If you ever find yourself on a plane heading to the land of fire and ice, make sure you’re planning on roadtripping the southern coast of Iceland. The south coast is one of the most tourist-y parts of the country, but for good reason! There are so many cool things along this route that you don’t want to miss.
I’ll be describing our route from Selfoss all the way to Jokulsarlon, which we traveled over two days (spending the night in a farmhouse right by Skogafoss). This is definitely doable in one day from Reykjavik, but it would include eight hours of driving so I would recommend doing it in the summer when you have almost unlimited daylight. We wanted to take our time and stop lots of places, so we opted for two days. At the end of this post, you will find a Google Map of our trip which you can sync to the app on your phone if you want to have easy driving directions to the places on this list!
Also, on the subject of transportation: cars are pretty much the only way to get around in Iceland unless you opt for the tour buses, but in my opinion, rent a car! It’s expensive but you’ll have so much more freedom to go wherever and whenever you want, stop for interesting things you see alongside the road (we did this many times), and take breaks as needed. We rented from Geysir and it was so easy to pick it up right at the airport and return it right before our departure. They have amazing customer service and are very responsive to emails (I emailed them several times before our trip to make sure everything was squared away). Can’t recommend them enough!
This is definitely the first place you will want to stop once you head out of Selfoss, and you can’t miss it, as it’s a huge waterfall right on the side of the highway! Lots of tour buses stop here so it’s likely to be full of people, but pull over anyway. Wear a rain jacket because you’ll be getting sprayed by the freezing falls!
Seljalandfoss is one of the only waterfalls in Iceland that you can walk behind, so make sure you take a short hike along the pathways and check it out. You can also walk up the trails to the left of the falls and check out a few more smaller waterfalls. The famous “hidden” waterfall is along this trail, although we didn’t peek in there (it was way too cold to get soaking wet!) so I don’t have any photos of it.
Seljavallalaug Swimming Pool
If you have time while you’re exploring the south of the country, definitely make a stop at the Seljavallalaug pool for the most picturesque swim you will ever take. This does take some time, because it requires a hike and swimming for however long you want, plus changing your clothes and such, but it is so beautiful.
Seljavallalaug is one of the oldest swimming pools in Iceland and it’s heated naturally with geothermal water, aka hot springs. After you park, you follow a path toward the mountains and you’ll find the pool along with a little bath house sitting in a gorgeous valley surrounded by waterfalls. I never wanted to leave.
Keep driving east from Seljalandsfoss and you’ll eventually come across another stunning sight you can see from the road: the famous Skogafoss. This waterfall is one of everyone’s favorites for a reason – it’s a huge wall of white water framed by green cliffs, black sand, and Icelandic horses. It’s a dream come true and another place that’s filled with tourists. I would recommend going just before sunset if you want the minimum amount of people there. There were only a couple stragglers leaving when we arrived around that time.
There are stairs to the right of the waterfall where you can climb up and look at Skogafoss from above, and if you want or have time for a hike, you can hike as far as you want up the river from there to find more waterfalls. We did the whole backpacking trip from Thorsmork to Skogafoss and it was gorgeous, so I’ll be writing about that in another post along with photos of lots of the waterfalls along that trail.
Skogar Folk Museum
When you leave Skogafoss, instead of turning right to head back to the highway, take a left toward the tiny town of Skogar. Here you’ll find the Skogar Folk Museum, which includes some of the original houses built when Iceland was first being settled. Sadly the museum was closed for the season when we were there in early September so we couldn’t go inside, but we could still look at some of the houses along the cliffs.
Don’t leave Skogar yet! This next waterfall was one of my top two favorites from the entire trip so you’re not going to want to miss it. It does include a short hike but believe me when I say it is so, so worth it. Head behind the museum and find the ladder that takes you over the fence, and then follow the trail into the little canyon.
It won’t be long until you see the waterfall in the distance and like me, you probably won’t be able to stop yourself from running to it! We didn’t see a single other soul at this waterfall, which is pretty rare in Iceland these days, and it’s another one of those rare ones you can walk behind! I have a whole post over here all about Kvernufoss if you want more detailed directions and more photos.
Solheimasandur Plane Crash
I’m sure you’ve heard of (or at least seen pictures of) the famous plane crash on a black sand beach on the south of Iceland. A DC 3 plane ran out of fuel and had to make an emergency landing on the beach in 1973 – everyone on board survived, but the plane was never moved.
The plane is on private property but the owner kindly allows visitors to hike the 4km to the plane from the highway. There will be a lot of people there and it does require a little effort, but it’s a really cool site to see and totally worth it in my opinion. All the instructions and photography tips are over in my full Solheimasandur plane crash post.
One of the many lava fields you will drive through in Iceland! You can pull over at any turnoff and take pictures, but don’t stray from the pathways because you’ll damage the moss, and it takes a long time to grow. Be respectful of the country and the planet.
You may or may not recognize this place from a certain Justin Bieber music video, but if you do, know that it would be a rad place even if JBiebs had never been there. This canyon has been carved out by water over thousands of years and it is so peaceful and gorgeous.
It actually is possible to hike up the bottom of the canyon (we could see some people down there taking pictures when we were there) but you need wetsuits and the majority of a day. There’s a beautiful waterfall at the end as your prize, though! You can see the waterfall from the top as well but it’s a little tricky to take good pictures of it.
This one is another pretty famous waterfall on the island, and it’s located in Skaftafell National Park. Lucky for all of us, all of Iceland’s national parks are free! So just drive in and find the trailhead (you can use Google Maps) and start hiking. Try to get out ahead of the tour buses if you see any making their way into the parking lot!
The hike is an easy 5.5km round trip (much shorter than the 8km round trip to the plane crash) and you’ll be surprised to find the waterfall in the middle of the lush woods you hike in to get there. The falling water wears down the lava rock as it falls, which is what makes this cool formation!
The end of your road trip – the glacier lagoon! It’s about a two hour drive from Skogafoss to Jokulsarlon, which is kind of in the middle of nowhere, but it’s pretty worth it. Just the fact that large chunks of turquoise glacier ice are floating around in a lagoon in Iceland kind of blows my mind.
You can drive all the way to the actual dock of the lagoon and even take a boat ride around through the ice, but there are also several pullovers before you get to the dock where you can walk over a hill to the beach and check it out without anyone else around, which is what we did. I’m sure the boat ride would be amazing but we got a great view of this wonder from the shore! I have a full post on Jokulsarlon too!
Vik Black Sand Beaches
Probably the only sad thing that happened on our trip to Iceland was that it rained the entire day we drove from Skogafoss to Jokulsarlon. We were really lucky that it let up when we hiked to Svartifoss and it wasn’t too bad at the lagoon either, but both times we drove through Vik it was pouring. I really wanted to see the beautiful black sand beaches there, so we did stop on our way back, but it was really raining too much for us to do or see much of anything. Just a reason to go back, I guess! Either way, it’s a must-see on your roadtrip of the south coast.
Map & driving instructions for roadtripping the southern coast of Iceland
To use this map, click on any pin to see my information and photos on each location (the box in the top right corner will make it larger). View this page on your phone to import the map into your Google Maps app and make your roadtrip super easy!
Have you ever been to Iceland, or do you want to go? What would you be most excited to see along this route?