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National Parks

Breiðamerkursandur

Next to Jökulsárlón is a less known attraction named Breiðamerkursandur, which are fields of sand that get strewn with chunks
of glacial ice, carried along the river Jökulsá á Breiðamerkursandi, towards the sea and then sent back upon the sands by the tides. The diamond-like pieces of glacier create a mesmerizing atmosphere in the close mist that often visits the beach. These glistening ice-diamonds create an even more spectacular vision in the winter months when the sun comes out and bathes the beach in magical
lighting, which reflects off the ice. Waiting around in the darkness for the rising of the sun will be well worth the wait, despite the cold of the Icelandic winter night.

Fjallsárlón Glacial Lagoon

Scenic Fjallsárlón is a glacial lagoon located around 10 km. west of Jökulsárlón, at the southern edge of Vatnajökull glacier. With the steep glacier tongue, Fjallsjökull coming down from Vatnajökull and all the way into the lagoon, makes it a perfect peaceful place for photos as well as enjoying the untouched nature. Fjallsárlón also offers boat-tours on the lagoon as well as a bistro with fresh and tasty refreshments.

Heinaberg

Heinaberg is a beautiful area that consists of Heinabergsjökull glacier, the glacial lagoon Heinabergslón, where you can go kayaking among the icebergs during summer, and stunning landscape. The Heinaberg area is part of Vatnajökull National Park.

The gorgeous glacial lagoon of Heinaberg, Heinabergslón, is accessible by car and is often studded with large chunks of glacier that break off the Heinabergsjökull glacier. The area offers excellent conditions for hikers, as it has several interesting hiking trails, along which one can see waterfalls, ravines, volcanic intrusions, and even, on a lucky day, a reindeer.

Hoffell

Driving or hiking north from Hoffell along the sands of Hoffellssandur you will enjoy the spectacular scenery of mountain slopes carved out by earlier glaciers. Along the way, there is also a borehole, constructed to extract geothermal water. Finally, you reach the ice of the glacier-tongue, Hoffellsjökull, skirted by the numerous hiking trails of the Geitafell mountain.

Along the sands of Hoffellssandur you will enjoy the spectacular scenery of mountain slopes carved out by earlier glaciers. Along the way, there is also a borehole, constructed to extract geothermal water. Finally, you reach the ice of the glacier-tongue, Hoffellsjökull, skirted by the numerous hiking trails of the Geitafell mountain.

Jökulsárlón Glacier lagoon

Jökulsárlón is a glacial lagoon by the ring road and was recently designated as a part of Vatnajökull National Park. It's still blue waters are a sight not to be missed, as it is dotted with the icebergs from the edge of Breiðamerkurjökull, a part of the Vatnajökull glacier. The lagoon flows through a narrow gateway into the Atlantic Ocean, leaving the spectacular sight of the large chunks of ice on the black sandy beach. In wintertime the fish-filled lagoon hosts numbers of seals, which visit the lagoon for an easy meal. Year-round
curious seals can be seen basking on the blue-tinted icebergs. The lagoon is accessible from the beach all year round, and so is the café on the banks of Jökulsárlón.
For hikers, a marked hiking trail between Jökulsárlón and Fjallsárlón is recommended as a scenic trip
through unforgettable surroundings.

Lakagígar and Laki

Lakagígar is a row of craters, formed in one of the world's largest mixed eruptions in recorded history. This continuous series of eruptions emitted a vast quantity of lava and substantial amounts of volcanic ash from a fissure stretching 25 km across the area west of the ice cap. The craters are regarded as a globally unique phenomenon and are as such a protected natural monument.

In 1783, a huge lava flow streamed from Lakagígar in what became known as the "Skaftá Fires." This is believed to have been one of the greatest lava flows in a single eruption in the history of the world: the molten lava filled the gorges through which the Skaftá and Hverfisfljót rivers flowed, and swept down in two branches into inhabited areas, to spread over the lowlands where it laid waste many farms. The eruption produced large quantities of volcanic ash. For residents of the region, and Iceland as a whole, the results of the eruption were catastrophic: this time is known as "Móðuharðindin" (the Haze Famine).

The Laki craters are under protection of the Vatnajökull National Park which provides information and basic facilities. Getting there by road F206 you need a 4x4 for crossing numerous rivers, and is only accessible during the summer.

Landmannalaugar - Nature Reserve

Landmannalaugar derives its name from a hot pool that rises from under the Laugahraun lava field. Landmannalaugar has been a stopping point for people for centuries, and the mountain shepherds on Landmannaafréttur have stayed there while herding sheep off the mountain for as long as there have been reports of such travel.

Many beautiful mountains can be seen from Landmannalaugar: Barmur, Bláhnúkur, Brennisteinsalda, Suðurnám and Norðurnám. There are considerable deposits of rhyolite, obsidian and rhyolite lava in the area, and the Landmannalaugar landscape is famous for its colourfulness and unique environs.

The start of one of the most popular hiking trails in Iceland, Laugavegurinn, is at Landmannalaugar. The trail proceeds along Hrafntinnusker, Álftavatn, Hvanngil, Emstrur and ends in Þórsmörk.

Ferðafélag Íslands (the Iceland Touring Association) provides facilities, such as showers and accommodation, for travellers at Landmannalaugar. In addition, there is a horse rental and a small café operated during the summer.

Lónsöræfi

In Lón District, the most eastern area of the Vatnajökull Region, lie the Stafafellsfjöll mountains, also called Lónsöræfi. They dominate the skyline east of Vatnajökull glacier and have long comprised one of Iceland's most extensive protected areas. Besides the deep, rugged canyons, the landscape displays a wide range of colours owing to the presence of rhyolite and other colourful rocks. In contrast, there are also lushly vegetated and sheltered valleys offering a very good chance of spotting reindeer. The numerous hiking
trails make this area perfect for hiking. Keep in mind that getting there can be very dificult and one should seek advice from a visitor- or information centre before attempting to go there.

Öræfajökull glacier

Öræfajökull: Iceland's highest mountain
Extending south from the Vatnajökull icecap and towering to around 2,110 m (6,922 feet), Öræfajökull is Iceland's highest mountain. Its height actually varies with the season and the depth of snow and ice, since the peak itself, Hvannadalshnúkur, is topped by ice which is thickest in spring and thinnest in autumn.

The mountain and surrounding areas offer good skiing in winter, and are very popular with walkers and hikers throughout the year.

Skaftafell

Scenic nature, favorable weather conditions and a network of hiking trails make Skaftafell an ideal destination to enjoy outdoor activities in Icelandic nature. Short and easy trails lead to the waterfall Svartifoss and Skaftafellsjökull glacier, but for those who want to reach further out Morsárdalur valley and Kristínartindar mountain peaks are perfect in terms of distance and labour. Skaftafell is also the perfect base camp for those who seek to climb Iceland's highest mountain peak, Hvannadalshnúkur.

Private travel companies operate in Skaftafell and offer guided hikes on the nearby glaciers and mountains. Also on offer are sightseeing flights over Vatnajökull glacier and other renowned attractions.

Þingvellir

Þingvellir (Icelandic "Þing": parliament, "vellir": plains) is a place in the southwest of Iceland near the peninsula of Reykjanes and the Hengill volcanic area.

It is famous for two reasons:

As one of the most important places in Icelandic history. In the year 930 the Alþingi, one of the oldest parliamentary institutions of the world, was founded. The Alþingi met yearly, where the Lawspeaker recited the law to all of the gathered people and decided disputes as well. In the year 999 or 1000 the Lawspeaker Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði made Christianity the official religion of Iceland. After the conversion it is said that, upon returning from the Alþingi, Þorgeir then threw his statues of the old Norse gods into the waterfall that is now named Goðafoss ("Waterfall of the Gods"). At this historical place, the independence of the Republic of Iceland was proclaimed on June 17, 1944.

As a national park (since 1928) because of the special tectonic and volcanic environment. The continental drift can be clearly seen in the cracks or faults which are traversing the region, the biggest one, Almannagjá, being a veritable canyon. This causes also the often measurable earthquakes in the area.
Þingvellir is situated on the northern shore of Þingvallavatn, the biggest lake of Iceland. The river Öxará traverses the national park and is forming a waterfall at the Almannagjá, called Öxaráfoss Together with the waterfall Gullfoss and the geysirs of Haukadalur, Þingvellir is part of the most famous sights of Iceland, the Golden Circle.

Þingvellir is a designated UNESCO World Heritag Site

Thingvellir, 50 km (31 miles) to the east of Reykjavík, is the national shrine of Iceland. Icelands most historic site, and one of its most beautiful places, it is also part of The Golden Circle tour. The oldest existing parliament in the world first met here in AD930. The Alþing met here every year to enact laws, including the law passed in AD1000 to introduce Christianity into the island. It has always been the focal point for the country, and whenever a major event is to be celebrated, thousands of people come here. At the celebration of the 1,100th anniversary of the first settlement in 1974, more than 60,000 people packed into Thingvellir.

Nearby Lögberg is the cliff overlooking the place where the Alþing (assembly) met, and speakers stood to address the gatherings from this point. Nearby is Drekkingarhylur (The Drowning Pool), where mothers of illegitimate children were drowned. It is sited in the river Öxará in Almannagjá, a lava gorge, which with the Öxarárfoss waterfall, is an impressive sight.

Peningagjá (The Money Chasm) is a deep fissure filled with crystal clear spring water; people throw coins into it from the bridge that lies across. The coins give off strange reflections as they drop through the water, it is said that if you can follow the coin all the way down until it comes to rest on the bottom, your wish will come true. Scubadiving and snorkeling in wet suits is becoming increasingly popular here.

There is an old church at Thingvellir. Beside the church is the national burial ground.

Thingvallavatn is the largest lake in Iceland, 83sq km (32sq miles) and over 100m (328ft) deep. The only outflow from lake Thingvallavatn is the river Sog, a famous salmon river with beautiful blue water. The lake's catchment area is 90% underground and the water from the thousands of cold springs has a constant temperature of 3-4°C the whole year round.

The anglers, who use boats for their fishing, have to be careful and watch out for changes in the weather. The lake becomes a boiling pot, when the wind starts blowing. The catch in the lake has always been a necessary part for the survival of the farming families on the lake. They have netted the lake traditionally for centuries. Angling permits are sold in the little shop and visitors centre in the camping area or at Hotel Valholl. The catch consists of brown trout and lake char.

It is said that these fish became isolated in the lake in the wake of the last ice age when the terrain rose at the south end of Þingvallavatn. These two species are a living testimony to how the evolution of species occurs in nature, as over a period of 10,000 years they have adapted themselves to various habitats in the lake. The constant, regular influx of groundwater into Lake Þingvallavatn, together with a very varied habitat, has created good conditions for fish and other life forms in the lake, to which they have adapted even more.This has resulted in the fact that both the brown trout and char in Thingvallavatn are amongst the largest to be found in the world. The trout are said to be as big as over 20 kg (max weight) and the char over 10 kg (max weight), which is at the max of both species size range.

The lake is part of the Þingvellir National Park. The volcanic origin of the islands in the lake is clearly visible. The fissures around it - the famous Almannagjá is the biggest of them - indicate that here the tectonic plates of Europe and The Americas are in a conflict. In this lake, the large quantity of sulfur and salt, the lake is extremely light and the water seems to be in less weight than other lakes.

Vatnajökull Glacier

Vatnajökull is the largest glacier in Iceland, and the largest glacier by volume in the whole of Europe. It covers over 8 percent of Iceland measuring an area of 7,800 km², with an average thickness of 400 m and the highest point, Hvannadalshnúkur, measures at 2,110 m (6,921 ft.). Vatnajökull has around 30 outlet glaciers flowing from the ice cap, all of which bear a name; glaciers and outlet glaciers all have names that end in "jökull" in Icelandic. Vatnajökull belongs to the Vatnajökulsfljóðgarður (Vatnajökull National Park) and covers a large area surrounding the glacier, including the glacier itself. The National Park offers numerous interesting sites to visit and is a must for all who are interested in Geology and beautiful, natural vistas.

Vatnajökull National Park

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-east and Jökulsárgljúfur in the north. Today Vatnajökull National Park covers 14% of Iceland and ranks as Europe's second largest.
In general, national parks are protected areas which are considered unique due to 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.

Description
Vatnajökull is Europe's largest glacier, with a surface area of around 8,100 km2. Generally measuring 400-600 m in thickness and at the most 950 m, the glacial ice conceals a number of mountains, valleys and plateaus. It even hides some active central volcanoes, of which Bárðarbunga is the largest and Grímsvötn the most active. While the icecap rises at its highest to over 2,000 m above sea level, the glacier base reaches its lowest point 300 m below sea level. Nowhere in Iceland, with the exception of Mýrdalsjökull glacier, does more precipitation fall or more water drain to the sea than on the south side of Vatnajökull. In fact, so much water is currently stored in Vatnajökull that the Icelandic river with the greatest flow, Ölfusá, would need over 200 years to carry this quantity of water to sea.

The south side of Vatnajökull is characterised by many high, majestic mountain ridges, with outlet glaciers descending between them onto the lowlands. The southernmost part of the glacier envelops the central volcano Öræfajökull and Iceland's highest peak, Hvannadalshnúkur. Sheltered by the high ice, the vegetated oasis of Skaftafell overlooks the black sands deposited to its west by the river Skeiðará. These sands are mostly composed of ash which stems from the frequent eruptions at Grímsvötn and is brought to the coast by jökulhlaups, or glacial floods. Substantial volcanic activity also characterises the landscape west of Vatnajökull, where two of the world's greatest fissure and lava eruptions of historical times occurred, at Eldgjá in 934 and Lakagígar 1783-1784. Vonarskarð, northwest of the glacier, is a colourful high-temperature area and a watershed between North and South Iceland.

Preservation objectives
The objectives of designating Vatnajökull as a preservation area, along with the main regions it affects, are the following:
• To protect the nature of the region, including the landscape, biota and geological formations, as well as cultural features
• To allow the public to get to know and enjoy regional nature, culture and history
• To provide education on nature and nature conservation and on regional history, society and cultural features, as well as encouraging research to gain greater knowledge of these aspects
• To strengthen communities and business activity in the vicinity of the park.

Visitor centres and other tourist information offices working with the park
Visitor centres and other tourist information offices working with the park provide information and services for the park and its immediate environs. The following offices operate along the south coast of Iceland:
Skaftárstofa Visitor Centre | Kirkjubæjarklaustur | open in summer
Skaftafellsstofa Visitor Centre | Skaftafell | open all year
Skálafell farm | Suðursveit | varying hours - all year
Hoffell farm | Nes | varying hours - all year
Gamlabúð Visitor Centre | Höfn | open all year *
*Opening hours for Christmas and New Year celebration can be found on the website http://www.vjp.is

South Iceland

Towns & Villages

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.

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Map Höfn Kirkjubæjarklaustur Vík Vestmannaeyjar Hvolsvöllur Flúðir Laugarvatn Reykholt Laugarás Borg Brautarholt Hveragerði Árnes Selfoss Hella Stokkseyri Eyrarbakki Þykkvibær Þórlákshöfn