Updated: Apr 13, 2020
There are places in Iceland where nature is the real protagonist, and it shows its authentic side. The wild side of Iceland. Its powerful waterfalls, colorful mountains ridges and volcanoes rising steam right above the ground, that is the main attractions for tourists. Everyone interested in this harsh and hardly accessible part of Iceland heard about Landmannalaugar, where the most popular hiking takes place. Probably they also heard about Askja volcano, where passionates of volcanic activity head first. There are, however, many more places to visit in the interior region, called Iceland’s Highlands. And all the areas have something in common - the amazing our-of-this-world landscapes. Visiting this region of Iceland requires some special and careful preparation. Do not worry; we are going to help you! Grab a cup of coffee and learn all about Iceland’s Highlands, which you should already have on your bucket list!
What is the Highlands in Iceland?
Iceland is divided into eight different regions, and Iceland’s Highlands is one of them. It is also one of the most extreme areas for traveling in the country. It is characterized by stunning scenery anywhere you go. The Highlands are inhabited; that is why most places are deserted and remote. You will not find hotels, restaurants, or tourism information desks here. It is the most secluded and wild part of the island rich in powerful, glacier rivers full of fishes and few plants. Nature here is raw and virgin, with no human interference, seemingly inaccessible, but so desired and longed-for by many tourists. The harsh climate and barren soil are the reasons why Icelanders gave up on settling in this region. You can be sure that you will not meet lots of tourists here, it remains reserved for the most adventurous ones.
Iceland’s Highlands is undoubtedly a paradise for nature lovers and enthusiasts of outdoor recreation. This region is dominated by the endless lava fields, large mountain ridges, natural hot springs, and field covered with black volcanic sand.
The most acclaimed destinations in the Icelandic interior is surely Landmannalaugar, with its impressive Laugavegur hiking trail, considered as one of the best in Europe. Located within North Iceland’s mountains, is also a part of the Fjallabak Nature Reserve. That reserve is one of the most visited places in Iceland’s Highlands. Hundreds of people come to Landmannalaugar every year to experience a day hike in this incredible setting. Some people also decided to visit this area just to dip into the warm waters of the natural hot springs.
Askja volcano ranks second place for the most desired destinations for tourists. The glacier volcano and its geothermal area attract hundreds of people willing to explore this wild and dangerous region.
What are Highlands F- roads in Iceland?
Iceland’s Highlands is a peculiar place. It remains inaccessible for many due to its location. The roads crossing this area are known as mountain roads. You can easily distinguish them from others as they are designated with the „F” letter. There will be a sign as well, indicating that you are entering on a Highland road. These are gravel roads, very bumpy, narrow with loose stones, and even some bigger rocks. A four-wheel-drive vehicle is an absolute must for traveling on F- roads. Not only because using the standard two-wheel-drive cars is forbidden but for your safety. Sometimes even the 4x4 vehicle is not enough; it also requires excellent driving skills and experience and, most importantly- a common sense.
Some of the Highlands F-roads requires crossing the rivers, like in case of reaching Askja, where you will need to overcome glacier rivers. It requires a unique technique and some guidelines, which you can always ask your rental company in Iceland. It is the weather that sets the conditions here and is responsible for the time in which you will be able to drive in this area. The F-roads remain open only during few months of the year and this is in the summertime. That is when the weather conditions are more favorable, making driving in the Highlands less risky and dangerous. The date of opening and closing them depends on the weather and the roads’ conditions. As it changes from year to year, the opening dates are never the same as in the previous years.
Iceland’s Highlands self-drive
Reaching Iceland’s Highlands might be challenging, even if you are an experienced driver. For this reason, you need to prepare yourself well for the trip. That is even more essential than the ride on its own.
Everything starts with renting an appropriate vehicle for your road trip. As mentioned above, you will need a 4x4 car or camper, which can ford rivers too. Some of the 4x4 cars have not enough ground clearance and can simply get stuck when trying to cross a river or mud. Make sure you are equipped with the right insurance, surely your car rental company will inform you about the best options available.
The weather is the factor indicating the possibility of traveling in the Highlands; always check the forecast. The road conditions might change, especially after heavy rain where the level of the river rise. The mud and snow might make the roads impassable, especially in the Central Highlands, where the conditions are even more severe.
The speed limit on the gravel roads is 80 km/h (49 mph). That does not mean that you need to drive at that speed even when the way is getting more and more gravel. Iceland’s Highlands roads are very narrow, and this is when you should slow down or also stop if passing by another car. Large rocks that are common on the F-roads can damage the chassis of your vehicle when hit with the high speed.
Explore Iceland’s Highlands: Tips and Advice
Visiting Iceland’s Highlands is undoubtedly one of the best experiences you might have when traveling around Iceland. This region hides the landscapes which you will not find in any other place in the world. The seemingly inaccessible interior is showing the best side of the Icelandic nature. North and South of Iceland have, of course, a lot to offer to their visitors but incomparable to what you can see in Iceland’s Highlands. Go further, go off the beaten track and plan your unforgettable trip to the interior today!