The highlands of Iceland have so many highlights and offer the most stark and remote landscapes you can experience in Iceland and probably even worldwide. The landscape and nature in the highlands is up to 1000 meters above sea level and is very different from the rest of Iceland that you know from the ring road. Due to the high altitude it is colder, more inhospitable, more uncomfortable and much more spectacular than the rest of Iceland. A real place of longing. This includes the spectacular roads that lead here: the so-called F-Roads.
These highland roads are unlike any other roads in Iceland and are mostly only passable by off-road vehicle. But the highlands don’t make it easy for you, because you won’t get there easily. Some highlights in the highlands of Iceland you can not reach with a normal off-road vehicle, some even with a good Landrover only with difficulty and all only in the summer. In winter it is impossible to get to the highlands on your own. Then everything is full of snow.
But also in summer it is a challenge. Why exactly, what are the most beautiful highlights in the highlands of Iceland and how to get there, we tell you now.
We are Sabrina and Andreas, two adventurous travelers who never miss an opportunity to discover the world. Whether by plane to distant countries or with our campervan Bruno, we just love to travel. We hope to give you helpful tips for your next trip on our blog.
Sabrina & Andreas Globetrotters, Travelers, Adventurers
What are the iceland highlands?
In Iceland, highlands means the area in the interior of the island that can only be reached via so-called F-roads. F-roads are almost without exception unpaved roads with potholes, sand, dirt and sharp stones. Most of the time there are also fords to cross. These are rivers or brooks, which one must drive through (ford). In most cases there are no bridges over these rivers. Roughly speaking, the ring road, which goes once around Iceland, limits the Icelandic highlands from the rest of the island.
This is not 100% accurate, but you can use it as a rough guideline. If you drive more than a few kilometers inland you probably use an F-Road and are already on the way to the highlands. The highlands are sometimes more than 1000 meters high and therefore have a completely different climate than the rest of the island.
And different here means colder, rougher and more dangerous!
Remember: Not every F-Road leads to the highlands, but only F-Roads lead through the highlands.
Which rental car for the highlands of Iceland?
On the F-Roads (highland roads) you can only get with a four-wheel drive off-road vehicle. But this is only the minimum. This does not mean that you will get everywhere. Definitely not, because only a few highland roads are easy to drive on with a cheap off-road vehicle.
On some F-Roads you can only get further with so called Superjeeps. However, you cannot rent these yourself, but only book them as part of a guided tour (e.g. with the tour provider GetYourGuide*). Also, it depends on the weather and the respective road with which rental car you can safely get through. Read the travel reports on the individual destinations on this page and ask a ranger or other tourists on site in case of doubt.
We ourselves have booked with the Iceland specialist northbound.is*. There the search for cars is very simple, especially for the highlands, and the prices of all car rental providers in Iceland are compared.
How and when do I get to the highlands?
The highlands of Iceland are generally only accessible during the summer months. Roughly speaking between June and September. However, this changes every year, because it depends completely on the snow melt. In winter, the highlands of Iceland are completely covered with snow. You can only get through here with a snowmobile. Only in summer the snow melts sometimes faster and sometimes slower.
This cannot be predicted. Often you know it only a few days before. You should therefore check the website road.is before your visit to see if the highland roads (F-Roads) are open. Generally you need an off-road vehicle with four-wheel drive to get to the highlands. For some destinations, however, a simple SUV like the Dacia Duster is sufficient. Which rental car is the best (and cheapest) you can find out in our Iceland rental car guide.
The 5 most beautiful highland highlights in Iceland
Landmannalaugar is located in the highlands of Iceland and will be one of the top highlights on your road trip through Iceland. Landmannalaugar should definitely be on your itinerary because just getting there is beautiful. In Landmannalaugar you can hike to your heart’s content, enjoy the beautiful landscape and swim in a natural hot spring. Landmannalaugar is a wonderland of rainbow colored mountains, black lava fields and hot springs. Landmannalaugar is located in the Fjallabak Nature Park in the middle of the highlands of Iceland.
The mountains and lava fields are the result of thousands of years of volcanic activity. The huge Laugahraun lava field, for example, was formed after a volcanic eruption in 1477.
The rhyolite mountains surrounding the area offer an incredible play of colors and are unique in Iceland in this accumulation, making Landmannalaugar one of the most beautiful areas in the highlands of Iceland.
The Laki craters in the highlands of Iceland are one of the top sights on a road trip through Iceland. Formed during a volcanic eruption in the 18th century, the craters should not be missed on an Iceland road trip. And no matter if you conquer the Laki craters on an organized tour or like us on your own with an off-road rental car, they are definitely worth a trip. The Laki craters are named after the Laki mountain, which is located in the middle of the crater row. The craters themselves were formed during one of the largest volcanic eruptions in human history. The eruption started on June 8, 1783 and continued until February 1784, forming a new volcano every few weeks in the row of Laki volcanoes and spewing lava.
The route to the crater is really beautiful and is rewarded at the end with a great hike up Mount Laki. There are more hikes nearby and of course the return trip via the highland road F207 is again a highlight with great fords and adventurous tracks.
Learn more about the exciting drive to the Laki craters and the hiking possibilities on site in our blog post:
Askja is a famous volcano north of the Vatnajökull glacier – the largest glacier in Europe- and is part of the Vatnajökull National Park. Askja volcano is up to 800 meters higher than the surrounding plateaus and reaches a total height of 1510 meters above zero. Askja includes several volcanoes, the largest of which has an extension of 50 km³.
The most famous of the Askja craters is the Víti volcano, whose name means ‘hell’. The Víti volcano is a volcanic crater where water has collected, reaching a temperature of approximately 30°C. That is why the crater has become a popular bathing place. Yes, you can actually go swimming in this volcanic crater! But be careful, the way down is very slippery, especially in wet weather. You drive through lunar landscapes over gray rock and past clay-brown mountains. Also, you will probably not meet many other cars, because especially many individual travelers do not dare to come here. When we were in Iceland the highland roads leading to Askja were still closed. Therefore we could not visit the Viti volcano. But if the road had been free of snow, we definitely would have gone there.
The road to Thorsmörk is beautiful and the valley itself has incredible landscapes to offer. Unfortunately, the route is only feasible by super jeep or organized tour* due to extremely deep fords. With your own rental car you will not get there in any case. But you should definitely take a super jeep tour (approx. 100€ per person) to see this highlight, because here you can expect some of the most spectacular landscapes that can be found in Iceland.
Thorsmörk is located in the southern highlands of Iceland between mountain glaciers and the famous Eyjafjallajökull volcano (the volcano that shut down all air traffic in Europe in 2010). Þórsmörk was named after the Norse god Þór (pronounced Thor) and is a real highlight in the highlands of Iceland. Here you can walk many different hikes, marvel at the fantastic scenery, and see a landscape unlike anywhere else in the world.
Hiking through the Hveradalir geothermal area in Kerlingarfjöll is one of the most incredible experiences you can have in the highlands of Iceland. Here everything bubbles and steams and the colors are really like it looks on the photos. Simply spectacular.
There are a few Geothermal areas in Iceland and many in the world, but something like Kerlingarfjöll is truly unique. Getting to Hveradalir is not so easy and you should choose the right rental car. Kerlingarfjöll is a 150 km² volcanic mountain range in the highlands of Iceland. In the middle of this mountain range is the small but beautiful geothermal area Hveradalir where it steams everywhere, mud pools boil and the mountains glow orange-brown.
Everywhere hot steam comes out of the earth like from small vents and the contrast of the white steam to the orange mountains around it is really fantastic.
Since this mountain massif lies at an altitude of over 1000 meters, it can still snow here in summer and you will see snow fields everywhere. The temperatures are then also low. Everywhere in the geothermal area you have the smell of sulfur in your nose. Often it really stinks. There are several hiking trails that are professionally built, even small bridges are stretched over streams. So you won’t get your feet wet.
There are also steps built into the hills, so hiking is pretty easy and you don’t trample the landscape. Many trails are built here, so you can hike for hours and get so many different perspectives on this stark area. The best way to do this is to read our detailed trip report: