Oh, Iceland. You steal my heart. It’s one of the few countries I’ve revisited in my travels, and for good reason. The best part about a second visit somewhere is being able to do a legit deep-dive. And you know how off-beat everything is my jam. So, if you’re ever in Iceland and you’ve got the time, add these spectacular hidden gems in Iceland to your list!
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Best Hidden Gems in Iceland
Troll the Snaefellsnes Peninsula’s Arnarstapi
Arnarstapi is a village on the southern side of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. This small village was once a hub for fishing, but the village has a few sites that will interest tourists, too! In Arnarstapi, you can see traditional Icelandic homes, gorgeous views, and more.
The statue of Bardur Snaefellsnes is impossible to miss when you stop in Arnarstapi because the statue is very tall! While the statue is beautiful, its story makes it especially worth visiting. According to Icelandic legend, this half-man, half-troll is the namesake of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
Arnarstapi also has several viewpoints. One of the best is Arnarstapi Cliff Viewpoint. From there, you can see a small black sand beach, basalt columns, beautiful cliffs, and many birds! Nearby the viewpoint is Gatklettur, which is a beautiful natural stone arch.
On a clear day, you’ll have beautiful views of Mount Stapafell. It’s a volcanic mountain that’s about 526 meters high. According to Icelandic legend, the mountain is home to Icelandic elves. Right next to Arnarstapi Cliff Viewpoint, a trailhead takes you on a hike from Arnarstapi to Hellnar, another village. You’ll see lava fields, mountains, streams, little waterfalls, rock beaches, and cliffs on this easy walk.
After exploring the area around Arnarstapi, head into the village for a coffee at one of the village’s local cafes. Stapinn Cafe serves delicious drinks and light meals and has a lovely outdoor seating area. Be sure to try their brie burger!
Contribution by: Erin from Pina Travels
Hike to the Crumbling DC-3 Plane Wreck
The DC-3 plane wreck is a fascinating and haunting hidden gem in Iceland that draws curious travelers from around the world. Situated on the black sand beach of Sólheimasandur, this abandoned aircraft is a testament to the power of nature and a symbol of Iceland’s rugged beauty.
The DC-3, a U.S. Navy airplane that crash-landed in 1973, has become an iconic landmark. The story behind the wreck adds to its allure. According to legend, the aircraft was forced to make an emergency landing due to severe weather conditions. Miraculously, all crew members survived, but the plane was abandoned on the desolate coastline.
Visiting the DC-3 plane crash is a surreal experience. You’ll find an intriguing ambiance and sense of mystery surrounding the plane. The DC-3 wreck stands as a striking reminder of the forces of nature and the resilience of man-made structures. The juxtaposition of the decaying plane against the stark landscape creates a mesmerizing sight for photographers and adventurers alike.
Reaching the DC-3 plane wreck requires a roughly 4-kilometer walk from the main road, adding a sense of adventure to the experience. If you’re visiting and the sun is setting, be sure to have a flashlight – there are no lights to guide you back to the parking lot. The walk feels as though you’re on another planet. As you approach the site, the surreal sight of the abandoned aircraft against the stark black sand creates a memorable moment that few other destinations offer.
Please do not touch or climb on the plane, as it is a protected site. This way, we can ensure that this landmark is available for future travelers.
Contribution by: Pamela from The Directionally Challenged Traveler
Find Seclusion at Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon
Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon is one of the most beautiful places in Iceland. It was formed thousands of years ago by glacial erosion, and its distinctive features make it a remarkable sight.
Located in southeastern Iceland, Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon is tucked away from the usual tourist routes, making it more secluded. While popular tourist attractions in Iceland, such as the Golden Circle or the Blue Lagoon, receive many visitors, this canyon remains off the beaten path. You’ll also need a 4WD vehicle to reach this canyon, meaning fewer visitors.
The canyon stretches for about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) and reaches depths of up to 100 meters (328 feet). Its steep walls, winding river, and lush greenery create a mesmerizing landscape. The vibrant shades of green moss covering the canyon walls, the crystal-clear waters of the Fjaðrá River running through it, and the surrounding picturesque landscape create an ethereal atmosphere. It’s a place where visitors can truly immerse themselves in the unspoiled beauty of Iceland.
Several hiking trails allow visitors to explore the canyon and its surroundings. The trails range from easy walks to more challenging treks, offering a chance to discover hidden viewpoints and breathtaking panoramic vistas.
With its dramatic landscape and unique geological formations, Fjaðrárgljúfur Canyon is a dream destination for photographers. The interplay of light and shadow, the vibrant colors, and the ever-changing weather conditions create a visually stunning setting. Photographers can capture stunning images from different angles and perspectives, adding to the allure of this hidden gem.
Whether you’re looking for one of the best Iceland Instagram spots or want to get away from the crowds and enjoy some peacefulness in nature, this beautiful canyon should be at the top of your Iceland bucket list.
Contribution by: Janae from Adventures With TuckNae
The Gljufrabui Waterfall, Hiding in Plain Sight
Tucked away in the incredible landscapes of South Iceland, Gljúfrabúi Waterfall (or “Gljúfrafoss” in Icelandic) remains a well-kept secret that’s just as mesmerizing as its more famous neighbor, Seljalandsfoss. Hidden within a narrow, dramatic canyon, Gljufrabui captivates visitors with its raw, untamed beauty and intimate connection with nature.
Gljúfrabúi means ‘canyon dweller’ in Icelandic, a name that perfectly encapsulates its serene seclusion. While Seljalandsfoss attracts more crowds with its unique walk-behind path, Gljúfrabúi offers an enchanting, off-the-beaten-track experience. The waterfall, partially concealed by a rugged cliff face, spills from a height of about 40 meters, creating an ethereal mist that paints a perpetually magical scene.
Exploring Gljúfrabúi is an adventure in itself. A short hike up a trail leads you to the narrow canyon entrance, where you can wade through a shallow stream to reach the waterfall’s base.
Here, amidst the thunderous roar and gentle spray of the waterfall, you can truly appreciate nature’s raw power and majesty. Wear appropriate footwear to avoid slipping in this wet area.
Photography enthusiasts will find the waterfall a treasure trove of unique shots, from the cascading water seen through the moss-covered opening to the close-up shots of the delicate, water-drenched flora. For the most dramatic views, climb the cliff on the right side of the waterfall and capture the breathtaking panorama of the waterfall pouring into the hidden canyon below.
To reach Gljufrabui, drive along the Ring Road (Route 1) from Reykjavik, taking the turn-off for Seljalandsfoss. The waterfall is about 500 meters (0.3 miles) north of Seljalandsfoss. There’s a car park near Seljalandsfoss, from which a short walk leads you to Gljúfrabúi – and, trust me, it’s definitely worth the quick trek.
Contribution by: Astrid from Seek Scandinavia
Explore The “Pearls of Nature” in Gjáin
Hidden deep in the Þjórsárdalur Valley, Gjáin is one of Iceland’s hidden gems and is commonly referred to as one of the country’s “Pearls of Nature.”
Appearing like a mirage among an expansive lava field, Gjáin is a mystical fairyland full of rivers, waterfalls, and volcanic formations. It offers a lovely view of the volcano Hekla and is a nature lover and photographer’s dream.
Many native Icelanders believe that trolls and elves reside here, and some of the scenes from Games of Thrones were filmed here.
To reach Gjáin, you’ll need a vehicle with four-wheel drive. The Gjáin parking lot is a two-hour drive from Reykjavík along Ring Road (Route 1), Skeiða-og Hrunamannavegur (Route 30), and Þjórsárdalsvegur (Route 32). The coordinates for the parking lot are as follows: 64.1491, -19.7363.
If you prefer not to rent a four-wheel drive vehicle, you’ll have to park on the side of the road. The last mile of the drive is an F road, and only four-wheel drive vehicles are permitted. Don’t worry: your car will be completely fine since this area is off-the-beaten-path and doesn’t receive much traffic or tourists.
From here, you’ll trek across an expanse of relatively flat volcanic rock for about an hour. This alone is an adventure! Once you reach the parking lot, either by car or hiking, you must complete a relatively quick and easy walk down the valley.
Once in the valley, you’ll see the main waterfall, Gjárfoss. Follow the river upstream to discover several other beautiful, hidden waterfalls. Note that some of the paths are rocky and steep, so be sure to wear hiking boots. Also note that Gjáin is inaccessible in the winter, as it’s usually covered in snow and ice.
Gjáin is the perfect addition to your Iceland road trip. Be sure to add it to your itinerary and witness the natural beauty of this place for yourself!
Contribution by: Sara from Travels A-Broads
Hide Out For A Bit In Hornstrandir
Hornstrandir is a nature lover’s paradise, renowned for its unspoiled beauty and pristine landscapes. The area is a designated nature reserve, ensuring the preservation of its untouched wilderness in North Iceland. Nature enthusiasts can explore breathtaking hiking trails, observe several bird species, and witness fascinating marine life, including seals and whales. It is also home to the Arctic fox that roams the cliffs, with its protected status meaning it has no fear of man.
One of the most unique attractions in Hornstrandir is the abandoned village of Hesteyri, nestled on the fjord’s edge. Exploring the remnants of this former fishing community is possible, which offers a haunting glimpse into Iceland’s past. Additionally, the region boasts towering cliffs that provide nesting grounds for seabirds, such as puffins and kittiwakes. Embarking on a boat tour around the coast or hiking allows visitors to witness these huge bird colonies up close.
Getting to Hornstrandir is an adventure in itself, with a boat from Isafjordur being the only way to visit unless you want to take a multiway hike. This boat runs during the summer and can drop visitors off in Hesteyri or one of the other small settlements on the peninsula. In the winter, the boat will only run when a group visits the remote farmhouse at Kviar to see the Arctic foxes.
While awaiting the boat to Hornstrandir, visiting Isafjordur, the largest town in the Westfjords, is highly recommended. For a unique dining experience, head to Tjoruhusid. This cozy seafood restaurant offers a special experience with communal tables and a chef who entertains his guests with the stories behind the recipes passed down through his family.
Contribution by: Suzanne from Meandering Wild
Warm Up At Hrunalaug Hot Springs
Easily one of the best-hidden gems in Iceland, Hrunalaug Hot Spring is special because, unlike many other places, the water is actually hot.
In fact, three unique pools of water gradually increase in warmth, with the large rectangular pool near the on-site building being the warmest (around 104 F or 40 C). Therefore, this is a perfect place to stop after driving for an hour and a half from the capital. You can watch the sunset as your aching muscles get soothed by the rich, hot volcanic waters.
To visit, hop on the Golden Circle and use Route 30 to get to Hrunalaug Hot Springs. It’s located near Fludir but is easy to locate by typing “Hrunalaug Hot Springs” into your GPS. Once you get to the parking lot, it’s a short, 5-minute walk to the spring. Remember to pay the $7.50 fee to visit since payment is run on the honor system and used to maintain the area. To avoid crowds, visit either early in the morning or late at night.
You’ll want to change into your swimsuit before visiting because an old sheep shed is used as a changing room, which is quite damp and has a musty smell. And—if you arrive late after a long day of driving—feel free to spend the night in the Icelandair Hotel Fludir, which is well-located near the hot spring.
Contribution by: Victoria from Iceland Trippers
Let Your Freak Flag Fly In Landmannalaugar
For those up for serious adventure and stunning scenery on their visit to Iceland, check out the adventure hub of Landmannalaugar in the Southern Highlands. You won’t find any glitzy hotels here, but you will find miles of hiking trails, a mountain hut & campground, and a stunning hot spring perfect for soaking after a day spent outdoors.
Best known as the start of Iceland’s famous Laugavegur Trail, Landmannalaugar also offers many opportunities for those who want an adventure base to explore some of Iceland’s backcountry. The hike to the top of Mt. Blahnúkúr, also known as the Blue Peak, is one of the best day hikes in the area. Afterward, soak in the natural Landmannalaugar hot springs for a true Icelandic experience!
You’ll sleep at the Landmannalaugar Hut or pitch your tent at the adjacent campground for accommodation. Just be sure to make a reservation, as the hut is often fully booked during the busy summer months.
For food and drink, you won’t want to miss the famous Mountain Mall – a converted school bus that sells food, snacks, camping gear, and more. We also recommend packing some food to bring with you, as the prices at the Mountain Mall can be quite steep!
Getting to Landmannalaugar takes a bit of work, but it is possible to rent a car (be sure it is a 4×4!) or hop on the Reykjavik Excursions Highland Bus, which connects Landmannalaugar with Reykjavik via a daily bus. Regardless of how you get there, you’ll have an incredible experience at one of Iceland’s less-known adventure hubs!
Contribution by: Ian from TMBTENT
What Are Your Favorite Hidden Gems in Iceland?
I think we can all agree that Iceland itself is a [not-so-hidden] gem. But there’s so much more to see than just the Golden Triangle or the Diamond Circle. If you ever stop by, be sure to veer off the tourist track to explore these hidden gems in Iceland.
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