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Iceland is a vast, other-worldly wilderness that would take months to explore thoroughly. To give you an idea of scale, if you were to drive the entire 1332 km circular ring-road at 50km/h without stopping, it would take you over 26 hours to complete it.
That being the case, many visitors to Iceland decide to make Reykjavik their base, focussing their efforts on exploring the south of Iceland, especially in the winter when adverse weather conditions can make it very difficult to drive in the north of Iceland.
If you’re currently planning a trip to Iceland and have decided to make Reykjavik your base, the good news is most of Iceland’s main sights are within comfortable driving distance of the capital city. And in this post, I’ll cover some of the best things to do in south Iceland.
11 Things to Do in South Iceland
1. Krauma Baths and Spa
Everyone goes to the Blue Lagoon and it’s easy to see why it’s one of the most popular things to do in south Iceland, with the Insta-worthy pale blue waters and bucket list status. But if you fancy stepping off the beaten path and doing something a bit different, head to Krauma, a natural geothermal bath and spa, 100km north of Reykjavik.
You’ll not only get to bathe in the waters of the most powerful hot spring in Europe, but you’ll also enjoy scenic views of the beautiful landscape around you.
The spa consists of five naturally heated, geothermal pools, one cold pool, two saunas, a relaxation room complete with a log burner and a plush restaurant serving a range of Icelandic cuisine, drinks and snacks.
Adult tickets cost 3950 ISK (approx. £25) which is extremely reasonable when you consider you’ll pay more than double that to visit the Blue Lagoon.
2. Þingvellir National Park
Part of Iceland’s infamous Golden Circle, Þingvellir National Park is definitely one you won’t want to miss. Iceland is divided by the Mid-Atlantic Rift and in Þingvellir National Park you can not only walk between the two tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia but also scuba-dive between them in the Silfra Fissure – the only place in the world where you can dive between the tectonic plates of two continents!
If diving isn’t your thing, be sure to check our the beautiful Oxarafoss waterfall, which can be reached by taking the short 15-minute hike from the car park down through a small valley which leads you between the two tectonic plates! The waterfall is absolutely stunning but is easily missed as the sign posts aren’t very clear from the road.
Aside from its geological significance, Þingvellir has a rich historical and cultural background. As well as being the first national park in Iceland and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Þingvellir also saw the birth of the world’s first democratic parliament in 930 AD!
3. Strokkur Geysir
The next stop on the Golden Circle tour is the explosive Strokkur Geysir. Every 5-10 minutes Strokkur erupts, blasting water up to 15-20 metres into the air. The geysir is situated on a highly-active, high-temperature geothermal area with a staggering base temperature of 250C, which means that aside from Strokkur, you’ll also find many smaller geysers, mud pools and hot springs in the area.
The final stop on the Golden Circle tour is the magnificent Gullfoss, a two-tiered waterfall that looks spectacular year round whether basking in sun or blanketed in snow and ice. The falls reach a height of 32 metres over the two tiers, sending, on average, 109 cubic metres per second plummeting into the Gullfoss gorge.
Make sure to wear waterproofs when getting up close to these awesome falls, as you’ll likely find yourself soaked from the spray and in total awe of nature’s fearsome power!
5. Reykjadalur Hot Springs
If you’re up for a bit of a walk, be sure to hike to Reykjadalur Hot Springs. Only a 40-minute drive outside of Reykjavik, the Reykjadalur trek is a popular hiking route which leads to a beautiful valley full of steaming hot springs and bubbling mud pools – the majority of which are far too hot to bathe in. Eventually, after hiking about 3 km through stunning valleys and craters, you’ll reach a river with wooden decking running alongside it and steps down into the river.
While the geothermal river would normally be too hot to swim in, it is fed by several other smaller rivers running off of glaciers, thus cooling the waters down to the perfect bathing temperature. The further up the river you go, the warmer the water gets. So, if you find the water is too cool, head further up river until you find the right temperature for you.
You can expect to hike 3 km each way to the river and back to the car park, making this an easy to moderate walk with a few small uphill stretches and a wide, open path for the most part.
Ever dreamt of being able to walk behind a powerful waterfall, feeling the spray on your face and hearing the roar of the water as it plummets to the ground? You can do all of the above at the majestic Seljalandsfoss on the southern coast of Iceland.
Although 120 km (1 hour 45 minutes drive) outside of Reykjavik, Seljalandsfoss can be combined with several other natural attractions to make the distance worth it.
As mentioned above, a path leads you behind Seljalandsfoss, giving you the opportunity to get up close and personal with the 65 metre waterfall. The path can be very slippery and icy in winter, so it’s important you take care when walking behind the falls. If you’re lucky enough to catch Seljalandsfoss on a sunny day, you may even be treated to a rainbow.
Only 30 km from Seljalandsfoss, lies the jaw-dropping Skogafoss, which stands 62 metres high and 25 meters wide. You can walk right up to the foot of the falls, which is one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve ever had – to feel the sheer power and force of that much water before you is amazing!
To the right-hand side of the falls, you’ll notice some steps which take you to the top of the falls, with views in land to some smaller but equally beautiful waterfalls up-river.
If you’re interested in learning more about these mesmerising waterfalls, you can also visit the Skogar Museum.
8. Sólheimasandur Plane Wreckage
It’s not often you get to explore the wreckage of a crashed plane, but at Sólheimasandur you can do just that! The plane crashed in 1973 when it ran out of fuel, but fortunately everyone on board survived!
The plane lies on the black sand beaches of the south coast close to Skogafoss and has an other-worldly feel about it – with nothing but black sand for miles around, it feels like you’ve landed on another planet!
To reach the plane wreckage you’ll need to make the long walk from the car park, which lies just a little way on from Skogafoss. It took us about an hour to reach the plane wreckage from the car park, so do make sure you leave with plenty of daylight, as we ended up walking back in the dark and felt quite disorientated!
While not a huge city, there are still plenty of things to do in Reykjavik. Visit one of Reykjavik’s geothermally heated swimming pools, take a free walking tour of the city, visit the iconic Hallgrímskirkja church or the impressive Harpa Concert Hall or learn more about the makeup of the beautiful country that is Iceland at the Perlan Museum.
Reykjavik also has a vibrant nightlife scene and many impressive restaurants to enjoy local, Icelandic cuisine.
10. Northern Lights
One of the main draws for Iceland is the chance to see the natural phenomenon that is the Aurora Borealis. Of course, seeing the northern lights is never guaranteed and depends on many variables but should you get chance to witness this amazing light display, you’ll not be left disappointed.
Whether you decide to hunt for them yourself on a self-guided tour, or whether you search for the northern lights on an organised group tour is up to you. Check out this post if you need help deciding.
11. Reykjanes Peninsula
Just outside Reykjavik, you’ll find the Reykjanes Peninsula, an area that is rife with geothermal and volcanic activity. There’s enough to see and do on the Reykjanes Peninsula to fill an entire day, so make sure you leave plenty of time to explore such places as Krýsuvík, with its many hiking trails and geothermal mud pools, Grænavatn lake and Lake Kleifarvatn, the Bridge Between Continents, a small bridge that spans a major fissure between the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates, Hafnaberg sea cliffs and The Lava Tunnel.