Postcards from Epic Southern Iceland

Southern Iceland

My introduction to Iceland can only be described as epic. In fact, all of Iceland can be described as epic. It’s pretty much as epic as epic can get.

Otherworldly is the norm in southern Iceland. Jagged moss-covered mountains. Black sand for as far as you can see. Crackling icy glaciers. Toxic neon blue volcanic craters. So many waterfalls you lose count. Oh, and ferocious viking ponies.

The other night I joined some new friends in Wanaka to catch a movie. We decided to see Noah (don’t get me started). However, I was really pleased to see Iceland, specifically southern Iceland featured so prominently! In fact, that is what sustained me through 139 minutes of wanting to punch Russell Crowe in the face.

Southern Iceland

So many of the magnificent scenes from the less-than-magnificent movie were places I had stood, walked and explored with fellow blogger Tiny Iceland on our #IcelandChallenge on a 7 day stopover with Icelandair. How cool is that? In fact, southern Iceland was so EPIC we dedicated our first 3 days of the trip there.

Perhaps what impressed me the most about southern Iceland was that no matter where you go, no matter what the weather, every single view was picture perfect, a postcard. How many countries can boast that?

So follow my visual guide to southern Iceland and check out the incredible landscapes and places that inspired me, places I can’t wait to return to one day.

Southern Iceland

Southern Iceland

1. Icelandic horses and volcano craters

Don’t call them ponies!

This was one of my first lessons I learned in Iceland. The beautiful Icelandic horse, smaller in stature kinda like me, begs to be called a pony. But don’t. These are the sons and daughters of viking warrior horses, they don’t deserve diminutives. Even if they are so stinking cute!

Stopping off at the Votmúli horse breeding farm on our way from the airport was the perfect introduction to Iceland, especially as it was particularly gloomy and wet outside. Nothing like cuddling some horses to put a smile on your face!

Freyja the owner is a close friend of Inga’s so it was lovely to sit around and have a cuppa while chatting with her about horses, Iceland and everything in between! These are the kinds of moments I live for on the road.

Southern Iceland

After a sad goodbye we continued on our epic road trip in epic southern Iceland, making our way through the jarring land that I have not seen the likes of before.

Pulling over at a seemingly unremarkable stop, we climbed up a red dirt track for a few minutes before gazing down a spectacular volcanic crater, you know, on the side of the road because this is Iceland, after all. Kerið is stunning for many reasons, but for me, I just loved the colors. The bright blue water contrasted spectacularly with the red dirt and virulent green mosses, making it a stop I wouldn’t soon forget.

For me, this was spectacular and my very first introduction of all the magnificent and unique land formations I would soon be experiencing all over Iceland.

Southern Iceland

Southern Iceland

2. Laugarvatn 

Deciding to keep it a chill day, we headed straight to Laugarvatn for the night, to enjoy the fabulous lakeside views, and of course, the great spa.

Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Baths is situated right on the edge of a beautiful lake, and it was just what we needed after long flights and chilly foggy weather. Soaking in the different temperature hot pools while sipping drinks and getting to know each other, I can’t think of a more perfect way to finish up our first day in Iceland.

While daring each other to go and jump into the frigid lake, after a few hours and many wrinkled fingers and toes, we dried off and headed inside for a snack.

Southern Iceland

Photo via Laugarvatn Fontana

Southern Iceland

Photo courtesy of Laura Hundersmarck

As the day grew darker but not dark enough since it was summer in Iceland and the sun doesn’t set , we piled outside to watch the traditional Rye Bread Experience.

Because in certain places thanks to the geothermal land activity the ground is so hot you can actually bake bread in it. Watching the director grab a shovel and start digging in the steaming black sand certainly was a surreal experience!

Pulling out a big tin filled with fresh rye bread, we all headed inside and got to try some with butter and salmon. Delicious!

Southern Iceland

Thoroughly full and tired we headed to Hotel Edda Íkí Laugarvatn next door. A seemingly simple hotel with a story, I was excited to rest my eyes here for my first night in Iceland.

In the winter the hotel closes and functions as a school (what a place to study!) but in summer it bustles with visitors and locals alike looking to relax in the hot pools in Laugarvatn. I think I fell asleep within seconds of resting my head on the soft downy pillows and comforter.

While have a traditional Icelandic breakfast, gazing out at the misty green countryside and lake, I was more than pleased to see a couple of cute sheep hanging out outside the window. What a great start to the trip!

Southern Iceland

3.Local ice-cream and Skálholt

After getting some tips from the Laugarvatn locals, we headed over to  Efsti-Dalur II farm, another hidden gem that produces their own ice-cream.

Now if you’ve been to Iceland or plan on going, be aware the Icelanders LOVE their ice-cream, in a total moment of irony. You can find ice-cream (and hot dogs) everywhere, but make sure you pick somewhere good. At this farm we got to see all of the happy dairy cows and babies before digging into our own delicious cones.

Best breakfast ever.

Southern Iceland

Southern Iceland

Marika and I have been friends since my first year of university, and huge history nerds to boot. So when the chance came to stop off at Skálholt, we both said “yes” enthusiastically.

A historically important site in Iceland, it has been a seat of bishops for a thousand years, complete with turf covered wooden buildings, underground tunnels and a beautiful church.

Cue four girls acting like vikings. In public.

Southern Iceland

Southern Iceland

Photo courtesy of Laura Hundersmarck

4. Chasing waterfalls at Seljalandsfoss, Gljúfrabúi and Skógafoss

If Iceland has one thing in abundance, it’s waterfalls. They are everywhere. And they are epic.

My first waterfall was Seljalandsfoss which is probably one of the most famous waterfalls in Iceland. After seeing virtually no people for the past 24 hours, I was shocked at how many were at this waterfall. Though, “crowded” by Icelandic standards, it really wasn’t too crowded at all.

Remember to pack raincoats and rain pants, we got SOAKED!

Southern Iceland

Southern Iceland

Southern Iceland

Photo courtesy of Laura Hundersmarck

Luckily we had Inga with us who knew about a secret waterfall next door called Gljúfrabúi. 

Tucked away inside a ravine, you can’t see it from the road, which means it’s still a secret, let’s keep it just between you and me, deal?

Popping out at the end of the ravine, you find an incredible waterfall tumbling down from the tops of the cliffs. Make sure you climb up on one of the boulders and get an epic shot!

The last epic southern waterfall we came across was Skógafoss, a whopper of a waterfall that crashes down from high green rocks. One of the biggest in Iceland with a 200 foot drop, Skógafoss is a must-see if you’re on the South Coast.

Southern Iceland

Southern Iceland

5. Seljavallalaug swimming pool

Seljavallalaug is the oldest swimming pool in Iceland, built in the 20’s to teach locals how to swim. With pipes leading down from all the geothermal spots, it’s a great place to swim and soak in warm water.

While it’s really close to the popular Ring Road, it’s not marked or easy to find, and it’s a bit of a hike up into the hills to get to, keeping the crowds at bay.

Southern Iceland

Jumping across creeks and climbing over rocks we made our way to this historic swimming pool, quickly stripping and hopping into the warm water.

I think what I loved the most about this place was the mystical, moody location in the mountains. Peeking over the edge of the swimming pool, I had amazing views of the bright green hills dotted with waterfalls here and there, with the peaks obscured by low clouds.

After playing around for a few hours, drinking some beers and eating a picnic lunch by the stream we reluctantly pulled our clothes back on and headed off.

Southern Iceland

Southern Iceland

 Photos courtesy of Laura Hundersmarck

6. Vik

I was really thrilled to finally arrive in Vik, as I had heard this was one of the most spectacularly beautiful places in southern Iceland, and we all know how I feel about that!

Most people just pass through Vik on their way around the south coast, but there is so much in the area to see and do, it really is worth stopping for the night and not be so rushed.

We arrived late in the afternoon and checked into our cozy rooms at Hotel Edda Vik before crossing the street for a filling, traditional dinner at Ströndin Bistro Bar.

Southern Iceland

Southern Iceland

Vik is predominantly 2 colors. Green and black.

Incredible black sand beaches rub shoulders with jagged neon green hills and mountains, making Vik look like something straight from a fairy tale. Hotel Edda and the new Icelandair Hotel Vik is perched right against some of these green cliffs, giving it an epic location fit for this part of the world.

The next morning we woke up bright and early and hungry, eager for a another great Icelandic breakfast. Noticing a mysterious glass bottle filled with yellow liquid, I gazed on in horror as Inga drank the equivalent of several shots of the fish oil with a straight face, all while telling me this is the key to Icelandic longevity.

Did you know the average Icelander lives to be over 80?

Game to try anything, I willingly accepted a small glass of the fish oil to try, but it was all I could do to keep it down. Maybe I wasn’t cut out to be a viking after all.

God, I’m gagging just writing this!

Southern Iceland

Southern Iceland

 Photos courtesy of Laura Hundersmarck

7. Katla Volcano

I’ve already told the incredible story of the Katla Volcano that sits near Vik in southern Iceland here.

Sleeping underneath a massive glacier, you better hope you are nowhere near Katla when she blows her top. With the melting ice caused from the eruption, Katla will create a glacial flood 4 times the size of the Amazon River, effectively wiping out the south coast. So yeah, better visit sooner rather than later.

The best (and only) way to get out here is by super jeep. After an amazing dinner in Vik, we all piled in an enormous jeep with Katlatrack and drove out to the glacier and volcano.

Southern Iceland

Surrounded by purple fields of lupins buried in black sand, the area around Katla is stunning.

Because of the extremely volatile nature of the land, you really have to go with a guide who can literally tell you where to walk and not to walk.

And thanks to the midnight sun phenomenon, we were treated to an amazing sunset that lasted for hours. I think this was the moment when I completely fell in love with Iceland.

Read more here.

Southern Iceland

Southern Iceland

Southern Iceland

8. Reynisdrangar trolls and Dyrhólaey

Around Vik is a playground for epic landscapes.

Our first stop was Dyrhólaey where the rough sea crashes into great black volcanic cliffs and rock formations. Crawling around the wild rocks while occasionally getting smacked with enormous waves, I got my first glimpse of the famous Reynisdrangar in the distance.

Southern Iceland

Southern Iceland

Reynisdrangar, or the Three Trolls, are great big black basalt sea stacks near Vik that jut out of the rough seas close to the cliffs and shores.

According to legend, there were 3 trolls who tried to pull a ship to shore, but took so long they were caught by the sunrise and turned into the 3 spiky rocks you see today.

Any story that involves trolls gets my attention.

Southern Iceland

The cliffs nearby are comprised of these amazing basalt columns, similar to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. Jutting straight from the ground they are fun to climb around and explore the surrounding shallow caves, caves I might add that feature prominently in Noah.

Just be careful and don’t get too close to the water otherwise you risk be sucked out to sea and eaten by trolls.  

Southern Iceland

Southern Iceland

Photos courtesy of Laura Hundersmarck

9. Haunted viking tombs at Hjörleifshöfði

So this one time while hiking on a crazy moss mountain in Iceland, viking ghosts tried to play a game with me and stole my iPhone.

Cue total freak-out mode.

Near Vik and Katla, there is a faint path on a mountain that leads to an old viking tomb surrounded by legend at Hjörleifshöfði. Trust me, this is the place to be in Iceland, though just be careful with your phones.

Read more here.

Southern Iceland

Southern Iceland

10. Fjallsárlón and Jökulsárlón glacial lagoons 

The final stop before we headed east in Iceland was the famous glacial lagoons on the south coast. Pretty much nobody has heard of Fjallsárlón, a smaller more secluded lagoon.

By the time we arrived the sun was streaming spectacularly through the clouds over the glaciers in the distance and we had the place to ourselves. It was so hard to leave this heaven! To me it didn’t even look real! How can such a place exist?

Southern Iceland

Photo courtesy of Laura Hundersmarck

Southern Iceland

Before long we said goodbye to our little heaven on earth and headed over to the famous Jökulsárlón. Equally beautiful and more crowded, we watched the blue icebergs slowly drift through the frigid water out to sea, being chased by seals and occasionally washing up on the black sand beach nearby.

This was the Iceland I had always imagined.

Have you ever been to Iceland or southern Iceland? Is it on your bucket list? Which stop would you like to visit the most? 

Southern Iceland

Many thanks to Tiny Iceland, Icelandair,  Hotel Edda Vik and Hotel Edda Iki Laugarvatn for hosting me in Iceland. Like always, I’m keeping it real – all opinions are my own, like you could expect less from me!

About the author

45 Comments on “Postcards from Epic Southern Iceland

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Wow, Liz! Reading your past posts about Iceland have actually inspired me to stop over on my flight to Europe this Fall (great tip on the free stopover! I would never have known about it). This post just makes me want to go NOW! I can’t wait. It all looks so lovely.

  2. I loved Iceland when I was there. The landscape is so vivid and dramatic yet strangely peaceful. I don’t usually like to repeat destinations when there are so many places I’ve yet to see but Iceland is one I’d make an exception for.

    ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’ is a great film for drooling over Icelandic scenery btw. Warning: you may leave the theatre pining to go to Greenland and the Himalayas also!

  3. I was in Iceland and visited a number of the places you featured a few years ago. It was a quick visit but an amazing one. Especially the glacial lagoon (and then the Blue Lagoon). I loved the people and their stories and couldn’t get over the fact that they have glaciers sitting on top of volcanoes. Such a strange and fascinating landscape.

  4. Iceland just looks so incredible and I can imagine it would be an epic experience. The landscape is so out of this world. There isn’t many places I want to visit more than Iceland. Thanks for sharing your tips and pics LIz, i’m feeling very inspired!

1 2 3 7

Related Adventures