20 Hidden Gems in Iceland: Go Off-the-Beaten-Path

20 Hidden Gems in Iceland: Go Off-the-Beaten-Path

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Discover 20 hidden gems in Iceland for your trip. Iceland is a land of spectacular natural wonders ranging from craters to geysers to some of the largest glaciers and waterfalls on the continent. Although many have become famous, Iceland has a wealth of lesser-known (but no less spectacular) attractions. Learn how to get off the beaten path and find the secret places that most visitors to Iceland overlook with this list of Iceland's 20 best-kept secrets.

Some of the attractions on our list take the term "Iceland off the beaten path" to a new meaning, whereas others are more regularly visited and thus more easily accessible. Taking in a mix of the country's regular tourist hot spots in combination with some of the best-kept secret places in Iceland is the perfect way to plan your trip.

20. Reykjavik's Hidden Gem: Grotta

The lighthouse at Grotta is a Reykjavik hidden gem

Believe it or not, it's possible to get off the beaten path in Reykjavik; the capital city still has a few under-explored corners left. One such example, on the Seltjarnarnes peninsula in the western part of the city, is an area named Grotta.

Grotta is, in fact, a nature reserve due to its rich birdlife. It's the best spot in town to watch the sunset, as it shimmers over Faxafloi Bay.

There's even a tiny, artificial hot pool among 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 accessible only when the tide is low. During low tide, you'll have six hours to go back and forth; otherwise, you'll get stuck by the lighthouse.

From May 1 to June 30 every year, there's no access to the lighthouse, as it's nesting season. However, if the weather is good, the beach right by Grotta, which stretches up near the golf course on the other side of the peninsula, can be a great spot to watch the sunset or have a picnic.

Grotta is one of the locals' favorites of all the hidden gems in Reykjavik.

19. Seljavallalaug Pool

Seljavallalaug is a South Iceland hidden gem

Photo by Michael James

Perhaps not as remote as it used to be, but still considered a hidden gem, is the Seljavallalaug pool in South Iceland.

Driving the south coast is popular among tourists, but no bus tours take you to this place at the moment. It makes the experience of walking into the mountains with a well-earned dip between a mountain, glacier, and a volcano all the more enjoyable. It's also one of the more unusual things to do in Iceland that you can't do in many, if any, other places in the world.

Among the available pools in Iceland, 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 fee 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 Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss waterfalls. You'll need to drive off the beaten path and then walk 0.7 miles (1.2 kilometers) to reach this treasure; however, the experience is well worth the detour. When it comes to South Iceland's hidden gems, Seljavallalaug Pool is definitely worth the effort.

When driving from Reykjavik, take a left towards Seljavellir before reaching Skogafoss. You'll go past a selection of cabins on your left before joining a gravel road with plenty of potholes - added fun.

18. Fridheimar Tomato Farm

Fridheimar is a popular farm to visit in Iceland.

Photo from Golden Circle Minibus Tour With Visit to Fridheimar & Kerid Crater Lake

Fridheimar is an organic tomato farm in Reykholt in South Iceland, a perfect stop if you're driving the Golden Circle yourself. This is a family-run tomato and cucumber farm and restaurant. They use scratched tomatoes (which are not suitable for supermarkets) to make tomato soup for lunch to reduce waste.

The soup is spectacular, and you get to enjoy this experience right in the greenhouse itself. This helps keep you warm on cold winter days and provides a great atmosphere nestled among 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's also homemade bread (try the cinnamon-flavored option) and cucumber salsa accompanying the soup.

Soup and bread (with free refills), accompanied with fresh basil, cucumber salsa, sour cream, and butter, only costs around 14.50 USD - an excellent price for what you get.

A woman picks tomatoes at Fridheimar in Iceland.Photo from Golden Circle Minibus Tour With Visit to Fridheimar & Kerid Crater Lake

The whole atmosphere is friendly, light, airy, and warm; the tomatoes must be in a warm climate and get a lot of light throughout the year. You can even get a tour of the tomato farm before your lunch.

You can drop in anytime during opening hours (noon - 4 p.m. daily), but sometimes they get huge groups, so it's better to call ahead and check what time is most suitable.

17. Gljufrabui Waterfall

Gljufrabui waterfall is a South Iceland hidden gem

Photo by Jórunn Sjöfn

Next to Seljalandsfoss waterfall and another of South Iceland's hidden gems is a waterfall that many people miss. It's only an 820-yard (750-meter) walk away from Seljalandsfoss, next to a farm, so you have no excuse not to visit if you're already in the neighborhood.

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'll get wet.

Even though only one south coast tour includes it as a sightseeing stop, you can easily go there on a regular south coast tour since Seljalandsfoss is always a significant stop. Just be aware of the time when you take the detour. Also, make sure you have sturdy shoes for this excursion, as it involves some stone-hopping on a fast-flowing stream.

16. Secret Iceland: Dine at Tjoruhusid Restaurant

Tjoruhusid in Asafjordur is a top-notch restaurant and one of the secret places in Iceland

Photo by Nanna

I'm not sure if you would consider this one of the usual things to do in Iceland, but it's undoubtedly one of Iceland's best-kept secrets. This gorgeous (but simple and rustic) restaurant in Isafjordur in the Westfjords is only open during summer and Easter. So you have limited time to go and sample some of the country's best seafood.

As it's only open for a limited time each year, Tjoruhusid is better known to locals than foreigners. If you're looking for non-touristy things to do in Iceland, you found it! Inside are wooden benches, and you'll get to know who's sitting next to you. You can have an a la carte soup for lunch for as little as around 14 USD, or around 19 USD for the fish of the day, or around 23 USD for both.

There's a dinner buffet in the evenings with a set price of about 42 USD. Kids under 14 dine for free.

An example of the fresh Icelandic fish on offer

Photo by Nanna

There's always fresh fish caught the same day, just a few hundred feet away. If you're lucky enough to plan an adventure to the Westfjords, this is an off-the-beaten-path stop that you don't want to miss.

15. Hvitserkur Rock

Hvitserkur isn't tall - but a dramatic rock!

Hvitserkur stands by itself just outside the Hunafjordur fjord in Northwest Iceland. It's only a slight detour from the main Ring Road of Iceland, in between Reykir and Blonduos.

To reach this hidden gem, drive road 711 from the Ring Road (turn left if you're coming from Reykjavik, turn right if you're coming from Akureyri.). There aren't any tours going there, so you'll have to rent a car and get off the beaten path in Iceland.

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. Those moments make Hvitserkur one of my favorite secret spots in Iceland.

14. Fjadrargljufur Canyon

Fjadrargljufur in South Iceland is a mystical canyon and a great off the beaten track destination in Iceland

Another stunning South Iceland hidden gem not far from Ring Road is Fjadrargljufur. 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 hiking up it and enjoying the stunning scenery, but make sure you stick to the path.

It's equally stunning during wintertime.

Fjadrargljufur canyon during winter, one of Iceland's secret spots

Photo by Robert Bye

To reach it, drive towards Kirkjubaejarklaustur village on Iceland's southern coast (use your drive time to work on your pronunciation of Kirkjubaejarklaustur!). Driving from Reykjavik, the canyon will be on your left-hand side just before reaching Kirkjubaejarklaustur (which translates to "Church Town Convent").

13. Hofsos Swimming Pool

Another Iceland hidden gem is Hofsos swimming pool in Iceland

This tiny town on the Trollaskagi peninsula next to Akureyri in North Iceland has Iceland's most gorgeous infinity pool on its hillside. It boasts a stunning view over the fjord. This is not necessarily one of the secret places in Iceland, but if you're planning on exploring North Iceland during your trip, it makes the perfect end to a long day of traveling.

Complete a day of adventuring by bathing under the midnight sun from the infinity pool, or watch in awe as the northern lights dance over the fjord.

12. Vesturdalur Valley

Hljodaklettar (Sound Rocks) are an Icelandic hidden gem.

Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Michal Klajban. No edits made.

Many people go to Lake Myvatn, Dettifoss waterfall, and even Asbyrgi. But if you're in this area and searching for North Iceland hidden gems, make sure to visit Raudholar and Hljodaklettar, both in Vesturdalur.

Located on Route 85 towards Husavik village10 miles (16 kilometers) from Asbyrgi canyon, these incredible, colorful destinations are some of the most beautiful places in Iceland.

Rauðhólar (Red Hills) in Vesturdalur, Iceland

Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Mickaël Delcey

Hljodaklettar ("Sound Rocks") are basalt columns of every shape and size, twisting and turning to every conceivable direction. Raudholar ("Red Hills") are colorful hills of black and yellow but mainly fiery red. There are few places in Iceland where you'll find colors as vivid as in the landscape here.

A day tour to Dettifoss waterfall, Asbyrgi, and Hljodaklettar or a tour of North Iceland highlights also take you to Hljodaklettar. However, the best way to see Vesturdalur valley is by getting off the beaten track and driving yourself.

11. Thjorsardalur Valley and its Waterfalls

Haifoss is one of the most stunning waterfalls in Thjorsadalur valley.

Thorsardalur valley is full of gorgeous waterfalls missed by the hordes of tourists. The waterfall inside Gjain canyon is one of them, although the canyon itself is pretty spectacular too. Haifoss waterfall is Iceland's third-highest falls at 400-feet (122-meters) tall, and Granni waterfall is just a stone's throw away. Both are beautiful hidden gems in South Iceland.

Then there's Hjalparfoss waterfall (its name translates to "Help's Falls") that's a little further down the valley. Lastly, there's Thjofafoss, which translates to "Thief Waterfall." It's on the other side of the mountain Burfell and well worth a visit.

Thjofafoss in Thorsardalur valley, with Hekla in the background

All of these waterfalls are in the same area and can easily be reached on Routes 32 and 26. They're all about a 74-mile (119-kilometer) drive from Reykjavik. If you're looking for a guided tour to visit them, the lost in Iceland tour takes you to see most of them.

10. Glymur Waterfall

The lush Glymur waterfall in Iceland

Photo by Jorunn

When the tunnel through Hvalfjordur opened back in 1998, the distance from Reykjavik to Borgarnes was shortened by approximately one hour since people no longer had to drive Hvalfjordur fjord ("Whale fjord"). Nowadays, hardly anyone drives this gorgeous fjord anymore. If you want to get off the beaten track in Iceland, Hvalfjordur is a must.

At the bottom of the fjord, you'll find a trail leading to Iceland's second-highest waterfall, Glymur, at 650-feet (198-meters) high. It used to be number one until it was surpassed by Morsarfoss in 2011. The name Glymur translates to "Echo," and for a good reason.

The hike is beautiful and relatively 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.

While this might not be a true hidden gem anymore, it's one of the underrated things to do in Iceland.

9. Raudasandur Beach

Raudasandur is a beach in the Westfjords.Photo by Regína Hrönn Ragnarsdóttir 

Iceland is very famous for its sandy black beaches. However, you can also find white beaches in the country and even this red beach in the Westfjords. The color can play tricks on your eyes; it may seem white, orange, yellow, or very red, depending on the natural light. This apparent color change can make Raudasandur beach one of the most magical places in Iceland.

There's nothing there besides the sand, so if you want to go to a tranquil beach - no vendors or shops to distract you - Raudasandur delivers. You can go for a walk all by yourself, which makes for a fantastic, non-touristy thing to do in Iceland and a unique experience.

If six miles (10 kilometers) of sand isn't enough for you, travel a little further and go to Latrabjarg cliff, where thousands of puffins reside in the summer months. It's the largest seabird cliff in Iceland and one of those hidden gems in Iceland that make you forget about everything else outside of the moment.

The best way to get to Raudasandur is to either drive all of the Westfjords or take the ferry Baldur from Stykkisholmur to Brjanslaekur 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.

8. Siglufjordur Village

Siglufjörður on Tröllaskagi in North IcelandPhoto by Luciano Braga

This cute little town, which used to be the world capital of herring fishing, is found at the northernmost tip of the Trollaskagi peninsula (close to Hofsos pool). The town is nestled in a small fjord, surrounded by mountains on three sides. It's remote and overlooked, but some of Iceland's best-hidden gems are found here. While here, make sure you go to the Herring Era Museum, which recreates the town's life through a few beautiful buildings on the town's main street.

The town's location is somewhat inaccessible, making you feel like you're in a remote place at the end of the world, despite only being a 48-mile (77-kilometer) drive from Akureyri. And if you're wondering where to stay, one of the best hotels in Iceland is situated in Siglufjordur, Siglo Hotel.

7. Kjolur Road

Kjojur will take you to the Kerlingarfjoll mountain range.

When the highland roads are opened in the summertime, it's a good idea to drive the road named Kjolur (with a four-wheel drive vehicle only). On the way, you can either make a stop at Kerlingarfjoll ("Hag's Mountains") or Hveravellir ("Hot Spring Fields") or both.

The road is Route 35, the same road as Gullfoss waterfall. It connects the north and the south of the country and lies between Langjokull glacier and Hofsjokull 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 six-day highland self-drive tour includes Kjolur, Hveravellir, and Kerlingarfjoll, taking advantage of some of Iceland's less visited natural attractions. It's also a great way to experience Iceland off the beaten path.

6. Most Famous Unknown Place: Flatey Island

Flatey island in West Iceland is the most famous unknown place in Iceland

Photo by Jórunn Sjöfn

A visit to Flatey island, which translates to "Flat Island" (and has the easiest name to say of anywhere in Iceland you'll visit), is like stepping back in time to Iceland in the 1900s.

This small island in Breidafjordur bay has seasonal habitation. It gets a little busy in the summer, especially with photographers ("a little busy" means a few dozen people or maybe 100). But in winter, only six people reside there.

Surprisingly, many concerts are held on the island, with an event happening almost every week of the summer. It's probably the most famous unknown place in Iceland.

Flatey's only road

Photo by Jórunn Sjöfn

There's one road on the island, but no cars are allowed – it's only 1.2-miles (two-kilometers) long and a few yards wide. Even more shocking, there was no cell phone reception on the island until recently.

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're feeling peckish, don't miss out on the fish of the day at Hotel Flatey.

To get there, take the ferry Baldur from Stykkisholmur on the Snaefellsnes peninsula or from Brjanslaekur in the Westfjords. If you're driving around Iceland, you can take your car onto the ferry, and they'll deliver your vehicle at the other end of the bay (in either Stykkisholmur or Brjanslaekur). You can pick it up later in the day, or even some days later if you spend a few days on the island.

From Stykkisholmur, it's 1.5 hours on the ferry, and from Brjanslaekur, it's just a one-hour journey.

5. Holuhraun Lava

Holuhraun when it was erupting

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 powerful four-wheel drive vehicle to reach it.

Holuhraun is also a candidate for the most famous unknown place in Iceland. Here you'll be able to feel the still-warm ground and see nature in its most raw form. Holuhraun is easily one of the unique things to do in Iceland and should not be missed by anyone who wants to truly get off the beaten path here.

4. Stakkholtsgja Canyon

Stakkholtsgja canyon in is South Iceland hidden gem

Photo by Regína Hrönn Ragnarsdóttir 

This stunning canyon is close to Thorsmork, and if you hike it for about two 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 330 feet (100 meters) left to the bottom of the canyon, it splits into two parts, and you'll need to wade through a river to reach the waterfall at the end.

Water rushes from the waterfall at the bottom of Stakkholtsgja in Iceland

Photo by Regína Hrönn Ragnarsdóttir 

Exploring any canyon in Iceland is always a treat, but this one for the variety and photo opportunities, is one of the best. File under: Another one of the most beautiful places in Iceland.

3. Hornstrandir Nature Reserve

Dramatic Hornbjarg cliff at Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, one of the hidden gems of Iceland

Photo from 2 Day Wildlife Tour in the Westfjords at Hornstrandir & Hornvik with Transfer from Isafjordur

The most inaccessible part of Iceland is Hornstrandir, the northernmost tip of the Westfjords. This is about as off the beaten path in Iceland as it gets. No roads lead there, so you can either hike for a week from the end of the road (near Krossnes farm) to get there (plus another week to get back) or take a boat from Isafjordur.

Arctic fox are not rare in Iceland.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. Remote wildlife experiences like this are one of the unique things to do in Iceland that leave a lasting impression long after you have returned home.

A six-day tour option around Hornstrandir will help you make the most of this stunning region. It's truly one of Iceland's hidden gems.

2. Thakgil Campground

Thakgil camping grounds

Photo by Alda

Thakgil ("Roof Canyon") is a gorgeous camping ground in South Iceland. This area is not far from the village of Vik.

If you're heading east from Vik, turn left after about 3.7 miles (six kilometers) after leaving Vik. Drive along that road for approximately 8.7 miles (14 kilometers), past the 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's even a cave to dine inside. You can read more in Alda's blog about Thakgil here. You'll need to be driving yourself to get there, but the journey is certainly worth the effort.

1. Viknaslodir Hiking Trails

The Storurd boulders are part of the Viknaslodir Hiking Trail, one of Iceland's hidden gemsPhoto from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Michal Klajban

Deep in East Iceland, the area around Borgarfjordur Eystri (where the gem of a music festival, Braedslan, is held each July) contains one of Iceland's best hiking areas: Viknaslodir ("Trails of the Inlets"). A five- to 10-day hike around the area is recommended.

The hike from Borgarfjordur Eystri down to Seydisfjordur town is usually done in four days and is 34 miles (55 kilometers) in length. This is the same as Iceland's most popular hike, Laugavegurinn.

Along the way, you'll see stunning mountain views, valleys, and fjords. Perhaps the most spectacular attraction in the area is Storurd, a gorgeous blue lake covered with giant rock boulders.

When it comes to East Iceland's hidden gems, Viknaslodir is one of the most rewarding and should not be overlooked. Don't skip this place if you want to explore Iceland off the beaten path.

Additional Tips for Reaching the Hidden Gems of Iceland

To reach most of those hidden places in Iceland, renting a good four-wheel drive vehicle is best because you'll most likely be driving on unpaved gravel roads or even mountain roads. This is also the best way to get off the beaten path in Iceland and is highly recommended.

It's also advised to get full insurance cover options (especially gravel insurance) to ensure you're covered in an emergency.

A final tip is to always focus on driving safely, wearing your seatbelt, and keeping an eye on both the weather forecast and accessibility of the roads.

We hope you enjoyed exploring our hand-picked top 20 list of hidden gems in Iceland. Whether you're taking in some of these spots on a guided tour or are planning on driving yourself to these incredible destinations, you'll get to enjoy Iceland's breathtakingly rugged beauty. We'd love to answer any questions you might have and hear about your experiences when visiting these spots.