In a country whose scenery is so iconic, and whose historical events are inextricably wrapped up with its landscape, the only real way to get to grips with Iceland is to get outdoors. It’s where many Icelanders choose to spend their free time, too, though they often seem to have a fearless disregard for the weather, geological events and other natural hazards that foreigners take sensible precautions against.
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Iceland’s hiking trails are easy to get to, yet feel wonderfully remote and wild: on some of them it’s possible to walk for days and not see anyone. The country is also small enough that it’s feasible to simply pick two points on a map and walk between them – assuming, of course, that you’re suitably equipped for any natural hazards along the way – though there are also many well-marked trails heading off across the landscape. After a hike, take the plunge in one of Iceland’s many naturally heated outdoor “hot pots”, often in stunningly scenic locations, where you can peel off your clothes and soak any aches away while admiring the surrounding mountains, volcanoes and seascapes. The top three spots for an outdoor soak are Landmannalaugar in southwestern Iceland, Grettislaug in the northwest and Krossneslaug in the West Fjords. And if you prefer more formal arrangements, just about every settlement across the country has its own geothermally heated swimming pool, too.
Icelandic hikes: six of the best
An epic four-day hike over snowfields, moorland and desert between hot springs at Landmannalaugar and the highland valley of Þórsmörk.
Straightforward though lengthy trails follow a glacier river canyon down to Europe’s largest waterfall.
You can spend days hiking across this totally unpopulated peninsula, which is probably the wildest, most remote corner of Iceland that is still accessible.
Isolated glacier valley in the southwest, covered in dwarf birch and wildflowers, with almost limitless hiking potential.
Easily reached moorland plateau between two glaciers, with plenty of well-marked trails of up to a day’s duration.
Skógar to Þórsmörk
Relatively straightforward 25km hike over mountains and snowfields, passing solidified lava from the 2010 eruption.