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Unique Iceland Bucket List: 8 Off-the-Beaten-Path Locations

One of unique Iceland Bucket List to experience where Karen was in a hot pool with snow covered mountains in the background.

Looking for unique Iceland bucket list experiences? Iceland has become a bucket-list destination for many travelers, and it’s easy to see why. With its otherworldly landscapes, vibrant culture, and geothermal wonders, it’s a place unlike anywhere else.

But with rising tourist numbers, many visitors find themselves sticking to the popular Golden Circle route. If you’re looking for a more unique and off-the-beaten-path Icelandic adventure, consider venturing west to the spectacular Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

In this guide, I will share with you the lesser-explored side of Iceland, sharing hidden gems, insider tips, and the authentic experiences you’ll find as you journey away from the crowds. We’ll base our exploration out of the charming Hotel Húsafell, a haven of sustainability nestled near the iconic Snæfellsjökull glacier.

Reykjavík — Iceland’s Cultural Gateway

Before heading into the wilds of Western Iceland, let’s start in Reykjavík, the vibrant capital city. It’s a compact city, easily explored on foot, and it’s steeped in fascinating history and culture.

  • UNESCO City of Literature: Iceland boasts a rich storytelling tradition dating back to Viking sagas, and Reykjavík was the first non-English speaking city to receive this prestigious designation.
  • Trolls and Hidden People: While exploring, you’ll quickly notice that belief in trolls and “hidden people” isn’t just for children here. It’s a deeply ingrained part of Icelandic folklore that even influences construction projects!

Reykjavík’s Must-See Attractions

Sun Voyager: This striking steel sculpture on the waterfront resembles a Viking ship and is a popular spot for photos.

Hallgrimskirkja Church: Ascend to the tower of this iconic church for panoramic city views and a glimpse of the distant Snæfellsjökull glacier.

Leifur Eiríksson Statue: Pay homage to the legendary Viking explorer who discovered North America centuries before Columbus.

Icelandic Wool — A Warm Tradition

Icelandic sheep have kept the inhabitants of this chilly island warm for centuries. Their unique wool, called Lopi, is used to create the iconic Lopapeysa sweaters.

  • The Handknitting Association of Iceland: Visit one of their Reykjavik shops to purchase authentic, handmade sweaters directly from the knitters themselves. You can even discover who made your sweater through its unique code! Learn more about this association on their website: Handknitting Association of Iceland

Bæjarins Beztu — The Best Hotdogs In Iceland

You can’t visit Reykjavík without trying a hotdog from Bæjarins Beztu. This tiny stand has been a beloved institution since 1937, serving up hotdogs made with a unique blend of lamb, pork, and beef.

Order yours “with everything” to get the classic Icelandic toppings. Even celebrities like Bill Clinton and Kim Kardashian have been known to stop by!

Karen LeBlanc holding a hotdog.

For a taste of the unexpected, delve into our under-the-radar guided activities in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Exploring West Iceland

Stay at Hotel Húsafell — Gateway to Western Iceland

Now, let’s leave the urban charms of Reykjavík behind and head west towards the wild beauty of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Our base for this adventure will be the environmentally conscious Hotel Húsafell.

Its prime location within the Snæfellsnes National Park makes it the perfect spot for exploration and offers a good chance of catching those elusive, Northern Lights.

  • Commitment to Sustainability: Hotel Húsafell deeply understands the delicate balance of Iceland’s ecosystem. They use renewable energy and support local conservation efforts, showing you can experience luxury and still be a responsible traveler.
  • Ideal for Aurora Borealis Viewing: The hotel’s remote location minimizes light pollution, creating ideal conditions for witnessing the dazzling Northern Lights. They even offer a free wake-up call service specifically for this awe-inspiring natural phenomenon!

Hraunfossar and Barnafoss Waterfalls

Our first stop in West Iceland showcases the stunning natural beauty of the region: Hraunfossar and Barnafoss waterfalls. These are a bit different than the towering falls you’ll find on the Golden Circle.

  • Unique Cascading Waterfalls: Hraunfossar is a series of waterfalls spilling over a wide stretch of lava rock, creating an ethereal scene. Barnafoss, known as the “children’s waterfall,” has a tragic legend attached to it.
Karen LeBlanc looking out a waterfall
  • Bring Your Crampons: The paths here can get icy, especially in winter. Be sure to pack crampons (shoe spikes) for better grip and safety. Speaking of ice, this area’s water has a distinct blue hue thanks to “glacial”flour”—finely ground rock particles that reflect the sunlight.

Exploring the Vidgelmir Lava Cave

For a truly unforgettable experience, venture deep into the Vidgelmir Lava Cave. This natural wonder was formed around 900 AD by an eruption from Langjökull glacier, located about 22 miles away.

  • What to Expect: Don a helmet and headlamp and descend into this subterranean world. Your guide will explain the captivating geology and point out unique formations. There’s even a section where you’ll experience what true total darkness is like!
Karen wearing a helmet and standing in front  Vidgelmir Lava Cave Entrance.
  • Safety First: While bats are a common cave dweller in many places, don’t worry – you won’t find any in Iceland! Also, be aware that there’s only one way in and out, so if you’re prone to claustrophobia, it might be best to admire the cave’s beauty from the outside.

Discover more places to see in west Iceland in this article, best things to do in West Iceland away from the crowd.

Langjökull Glacier and Ice Cave Tour

If there’s a must-do activity in Iceland, it’s exploring a glacier – and not just any glacier. Langjökull is the second-largest glacier in Iceland, and it’s the only one with an accessible ice cave.

  • Otherworldly Experience: Picture yourself riding a massive vehicle specifically designed to conquer snowy terrain. You’ll journey up the glacier, enjoying breathtaking mountain views bathed in the soft, diffused light of an Icelandic winter.
  • Inside the Glacier: Descend into the heart of the glacier through a man-made tunnel. Marvel at the vibrant blues and learn about the science of glaciers and the effects of climate change, which are sadly very evident on Langjökull. You might even stumble upon an ethereal ice chapel!
  • A Moment for Reflection: This tour offers a unique perspective on the fragile beauty of our planet. Take the time to appreciate the raw power of nature and the need to protect these precious environments.

Natural Hot Springs of the West

Iceland is famous for its geothermal activity, and the area near Hotel Húsafell is no exception. After a day of adventure, there’s nothing quite like soaking in a steaming hot spring surrounded by stunning landscapes.

  • Canyon Baths: A Hidden Gem: Hotel Húsafell offers access to an exclusive experience, the Canyon Baths. It takes a bit of a hike to reach them, but it’s worth it for the serenity and stunning mountain backdrop.
  • Intimate and Eco-Conscious: These geothermal pools are fueled by a 2.5 million-year-old volcano! The focus here is on enjoying the peacefulness of nature with minimal environmental impact.

Snorkeling at Thingvellir National Park in South Iceland

For a truly unforgettable experience, consider braving the chilly waters and snorkeling in Silfra at Thingvellir National Park. Yes, snorkeling in Iceland! While a popular spot on the Golden Circle, the unique experience makes it worth venturing out for.

  • UNESCO World Heritage Site: Thingvellir holds deep historical significance. It was the site of Iceland’s first parliament, Althingi, established in 930 AD, making it one of the oldest parliamentary sites in the world.
  • Where Continents Collide: The real draw of Silfra, however, lies beneath the surface. This underwater rift is where the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates meet and are slowly pulling apart.
  • Crystal Clear Glacial Water: The water in Silfra comes from the Langjökull glacier, filtered through lava rocks for decades, resulting in unparalleled visibility. You’ll feel like you’re flying as you glide through this pristine underwater world.

Discover the seven must-experience destinations in South Iceland for an in-depth guide to the region’s highlights and hidden gems.

Tips for an Unforgettable Snorkeling Adventure

  • Specialized Gear: Reputable tour companies will provide you with insulated wetsuits and gear for your comfort and safety. The water is cold, but your body will surprisingly adjust quickly.
  • Embrace the Challenge: If the idea of cold water makes you nervous, remember that the experience itself is far more enjoyable than the initial anticipation!
  • A Place of History and Geology: After you get out of the water, take a walk to the site of the ancient Parliament for a powerful sense of Icelandic history and the ever-changing forces shaping this extraordinary land.

Icelandic Cuisine with a Twist

Back at Hotel Húsafell, a culinary adventure awaits. Head Chef Ingolfur Piffl puts a modern twist on traditional Icelandic fare, emphasizing fresh, local ingredients and an impressive knowledge of foraging.

  • Sustainable and Seasonal: The hotel strives to minimize its carbon footprint by sourcing from Icelandic farmers and even growing their own edible flowers and mushrooms.
  • A Chef’s Passion: Chef Ingolfur’s background (he has degrees from Harvard, no less!) shines through in his creative dishes and commitment to culinary innovation rooted in Icelandic traditions.

Explore more foods to try in Iceland in this article, Icelandic Cuisine: 12 Must-Try Foods for your Epic Trip.

Best Time for Iceland—Finding Your Perfect Season

Iceland transforms with the seasons, each offering its own distinct magic.

Summer brings the midnight sun, inviting endless exploration under the glow of nearly 24-hour daylight, while winter cloaks the land in a mystical atmosphere and offers a chance to witness the spectacular Northern Lights.

Choosing the right time for your Iceland trip is key to the ultimate experience, as it greatly affects which activities are at their best and whether you want to mingle with crowds or enjoy some solitude.

Karen standing and looking up to find northern lights.

Find out more in our article “Best Time for Iceland: Top Places by Season,” where we’ll help you tailor your itinerary based on your dream activities, weather preferences, budget considerations, and the type of ambiance you seek.

What You Need to Know Before You Visit Iceland

  • Plan for the Crowds: Iceland is a popular destination, so if you want to avoid peak crowds, try visiting during the shoulder seasons (spring or fall). For up-to-date visitor data, check out the Visit Iceland website.
  • Aurora Forecasts: The Northern Lights are most visible during the winter (late August to April), but clear skies are essential. Get real-time forecasts from the Icelandic Meteorological Office or websites like Spaceweather.
  • Stay at Hotel Húsafell: If you’re looking for a base to explore West Iceland’s hidden gems, Hotel Húsafell offers luxury, sustainability, and access to unique experiences.
  • Travel with the Experts: For insider knowledge and a more personalized experience, consider a private tour company like Oak Travel, a family-owned business specializing in authentic Icelandic adventures.
  • Iceland Can Be Expensive: As an island nation, Iceland imports many goods, so prices can be higher than expected. Factor this into your budget and consider the value of the unique experiences and memories you’ll make.
  • Pack Layers: Iceland’s weather can change quickly. Be prepared for sunshine, wind, and rain – sometimes all in one day! Bring layers you can easily add or remove.
  • Don’t Forget Your Crampons: These shoe spikes are invaluable for safely navigating icy trails and are worth the small investment.

A Unique Iceland Bucket List Awaits You

Iceland’s raw beauty and ever-changing landscapes leave a lasting impression. The resilience of Icelanders, who thrive amidst the elements, counterbalances the sometimes extreme weather.

As a visitor, do your part to protect their fragile environment by supporting sustainable tourism practices. Iceland’s dramatic landscapes, unique experiences, and warm hospitality make it a truly special destination. Venturing off the beaten path will reveal a side of Iceland that most visitors never see.

More Travel Bucket Lists For You:

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Picture of Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc is a freelance writer living in Orlando, Florida with many published bylines in magazines, newspapers, and multimedia sites. As a professional lifestyle writer, Karen specializes in art, architecture, design, home interiors and personality profiles. Karen is the writer, producer and host of the streaming series, The Design Tourist (www.TheDesignTourist.com) that brings viewers a global dose of design inspiration with episodes featuring the latest looks and trends from the world’s premiere design events and shows. She also publishes a quarterly magazine on design travel that you can read by clicking the link: https://thedesigntourist.com/the-magazine/ Her journalism background includes seven years on-air experience as a TV news reporter and anchor covering a range of issues from education to politics. Her educational credentials include a Master of Arts in Mass Communications from Northeast Louisiana University and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from Louisiana State University. Throughout her career, Karen has written and produced dozens of documentaries and videos for educational, commercial, corporate, and governmental clients and appeared in many TV and video productions as a professional host.

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Karen LeBlanc

Karen LeBlanc is a travel host and writer with a popular travel show, The Design Tourist, and a companion lifestyle blog. As a widely published travel journalist and content creator, Karen is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association. She also serves as the Design and Travel editor of the national lifestyle magazine, LaPalme. Karen believes that every destination has a story to tell through its local art, architecture, culture, and craft. This immersive creative exploration begins with authentic accommodations where the narrative of place unfolds through art, accessories, accouterments, furnishings, fixtures, and food. 

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