Everyone knows the typical tourist highlights of the Blue Lagoon, the Northern Lights, and the Golden Circle. They're all spectacular in their own right and are must-dos when traveling the Ring Road. But what we're interested in are the less frequented locations: Iceland off the beaten path. When considering what to include on your Iceland itineraries, it's nice to have a mix of more well-known sites and Iceland hidden gems.
#1. Iceland off the beaten path: Stuðlagil canyon
This is one of the more newly discovered Iceland hidden gems. It's been off the beaten track for so long due to the pure and simple fact that no one knew that it existed. The powerful glacial river that ran through the picturesque Jökuldalur valley covered the breathtaking basalt canyon covered for many years. Water levels were simply too high in and the river too dangerous to cross.
When the Kárahnjúkavirkjun hydroelectric plant was built, parts of the river flowing from the Highlands to the valley were diverted. This resulted in the discovery of a new geological wonder in Jökuldalur valley. The unexpected find in East Iceland was the beautiful Studlagil (Stuðlagil) canyon.
The exquisite natural treasure features a soaring cathedral-like fortress of basalt volcanic columns and a turquoise blue river. As you do the Stuðlagil canyon hike, it suddenly opens up to magnificent views of this otherworldly natural wonder. It's a hypnotizing place that feels both secret and sacred at the same time
There’s also Stuðlafoss waterfall, which is a basalt waterfall much like Svartifoss in the Skaftafell section of Vatnajökull National Park. The cascade provides a two-for-one bonus when you go exploring this hidden valley. There are over 10,000 waterfalls in Iceland to choose from and I highly recommend checking out Stuðlafoss.
This is absolutely Iceland off the beaten path, so while you are road tripping, make sure you come here before it turns into a tourist trap.
#2. Drive Kjölur road in the Highlands
When you decide to rent a car in Iceland, part of the adventure is going where seemingly no one has gone before. You'll definitely get that feeling if you are here in the summer and decide to drive on F-roads in the Highlands. You are literally getting off the beaten path in Iceland with these tracks. They are about as different from the paved main highway, the Ring Road, as you can get.
You'll need to rent a four-wheel drive vehicle because Kjölur (road number 35) is an unpaved gravel road. There are a few stops along the way to enjoy such as the Kerlingarfjöll mountains or Hveravellir hot springs. Gullfoss waterfall along the Golden Circle route is also on this road, so make a stop there if you haven't already. Enjoy the winding hiking trails, rugged nature, and untamed beauty of Iceland’s wild backcountry. The Highlands are hidden Iceland at its best.
#3. Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon
This is another one of our Iceland hidden gems that I guarantee not many travelers are aware of. When heading east on the Ring Road from Vik to Vatnajökull National Park, be sure to stop at Fjaðrárgljúfur canyon. The beautiful moss-covered canyon is close to the village of Kirkjubæjarklaustur.
It's probably one of the most picturesque sites in Iceland but “Feather River Canyon” is not yet on the radar of too many tourists. It's also beautiful at any time of year.
#4. Hornstrandir Nature Reserve: Get off the beaten path
This is probably one of the most inaccessible and isolated places in Iceland. If you're looking for an untouched, hidden Icelandic gem, this is the place for you. The Hornstrandir Nature Reserve is located on the northern tip of our famous Westfjords. You can't actually drive there as there are no roads that will take you to the reserve.
Nevertheless, you've got a couple of options to get there. First, you can leave your car near Krossnes at the end of the road and hike it. This takes about a week to arrive and then of course it will take you another week to get back.
For the less athletically inclined, or those who simply don't have that much time on their hands, I've got another way to visit. The easier and faster option is to set sail from Ísafjörður and take a boat directly to the reserve.
Whichever route you choose, you don't want to miss the jagged cliff at Hornbjarg and this beautiful unspoiled territory. The dramatic cliff drops steeply into the sea. You'll find lots of stunning Icelandic wildlife here, including nesting guillemots and gorgeous Arctic foxes.
#5. Hidden Iceland: Friðheimar Tomato Farm
When traveling along the Golden Circle route, most people think there are only three things to see. While Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, and the Haukadalur Valley geysers are impressive, they don't paint the whole picture. There are actually several stops and detours that you can make along is Iceland's most popular tourist circuit.
Of course there's the Secret Lagoon, Langjökull Glacier, Brúarárfoss Waterfall, Kerið Crater, and the Laugarvatn Fontana Geothermal Baths among others. But perhaps one of my favorites is the Friðheimar organic tomato farm. If you're driving along the South Coast of Iceland on your way back to Reykjavik from the Golden Circle this could be the perfect place to stop.
I know a tomato farm might not sound extremely exciting at first hear me out. It's a family-owned tomato and cucumber farm in Reykholt. They also run a restaurant on the premises and use all of their freshly grown tomatoes to make their famous tomato soup from scratch. It perfect for hungry, weary travelers that want to be warmed up after a day facing chilly temperatures.
It's also the perfect spot for tomato fans to visit. Not only do they sell tomato chutney, Bloody Mary's, and tomato ice cream (it tastes really good, I swear!), they will also serve you a schnapps in a tomato. And of course no soup is complete without homemade bread; they've got cinnamon among other flavors.
It's got a warm, welcoming atmosphere and you can even take a tour of the farm before lunch. A meal of soup and bread with unlimited refills, cucumber salsa and fresh basil, sour cream or butter is around 1900 ISK around ($16 or 14€).
They're open every day from 12 pm to 4 pm. But call ahead to check for the best time, because they might be receiving a large group that day.
#6. Hidden gems in Iceland: The Reykjadalur hot river
The hot river in Reykjadalur Valley is another hidden gem in the Land of Fire and Ice. Iceland it's known for its natural hot springs, and this is no exception. It's not just a hot spring but rather an entire river with temperatures hovering around 40 ºC (104 ºF). Most people can stay in for about five minutes before they have to get out of the geothermally heated water.
You'll find these types of steaming hot springs all over, especially in Landmannalaugar.
Outdoor lovers and hiking enthusiasts will definitely want to visit this off the beaten path thing to do in Iceland. In order to reach the geothermal river, you'll need to do a short 3 km (1.9 mile) trek. As far as time, it takes around 45 minutes to an hour to complete the Reykjadalur hot springs hike. Upon arrival you find yourself in a gorgeous valley teeming with bubbling mud pools, hot springs, and the hot river.
The Reykjadalur Valley hot springs are another part of hidden Iceland travel off the beaten path. Just remember to pack your swimsuit for your trip to Iceland.
#7. Hofsós swimming pool
And if you're looking for a more formal bathing experience but don't want to fight the crowds of the Blue Lagoon, check out Hofsós swimming pool. It’s yet another one of the many hidden gems in Iceland. Located in the Tröllaskagi peninsula, you'll find a stunning infinity pool with breathtaking views of the town's fjord here in the north of Iceland.
#8. Off the beaten path Iceland: Holuhraun lava flows
If you've ever visited Iceland then you know that it's quite common to visit a lava field and the surrounding areas. But what about an actual active volcano? One of my favorite hidden gems in Iceland are the lava flows at Holuhraun, by Bardarbunga.
The most recent eruption of the volcano was 2014-2015, and it was even bigger than Eyjafjallajökull in 2010. While it's no longer erupting, you can still go to feel the heat of the Earth beneath your feet. In fact, if you stay in one spot for too long, the soles of your hiking boots may begin to melt slightly.
You will need a four-wheel drive to access the area and of course, only go with a qualified guide. There are also helicopter tours which can give you the bird's eye view and let you survey the land below.
Best off the beaten path destinations in Iceland
Icelandic travel is 100% one of the most unique things you will ever experience in your life. We are a land of contrasts and extreme forms of nature from explosive volcanoes to massive, frozen glaciers and everything in between. Our most popular sites are spectacular in their own right, which is why we've become such a popular tourist destination. But getting off the beaten path Iceland is something you will also want to do on your trip.