Seljalandsfoss & Gljúfrabúi Waterfalls
Due to its proximity to the Ring Road and its distinguishing natural features, Seljalandsfoss is one of the most visited and photographed waterfalls in Iceland. Unlike many other waterfalls, there is a path encompassing the falls, allowing it’s admirers to walk entirely around it.
Just a few hundred meters up the path is the Gljúfrabúi, although less famous and often overshadowed by it’s well-known neighbor, we enjoyed it even more. Eventhough it’s less than a ten minute walk away, travelers often hit the road without giving it a glance. Less people = win. The name “Gljúfrabúi” means “Canyon Dweller”. Those who wish to see it must wade through the waters of narrow canyon. After a few meters, the canyon opens up and reveal Gljúfrabúi crashing down over a large boulder. There is also a short path outside of the canyon where you can hike up and view the Gljúfrabúi from above.
One day we thought it would be fun to hike back by some glaciers, but we quickly realized our tiny car (Pinto, as I affectionately named it), was no match for the unkempt road. They say if you want to get certain places in Iceland, 4-wheel drive is required. Turns out, they say it for a reason. After coming to a ford in the road, we threw in the towel, but as we looked to our right, the valley beyond was beckoning us to come explore. So, we began to hike. It was totally spontaneous, and perhaps our favorite memory of the entire trip. The hike was absolutely gorgeous. A river flowed under the mountain, creating a small tunnel/grotto. We hiked over and around the grotto - jumping from boulder to boulder like kids on a playground. We followed a small (and somewhat sketchy) sheep’s trail back in the valley back for quite a bit. Ultimately we were rewarded with a beautiful waterfall - all to ourselves! What a rarity!
We’ve chose not to disclose this location, because some places are best kept secret. That’s what makes them special. Moral of the story - don’t be afraid to get lost and throw your agenda out the window. What you find might be better than anything you could have planned.
You’ll likely recognize this guy from The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, the film that put Iceland on every wanderlust's radar. You can walk right up to this bad boy, but prepare to be drenched. Even at a distance, it's difficult to avoid the mist. You also have the option to hike up to the top of the falls, but please note it’s about 500+ steps! If you can, catch it on a sunny day so you can see all the rainbows.
While we love to camp, we prefer a bit more privacy, but if you’re in a bind, or dream of dozing off to the ambient sounds of this beast, the Skógar Campsite at the base of the falls couldn’t be more convenient.
The brisk air didn’t stop us from exploring this unique landscape. We ventured down to the lower area and around the cove - collecting souvenirs (i.e. rocks) to take home with us. We fought against the crisp, coastal air as we to made our way up to the Dyrhólaey lighthouse. Inspired by the black lava archways of the peninsula, Dyrhólaey means “door hill island”. Views from the upper part of the peninsula are stunning. If I remember right, you can even stay in the lighthouse (for an absurd price).
Want to explore a glacier, but don’t want to go too far out of your way? Sólheimajökull is the perfect spot for you. It is easy to find and only about 2 hours from Reykjavík. We didn’t stay too long here, just long enough to wander around a bit. If you are interested in something more intense, Sólheimajökull is the starting point for many guided glacier excursions.The glacier is receding the length of an Olympic Swimming pool each year. Catch it before it’s gone!
Despite its small size, Iceland’s southernmost village, Vik, is worth a quick stop. The red-roofed church is perched up in the hills, overlooking the quaint town below and black sandy beaches beyond. Great picture spot, easy to get to and plenty of parking!
I never thought I could get so excited about moss. Eldhraun is the largest lava flow in the world. Created by the Skaftareldar (the Skafta River Fires) eruption in 1783-1784, this gigantic 565 square kilometer site is not to missed! I’ll never forget the squishy feeling beneath my feet as we bounced from rock to rock like kids on a playground. This place is awesome!
This stunning serpentine canyon is another must-see. Some hikers chose to wade through the waters of the river Fjaðrá at its base, but most admire it from the trail above the rim of the canyon (one mile hike). The sheer cliff face of the canyon extend 100 meters and it is 2 kilometers long. This impressive landmark is believed to date back to the ice age - making it nearly two million years old!
Located in Skaftafell National Park, Svartifoss is beautifully framed by hexagonal basalt stacks, which inspired its name, “Black Fall”. Svartifoss is not far off the ring road, but can only be reached by 1.5 km trail (45 min one way, starting at the Visitor Center). Along the way, you’ll pass by three other waterfalls, Þjofafoss (Thieves’ Fall), Hundafoss (Dogs’ Fall) and Magnusarfoss (the Falls of Magnus)
Fun fact! The basalt stacks which frame this 20 meter fall inspired the architecture of the famous Hallgrimskirkja church in Reykjavik.
We found the ice in Iceland!
Here, the Breiðamerkurjökul glacier melts, forming a bay which leads to the ocean. Huge blocks of ice frequently break off the glacier and float in the lagoon, creating a fun haven for the seals. The surface of the lagoon is at sea level, so salty sea water freely flows into the lagoon during high tide. The tide then pulls the glacial pieces onto the black, volcanic ash sand beaches. It's just beautiful. We did a Glacier Boat Tour here which we’d recommend (we did the "Amphibian". This site has been featured in a handful of movies, including, Die Another Day. Famous or not, this natural wonder if worth your time!
Fun fact: This lagoon is Iceland's deepest lake at 250 meters deep!
Know Before You Go!
- If your time in Iceland is short and you aren’t quite sure where to go, we recommend hitting up Southern Iceland. After getting into town, that’s where we headed and then proceeded to make our way around the entire Ring Road.
- Most of these sites aren't far off the Ring Road, therefore they can be crowded.
- We bought the Rough Guide to Iceland, which we really liked. It categorizes Iceland by area and mentions things that are worth stopping to see, places to eat, etc. We also bought a big fold out map, which was really helpful.
- Keep your eyes peeeled for region-specific maps or pamphlets at local gas stations and visitor centers.