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The Land of Extremes: Experience Fire and Ice in South Iceland 

South Iceland is a land of fire and ice. The area gives visitors plenty of places to explore, as well as unique foods to try. Walk a beach with shimmering chunks of “diamond” ice recently calved off a nearby glacier,see larger icebergs from a boat ride in the glacier lagoon, hike to waterfalls, see volcanic activity in action, eat bread baked in natural hydrothermal features, and even see real red-hot lava up-close. Here are a few experiences to put on your South Iceland itinerary.

Þingvellir National Park

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Þingvellir National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its history and role in one of the world’s oldest parliamentary institutions, which dates back to AD930. It is also a place where you can see a submerged rift, with opportunities to peer down from above or go diving deep within. Diving requires a dry suit, meeting certain requirements, and obtaining permits from the park, and many book ahead with a guide service to enjoy exploring underwater. Also be sure to check out the visitor center’s interactive exhibits and go for a hike to explore.

Waterfalls

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In the land of fire and ice, it’s not surprising that spectacular waterfalls are so plentiful, and a drive around South Iceland will provide a bounty of roadside waterfalls. While some are visible from the road itself, others require hikes of varying lengths to see the waterfalls or to get the best view. Plan some time for waterfall spotting on your trip to Iceland, and be sure to soak up a few of these incredible sights. “Foss” is the word for waterfall in the Icelandic language, so keep your eyes out for the term along the way.

Seljalandsfoss is an impressive nearly 200-foot-tall waterfall that actually has a path for visitors to walk behind it for a truly unique vantage point. Be very careful because the path and area around the waterfall can get quite slippery from the mist—and ice in the winter, which can sometimes fall. Be sure to respect all closures and use caution. Skógafoss is another gorgeous nearly 200-foot-tall waterfall with amazing hiking in the area. This is a prime spot for rainbow spotting if conditions are right. In Vatnajökull National Park, Svartifoss is an 80-foot-tall waterfall that is surrounded by towering columns of black basalt. Hike about 45 minutes each way from the Skaftafell Visitors Centre to reach this scenic spot.

Reynisfjara (Black Sand Beach)

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Visit Iceland’s famous Reynisfjara “Black Sand Beach” to enjoy the gorgeous black volcanic ash that gives the beach its distinctive name. While the beach is gorgeous, it can be extremely hazardous and even deadly, so be sure to stay far from the water, watch for sneaker waves, and follow Visit Iceland’s recommendations for a safe visit.

Icelandic Lava Show

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See real lava and feel its heat during this unique and memorable Icelandic Lava Show. The lava reaches up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and you will feel the heat and hear it sizzle during this fascinating presentation. Learn about the area’s volcanic history and how residents adapt to living in a land of volcanoes. You can also sign up for a backstage experience to learn even more and see how they keep the lava hot and ready for the demonstrations. Icelandic Lava Shows are offered both in Vik (the original location) and the capital of Reykjavik.

Glacier Lagoon and Diamond Beach

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Jökulsárlón is Iceland’s famous glacier lagoon, with massive hunks of ice that have calved off a nearby glacier, Breiðamerkurjökull, which is part of the Vatnajökull glacier. The Vatnajökull is the largest glacier in Iceland, and it is located in Vatnajökull National Park. Hop on a tour boat and cruise around among the calved glacier chunks for unique and ever-changing views of this incredible place. Then be sure to head over to “Diamond Beach,” where the ice chunks float by on their way to the ocean. The beach is dotted with glistening pieces of ice of all sizes and shapes, creating a wonderland of light and patterns with the ocean in the background. Be sure to bring your camera and plan some time for photos.

Geothermal Features and Food

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Image by Artur Debat

 Iceland is very active geothermally, and you can find evidence of this all around South Iceland. Check out the town of Hveragerði where you can explore the geothermal area and enjoy bread and eggs cooked using geothermal features.

The Laugarvatn Fontana and Geothermal Bakery is a place where you can soak in a number of different geothermal baths of varying temperatures. After you soak in the pools and steam rooms, you can also enjoy a slice of delicious rye bread cooked on-site in the geothermal bakery. Join the tour to learn about how the bread is made and walk to the site where it comes out of the earth after baking for around 24 hours.

The Friðheimar Greenhouse uses geothermal power for an enormous enterprise focusing on tomatoes. Take a tour of the towering and impressive plants while inhaling their distinctive aroma, see the bees that keep all the plants happy, then sit down to enjoy a delicious meal of tomato-based cuisine, surrounded by towering tomato plants with fruits in all different stages of ripeness. Enjoy signature tomato soup, heirloom tomatoes and burrata, Icelandic mussels with tomato seafood sauce, ravioli with pasta sauce and pesto, and many other delicious choices. Fresh basil plants are even provided at the table along with scissors to trim for the freshest basil around. Don’t forget to try the tomato ice cream and tomato beer.

Ölverk Brewery is also powered by geothermal energy, and it produces delicious beer and pizza. The establishment also creates an array of hot sauces that are made with Icelandic chili peppers grown in geothermal greenhouses.

Ingólfsskáli Viking Restaurant

 After working up an appetite exploring, stop for a meal at Ingólfsskáli Viking Restaurant. Try distinctively Icelandic starters like Brennivin schnapps and fermented shark. Also try a Viking Tasting Plate with salmon, herring, lamb, and cured horse, or opt for one of the many other options available like pan-fried char or a vegetable-focused dish.

Buggy Tour

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Image by South Adventure

 To see the wonders of South Iceland from a different vantage point, sign up for a buggy tour to splash across rivers and cross a variety of terrain for incredible views. The 2.5-hour buggy ride is a popular option, though many other tours—including private ones—are also available. Learn the safety procedures, bundle up in a waterproof suit and helmet, and start driving around, checking out gravel roads, waterfalls, and incredible views.

Mega Zipline

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Image by MegaZipline Iceland

For a high-flying adventure, sign up for a ride on Iceland’s Megazipline. The ride covers a kilometer—making it the longest zipline in Iceland—and includes views of Hveragerði and the Reykjadalur hot spring valley, including gorgeous views of the Svartagljúfur gorge, countless waterfalls, and more.

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