inspiration · travel · Uncategorized

Southern Iceland Bucket List: The Best Sights & Activities

I felt inspired to put together my top recommendations for things to do and see while exploring Iceland’s South Coast. I have a friend taking her mom to Reykjavik for 3 days this week & I knew I had to give her a list of all of my favorite spots!

I’ve been to Iceland twice, staying in Reykjavik for a total of 2 weeks: 1 week in March 2019 and the other in October 2022. After these trips, I feel compelled to put together a list of some of my favorite things to do & see while you’re there! So let’s get started!

Must Do’s in Reykjavik, Iceland:

One thing I regret about my first Iceland trip is that I overlooked exploring Reykjavik. I was so dead-set on exploring everything Iceland had to offer outside the city center, that I didn’t take time to actually explore the city itself! I was sure not to make that mistake again the second time around. Even though I was running on 24+ hours of no sleep, I spent my first full day exploring Reykjavik alone.

*I’d also like to add that I felt incredibly safe doing so! Even safer than I would in Boston. This city is one of the safest for solo-traveling women in the world.

Without further ado, these are some of the sites and stops that you simply cannot miss:

  1. Visiting the Hallfrimskirkja, Reykjavik’s most famous church.
    • This church, while not the oldest, is certainly the most photographed and famous in the city. It’s extremely simple on the interior but does offer one of the best views of the city if you venture to the top. It will cost you $9-12, but it is certainly worth it to see Reykjavik from above. I recommend going when the sun is setting/close to closing.
  2. Going down the famous Rainbow Street
    • Rainbow street is located on a hill leading up to the church mentioned above. It’s a famous photo spot and it makes the uphill trek to the church worth it!
  1. Exploring all downtown has to offer, especially the food and shopping in Miðborg
    • The restaurants, coffee shops, and bakeries, in Miðborg are incredible. There are so many delicious options, I promise you’ll never go hungry! It’s worth exploring all of Laugavegur street to see the full array of restaurants and souvenir shops!
  2. Trying Reykjavik’s most famous hot dogs at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur
    • This hot dog stand is the most famous in all of Iceland and has been in operation since 1937. It only offers hot dogs and soda, and you’ll find it crowded at any time of day, even when it’s cold.
  1. Visiting the Harpa Concert Hall
    • The Harpa is a beautiful glass building located on Reykjavik harbor. Even if you’re not there for a show, you can still walk around and explore!
  2. Venturing to the Grotta Lighthouse
    • Just a few minutes outside of Reykjavik, this lighthouse is a great spot to visit during the day or night. It’s where a lot of people gather to try to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights as well.
  1. Taking a free walking tour of the city center
    • There are a couple free tour companies that offer 1-3 hour walking tours of the city center. I highly recommend going on one to learn more about Iceland’s history and how Reykjavik became the city it is today.
  2. Check out all of the street art in Miðborg
    • Most of the buildings and even portions of the streets are decorated in one of Reykjavik’s busiest areas. Be sure to be on the lookout!
  3. Try to see the Northern Lights from your hotel window!
    • When the Northern Lights are extremely bright, it’s possible to view the lights from your hotel windows or on the street! Highly recommend keeping your eye on the sky if you’re out at night!

Must Do’s in Iceland’s South Coast

Now, venturing outside of Reykjavik, there are so so many things to do, see, and explore. Below are some bucket list items that I experienced & wholeheartedly recommend doing. Some are just outside the city center, while others are a few hours of driving. No matter the distance, all of these activities and sites can be accessed through tours like Get Your Guide, Viator, or a local Icelandic tour company.

In my personal opinion, it’s so much easier to navigate Iceland with a rental car. It allows you to see everything you want to see while also doing it on your own schedule and timeline. We rented a car in 2019, and although the gas was expensive, the cost of the car evened out with the cost of full-day tours, which can sometimes total over $100.

Things to do right outside the city center:

  1. Horseback riding with Icelandic horses.
    • This was one of my favorite experiences. The horses were obviously very cute, but it was a great way to be outside and learn about one of the famous parts of Iceland- the cute horses!
    • It was also a great way to take a break from long day trips filled with driving!
  1. Blue Lagoon
    • The Blue Lagoon 110% lived up to the hype for me. This place was incredible and everything I could’ve dreamed of! We picked a morning time, which is recommended because you have no time limit in the lagoon. It’s great to get there before the mid-day rush and enjoy parts of the lagoon to yourself.
    • The basic package was everything we needed. We got a free drink and face scrub, along with access to the locker room and showers. I would not recommend upgrading.
    • Pro tip: bring a waterproof bag for your phone if you want photos, and DON’T dunk your hair under the water.
    • A newer alternative to the Blue Lagoon is called the Sky Lagoon. I haven’t been but heard it has great views and is closer to the city.

Activities Further Away From the City Center (1+ Hours):

  • The Golden Circle: Þingvellir National Park, Geysir, Gullfoss Waterfall, and Kerid Crater
    • The Golden Circle is one of the most famous day trips from Reykjavik. It allows you to stop off at various sites to see some of Iceland’s natural beauty.
      • Þingvellir National Park is the founding spot of Iceland’s parliament from the 10th-18th century, and also sits in between the North American and European tectonic plates.
      • Geysir is a natural hot spring featuring a geyser that erupts every 5-10 minutes.
      • Gullfoss is a breathtaking waterfall just 20 minutes away from Geysir. It has pathways that allow you to get closer to the waterfall, but also has stunning views from above.
      • Kerid Crater is a volcanic crater with paths that allow visitors to walk both along the top and down at the crater center.
  • Friðheimar is a tomato greenhouse that sits along the Golden Circle route & is a spot you MUST stop at.
    • This is a great place to go, particularly if you’re visiting and the weather is a bit chilly. The greenhouse offers tours, and all of the food is tomato-based. Their tomato soup bar was outstanding, and they have great pasta and bloody mary’s as well.
  • Visiting the US Navy DC-3 Plane Wreckage at Sólheimasandur on Iceland’s South Coast
    • The plane crash is one of the most famous, photographed sites on the South Coast and is somewhat hard to find. There is no sign for the wreckage, as it is about 2-3 miles from the actual parking lot. It is located about 10 minutes after the Skogafoss Waterfall on the righthand side. There used to be a vehicle company that would drive visitors to the site, however, it is no longer in operation. I highly recommend going only during the daylight, being dressed appropriately for the weather, and going in a group.
  • Seljalandsfoss Waterfall on Iceland’s South Coast
    • This waterfall is one of the most photographed in Iceland, and typically is the first stop on a Southern Coast tour. You do have to pay to park (and they do ticket cars), and the path to see the waterfall is often muddy. Do not bring your cameras if they are not waterproof, they will 110% get soaked!
  • Skogafoss Waterfall on Iceland’s South Coast
    • Skogafoss is another famous waterfall on the South Coast ride that can’t be missed. It’s extremely picturesque and less misty than Seljalandsfoss. There are also stairs that you can climb that will take you to the top of the waterfall for a bird’s eye view.
  • Dyrhólaey on Iceland’s Southern Coast
    • This was one of my favorite stops because it is an elevated cliff that allows you to see the ocean, but also the black sand beach of Reynisfjara. It has incredible views, so I recommend visiting the high part.
  • Reynisfjara Beach on Iceland’s South Coast
    • This beach is extremely unique, in the fact that it has black sand and an extremely funky natural rock wall. This beach is insanely windy but super cool to experience. I recommend stopping! However, be sure to stay far away from the water, as there are very strong and dangerous currents.
  • Stopping in Vik, one of the “larger” towns on Iceland’s South Coast
    • Vik is a cute little small town to walk around in after your day of exploring nature. It also has restaurants and accommodations, should you decide you’d like to stay a little bit longer!

Well, that’s all my top items to see and explore within a day’s drive from Reykjavik! Hoping you add some of these stops to your Iceland itinerary & be sure to stay warm!

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