The infinite wonders of south Iceland can't be reduced to any single frame, but all visitors remember the experience of driving along the Ring Road (Rte. 1). To the south is the country's most inhospitable coastline, which -- east of Vík -- expands into vast deserts of black sand. To the north are Iceland's tallest mountains. Enormous glacial tongues droop down the mountainsides, suggesting an unimaginable mass of ice beyond the line of vision. The farms seem harmoniously poised between these poles, and most have their own waterfall. From the main road you can alight upon the country's best folk museum at Skógar; the beautiful black sand beaches around Vík; or Jökulsárlón, an otherworldly lake full of floating icebergs. The south is an ideal road trip: not just a succession of spectacular sights, but an unforgettable progression from one to the next.
In Njáls Saga country around Hella and Hvolsvöllur, every rock, knoll, and crag seems to have a story. The 4-day trek connecting Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk -- each an unbeatable hiking area in its own right -- is the most celebrated trail in Iceland. Active tour opportunities abound, from horseback riding to dog sledding. On the enchanting Westman Islands, you can explore dramatic bird cliffs by boat, or by sidling close to puffins on the ledges. No wonder the south is the most trafficked region for tourism outside the Reykjavík orbit.
The south was the last stretch of coastline to be fully claimed by settlers. Most early Norse arrivals took stock of the sand deserts, glaciers, and heavy surf, then moved on to better harbors and more forgiving habitats. Even today, the largest town in southern Iceland is Heimaey, on the Westman Islands, with a population of 4,416; no town on the mainland has even 1,000 residents.