#southregion

 

Officially, settlement began in Iceland in AD 874 when the Norwegian chieftain Ingólfur Arnarson came to settle permanently on the island. Throughout the next century other Norwegians, as well as Celts, followed in his footsteps. District assemblies were formed and very early on the settler realized they would need a general assembly to establish laws and settle disputes.  In 930 the Icelandic Parliament, Alþingi, was founded at Þingvellir – and remained there until 1798. Alþingi now resides in Reykjavík. In 1930 Þingvellir National Park was organized, marking Alþingi's 1000th anniversary. Later on, it was expanded to protect the area's nature and environment and in 2004 Þingvellir became a World Heritage Site.

A reason why Þingvellir is such a sacred place for Icelanders

Þingvellir is extremely precious to all Icelanders. It is the single most important place in the history of Iceland. Across the centuries, the area is at the center of every story and every major decision. It was at the center of everybody's fate. The Alþingi assembly wasn't just Iceland's supreme legislative authority, but also the judicial authority until 1271. It was there you would learn whether you would lose a finger, hand or an arm; it was there you were told whether you would hang, burn or drown – usually for misdemeanors or relatively small crimes. But, mind you, according to the Sagas everybody was very well dressed in colorful apparel made of silk and such when attending Alþingi.

ÞIngvellir is an importnat historical place and has also appeard in popular culture

Þingvellir is a site that has more than historical importance but also cultural and geological. It lies in a rift valley that marks the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The rift is clearly visible in the cracks traversing the region. The largest rift, Almannagjá, is a veritable canyon. As a result, earthquakes are quite common in the area. The Þingvallavatn Lake is Iceland's largest natural lake and enhances the combined beauty of Þingvellir. The landscape at Þingvellir is also stunning with colorful lava and beautiful mountains in the background.  It is a place many visitors like to see and view.  Like many places in Iceland, part of Þingvellir, Almannagjá, appears in Game of Thrones as the road to the Eyrie leading to the Bloody Gate.

Access to Þingvellir and Almannagjá

From Reykjavík, you drive to Mosfellsbær village on the Ring Road Nr. 1. When passed Mosfellsbær you turn east on Þingvallavegur Nr. 36 all the way to one of two to three parking lots.  Access to Þingvellir, Almannagjá, Öxarárfoss, Drekkingarhylur and some of the magnificent landscape is quite simple but requires a bit of a walk. 

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Below is the location of Þingvellir National Park on the map of Iceland

Þingvellir in autumn 2017

 

The Vatnajökull Glacier in Southeast Iceland is Europe's largest glacier. The glacier covers an area of approximately 8.100 square km and the thickness of the ice cap ranging from about 400 to 1100 m. The subglacial landscape is a plateau with valleys, canyons, and gorges all hidden under the ice.  Formed thousands of years ago, Vatnajökull has approximately 30 outlet glaciers, or glacier tongues, flowing and bursting from the icecap as the ice crawls down to the lowland.  One of Iceland's main tourist attraction, Jökulsárlón, is a lagoon that feeds of one of the many glacier tongues, Breiðamerkurjökull (Wide Forest Glacier).  The glacier also hides some powerful and highly active volcanoes, including Bárðarbunga, Öræfajökull, and Grímsvötn that has the highest eruption frequency of all the volcanoes in Iceland.  Near Jökulsárlón lagoon and Fjallsárlón lagoon, there are interesting Ice caves that people can visit from November to March.  In the caves, where you can go under the edge of the glacier and have a view from down under.  It is truly a remarkable sight.

Eruption and humongous glacial bursts from under the glacier is constant fear factor

The latest eruption in Grímsvötn and by far the strongest for 100 years was in May 2011. It started with 12 km high plumes, followed by multiple earthquakes and an ash cloud rising to 20 km. Glacial bursts are quite common following eruptions and never cease to affect the live and amazement of Icelanders. They simply love their island's volatile and powerful nature, no matter what the consequences. Although the latest eruption connected to Vatnajökull did not occur under the ice cap but just north of the ice cap forming the new lava Holuhraun, it is very much part of the threat from the volcanoes under the glacier. The eruption occurred in August 2014 and was one of the larger ones in Iceland's history. So the glacier or the vast ice cap has many active threats and angry volcanos and could actually at any point produce some monumental disturbances in Iceland and possibly also in Europe.

The Ice Cap is melting away as global warming continues

For quite some years, Vatnajökull ice cap has been melting at a rate of one meter per year. Some of the glacier tongues have been melting even faster, like Skaftafellsjökull near the famous camping site Skaftafell in the South Region. But, Iceland has actually seen periods of warmer climate before (during the Middle Ages) where glaciers receded, only to reshape into their former glory when cooler period sets in. 
When you drive the Ring Road on a good day, you have the glacier Vatnajökull and all its might in front of you for hours.  It is a magnificent natural wonder and a joy to view against the blue sky.  Simply a beautiful sight adding to the pleasure of driving the Ring Road in Iceland

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Below is the location of Vatnajökull on the map of Iceland

Vatnajökull Glacier is Europe's largest glacier.

Svartifoss (The Black Falls) in the Skaftafell National Park, is surrounded by black, hexagonal basalt columns. It falls 20 m into a beautiful ravine that is accessible along a trail starting at the Visitor's Centre. You can follow the trail to the bottom of the ravine, thus enjoying the fall and the walls up close.In the 20th century, the walls surrounding Svartifoss were an inspiration to various Icelandic architects. The impression from their extraordinary formations is quite apparent in Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik, as well as, in the ceiling of the Icelandic National Theatre. Svartifoss is also where the world-renowned sculptor Richard Serra drew his inspiration from for his sculpture Milestones, located in the Viðey Island, offshore from Reykjavik.

The base of the ravine is quite remarkable. Apart from the small lake created by Svartifoss, it is strewn with sharp rocks that have broken away from the hexagonal columns, as new column sections break faster than the water wears down the edges.

The hike from the Visitor's Centre, or the Skaftafell camping site, only takes 30 minutes. But once by the fall, visitors tend to linger for quite some time, simply to admire nature's unique sense of beauty and harmony.

Below is the location of Svarifoss on the map of Iceland

Svartifoss (The Black Falls) in the Skaftafell National Park, is surrounded by black, hexagonal basalt columns

 

In South East Iceland, right by the Ring Road, you will find the unique Skaftafell National Park. The park and the surrounding area is nothing less than a natural wonder.  Skaftafell is a stunning place created throughout history by ferocious natural forces. If there is any one place in Iceland where you can see what is an island made of ice and fire means, it is the Skaftafell National Park.  Today Skaftafell is part of the Vatnajökull National Park.  For anyone traveling the Ring Road, it is a serious consideration to staying in Skaftafell for two to three days and taka advantage of the many spectacular hiking trails available.  It is also a paradise for families traveling with energetic kids on a family vacation. 

Skaftafell is an oasis of warmth beneath the glacier

The Skaftafell park covers the glacier Skaftafellsjökull (an outlet glacier of the Vatnajökull ice cap), the mountain range Kristínartindar and the Morsárdalur valley. The Skaftafell geologic history is marked by eruptions and volcanic activity under the ice cap and glacial floods bringing forth silt and sand to the mighty and dangerous Skeiðarársandur south of the National Park. It is also marked by the calm climate conditions as the great ice cap protects the area against the harsh northern winds. Strangely enough,  although surrounded by the glacier and ice, Skaftafaell has a rather pleasant weather and more sunny days than elsewhere in South Iceland.

Skaftafell hiking trails and reasons to stop

In Skaftafell some great hiking trails are leading from the Visitor's Centre. The most popular trail, a short hike, leads up the hills above to the Svartifoss waterfall.  For those more energetic a few hours more and take the path to Kristínartindar peaks, a fabulous way to get a breathtaking view of Skaftafell and surrounding area. Another exciting trail is the Skaftafellsjökull hike where you have a great view of the glacier tongue.  For those who want to take a day tour a hike to Bæjarstaðarskógur is highly recommended.  So there is no lack of activity and interesting things to do during summer in Skaftafell. It is a place for energetic and healthy outdoor families with intelligent members that like to prepare their vacations and study the places they visit.

The camping ground and visitors center

Skaftafell Visitor Center offers a lot of information about the area, hiking trails, and activities.  The campground is one of the best in Iceland although the soil is quite hard and sometimes difficult for the tent pegs. The time to visit Skaftafell is from the middle of May until the middle of August.  During summer the campground is always packed and a bit like a base camp for activity, a very exciting and excellent place to be during summer. It is also the headquarters for companies that organize exciting hiking tours with guides, like hiking up to the highest mountain in Iceland, Hvannadalshnjúkur. For those who like to stay at one place, Skaftafell is also a neighbor to other interesting natural wonder only a hours drive or less away.  Natural wonders like Jökulsárlón, Fjallsárlón to the east and Fjaðrárgljúfur and Dverghamrar to the West. 

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Below is the location of Skaftafell on the map of Iceland

In South Iceland, you will find the unique Skaftafell National Park

 

There are an almost endless number of waterfalls in Iceland. High and low, broad and narrow, this island has all the varieties. But, they all share a common feature; they are gorgeous in their own way. Particularly for people who have never seen waterfalls or are not used to passing by one when taking a Sunday drive out of their city or town. Of course, some are thunderous and menacing while others are melodic and inviting. One of the most visited waterfalls, though, is Seljalandsfoss.

Having fun in front of Seljalandsfoss waterfall

 

The waterfall is conveniently located near the Ring Road (1) and easily accessible by the road (249) leading to Þórsmörk in the lower parts of the Icelandic Highlands. It is in the river Seljalandsá and is own of the highest waterfalls in Iceland and drops 60 m from cliffs that were the coastline in long gone millenniums.  The river has its origins in the mighty and powerful volcano glacier Eyjafjallajokull.

 

Seljalandsfoss in the Southern Region in Iceland located by the Ring Road

Seljalandsfoss waterfall is one of the most spectacular natural wonders in Iceland

Seljalandsfoss is one of the most visited places in Iceland

Seljalandsfoss is a picturesque and majestic waterfall. It is also unique and probably on the list of 10 most photographed natural wonders in Iceland. Not only is the waterfall captivating but you can also walk behind it on a walking trail.  It is also quite popular to take photos from behind the water, which makes it unique.   It is extraordinary experience being able to observe the surroundings from nature's backstage. Though the trails are wet and a bit slippery venturing behind Seljalandsfoss is by no means dangerous. You just have to be careful with your step and hiking shoes are preferred. During winter the whole surrounding and the trail behind the waterfall is very slippery and requires traction cleats.  Once there you will get a bit wet (not soaked) from the drizzle and ever so light breeze from the falls. But, never mind, you will dry very quickly.

What happens behind Seljalandsfoss waterfall

Seljalandsfoss is a great place for photographers 

Seljalandsfoss is great for photography, especially at night with the Midnight Sun shining from the West.  It is also beautiful from any angle outside or behind.

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Below is the location of Seljalandsfoss waterfall on the map of Iceland

It is quite popular to take photos behind the waterfall Seljalandsfoss

 

The Atlantic Ocean is quite the sculptor, much apparent in various locations around Iceland. Reynisdrangar, just south of the dramatic black beaches of Vík village are three spiky basalt sea stacks rising from the ocean 66 m into the air.  Legend has it that the three stacks were formerly two trolls dragging a three-mast ship towards land throughout a night. Alas, it was a slow maneuver and the night wasn't long at that time of year. At the break of dawn up rose the Sun and cast its rays on the trolls, instantly turning them into stone. The stack next to land, Landdrangur, is the fogy, Langsamur the ship is in the middle with the old hag, Háidrangur, at the rear end.

Photogenic stone trolls

This disaster was, by no means the end of the trolls. Even today you can hear their wails and laments when you drive from Vík village to observe them up close. They never have and never will accept their destiny. So close to their warm and cozy home in Mount Katla, the most ferocious volcano in Iceland and all their labor lost.  But fortunately for us, the two trolls and their looted ship are incredibly photogenic and always worth visiting. 

Be on alert and aware of the DANGEROUS waves on the beach

Although both folklore story and landscape are fascinating for the camera and anyone's imagination, you must remember if you visit Reynisdrangar, either from the east side from Vík or from Reynisfjara on the west side, that the ocean and the waves are often extremely DANGEROUS. Much more dangerous than trolls.  Especially when the tide is high and winds are strong. The waves might look innocent and calm as they softly crawl in and cover the beach, but they are often quite strong and demanding on the way out; almost unpredictable. Everyone visiting should read the signs and understand that the waves are not only dangerous in high tide and strong winds.  Everyone visiting Reynisfjara should BE CAREFUL.

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Below is the location of Reynisdrangar on the map of Iceland

Reynisdrangar, just south of the dramatic black beaches of Vík village

 

Laugarvatn means a "lake for bathing." The lake itself in southwest Iceland is only two square km in size and quite shallow. But, the lake bottom is riddled with hot springs making it suitable for bathing throughout the year. Curiously enough these qualities didn't attract people to settle in the area. For centuries, only farmland and moors surrounded the lake, until 1928 when a boarding school was built at Laugarvatn. Soon a small village developed. Realizing the lake's potential the newcomers built a small sauna-hut on the lakeshore. It became increasingly popular amongst the Icelanders and Laugarvatn developed into the number one summer holiday destination on the island. So much so, that a permanent caravan site developed on the outskirts of the village.

Further schools were built in Laugarvatn: A college of further education and a school for homemakers. The latter was shut down late last century and its buildings sold to the University of Iceland. It now houses the Sport and Health Science faculty.

Laugarvatn is a great place to take a break and relax when traveling around Iceland. It has an excellent swimming pool with a very good sauna. You will find hotels and guesthouses, restaurants and a grocery shop, cafés, and handicraft shops, as well as a great camping site.

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Below is the location of Laugarvatn on the map of Iceland

Laugarvatn means a "lake for bathing."

Gullfoss (The Golden Waterfall) in the river Hvítá is probably one of the best-known landmarks in Iceland. The Icelanders, being keen travelers themselves, will insist it is the most beautiful waterfall in the world. That is, of course, debatable but, beautiful it is and has made it to many lists of the most beautiful waterfalls on the planet. Hvítá river is a glacial river. Its source is in Hvítárvatn by the Langjökull glacier in the Icelandic Highland. The river rushes 40 km from the Highlands before cascading into a two-step gorge at the Gullfoss waterfall; with one step being 11 m high and the other step 22 m high.

Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland

Gullfoss waterfall is often on the list of 10 most interesting waterfalls on the planet

Like many places in Iceland Gullfoss has its folklore

Upriver from Gullfoss, you'll find beautiful and dangerous rapids that only the foolhardy will try to cross. And some have. One of them was a young man who was overseeing his father's livestock on the river's west bank. On the opposite site, a young woman had the same duty to her family. By and by they started communicating by shouting to each other over the water's cacophony. As fate would have it, they fell in love, and the young man shouted a proposal across the river. The young woman accepted on one condition: that he crosses the river to seal their engagement. That he did, and they lived happily ever after.

Gullfoss waterfall

The lower part and the canyon grabbing the Hvítá river as it travels farther to the shoreline

The farmer's daughter that saved the waterfall

In the 20th century, a farmer who held the Hvítá water rights contracted Gullfoss to an English firm with a plan to build a hydroelectric power station. The farmer's daughter became so incensed that she threatened to throw herself into the falls if her father didn't withdraw the contract. She fought this impending disaster alone until a young lawyer – who later became Iceland's first president – joined her. Together they managed to save the waterfalls. In 1978, the farmer's daughter was commemorated by a monument by her much beloved Gulfoss.

Access is easy and part of the popular route Golden Circle

As Gullfoss is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Iceland and with Þingvellir and Geysir is part of the popular route Golden Circle. Gullfoss is usually quite crowded during high season in summer, at least during the day. There are two parking lots, and both give a good view of the waterfall.  Our preference for viewing is the lower parking lot. A great place to get good photos and probably the best angle for photography. Walking near this powerful waterfall requires caution, especially during winter when the walking paths are slippery as well as the area near the waterfall. From Reykjavík, you drive to Mosfellsbær village on the Ring Road Nr. 1. When passed Mosfellsbær you turn east on Þingvallavegur Nr. 36 all the way to Lyngdalsheiðavegur Nr. 365 to the tiny village Laugarvatn. From Laugarvatn you take the road Nr. 37, Laugarvatnsvegur to Road Nr. 35 that will get you to Gullfoss waterfall.

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Below is the location of Gullfoss waterfall on the map of Iceland

Gullfoss (The Golden Waterfall) in the river Hvítá is the best-known landmark in Iceland.

 

At the edge of the Icelandic Highlands at the uppermost part of Þjórsárdalur valley, you will find one of the most beautiful small oasis in Iceland. There are actually many places you label as an oasis in Iceland and Gjáin is most definitely on of the most beautiful. One of the fascinating factors is the size.  Gjáin is a tiny valley with small picturesque waterfalls, clear, tranquil ponds and amazing delicate volcanic structures it is like a sample of the Icelandic nature. For visitors, it is almost surprising as it appears like from nowhere and only visible as you approach the edge of the tiny valley.  Even the lava in this area takes on beautiful form in Gjáin. You will find lava caves and a lot of basalt column as well as volcanic tuft.

A place to visit in summer

It is a beautiful place to visit but only from the beginning of June until the beginning of October.  Outside that time of year, it is either not accessible and filled with snow or simply not interesting due to dull colors and early spring water.  In summer, on the other hand, the small valley is covered with lush green grass and vegetation.  It is believed to have been the riverbed of the river Þjórsá in earlier days. Nowadays, it is Rauðá (the Red River) running through the valley, beautifully framed by stunning rock formations, displaying its beautiful waterfall, Gjárfoss.

In popular culture

In season 4 episode 5 in the Game of Thrones Arya Stark and her traveling "companion" Sandor Clegane (The Hound) come to a resting place and continue their ongoing dispute. Their resting place was filmed here in Gjáin in Iceland.

Gjain location

Gjáin's location is a mere 10-15 minutes hike from the Saga Age Farm at Stöng. It is a great addition when traveling the south countryside and visiting the waterfalls Háifoss and Hjálparfoss.  It is such beautiful, dream-like valley you'll expect to see elves and fairies playing along with the riverbanks. You might, as these tiny figures are known to reveal themselves to humans now and then. Whether you'll be able to spot them or not, you will most certainly feel the waterfall spirit as it is very powerful.

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Below is the location of Gjáin on the map of Iceland

Gjain is a beautiful place to visit but only from the beginning of June until the beginning of October

 

Fjaðrárgljúfur int the south region in Iceland is a 100 m deep and 2 km long spectacular canyon close to Kirkjubæjarklaustur. With steep palagonite walls, the river Fjaðrá snakes its way along the canyon from Geirlandshraun Mountain to the large Skaftá River.  The bedrock is mostly palagonite from the "cold" period of the Ice Age some two million years ago. Ever since the river has pottered about carving this beautiful canyon for everyone to admire.  The water level of the river is rather a low in current times and fed by a spring fed river.

A wonder world from above as well as from the river banks

Due to the water level, hikers can safely walk inside the canyon although having to do some wading now and then. It is a highly adventures hike, and the deeper into the canyon you walk, the more exotic it becomes. The deepest part of the canyon is truly a wonder world of water, cliffs, vegetation and adventures forms.  Most visitors prefer to walk along the hiking trail along the edge of the canyon to get the best of both worlds; being able to observe the fantastic rock formations in the canyon itself while enjoying the view mountain view from the top.  To spend a bit of time and do both is the best option and the most rewarding.

A natural wonder discovered by tourists

Although Fjaðrárgljúfur is only a short distance from the Ring Road Nr 1 in Iceland, it has never been particularly popular among Icelanders.  Most of the Icelanders traveling the Ring Road before the tourist explosion began skipped this magnificent natural wonder when driving the Ring Road.  It is one of the places tourists and visitors discovered and showed much more interest in than Icelanders ever did. When traveling the ring road in a rent a car or your vehicle you take a turn on the Ring Road Nr. 1 near Kirkjubæjarklaustur north to Road Nr. 206 and you only need to drive approximately 3 kilometers to reach the parking lot at Fjaðrárgljúfur.

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Below is the location of Fjaðrárgljúfur on the map of Iceland

Fjaðrárgljúfur, a 100 m deep and 2 km long canyon close to Kirkjubæjarklaustur.

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