Trying to decide if you should visit Iceland in winter or summer? Let me put the case forward for winter – because I loved the week I spent exploring the south of Iceland. And I normally hate cold places!
Iceland’s south coast is touted by locals as one of the most beautiful parts of Iceland as well as the one of the most accessible – and its unique landscapes are breathtaking under a magical layer of fresh snow.
You can self-drive to the south coast, or if you’ve never driven on snow covered roads before, there’s dozens of tours on offer ranging from your standard tourist bus stopping for photos at key spots, or you can be more active and combine south coast sightseeing with activities such as glacier hiking or snowmobiling.
Check out my guide for the best destinations to visit during an Icelandic winter.
Road trip destinations
The first stop on your winter visit to Iceland should be the stunning Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, located about a 90 minute drive from Reykjavik.
You can walk up behind the waterfall but be prepared to get wet – and in winter the path is incredibly slippery if it’s snowed recently. Wear flat, waterproof shoes if possible as well as water resistant pants.
Not far down the road is the Skogafoss Waterfall roaring down into the river below. Take the time to get the heart pumping and climb the steep stairs to see the waterfall from above and the view out to the ocean.
As you drive along the south coast, you’re bound to see local Icelandic horses ready for a pat, as well as the Eyjafjallajokull volcano.
Next up is the black sand beaches near the town of Vik. If you head to the black sand beaches of Vik, stay away from the water – the beaches are very wild and dangerous and there have been tourist drownings before. Our tour guide warned us that there’s often large waves powerful enough to knock you off your feet and carry you out.
A good viewpoint of the black sand beaches is from the Dyrholaey headland – where you can look down to the beach and nearby rock formations. Nearby is the Reynishverfi beach dominated by a basalt column cave.
If you’re driving the south coast yourself, Vik is a good central point to base yourself for a night after a day of sightseeing.
I spent the night near the Jokularson Glacial Lagoon – ready to see the lagoon first up in the dawn.
Seeing ice from the lagoon washed up on the black sand beaches as the sun came up was beautiful, and the blue ice was like nothing I’ve seen before.
Another attraction on the south coast not on many tours but accessible by car is the wreck of a crashed US Navy plane. I was lucky to get a sunny day a couple of days after snowfall so the roads were clear and dry and I headed out during daylight hours.
The US Navy Super Douglas DC-3 aircraft made a forced landing in November 1973 on the Solheimasandur black sand beach. All on board survived the crash, but the wreck was abandoned and is now a good photo stop.
The wreck is located a couple of kilometres past the Skogafoss and Solheimajokull Glacier on a dirt track – look for a gate and a dirt track on your right when coming from Reykjavik, just past the glacier turnoff. If there hasn’t been recent snow, the trail is accessible by 2WD if you take it slow. Keep to the trail on the left when heading in – and keep driving until you see the plane. The plane is hidden behind a dune so you won’t see it until you’re almost on top of it.
Hiking on the Vatnajokul Glacier is up there as one of my favourite travel experiences and it’s one of the main reasons you should go visit Iceland in winter. The landscape feels surreal as you trek through the pristine white landscape over the
The glacier hike can only be done with a guide, and you’ll be provided with crampons, an ice pick and harness. The ice pick and harness are only a safety precaution and would only be used if you fell into a crevasse (here’s hoping you don’t!). Hiking on the ice in freezing conditions can be hard work so a reasonable level of fitness is recommended.
The guide leads the way and explains how the glacier was formed, and makes sure you stay on the trail away from the dangerous crevasses.
The glacier hike runs for about 90 minutes, but includes lots of photo stops along the way.
The area is breathtaking and the photos don’t really do it justice – it looks like something from another world.
Make sure you put glacier hiking on your bucket list now!