Back in 2010 when the Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajökull erupted and brought the entire air traffic in Europe to a halt, most people were for the first time, introduced to this tiny and beautiful country. Many questions aroused while watching the massive ash cloud on TV. “Iceland? Where is that? How does it look like? How many people live there?” I was one of them, not knowing that 6 years later it would become my home for a few months.
Nowadays, Iceland is a popular travel destination with annually more than 2 million visitors, up from 750 000 before the eruption. There was a time when you couldn’t open Instagram without seeing some posts about this mystical country and more than 12 million #iceland hashtags are the living proof of it.
The omnipresent spotlight was also the main reason why I only decided now to write about Iceland. I love to go to countries that are either flying under the radar of most travelers or go to popular countries, but explore the off the beaten track spots, which is why I wanted to share this list of top ten hidden spots that you can explore while travelling in Iceland.
It took me a bit longer to realize that 2 millions visitors are still low in comparison to big tourism players like Thailand that annually welcome almost 40 mio. Travelers. Also, even though Iceland has become very popular, there are still some hidden spots left where travelers can experience the unspoiled magic of Iceland.
In the next few lines, I will share with you my favorite hidden spots that were not yet “overrun” by tourists when I was living there in 2016. For easier navigation we will go along highway number 1 that goes around the entire island, starting southwards.
Top 10 Hidden Spots in Iceland
Cold water surf in Þorlákshöfn
Surfing in Iceland? Are you crazy? Yes, I probably am. But due to its location in the middle of the Atlantic, it gets plenty of waves. It was actually one of the major reasons why I moved to Iceland in the first place. Pictures and stories of Chris Burkard and my friend Sebastian (SD Photography) heavily inspired me to move there and experience the magic of this place myself.
Þorlákshöfn provides a point break for experienced and a beach break for beginning surfers. However, don’t expect to find a surf shop to rent your boards there, you will have to go with a company if you don’t bring your own equipment (if you need equipment or guidance checkout these guys). You can find more surf spots here.
The Hot Spring Thermal River Reykjadalur
The second stop on our highway around the country, the Reykjadalur Hot Spring Thermal River, perfect after the cold surf or those that only visit Iceland for a short period of time and therefore stick around the Reykjavik area. It is a hot river that is perfect for a relaxing bath with your friends, family or some locals (that often come to get away from the city life).
The river can be easily reached by a short hike of approximately 45 minutes from the car parks in Hveragerði.
The Hidden waterfall (Gljufrabui) next to Seljalandsfoss
Stop number 3 is hidden right next to one of Icelandic’s tourist hot spots, the mighty waterfall Seljalandsfoss. Most people stick around this majestic waterfall, without knowing that there is a unique experience waiting for them just a couple of hundred meters away.
Just around 500 meters from the big attraction you can find the hidden waterfall Gljufrabui. The waterfall is well hidden behind some cracks, so that it is invisible for the eyes of those that remain close to the car park. Standing on this single rock, in front of this marvelous waterfall will definitely be one of the best travel shots you will ever get.
The Hidden waterfall (Kvernufoss) and short hike next to Skógafoss
The thundering Skógafoss is probably the waterfall that you saw the most when googling or browsing on Instagram. The contrast of the black stones and the white of storming water masses, make a perfect picture. But even here we will find some spots where you can still be by yourself.
First of all, there are some stairs that will take you up to the top of the hill, it is the starting point of one of Icelandic’s most popular hiking tracks. Most people stick around the platform on top, but if you have a bit of time, I will highly recommend to you that you keep on walking and explore for an hour or two what lies ahead. Mystical sceneries are waiting for you.
Moreover, there is another hidden spot just around the corner, the tiny waterfall Kvernufoss, which if you walk behind reveals his face to you, as you can see above. You can find it by simply driving to the Skogar museum, from there it is a short walk of around 15 minutes to the waterfall.
Fjaðrárgljúfur the winding river canyon
We are making our next stop at the tiny village with the easy to remember name Kirkjubæjarklaustur! A few hundred meters from the “busy” highway you can find the unique winding river canyon Fjaðrárgljúfur.
When I was visiting this place we were only around 10 to 15 people exploring the entire canyon, but by now it might become more common to visit, due to its popularity as a movie set for Game of Thrones or Justin Bieber. Nevertheless, you should definitely check it out on your way.
My favorite spot in Iceland: Stokksnes
This place is just magical. As you by now probably realized Iceland is the perfect destination for landscape lovers. The view that astonished me the most in my time in Iceland was this spot called Stokksnes. Again only a couple of hundred meters of the main road you will find this black, sharp mountain range which is meeting the back beaches and deep blue sea.
There is a little entry fee that you have to pay at the Viking Café to visit the site and tiny Viking village. However, it will be well invested due to the unique, scenic and unspoiled view that you will find.
The little charming city of Akureyri
The majority of my time in Iceland I spent in Reykjavik because I was studying at the University of Iceland. The city definitely has some nice aspects, but due to the fast growth of tourism numbers, it lost a bit of its local charm, because locals had to move to the outer skirts to make space for hotels and touristic shops.
Akureyri in the north of Iceland, located in a Fjord, was really refreshing because it still seemed a bit more local. It combined the beautiful surrounding landscape with a small city vibe that still managed to preserve its local charm. At last, the city is also close to one of Icelandic hotspots to observe whales (if you want to go on a trip check out this company).
The miniature Iceland peninsula Snæfellsnes
The majority of tourists that come to Iceland are doing the famous Golden Circle, which combines a few touristic hotspots only a couple of hours from Reykjavik, it’s a classic day trip. I, however, would highly recommend you to explore the Snæfellsnes peninsula, because it is basically a miniature version of Iceland.
It offers rough mountain ranges, black beaches, moss-covered lava patches, smaller fjords and much more. Perfect if you don’t have that much time and want to see what Iceland has to offer, away from the classic tourism spots.
The hidden waterfall Glymur
Ok one more waterfall on this stop list, but it is the last one, I promise! If you feel like a bit of adventure this is the perfect spot for you. Getting to the waterfall was a bit tricky because the path is not very secured and can be a bit slippery. I wouldn’t say that it is dangerous, but it is not something for the faint-hearted.
Only my brother and I managed to go to the platform, Paulyne and my mum had to stop before because it was getting a bit too sketchy for them. By now they might have improved the paths a bit, otherwise the perfect spot to get a bit of adrenaline.
The Highlands in the center: Landmannalaugar
Now we have finished our tour around Iceland and as you probably realized I didn’t mention anything in the center yet. If you plan to rent a normal car you will have to stick to the highway around Iceland, but if you have a bit more time on your hands I would definitely recommend you to take a bus or tour into the center of the country.
The highlands are not easy to reach, thereby, making it the perfect place to find your own spot. It can be crowded at the main camping site of Landmannalaugar, but as soon as you walk for a couple of minutes you will be mainly by yourself and able to enjoy the magnificent mountain ranges that go as far as you can see.
I hope that this article inspired you once more to visit this remote island and find some hidden treasures by yourself. Otherwise, the classics and the list above will already give you a full packed itinerary that won’t disappoint you.
Only around 360 000 people are living in Iceland, so you can imagine what an impact 2 million visitors can have, so please remember to travel respectfully (you will find some tips here), so that future generations will find these magical places as you discovered them.
Until we meet again Iceland!
Did you enjoy reading this article? Would you like to read more of this kind? Then please let us know and we would happily write one about another destination. In the following, you can find a few operators that offer tours, if you rather explore a destination that way. Evaneos gets you in touch with locals to plan your trip , you can also find a list of day tours and tour operators here or you can plan the trip by yourself with the help of the really great website of Iceland.