Iceland is one of the world’s most breathtaking countries, but the secret’s out. Over the last few years it’s become one of the hottest destinations on the planet, with visitor numbers to match. Iceland is also one of the best outdoor destinations in the world. Come in summer and you could find yourself sharing its most extraordinary locations with many others, unless you’re a savvy traveller and seek out these top ten best-hidden gems in Iceland instead.
While you’ll have to share the view of Vik’s dramatic sea stacks, head to northwest Iceland instead and you might just have Hvítserkur, nicknamed the troll, all to yourself. It’s an easy detour from the ring road if you’re passing. Between September and April you might even catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights too.
This waterfall should get more attention than it does, particularly in autumn when the colours of the vegetation turn dramatic shades of gold, orange and red. Despite only being a two-hour drive from Reykjavik, Hraunfossar receives far fewer visitors than larger falls such as Skógafoss and Gullfoss but is every bit as stunning.
You’ll find the little town of Hólmavík in the Westfjords, well off the beaten track. Even in summer it’s a sleepy place, but you won’t regret the detour once you’ve explored the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft with its gruesome yet compelling exhibits. You can also go whale watching in summer – humpbacks are commonly spotted in the nearby fjord.
Tourists are only just getting to know the Diamond Circle, North Iceland’s answer to the popular Golden Circle. One of the stops on this scenic route, Ásbyrgi is a remarkable horseshoe-shaped canyon. According to legend, Odin’s eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, placed one of his feet here and the depression that resulted is the ground on which you’ll stand on today.
On Iceland’s well-trodden south coast route, it’s hard to find hidden gems, but they do exist if you know where to look. Close to the town of Hella, take a detour up a gravel road to visit the museum at Keldur. Its assortment of historic turf buildings, perhaps the oldest such structures in the country, makes a fascinating pit stop.
Deep within the Westfjords in the town of Flateyri is a little gem for retail junkies. Shop at the oldest bookstore in the country, opened more than a century ago, and poke your nose around its living accommodation, preserved in period detail. Don’t leave town without paying a visit to the Nonsense Museum, where you’ll be greeted with collections of Pez dispensers and sachets of sugar.
In the far east of Iceland there’s a fjord that’s as serene and beautiful as any in the country. It’s worth the drive for its puffin-spotting opportunities and also for being the place where some believe the Queen of the Elves lives in the Álfaborg (Elf Rock). Relax in a waterfront hot tub as you take in that fabulous fjordside view.
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Stuðlagil made it into the pages of many world renowned magazine and Justin Bieber’s music video shoot in Fjaðrárgljúfur resulted in many of his fans wanting to follow suit. But if you’re looking for a striking canyon that’s most definitely a hidden gem, why not head to Sigöldugljúfur near Landmannalaugar? This out of the way gorge is simply jaw-dropping thanks to the many waterfalls which cascade down its sides.
Heimaey Stave Church
This delightful black church, completed in 2000, is a replica of a much older church in Norway, the Haltdalen Stave Church. The Norwegians gifted it to the Westman Islands to commemorate the 1000th anniversary of Iceland’s conversion to Christianity.
In their hurry to reach places like Jökulsárlón Glacial Lagoon, many tourists speed past the turn off for Ingólfshöfði. That’s a pity, for in summer this is one of the best headlands in the country to spot puffins. You’ll need to park up at the hut and travel the last few kilometres in a tractor cart as the road peters out to a flooded causeway, but this windswept place is worth the effort.
If you are inspired by this list of hidden gems you might also enjoy our articles about the top 10 waterfalls and 9 stunning canyons in Iceland.
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