Many of Iceland’s most visited attractions lie on what is known as the Golden Circle and on the South Coast. Any number or tour companies take tourists by the busload out to attractions like the popular Seljalandsfoss that you can walk behind, the mysterious Skógafoss said to be hiding a treasure chest of gold, and Jökulsárlón where you can get up-close with icebergs. But bus tours miss the best parts – the secret Iceland South Coast attractions – like that waterfall tucked just behind a canyon or that swimming pool where only the locals go.
Renting a car is more than just freedom; it’s like going on an expedition of discovery. Heard about that hike with amazing views at breakfast? A rental let’s you hop in the car and go. Want to see where this road leads to? You can. And until the bus tours start stopping at these secret Iceland South Coast attractions, a rental is your only chance to discover them.
Gljúfrabúi Waterfall is easily the secret Iceland South Coast attraction most likely to be missed. That’s because only a couple hundred meters away its more popular neighbor, Seljalandsfoss, is tumbling over the cliff and alluring visitors to go behind it. But follow the path a short ten minute walk behind the campsite just down the road, and you’ll find this beauty hidden in the Trollagil (Troll Gorge) Canyon.
Gljúfrabúi makes you work to get to it by climbing up the steep, and often muddy, cliff face. But the short hike, which involves pulling yourself up the most dangerous parts with chains anchored into the rocks, is worth it for an up-close look at the waterfall.
It’s less voluminous than its more popular neighbor Seljalandsfoss and is spring fed. From the road, only the very top is visible because of a boulder that blocks it. The boulder, named Franskanef, is said to be the residence of hidden people (or elves).
Turnoff Road 1 for Seljalandsfoss. Either walk from Seljalandsfoss or drive past the parking lot for Seljalandsfoss and continue down the road to the camp ground about 1 kilometer away.
Keldur is said to be the oldest surviving turf house in Iceland as it was mentioned in the Sagas in the Middle Ages. Though improvements have been made as it was lived in up until 1946, when the house was then given to the National Museum of Iceland. The family still owns and operates the farm that the turf houses are on, but each summer visitors can take a look at what life was like in these houses.
According to the Saga Njálusaga, Ingjaldur Höskuldsson lived here from 974 and in the 12th – 13th centuries, the powerful Oddi clan took up residence, and their chieftain, Jón Loftsson, lived at Keldur until the end of his life. Skúli Guðmundsson was the last resident, who lived in the house from 1862 – 1946. Skúli’s grandson and his wife now live on the farm and proudly show me around, kindly opening for a special visit.
The house is just one of a group of buildings. There is also a storehouse, a smithy, a millhouse, a cattle shed, a stable, a sheep corral, and an escape tunnel. We have a look around the house and though many items have been removed to be on display in the National Museum, there are still pots and pans in the kitchen, beds, a crib, and some of the other furniture in the house. It’s much larger than it would appear from outside and quite interesting. Definitely worth a visit.
Keldur is open June 15 – August 15. Turn on Road 264 from Road 1; the turnoff is almost directly across the road from Hotel Ranga.
Nestled in a narrow valley beneath Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano that famously shut down air traffic for 10 days in 2010, Seljavallalaug is Iceland’s oldest swimming pool. Now abandoned, it was built in 1923 and was considered an engineering marvel at its time. Its designers were clever and utilized the natural rock of the mountain as one of the four walls of the pool and the geothermal water from the area trickles down the rock and right in to the pool, keeping it a warm 38°C.
Seljavallalaug fell into disuse when a swimming pool was built 2 kilometers closer to the small community in 1990. Volunteers generously keep it clean and it is perfectly suitable for swimming. There are even the changing rooms still standing from when the pool was thriving, though don’t expect much from them.
The pool is no roadside attraction. A small gravel road takes you several kilometers into the back of a valley and you’ll pass another abandoned swimming pool on the drive. Don’t let that swimming pool fool you! Drive until the road ends and this is where you’ll begin a 20-minute hike to the pool. You have to cross a river several times and if it feels like you can’t possibly be going the right way, just trust that you are. The pool is tucked into a hidden corner of the valley and you won’t see it until you are about 50 meters away.
To find Seljavallalaug, turn on Road 242 (marked Raufarfell) from Road 1 just past the small Þorvaldseyri exhibition.
On November 24, 1973 a US Navy DC3 crash landed on the black sand beach Sólheimasandur on the South Coast of Iceland when the plane ran out of fuel…or so the pilot though. Everyone survived the crash and it turned out that the pilot simply needed to flip a switch to the other fuel tank. For whatever reason, the plane was abandoned – left to forever rot on the black sand dunes.
The Navy officers must have thought they landed on the moon on that November day. The black sand dunes are surreal and the landscape is completely desolate. It’s no wonder this site is a favorite of photographers and many filmmakers and advertisers have shot here.
If you have a 4×4, you can actually drive right out to the plane crash. Note that you are just driving on black sand and that there is not a “road”, so just try to drive straight out toward the ocean. It’s about 4 kilometers from the turn off and because the crash is below a sand dune, it suddenly appears like a mirage when you are about 100 meters away.
If you don’t have a 4×4, you can hike from Road 1 and it should take around an hour each way. Again, just try to walk straight out toward the ocean. Keep in mind that no matter whether hiking or driving, the winds are often much stronger at the shore and the area is prone to sand storms, so just use caution when visiting the plane crash site.
To find the plane crash, look for a small gravel parking area and opening in the fence about 2 kilometers from the Sólheimajökull turnoff (Road 221). If you pass the turnoff for Mýrdalsjökull (Road 222), you’ve gone too far. The plane crash is on the beach side (on the right if headed in the direction from Reykjavik to Vik) and you cannot see the crash from the road. The GPS coordinates are N 63 27.572, W 019 21.969
Our trip to Iceland was sponsored in part by Go Iceland, who provided us with a 4×4 Dacia Duster in order to bring you this story. All opinions about places visited are entirely our own.