Experience Hidden Gems in Iceland Like a Local

Our guide to hidden gems reveals secluded waterfalls, mystical caves, and charming villages that remain undiscovered by many.

Hidden Gems in Iceland:

blog authorBy Johanna Sigurðardóttir shield verificationVerified Expert

Are you yearning to discover the hidden gems in Iceland beyond the classic tourist hotspots? Imagine exploring the untouched corners of this mesmerizing country, where natural beauty waits to be unearthed by those willing to venture off the beaten path. 

With this guide, we aim to inspire you to immerse yourself in the local culture and landscapes, revealing a side of Iceland that few travelers experience. Rest assured, the treasures described herein are based on insider knowledge and a deep love for this spectacular island.

Ready to unravel the true magic of Iceland? Let's go.

What Are Hidden Gems?

Hidden gems in Iceland are those lesser-known, often secluded locations that offer authentic experiences and a deeper dive into the country's culture and natural beauty. They hold immense significance in travel and discovery, offering a unique perspective untainted by commercial tourism. These hidden gems connect intimately to Iceland's landscape and history, ensuring an unforgettable journey.

hidden gems iceland

Why Visit Iceland's Hidden Gems?

Venturing to Iceland's hidden gems offers a sanctuary from the bustling tourist spots, allowing you to bask in the tranquility of untouched landscapes. These secluded wonders afford a deeper connection with Iceland's raw beauty and an authentic taste of local culture, undiluted by the outside world. 

Embracing these Iceland hidden gems means finding serenity in the silence of a fjord, the whisper of a distant waterfall, and the stories told by the land itself. Here, you can truly absorb the peacefulness and pristine beauty that Iceland is famous for, creating memories in the country's purest form.

non touristy things to do in iceland

Top 15 Hidden Gems in Iceland

Welcome to our curated list of the top 15 hidden gems in Iceland, chosen just for the adventurous traveler in you. Suppose you're in search of non-touristy things to do in Iceland. In that case, these unspoiled locations offer an exclusive peek into the country's heart and soul. 

Top 3 Hidden Gems in South Iceland

South Iceland is undoubtedly Iceland's most visited region, with its diverse landscapes and fascinating attractions. However, beyond the popular Golden Circle route lie some lesser-known gems waiting to be explored.

1. Hjörleifshöfði Cave

Hjörleifshöfði Cave, a beacon among the hidden gems in Iceland, is steeped in history and geological wonder. Known to Star Wars enthusiasts as Yoda Cave, it gained notoriety after gracing the silver screen in 'Rogue One.' 

This small cavern, nestled within Hjörleifshöfði mountain, was sculpted by volcanic forces during the ice age, creating its distinctive shape. The cave's dual entrances, one atop the other, add to its peculiar charm. At the same time, the moss-draped rock contrasts starkly with the dark volcanic stone. 

Above lies the final resting place of Hjörleifur, Iceland's first settler, making this cave a monument to both natural and human history.

Hjörleifshöfði Cave

2. Stjórnarfoss Waterfall

Stjórnarfoss Waterfall, nestled near the quaint town of Kirkjubæjarklaustur, is truly one of the hidden gems of Iceland. With its twin cascades plunging 15 meters (49 feet) into a serene pool, it's a picturesque spot for tranquility seekers. 

The moss-draped rocks frame the falls, enhancing the idyllic scenery, perfect for a family picnic or a reflective solo moment. For those drawn to the great outdoors, camping in Iceland becomes an enchanting experience at the adjacent Kleifar Campsite, where the gentle sounds of nature lull you to sleep. Access is a breeze, just a short journey from the main ring road, leading you straight to this peaceful sanctuary.

Stjórnarfoss Waterfall

3. Múlagljúfur Canyon

Múlagljúfur Canyon is a hidden jewel for those seeking Iceland off the beaten path. This southeast treasure, flanked by the grandeur of Öræfajökull glacier, offers dramatic landscapes with lush moss-covered cliffs and two majestic waterfalls plummeting into the Múlaá River. 

It's a paradise for hiking in Iceland, where each step leads to awe-inspiring vistas of glaciers and glacial lagoons. The journey to Múlagljúfur is an adventure in itself, involving a scenic drive and a rewarding hike, perfect for those who revel in the thrill of exploration and the serenity of Iceland's unspoiled wilderness.

Múlagljúfur Canyon

Top 3 Hidden Gems in East Iceland

East Iceland is known for its bountiful wildlife, rugged landscapes, and charming villages that glimpse traditional Icelandic life. However, it's also home to some of the most exquisite hidden gems in Iceland that will leave you spellbound.

1. Selárdalur Pool

Selárdalur Pool is one of the best-kept Iceland secrets, a hidden oasis in a remote valley. Known as one of Iceland's most impressive pools, it lies on the banks of the Selá salmon stream, offering a unique perspective over the gentle flow of water through a shallow canyon. 

This natural hot spring pool, once fed by the area's hot springs, now provides a warm, geothermal haven for relaxation amidst long drives. Located just off Road 85, 12 kilometers (7 miles) from Vopnafjörður, it's a secluded spot where tranquility meets the therapeutic embrace of Iceland's geothermal warmth.

Selárdalur Pool

2. Gljúfursárfoss Waterfall

Gljúfursárfoss Waterfall is a hidden marvel off the beaten path in Iceland, overshadowed by its famous neighbor, Hengifoss, yet equally deserving of awe. This East Iceland treasure is conveniently accessible, just a stone's throw from the road in Vopnafjörður. 

Visitors are first greeted by the waterfall's crest, glimpsed when crossing the river. It plunges 45 meters (148 feet) down a deep gorge, its waters eventually meeting the Atlantic. The falls' mood shifts with the weather, from a serene trickle to a thunderous force in heavy rain. A stroll away lies Skjólfjörur Beach, with the striking Ljósastapi Rock Pillar standing guard, completing a landscape of secluded, dramatic beauty.

Gljúfursárfoss Waterfall

3. Stuðlagil Basalt Column Canyon

Stuðlagil Basalt Column Canyon is one of the most awe-inspiring hidden gems in Iceland, offering a true adventure for those willing to undertake the journey. The 4-kilometer (2.5 miles) hike to the canyon is as challenging as it is rewarding, leading to the stunning Stuðlafoss Waterfall, framed by picturesque basalt columns. 

Once concealed by the vigorous Jökla river, the canyon's beauty was unveiled after the Kárahnjúkavirkjun hydroelectric plant's construction calmed the waters. Now, the tranquil river reveals a mesmerizing array of basalt formations and a palette of vibrant colors. This under-visited wonder requires intrepid spirits to navigate lesser-trodden paths, starting from a bridge near Klautursel farm off the road n°923 from Egilsstaðir.

Stuðlagil Basalt Column Canyon

Top 3 Hidden Gems in West Iceland

West Iceland is often overshadowed by its more popular counterparts. Still, this region contains some of the most breathtaking hidden gems in Iceland. From stunning waterfalls to fascinating geological formations, there's plenty to discover for adventurous travelers.

1. Djúpalónssandur Beach

Djúpalónssandur Beach, a stunning black sand beach on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, is another one of those hidden gems of Iceland. Its shores are adorned with glistening black pebbles and dramatic rock formations. 

Once a bustling fishing hub, the beach now hosts eerie relics of a shipwreck, echoing tales of the sea's treacherous beauty. The beach is famed for its historic lifting stones:

  • Fully-Strong (154 kg/339 lbs)
  • Half-Strong (100 kg/220 lbs)
  • Weakling (54 kg/119 lbs)
  • Bungler (23 kg/51 lbs)

These stones once tested the might of fishermen, with Half-Strong (100 kg/220 lbs) being the minimum weight to hoist for seafaring approval. 

Today, visitors are invited to test their strength against these ancient weights, a physical connection to Iceland's maritime heritage amidst the hauntingly beautiful backdrop of black sands and a storied past.

Djúpalónssandur Beach

2. Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum

For travelers seeking non-touristy things to do in Iceland, Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum offers a unique insight into Icelandic culture and heritage. This family-run museum is devoted to the art of processing Greenland shark, a centuries-old Icelandic tradition. 

Visitors can learn about this unique culinary process and even sample Hakarl, the famous fermented shark dish. Not for the faint-hearted, this culinary experience is a rare chance to taste a piece of Icelandic history. 

The museum's location, nestled among stunning lava fields on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, adds to the charm, making it a must-visit for those seeking an offbeat Icelandic experience.

Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum

3. Lóndrangar Basalt Cliffs

The Lóndrangar Basalt Cliffs, majestic rock pillars, are among the many captivating Iceland secrets, rising sharply to 75 meters (246 feet) and 61 meters (200 feet). Formed from an ancient volcanic crater, they have been sculpted by the sea into the striking formations we see today. 

These cliffs are a sanctuary for rich birdlife, providing nesting grounds for numerous species, including puffins and guillemots. The area is a paradise for bird enthusiasts and a testament to nature's artistry, where the sheer height of the cliffs only adds to the grandeur of this wild avian haven.

Lóndrangar Basalt Cliffs

Top 3 Hidden Gems in North Iceland

North Iceland may be known for its stunning landscapes and popular attractions, such as the Lake Myvatn area. Still, it also holds some of the most beautiful hidden gems in Iceland waiting to be discovered by intrepid travelers.

1. Lofthellir Lava Cave

Among the hidden gems of Iceland, Lofthellir Lava Cave offers an awe-inspiring journey into an underground wonder. As a testament to Iceland's young geological age and tectonic activities, this cave is home to some of the most spectacular ice formations on the island. 

Exploring its depths is an otherworldly experience, where stalactites and stalagmites of ice take on strange and fantastic shapes, mirroring the country's vibrant volcanic history. Like the surreal journey through Leirhnjùkur's steam vents and mud pools, a visit to Lofthellir Cave offers a glimpse into the mysterious beauty and power of the Earth's forces at work.

 Lofthellir Lava Cave

2. The Arctic Henge in Raufarhöfn

For those looking to venture off the beaten path in Iceland, the Arctic Henge in Raufarhöfn is a must-visit. This modern monument, situated in one of the most remote villages in the North-East, is Iceland's answer to Stonehenge.

The structure, still under construction, is inspired by the Eddic poem Völuspá (Prophecy of the Seeress) and celebrates old Norse mythology. The Arctic Henge is designed to act as a massive sundial, with the interplay of light and shadow reflecting the time of day. 

The henge, set to span approximately 52 meters (171 feet) in diameter upon completion, currently features four gates signifying the four seasons and a centerpiece. Despite the ongoing construction, visitors can already immerse themselves in its mystical ambiance. The monument is breathtaking during foggy weather, where the grey mists drape the structure in an alluring veil of mystery.

The Arctic Henge in Raufarhöfn

3. Grettislaug Hot Tub

Nestled in Reykjaströnd, Grettislaug Hot Tub is one of the treasured hidden gems in Iceland, steeped in the rich tapestry of Icelandic folklore. Named after the saga hero Grettir the Strong, he warmed his weary bones here after his legendary swim from Drangey Island. 

Alongside Grettislaug lies Jarlslaug, or the Earl's Pool, each offering a warm, geothermal embrace amidst breathtaking views of mountain silhouettes and the rhythmic lull of the Greenland Sea. For those with a bold spirit, the sea invites a bracing dip, adding a thrilling contrast to the pool's soothing waters.

Grettislaug Hot Tub

Top 3 Hidden Gems in the Icelandic Highlands

A world of wonders and dramatic landscapes awaits in the unspoiled wilderness of Iceland's Highlands. While most visitors stick to the popular Golden Circle route, those who venture further afield will be rewarded with some of the country's most stunning hidden gems.

1. Kerlingarfjöll Mountain Range

Tucked away from the well-trodden tourist paths, the Kerlingarfjöll Mountain Range is an enchanting destination for those exploring Iceland off the beaten path. This small, striking range is cradled amidst two glacial giants, its snow-crowned peaks. 

The geothermal area of Hveradalir, hidden within its valleys, is a spectacle of Earth's fiery power, with steam vents and mud pots nestled among the rhyolite mountains. Accessible through a network of hiking trails, the journey to Kerlingarfjöll is an adventure, requiring a 4x4 to navigate the gravel tracks of roads 35 and F347. These routes, free from river crossings, offer a direct path to Iceland's volcanic splendor.

Kerlingarfjöll Mountain Range

2. Hveravellir Geothermal Area

For those seeking non-touristy things to do in Iceland, the Hveravellir Geothermal Area is a hidden sanctuary an hour north of Kerlingarfjöll. Amidst a landscape of steaming lava fields and lively mud pots, it hosts one of Iceland's most secluded natural springs. 

A carefully constructed dam in the stream forms a thermal pool, with temperatures invitingly warm at 20 to 40°C (68-104°F), perfect for a soothing soak surrounded by extraordinary views. Although rustic with no changing rooms, a simple bench, and hooks are provided for convenience. 

Facilities are modest, with toilets a short walk away. This geothermal haven, adorned with unique flora and enchanting hot pools, is a must-visit for any hot springs in Iceland enthusiast.

Hveravellir Geothermal Area

3. Aldeyjarfoss Waterfall

Among the captivating hidden gems of Iceland, Aldeyjarfoss Waterfall stands out remarkably. Perched on the northern edge of the F26 Sprengisandsleið Road, the longest mountain route in the Icelandic Highlands, Aldeyjarfoss is a spectacle of nature's might and craftsmanship. 

Fed by the Skjálfandafljót River, the cascading waters plunge 20 meters (66 feet) into an icy pool framed by symmetrical basalt columns that form impressive walls around its base. Reaching Aldeyjarfoss from Route 1 requires only a brief venture on the F-26. At the same time, the remainder of the journey involves traversing regular gravel tracks. 

A short five-minute drive south takes you to the less crowded yet equally striking Hrafnabjargafoss Waterfall, an awe-inspiring natural amphitheater with powerful waters encircling a central rock.

Aldeyjarfoss Waterfall

Tips for Visiting Iceland's Hidden Gems

Visiting these off-the-beaten-path locations in Iceland will offer you a unique and unforgettable experience. However, ensuring a safe and enjoyable trip requires some preparation. Here are a few tips:

  • Dress Appropriately: The weather in Iceland can change rapidly. Dress in layers and always have waterproof clothing on hand.
  • Preparation is Key: Always check weather and road conditions before heading out on your adventure.
  • Respect the Environment: Leave no trace. Preserve the natural beauty of these hidden gems.
  • Safety First: Some locations might require a 4x4 vehicle. Never venture off marked paths.

How To Get to Iceland's Hidden Gems

Reaching the hidden gems in Iceland might require extra effort, but it's well worth it. Renting a car in Reykjavík allows you to explore at your own pace. While on your adventure, consider the following points:

  • GPS is Essential: Always have a reliable GPS device or app, as remote areas may not have clear signage.
  • Fuel Up: Fill your tank whenever you pass a fuel station, as they can be sparse in remote areas.
  • Emergency Contacts: Keep local emergency numbers on speed dial.
  • Off-road Travel: Off-roading is illegal in Iceland; stick to marked roads and paths.

Iceland in winter

When To Visit Iceland's Hidden Gems

When considering venturing off the beaten path in Iceland, the time of year significantly impacts accessibility and overall experience. Here are some tips:

  • Spring and Summer: Ideal for exploring Iceland's highlands and geothermal areas, as the roads are usually accessible and the landscapes bloom.
  • Autumn: Offers breathtaking color changes in the landscapes.
  • Winter: While some sites may be inaccessible due to weather conditions, winter provides a chance to experience the magical Northern Lights.

What To Pack for Visiting Iceland's Hidden Gems

When embarking on a journey to discover Iceland's hidden gems, careful packing can enhance your experience. Consider the following essentials:

  • Weather-resistant clothing: Prepare for Iceland's unpredictable climate by packing waterproof and windproof jackets.
  • Layered attire: Bring thermal layers for warmth, especially when visiting Iceland's hidden gems in cooler conditions.
  • Sturdy hiking boots: Ensure good ankle support and grip for traversing rugged landscapes.
  • Sun protection: Sunglasses and sunscreen are a must, even in colder weather.
  • Snacks and water: Keep energized and hydrated during your explorations.

hidden gems of iceland

How To Be Respectful of Iceland's Hidden Gems

When uncovering the hidden gems of Iceland, it's crucial to respect the exquisite natural environment. Adhere to the philosophy of 'leave no trace,' ensuring not to litter, damage flora, or disrupt fauna. 

Respect wildlife by observing from a distance and never feeding them. Engage courteously with local communities, understanding their customs and traditions. By maintaining this consciousness, we help preserve these gems for future generations.

Unveiling the True Magic of Hidden Gems in Iceland

The true magic of uncovering the hidden gems in Iceland lies in their elusive charm and untouched beauty. These locations, shrouded in mystery and grandeur, provide a profound and transformative experience. So, why wait? Plan your journey to discover Iceland's hidden gems today and embark on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. 

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