Read part 2 of ‘10 hidden gems in Iceland’ here.
With Iceland becoming an increasingly popular destination, it’s getting harder and harder to escape the tourists and see what others don’t. Yes, you’ll probably end up in all the Insta-famous locations like the black sand beach anyway (I went there too), but with this post I want to encourage you to explore some of the more off-the-beaten-track locations in an off-the-beaten-track destination. And you can take off-the-beaten-track quite literally in Iceland! Here’s my top-10 hidden gems:
Roughly 10km east of Vik on road 1, look for a gravel road going through the colorful lupine fields towards Hjörleifshöfði, a 220m-high mountain structure on the black outwash plain Mýrdalssandur. The mountain used to be an island in the sea but due to the eruption of the nearby Katla volcano in 1918, it became surrounded by land.
You can drive to the southern part of Hjörleifshöfði and discover a cave inside the mountain. Or you can hike all the way to the top and find out that it has actually been inhabited in the past! If you continue south you’ll reach an enormous deserted black beach! It is a unique alternative for the overly crowded Reynisfjara beach. If you haven’t planned on going to the highlands, it’s also the perfect place to check those ‘moonlike landscapes’ that you would normally find inland off your bucket list. This beach is one of the only places in Iceland where you can drive off-road, as the tides will wash away your tracks.
On number 9 of Iceland’s hidden gems is Landbrotalaug. At first, we were trying to locate Sturlungalaug, but that hot pot is located in a meadow on private land. The two gates that you would need to pass to get there were now closed because the farmers were keeping sheep on the land. The side road from road 55 towards it had some very dramatic landscape changes though so it is worth checking out!
But anyway, the real hidden gem nearby – and a hot pot that was actually accessible – is Landbrotalaug. Located in the southern part of Snæfellsnes peninsula, you need to turn south on road 54 near the sign Skjalg. You can park your car near the hot spring area and just walk over. Note that there aren’t any changing facilities onsite though. The area itself is wet and muddy, but the bathing spot itself is nice and intimate. As with all hot pots: get there early in the morning or late at night to be all by yourself.
Getting towards Bruarfoss can be a little tricky. On road 37, look for a road towards Brekkuskogur, a vacation park with summerhouses. That’s the easy part. The area is full of bushes as opposed to the rest of Iceland and I’m guessing this is why Icelanders have their private summerhouse here in this secluded area. Park your car anywhere you can as it won’t be easy to find a parking spot where you don’t block someone’s entrance. Then look for a walking track downhill until you reach a barbed wire fence where there is apparently another track behind it and you will have no clue how the people walking there got there in the first place. A glitch in the matrix! Jump over the barbed wired and follow a muddy path through some more bushes until you hear the waterfall. Just make sure to remember out of which bush you came to find your way back!
Kaldidalsvegur (route 550) is the shortest highland road traversing the interiors of Iceland. It is often called the highland road for beginners, because there are no rivers to cross. It is not an F-road but in my opinion it should really be an F mountain track. Heading north from Thingvellir, the first part is very scenic. You’ll pass the volcano Skjaldbreiður and drive between the glaciers Þórisjökull and Ok. As soon as you get to the intersection with road 52 it gets a bit boring. Therefore, in my opinion, it’s best to either take route 52 back to civilization or road F338 to try a more difficult track. If you’re camping there for the night, like we did with our campervan, chances are you won’t see another human being for the entire night.
Number 6 of hidden gems in Iceland: Thakgil, your welcome alternative for Thörsmörk. Heading east from Vik, you need to turn left after roughly 5km. You’ll find yourself on a gravel road towards the campgrounds of Thakgil, accessible for normal cars. From there you can take several day hikes but the one I absolutely recommend is the Austurafrettur hike (follow the yellow signs). It takes you all the way to the edge of a cliff with magnificent views of the Kötlujökull glacier. It is a long and difficult hike with lots of climbing but it’s well worth it. Take lots of water and food with you!
After our long hike, I was hoping to grab a bite at the campsite. I’d read that they have a cave on the campsite where they are preparing meals! This turned out to be a disappointment. Inside the cave were a few picnic tables and a barbecue to cook your own meal. Maybe it turned into a nice dining place a bit later in the evening but we had to leave for Hotel Ranga by then. Luckily they had amazing food there!
Continue reading here to discover the top 5 hidden gems in Iceland!