4 Hidden gems to discover in Iceland

Sam Hewitson 1 June 2022

Despite its thriving tourist industry, there is still plenty left to explore off-the-beaten-track in Iceland. Look for these lesser-known spots on your visit.

These days Iceland is so heavily travelled, and its paths so hard-trodden, you may think there are no hidden spots left to visit, but that doesn’t make it impossible to find some gems that few others discover.

Here’s a rundown of some lesser-appreciated places to visit in this glorious country.

Hveravellir Nature Reserve

Hveravellir hot springs in Iceland highlandsHveravellir is the perfect spot to take a dip in a natural geothermal pool without competing for space with other tourists

When travellers and prospective tourists imagine their perfect Iceland trip, most will probably include the world-famous Blue Lagoon.

It is, arguably, the most well-known and visited attraction in Iceland, but some travellers maintain it is overrated. It’s expensive, it can be overcrowded, and it lacks the authentic and natural hot spring experience given how built up it is. For some, it’s essentially a fancy swimming pool.

Contrast this with Hveravellir. It’s significantly cheaper than the Blue Lagoon, arguably less crowded due to it being a little further out from everything else, and a natural hot spring with very little added structurally that might make it seem manufactured to tourism.

"It feels like another planet"

In short, it actually looks and feels like a hot spring or natural geothermal pool.

But it’s not just thermal pools in Hveravellir. There are many other pools (not for bathing) that can be explored as well as sulphur fumaroles.

It feels like another planet and is yet another reminder of how diverse and interesting Iceland is. Travelling there on a glorious summer’s day genuinely feels like paying a visit to Mars. Just remember to brace yourself for a horrendously eggy sulphur smell.

Askja

View of volcanic caldera lake Askja in IcelandLake Viti is a popular geothermal lake for swimming in with its own nudist beach

Photographers both amateur and professional will love Askja, a caldera situated north of Vatnajökull Glacier and about an hour’s drive from the northern city of Akureyri.

Calderas are volcano craters filled with water, and the lakes here are probably going to be some of the most beautiful bodies of water you’ll lay your eyes on.

The largest of the lakes, Öskjuvatn, is obscenely clear, forming a breathtaking natural mirror you will be transfixed by. The pebble beach on the water also makes for prime stone-skimming opportunities.

There is the smaller body of water, Lake Viti, that has an opaque light blue colour. It is a geothermal pool that is popular to swim in, but be careful to only swim when there is wind, or the build up of carbon dioxide that forms can be dangerous. It is also a nudist beach, if that takes your fancy.

In a country where immense waterfalls and mountains steal the limelight, Askja is something different yet equally beautiful to add to your Iceland itinerary.

Ísafjörður

Boat sits on water near Ísafjörður port with view of hills behind in IcelandIf you're looking for somewhere to view the Northern Lights, you might get lucky on a hike near the Icelandic town Ísafjörður

Situated in the Westfjords and the capital of the region, Ísafjörður is the third largest town in Iceland, and it encapsulates the sleepy, quaint Scandinavian atmosphere perfectly.

It’s impossible to travel here and not be enamoured by your surroundings and the friendly locals. The old timber houses are some of the oldest in the country, adding to the charming surroundings of this beautiful town.

"The old timber houses are some of the oldest in the country"

There are also many hikes in the area around Ísafjörður, giving you access to gorgeous views of the bay and perfect spots to view the Midnight Sun, or maybe the Northern Lights if you’re lucky (depending on the season, of course).

Ísafjörður is also the starting point for any treks to the region of Hornstrandir, so if you’re planning on exploring the gorgeous Icelandic wilderness that barely any visitors get to, it’s worth soaking in the last bit of quaint civilisation before your adventure.

Gljúfrabúi waterfall

Hiker stands in front of Gljúfrabúi waterfall in IcelandAdventurous hikers can find the Gljúfrabúi waterfall tucked away in a secret valley

Iceland is home to so many waterfalls—around 10,000 if we’re being as precise—but some are more famous than others. Skógafoss, Seljalandsfoss and Gullfoss steal the limelight, but fewer people head to Gljúfrabúi, a gorgeous waterfall tucked away in a tiny valley.

Located on the south coast of Iceland near to Seljalandfoss, a bigger and more famous waterfall that draws in more travellers, leaving Gljúfrabúi as a much more magical hidden gem. Visitors will have to embrace their more adventurous side to wade through a stream and get a little wet in a narrow valley, which opens up to the falls.

The falls tower over this little pocket of paradise, opening up to a patch of sky through incredibly green plants and overgrowth. On a good day, the sun shining down can produce small rainbows and make the spot even more magical.

The best part? You’ll more than likely have this gorgeous place to yourself, meaning you can soak in its beauty without having to fight for the prime photo spots.

Read more: 6 Cities to visit in Iceland that aren't Reykjavik

Read more: Friluftsliv: Is this Nordic trend the key to happiness?

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