If you are travelling to Iceland, you probably know about all the major sites, and where to stop along the ring road. During my trip around the country, I found that some of the best experiences were not the major sites, but tiny treasures tucked away in the mountains, or in a small village we would have otherwise flew by. Here were some of the hidden gems we found in Iceland:
Seljavallalaug – We learned about this one from I Heart Reykjavik. Originally built in 1923, this is the oldest pool in Iceland that still exists today. Saljavallalaug, sits in the valley beneath Eyjafjallajökull (the volcano that stopped air travel for weeks a few years back), and can’t be found unless you know what to look for. I recommend following Auður’s directions on finding this one, since you need to find a very specific turn off and then spend some time descending into a valley. Naturally hot spring water flows into the pool from the mountains, creating the hot pot. There is a small changing room (although it is dirty and there is glass on the ground so wear shoes!) but no bathrooms or other facilities. I have to warn that you may not want to jump in unless the weather is fairly warm. The pool is only a luke-warm temperature since it relies purely on natural hot springs, no artificial heating.
Painting of Columbus visiting Snæfellsnes – Did Columbus stop by Iceland looking for information on the New World? Icelanders like to believe he did. According to legend, Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir, a fierce Icelandic woman lead an expedition to the new world (while pregnant) long before Christopher Columbus. Whether or not Christopher Columbus actually came to Iceland is unclear. I can’t help wondering why would he be looking for information on the New World when he thought he was going to find passage to India? So not sure if he really did or not, that aside, you can see this peculiar painting at Ingjaldshóll, a small simple chapel on a hill just past Ólafsvík on the Snæfellsnes peninsula. The chapel is said to be the oldest concrete chapel in the world, built in 903. The painting used to hang in the church, but we found it in a separate recreational room just down some steps leading away from the chapel.
Gamla Rif in Olafsvik – Eating at Gamla Rif was probably the quaintest dining experience I’ve ever had. It actually felt like I was sitting down for lunch in the home of the two women who run this restaurant. Selection is limited to a vegetarian sandwich or cod soup, but given how amazing the dishes were, I don’t think you need another choice. I am personally not a big eater of fish, but this soup was amazing. It was made with tomato and curry, an assortment of veggies, and of course cod. The women running the restaurant were so friendly, and to top it off the view was beautiful. For more on Snæfellsnes go here.
Mývatn Nature Baths – We made an impromptu trip here after deciding we were in desperate need of soaking our bones after a cold, rainy boat ride in the north Atlantic in search of whales. We looked up nearby hot pots, as they call them in Iceland, and luckily discovered that the Myvatn Nature Baths were close by. Nicknamed “The Blue Lagoon of the North,” the only thing the two places really have in common is the hot blue water. The Myvatn Nature Baths provided us with a much more intimate experience, with very few other people at the baths. The Blue Lagoon is visited by over 400,000 people every year, while the Myvatn Baths are visited by less than a quarter of that amount.
As of July 2018, after my second visit to Iceland, I would additionally recommend the visiting the Troll Peninsula in North Iceland, and hike Glymurfoss. I loved both of these spots in Iceland and they are surprisingly under visited, mainly because they are not on the ring road.