27 Gorgeous Places to Visit in Iceland’s Southwest
Originally published on Friday, December 16, 2022
There are so many places to visit in Iceland, particularly for nature lovers. The island nation’s actually a lot bigger than most people think. It’s bigger than countries like South Korea, Ireland, and Hungary. Much of it is uninhabitable but certainly visitable – and it definitely deserves a visit! Here I’ve curated a list of 27 places to visit in Iceland’s southwest, all of which are accessible from Reykjavik. I’ve been to many of them and have added a few I didn’t get to visit exclusively but that I saw and looked particularly interesting.
It’s very hard to go wrong with Iceland, but I hope this helps you create a fantastic itinerary.
Ytri Tunga Beach
This beach in first on the list because, seals! You can usually find a colony of seals sunbathing on this beach, particularly in the warmer months. I went in the winter and was lucky to see a group hanging out. There were also some sheep running free. It was definitely a highlight of my trip!
Arnarstapi is a small town but it’s not known for its architecture, history, or fantastic shopping. It’s known for its nature walk along the sea. There’s a marked trail you can take that will show you the cliffs of Iceland with amazing rock formations. Of course the other side of the town has a range of hills and glaciers, making it one of the prettiest places to visit in Iceland.
Budakirkja is a tar-painted church that dates to 1848. Located by its lonesome on the seaside, it’s a popular photo stop. The people who lived in the area had tents made of leather, which is why the church today seems so solitary. We couldn’t go inside but the area is very beautiful, and the church looks particularly pretty by itself against the landscape.
One of Iceland’s most impressive waterfalls is Gullfloss, which is a stop on Iceland’s Golden Circle. This two tiered waterfall located in a gorge is massive and very impressive to see. During the warmer months you can walk a path that gets closer to the falls, but they were closed for winter as they get quite icy. However there are still a few viewing platforms open where you can see this massive work of nature from various angles.
Something that’s very useful for icy places such as Gullfloss and other waterfalls is crampons. Always, always, always wear good walking shoes in Iceland during winter. It gets incredibly icy.
Thingvellir National Park (Þingvellir) is one of the most important areas of Iceland and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s the site of Iceland’s first parliament in 930 and was also the spot where Iceland declared its independence in 1944. Though the park is purely natural and looks drastically different from 1000 years ago, it’s still one of the essential places to visit in Iceland.
It’s part of the Golden Circle but note that the park is quite big and can take hours to explore. If you come here with a guided tour group you’ll only have about 45 minutes, which isn’t enough time to see the whole place.
Sólheimajökull Glacier (& Glacier Walk)
There are lots of glaciers in Iceland – and big glaciers! I had no idea just how big they were until my trip and you can get up close and personal with one at Sólheimajökull. It was really cool, no pun intended. The glacier also offers glacier walks if that’s something you wish to experience. Seeing the glacier up close is something I definitely recommend for your Iceland trip.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach
There are many black sand beaches in Iceland but Reynisfjara is one of the most popular. The black sand, made of volcanic lava, is beautiful. What makes this beach most impressive is the geologic formations surrounding it. Lava rock hardens in peculiar ways and it’s quite stunning. It looks like nature became an architect.
However it is worth nothing that this beach is also very deadly. The waves are very strong and can sneak up on people quietly. Unfortunately many people have died here, which makes this beach very eerie. If you do go, stay several feet away from the ocean.
Kirkjufell & Kirkjufellsfoss
Kirkjufell (“Church Mountain”) is a large and interestingly shaped hill on the Snaefellsnes peninsula. You may have seen it on Game of Thrones. Across the street from the mountain is the waterfall Kirkjufellsfoss, and the two together make a very popular photo op for visitors. The area also overlooks a town and I thought the views surrounding it were quite gorgeous. But honestly, every place in Iceland is quite gorgeous!
Centuries ago, many people came to Iceland to see Geysir the geyser. Actually the word “geyser” comes from this proper name, Geysir. Geysir National Park is quite small but interesting. Here you can find a lot of hot springs and the area is filled with natural steam. You can see Geysir, the one and only, but it’s currently inactive unfortunately. However its neighbour, Strokkur, erupts every few minutes so you’re guaranteed to see a geyser eruption.
Brú Horse Farm
Most places in Iceland are actually privately owned, but Icelanders are quite kind in allowing people on their property to visit. Brú Horse Farm has a parking lot where you can stop and see the Icelandic horses. Here they even have a self-service station to buy some treats for the horses who come up and say hello. There are quite a few places to visit in Iceland where you can stop and see the horses but I thought I’d add one sure place to this list. Seeing the Icelandic horses up close is a great way to spend time in Iceland.
Laxnes Horse Farm
If you have a bit more time, you can ride some Icelandic horses at Laxnes Horse Farm. I don’t have experience with the farm itself (it’s on my list for next time) but the area is a valley that’s absolutely stunning. Exploring it on horseback would definitely be an amazing experience.
There are so many places to visit in Iceland if you want to see waterfalls. Skógafoss is one of them. At about 200 feet high, it’s quite an impressive sight. You can take a trail up to the top of the waterfall but apparently can’t see the waterfall from the viewpoint.
Another waterfall to see is Seljalandsfoss, which is about 200 feet high. You can actually go around the back of the waterfall in the warmer months (but the path is closed and very slippery in the colder months).
If you’ve watched The Secret Life of Walter Mitty then you’ve heard of Eyjafjallajökull, or that one volcano with the name impossible to pronounce. (It’s actually not once you say it a few times!) This is the volcano that erupted in 2010 and caused publicity for Iceland which would actually cause tourism to skyrocket. Iceland has about 130 volcanoes to see and it’s worth stopping by and admiring Eyjafjallajökull from a distance. I realised on my trip to Iceland just how little I’d known about volcanoes before then.
Djupalonssandur Black Lava Pearl Beach
A beautiful and fascinating place to stop is Djupalonssandur Beach. The area has amazing rock formations. Though there’s black sand on the beach (grated lava stone) it’s rockier than it is sandy, so it’s called a “black lava pearl beach.” The beach is also where an English ship wrecked in 1948, leaving 14 people dead. The remains of the boat are still on the beach and it’s very eerie to walk through this memorial where so many people perished.
The Sólheimasandur Plane Wreck
Another site of ruin, but not of fatal ruin thankfully, is the Sólheimasandur black sand beach where a U.S. Navy plane crashed in 1973. The story is that the plane ran out of fuel and crashed. Luckily nobody died but the plane is still there to see.
There are a few places to visit in Iceland that have a lagoon or spa, and I list a few more below. The one I went to was Secret Lagoon in Fludir and it’s the most affordable option here. It’s a lagoon heated by natural hot springs, and they have a cafe where you can get snacks, coffee, beer and wine. They do allow you to bring drinks into the lagoon so you can enjoy a nice glass while chatting with friends.
The lagoon was almost exactly like a natural hot tub. It was very relaxing and a great way to experience (and appreciate) some of Iceland’s natural wonders.
The Blue Lagoon is the most popular choice for vacationers in Iceland. I didn’t go because it’s quite expensive, plus you have to pay for a transfer since it’s not accessible via public transport (that is, unless you’re renting a car). But it differs from other lagoons in that it’s a very pretty blue shade. Blue Lagoon also has a larger focus on skincare products and spa-like services, which Secret Lagoon doesn’t offer.
I’ll definitely try Blue Lagoon when I go back to Iceland and see if it lives up to the hype.
Fontana is yet another spa but what puts it on this list is its unique bakery. They serve “lava bread,” which is bread baked with the geothermal energy of the earth. They also have eggs they cook in the hot springs. It’s also a very affordable experience.
Sky Lagoon is another option for a spa getaway, and the last one I’ll put on this list. It’s accessible via public transit from Reykjavik but is still on the pricier side. They offer a few spa services and have an ocean view.
Bridge Between Continents
Did you know that Iceland is technically part of North America as well as Europe? I didn’t! It’s because the island nation rests on both teutonic plates – and then some – and then none! I’m not a geologist but if you’re interested in that type of thing, it’s certainly worth reading up on.
I visited the Bridge Between Continents and it was still pretty cool. You get to walk from the North American teutonic plate via a bridge to the Eurasian teutonic plate. It’s not an incredibly exciting journey but it’s fun to say you walked from one continent to the other.
Vik is a small town in southern Iceland that is made up of some stores, restaurants, and a beach under the watch of Vík i Myrdal Church, dating to 1929. It also has a beautiful black beach to see, and rumour has it the three imposing stones off the beach are actually trolls that turned to stone in the sunlight. It’s worth a short stop to see.
Westman Islands (Vestmannaeyjar)
The Westman Islands are next on my Iceland bucket list! A lot of puffin colonies make their home on these volcanic islands during the summer months, so it’s a sure destination for puffin watching. They are close to the mainland and easily accessible via a ferry.
Caves of Hella
The Caves of Hella are Iceland’s oldest archaeological site and their origin is unknown. I did not visit these caves in particular but unique archaeological sites are always worth visiting, I think.
Katla Ice Cave
Katla is another volcano in the south of Iceland and it’s, err, due to erupt. But chances are it won’t while you’re there so you can actually visit the ice caves under the volcano. This was something I missed but is probably an incredible experience.
Raufarhólshellir Lava Tunnel
Similar to an ice cave, the Raufarhólshellir lava tunnel is close to Reykjavik and makes an easy day trip. For volcano and geology enthusiasts it is not to be missed.
Wherever the Northern Lights Are
Of all the places to visit in Iceland, one is ever-changing: wherever the Northern Lights are. Since it’s a natural phenomenon, it can be a bit tricky to see them, but you definitely can if the conditions are right. You’ll need a clear night. I got to see the lights on a cloudy night, which was quite lucky, but they were in turn quite faint. It was still an amazing experience.
You can download the Aurora App for free to see where the Northern Lights are best seen and your chances of seeing them at your current location. Many tour companies offer Northern Lights Tours from Reykjavik, which you can rebook for free if you don’t get to see the lights.
There are lots of amazing places to visit in Iceland and I had the privilege to visit many of them in Iceland’s southwest quadrant. They all make great day trips from Reykjavik and of course you can see many in one day. A lot of these places to visit in Iceland are available to visit on group tours via Viator and GetYourGuide, for those of you who won’t be renting a car. That’s what I did and I had a great time.
I hope this list helps you make a great itinerary for your trip to Iceland!
Tags: europe, iceland