Iceland is famed for the breathtaking waterfalls and bubbling geysers of the Golden Circle. However, if you’re looking to get a little off the beaten track and explore some of the lesser-known attractions in Iceland – we’ve got you covered. Take a look at some of these hidden gems you may want to include on your Iceland itinerary.
Church of Vídimýri
The Church of Vídimýri is one of the few preserved turf churches in Iceland and considered one of the most beautiful examples of traditional Icelandic architecture. Built in 1834, it has turf walls and timber gables at both the front and back.
Behind the church you also have some old gravestones set against a picturesque mountain view. This stunning little piece of history sits just off the ring road in the north of Iceland in Skagafjörður and makes for a pleasant stop whilst driving between Grabrok and Akureyri.
Known at the ‘Capital of North Iceland’, Akureyri is the second largest city in Iceland after Reykjavik. At approximately 17,000 inhabitants, this charming city has a lot to offer. Set on the edge of the Eyjafjördur fjord you have amazing views from nearly everywhere.
Perhaps visit Akureyri church (which is next to a geothermal swimming pool) or wander around the Botanical Gardens. When night falls, there are plenty of bars and restaurants to choose from, including Akureyri Backpackers and Gotubarinn (meaning ‘Street Bar’), where you can listen to locals play on the piano. For those who wish to continue to party into the night, the Post Office Bar is a great choice.
Be sure to keep an eye out for the Northern Lights – most hotels offer a wake up call if they do appear. If you have more time here, there are also plenty of day tours available including whale watching, white water rafting and much more depending on the season.
Mývatn Nature Baths
No visit to Iceland would be complete without testing out its geothermal baths – and the Mývatn Nature Baths is the perfect place to do just that. Although it’s found in the north of Iceland, due to its remote location it doesn’t experience the hoards of tourists as the more famous Blue Lagoon near Reykjavik.
The baths have a temperature of 36-40 degrees Celsius. Perfect for the icy winter months when you can just submerge yourself in their warm waters. There are also two steam rooms with views out over the surrounding countryside.
When entering the baths, you’ll be provided with towels and you can make your way to the changing rooms. Remember to take off any brass or silver jewellery as the high sulphur content of the water can turn them black. After your dip, maybe head to the café to sample their sandwiches, soups and pastries.
Over the last few thousand years, heavy volcanic activity in the Lake Mytvan region has formed the lava labyrinth at Dimmuborgir. The area known as the ‘Dark Castles’ is characterized by lava pillars, looming rocks and caves. Some of these formations resemble the faces of trolls, which are said to live there in local Icelandic folklore.
Traditional folklore says that there are 13 vicious trolls living in a big cave at Ludentarborgir. Known as the Icelandic Yule Lads, these brothers all have funny names such as Sausage Swiper, Skyr Gobbler and Spoon Licker.
Summertime means that sightings are said to be rare as the trolls are sleeping in their caves. But as the cold winter draws in, they awake and begin to prepare for Christmas. There are also many walking paths, from short to longer trails, around this unique landscape.
Friðheimar Geothermal Greenhouse
Despite Iceland’s long, dark winters, the family-run Friðheimar Geothermal Greenhouse grows tomatoes all year round under artificial lighting. Visitors here can enjoy a short talk about how the greenhouse works and see the bees that pollinate the plants.
There’s a bar/restaurant which serves tomato-based delicacies such as tomato ice cream, tomato cheesecake, tomato tea and tomato beer as well as classic tomato soups and Bloody Mary’s. The greenhouse also offers a small shop where you can buy tomato chutneys, sauces and drinks. So you can take a little piece of this sustainable produce home.
Icelandic Horse Stables
Located next door to the Friðheimar Geothermal Greenhouse, this stables allows you to meet Icelandic horses and learn all about this beautiful breed. The Icelandic horse is the only horse in the world to have five gaits – walk, trot, gallop, tölt and flying pace – and you can see a demonstration of these in the outdoor arena. The tölt is such a smooth style that you can actually hold a full pint of beer whilst riding.
With about 80,000 in the country, the Icelandic horse is unique and they aren’t allowed to be cross-bred. Horses that are taken abroad to compete in competitions find themselves with a one-way ticket. Once they leave Iceland they’re not allowed to return in order to protect the species from any foreign diseases. These friendly creatures are well worth a visit and it’s great to get up close to them after passing so many as you journey around Iceland.