South Iceland off the beaten paths – 10 destinations you should not miss !

Iceland is becoming a more and more popular travel destination, and I think it’s a good thing, as long as tourists respect the fragile and sensitive environment you can find over there, especially in the Highlands. People deserve to experience this magical place and enjoy raw nature at its best. It’s a unique experience you will never forget :-) Is Iceland only about the blue lagoon, the Golden circle, the Jökulsárlón or Reykjavik? Of course not, but it’s true that the South of Iceland is easier to visit, especially for short trips, so these places come first to mind when people are talking about Iceland. You can find so many tours that give you a nice overview of the South, from hot springs, to waterfalls, passing by icebergs, but there is often more to see and experience than what is usually proposed by tour operators. So why not renting a car and explore the area by yourself? Of course I encourage you to visit all these major landmarks of the South mentioned above, but for people who like to go a bit off the beaten tracks, I have also some nice places to recommend in this region, not too far away from the main sights… it would be a shame to miss them right ?! :-)  

#1 Hafnaberg Cliffs

It is a nice bird cliff made of basaltic layers of lava forming ledges on its surface, located a few kilometers from the Keflavik Airport terminal. To get there, you have to take Road 41 before turning right onto road 44 at the sign for Hafnir. Once you spot a parking as well as a sign saying “Hafnabergi”, you can park your car and walk to the bird cliff. It is a popular spot among bird watchers and it’s common to see puffins over there. The vegetation is also nice, don’t forget to look down ;-) One drawback ? The walk to the cliff is quite long, at least 45 minutes to reach the edge.

#2 Krýsuvíkurberg Cliffs

Located close to Grindavik, it can easily be combined with a visit to the Blue Lagoon. From Grindavik, take road 43 then the first road on the left going towards Þorlákshöfn. Drive until you spot a sign saying “Krýsuvíkurbjarg”. It is an ideal spot for bird nesting and if you are lucky you can even see some puffins, depending the season you are visiting. This colorful cliff is the largest bird cliff you can find in the South. One drawback? A regular car won’t be able to reach the cliffs as you have to cross a little river…. The wind can also be really strong over there. Better to explore this place under good climatic conditions. Krýsuvíkurberg Cliffs

 #3 Urriðafoss

The South of Iceland is famous for its waterfalls, especially Seljalandsfoss  and Skógafoss waterfalls. Urriðafoss is often missed by tourists who are in a hurry, but this hidden gem is quite gorgeous, with the water flowing over a strong rock platform. It’s a perfect spot to have lunch, avoiding the crowds but enjoying Iceland’s at its best. Located on the iconic road 1, you just have to turn on a gravel road just before/after the Þjórsá River depending on which way you are coming from. One drawback ? Not really, it’s easy to find.

 #4 Reyniskirkja

When visiting the famous Reynisfjara Beach, with its black pebble beach sand and the amazing basalt sea stacks, you must drive past a very nice looking church, Reyniskirkja. It’s worth to stop and visit the graveyard. You have nice views from there, especially of Mt. Reynisfjal. The church has been built against Mt. Reynisfjall and in the evening, it can be very pretty. One drawback ? Not really, it’s easy to find. Reyniskirkja

#5 Laufskálavarða

If you are driving on road 1 towards Skaftafell National Park, or if you are coming back to Reykjavik from Skaftafell, you will drive in front of a lava ridge surrounded by stone cairns, between the Hólmsá and Skálmá rivers. Everyone passing by it for the first time is supposed to add a stone to bring good luck on his/her journey. The parking area has great views over the Katla, the Mýrdalsjökull and the Kötlujökull glaciers, when sky is clear. One drawback ? Not that I can think of…maybe the size of the parking ?

#6 Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon

This canyon was created by progressive erosion due to flowing water from glaciers through the rocks over the years. It can be reached from above or by walking beside the river, if you have time, I encourage you to enjoy the two viewpoints. It can be easily missed as it is not on the ring road. To reach it, you have to drive towards Lakagígjar (Road F206). When you arrive at a fork, do not take the right turn to Laki instead you should continue straight on and you will reach the parking area. One drawback ? Impossible to go there with a regular car without risking serious damages since you have to take the road F206 leading to Lakagígjar.

 #7 Kirkjugólf

This quite interesting structure is made of flat basalt columns, also know as “The Church Floor“. The rocks were eroded and shaped by glaciers and waves and it really looks like it has been craft by mankind. At the Kirkjubaejarklaustur round-about, take the direction to Geirland. On the left side, you will see a small parking lot with a small sign saying “Kirkjugólf“. Open the fence, take the path and you won’t miss it ! :-) One drawback ? The parking lot is quite small, can be very busy during summer. Kirkjugólf

#8 The bridge remains at Skeiðarársandur

Skeidararsandur is a sand plain made of alluvial deposits. This area is mostly devoid of vegetation, making the landscape very desolate and amazing at the same time. The only bit of colour is coming from these interesting twisted remains of a bridge that was broken down after a volcanic eruption nearly 20 years ago. The colours are quite stricking with the glacier as a background. One drawback ? I think this is becoming a quite popular spot. Soon, you won’t have the place for yourself anymore ;-)  Skeiðarársandur

#9 Ingólfshöfði Cape

This is a wonderful spot if one wishes to spot puffins. To go there, take the road marked “Ingólfshöfði 2 km” situated off the ring road, roughly 1/2 hour drive East of Skaftafell and 1/2 hour drive West of the Jökulsárlón. You will arrive at a small parking, with pic nic tables and toilets, as well as the Local guide Travel service office. It’s impossible to reach the Nature Reserve by car, but the Local Guide travel service will take you in a tractor and drive you accross the six kilomoters of marshes and sands. You will be dropped at the base of the giant sand dune and all you have to do is to climb to be able to see the birds :-) Better to check timetable and availibility on their website. One drawback ? Not accessible during the nesting season and you have to book a tour to go there, but it’s really cheap. It can be challenging to climb the dune, not suitable for everyone.

#10 Hoffellsjökull

Hoffellsjökull is probably a less visited glacial tongue of the Vatnajökull glacier located in the South. In the past, it was a popular place to gather ice to chill the seafood in Höfn. Due to climate change, the glacier has retreated a lot throughout the  years and is therefore not the most accessible one. The road to get there is quite long and bumpy. It is a quiet area, we were the only one there last time we visited. One drawback ? Very bumpy ride, not recommended for regular car. Hoffellsjökull

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I hope you enjoyed this non exhaustive list. We’ve visited all these places and we really enjoyed ourselves. I know there must be other hidden gems, so if you know nice places, please free to share ideas :-)

My Travel Monkey
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134 responses to “South Iceland off the beaten paths – 10 destinations you should not miss !

  1. Pingback: North Iceland off the beaten paths – 10 destinations you should not miss | Darwin on the rocks and around the world·

  2. As a confirmed stayer-at-home, I really enjoy your posts to lands I’ll never visit on my own. Isn’t it interesting how the mud dried into perfect honeycomb shapes? Huh.
    Your photos and descriptions are wonderful :)

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    • Your friend is lucky to go there ! I’m not so sure about access to the bird reserve at that time of the year though… it may still be the nesting season. I don’t know !

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  3. Stunning photos and of course the puffins are adorable. You do tempt us to travel in that directions.
    Thank you for choosing to follow one of my blogs. I do hope you continue to enjoy the posts. Léa

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  4. I have bookmarked this page for future reference. Iceland has been a country I have wanted to visit for a long time now! Your beautiful photos just made that desire stronger! Off the beaten path sounds much more fun!

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  5. Gosh dang those photos are great! Every time I look at these blogs it makes me want to go ANOTHER place.

    I love the church floor. It reminds me of Giant’s Causeway in Ireland.

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    • It’s not that cold actually, especially in the South. It’s not like Lapland where you get -20°C. The North on the other hand is colder, even during summer. We had 0°C in August one evening. Better to have appropriate clothes.

      Liked by 1 person

    • A lot of people see the parallelism between the Giant’s Causeway and Kirgugolf :-) It’s true that the geology is quite similar ! Unfortunately, I’ve never made it to Ireland. I hope I will visit soon !

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  6. No 1: That place reminded me so much of the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland. :) It was so windy and cold while I was there.

    No 7: Oh there’s something similar but more impressive in Northern Ireland. It’s the Giant’s Causeway, a World Heritage Site. There’s also something similar but smaller still impressive in Scotland, Fingal’s Cave.

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    • Yes, the number 7 is a pale copy of the Giant’s Causeway, I would love to visit someday ! hmm I will have a look about Fingal’s Cave to know where it is ! Since I’m going to Scotland in June.

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  7. These spots look so appealing! I definitely prefer the lesser-known spots when I visit a new country. I speak only English–would I be able to manage in Iceland?

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    • I quite like both, making a mix of everything so I’m able to visit the “must-do” but also the less visited placed. Of course, with English,you have no problem. They speak good English over there :-)

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  8. Iceland looks like an amazing place to visit. So many good spots to choose from. To be honest the Krýsuvíkurberg cliffs seem most attractive to me. After all, I’m a bit of a daredevil and would love to try to get close to the edge without being blown away. But it seems you went there and came back in one piece? Beautiful photos. Stunning.

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    • We went there on a beautiful and sunny day. We climbed the hill to be able to get that shot and it was already a bit windy. So I can understand why it could be dangerous to climb up there in case of strong winds :-) The cliffs are nice, and if you are a bird watcher, i’ve heard it’s a very nice place to spot many species :-)

      I’m very surprised it’s your favourite spot but it’s nice, everyone has different taste :-) It makes an interesting world ! :-)

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  9. Very cool list. Thank you for that. I only know no. 5 and 8 by myself. We stopped there, too. I’ve never heard about the most other sights you listed. So it’s always a good idea to come back to Iceland. Have a lovely day!

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  10. We love off the beaten path destinations so this is a great overview for us:) I think it must be something about being able to enjoy the nature in solitude. We will for sure have to bring up this post again when we decide to go to Iceland!Thank for sharing great travel tips.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. What a stunning place with so many interesting places to visit. Thanks for this list! Not sore I’ll ever make it there but I can certainly recommend these places to others venturing to Iceland. Beautiful pics.

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    • If you have time, you can have a look at my old posts. I did a road trip around the island for 3 weeks and I’ve visited a lot of places :-) Here, it’s just the hidden gems of the South :-) And we went in August as well (the last three week), it’s really the best period. We’ve seen some auroras :-)

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  12. Beautiful, definitely bookmarking this. I found out last week that there is a ferry to Iceland from Denmark, that is amazing! We have a 4wd camper and I’d love to go to Iceland for a few weeks and explore with my own little home on wheels! It would be wonderful to get off the beaten path.

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    • Oh yeah, I’ve seen that there are a lot of ferry coming to and from Iceland. It must be nice to come straight from Denmark on a boat with a camper ! You will save so much money :D It’s the best way to discover Iceland ! :D

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  13. Great list and good to know the drawbacks too – always helps!! We visited the main tourist sights but really want to go back, this has inspired me. No 7 reminds me of the Giant’s Causeway and who wouldn’t want to see puffins!!

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  14. Awesome list and tips – great images too! The names are bit difficult to pronounce by my Indonesian tongue :D but I will try to learn how to pronounce them when I visit Iceland someday!

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    • I decided to only do it for the South part of Iceland because I couldn’t make a choice :D I’m like you, it’s difficult to pick my favourite ! Everything was so different and nice at the same time ! But I like the canyon a lot !

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    • Puffins are so iconic, it was my dream to see them. We visited the bird cliffs (#1 and #2) but we didn’t manage to see them over there. I was quite depressed and I was thinking we were going to miss them! But when we arrived at the Nature reserve, there were hundreds of them lying on the grass and near the cliff edges. It was amazing!!! They are so cute, I understand you fascination :-)

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    • We went in Iceland in August and we managed to see so many puffins over there. Most of the puffins pictures were taken by my boyfriend who had a better zoom than me :-) These little birds are fascinating and it’s really amazing to see them in real ! I hope you will be able to make it to Iceland someday, it’s still one of the favourite places I’ve visited so far :-)

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