Glacier Hiking, Waterfalls, and Black Sand Beaches: A Tour of Iceland’s South Coast


Last week we talked about the popular activity of touring Iceland’s Golden Circle (as well as the slightly unconventional activity of snorkeling between continents). This week, I want to share the experience of exploring Iceland’s south coast, which hosts more breathtaking views as well as juxtaposed topography. I especially recommend seeing the south coast if you only have a few days in Iceland!

In particular, I want to share what it’s like to hike on a glacier – specifically, Sólheimajökull. Glacier hiking – much like snorkeling – was a super cold experience that was well worth enduring the elements! This tour was also run by Tröll Expeditions, but in contrast to the very small group we had for the Golden Circle tour, we had a whole minibus of people this time…18 people, to be exact.

As a result, we unfortunately did not make any bonus stops on this tour day. However, our tour guide Vala (a native Icelander) was friendly, informative, and attentive – which always makes for a great tour.

Without further ado, here’s what you can expect on a tour of Iceland’s south coast:

Table of Contents

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

After getting picked up in a comfy, heated, WiFi-capable bus, and stopping in a nearby town to get snacks for the day, we were off to the first tour stop: Seljalandsfoss Waterfall. Fun fact: “Foss” technically means “waterfall” in Iceland, so I’m being a bit redundant here. But for the sake of clarity, we’ll stick with it being in the title for this one and Skógafoss!

Seljalandsfoss is a tall, beautiful waterfall that happens to be part of the Seljalands River, which has its own origin in the volcano glacier Eyjafjallajökull – or E15, if you recall the explosion in 2010 that left newscasters baffled with how to pronounce the name. According to Vala, it’s pronounced a bit like this: Ay-ya-fyah-la-yo-cull (don’t laugh, I don’t have a background in phonetics!!).

Anyway, Seljalandsfoss was quite impressive to look at, and apparently you can even go behind it to get awesome photos #forthegram. I did not manage to find the entrance to the other side, and sadly the staircases that led up the side of the waterfall were closed due to snowy and slippery conditions. In fact, it began to snow again shortly after we arrived. Interestingly enough, the snow actually gave the entire scene quite an ethereal vibe. But, don’t take my word for it – see for yourself below!

Skógafoss Waterfall

After admiring Seljalandsfoss, we made our way to its (sort of) nearby neighbor Skógafoss. Now, remember how I mentioned it was snowy and cloudy at Seljalandsfoss? Well, we were greeted by 100% clear skies, sun, greenery, and a rainbow (formed by the waterfall itself) when we got to Skógafoss! I honestly loved how much the weather changed in Iceland, because sometimes it just didn’t seem real. I mean, how could it have been blizzard weather a mere 30 minutes away and seem like springtime here? It’s such an interesting phenomenon to experience in-person.

Perhaps it was due to this suddenly gorgeous weather, or maybe it’s because it’s considered the most photogenic waterfall in Iceland, but I definitely preferred Skógafoss. The entire scene was incredibly picturesque, and Skógafoss also has a little stream flowing from it that you can drink out of it! Since Skógafoss itself flows directly from two glaciers (Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull), the water is completely pure – and delicious. I recommend bringing a bottle to fill up with the glacial water!

Unlike Seljalandsfoss, Skógafoss did have an accessible staircase that led up to top of the waterfall and probably had incredible views. Sadly, time flew by while we were there, and it was time to head back to the bus before I knew it. Still, I highly recommend making time to visit Skógafoss whether it’s on a South Coast tour or a drive that you take on your own.

Glacier Hike at Sólheimajökull

The jökull hike (yep, “jökull” means “glacier”!) was definitely the highlight of the day, simply because it really lets you get close to the Icelandic landscape in a unique way.

Sólheimajökull is actually part of the 4th biggest glacier in Iceland, Mýrdalsjökull, and it’s located away from the road/any sign of civilization. So, it was a very cool experience to feel like we were in a completely different world.

Prepping for the Hike

The first thing I want to emphasize for the glacier hike is the importance of good shoes! Even though our shoes were fitted with crampons (a traction device used to improve mobility on snow and ice), it’s highly preferable to wear a sturdy pair of boots that have slip-resistant soles.

I happened to wear a pair of waterproof Timberland boots that I bought from a friend, but they ended up being just the slightest bit too small – yikes. So, avoid my mistake and be sure to break in and test your boots before you bring them – you’ll be hiking for a while on that glacier!

In addition to good hiking boots, be sure to bundle up. I was in thermals, thin-ish leggings, a sweater, a winter jacket, a scarf, and gloves – and I was still cold! Having the scarf ended up being very useful, however, when it started snowing during our hike. Since the snow was blowing right into our faces, I used my scarf as a buff to cover my nose and mouth when necessary. So, be sure to bring a buff or scarf for the hike if you’re going in winter time – and perhaps sunglasses to protect your eyes.

Tröll provided us with the aforementioned crampons, as well as helmets (for general safety), waist-harnesses (in case we fell and had to be rescued – yikes), and ice axes (mostly to look badass in photos). So, you’ll get all the necessary equipment included on your tour – no need to worry about finding any of those items!

Hiking Sólheimajökull

Once we had all of our equipment accounted for, we began the trek up onto the glacier. Another recommendation here: if you’re able to, try getting to the front of the group when the hike starts. This makes it a lot easier to capture the experience from a first-hand perspective of the nature itself versus the travelers around you.

If you do head to the front of the pack, be sure that you’re a relatively fast walker and can keep up. Don’t be that person who holds up the group!

Hiking the glacier was a fantastic experience overall. For a little while, we had clear skies and clear views of the icy blue glacier formations. I hadn’t really seen a true embodiment of the term “ice-blue” until this moment, and had always thought that the term was an exaggeration since I figured ice would really be clear instead of blue. However, I am now a believer!

As we made our way uphill, it began to snow – heavily. Somehow, even that ended up adding to the surreal nature of the hike, because it truly felt like we were in a different world. We were so high on the glacier by then that, at one point, I couldn’t tell where the white sky ended and the snow-covered ground began.

Even though we were probably hiking for over an hour, the time truly flew by. I’m so thankful that I got to see, hike, and experience this gorgeous glacier; but it also makes me sad that what we hiked on was still a melted version of what the glacier used to be before. Plus, what I saw that day will probably be more than the next visitors will see down the line. Despite the amazing time we had, it was definitely a sobering thought to have once all was said and done. That said: be kind to the earth, and make time to glacier-hike while you’re in Iceland!

Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach

Our last stop of the day was a black sand beach called Reynisfjara (last language fact: “fjara” is Icelandic for “beach”). Although pelting raindrops and strong winds greeted us as our bus arrived, we actually lucked out weather-wise and had some clear skies for the end of our day.

Although it’s not the only black sand beach in Iceland, Reynisfjara is definitely one of the most popular – and for good reason. The contrast of black sand, tall rock columns on the shore, and white capped waves rolling in (very quickly – be careful!) all make it a stunning landscape to behold.

Additionally, there are some humongous basalt sea stacks just off the coast that stand alone. According to Vala, local legend explains them as two trolls that tried to pull in a fisherman’s ship before daylight struck – but failed, and were turned to stone. Whether or not you believe the legend, it’s still a really interesting sight to behold!

Another entertaining aspect of visiting the beach came in the form of watching other tourists run screaming from the waves that rushed in. However, they aren’t entirely wrong to react this way. The tide at Reynisfjara is really strong and can be deadly, easily sweeping unsuspecting visitors out to sea – sometimes fatally. So, be cautious as you take in the beauty around you!

Final Thoughts

As with the Golden Circle, the south coast of Iceland was well worth the visit and provided another look at the country’s intriguing topography and weather phenomenons. The glacier hike was by far the most exhilarating activity, and I actually wouldn’t have minded if it had been our last stop on the tour.

Overall, I highly recommend checking out Iceland’s south coast, whether on your own or on a tour! And if you decide to take a tour, be sure to check out Tröll Expeditions.

Disclaimer: This tour was provided to me by Tröll Expeditions in exchange for blog content. All opinions are 100% my own!

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