Iceland is one of the most breathtaking countries on Earth, legendary for its hot springs, geysers and active volcanoes. You’ve probably heard about the Blue Lagoon and perhaps even the opportunity to dive between two continents, but what about the country’s lesser-known attractions? Here is a look at some of its best hidden attractions and more off-the-beaten-path places.
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Seljalandsfoss waterfall near the southern coast of Iceland is one of the country’s most famous falls and a popular stop on most tour itineraries. But most people miss Glyufrafoss, which is hidden near its more popular neighbor. By following the cliffs about two-thirds of a mile north, you’ll catch a glimpse of the glorious falls hiding behind the cliff face, and by entering through a narrow, six-and-a-half-foot opening, you can get inside the canyon where you’ll be able to stand right underneath the water. While you have to work a bit more to fully appreciate the beauty of Glyufrafoss, it’s well-worth the effort as you’re likely to be awed by its presence in relative solitude.
Driving along the Ring Road from Vík to Skaftafel, Fjadrargljufur (Feather River) Canyon, is one of the most picturesque spots in the region, but it’s often overlooked. While it doesn’t boast the size of some famous canyons, at about 330 feet deep and one-and-a-half miles wide, its magnificent beauty lies in its various hues and shapes. By getting out on the trail that begins at the car park you can get a closer look and observe it from different angles, peering down at the brilliant turquoise water that sits within the canyon. It makes for the perfect break from a long drive on the Ring Road, and one that really should not be missed.
The Secret Lagoon
The Secret Lagoon, Secret Pool or Seljavallalaug, as its officially known, is one of the oldest pools in Iceland, but this hidden gem is missed by most as they’re too busy checking off all of the highlights on their ”must-visit” list. Tucked within a narrow valley below Eyjafjalla Glacier, the protected 25-meter pool surrounded by spectacular scenery was built in 1923 by visionaries who wanted to give locals a place where they could learn to swim, during a time when few Icelanders knew how yet many made a living by fishing. The water stays at 98 to 99 degrees Fahrenheit all year long and is filled by a natural hot spring nearby. The pool is kept as natural as possible, maintained mostly by volunteers and donations.
The Bruarfoss Falls are trickier to find than most of Iceland’s best known waterfalls, but with water so vividly blue it’s hard to believe its real, this is a spot that really shouldn’t be missed. Absolutely magical, the falls can be found near the main road between Thingvellir National Park and Geysir along the Golden Circle route, but few other tourists are aware of Bruarfoss, so you can spend plenty of time gazing at the gorgeous color of the water without bumping elbows with others.
Arguably the most stunning swimming pool in all of Iceland, Hofsos sits on the Trollaskagi peninsula in the North of Iceland and was designed by the very same architect responsible for the Blue Lagoon. While it isn’t of Olympic size, it does offer some of the most dramatic views in Iceland as it was built into the hillside. As you swim in its warm geothermal waters, it feels like you can continue paddling right into sea. Drangey, with its steep sea cliffs, can be seen rising majestically in the midst of Skagafjordur. You’ll also be able to soak up an incredible variety of blue shades, including the dark blue of the distant mountains, the crystal blue color of the pool itself, the cerulean sea and bright blue skies on a clear day.
This volcanic crater lake contains the most brilliant aquamarine waters that become even more vibrant the closer you get. Located some 10 miles north of Selfoss, it was formed about 6,500 years ago and is the northern end of a row of craters known as Tjarnarholar. The oval-shaped crater is about 900 feet long, 558 feet wide, and 180 feet deep. As it’s not primarily fed by rain and doesn’t drain, the crater lake acts as a window to the groundwater. The rim of the crater can be reached via a short, easy hike, and it’s also possible to walk completely around it and to get down to the water as well, so be sure to take the time to walk around, viewing the lake from all angles. While it’s worth a stop year round, in the summer months it’s especially impressive, surrounded by vivid green colors that make the blues of the water stand out even more.
The Abandoned DC3 Plane Crash
Unless you’re a Justin Bieber fan or a military history buff, odds are, you’ve never heard about the US Navy DC3 crash on Iceland’s black sand beach, Solheimasandur, that occurred back in 1973. The plane crashed on the south coast after the pilot thought it had run out of fuel. Everyone survived, but it turned out the pilot had only needed to flip a switch to engage the other fuel tank. For whatever reason, it was left abandoned, to sit rotting on the desolate, jet black dunes, looking like a scene out of some post-apocalyptic zombie movie. Today, the site is a favorite with photographers, filmmakers and videographers – one of Bieber’s music videos was shot here. It can be reached in about an hour on foot off Route 1, just past Skogafoss heading east. Look for the dirt access road to Sólheimajökull Glacier on the left and then drive east for a little over a mile until you see another dirt road turnoff with a gate on the right. The crash site is about a two-and-a-half-mile trek from there.
Despite the Westfjords being one of the most jaw-dropping areas of Iceland, just 3% of tourists make it out to what may be one of Iceland’s best kept secrets. As it’s quite isolated and largely uninhabited, the area has remained an unspoiled wilderness that is a must-visit for avid explorers. It’s home to Hornstrandir, an uninhabited peninsula and nature reserve that serves as a haven for the Arctic fox and a wide variety of bird life, including puffins, while the dramatic cliff known as Hornbjarg, is considered one of the nation’s greatest seafowl habitats. The highest peaks of its razor-backed ridge reaches more than 1,750 feet above sea level. Getting there requires a two-and-a-half-hour one-way boat ride from Ísafjörður, mostly through the Arctic, but its remoteness means that you probably won’t run into many other tourists, and if you can manage the journey, you’ll be treated to one of the most magnificent sights along Iceland’s coastline.
12 Tonar is an independent label that’s released more than 50 albums by artists including Mr. Silla, Ólöf Arnalds, Rökkurró and Singapore Sling, as well as a record store and a local legend, established in 1998. Jam-packed with vinyl and CDs, including rare limited editions, customers can open any one of them to listen on a comfy velour couch while sipping free espresso, and discovering what Icelandic music is all about. Vinyl is located down the winding staircase in the basement, and the selection focuses on new Icelandic releases, with a tilt toward indie rock and classical, and you’ll find a sampling of used records as well. Although it’s a popular hang spot for local musicians, it’s also a welcoming place for tourists.
Ellioaardalur and the Arbaejarsafn Open Air Museum
At Ellioaardalur, visitors can enjoy taking a relaxing stroll among nature, watching salmon swim through the river and creatures roaming in the woods before reaching the Arbaejarsafn, the historical museum of the city of Reykjavik as well as an open-air museum and a regional museum. There are more than 20 buildings here, recreating a town to showcase what the architecture and life was like in the country centuries ago. While you might think such a place would be somewhere out in the countryside, it’s located right within the city limits.