National Road no 1, from Reykjavik to Hofn
The South Coast of Iceland is full of great attractions. When starting your trip from Reykjavik (check out: Reykjavik Iceland’s capital city), apart from the attractions of Golden Circle (Golden Circle – treasures of Iceland), it is worth taking the main road – further to the east, until the town of Höfn. Most of the attractions of this region can be reached directly from the main national road No. 1 (ring road). The entire route can be travelled in one day, stopping at the most interesting places along the way, but personally, I think that this route is not worth rushing.
Below you can download an official map of the South Coast of Iceland.
Katla Geothermal Park
The South Coast of Iceland is also part of the Katla Geothermal Park. In 2011, the Katla volcano area was added to the UNESCO Global Geoparks list. Katla Geopark located in the central part of South Iceland covers 9% of the island’s area (over 9.5 thousand km²). It is one of the most volcanically active regions in the world. The Katla Geopark area includes:
- Katla volcano, located under the Mýrdalsjökull glacier
- Eldigja volcanic crater, also known as the “Fire Crack”, with a depth of 140 m
- the active volcano Grimsvötn (1725 m above sea level) located under the Vatnajökull glacier, the fifth-highest altitude in Europe
- the active volcano Eyjafjallajökull, 1666 m above sea level in the Eyjafjöll massif, located west of Katla volcano near the Eyjafjallajökull glacier. In the last 1100 years, this volcano has erupted 4 times. The last eruption took place in 2010, which although did not cause any serious losses, but its volcanic ash for several days significantly disrupted air traffic throughout Europe
- Laki fissure volcano and Laki Craters. Craters form a mountain range extending over 25 km. Their height exceeds 800 meters in some places.
In the Katla Geopark, there is also Lake Langisjór, with an area of 26 km2 and a depth of 75 meters.
Here you can download the official map of the Katla Geopark region.
Seljalandsfoss and Gljufurarfoss waterfalls
Further on the way, there are two wonderful waterfalls. The first one – Seljalandsfoss waterfall is 65 meters high. The waterfall is famous for the fact that behind its cascade there is a small cave and a walking path. Thanks to this, the waterfall can be walked around and seen from behind. It is also one of the most favourite places among photographers.
The second waterfall is 500 meters away (5 mins walk) and is called Gljufurarfoss. To see it up close, you have to go through a narrow crevice in the rock and through stones scattered in the swift stream. Unfortunately, when crossing the stream, there is a high risk of falling into the water, as the stones are very slippery. The waterfall is over 40 meters high and is under protection as a natural monument. Hidden in a narrow canyon, the waterfall, when viewed up close, impresses with its height and strength.
This place can‘t be missed.
Both waterfalls are part of the Katla Geothermal Park. For more information, visit katlageopark.com – Seljalandsfoss.
Paid parking is available on the spot, for ISK 700 (about PLN 22). As part of the parking ticket, you can use the toilet at no extra charge.
Skafta-Fires lava fields
Driving further along the national road No. 1, it is worth stopping at the parking lot, where there are signs informing about entering the Skafta-Fires (Skaftáreldahraun) lava fields.
The Skafta-Fires lava fields arose as a consequence of one of the two largest lava flows that occurred on Earth in reconstructed history. A stream of lava flowed out of the Laki fissure, now located in the Katla Geopark. During an eruption that lasted over eight months, 12 km3 of basaltic lava flowed to the earth’s surface, covering over 560 km2 of land. The Skaftá-Fires lava field is classified as smooth lava and has many lava caves.
Currently, the entire surface of the lava field is covered with thick grey-green moss that takes on intense colours when it rains.
Next, it is worth going to the black beach of Reynisfjara – an area known for intriguing volcanic formations, characteristic basalt cliffs and “rock needles” that protrude from the ocean just off the shore.
It is a place worth visiting full year-round, although during very bad weather conditions it may be very dangerous, or the nearby road can be closed. In 1991, the American magazine “Islands Magazine” named Reynisfjara beach one of the top 10 non-tropical beaches in the world. Being on the beach, you can easily see the Reynisdrangar rock columns growing from the Ocean, which can be up to 60 meters high.
One of the legends says that these high rocks are trolls that, pulling ships out of the water, did not manage to hide before sunrise, which turned them into rocks. On the beach, it is worth visiting a small but beautiful cave, built of basalt columns. You can also climb to the top of Reynisfjal hill.
Reynisfjara Beach – worth knowing
- The beach is very interesting but it’s also one of the most dangerous tourist destinations in Iceland. The powerful ocean waves can knock people down and pull them into the sea. Visitors should never turn their backs on the waves and keep a safe distance of at least 30 meters.
- The black beach was also noticed by filmmakers. The scenes from Season 7 of the HBO series – Game of Thrones were filmed here.
- Reynisfjara is also a favourite nesting place for local bird species. During the summer months, you can meet here, among others: puffins, fulmars and sinkers.
Skaftafell National Park
Skaftafell National Park was established in 1967, but in 2008 it became part of the newly created Vatnajökull National Park.
The picturesque landscape, favourable weather conditions and a large selection of hiking trails make Skaftafell an ideal destination for those who enjoy long hikes in the rugged Icelandic countryside. Short and easy hikes will take you to the Svartifoss waterfall and the Skaftafellsjökull glacier. For those who wish to travel further, the Morsárdalur valley and the Kristínartindar mountain peaks have several interesting but challenging routes.
Skaftafell is also an ideal base for those looking to climb Iceland’s highest peak, Hvannadalshnjúkur.
Skaftafell National Park – worth knowing
- There are several private travel agencies on site where you can book guided hiking tours of the nearby glaciers and mountains. There is also a large camping site in Skaftafell, with places for over 400 tents. There is also a section reserved for campers and camping trailers, with access to electricity. The camping is open all year round.
- More information on the activities of the camping can be found on the website: Skaftafell Campground.
- It is worth starting the trip with a visit to the Skaftafell Visitor Centre, where, among others, you can pay for staying at the campsite. You can also get information about hiking routes, accommodation options in the area and weather conditions.
- Access: Road 1 from Reykjavik to Skaftafell (326 km). Continue on road 998 (2 km) which leads to the Skaftafell Visitor Information Center. The distance to the town of Höfn – is 136 km, and to the glacier, Jökulsárlón lagoon – is 56 km.
Vatnajökull National Park
Vatnajökull National Park covers an area of over 14,000 km2, which is almost 14% of the country’s area. It is the second-largest national park in Europe. The park was established in 2008 and included two national parks that existed at that time: Skaftafell and Jökulsárgljúfur.
The park also includes the Vatnajökull glacier. The glacier has the shape of an ice cap and covers an area of 7800 km². It is the largest glacier in Iceland and one of the largest in Europe. Numerous rivers flow from the Vatnajökull glacier, forming one of the largest glacier rivers in Iceland.
Vatnajökull National Park – worth knowing
- There are in total 10 volcanoes in the park. The last volcanic eruption in the park took place in 2015.
- In 2019, Vatnajökull National Park was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
- More about the park can be found at vatnajokulsthjodgardur.is
- The official map of Vatnajökull National Park can be downloaded here.
Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon – a pearl in the Icelandic crown
The Jökulsárlón ice lagoon called the “pearl in the Icelandic crown”, is eagerly visited due to its crystal clear water, huge glaciers floating on the lake, seals living on the coast and amazing landscapes with a glacier in the background. This is the most wonderful place I have visited in Iceland!
The Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon was created in 1934 as a result of the retreat of the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. Due to the fact that the glacier is constantly receding (melting), the area of the bay is constantly increasing. Since 1970, the area of the bay has quadrupled, which only shows the rate at which the glacier is shrinking. Currently, the lagoon is 1.5 km away from the ocean shore and has an area of 18 km2. In 2009, it was the deepest lake in Iceland (approx. 284 m).
One of the most interesting attractions of the lagoon is the possibility of sailing on it by pontoon boats. This gives you the opportunity to look closely at the glacier wall (glacial tongue) and almost touch the huge glacial blocks floating in the bay.
Not only their size is particularly impressive (about 10% of the entire mountain can be seen on the water’s surface), but also their colour.
The detached parts of the glacier are usually white, especially when exposed to sunlight. But when the iceberg turns, and its bottom emerges from the bottom, then the top is so frosty and devoid of the action of the sun that it turns blue. In addition, the mountains carry volcanic ash with them, so some of them emerge from the water covered with black streaks of dust. Amazing impressions, respect for nature and admiration for its beauty.
Jökulsárlón ice lagoon – worth knowing
- Experience a full-day tour of glaciers, icebergs, and waterfalls with transfers from Reykjavik. Discover the black sands of Diamond Beach, the grand Seljalandsfoss waterfall, and the small fishing village of Vík. Drive through the impressive South Coast of Iceland to see the extraordinary Glacier Lagoon. Choose to enjoy a boat ride on the spectacular Jokulsarlon between April and October when conditions allow (optional extra). Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon and South Coast Day Trip* can be booked here. Note this is an affiliate link. The full-day trip cost starts from 157$.
- Bay tours can be booked at icelagoon.com. The ticket price includes a warm zipped-up suit, care of the guide care and approx. an hour of swimming on the lagoon. Prices from 13,900 ISK (approx. 100$) – price from 2023.
- There is a tourist information desk, toilets and a small restaurant next to the large car park.
- Jökulsárlón Bay is easily accessible by car, directly from the national road No. 1. From Reykjavik, it is 380 km away, so the journey takes min. 5 hours. The road from Egilsstaðir is shorter and is approx. 260 km (approx. 3.5 hours).
- Jökulsárlón Bay is not only one of the most interesting and visited tourist attractions in Iceland but is also very popular among filmmakers. Recently, scenes for such films as James Bond – A Killer View (1985), James Bond – Death Comes Tomorrow (2020), Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) or Batman Begins (2005) have been shot here.
Near the Jökulsárlón lagoon, there is a black “diamond beach” which is the perfect place for photographers. The beach can be reached on foot, about 15 minutes from the parking lot in Jökulsárlón Bay.
Huge icebergs drifting across the lagoon melt and flow into the Atlantic. Along the way, the ice blocks are exposed to the long exposure of the sun, which causes the light reflected in them to refract, creating almost transparent ice diamonds. Such lumps lie on a small black beach called Breiðamerkursandur before they are finally carried away by ocean waves.
This is a magical place, definitely worth a visit. The diamond blocks of ice lying on the beach can be viewed up close and touched.
There are also those who try to taste the glacier fragments because the water frozen in them is crystal clear (unless it carries volcanic ash with it). It is a popular destination with photographers and a great place to watch the sunset.
Höfn, a port town in the South-East of Iceland
Höfn is a small port town with approx. 2,000 inhabitants. It is considered to be one of the most interestingly situated cities in Iceland. Höfn is located on a small headland between two bays: Hornafjörður and Skarðsfjörður. The whole area is separated from the sea by two spits, and the Ketillaugarfjall mountains rise above the city. In the central part, there is a naturally created port, founded in the 19th century.
It is a really cute place, worth staying here overnight. Apart from interesting landscapes, there is also interesting architecture in the town (the oldest building is from 1860). On the main street of Hafnarbraut, there are, among others: the town hall, tourist information office, camping, hotel and several places where you can eat well.
Iceland, my other post
I encourage you as well to read my other posts about Iceland
- Akureyri – northern Iceland
- Diamond Circle North Iceland
- East Iceland – the land of puffins
- Golden Circle – treasures of Iceland
- Húsavík Iceland – time for whales
- Iceland – tailor-made travel plan
- Iceland in winter – how to organise the trip
- Iceland photos
- Reykjanes Peninsula South West Iceland
- Reykjavik Iceland’s capital city
- Snaefellsnes Peninsula West Iceland
- Troll Peninsula North Iceland
- Winter in Iceland travel plan
*links to the offer from Klook are affiliate