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Use our Iceland itinerary and explore the south coast on an epic road trip! See the black sand beaches at Reynisfjara, experience Icelandic culture at the Folk Museum at Skógar and climb up the staircase to stand above the Skógafoss waterfall. Complete this epic south coast drive during either the summer or winter months. We’ve compiled all of our top spots on this guide – keep reading to learn more.
Walk behind the waterfall: Seljalandsfoss
From Hotel Rangá, drive about twenty-five minutes along road one until you reach Seljalandsfoss. There is little chance that you will miss the first stop on our Iceland itinerary. In fact, this immense waterfall is actually visible from the ring road! Plunging from a 60 m (196 ft) tall cliff, the water pounds dramatically into a pool below.
However, what makes Seljalandsfoss so unique is the fact that visitors can actually walk behind the waterfall. We highly recommend that you wear warm clothes and waterproof gear, as the spray can go far. Be careful as you walk along the slippery path to stand behind the powerful torrent. Once you make it behind the falls, pause for a moment and try to soak in the immensity!
Look up: Gljúfrabúi
Next on our Iceland itinerary is the smaller, slightly hidden waterfall, Gljúfrabúi. This waterfall is actually a neighbor to Seljalandsfoss and only a ten minute walk away. After following the gravel path leading away from Seljalandsfoss, you will reach a small stream. This is actually how you’ll enter the cavern that houses the waterfall, so be sure to wear waterproof shoes.
Walk on stones and follow the stream inside the break in the cliff face. Be careful, as the stones can be very slippery. Once inside, you will be rewarded with a beautiful sight – the waterfall Gljúfrabúi. In front of the cascade is a huge boulder – a perfect spot for photos. Again, do be very careful if you choose to climb the boulder as it is covered with slippery moss.
Nauthúsagil for the adventurous
The next stop on Hotel Rangá’s south coast drive is a hike inside the Nauthúsagil ravine. Continue driving on road 249 past Seljlandsfoss and Glúfrabúi for about 15 minutes until you reach a sign for Nauthúsagil. This beautiful ravine is surrounded by cliffs covered with rowan trees. What’s more, if you visit in the late summer months, you might also find some tasty wild blueberries.
A lovely stream winds its way along the bottom of Nauthúsagil. In fact, hikers can walk along its edges to traverse the hidden ravine. Walk carefully and wear waterproof shoes: the ravine narrows as you walk, and you might need to walk on moss-covered, partially submerged stones. As you walk, you will encounter small but beautiful waterfalls. Do take note, this epic adventure does require a bit of scrambling! There are chains and ropes attached to the sides of the ravine to help you in certain tricky spots.
Climb the staircase at Skógafoss
From Nauthúsagil, drive back to the ring road and continue for about thirty minutes until you reach Skógafoss, once of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland. Just after you round a curve in the ring road, you will spot a huge curtain of water pouring from a high cliff. Skógafoss is truly immense at over 60 meters high (197 feet) and 25 meters wide (82 feet). What’s more, an ancient legend actually says that a chest filled with gold and treasures is hidden behind the powerful waterfall.
Furthermore, visitors can climb a steep staircase beside Skógafoss to see the waterfall from above. At 428 steps, the climb to the top of the staircase can be a bit tiring. However, the trek is undoubtably worth the toil! At the top, visitors are able to stand on a viewing platform and can see the water flowing from the highland river Skógaá down, down, down to the pool below. From the top of Skógafoss, you will see a path along the river. This is the start of the epic Fimmvörðhuháls hike. It’s only recommend for advanced and well-prepared trekkers, but you can walk for 10-30 minutes just to get a taste of the trail.
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South coast drive: Kvernufoss
Next on our south coast drive is the waterfall Kvernufoss. Though quite close to the mighty Skógafoss, this smaller waterfall is off the beaten path. But at 30 m high (98 ft), Kvernufoss isn’t anything to laugh at. Actually, Kvernufoss resembles the waterfall Seljalandsfoss – in the summer, visitors can walk behind its cascade.
To access Kvernufoss, you must first find the trail that starts behind the Skógasafn museum. Follow the path that is alongside the river Kverná until you reach the falls. A relatively easy hike, it takes just about twenty minutes until you reach the waterfall. We highly recommend that you avoid the crowds at beautiful Kvernufoss.
Skógar Folk Museum
The Skógar Folk Museum is a cultural heritage with an immense collection. In fact, the entire museum houses 18,000 regional artifacts exhibited in 6 historical buildings and 3 separate museums! The museum was first opened in December 1949 under the initiative of the late Þórður Tómasson. Þórður’s dedication to the Skógar Folk Museum truly made it into the valuable resource that it is today. In fact, he worked tirelessly to curate the collection of artifacts from 1949 until his retirement in 2013.
Inside the Skógar Folk Museum you will find various sections highlighting aspects of Icelandic folk history. Topics of interest include fisheries, agriculture, furnishings and handicrafts, natural history and archives. There is also an open air museum with a full-scale replica of a traditional Icelandic turf farmhouse, storehouse and even a church. Guided tours are available in German, English and Icelandic; however, these must be booked in advance.
From the Skógar folk museum, continue east on the ring road for about twenty-five minutes. Turn right on road 218 and drive until you reach Dyrhólaey – a unique promontory with a dramatic stone arch. This huge arch stretches across the Atlantic ocean and is big enough that boats and even a small plane have traveled underneath!
Visitors to Dyrhólaey can also walk around the promontory and see the old lighthouse Dyrhólaeyjarviti which is still in operation. As you explore, you will also spot many birds soaring around the cliffs. In fact, Dyrhólaey is home to amazing bird life: eider ducks year-round and puffins in the summer. The promontory offers visitors incredible views of black sand beaches, far-off glaciers and even the Reynisdrangar rock formations at the nearby Reynisfjara black sand beach.
Reynisfjara black sand beach
After visiting Dyrhólaey, get back on the ring road and drive down the south coast for about 10 minutes before turning right onto road 215. From the parking area, you can then walk to the famed black sand beach at Reynisfjara. The beach is bordered by towering basalt columns which make for an excellent photo backdrop. However, please exercise caution during your time on the beach. The ocean waves are incredibly dangerous and it is not safe to get close to the water.
As you stand on Reynisfjara beach, you will spot the Reynisdrangar rock formations in the distance. Rising out of the sea, these rock formations have a special story indeed. The tale says that many years a family of trolls saw a ship at sea during the night. They went to drag the ship ashore, but dawn broke before they could reach the coast. The sunlight turned the trolls and ship into stone where they have remained evermore.
South coast drive: Vík
Get back onto road 1 and drive about ten minutes until you reach the picturesque village of Vík. This small community has a population of just around 600 year-round residents. Vík is known for its black sand beaches and its proximity to the nearby Sólheimajökull glacier where visitors can experience a variety of glacier tours. Go for a glacier hike, try ice climbing or zoom across the ice on a rugged snowmobile.
What’s more, Vík has several restaurants, an Icewear store and even a community pool. As a result, it’s the perfect final destination on our south coast drive. Stop for a bite to eat and do a little shopping, all the while enjoying stunning views of black sands and rocky cliffs.