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Kirkjufell At Sunrise In Iceland. Beautiful Landscape.

Unexplored Natural Wonders and Hidden Gems in Iceland: A Local’s Guide to the Country’s Best Kept Secrets

Iceland is a land of stunning natural beauty, with landscapes ranging from icy glaciers and thundering waterfalls to volcanoes, lava fields, and black sand beaches. While highlights like the Golden Circle and South Coast are popular amongst tourists, there are still many unexplored wonders and hidden gems scattered across this magical island.

As a local Icelander, I’m sharing my insider knowledge of some of the country’s best kept secrets. From secluded highland oases to deserted fjords in the Westfjords, get ready to discover Iceland off-the-beaten-path.

Table of Contents

  • Unexplored Regions of Iceland
  • The Highlands
  • The Westfjords
  • The Eastfjords
  • The North & Northeast
  • Waterfalls
  • Glaciers
  • Volcanoes & Geothermal Areas
  • Caves
  • Black Sand Beaches

Unexplored Regions of Iceland

Many travelers stick to the well-known Golden Circle, South Coast, and Ring Road routes. Venture into the remote corners of Iceland and you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking scenery devoid of crowds.

The Highlands

The Icelandic Interior Highlands are one of the most remote and uninhabited areas in Europe. With harsh conditions and largely inaccessible terrain, the Highlands remain largely unexplored. Those who make the effort are treated to a raw, wild landscape dominated by glaciers, volcanoes, deserts, canyons, and oases.

The Landmannalaugar geothermal area is arguably the most famous spot in the Highlands, attracting day trippers in summer. But spend a night or two here and you’ll get to experience the technicolor rhyolite mountains and bubbling hot springs without the crowds. Nearby, Hrafntinnusker is an eerily beautiful obsidian lava field topped with ice.

Venture further north to Askja, a caldera lake within a stunning volcanic crater. Surrounding it is the vast Dyngjufjoll mountain range, riddled with hiking trails leading to scenic vistas.

In North Iceland, the normally bustling Dettifoss waterfall in Vatnajökull National Park feels remote and mystical when visiting the east bank. The powerful cascade is flanked by the Jökulsárgljúfur canyon with hexagonal basalt columns.

The Westfjords

The Westfjords is Iceland’s most isolated and least populated region. Sheer cliffs, dramatic fjords, and winding roads make it challenging to navigate, keeping visitor numbers low.

Many visitors rush through the Westfjords, but rewarding sights await those who linger. The Hornstrandir Nature Reserve occupies the northernmost tip of the peninsula. Hiking trails lead through Arctic tundra dotted with seabird colonies.

On the Strandir coast, Djúpalónssandur Beach is an eerie lava beach strewn with the rusted remains of a 1948 shipwreck. Nearby, Kaldalón glacier lagoon reflects the surrounding cliffs when calm.

The off-the-beaten-path town of Bíldudalur has an impressive Arctic tern breeding ground. In spring and summer, thousands of migratory birds flock to the village. Drive along the picturesque Ögur Road  nearby for panoramic fjord views.

At Iceland’s westernmost point, Látrabjarg is renowned for its staggering sea cliffs. Extending 14km along the coast, it’s one of the world’s largest bird cliff habitats. Visit in summer to see puffins, gannets, and razorbills nesting.

The Eastfjords

The Eastfjords is revered for its idyllic fishing villages and dramatic landscapes carved by ancient glaciers. Driving here takes time, keeping tourists at bay.

Stöðvarfjörður, flanked by towering mountains, enchants with its stunning geology and peaceful atmosphere. Hike up Petursey or Stapafell mountains for sublime fjord views. Nearby, the iconic Breiðdalsvík mountains have been likened to a sleeping giant.

Further north near Egilsstaðir town, frothy Hengifoss waterfall cuts a narrow gorge into a basalt cliff. A short hike leads to the towering Litlanesfoss cascade nearby.

From the fishing village of Fáskrúðsfjörður, follow the trail along the stunning French Coast. So named because French fishermen frequented the area in centuries past, the scenic cliffs and pebble beach remain unspoiled today.

Mjoifjordur is considered Iceland’s most beautiful fjord, with forested slopes descending sharply into the glacier-fed estuary. Find serenity kayaking or hiking in this peaceful haven.

The North & Northeast

Iceland’s rugged northern coast attracts daring travelers with its remote fishing villages and spectacular scenery.

Drangsnes is a charming fishing village perfectly positioned to explore three northern peninsulas. Nearby Grímsey Island offers superb Arctic tern and puffin viewing in summer.

Svalbarðseyri Island is joined to the mainland via a thin isthmus, making it a birdwatcher’s paradise. Hvítserkur, a 15m basalt sea stack just offshore, resembles a dragon taking a drink.

The scenic Trollaskagi Peninsula rewards those who take the less-travelled backroads. Make pit stops at quirky museums in Dalvík and lunch in the French-inspired town of Hjalteyri.

Following the Diamond Circle route near Húsavík unveils less-visited gems like Rauðanes Peninsula, dotted in surreal rock formations, and the massive Ásbyrgi canyon said to be a hoofprint from Oðinn’s eight-legged horse.

Hidden Gems in the South & Southwest

While Iceland’s south coast and Golden Circle teem with tourists, hidden treasures can still be found if you stray from the hot spots. Here are some of my favourite under-the-radar spots.

Landbrotalaug Hotpot

Tucked beneath the Golden Circle route in South Iceland, Landbrotalaug natural geothermal pool offers a tranquil, crowd-free soaking experience. Its location down a rugged dirt track deters tourists. Enjoy views of the surrounding Laugarvatn lake and steam rising off the hot water.

Gluggafoss Waterfall

Within sight of Seljalandsfoss waterfall, the two-tiered cascade of Gluggafoss stands like a hidden gem behind the popular site. Accessible via a rough trail, its lack of railings and platforms means fewer safety-conscious tourists visit. For more solitude, continue along the river to see a series of smaller falls.

Kvernufoss Waterfall

On the Skógafoss trail, most tourists turn back after visiting the 60m-high cascade. Continuing 20 minutes upstream leads to the graceful chute of Kvernufoss, plunging into a wide green pool. Enjoy the stunning waterfall in near-solitude before the crowds arrive.

Hjörleifshöfði Promontory

Along the south coast near Vík, this 221m-high promontory provides panoramic views across black sand beaches, Reynisfjara’s basalt columns, and Mýrdalsjökull glacier. Hike up the steep slope early to avoid crowds. Legend says Hjörleifshöfði is the burial site of Vikings Hjörleifur and Ingjaldur.

Hveradalir Geothermal Area

Surrounded by vast lava fields near the famous Kerið crater lake, Hveradalir feels remarkably untouched. A marked trail guides you through steam vents and bubbling mud pools in hues of yellow, green, and red. Look out for fumaroles billowing sulfurous steam skyward.

Reykholt Village

While the nearby geysers and waterfalls of Haukadalur draw tourists, peaceful Reykholt village offers a glimpse of rural Icelandic life. Visit Snorrastofa museum, soak in the Krauma geothermal baths, and dine at Fjallakaffi restaurant near Iceland’s first geothermal well.

Natural Wonders

Beyond the heavily-trodden paths of Iceland lie hidden natural gems awaiting discovery by intrepid travelers. From roaring waterfalls to dizzying cliffs, here are some awe-inspiring sights.

Waterfalls

With thousands of falls scattered across the country, many go unseen. Venture off-road and you could have epic cascades all to yourself.

Tucked away in Berufjörður in the Eastfjords, the tiered Fúlavíkurfoss tumbles 105m over a cliff into a narrow inlet. Nearby Mjoifjardarfoss flows gently down a wide basalt wall.

In North Iceland’s Vatnsdalur Valley, hike an uphill trail to reach the hidden cascade of Strútsfoss. Formed by overflow from a crater lake, its 50m chute drops into a cloud of mist.

Glaciers

Accessible only by 4WD vehicles, Iceland’s glacial tongues offer rare beauty. With patience, routes can open onto surreal icy wonderlands.

Snaking down from Vatnajökull ice cap, remote Hoffellsjökull glacier awaits explorers who traverse the rugged F985 trail. Ice caves here change yearly, with blue walls, cracks, and crevasses.

Boat trips run to Fjallsárlón lagoon, but the glacier itself sees few visitors. Hike across the icy lagoon for stunning views of the Fjallsjökull icefall. Beware of hidden crevasses.

Volcanoes & Geothermal Areas

For an otherworldly experience, witness Iceland’s volcanic fury at these raw, untamed sites.

Known as the Gateway to Hell, Hverfjall volcano’s massive crater beckons hikers to its 650m-wide, 140m-deep bowl. The trail circumnavigating the rim affords dizzying views inside the explosive caldera.

High in the uninhabited interior, Krafla volcano’s crater Víti exploded in 1724. Today its teal-blue lake punctuated with steaming vents makes for an eerie, magical sight.

Caves

Underneath Iceland’s lava fields and glaciers lie hidden caves few travelers know about. Be prepared with helmets, headlamps, and caution when exploring these thrilling underworlds.

The mile-long Raufarhólshellir Lava Tunnel snakes under the Reykjanes Peninsula near Reykjavik. Otherworldly rock formations like columns and ridges have been carved by centuries of lava flow.

Ice caves form each winter in Vatnajökull National Park as glacial meltwater tunnels under the ice cap. Experienced guides lead tours through Kverkjökull’s caves, revealing ephemeral chambers in hues of crystal blue.

Black Sand Beaches

While Reynisfjara gets all the hype, Iceland harbours lesser-known black sand beaches with equal drama.

The beautiful Djúpalónssandur beach on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula is covered in black volcanic pearls. Nearby lie the rusted remains of the Epine shipwreck.
On the south coast, Reynisdrangar’s sea stacks rise from a secluded black sand beach near Vík. Admire the hexagonal basalt columns along its rugged shore.

The pink-hued Rauðasandur beach stretches 10km down the Westfjords coast, backed by epic cliffs and mountains. Watch playful Arctic foxes hunt at water’s edge.

Practical Tips for Exploring Iceland’s Secrets

To fully experience Iceland’s hidden treasures, advanced planning and responsible travel are essential:

  • Rent a 4×4 vehicle for navigating rough roads into Iceland’s rugged interior. Research road conditions thoroughly and carry extra fuel, food, and water.
  • Check weather forecasts vigilantly. Conditions can change rapidly in remote areas. Avoid attempting dangerous crossings during storms.
  • Pack appropriate gear like hiking boots, camping equipment, GPS, maps, etc. Mobile phone and internet coverage is limited in unpopulated areas.
  • Purchase insurance for rescue situations. Register your travel plans with Safetravel.is.
  • Follow safe hiking and glacier walking practices. Guided tours are recommended for inexperienced hikers.
  • Avoid venturing into restricted areas near nesting bird cliffs from May to August.
  • Practice Leave No Trace ethics to preserve Iceland’s pristine wilderness for future generations.
  • Spread tourism revenue to rural communities by purchasing supplies locally and staying in small guesthouses.

With sound judgement and respect for the environment, Iceland offers endless treasures for explorers searching beyond the ordinary. As a local, I’m thrilled to share these unspoiled wonders – enjoy them, but please travel wisely.

FAQ

What is the best time of year to visit Iceland’s hidden gems?

Summer months from June to August offer the most favourable hiking and driving conditions. However, places like the Highlands are extremely popular in summer. Visiting in late spring and early fall means fewer crowds, northern lights potential, and lower accommodation prices.

How can I travel Iceland’s interior Highlands safely?

Joining guided super jeep tours is the easiest option for reaching the Highlands. For self-drivers, only attempt to enter with modified 4×4 vehicles. Conditions vary greatly based on weather and seasons. Avoid questionable river crossings and stick to marked roads. Always register your trip with safetravel.is.

What are the top tips for photographing Iceland’s landscapes?

To capture Iceland’s grandeur, use wide angle and zoom lenses, circular polarizing filters, tripods, and remote shutters. Photograph waterfalls at multiple exposures, shoot beaches and ice caves early or late when crowds are fewer, and immerse yourself in the scenery to portray its energy.

What should I pack for hiking and exploring Iceland’s natural wonders?

Bring waterproof hiking boots, warm and waterproof clothing layers, gloves, hats, sunglasses, headlamps, first aid kits, maps, camping equipment if desired, and plenty of water and high-protein snacks to fuel your adventures.

How can I best contribute to sustainable tourism in Iceland?

Practice responsible driving, stick to marked trails, avoid trodding on moss and delicate tundra vegetation, leave no litter behind, spread your money to local communities, buy locally-grown food, avoid plastics, and travel outside peak summer season when possible. Every effort counts!

What is the best way to meet locals and learn about Icelandic culture?

Venture outside Reykjavik to towns and villages for a slice of authentic life. Chat with your Airbnb host, servers at restaurants and cafes, and attend local events. Most Icelanders speak excellent English and are very open to sharing their customs, cuisine, music, and more.

Final Thoughts

While seeing Iceland’s most famous sights is incredible, I believe exploring its hidden corners offers an even more magical experience. Witnessing these unspoiled landscapes devoid of people is a privilege. My hope is that by getting off the beaten track, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for Iceland’s vast and varied natural beauty, and in turn be inspired to protect it.

As the island’s popularity grows exponentially each year, consciously minimizing our impact as travelers has never been more important. By traveling responsibly, following ethical practices, and spreading tourism revenue across the country, we can ensure Iceland’s precious environment remains pristine for generations to come.

Let Iceland’s untamed spirit awaken your sense of adventure, but also respect. I wish you many wonderful discoveries on your journey!

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