TOP 5 HIDDEN GEMS IN ICELAND

There are plenty of hidden gems across Iceland yet to be fully discovered. In fact the ice caves we frequent 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 that we are willing to share online. The rest you’ll have to just come and see for yourself.

1. The UNESCO World Heritage Site, Vatnajökull National Park

Given that 11% of Iceland is covered by glacier ice, it doesn’t come as a surprise that glacier hikes and ice cave discovery are often the highlights of most people’s visit. What you may not know is that although Iceland is home to 400 glaciers, the majority are too difficult to access. So this means a dedicated glacier company is needed to find the most spectacular spots, while still making it achievable by the average tourist. The Sólheimajökull, for instance, is perhaps the most popular glacier to walk on since it is nearest to Reykjavík. Perfect for a one day trip while exploring the South coast!

However, this list is for more off the beaten path alternatives so we will focus on the glaciers in the south east of the country. By far one of the most spectacular glaciers to hike on, is 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 and thus couldn’t be more aptly named since it looks like a giant frozen waterfall plunging down from Iceland’s highest mountain, Hvannadalshnúkur. At first hidden behind surrounding mountains as you approach it, 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 as they know best how to navigate around the labyrinth of crevasses and ice sculptures. 

The walk may appear challenging due to the glacier’s unique shape (flat at its base but with a sloping cliff higher up (ice fall). Yet only a moderate fitness level is required. Plus, you know what they say, the view is always better when it is earned! I promise you that the sense of achievement once you have reached your high point is unmatched. Not to mention the fantastic view overlooking the valley below. 

Rest assured that any hike on Falljökull, or other nearby glaciers, is a unique experience since the landscape will always change from one day to the next as the glacier moves. Up to one foot a day in fact. To learn more about what a glacier or ice cave hike entails you can check out our Glacier Hike Guide

From the 1st of November to the end of March we go even further to really utilise those cold days. It is during this time of year that the ice caves that are continuously formed throughout the year become safe enough to explore. To get away from the crowds we take a super jeep off road to the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier hiding behind the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon. From here we start our journey in search of the newly discovered ice caves. 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.

Come with us on a glacier hike on Falljökull glacier on our Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon 2 day tour, running April to November. This trip is replaced by the ice cave edition from November to March when it’s cold enough to venture inside the ice.

2. Remoteness of the Westfjords

The West Fjords is far less traveled than the South Coast due to its remoteness from the main ring road that circles Iceland. This allows us to shamelessly describe the Westfjords as the most stunning region of the island. From the roads winding around dramatic coastal fjords to the bucolic 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, which probably explains why this region is also known as ‘The Last Frontier’.

If you want to visit Iceland undisturbed, this is the place to be. Perhaps the most spectacular landscape in this region is Látrabjarg, the towering 14 kilometers long and up to 441 meter high sea cliff which makes it the largest in Europe. From mid-May to mid-August, this awe-inspiring cliff is home to an astounding variety of birds from guillemots, snipes, razorbills to red-throated loons and, of course, lots and lots of puffins, which you can often get a close-up photograph of. Even if you are not an ornithologist wannabe, this sight won’t leave you disappointed. The quietness of the place and the fact that Látrabjarg is located at the tip of the Westfjords and constitutes the westernmost point of Europe conveys a feeling of complete isolation, only interrupted by the chirping of the birds.

Since we are talking Westfjords, let us not forget to mention Vigur, a tiny picturesque island located half an hour from Ísafjörður by boat ride. This is one of our all time favourites, which we have made sure to include 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.

Fun fact: the smallest post office in Europe is located on the island. Perfect timing to send a postcard to your loved ones. Perhaps the best part of the visit is the hospitality of its five inhabitants, a farmer and his family who will offer you the best homemade delicacies, from rhubarb crumbles to a mean happy marriage cake, all made with rhubarb cultivated on the island (what can we say, our love for adventures often competes with our love for food).

Come with us to explore this raw Icelandic beauty on our Wild Westfjords 4 day trip!

3. The Secret Lagoon geothermal hot pool

Care for a swim in one of Iceland’s natural hot pools but would rather avoid the crowds of the Blue Lagoon? Located in a small village called Flúðir, the secret lagoon is an ideal place to relax and unwind on your way to the Golden Circle. It is also the oldest natural hot pool in Iceland dating back to 1891, where locals used to teach their kids to swim and wash their clothes. Not to worry though, the water stays at 38-40 Celsius all year round and is thus perfect for bathing. Bonus points for the small geyser erupting every 5 minutes nearby.  Whilst the secret is out, come at the right time of the day and you may very well find yourself alone! We go in the morning for that reason before exploring the rest of the Golden Circle. 

Visit the Secret Lagoon with us on our Golden Circle: Platinum Tour!

Secret Lagoon Geothermal Hot Pool | Golden Circle: Platinum tour | Hidden Iceland | Photo by Lucas Peters
Secret Lagoon Geothermal Hot Pool | Golden Circle: Platinum tour | Hidden Iceland | Photo by Lucas Peters

4. The volcanic Westman Islands

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 Cave

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 and cracking and scarring the ground as it goes. Luckily, 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. Iceland is the only place on Earth where you can see the Mid-Atlantic rift above sea level. That alone should motivate you to explore the area, shouldn’t it? If you’re still hesitant, a visit to Iceland’s largest hot mud spring called Gunnuhver, the Mars-like landscape of Krýsuvík as well as a short 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 honorable mention must be given to Lilja Guesthouse which didn’t make the top 5 but deserves full recognition: A family-run farmhouse that was converted into a charming and comfortable guesthouse where you will eat the best langoustine sandwich of your life and bottle feed the tiniest lambs in spring time. 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. 

Northern Lights over Lilja Guesthouse | Hidden Iceland | Photo by Tom Archer
Northern Lights over Lilja Guesthouse | Hidden Iceland | Photo by Tom Archer

Ryan (1)

Hi, I am Ryan Connolly; Co-Founder and Marketing Manager of Hidden Iceland.

I’ve guided in multiple countries around the world and stepped foot on all 7 continents. My passion for science, nature, glaciers and volcanoes 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 ForbesConde Nast Traveller and Travel Pulse on various subjects such as over tourism, climate change and sustainable tourism.

Top 5 Hidden Gems in Iceland | Hidden Iceland

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