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? Where 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, here is a list of 20 hidden Icelandic jewels. In order to reach most of them you’ll need to be driving your own car, so here you can find the cheapest car rentals in Iceland.
20. Grótta in Reykjavík
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. (Good luck finding it, it's close to one of the little huts by the seaside).
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.
19. Seljavallalaug pool
(Photo credit: The Daily Mail)
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, yet.
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's no showers. There's no charge so just bring your swim suit 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 and you can reach it either by drive there on your own or go with the only tour that takes you to Seljavallalaug (this tour is also currently the only tour goes to the DC Plane Wreck). When driving from Reykjavík, take a left towards Seljavellir just before you reach Skógafoss. Then there's a 15 minute easy walk to the pool.
18. Friðheimar tomato farm
(Photo credit: Farmholidays)
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.
- Read about the top 9 detours on the Golden Circle
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!) and 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!
(Photo credit: Breathe Iceland)
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 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.
- Find Golden Circle tours here
17. Gljúfrabúi waterfall
(Photo credit: 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!)
Even though only one south coast tour marks it as a sightseeing stop, you can easily go there on a regular south coast tour since Seljalandsfoss is always a major stop. Just be aware of the time when you take the detour.
- Find all south coast tours here
16. Tjöruhúsið restaurant
(Photo credit: Westfjords.is)
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 credit: Nanna)
There is always very fresh fish, caught the same day just a few hundred meters away. I have no affiliation with the people that run this place, their Facebook comments and Trip Advisor reviews tell the same story!
- Find tours from Ísafjörður here
15. Hvítserkur rock formation
Hvítserkur stands by itself just outside the coastline in Húnafjörður fjord in the North-West of Iceland. It’s only a little detour from the main ringroad of Iceland, in between Reykir and Blönduós.
To reach it, drive road 711 from the ringroad. (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.
14. Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon
Not far from the ringroad is Fjaðrárgljúfur (good luck pronouncing that!) I heard a tourist refer to it as Sweet Ass Mossy Canyon (not a direct translation, might I add) but it’s a pretty accurate description. 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.
It's also gorgeous during wintertime:
(Photo credit: Tony Prower Flickr)
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 (Church Town Convent).
- Find south coast tours here
13. Hofsós swimming pool
(Photo credit: Michael Kelley Flickr)
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.
Well worth the detour if you are on a self-drive tour.
12. Vesturdalur valley
(Photo credit: Vatnajökulsþjóðgarður)
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.
(Photo credit: Carlo Tancredi Flickr)
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 in the landscape.
This daytour to Dettifoss waterfall, Ásbyrgi and Hljóðaklettar and this tour: Highlights of the North also take you to Hljóðaklettar. The best way to see Vesturdalur valley is by driving yourself though.
- Find Lake Mývatn tours here
11. Þjórsárdalur valley and its waterfalls
(Photo credit: Egill Halldór Flickr)
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 if pretty spectacular too). Háifoss waterfall (Iceland’s second highest waterfall, 122 meters tall) and Granni waterfall that’s a stone throw away are also hidden gems. Then there is the waterfall Hjálp (Help) that’s a little further down the valley. Read more about Háifoss, Granni and Hjálp here. Last but not least is Þjófafoss (Thief waterfall) that is on the other side of the mountain Búrfell.
All of these waterfalls are in the same area and can easily be reached on roads 32 and 26, about a 2-3 hour drive from Reykjavík.
This Lost in Iceland tour takes you to most of them.
10. Glymur waterfall
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 (198m): Glymur (Echo).
The hike is beautiful and fairly easy, leading you through green mossy cliffs towards the waterfall and only takes about 2-3 hours. Here you can book a hiking tour to Glymur waterfall.
9. Rauðisandur beach
Iceland is very famous for its black sandy beaches – but you can also find white beaches in the country – as well as this red one 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. If 10 km of sand isn’t enough for you, then you can travel a little further and go to Látrabjarg cliff, where thousands of puffins reside.
The best way to get to Rauðisandur 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 have a 4WD.
- Find tours from Ísafjörður in the Westfjords here
8. Siglufjörður village
This cute little town, that used to be the world’s biggest herring fishing capital, is found at the northernmost tip of Tröllaskagi peninsula. (Not far from Hofsós pool, that’s on this list number 13). 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 building 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.
- Here you can find tours starting from Akureyri
7. Kjölur road
(Photo credit: Iceland Aurora Photo Tour)
In summertime, when the highland roads have been opened, it’s a good idea to drive the road named Kjölur (only for 4WD!) On the way you can either make a stop at Kerlingarfjöll (Hag’s Mountains) or Hveravellir (Hot Spring Fields) – or both.
The road is number 35, the same road that Gullfoss waterfall is on. It connects the north and the south of the country and lies between Langjökull glaceier and Hofsjökull glacier. 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 along with this Kjölur coast to coast day tour.
6. Flatey island
(Photo credit: Jórunn Sjöfn)
A visit to Flatey island (Flat island) is like a step through time, back to Iceland in the 1900’s. This small island in Breiðafjörður bay has seasonal habitation. In summertime it gets a little busy, especially with photographers – but in wintertime only 5 people reside there. 'A little busy' means a few dozen people - or maybe 100. There are surprisingly many concerts held in the island nonetheless, something going on almost every week of the summer.
(Photo credit: 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 in 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, say hi to the elves and 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, from Brjánslækur it's 1 hour on the ferry.
5. Holuhraun lava
The newest addition to the Icelandic landscape is the new 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 good 4WD to reach it – but you’ll be able to feel the still warm ground and see nature at its most raw form!
4. Stakkholtsgjá canyon
(Photo credit: Regína)
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 credit: Örvar Atli Flickr)
The journey is well worth it!
3. Hornstrandir Nature Reserve
(Photo credit: Gregor Samsa Flickr)
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.
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 where Iceland’s biggest arctic fox colony lives, so try to spot some gorgeous foxes!
Here's a 6 day tour around Hornstrandir.
2. Þakgil camping ground
(Photo credit: Alda)
Þakgil, Roof Canyon, is a gorgeous camping ground in the south of Iceland. This area is not far from the village 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.
1. Víknaslóðir hiking trails
(Photo credit: Iceland Trails)
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).
(Photo credit: Iceland Trails)
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.
Have you been to any of Iceland's hidden gems? :)
Additional tips for reaching these locations
To reach most of those locations, it is best to have a good 4WD because you will most likely be driving on unpaved gravel roads or even mountain roads. It is also advised to get full insurances (definitely get the gravel insurance). You will thank me later. Then again, ALWAYS wear your seat belts and look up the weather forecast before hitting the road!
- Read the ultimate guide to driving in Iceland
- Read about how to drive safely in Iceland here
- Find out more about the weather in Iceland & best time to visit