South Iceland

Glaciers, volcanoes, geysers, waterfalls, natural wonders 

South Iceland is the area bounded by Reykjavík (Reykjavik) in the west, Jökulsárlón (Jokulsarlon) glacier lagoon in the east and the central Highlands. 

The South is both densely and sparsely populated. In general, the further you go from Reykjavík, the less populated the area is. In the eastern part, between Jökulsárlón and the river Markarfljót (Markarfljot) are vast alluvial or outwash plains, black sand beaches and lava fields with only narrow strips of lowlands, which limit agricultural activities and therefore the area is less populated. The western part, though, contains the largest and best agricultural area in Iceland, as well as a few towns. The landscape, both the lowland and highland areas, contains many of the most interesting and beautiful sights in Iceland, including two national parks: Þingvellir (Thingvellir) and Skaftafell - now part of Vatnajökull (Vatnajokull) National Park. The southern central Highlands boast the largest glaciers, most active volcanoes as well as the stunning mountain ranges with some of the most popular hiking routes. One of the best known hiking paths in Iceland, the Laugavegur (road to Laugar) hiking trail, is in the southern Highlands, starting from Landmannalaugar, going into Þórsmörk (Thorsmork) and continuing from there over Fimmvörðuháls (Fimmvorduhals) Pass to Skógar (Skogar) on the south shore. 

Nature Features and Attractions

There are three glaciers almost literally on the south shore: Vatnajökull (Vatnajokull) in the east, Europe’s largest glacier, and Eyjafjallajökull (Eyjafjallajokull) and Mýrdalsjökull (Myrdalsjokull) a bit further west. The most famous volcanoes include Hekla, Katla, Vestmannaeyjar (Westmann Islands), Surtsey and Lakagigar (Laki craters). The Lakagigar crater series, a few miles inland from Kirkjubæjarklaustur, produced the largest lava flow ever witnessed in historical times anywhere in the world, during the Skaftareldar eruption of 1783. Another large lava field is the Þjórsá (Thjorsa) River lava field which flowed from the Veiðivötn (Veidivotn) crater area all the way into the sea about 8000 years ago. Hekla is one of the most famous volcanoes in the world. 

In the south west is the Reykjanes peninsula. Keflavík (Keflavik) international airport is at the tip of the peninsula and on the short drive to Reykjavík you can see rugged, moss-grown lava fields, some only a few centuries old. Geothermal activity is also very much in evidence - natural hot springs such as those in Krýsuvík (Krysuvik) geothermal area, and especially at the Bláa Lónið - Blue Lagoon spa, one of Iceland´s top favourites with visitors. 

There are many charming towns and villages in this area, including Hveragerði (Hveragerdi), located in a geothermal area and known for its greenhouses heated by hot water from volcanic hot springs. To the south of Hveragerði is Þorlákshöfn (Thorlakshofn), fishing port and point of departure for the ferry to the Westman Islands.

Selfoss is the largest town in South Iceland; Stokkseyri and Eyrarbakki have beautifully preserved old houses, and Vík (Vik) is the base for cruises through the "natural doorway" of the Dyrhólaey (Dyrholaey) cliff, Iceland´s southernmost point and nesting place for puffins and other seabirds. 

dynkur-waterfall-rainbow310x191.jpgThe longest river in South Iceland is Þjórsá (Thjorsa), 210 km long. Together with its tributary Tungnaá (Tungnaa), it provides a great percentage of the electricity produced in Iceland. Other big rivers include Ölfusá (Olfusa) River, Markarfljót, the Jökulsá (Jokulsa) and Skaftá (Skafta) rivers. There are beautiful waterfalls in abundance: Gullfoss (the Golden Falls) in Hvitá (Hvita) River, Skógafoss (Skogafoss), Seljalandsfoss, Háifoss (Haifoss) and Hjálparfoss (Hjalparfoss) waterfalls. All these waterfalls are easily accessible but less known and not as easily reached is the waterfall Dynkur in Thjorsa. 

Jökulsárlón - Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon, or 'Glacier River Lagoon', is a natural wonder located at the edge of Vatnajökull glacier. Huge blocks of ice, up to 30 m high, that break off from the edge of the glacier fill the lagoon with luminous blue and white icebergs, some of them appearing as natural sculptures due to volcanic ash that partially covers the ice. Seals can be seen swimming in the lagoon or lying on icebergs, as well as migratory birds, especially arctic terns. Unsurprisingly, the exceedingly beautiful Jokulsarlon has been used as a setting in James Bond and Batman movies, as well as in the film 'The Secret Life of Walter Mitty'. Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon is a must-see for film buffs, photographers, bird watchers and nature lovers. It is possible to take a boat tour on the lagoon. 

Historical Sites

History and heritage are present everywhere in South Iceland. Archaeological excavation in 1939 found ruins of several Saga Age farms, among them the farm at Stöng (Stong) in Þjórsárdalur (Thjorsardalur) valley. The ruins had been covered with pumice during the Hekla eruption of 1104 AD, but, in 1974, the farm at Stöng was reconstructed as the Saga Age farm and now stands in a beautiful hollow under Sámsstaðamúli (Samsstadamuli). 

The Saga Centre at Hvolsvöllur (Hvolsvollur) houses exhibitions on the Njal’s Saga and the Viking age. The actual historical settings relating to the characters and events of Njal’s Saga are in the area, including the sites of the ancient manor farms of Bergþórshvoll (Bergthorshvoll), Njal’s home, and Hliðarendi (Hlidarendi), where Gunnar of Hlidarendi lived - enabling visitors to literally follow in the footsteps of the characters in the Saga to the places where the events unfolded. 

The old bishopric of Skálholt (Skalholt) and the regional folk museum at Skógar (Skogar), probably the most comprehensive of its kind in the country, are also in the area, as well as Oddi  -  chieftain farm in the Rangárvellir (Rangarvellir) area and a major seat of culture and power in its day. Oddaverjar (named after Oddi) were among the most powerful family clans in the medieval Icelandic Commonwealth. The School of Oddi, which Sæmundur Sigfússon fróði - Saemundur the Learned Sigfusson (1056-1133) made famous, was located there. Oddi became the chief dwelling-place of his grandson, Jón Loftsson - Jon Loftsson (1124-1197), the most famous chieftain of the country in his time, under whose guidance Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241) grew up. Snorri later moved to Reykholt in West Iceland where he wrote the Heimskringla and Snorri’s Edda. 

Þingvellir (Thingvellir), (Parliament Plains), is Iceland’s national shrine where the Alþingi (Althing) general assembly was founded in 930 AD. A place of outstanding natural beauty and grandeur and immense historical importance, Þingvellir National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition, it is the site of a rift valley on the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, geologically unique, surrounded by Þingvallavatn (Thingvallavatn), the largest natural lake in Iceland. As a site of historical, cultural, and geological importance, it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland. 

Iceland’s most popular day tour is the "Golden Circle" tour which includes geysers Geysir and Strokkur, Gullfoss (Golden waterfall) and Thingvellir National Park. South Iceland, however, has a lot more features that make Iceland a top destination to visit all year round: hot springs, lava fields, volcanoes, waterfalls, the highlands, glaciers, rivers and lakes, picturesque towns, wonderful countryside, historical sites, the arts, as well as some of the most extraordinary natural wonders.

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