Iceland is often described as an off-the-beaten-track destination. But where do you go when you want to escape other tourists in Iceland? Here are some of Iceland’s gems that are slightly off the beaten track.
There are a number of gorgeous destinations in Iceland that are still relatively hidden and off the beaten track. We’ve managed to narrow this down to a list of our top 20 hidden hand-picked Icelandic jewels.
In order to reach most of them, you’ll need to drive. Exploring Iceland on your own terms always makes for the greatest adventures. Make sure you take advantage of a cheap car rental and take to the road.
Some of the attractions on our list take the term ‘Iceland off the beaten path’ to a new meaning, whereas some others are much more regularly visited and easily accessible.
Taking in a combination of Iceland’s regular hot spots as well as some of the best-kept secrets is the perfect way to plan your trip.
In the west part of Reykjavík (in Seltjarnarnes) is an area named Grótta.
Grótta is in fact a nature reserve due to its rich birdlife. This is the best spot in town to watch the sunset, as it shimmers over Faxaflói bay.
There is even a small, man-made hot pool in amongst the rocks that you can dip your feet in called Kvika Foot Bath. It can often be a little tricky to find but a top tip is to remember it’s near one of the little huts you’ll pass by as you drive out onto the peninsula.
Additionally, there's a picturesque lighthouse that is accessible only when the tide is low.
During low tide you’ll have 6 hours to go back and forth, otherwise, you’ll get stuck by the lighthouse.
From May 1st to June 30th there is no access to the lighthouse, as it is nesting season. However, if the weather is good, the beach right by Grotta, that stretches up to near the Golf Course on the other side of the peninsula, can be a great spot to watch the sunset or have a picnic.
Photo by Michael James
Perhaps not as remote as it used to be, but still considered a hidden gem, is Seljavallalaug pool in the south of Iceland.
Driving the South coast is popular amongst tourists but no bus tours take you to this place at the moment. This does help to make the experience of a walk into the mountains with a well earned dip between a mountain, glacier and a volcano that much more enjoyable.
Among the pools in Iceland, that's still around, the Seljavallalaug pool is the oldest and still in pretty good shape. It even has a changing room, though there are no showers.
There's no charge so just bring your swimsuit and enjoy the quietness of nature. We don't want to spoil his hidden beauty so be sure to bring your respect and care as well.
The pool is situated between the famous waterfalls Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss. You’ll need to drive off the beaten path and then walk around 15 minutes to reach this treasure, however - the experience is well worth the detour.
When driving from Reykjavík, take a left towards Seljavellir just before you reach Skógafoss. You’ll drive past a selection of cabins on your left before joining a gravel road with plenty of potholes - added fun!
Friðheimar is an organic tomato farm in Reykholt in the south of Iceland, a perfect stop if you are driving the Golden Circle yourself.
This is a family run tomato and cucumber farm and restaurant. In order to use up all of their produce they use their scratched tomatoes (that aren’t suitable for supermarkets – but still have all the same flavour!) to make tomato soup for lunch.
The soup is spectacular and you get to enjoy this experience right in the greenhouse itself. This helps to keep you very warm on those cold winter days and gives a great atmosphere nestled in amongst the tomatoes on the vine.
These guys are all about the tomato. You can get schnapps served in a tomato, tomato ice-cream (it sounds weird but it's delicious!), tomato chutney and of course a Bloody or a Virgin Mary.
There is also homemade bread (try the cinnamon flavoured one) and cucumber salsa that accompanies the soup.
Soup and bread (with free refills), accompanied with fresh basil, cucumber salsa, sour cream and butter only costs 1900 ISK, a great price for what you get!
The whole atmosphere is very friendly, light, airy and warm (the tomatoes must be in a warm climate and get a lot of light all year round). You can even get a tour of the tomato farm before your lunch.
You can drop in at opening hours (every day from 12-16) but sometimes they get really big groups, so it's better to call ahead and check what time is most suitable.
Photo by Jórunn Sjöfn
Right next to Seljalandsfoss waterfall in the south of Iceland is another waterfall that many people miss out on. It’s only a 5-minute walk away from Seljalandsfoss, next to a farm.
In order to see the waterfall you need to walk between a couple of rocks, that form a little cave entrance, and then you’ll be able to stand right underneath the waterfall (bring a raincoat, you will get wet!).
Just be aware of the time when you take the detour. Also, make sure you have some sturdy shoes for this jaunt as it will involve a bit of stone hoping on a fast-flowing stream.
Photo by Nanna
This gorgeous but simple, rustic restaurant in Ísafjörður in the Westfjords is only open during summer and Easter - so you have limited time to go and sample some of Iceland’s best seafood cuisine.
Inside are wooden benches and you'll get to know who's sitting next to you. You can have an a la carte lunch for as little as 1800 ISK for the soup, 2500 ISK for the fish of the day or 3000 ISK for both.
In the evenings there is a dinner buffet with a set price of 5500 ISK, but kids under the age of 14 dine for free.
Photo by Nanna
There is always very fresh fish, caught the same day just a few hundred meters away. If you’re lucky enough to plan an adventure to the Westfjords, this is definitely a stop you don’t want to miss.
To reach it, drive road 711 from the ring road. (Turn left if you’re coming from Reykjavík, turn right if you’re coming from Akureyri). There aren’t any tours going there, so you’ll have to rent a car.
For those coming in the winter months, Hvitserkur can make the perfect foreground for some shots of the Northern Lights, if you’re lucky enough to get a great show!
Photo by Agneiszka M
Not far from the ring road is Fjaðrárgljúfur. Some tourists refer to it as Sweet Ass Mossy Canyon which is a pretty accurate description.
However, it’s now more known for its appearance in the hit HBO show, Game of Thrones. We can’t guarantee dragons if you stop by for a visit though.
The direct translation is ‘Feather River Canyon’ and is one of Iceland’s most picturesque canyons. Take your time to hike up it and enjoy the stunning scenery, but make sure you stick to the path.
It's equally stunning during wintertime:
Photo by Robert Bye
To reach it, drive towards Kirkjubæjarklaustur (another easy name to pronounce) on the South Coast of Iceland.
If you are driving from Reykjavík, the canyon will be on your left-hand side just before reaching Kirkjubæjarklaustur (this translates to ‘Church Town Convent’).
This tiny town on the Tröllaskagi peninsula in the North of Iceland (the peninsula that’s next to Akureyri) has Iceland’s most gorgeous infinity pool in its hillside, with a stunning view over the fjord by its side.
This is not necessarily one of the secret places in Iceland, but if you’re planning on exploring the North of Iceland in part of your trip it makes the perfect end to a long day of travelling.
Well worth the detour if you are on a Road Trip.
Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Michal Klajban. No edits made.
Many people go to Lake Mývatn, Dettifoss waterfall and even Ásbyrgi. But if you are in this area, you should make sure you also visit Rauðhólar and Hljóðaklettar in Vesturdalur. It is only a 15-minute drive from Ásbyrgi canyon, on road 85 towards Húsavík village.
Hljóðaklettar (Sound Rocks) are basalt columns of every shape and size, twisting and turning to every conceivable direction.
Rauðhólar (Red Hills) are colourful hills of black and yellow but mainly fiery red. There are few places in Iceland where you’ll find as vivid colours as in the landscape.
A day tour to Dettifoss waterfall, Ásbyrgi and Hljóðaklettar or a tour of the highlights of the north also take you to Hljóðaklettar. The best way to see Vesturdalur valley is by driving yourself though.
Þjórsárdalur valley is full of gorgeous waterfalls that are missed by the hordes of tourists.
The waterfall inside Gjáin canyon is one of them (the canyon itself is pretty spectacular too). Háifoss waterfall (Iceland’s third-highest waterfall, 122 meters tall) and Granni waterfall that’s a stone throw away are also hidden gems.
Then there is the waterfall Hjálp (translates to ‘Help’) that’s a little further down the valley.
Lastly but not least is Þjófafoss (translates to ‘Thief waterfall’) that is on the other side of the mountain Búrfell, and well worth a visit.
All of these waterfalls are in the same area and can easily be reached on roads 32 and 26. They are all about a 2-3 hour drive from Reykjavík.
If you’re looking for a guided tour to visit them, the lost in Iceland tour takes you to visit most of them.
Photo by Jorunn
When the tunnel through Hvalfjörður opened back in 1998, the distance from Reykjavík to Borgarnes was shortened by approximately one hour, since people no longer had to drive Hvalfjörður fjord (Whale fjord).
This means that nowadays hardly anyone drives this gorgeous fjord and at the bottom of the fjord, you find a trail leading to Iceland’s highest waterfall Glymur at 198m high (translates to ‘Echo’).
The hike is beautiful and fairly easy, leading you through green mossy cliffs towards the waterfall and only takes about 2-3 hours. You can even book a hiking tour to Glymur waterfall.
Photo by Regína Hrönn Ragnarsdóttir
Iceland is very famous for its black sandy beaches, but you can also find white beaches in the country as well as this red beach in the Westfjords.
In fact, the colour can play a trick on your eyes, depending on the daylight it may seem white, orange, yellow or very red.
There is nothing there besides the sand, so if you want to go to a totally tranquil beach, with no vendors or shops to distract you, then here you can go for a walk all by yourself.
The best way to get to Rauðasandur is either by driving all of the Westfjords or by taking the ferry Baldur from Stykkishólmur to Brjánslækur and drive from there. The area may not be accessible during wintertime and it’s advisable to rent a four-wheel-drive car to cope best in the Westfjords.
Photo by Luciano Braga
This cute little town, that used to be the world’s biggest herring fishing capital, is found at the northernmost tip of Tröllaskagi peninsula (close to Hofsós pool).
The town nestles in a small fjord and is surrounded by mountains on three sides.
Make sure you go to the Herring Era Museum, that recreates the life of the town through a few beautiful buildings on the town’s main street.
The location is somewhat inaccessible, making you feel like you’re in a remote town at the end of the world, although it’s only an hour’s drive from Akureyri.
And if you're wondering where to stay, one of the best hotels in Iceland is situated in Siglufjörður, Hótel Sigló.
In the summertime, when the highland roads have been opened, it’s a good idea to drive the road named Kjölur (only with a four-wheel-drive vehicle).
The highlands in between are sandy but full of hot springs, some of which you can bathe in, and provide some excellent hiking trails.
This 6 day highland self drive tour takes in Kjölur, Hveravellir and Kerlingarfjöll taking advantage of some of Iceland’sless visited natural attractions.
Photo by Jórunn Sjöfn
A visit to Flatey island (translates to ‘Flat island’) is like a step-through time, back to Iceland in the 1900s.
This small island in Breiðafjörður bay has seasonal habitation.
In the summertime, it gets a little busy, especially with photographers, but in wintertime, only 6 people reside there. 'A little busy' means a few dozen people or maybe 100.
There are surprisingly many concerts held on the island nonetheless, with an event happening almost every week of the summer.
Photo by Jórunn Sjöfn
There is one road on the island but no cars are allowed (it’s only 2km long and a few hundred meters wide) and until recently there was no cell phone reception on the island.
Stroll around the island, have a peek into the church and the small library, watch the sea and the birds, clear your head, relax, and even say hi to the elves. If you get peckish, don't miss out on the fish of the day at Hótel Flatey.
To get there, take the ferry Baldur from Stykkishólmur on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, or from Brjánslækur in the Westfjords.
If you are driving around Iceland, you can take your car onto the ferry and they deliver your car at the other end of the bay (in either Stykkishólmur or Brjánslækur) where you can pick it up later in the day or some days later if you are spending a few days on the island.
From Stykkishólmur it's 1.5 hours on the ferry, and from Brjánslækur it's 1 hour on the ferry.
The newest addition to the Icelandic landscape is the newly formed lava-flow mountain at Holuhraun, where a volcanic eruption took place from August 2014 to February 2015. The area is very much off the beaten track and you’ll need a robust four-wheel-drive-vehicle to reach it.
You’ll be able to feel the still warm ground and see nature at its most raw form!
Photo by Regína Hrönn Ragnarsdóttir
Close to Þórsmörk is this stunning canyon and if you hike it for about 2 hours you’ll reach a waterfall deep inside it. It’s an easy hike that’s suitable for the whole family.
When there are about 100 meters left to the bottom of the canyon it splits into two parts and you’ll need to wade a river to reach the waterfall at the end.
Photo by Regína Hrönn Ragnarsdóttir
Exploring any canyon in Iceland is always a treat, but this one for the variety and photo opportunities is definitely one of the best.
The most inaccessible part of Iceland is Hornstrandir, the Northernmost tip of the Westfjords.
There are no roads leading there, so you can either hike for a week from the end of the road, near Krossnes, to get there (another week to get back) or take a boat from Ísafjörður.
Photo by Jonatan Pie
There are no shops or villages, so be prepared with food and camping gear if you intend on staying there for a while.
This is also where Iceland’s biggest arctic fox colony lives, so try to spot some gorgeous foxes in their natural element.
There’s a 6 day tour option around Hornstrandir which will help you make the most of this stunning region.
Photo by Alda
Þakgil, Roof Canyon, is a gorgeous camping ground in the south of Iceland. This area is not far from the village of Vík.
If you are heading East from Vík, make a turn left after about 6km from leaving Vík. Drive along that road for about 14km, past some abandoned Game of Thrones set until you get to a lush green flat valley surrounded by rugged mountains and small rivers.
The area is very sheltered from the wind and there is even a cave to dine inside. You can read more in Alda's blog about Þakgil here. You'll need to be driving yourself to get there.
The far East of Iceland, the area around Borgarfjörður Eystri (where the gem of a music festival – Bræðslan - is held each July) holds one of Iceland’s best hiking areas: Víknaslóðir. Víknaslóðir means ‘Trails of the inlets’ and a 5-10 day hike around the area is recommended.
The hike from Borgarfjörður Eystri down to Seyðisfjörður is normally done in 4 days and is 55km (same as Iceland’s most popular hike, Laugavegurinn).
On the way, you’ll see stunning mountain views, valleys and fjords. Perhaps the most spectacular attraction in the area is Stórurð, a gorgeous blue lake covered with giant rock boulders.
To reach most of those locations, it is best to rent a good four-wheel-drive vehicle because you will most likely be driving on unpaved gravel roads or even mountain roads.
It is also advised to get full insurance cover options (especially the gravel insurance) to ensure you are covered in an emergency situation.
We hope you enjoy exploring our hand-picked list of Iceland’s top 20 hidden gems. Whether you’re taking in some of these spots on a guided tour or are planning on driving yourself to these destinations you’ll get to enjoy Iceland’s breath-taking rugged beauty. We’d love to answer any questions you might have and hear about your experiences when visiting these spots.