In the last decade, Iceland has seen an explosion of growth. In part due to the beautiful scenes on display in Game of Thrones, tourism in Iceland has more than doubled since 2009. While I think it’s great that the world has discovered another gorgeous country to explore, inevitably, some attractions become more popular than others.
We’ve all heard of Iceland’s Golden Circle, the Blue Lagoon, and the Aurora Borealis. These are the ones that fill the pages of Lonely Planet, Instagram, and travel blogs more frequently, and it has a bit of a word of mouth snowball effect.
But like most countries, this doesn’t make the lesser known attractions in Iceland any less beautiful, or any less worthy of your time. I’ve crowd sourced a few of the best off the beaten track places to visit in Iceland to whet your wanderlust for your next visit so you can avoid some crowds and not sacrifice the wow factor.
Laugarvatn Fontana Spa
By Janet Newenham, Journalist on the Run
While The Blue Lagoon was a fun experience, my friend and I much preferred the Laugarvatn Fontana geothermal spa on the Golden Circle. As we were staying in a hostel nearby, we were able to wander down before dinner just as the sun was setting and there were hardly any other tourists around.
The complex consists of a selection of super hot and super cold pools, heated by geothermal springs in the lake that the spa is built next to. You can even run into the lake direct from the spa and get the shock of your life as you skip from hot pockets to cold pockets of water. Just be sure to wear their special shoes so your feet don’t get burnt in the burning hot springs! There is also a sauna and steam room and the best part of all is that you can buy some cold beers to drink while in there!
Embrace Your Viking Roots
By Lauren Monitz, The DownLo
If you’re inspired by Game of Thrones or just fascinated with Norse mythology, Iceland is the place to practice your pillaging and seafaring. Formerly an official Viking tour to become a battle-tested warrior, the exact itinerary is unfortunately no longer available, but you can DIY your own Viking experience just as easily.
Challenge yourself to a week of intense outdoor adventures from glacier climbing and arctic river rafting to ATVs and horseback riding. While you’re exploring the epic landscape on foot, steed, or by water, it’s hard not to connect with the rivers, mountains, and lava fields and embrace the history of the region.
The Cliffs of Vestrahorn
By Norman, Années de pèlerinage
The cliffs of Vestrahorn are one of my favourite spots in Iceland. Located only a 5 minutes’ drive away from Höfn and easily accessible with a regular car (no need to brave one of the infamous F-Roads), Vestrahorn still offers a more than welcome respite from the ever increasing tourist hordes.
Try to be here early in the morning, so you can capture those perfect reflections the sun creates on the mirror of shallow water and black sand. And don’t forget to drop by at the Viking village at the foot of the mountains. It’s some abandoned film set, but nonetheless utterly beautiful.
By Lauren Jessica, The Traveler’s Guide by #ljojlo
Reydarfjödur in East Iceland is by far one of the most beautiful spots we stayed on our road trip around Iceland. This small town named after the fjord itself, which is the longest and widest fjord in East Iceland, which is spectacular, to say the least.
The town and fjord are picturesque but if you want a wow moment the drive from Reydarfjödur to Neskaupstadur via Eskifjödur was so spectacular we just had to conquer it twice. You drive along the banks of the fjord before scaling a mountain and popping out the other side onto another beautiful fjord. The views take your breath away, and it was here we were able to witness the raw beauty that is Iceland.
By Justine, Wanderer of the World
When considering a trip to Iceland, many are in search of geysirs, waterfalls, natural hot springs and black sand beaches. When visiting the latter, many choose to visit the beaches at Vik along the South Coast.
But what about finding a lesser known black sand beach instead?
Sólheimasandur beach is not too far from Vik, so it’s possible to see both in one day if you really want to. But Sólheimasandur offers a little more intrigue. On this beach is a plane that crashed in the 1970s, which has been left to nature’s power.
The pitch black sand surrounds your feet, the white plane crash looms in front of you, the choppy waves crash behind you and snow-topped mountains glint down at you from behind the beach.
The Seabaron restaurant, Reykjavik
By Natasha, the World Pursuit
The Seabaron restaurant is an excellent restaurant located right on the waterfront in Reykjavik. It’s open all year round and is definitely work at least one visit on your trip to Iceland. It fills up fast, but they only book tables for four or more people.
Why is this restaurant so popular? Well, they serve up amazing lobster soup and seafood straight from the ocean they are located on. Plus the lobster soups comes with delicious fresh baked bread and is easily enough food for an entire meal. Even though the Seabaron is expensive by international standards, it is still a decent deal in an expensive country like Iceland.
By Ben Deleu, Ben Goes Places
Roughly 10km east of Vik on Road 1, look for a gravel road going through the colourful lupine fields towards Hjörleifshöfði, a 220m-high mountain structure on the black outwash plain Mýrdalssandur. The mountain used to be an island in the sea but due to the eruption of the nearby Katla volcano in 1918, it became surrounded by land.
You can drive to the southern part of Hjörleifshöfði and discover a cave inside the mountain. Or you can hike all the way to the top and find out that it has actually been inhabited in the past! If you continue south you’ll reach an enormous deserted black beach. It is a unique alternative to the overly crowded Reynisfjara beach! This beach is one of the only places in Iceland where you can drive off-road, as the tides will wash away your tracks.
By Greta Omoboni, Gretas Travels
The Westfjords are known as Iceland’s best-kept secret, due to its scarce population and an even scarcer presence of tourists. It’s a very mountainous region with a jagged coastline that makes it hard to travel by land. We spent three days driving around the Westfjords on gravel roads, and despite the bumps, the drive itself is part of the beauty of the trip.
There are stunning viewpoints, waterfalls and beaches all along the journey, with the occasional small cafès or town where you can stop for a break and enjoy the beauty of the fjords. Find out more about what it’s like to explore the Westfjords here.
Heading there soon? Boho Chica has some great ideas on what to wear in Iceland.
By Raksha Prasad, Solo Passport
One of the most interesting things I came across while I was travelling in Iceland was going inside a volcano. There is a 4000 year old dormant volcano, Thrihnukagigur, and one can experience the magma chamber of the volcano.
“Thrihnukagigur” literally translates into “Three peaks crater” and was discovered in the year 1974. The activity takes about 5 to 6 hours and it is divided into two parts – first a hike from the meeting point of the tour to the base camp of the volcano and second taking an elevator into the magma chamber. I must admit that this was definitely a highlight of my travel around the country.
By Kerri, Beer and Croissants
Akureyri might be Iceland’s second largest city but it still looks and feels like the small village.
My favourite thing to do in Akureyri was to take the self-guided “Historical Path” through the Old Town. Covering 4km, much of the city’s history is relived through the unique and colourful old buildings and museums that line the cobbled streets. The path winds its way up the steep hills that this city is renowned for. Once at the top, the views are magnificent. The landscape opens up and affords you views of the city, the fjord and its surrounding mountains.
Sitting just below the Arctic Circle and near Eyjafjörður, one of the longest fjords in Iceland, Akureyri offers plenty to see and do, including hiking, skiing and whale watching. It also has some of the best fish and chips in all of Iceland and deserves a spot on any Iceland itinerary.
By Jennifer Melroy, Made All the Difference travel blog
In northern Iceland, there is a 14 square mile lake called Mývatn. The lake was created by a large volcanic eruption thousands of years ago. Nowadays, the area is an ideal place to explore the volcanic features. The first stop is the Hverir Geothermal Area. Once can smell rotten eggs long before they arrive at the bubbling mud pools and hissing fumaroles.
The next stop is the Krafla Viti Crater during summer you can hike around the crater. Another hiking spot is Dimmuborgir which features interestingly shaped rock formations and is home to the Christmas trolls. The final stop in the Mývatn area is the stop lava caves of Grjótagjá and Stóragjá. Both lava caves feature a hot water pool. Depending on the season and water temperature, it is possible to bath in these caves.
By Inma Gregorio, of A World to Travel.
One of my favourite places in Iceland is Djupavik. I spent fifteen days there running an international work camp by a local organization. As we only had to work about 5 hours per day 6 days per week, we used to explore the area in the afternoons and days off. It was right before the Summer solstice so the days were LONG and so we could hike the nearby hills, swim in the freezing cold Atlantic waters, explore the abandoned big boat in the coast, drink fresh water from one of the many falls in the valley, clean the old herring factory – nowadays a cool space used for exhibits and concerts – and many other cool things.
All in all, we lived a simple and slow life for two weeks and came back renewed and happy. So much that I included Djupavik as one of the 50 stops of an epic Iceland road trip.
When I visited, there were only two people living there with Freja, their dog. They were the owners of the only mid-size building in the village, called Djupavik Hotel and they made us feel home since we arrived. Who knows what you’ll find now. But if you go there, say hi from me!
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