Get Off Iceland’s Ring Road With These 9 Side Trips

Iceland is more than Route 1. Equally fascinating and easily accessible are these short side trips that go beyond waterfalls and geysers.


Photo © iStock/Daneel

Hveragerði and its Smokey Valley

This town, 35 minutes outside Reykjavik, is an ideal place to stock up on provisions before a road trip. Don´t forget to pick up a loaf of rugbrauð at the bakery beside the Bonus supermarket. Rugbrauð is traditionally baked for 24 hours in steaming geothermal fields of which there are plenty in Hveragerði. In the same building (between the bakery and supermarket) is a large fissure on the floor that appeared during an earthquake in 2003. It’s been covered over with glass and strategically lighted.

Hveragerði is also home to Reykjadalur (Smokey Valley). The steamy geothermal river that flows through here is by itself a road trip destination. Getting there is an easy 1.9mi (3km) hike from the edge of the town. The trick is to find that perfect warm spot where glacial run-off and geothermal outlets meet.

Secret Lagoon in Fluðir

Here is where most of Iceland´s produce comes from. Some of the greenhouses are open to the public and usually have shops where you can buy strawberries, cucumbers, mushrooms, potatoes, and tomatoes. Fluðir also has an old swimming hole (Gamla Laugin or Old Pool) that is increasingly being referred to as the “secret lagoon.” The water’s pleasantly warm and the surroundings very natural. This is also a great place to spend the night – there are many charming cottages for rent as well as excellent camping facilities with free wifi.

The Secret Lagoon. Photo credit: Emily Kydd

Time Travel to Eyrarbakki

Icelanders drive to this South Iceland town to get a glimpse of how life was for Icelanders in the 1800s. This charming seaside village has well-preserved historical houses making you feel that you´ve stepped back in time. Don’t forget to drop by the Þuriðubuð Fólk Museum. A completely experiential exhibit, museum attendants often dress in period costume.

Ghosts of Stokkseyri

Next to Eyrarbakki is the town of Stokkseyri. Here, culture and art reign supreme. There is a ghost museum, an Icelandic folk tales museum, and a wildlife museum. What Icelanders often seek in Stokkseyri is the langoustine bisque served in Fjöruborðið (The Beach Table). It’s said the local fishermen commune with mermaids to get the freshest catch.

Wicked Witches of the West

In Iceland´s Westfjörds is the town of Holmavik, which you could loosely refer to as Iceland´s Salem. The town is famous for Galdrahúsið, a magic and witchcraft museum. You are handed a small booklet as you enter. Exhibits can become a tad academic but have a go at saying the spells and take a peek at the necropants. Made from the skin of dead men, necropants are said to generate endless amounts of money.

Scandals and Sorcerers of Trékyllisví

Population 20, this cove has a creepy history and is actually where the witch era craze started in Iceland. You can ask for directions to the cliff called Kistan (The Coffin) where three sorcerers were burned in 1654 by the town sheriff. Stories say that these sorcerers were responsible for the scandalous behavior of women attending mass at Árnes church. A more recent claim to fame: this area (near Gjögur airport) was where most of the Justice League movie was shot.

Petra’s Stone and Mineral Collection

Collected over an 80-year period by an Icelandic woman named Petra, this immersive exhibit is in Stöðvarfjörður, East Iceland. The constant stream of visitors to her private home forced the family to formally open a nature exhibit. The collection is a labor of love and many who visit have a strong reaction to seeing these wonderful rocks and minerals.

Herring Adventure in Siglufjörður

Just one hour away from Akureyri is this charming fishing village that has enjoyed a resurgence because of an influx of capital from a hometown boy who made it big in the United States. Painted in bright primary colors, the town now has a five-star hotel, a bar, and new shops sitting on top of a boardwalk by the harbor. This created an impetus for other townies to move back, including a fantastic New York pastry chef who now has a coffee shop on the main street. Siglufjörður also has the largest herring museum in Europe, chronicling the herring era in north Iceland. Winters don’t slow Siglufjörður down, either. It’s a fantastic skiing destination and a haven for winter sports enthusiasts.

Siglufjörður. Photo credit: iStock/Jordanlye

Into the Arctic Circle in Grimsey

They say that in the old days, the priest´s bedroom in the island Grimsey was halfway inside the Arctic Circle. Accessible by air and sea from Akureyri, Grimsey is the only place in Iceland where it’s possible to cross into the Arctic Circle. The Islanders are said to be partially descended from trolls – easy to believe since they’re a hardy lot. Grimsey also has a large population of puffins and other seabirds.

Puffins. Photo credit: iStock/Neurobite

Want to know more about Iceland? Check out our podcast. We chat about where to capture the best photos in Iceland, how to speak like a Viking (almost), and how a social policy got the country to the World Cup.

Related articles

Travel Insurance

Simple and flexible travel insurance

You can buy at home or while traveling, and claim online from anywhere in the world. With 150+ adventure activities covered and 24/7 emergency assistance.

Get a quote

No Comments

Add a Comment