Things to Do in South Iceland
A place of stark, wild beauty, this black-sand beach on Iceland's south coast is one of the country's most photogenic locations. Here, roaring Atlantic waves batter the Reynisdrangar sea stacks, the black pebble shoreline, and the pyramid-like cliff of basalt columns known as Garðar, where you can spot puffins and guillemots.
Among Iceland’s most famous peaks, the notoriously difficult-to-pronounce Eyjafjallajökull volcano made headlines when it erupted in 2010, spewing an enormous cloud of volcanic ash that grounded air traffic all across Europe. The imposing, ice-capped volcano has three main peaks, the tallest of which reaches 5,417 feet (1,651 meters).
Located at the confluence of the Þjórsá and Fossá rivers, Hjálparfoss waterfall cascades over a 31-foot (10-meter) basalt cliff. The lava-strewn landscape that surrounds the waterfall is courtesy of the nearby Hekla volcano, one of Iceland’s most active volcanoes. During the warmer months, spot Icelandic horses grazing in the surrounding grasslands.
Covering more than 270 square miles (700 square kilometers) and reaching a thickness of as much as 2,460 feet (750 meters) in places, this vast glacier is Iceland’s fourth largest. It sits atop the active Katla Volcano, which has erupted many times over the centuries, spewing meltwater, rock fragments, and ash into the air.
An expanse of uninhabited and unspoiled volcanic terrain located in central Iceland and largely off-limits to vehicles, Landmannalaugar has fast become a popular choice for those looking to escape Reykjavík and explore off-the-beaten-track. Among Iceland’s top hiking destinations, Landmannalaugar is best known for its spectacular scenery, with its multi-colored rhyolite mountains, rugged lava fields and steamy thermal pools, set against a backdrop of the ominous Helka Volcano.
The No. 1 challenge for enthusiastic hikers is the 43-kilometer-long Laugavegur trail, Iceland’s most famous long distance trail, which runs from Landmannalaugar all the way to the Thorsmork Valley. Alternatively, less-experienced adventurers can tackle the 16.5-km Landmannahellir Hiking Trail around the Laugahraun lava field, enjoy a day hike or horse riding excursion through the Jokulgil valley, camp out one of the remote mountain huts or soak in one of the many natural hot springs.
The third-largest geothermal power station in the world, Hellisheidi is a state-of-the-art facility run on sustainable methods. This site is of interest to travelers because along with Iceland's other geothermal station at Nesjavellir, Hellisheidi provides 30 percent of the island's total electricity and hot water. Often visited on adventurous mountain biking or jeep tours through southern Iceland, the station creates electricity through the constant geothermal activity that takes place way below the ground, caused by the shifting of the tectonic plates between North America and Europe.
The power station's multimedia energy exhibition showcases ways of harvesting green energy and highlights geothermal sources around the world. Surrounding the power station are raw Icelandic landscapes, hot springs and rivers warm enough to swim in, as well as more than 60 miles (100 km) of hiking trails.
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