Iceland Favorites – Off the Beaten Path Hiking, Hot Springs and Experiences

2021 is about to come to a close, and I’m reflecting on my favorite trip of the year: Iceland. In September, we explored the south and west coast of Iceland, including one day in the city, a few different historic stops and many, many waterfalls. I could write for days about our seven days in this country, but I’ll keep my recommendation to our top three. We often prefer things that aren’t the super crowded and are a little more off the beaten path, which was a huge plus here.

The Highlands / Landmannalaugar

While planning our trip, I started reading about the highlands of Landmannalaugar and could not get my mind off it. The pictures looked incredible, but the real thing is so, so much better.

You must have a 4×4 to drive there (very bumpy roads) and it’s a bit of a drive, but to me every minute of this day was worth it. We stayed the night before in Selfoss, drove about 2 hours to the trailhead (stopping at Haifoss on the way), and then hiked two peaks: the Bláhnúkur – Brennisteinsalda loop. Though only 6 miles, this hike is no walk through the forest – it is straight up a rocky mountain and definitely one of the most difficult hikes I’ve ever done. There were rewarding views every second, with both peaks absolutely beautiful and a walk through a lava field in between.

Plan ahead and look into the details of the F roads leading to Landmannalaugar – many of them have river crossings or can close unexpectedly due to bad weather. But, if you’re a hiker and you want to experience what I imagine the painted desert to look like, definitely make a day for this.

Unique Accommodations

Most farms in Iceland have “guesthouses” which are their version of a hostel. We found these to be cheap but also private, always in good condition (and fun to stay in because usually you are literally supporting a family farm!). I used Booking.com or Hotels.com to find them. 

However, by far our favorite experience (which we just stumbled upon) – was on a private island in southern Iceland, believed to be one of the first Icelandic settlements. Our host Hákon had built unique Mongolian yurts including a communal yurt and cooking area where we met friends from California and Germany. We learned all about the island’s history from Hákon and our new friends, and felt like our island was our own little splice of heaven. It was magical.

We found this awesome experience on Airbnb – hope you can check it out for your trip too!

Hveragerði

My husband convinced me to check out this up-and-coming town called Hveragerði, and although I resisted at first, I’m so glad he dragged me there. After a quick coffee in town, we went to hike to the local hot spring through a beautiful green valley. After about 2.5 miles, we came across a river with hundreds of people soaking! It was so cool, and such a reward after a moderate hike to soak in the natural hot spring river.

After the hike back down, we drove into town and had a pizza and beer at one of Iceland’s geothermal breweries, Ölverk Pizza & Brewery. Such a cool day in this small town.

Other Iceland Planning Tips

  • The Golden Circle and the south coast of Iceland are the most tourist-y thing we experienced (lots of tour buses), but also have some must-sees and worth doing it for a day.
  • The Blue Lagoon is not a tourist trap. It’s incredible. Do it, and try the Sky Lagoon too if you get a chance.
  • Some of my other highlights were the Reykjavik Food Walk, the black sand beach in Vik and honestly every single watefall.
  • You just have to expect that it’s going to rain all the time and not plan anything around the weather because it changes within 5 minutes! Don’t let rain defer you from a hike or an activity, because it will probably rain on and off all day. You get used to it and learn to embrace it like the locals do.
  • If you want to see a lot of the country, you’ll spend the most money by far on your rental car and on gas. It’s so expensive, but worth it to see the country.
  • Food is also somewhat expensive, so we usually ate one big meal a day and then got groceries for the rest of the day (snacks, fruit, etc. at the grocery store). Tips are included at restaurants.
  • We also drove up to the Snaefaellnes Peninsula, which was beautiful and really different than the south. Next on my list is to visit the West Fjords!

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