Everyone’s heard of the Golden Circle, the Blue Lagoon, and even Diamond Beach. Iceland has been so overrun with travelers in recent years that tourists outnumber residents by a long shot. Our goal during our recent trip to Iceland was to get off the beaten path and discover the best Iceland hidden gems.
The Best Hidden Gems In All of Iceland
To spice up your Iceland trip, add these 7 hidden gems to your itinerary:
As we made our way along Ring Road, we decided to venture out into the Westfjords. I had read about all of the hot pots (the Icelandic way of saying hot springs) and magical scenery in the Westfjords, but what surprised me most was the history in this region.
A very unique stop along our route and one of the best hidden gems in Iceland is a small fishing village called Hólmavík. If you’re feelin’ a bit spooky, stop in town and take a tour of the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft.
Similar to the Salem witch trials that took place in Massachusetts, Iceland has its own witchy history.
Witch hunts occurred throughout Iceland in the late 17th century, which resulted in 17 people being burned at the stake for various “crimes”.
The museum does a great job of explaining these crimes, the “incantations” used, and the punishments that were given. Interestingly enough, many of these crimes seemed to stem from a lot of finger-pointing by community officials and judges. Regardless, this place was extremely fascinating.
Hólmavík and the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft is one of the best hidden gems in Iceland because you’re sure to be one of the only visitors in the town. Spend time learning about Icelandic history while enjoying the laidback atmosphere of an off the beaten path destination.
How to get to Hólmavík
Hólmavík is located in the Westfjords, approximately three hours north of Reykjavik. The easiest way to get here is by taking Route 1 all the way up to Staður. From here, take Route 68 along the coast to Hólmavík.
Insider tip: If you get the chance, make this drive during fall. The colors along this route are insanely beautiful this time of year.
Where to stay in Hólmavík
When we visited the Westfjords of Iceland, we stayed just down the road in Drangsnes. Read more about Drangsnes below.
Just down the coast from Hólmavík is a small, secluded area called Drangsnes. Like Hólmavík, Drangsnes has a rich history of sorcery and witchcraft. Not to mention all of the incredible hot springs that pop up across the land. This is the perfect hidden gem to add to your Iceland itinerary.
While visiting Drangsnes, check out the Sorcerer’s Cottage. This reconstructed wooden cabin represents the living style of Icelandic farmer’s in the late 17th century. It also offers visitors a small peek into the life of a sorcerer.
Upon arrival, we found that the cabin was closed for winter, but we were still able to walk around it, read the informational plaques, and look inside through the open windows.
Understanding the way of life for farmers in the 17th century was a great way to travel back in time and learn about Icelandic history.
A few steps from the Sorcerer’s cabin in Drangsnes is another one of the best hidden gems in Iceland. Hot pots dot the fields of the Westfjords and this hot pot sat amongst some of the most beautiful autumn scenery I had ever seen.
With no other tourists in sight, this was an incredible place to get off the beaten path.
Speaking of hot pots, don’t forget to add Drangsnes Hot Pots to your list of things to do in the Westfjords of Iceland. These commercial hot tub basins sit on the ledge of the sea. Enjoy stunning views of the northern Atlantic while soaking in the toasty Icelandic springs.
How to get to Drangsnes
Drangsnes is just 30 minutes by car from Hólmavík. From Hólmavík, take Route 61 north to Route 643. Follow this road along the coast until you reach Drangsnes.
During your drive, be sure to keep an eye out for sheep. While we visited Drangsnes, the annual sheep slaughtering (sad, I know!) festival was happening. The sheep were running rampant along the roads and we had to stop many times to wait for them to cross.
Where to stay in Drangsnes
I highly recommend spending a few days exploring Drangnes and the Westfjords. Be sure to book your stay at Hvammur Bjarg Cottage for your visit to the area.
This was one of the best Airbnb experiences we’ve ever had. With the most incredible views, modern amenities, and a relaxing hot tub, what else could one want?
As you make your way along Ring Road, stop at Kolugljúfur Canyon for views that are out of this world and a short, but exciting, hike.
This canyon had far fewer tourists than the majority of other places we stopped at during our trip. It was great to get off the beaten path, especially on such a well-trodden route like Ring Road.
Kolugljúfur Canyon features several waterfalls, craggy cliffs, and rugged canyon walls. The mighty river that flows through tickles your face with mist as you stand close to the edge for a look at the canyon below.
I highly recommend spending an hour or two exploring the area. The canyon offers several hiking paths that follow along the riverbed.
Take caution if you decide to take these treks. Although the views are completely worth the effort, the trails are rough and slippery. They can be especially dangerous when it’s raining.
Our favorite part of visiting Kolugljúfur Canyon was taking the trail that leads to the base of the river.
To find this path, look for a gap in the fencing on the far side after you cross the bridge. You should see a visible path that leads down toward the canyon. Follow this trail for approximately 5 minutes to find a secluded river basin surrounded by lush moss-covered canyon walls.
How to get to Kolugljúfur Canyon
The best part about Kolugljúfur Canyon is that it’s only minutes from Ring Road. With it’s close proximity to the main highway, I thought more tourists would stop here. Luckily, there were very few of us and we were able to enjoy this Icelandic hidden gem without the crowds.
I had heard of Akureyri before, the largest town in northern Iceland, but I wasn’t convinced that I wanted to visit. Nothing in Akureyri really appealed to me.
Instead, with a bit of searching, we were able to find a quaint little northern Icelandic town called Ólafsfjörður. Ólafsfjörður is the perfect place to enjoy the secret hidden gems of Iceland.
This small fishing village might stink of fish 99% of the time, but it was the mountains, people, and quirkiness that made us want to stay here forever (or at least for the rest of our time in Iceland).
Ólafsfjörður is a great location for hiking as it is surrounded by mountains on three sides. The locals are extremely friendly and can give you advice about where to find the best hiking trails and the best views in the area. Don’t be afraid to ask!
Also, if you’re into Icelandic trolls, this is the town you’ll want to visit. Many houses and shops around town have paintings of trolls on the sides of their buildings. Come to Ólafsfjörður to learn more about the origin of these fairytale creatures.
How to get to Ólafsfjörður
Ólafsfjörður is approximately 50 minutes north of Akureyri. It’s one of the northernmost points of central Iceland.
Insider tip: The drive from Akureyri to Ólafsfjörður requires taking a long underground tunnel. This is a one-lane tunnel, which freaked us out the first time we went through.
In order to use this tunnel, move over into the small alcoves provided when cars approach. Follow the other cars to know which direction has the right of way.
5. Kofi Trail – Dalvík
A hop, skip, and jump away from Ólafsfjörður is the cute little coastal town of Dalvík. Dalvík is enveloped in mountains on three sides, with fascinating views of the fjords across the bay.
Dalvík is a beautiful stop on your way back down from Ólafsfjörður.
Park at the church in town and hike the Kofi Trail, a 3 mile out and back trail that leads you up to an amazing viewpoint of the town below. We were the only hikers on the trail, surrounded by canyons, waterfalls, and cliffs.
If you’re traveling up north near Akureyri, be sure to stop here for one of the best hidden gems in all of Iceland.
How to get to Dalvík
Dalvík is just 40 minutes north of Akureyri by car. Follow the coast until you reach this quaint village.
6. Mount Bjólfur
If you’re looking for an amazing hike in Eastern Iceland, add Mount Bjólfur to your itinerary. Mount Bjólfur and the Avalanche Barrier Trail has some of the most sweeping views in all of Iceland. The fjords below are sure to take your breath away if the 7-mile hike doesn’t do it first!
Finding the trailhead to this hike was a bit challenging for us and we ended up adding a mile to our total distance.. good thing we like to walk!
You can find the trailhead off of Route 93, just a few minutes outside of Seydisfjordur.
Be sure to rent an all-wheel-drive vehicle to get to the start of this trail. Even though our vehicle was AWD with high clearance, there were some places where we struggled to get through.
The trail itself can be a bit difficult to follow, so I recommend downloading a map with directions before you start your trek.
Despite the difficulties that this trail poses, it has the most jaw-dropping views of the eastern Icelandic fjords. If you’re searching for epic views, you NEED to complete this hike.
How to get to Mount Bjólfur
As stated above, Mount Bjólfur is located about 10 minutes west of Seydisfjordur on Route 93. You’ll see a trail sign on the side of the highway for a turnoff. Take the F road as far as you can to reach the trailhead.
7. Múlagljúfur Canyon
Our last adventure was by far the best hidden gem in all of Iceland. We spent the day visiting many tourist-filled places in southern Iceland (Diamond Beach, Jökulsárlón Glacier, and the Sólheimasandur plane crash), so we were ready to get off the beaten path and ditch the crowds.
I read about this hike on the AllTrails app and was fascinated by the photos that were shared. The fact that so few people adventured to this stunning place also sparked my interest.
To my surprise, Múlagljúfur Canyon was even better than I expected.
We were the only hikers around and had the entire canyon to ourselves. Although we battled the rain off and on throughout our trek, the magnificent waterfalls and lush, encasing canyon walls more than made up for it.
The trail itself is of medium difficulty and covers about 3.5 miles of distance. I recommend wearing sturdy hiking shoes that don’t slip. There is a spot during the hike where you must cross a narrow causeway. With sheer drop-offs on either side, it would be very dangerous to lose your balance.
We truly couldn’t believe that we didn’t meet any other travelers during this trek. I couldn’t recommend this hike more for anyone planning to visit Iceland.
How to get to Múlagljúfur Canyon
Follow the directions given on the AllTrails app to get to Múlagljúfur Canyon. We found it a bit difficult to initially find the trailhead, however, we searched for the well-worn road along Route 1 and followed it back to the start of the trail.
When you arrive, you’ll see a dune-like landform in front of you. You won’t be able to drive any further because of this long dune formation. Park next to it and follow the trail up and over the dune. From here, the trail should be very obvious.
Before you finish up with this article, I just want to remind everyone of the importance of respect.
As travelers, it is our duty to respect nature, the people, and the culture of any foreign land we explore. Please be considerate. Pack out any trash you pack in. Stay on designated trails. And always follow the given rules.
So many incredible places are now destroyed by over-tourism. As an avid traveler, I recognize the impact that humans have on nature.
Since tourism continues to grow exponentially, please do your part to keep these extraordinary places extraordinary.
The Wrap-Up: Iceland Hidden Gems
Once the land of the fire and ice, Iceland is now home to insurmountable amounts of tourists. But, with a bit of luck and the right knowledge, you’ll be able to escape the crowds, get off the beaten path, and find the best hidden gems in Iceland.
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