10 Iceland Hidden Gems - A local's guide to off-the-beaten-path adventure in Iceland
Iceland’s popularity has been increasing in recent years. You are probably familiar with the Golden Circle, Ring Road, and Blue Lagoon. But if you are looking for a more authentic adventure, you still can find some incredible Iceland hidden gems that most visitors don’t usually know about.
The hidden gems in Iceland are most of the time overlooked by visitors, and they can easily be found close to the biggest attractions, or there are also some places that are off the beaten path in Iceland.
This guide has the best Iceland hidden gems and the most authentic way to explore amazing Iceland off the beaten path, all revealed by an expert local guide.
I met Henrik during my trip to Iceland. He was my glacier climbing guide. Besides being an amazing certified guide, I was amazed to find out that Henrik’s family has been in Iceland since the year 925, and he has so much knowledge of the history of the land of fire and ice.
As a person who loves to partner with local guides to support the local economy, and share the most authentic local experience with you, I invited Henrik to write this guide. You won’t find anything else like this, it’s a true insider’s guide to Iceland.
No one is better than Henrik to uncover the best Iceland hidden gems and present the top 10 secret escapes that provide the most incredible experience of getting off the beaten path in Iceland.
GUEST WRITER AND ICELAND EXPERT: Henrik C. Hlynsson is a certified mountain guide and has a degree in Iceland History. In his free time, he travels around the island discovering the hidden gems in Iceland, and at home, he creates Icelandic landscpae paintings. Henrik loves representing his people, the myths, nature, and Icelandic sagas.
Resources for Iceland off the beaten path
Before you move on to the top 10 Iceland hidden gems, make sure to check all the resources that you need to plan, prepare, and book your trip and explore the top 10 Iceland hidden gems safe and sound:
Traveling to Iceland and COVID-19: On June 15th, 2020 Iceland opened its borders for foreign travelers, and it is one of the first countries to offer COVID-19 testing upon arrival. The test is required by the government and it cost US$100. After you have done the test, you need to progress to your first stop in Iceland and wait for the test results before proceeding with your trip. If you test positive, you will need to quarantine. For more information, please visit COVID.is.
Iceland Trip Planning: Please check this complete Iceland Travel Planning. You can find all the information you need to make your trip to Iceland the best experience.
You will need a rental car: First of all, if you are planning to visit some of these hidden gems in Iceland, you will need to rent a car. The tours in Iceland do not take you to these places, if they would, then it wouldn’t be a hidden place, right!? Make sure you compare prices and rent your car from a reliable source like this.
Driving in Iceland: Remember to check on road conditions before you start driving
Best time to visit Iceland: Check the weather in Iceland. The time of year can make a big difference. In the wintertime, Iceland has around 4 – 5 hours of sunlight in December – January but the midnight sun dances around through the summer keeping the sky bright!
Accommodations in Iceland: Great accommodation options and budget-friendly are guest houses, and you can easily find and book them through Booking.com. I also selected the best options to book accommodations close by the areas to visit.
Travel Insurance in Iceland: It doesn’t matter if you are traveling around Iceland on a private tour or driving in Iceland, what is important is to get travel insurance for any travel style. I recommend and also use reliable insurance through World Nomads before your trip to Iceland. You can just do a quick quote below, and you will be surprised to find out how little it can cost, for the benefit you will get.
You will love this: HOW TO VISIT ICELAND ON A BUDGET. COMPARE PRICES AND SAVE MONEY
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Discover Iceland off the beaten path
This top 10 hidden gems in Iceland were picked as my personal favorites and they are easy to get to by car. There are so many beautiful places around Iceland and picking the top 10 favorites is just scratching the tip of the iceberg (or glacier).
However, I made sure that this list can be inspiring for your planned visits around Iceland. There is something for everyone.
If you’ve visited Iceland before then I made sure to mention a few places that you might have missed out.
If this is your first time reading or planning to come to Iceland then make sure to check out more articles about Iceland on this site. I had such a fantastic time guiding Paula around the glaciers and I really enjoy her posts, plus…I can tell you she really knows how to properly swing an ice-ax.
1- Reykjanes peninsula / Grindavík - Feel the earthquakes in Iceland
The land of ice and fire is at it again. As a result, with around 10 earthquakes happening on average every day, the small fishing town of Grindavík has been experiencing 20+ every day since the beginning of 2020.
This makes Grindavík the number one best-hidden gem of our unique places in Iceland since it is close to the airport. The town is just south of the famous Blue Lagoon, so it is just about an hour’s drive from Keflavík.
With a small restaurant and cafe shops around the town and by the harbor, it can be quite something to sit down at one of the places during the tremors and to feel the power of nature.
The quakes are small, reaching around 3 on the Richter scale. Houses in Iceland are built to withstand much larger ones, so you are safe in the town. This excitement is happening because magma is moving several kilometers underground and pushing the surrounding landscape up.
There are chances that a Fissure eruption might start, similar to the ones in Hawaii. The townspeople are well aware of the possibility and are well prepared for it while volcanologists think it is not likely that the magma will reach the surface and who knows how long the earthquakes will be trending like they are.
It’s worth checking out since a visit to the town and a drive on the south part of the Reykjanes peninsula is one of the easiest ways to explore nature just outside of Reykjavík.
2- Ásbyrgi - Go hiking at an Iceland hidden gem
There are plenty of scenic hiking routes around Ásbyrgi making it one of the best Iceland sightseeing sites, and one of the most unique places you will find in northeast Iceland.
It has everything that a traveler is looking for and personally I think it has the best campsites in the area, It offers stunning nature, myths, old sagas and culture, hiking paths, information signs, and campsites.
This hidden gem in Iceland is part of Vatnajökull National Park. The incredible views and nature in Ásbyrgi are out of this world any time of the year, but especially around fall when the leaves change colors and make it so colorful.
There are plenty of paths through the forest inside Ásbyrgi.
It is believed to be the place where Óðin’s horse Sleipnir first came to existence and as he landed the horseshoe shape land was created.
We know however that it was shaped because of a flood called Hlaup (meaning Run!). A sup glacier eruption melted the water that created the shape of the land. The cliffs are perfect if you are looking for elves, locals say that they are everywhere.
But whether you believe in elves or not, Ásbyrgi is a place for adventures. It is most popular in the summer but if you are looking for less traffic just remember, Iceland is the land of the midnight sun, so adjust that to your own time and explore when others elsewhere.
3 - Hrossaborg - The best place to see Iceland Northern light
Hrossaborg is a crater in a stark lunar landscape that was perfect for the movie Oblivion where it was made to look like a ruined stadium.
It is part of the highlands and can be found close to the Ring Road in the northeast. Hrossaborg was named by farmers from the north of the country who used the site as a base for their end of summer sheep gathering.
The site was perfect for keeping horses inside the crater since there is hardly anything else to tie the horses to while people slept.
Funny enough I have seen some amazing photos from this site, especially in twilight playing with the otherworldly feel to it. Use your imagination when you are there and see what fun photographs you come up with. This place is also a very nice stop to spot northern lights in winter since the area around is flat and you can be sheltered.
Hrossaborg has a good shelter to take cover or having a picnic during any time of year but a fantastic site during twilight hours in the darker months in Iceland.
4- Borgarfjörður Eystri - Iceland hidden gem town & Hiking paradise
Borgarfjörður Eystri is one of the most unique towns on the island and is truly off the beaten path in Iceland.
This very remote town has around 100 people and it is a paradise for hiking beautiful nature.
Far from the Ring Road, this town is surrounded by beautiful mountains often said to be the birthplace of the trolls of old. The road to get there is a dramatic and precipitous drive over an unpaved mountain pass that loops around some sheer cliffs by the fjord. This is a small fishing town and services hikers.
If you love hiking off-the-beaten-path, you will find marked trails range from 1 hour to a full day.
Another curiosity is that Borgarfjörður is the home of the Queen of Elves. It is possible to walk to the hill “Álfaborg” – “The Elves´Castle” where the queen of the Icelandic elves allegedly resides with her court
When you get there, you will be blown away as a result of the incredible landscape and mysterious fog. The fog comes and goes at a very fast rate and emanates such a surreal feeling.
Like something out of a fairy tale, the colorful mountains, valleys, waterfalls, ponds, and reindeers create such a calm as you hike around, and it is well worth spending a few days hiking from the town or between huts.
One of my all-time favorite hikes is in this area, nature and views are enough to put it in the top 4. I love guiding the trails there telling stories, sharing knowledge, and secret places all around the fjords. A must visit and unique experience.
Read Next: BEST OFF-THE-BEATEN-PATH HIKING IN EUROPE
BEST ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS IN BORGARFJODUR EYSTRI
- The only and best option in town: Blabjorg Guesthouse
5 - Mt.Herðubreið - The queen of the Icelandic mountains
Herðubreið is a favorite in my list of hidden gems in Iceland, often called the “Queen of Icelandic Mountains”
It is a cupcake shaped mountain on the Oskjuleið Route, with a 1682m high table mountain.
There is a hiking trail to the top of the mountain, but due to loose rock, it is difficult and steep, due to the multiple volcanic layers that formed the mountain during the ice age.
The surrounding area is beautiful as well. Mt. Herðubreið is in the highlands situated between the town of Egilsstaðir in the east and Mývatn to the west. The closest town is Reykjahlíð at Mývatn and around lake Mývatn, there are plenty of places to spend the night along visiting the lake itself and some beautiful spots around it but the closest place to spend the night would be Möðrudalur/Fjalladyrd only 2 hour drive from the mountain
There are huts at Herðubreiðalindir where rangers can recommend adventures fitting for the time of year. The drive there is stunning, and the hiking options are perfect for any nature lover.
By the huts are a ranger station and a campsite. It is such a stunning place and you will love spending time there when you have the chance.
To get there you have to drive on a rough gravel road in the highlands so always have the appropriate vehicle and stay on the roads.
The Icelandic landscape is unique in every way and any damages done by off-road driving are taken very seriously by the locals and authorities.
6 - Hengifoss waterfall - Also visit the visit center Snæfellsstofa
My favorite waterfall in Iceland is the stunning Hengifoss Waterfall with 128.5 meters high, making it the 2nd highest waterfall in Iceland.
Well, the Hengifoss waterfall is technically the second highest measured waterfall in Iceland but there are others higher that fall from the edges of glaciers and disappear underneath the ice again.
It drops into the Fljótsdalur valley, and you can hike to the waterfall on a gradual climb uphill for about 1 hour.
What makes the Hengifoss waterfall so intriguing are the rock layers of red clay with 5-6 million-year-old basalt layers from volcanic eruptions in the Tertiary Period. The multiple red stripes you can observe, are sediments and old soil from the oxidation of the iron in the clay. Just a fascinating hidden place in Iceland and a must-visit!
Also, while you are in this area, I highly recommend visiting the Snæfellsstofa Visitor Center, a fantastic visitor center. It is a good place to stop during your trip to read up on Icelandic history and checking out what local animals can be found in the area.
Another great place and just a short walk, visit the historical and cultural center called Skriðklaustur, where it used to be the private home of the Nobel prize nominee Gunnar Gunnarsson. Skriðklaustur has a historical exhibition on the top floor and a cafe on the lower floor.
There are as well old medieval ruins just below the hill well worth exploring if you like history.
7 - Tröllaskagi - The best hidden gem in Iceland for skiing and snowmobile adventure
There are small towns all around the Tröllaskagi peninsula, and North is the fishing town of Siglufjörður, the most popular town for winter activities.
In the summertime, the mountains become a hiker’s paradise. However, the only way to get to the small glaciers scattered around the mountains would be on foot.
Here you can find the by far one of the best skiing areas in Iceland, a peninsula with hundreds of stops to check out, and one of the best-hidden gems in Iceland.
Tröllaskagi is a huge mountainous region and therefore a paradise for skiing, snowboarding, and snowmobiling, depending on what time of the year you go of course. There are over 200 glaciers in the whole peninsula and the snow in the mountains can last through the month of May.
There are few places in the world where you can ski down a mountain and end on a black beach by the ocean but here you can experience it.
The area is experiencing some earthquake activity since June 2020 so make sure to get info from locals before hiking in the mountains.
Driving around Tröllaskagi in the summer is stunning. The roads are winding, and it is quite exciting to drive on the edge of a cliff with the ocean below.
There are so many places to check out so when you get there I would love to hear from you about your favorite spots.
8 - Örlygsstaðabardagi - The place of the biggest Viking battle in Iceland
Örlygsstaðabardaginn is not the longest name in Icelandic but it is close to it.
This is the location of the biggest Viking battles in Iceland, that took place on August 21st, 1238. About 2,800 Vikings fought each other, making it one of the bloodiest battles in this young country’s history. If you love history, it is a must-try experience to uncover the Iceland off-the-beaten-path.
Arriving at the car park, you can find an information sign with the above explanation of the Viking battle. You can also see a steel plaque that has been added with good information on the battle.
In Sauðarkrókur just west of the Tröllaskagi you can find 1238 The Battle for Iceland, a museum, where you can take part in virtual Viking battles. It is a VR and AR experience like no other giving you the chance to feel and fight on a Viking battlefield.
9 - Dynjandi - A Fantasy hidden-gem Waterfall in Iceland
Dynjandi is a fantasy waterfall in the lower jaw of the West-fjords.
Dynjandi waterfall is the biggest waterfall in the Westfjords, a hidden part of Iceland, and it truly deserves to be called the jewel of the Westfjords.
You can see it from the parking lot but this waterfall is like a magnet. It pulls you towards it with every step you take, the more stunning it becomes with its dramatic beauty and geological details.
The waterfall looks like a stepped pyramid made of water and is best enjoyed when you are close up to it.
Dynjandi Waterfall has 30 meters wide, and it widens up to 60 meters at the bottom. To make this place even more incredible, you can find 6 other waterfalls below Dynjandi, which one passes on the way up to the biggest waterfall.
The term dynjandi in the Icelandic language means thunderous and if you visit it, you will understand why.
Also, note that Dynjandi, since 1981 is preserved as a natural protected monument and you need to stay on the paths to preserve nature and prevent this beautiful place from being damaged.
10 - Galdrasafnið - The Museum of Icelandic Witchcraft
Number 10 on this incredible list of Iceland hidden gems is a little different from the stunning landscapes and fairy tail waterfalls in Iceland. But still well worth to visit, especially if you are someone who loves Folklore, Iceland is one of the best places to dive in.
Galdrasafnið is without a doubt one of the most unique and cultural places you can find in Iceland. This is the museum of witchcraft in Hólmavík Village, on the east side of Westfjords.
The museum is so intriguing and it is not recommended for the faint-hearted. You will learn all about Icelandic witchcraft – from seeing the magical signs to make yourself invisible or even “see” an invisible boy.
Other amazing things you can see and learn while visiting the museum are about zombies, milk-sucking demons, and magical staves.
Magic, especially magic runes were all the rage in Iceland especially in the west fjords where the secret of spells and runes lay hidden from the church.
The museum gives you a glimpse into some of the weirdest ceremonies you will ever hear of and the magical runes give great inspiration for many artists.
Henrik finals thoughts about Iceland as a local
Sund is the word to know in Iceland. When you come to visit the hidden gems in Iceland, remember you are traveling in a country of ice and fire.
That means: there is a lot of hot water! There are so many spas, pools, and hot tubs around the island, some in extraordinary landscapes so make sure you find time to enjoy the benefits of a volcanic island in the North Atlantic.
Hope this article will help you find your way to some of the most unique and beautiful off-the-beaten-tracks in Iceland, and if you need any help with your adventure, I would love to be your guide, and help you to have the most authentic adventure in Iceland.
The landscape in Iceland is incredible, even for a local I cannot get enough! In 2019 I realized I had a skill with a brush, and since the lockdown, I have been selling paintings of the landscape from my point of view inspired from my guided adventures using my passion and obsession to capture the beauty and feel of nature in Iceland.