Welcome to South Iceland
A picture is worth a thousand words... and videos say even more. Mere words do not describe what the south of Iceland offers; glaciers, volcanoes, volcanic islands, geothermal spots, glacial rivers, black sands, green pastures, marshes, lakes, undisturbed highlands and black sand beaches.
The main lagoon measures about 7 square miles (20 km2) and until 1932 was covered in thick glacial ice. Then the glacier started to retreat, and nowadays more than 300 feet (100 m) of ice breaks away each year to reshape the lagoon and fill it with spectacular icebergs.
The lagoon is open to the sea and so contains a mixture of salt and freshwater, giving it a unique blue-green color. There are hundreds of seals here in the winter and the lagoon supports many species of fish including krill, herring, trout and, occasionally, salmon.
Outdoor enthusiasts feel at home in South Iceland. Not only does the region have flourishing lowland agricultural communities, but majestic peaks for those desiring a challenge. Other recreational activities include scenic walks and bird watching, trips on the seashore, ice climbing, kayaking, rides on 4-wheelers, rafting down rivers, and the Njáll’s Saga Tours. A pleasant sequel is going swimming, golfing, fishing or riding the small but sturdy Icelandic horse. Another animal favourite is the whale, seen on trips from the Westman Islands. The more adventurous seek out 4WD vehicles or snow scooters on the glaciers, and in the summer trips are scheduled to Þórsmörk and the Laki craters.
The numerous museums include the Folk and the Natural History Museums in the Westman Islands, Skógar Folk Museum, and the Folk museum in Eyrarbakki. The region welcomes everyone to summertime family festivals, including Töðugjöld in Rangárþing county, Blóm í bæ in Hveragerði, The Lobster Festival in Höfn, Grímsævintýri in Grímsnes and Grafningshreppur, and the mid-summer celebration at Eyrarbakki.
South Iceland is an invitation to adventure.
Mýrdalshreppur region is one of three municipalities in Katla UNESCO GLOBAL Geopark. Vik is the central town in the Geopark and has developed as an important local commercial centre and service for the travel industry. Mýrdalur is the southernmost district of Iceland, bordered by the glacial river Jökulsá to the west and the river Blautakvísl to the east. Its northern border is the Mýrdalsjökull glacier (700 km2, Iceland's fourth largest glacier). Approximately 600 metres below the ice lies the dormant subglacial volcano Katla which the Geopark is named after. Its southern limits are black sands and the rolling Atlantic waves. Vik is the only seaside settlement in Iceland left without a harbour due to natural circumstances. Nevertheless, Vík's inhabitants used to go fishing and got products from ship before the roads were imposed in 1939.
The natural beauty of the area is spectacular. There are many places of interest in the vicinity of Vik. Just east of the outskirts of the village lies one of Europe's biggest artic tern breeding grounds. A short hike within the close vicinity of Vik is sure to satisfy all serious nature lovers and birds watchers. To the south of Reynisfjall mountain a spectacular set of rock columns called Reynisdrangar rise majestically out of the Atlantic Ocean. Dyrhólaey is a 120 meters high headland extending into the sea and forming an impressive natural arch located in the western part of the Mýrdalur district. In the summer, the peninsula is home to hosts of puffins.
Mýrdalshreppur region has a good travel services all year around and offers plenty of camping, hostels, guesthouses, apartments and hotels. We have over 1200 rooms to be precise. Among the many aspects of Vík that make it attractive to tourist are the hiking trails, bird watching, paragliding in the blue sky, snowmobile tour on Mýrdalsjökull glacier, ATV tour or horse riding on the black beach, glacier walk on Sólheimajökull glacier, short or long jeep tours around the region, a wool centre and a wool gallery, our local fish store where you can get both fresh and smoked Arctic char, to list but a few. Not many other places in Iceland offer as many contrast of nature as Mýrdalur. The area is therefore an ideal place to visit for travellers who want to enjoy good service and the best of what the country's natural enviroment has to offer.
Visit www.visitvik.is to find more detailed information about accommodation, restaurants, tours and service in the area.
Reykjadalur valley is the most popular and arguably the most beautiful hiking area in Ölfus. Hot springs and colourful areas full of geothermal activity entertain along a hiking trail which leads to a hot river. For some of the length of the river the temperature in it is perfect for bathing and that's a wonderful natural experience.
Eyrarbakki, pop 526, is a friendly village that, in earlier times, used to be the largest commercial community and the main harbor on the South Coast of Iceland. A large number of preserved houses from the period 1890-1920 are situated in Eyrarbakki and therefore a visit is like reveriting a 100 years back in time. Other popular tourist attractions are The Eyrabakka Martime Museum and the Árnessýsla Folk Museum, located at legendary "The House" in Eyrarbakki, built in 1765. A fine campsite, hostel, guesthouses and restaurant, are also in Eyrarbakki. On the rocky shoreline you can witness an amazing view of the Atlantic Ocean, as well as watching the surf break. It is an ideal spot for hiking and bird watching. The Flói Bird Reserve lies northwest of Eyrabakki. It is an important nesting area, especially for wetland birds and is listed in The Bird Life International Association.
Fjaðrárgljúfur is a magnificent and massive canyon, about 100 meters deep and about two kilometres long. The canyon has sheer walls, and is somewhat serpentine and narrow. The bedrock in Fjaðrárgljúfur is mostly palagonite from cold periods of the Ice Age and is thought to be about two million years old. The river Fjaðrá has its source in the mountain Geirlandshraun and falls off the heath edge in this stunning canyon until it makes it down into Skaftá river. Fjaðrá has changed a lot in the course of time. Today Fjaðrá is often rather low in water and therefore hikers can safely choose to walk inside the canyon. However, wading is necessary fairly often. Deep in the canyon there are waterfalls so one needs to walk the same way back. Most people choose to walk along a walking path up on the canyon's edge while simultaneously enjoying the view above the canyon.
Formation of the Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon
It is believed that Fjaðrárgljúfur formed at the end of the last Ice Age, about nine thousand years ago. When the glacier retreated, a lake formed in the valley behind a hard resistant rock. The run-off from the lake flowed to where Fjaðrárgljúfur is today. Glacial rivers from the glacier's edge carried a lot of sediment into the lake and the river which ran from it dug itself down into the rock and down onto the palagonite in front of it. Because the cascade has been so large, it was powerful in digging out the canyon. Eventually the lake filled with sediments and the river's strength dwindled. When the lake filled up completely, the river began to dig itself into the sediment layers which it had previously left in the valley. Fluvial terraces on both sides in the valley give an indication about the original height and location of the lake while a deep channel in the palagonite serves as a silent reminder to the power of nature.
More geosites in the neighbourhood: www.katlageopark.com
Urriðafoss is a waterfall in Þjórsá River. Þjórsá is Iceland's longest river, 230 km, and Urriðafoss is the most voluminous waterfall in the country. This mighty river drops down (360 m3/sec) by the edge of Þjórsárhraun lava field in beautiful and serene surroundings. Þjórsárhraun lava field is the result of the greatest lava flow on earth since the Ice Age. Located right off highway 1.
South Iceland has all kinds of museums and exhibitions. Most of them are pretty standard but others are dedicated to more abstract things, such as eruptions and other curious phenomena.
Gullfoss is actually two separate waterfalls, the upper one has a drop of 11 metres and the lower one 21 metres. The rock of the river bed was formed during an interglacial period.
Water flows over Gullfoss at an average rate of 109 cubic metres per second. The heaviest floods have recorded a flow of 2000 cubic metres per second. During the summer the flow is 130 cubic metres per second, which would take only 3 seconds to fill this building. People were eager to exploit the power potential of Gullfoss and many plans for hydroelectric developments on the river Hvítá have been proposed.
A unique waterfall in the river Seljalandsá, about 30 km west from Skógar. It is 60 meters high with a foot path behind it at the bottom of the cliff, but with a thin cascade. It is the only known waterfall of its kind, where it is possible to walk behind it. The waterfall is very picturesque and therefore its photo can be found in many books and calendars.
Access to the waterfall is from the farm of Seljaland along the Ring Road, Iceland's main highway. A little further to the west there are several other falls, among them the interesting Gljúfrabúi which is partially masked by its own canyon. Access to it is from Hamragarðar farm along the road, east of Markarfljót.
Both of these "do-not-miss" attractions lie very close to the main Ring Road at the base of the Eyjafjallajökull Glacier, on the road leading in to Thorsmörk.
Katla Geopark includes geological features of global significance. Over 150 volcanic eruptions have been recorded in the area since the 9th century. The eruptions created the landscape and influenced where people settled. Through the centuries, man and nature have affected the region's history. The area is constantly changing due to the volcanic activity.
A geopark is defined as a territory, which includes a particular geological heritage and a sustainable territorial development strategy to promote development. It must have clearly defined boundaries and sufficient surface area for true territorial economic development.
The Geopark covers about 9% of Iceland, 9542 km2, and follows the borders of three municipalities, Skaftárhreppur, Mýrdalshreppur and Rangárþing eystra. About 2700 people live within the Geopark.
GeologyIceland lies astride the Mid-Atlantic Ridge where tectonic plates move apart from each other, causing a rift zone. A mantle plume exists below the country, centred beneath Vatnajökull ice cap. In South Iceland the interaction of the rift zone and the mantle plume results in complex and diverse volcanic activity. Volcanic activity and its widespread effect on the area's nature and landscape make Katla Geopark very special.
The Geopark is in the most volcanically active area of Iceland, and the volcanic systems at Eyjafjallajökull, Katla, and Grímsvötn are particularly active. The region is characterised by central volcanoes, eruptive craters and fissures, rootless cones, lava fields, table mountains (tuyas), and hyaloclastite ridges which trend SW-NE, like the rift zone.
Ice caps are prominent in the landscape, topping the highest volcanoes. Outlet glaciers and glacial rivers flow from them and glacial landforms, e.g. moraines and ice-dammed lakes, occur in the area. Large floods, usually glacier outbursts associated with subglacial eruptions, have formed outwash plains in the lowlands. The oldest bedrock in the area is about 2.5 million years old, and can be found at the base of Lómagnúpur, an old sea-cliff (671 m). Other interesting features in the Geopark are fossil-bearing xenoliths, and tephra layers which are useful for dating (tephrochronology).
No single place epitomizes the history of Iceland and the Icelandic nation better than Þingvellir by the river Öxará. At Þingvellir - literally "Parliament Plains" - the Alþing general assembly was established around 930 and continued to convene there until 1798. Major events in the history of Iceland have taken place at Þingvellir and therefore the place is held in high esteem by all Icelanders. Today Þingvellir is a protected national shrine.
In the last few decades, research has made it clear that Þingvellir is a natural wonder on a international scale, with the geologic history and the biosystem of Lake Þingvallavatn forming a unique entity, a magnificent showcase.
Being able to witness the evolution and formation of new species in a place like Lake Þingvallavatn is of immense value.
The Þingvellir area is part of a fissure zone running through Iceland, being situated on the tectonic plate boundaries of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
The faults and fissures of the area make evident the rifting of the earth's crust.
Vatnajökull National Park, established in 2008, encompasses not only all of Vatnajökull glacier but also extensive surrounding areas. These include the national parks previously existing at Skaftafell in the south and Jökulsárgljúfur in the north, so that today's national park covers 14% of Iceland (about 13.920 km2 as of June 2014) and ranks amongst Europe's largest.
In general, national parks are protected areas which are considered unique because of their nature or cultural heritage. The unique qualities of Vatnajökull National Park are primarily its great variety of landscape features, created by the combined forces of rivers, glacial ice, and volcanic and geothermal activity.
The south of Iceland has several towns and villages, each with its own style, charm and points of interest. Selfoss is the largest town and has a variety of shops, services, many restaurants and fast food places. Most towns are close to the main route, making them accessible and enjoyable.