There are plenty of hidden gems across Iceland yet to be fully discovered. In fact, the ice caves we explore in winter need to be discovered anew every year as the glaciers move and melt. The list below covers Hidden Iceland’s Top 5 hidden gems in Iceland, that we are willing to share online. The rest of our off-the-beaten-path spots you’ll have to just come and see for yourself!
1. Vatnajökull National Park (UNESCO World Heritage Site)
First up is the newest UNESCO World Heritage Site in Iceland. Situated in the south east of Iceland this hidden gem is much talked about, but far less visited. And considering the National Park covers 14% of the entire country, there are plenty of untouched areas to explore. Glacier hikes and ice cave discovery are two of the biggest draws to this area.
This area boasts one of the most spectacular glaciers to hike on in Iceland, the Falljökull glacier within the UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is an outlet glacier of Vatnajökull, the largest ice cap in Europe by volume. We recently had videographers join us on a trip to document the experience which has now been featured as Travel Video of the Week on Travelmag.com.
Falljökull translates to the ‘falling glacier’ in Icelandic.
We believe the name is quite fitting since it looks like a giant frozen waterfall. The ice begins its journey at the top Iceland’s highest mountain, Hvannadalshnúkur. At first, hidden behind surrounding mountains, Falljökull can look daunting from afar. But fear not, only experienced guides who have been trained on this glacier will take you for a hike here. They know the best way to navigate around the labyrinth of crevasses and ice sculptures. To call this an adventure would be an understatement. And yet, Hidden Iceland’s glacier hikes are still designed for first timers. However, full mobility and moderate fitness levels are needed for this hike. The rest will be taken care of by your guide.
Rest assured, that any hike on Falljökull is a unique experience since the landscape will always change from one day to the next. Melting and moving ice provide this constant change. To learn more about what a glacier or ice cave hike entails you can check out our Glacier Hike Guide.
During the coldest of the winter months (November to March) it is safe enough to venture inside the glacier. The wintery landscape, at this time of year, holds the ice caves in place. Temporarily frozen in time. To get away from the crowds Hidden Iceland team up with local ice cave explorers at Local Guide of Vatnajökull. They take our guests on a super jeep ride to the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier hiding behind the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. From here we start our journey in search of the newly discovered ice caves for that year. Some years that can mean an extended glacier hike to find the cave. Other years we might get lucky with the cave being right at the edge.
To learn more about how they are discovered and how we go about choosing which cave to explore you can check out our new blog post about Discovering Ice Caves in an Icelandic winter.
Hidden Iceland run a 2 day tour to this part of the country year round. From April to November we hike on the Falljökull glacier. From November to March the glacier hike is replaced with an ice cave.
2. The Wild Westfjords
Next up, the West Fjords. An area far less traveled than the south coast due to its remoteness from the main ring road that circles Iceland. This level of isolation allows us to shamelessly describe the Westfjords as the final frontier of the island.
From the winding roads around dramatic coastal fjords, to the worn fishing villages steeped in history and tradition. It’s no wonder that we have given our 4 day tour the name, the Wild West Fjords. Going to the Westfjords will always leave you with the feeling that you are on the edge of the world.
If you want to visit Iceland undisturbed, this is the place to be.
Perhaps the most spectacular landscape in this region is the vertical sea cliffs at Látrabjarg. These towering cliffs are 14 kilometers long and 440 meter high. From mid-May to mid-August, this awe-inspiring cliff is home to an astounding variety of birds. Photographers delight in getting up close to; guillemots, snipes, razorbills, red-throated loons and, of course, lots and lots of puffins. Even if you are not an bird enthusiast, this spot won’t leave you disappointed. The quietness of the area and the fact that Látrabjarg is located at the most western tip of the Westfjords. The frighteningly vertical cliffs overlooking the Atlantic ocean creates a feeling of complete calm, even on the windier days.
Since we are talking Westfjords, let us not forget to mention Vigur. This is a tiny picturesque island located half an hour from Ísafjörður by boat ride. We love to include this little day tour on our four-day excursion to the Westfjords. Known for being home to the one and only windmill left standing in Iceland. Vigur is also a fantastic spot for bird watching as thousands of birds from eider ducks to black guillemots, arctic terns and puffins lay their nests across the island. Be careful not to step on an egg as you make your way from one end of the island to another. Oh and watch out for seals lazily sunbathing on the rocks offshore.
Come with us to explore this raw Icelandic beauty on our Wild Westfjords 4 day trip!
3. The Secret Lagoon hidden in the Golden Circle
Care for a dip in one of Iceland’s natural hot pools? But would rather avoid the crowds of the Blue Lagoon? The Secret Lagoon is located in a small village called Flúðir. It’s an ideal place to relax and unwind on your way to the more popular Golden Circle. It is also the oldest natural hot pool in Iceland dating back to 1891. The locals would teach their kids to swim in between taking time for themselves. The water stays at a perfect 38-40 Celsius all year round and is perfect for bathing. There’s even a tiny geyser that erupts every 5 minutes if you fancy a little walk in your bathing suit.
The hot pool has remained untouched since it was first created over 100 years. The one thing that has changed however is the changing rooms. Modern showers, an affordable cafe and a tranquil seating area add charm to this hidden gem. It’s no Blue Lagoon, but isn’t that the point?
Whilst the secret is out, come at the right time of the day and you may very well find yourself alone! Hidden Iceland go in the morning in the low light before exploring the rest of the Golden Circle.
Visit the Secret Lagoon with us on our Golden Circle: Platinum Tour!
4. The volcanic Westman Islands
From a hot pool to a volcanically active island. Often neglected by travel companies despite its raw beauty, another yet to be unearthed region of Iceland, is the Westman Islands. Located half an hour away from Landeyjarhöfn in the South of Iceland, you won’t have properly explored Iceland until you hop on a ferry ride to this archipelago of 15 jagged volcanic islands, 14 of which were born out of submarine volcanic eruptions 11,000 years ago. Home to Iceland’s largest puffin colony, the list of things to do on the Westman Islands is endless.
Start your day by making a visit to Eldheimar Museum on Heimaey, the only inhabited island of the archipelago. There, you will learn all you have to know about the 1973 volcanic eruption which almost destroyed the island if it wasn’t for the locals who used massive hoes to curt the lava flow and ultimately save the town. From the museum, you will be able to see the cooled lava fields which extend the size of the island by 20%. Watch out for whales, seals and puffins as you take a scenic boat ride around the otherwise inaccessible islands surrounding Heimaey.
Explore the Volcanic Westman Islands with us on our (summer only) trip!
5. The Reykjanes Peninsula and Lava Tunnel
Finally, there is more to the Reykjanes peninsula than the Blue Lagoon and Keflavik Airport. Did you know that Reykjanes peninsula is located right in the middle of a rift zone between the North American plate and the Eurasian plate? This means the ground is literally pulling apart beneath your feet. Very slowly mind you.
There is also a large volcanic system underground here too so every time the ground breaks open, instead of sea water filling the gap, lava pours out. This creates new land and is the exact process as to why the whole of Iceland exists. The Reykjanes peninsula has been gaining a lot of media attention lately. The long dormant Mt. Þorbjörn volcano has been rumbling a lot in recent months. Not to worry though, the last eruption here was over 800 years ago. And the locals are carrying on business as usual.
If you’re still hesitant to visit this geothermally rich area then perhaps a visit to Iceland’s largest hot mud spring called Gunnuhver will sweeten the deal. There’s a constantly erupting geyser too. Not far away is the Mars-like landscape of Krýsuvík with its acid rivers. Finally if you aren’t satisfied with surface attractions why not take an easy hike down into Raufarhólshellir which is one of Iceland’s longest lava caves.
Join our Between Continents: Reykjanes & The LAVA Tunnel tour and let’s explore the peninsula together!
An honourable mention must be given to Lilja Guesthouse in the south east of Iceland. A family-run farmhouse that was converted into a charming and comfortable guesthouse in 2016. There are no lights or towns as far as the eye can see. If you are going to rest up anywhere while searching for the northern lights this is the spot. In the spring you sometimes get to bottle feed the tiniest lambs. Located as far from Reykjavik as you can get on a two-day trip, Lilja is the best place to recharge after visiting the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon and before glacier hiking. Bonus points for the unequaled hospitality of its owner, Óli and the delicious breakfast.
Hi, I am Ryan Connolly; Co-Founder and Marketing Manager of Hidden Iceland.
I’ve guided in multiple countries around the world. And I’ve stepped foot on all 7 continents. My passion for science and nature has led me to study many aspects of my adopted home, Iceland. I have been published in Drift Travel, Adventure Travel News and Kids Are a Trip. I’ve also shared my views with Forbes, Conde Nast Traveller and Travel Pulse on various subjects.