Thrilling Iceland: black sands, gushing waterfalls and glaciers

Iceland's Reynisfjara black sand beach has stunning basalt columns that folklore says are trolls who tried to pull ships from the oceans.  

From glaciers to hot springs, Iceland’s dramatic southern coastline will transport you through ancient landscapes carved by ice and fire.

By Matt Cheok

Imagine the roar of cascading waterfalls, the crunch of black volcanic sand beneath your feet, and the gleam of iceberg fragments that wash ashore. 

With so much grandeur around you, Iceland can sometimes feel like you’re stepping into a Walter Mitty adventure.

For the best Icelandic experience, you’ll want to rent a car, van, or motorhome. 

The country’s road infrastructure is fantastic, with plenty of fuel stations, rest stops, and well-maintained highways that’ll make the journey particularly enjoyable. 

Just be prepared for the elements – waterfall spray and strong winds make your hired car a comfortable haven in Iceland's unpredictable weather.

Highway 1 - also called the Ring Road - circles the country and takes in some of the best sights, like this waterfall.

Start your Icelandic adventure in the capital Reykjavik

Your Icelandic adventure likely begins in the vibrant capital, Reykjavik. Here, you’ll want to explore the city’s lively Pósthús Food Hall, cosy cafes, and the shops lining Laugavegur – perfect for any last-minute needs, especially waterproof gear! 

Definitely visit the majestic Hallgrimskirkja church, and then get ready to discover Iceland's true magic on the open road.

This evangelical Lutheran Church Hallgrímskirkja is the largest church in Iceland with a 73m tower that takes in panoramic views of the city, mountains and ocean.  

The South Coast (Highway 1) is the perfect introduction to Iceland's iconic landscapes for first-time visitors.  

Along the drive, you’ll encounter a breathtaking panorama of towering cliffs, vast lava fields stretching to the horizon, and the wild sea crashing relentlessly to your right – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Driving through the vast Eldhraun lava field on Highway 1

Chasing waterfalls and being soaked in the best way possible

Iceland, a country sculpted by icy glaciers and fiery volcanoes, teems with breathtaking waterfalls. 

One of the most spectacular is Gullfoss, just a 2 hour drive from Reykjavik. Its unique double cascades create a powerful roar that greets you from the moment you arrive. 

Several fantastic and easy-to-access platforms offer stunning views, but for the full experience, it’s well worth taking the short walk up to the two falls. Be sure to wear all your waterproof gear on this mission! 

The mighty Gullfoss waterfall’s name means ‘golden waterfall’.

As far as chasing waterfalls goes, you must have an unforgettable encounter with Skógafoss, venturing behind its cascading veil, where water hauls some 60m from above. 

Hitting the road in a hire car is one of the best way to take in all of Iceland’s sights, like Cape Vik.

While Iceland’s weather can be cold and unpredictable, its geothermal pools offer a warm and welcoming escape that’ll make you glad you packed a swimsuit. 

While many bathe in the waters of the popular Blue Lagoon, for a less crowded experience, we recommend visiting Hrunalaug Hot Springs near Flúðir. 

Its three-pool system promises a peaceful unwind, complete with panoramic countryside views.

Feast your eyes on a frozen masterpiece

The imposing Svínafellsjökull Glacier dominates the landscape along Highway 1 with its dramatic ridges. 

Black ash shrouds its surface as a reminder of past eruptions that seemingly stretch forever. 

It’s possible to hike the glacier (by guided tour), or simply soak it all in from a distance. Game of Thrones fans might recognise this icy landscape as Season 2's 'Beyond the Wall' location.

Recognise this glacier? It’s where Game of Thrones scenes beyond the wall were filmed.

Admire canyons and ravines

Carved by glaciers, the Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon plunges a breathtaking 100 m below. 

A well-maintained path with scenic viewpoints alongside the canyon rim offers stunning top-down views of the Fjaðrá River, which winds about 2 km through. 

Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon hosts a beautiful river, which is too cold and forceful to swim in.

Discover a beach with icebergs

On the black sand of Diamond Beach, scattered iceberg fragments rest on the shore and glimmer in the sunlight. 

These icy jewels, sculpted by the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, form a wonderful natural art installation and highlight one’s south coast trip. 

This location often marks where road-trippers turn back toward the capital.

Diamond Beach plays host to iceberg fragments that shimmer against the black volcanic sands.

Citro travel tips for Iceland

  • Accommodation: Along Highway 1 and in the region generally, there are plenty of guesthouses and hotels offering comfortable stays, but, as always, you’ll want to book in advance. Alternatively, Iceland offers many powered and unpowered campsites for self-contained vehicles, campers, and motorhomes. Our favourite campsite is Þakgil, located inland near Vik. The scenic drive alone is worth the trip, and once you arrive, you'll have access to wonderful hiking trails, a unique cave cooking experience, cabins for rent, or the option to camp or sleep in your vehicle. Remember! Wild camping isn't permitted, so always use designated sites.
Views from Þakgil, and its famous candlelit cave where you can cook and eat in nature’s wonder.
  • Clothing: Pack layers and waterproof gear (rain jackets, pants, etc.). Dry your clothes in your car seat warmers between destinations. 
  • Footwear: Bring sturdy, waterproof (or water-repellent) hiking shoes for diverse terrain and wet weather conditions. 
  • Navigation: Phone signal is reliable along the coast. For inland adventures or areas with patchy reception, download for offline directions.
  • Shopping/Payment: Credit/debit cards are accepted almost everywhere, but it’s recommended that you have some Icelandic króna for campsites or inland stops.
  • Transport: In Reykjavik, public transport via the bus system (Stræto) is straightforward. We recommend hiring a car or travelling on a tour to explore Iceland and reach its attractions for the greatest flexibility. 
The Great Geysir hot spring

Iceland shines at all times of the year. During summer (June – August) you can get to experience the midnight sun, warmer weather conditions, access to all attractions, and peak wildlife spotting.

A winter trip (November – March) gives you views of incredible icy landscapes, a chance to witness the Northern Lights, and enjoy smaller crowds.

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