalur valley, Gjáin, which is one of the hidden treasures of Iceland. There is a lovely waterfall in the river Rauðá, which runs through here. It is small, but ever so beautifully framed by the surroundings. It is called Gjárfoss falls and cascades into the gorge of Gjáin. There is a short (ca 10-15 minutes), easy hike from the Viking settlement manor at Stöng to Gjáin and all of a sudden this beautiful fairytale scene opens up with waterfalls, columnar basalt and lush vegetation. Here one can find angelica plants in abundance.

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The waterfall Háifoss is situated near the volcano Hekla in the south of Iceland. The river Fossá, a tributary of Þjórsá, drops here from a height of 122 m. This is the second highest waterfall on the island. From the historical farm Stöng, which was destroyed by a volcanic eruption of Hekla in the Middle Ages and then reconstructed, it is possible to hike to the waterfall along the Fossá (5 to 6 hours both directions). Above the waterfall, there is also a parking lot, so hiking is also possible in the other direction.

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The town Hella is named after the nearby caves, where Irish monks are said to have settled when people were beginning to inhabit Iceland. There are many facilities in Hella, including a tourist information center, restaurants, shops, and a swimming pool. The region in which Hella is situated, Rangárþing ytra (westen Rangárþing), is bordered in the north and south by two glaciers, Vatnajökull and Mýrdaljökull respectively. In the area you can find many well known nature resources and historical places for example, the volcano Hekla, Landmannalaugar and the saga trail of Njáls saga. There is also a 50th anniversary memorial, built in the town in 1977, for the founder, Þorsteinn Björnsson, who built the first shop there in 1927.

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Hjálparfoss Waterfalls

Hjálparfoss is a beautiful waterfall in the river Fossá in the Þjórsárdalur Valley. The waterfall is not particularly tall, but the basalt stones and the water cascading into a pool make this a very picturesque location. The surrounding area is called Hjálp (Help), because the travelers across the Sprengisandur Route found great help in reaching a vegetated area to graze their horses after a long journey through the barren center of the country. Like elsewhere in the valley, the signs of the eruptions of Mt. Hekla are very prominent by the waterfall, with ashes everywhere. It is very easy to access from road 32, near the Búrfellsvirkjun Power Plant.

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At Hvolsvöllur you can find the Njál's Saga Center which is fitting since all around town is the scene of action for one of the most famous Icelandic Saga, The Story of Burnt Njáll. At the Saga Center you can find a Burnt Njáll's exhibition, gallery, co-op museum and the newest attraction, the Njálurefill which is a 90 m. long tapestry, from the story of burnt Njall, being made at the Saga Center and is open for everyone to participate. The center also gives some insight into the history of Icelandic sagas and the Viking age settlements, with plenty of exhibitions for all ages. You can find a lovely green area in the center of town where you can stretch your legs, let your kids play and enjoy a picnic and each summer you will find an outdoor exhibition by local area photographers. There is also the LAVA centre, an interactive exhibition about volcanoes and other tectonic activity. Interestingly, Hvolsvöllur is the only town in Iceland not to be built near the sea or a river.

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Kirkjubæjarklaustur is a small village in beautiful natural surroundings. Nearby tourist attractions include the Laki craters and the enormous lava that comes from these craters. Before Viking settlers, it was home to Irish hermits, or Papar. It is believed that Kirkjubæjarklaustur has always been a Christian village, even during the time when paganism was the more popular religion in Iceland. The village offers shops and services to travelers passing through. For more information go to visitklaustur.is

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Landmannalaugar is part of the Fjallabak Nature Reserve. Among its main characteristics are the colorful rhyolite mountains with their varying textures, shapes and sizes, and the wonderful natural hot springs, perfect for soaking in after a day of hiking through the area. The star attraction is the hot spring which runs right past the campsite. It can get busy at peak times so an early morning visit just after sunrise is highly recommended. Don't miss the steaming sulphur pots in the hills behind the camp but watch out for the stench, it can be quite overpowering. Horse riding and fishing are also possible here in the summer months, particularly horse rides, as some areas can be difficult or impossible to access by car.

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Reynisdrangar are basalt sea stacks situated under the mountain Reynisfjall near the village Vík. According to legend, the Reynisdrangar needles were formed when two trolls were trying to drag a three-masted ship to land. When daylight broke they turned to stone, as all trolls in Icelandic legends do.

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Reynisfjara beach is a beautiful black sand beach under Reynisfjall mountain, from which you can see Reynisdrangar, the amazing basalt columns. About half way down the beach is a large vaulted cavern called Hálsanefshellir. The tidal waves here can be very dangerous.

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Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall is a unique waterfall in the river Seljalandsá. It is 60 meters high with a footpath behind it, that cuts underneath the cliff, behind the cascading water. It is the only known waterfall of its kind in Iceland, as it is possible to walk behind it.

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The hot spring that has been turned into a swimming pool, Seljavallalaug is situated in a short and a narrow valley near the farm Seljavellir at the foot of the Eyjafjall Mountains in southern Iceland. The local Youth Club built the old and unique pool, where an older and smaller one stood before. One of its long sides is the sheer mountainside, from which natural hot water trickles into the pool. It has a splendid view of the nearby stream cascading down from the mountains and must be one of the most beautiful settings for a naturally heated pool anywhere.

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Skógafoss Waterfall

Skógafoss Waterfall probably rivals Gullfoss as Iceland's most famous waterfall. At 60 meters high and 15 meters wide, the cliff that this waterfall cascades down is a former sea cliff, left over from when the coastline expanded further into the sea. On sunny days you can usually see a rainbow or two through the spray produced by the waterfall.

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Skógar, meaning "forests", is a small village of roughly 25 people, known for its magnificent waterfalls, especially Skógafoss, and Skógar Museum, which is a cultural heritage collection of 15,000 regional artifacts exhibited in 6 historical buildings and 3 museums. Some ruins of old farms can be seen when exploring this village.

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The small village of Stokkseyri is renowned for its beautiful seashore, breaking waves and birdlife. Rich handicraft and cultural life is held in high esteem in Stokkseyri. Workshops, galleries, a Ghost Center, and the Elves, Trolls and Northern Lights Museum are all situated in a Cultural Centre - an old fish processing factory that has found a new role due to changes in the fishing industry. The Hunting Museum keeps a large collection of mounted animals and firearms and the bunkhouse Þuríðarbúð shows an excellent example of how fishermen had to make use of what nature provided. Stokkseyri also offers a splendid seafood restaurant, an outdoor swimming pool, kayak sailing tours, a family recreation park with animals and a camping site. For anyone interested, about 5km (3.1 miles) from Stokkseyri there is a lighthouse called Knarraósviti, designed by the Icelandic engineer Axel Sveinsson, who has designed some of the lighthouses around the country.

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The Reconstructed Farm at Stöng in the Þjórsárdalur Valley, is based on the excavated farmhouse Stöng from the Commonwealth Era in Iceland and provides visitors with an opportunity to study the buildings of our ancestors and learn about their background and daily life. The excavated farm Stöng is believed to have been destroyed in the Hekla eruption in the year 1104. For information about opening hours and prices visit http://www.thjodveldisbaer.is/en

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The village of Vík is the southernmost village in Iceland. It has amazing views to the Reynisdrangar Sea Stacks, and is a good location for bird watching. It sits below Mýrdalsjökull Glacier, which covers the volcano Katla.

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Þjórsárdalur is a valley in Árnessýsla county in Iceland that lies between mount Búrfell alongside the river Þjórsá to the east and mount Skriðufell to the west. The valley is quite flattened over and pumicey after repeated eruption of the nearby volcano Hekla as well as other volcanoes in the vicinity like the Vatnaöldur volcanic system which produced Iceland's biggest known lavafield Þjórsá Lava (Þjórsárhraun) in prehistoric times or the Grímsnes volcanic system with the crater Kerið. Landmarks in Þjórsárdal include Þjóðveldisbærinn Stöng, Gjáin, Háifoss, and Vegghamrar. Features in the valley include Gjáin, the gorge, and Háifoss, and Hjálparfoss, the waterfalls. An interesting site, Stöng, is a rebuilt farm that was buried in an eruption in 1104.

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The main town in Ölfus is Þorlákshöfn, west of Eyrarbakki. The town is important as a port because the only viable harbour on Iceland's southern coast between Grindavík in the west and Höfn in the east is situated there. The town church in Þorlákshöfn is built in a unique style, and Strandarkirkja church in Engilsvík in Selvogur is famous as a place for vows. Anyone wishing to go caving has the Raufarhólshellir caves, which are some 1360 meters long. Duggan in Thorlákshöfn and Skíðaskálinn in Hveradalir offer many services to travelers, among them food and drink. Þorlákshöfn enjoys a wide range of beautiful landscapes with black sand beaches, cliffs, lava formations, caves, geothermal areas and vivid hot springs. The Ölfus region is the largest horse breeding area in Iceland, so horse riding across the highlands and the vast black sand beaches is a big attraction.

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