Por Jonathan Duffy, Arctic Meta
People come to visit Iceland for a wide variety of reasons. Some are fascinated by the country’s otherworldly beauty, some want to see the Northern Lights or experience the midnight sun, and others want to find a way to escape the pressures and distractions of the modern world and truly find a place that’s off the beaten path.
For those who want to experience the latter, the tierras altas are a great place to visit. The Highlands are a massive expanse of largely uninhabited land in the centre of Iceland. They span a range of over 40,000 square kilometres, making them the largest general region in the country.
The Icelandic Highlands is known for being a wild and untamed place that looks like no other place on the planet. Many avid hikers come from all over the world to experience the enchanting beauty of this quiet yet daunting place.
One of the most sought after regions of the Icelandic Highlands is Landmannalaugar. It’s quite possibly the most visited place in this region of the country, attracting hundreds of thousands of tourists each year. So why is Landmannalaugar so special? When can you visit there? How can you get there? What should you bring? Read on to find out all this and more in the ultimate guide to Landmannalaugar.
What is Landmannalaugar?
Landmannalaugar is a popular area in the heart of the Icelandic highlands. In Icelandic, its name means ‘The People’s Pools’, and it’s easy to see why when visiting here, there’s an abundance of geothermal activity, including hot springs in an otherwise unclaimed environment.
For those who want to step into an environment that is truly like nowhere else on Earth, Landmannalaugar is a great option. At first glance, the area sits behind the vast expanse of a black lava field that was formed after a volcanic eruption in 1477.
The region of Landmannalaugar is quite colourful compared to other highland regions in Iceland, and this is because of its geological composition. The area is rich in rhyolite, a kind of rock that is known for creating a large spectrum of brilliant colours. Because Landmannalaugar is home to entire rhyolite mountains, the surrounding vistas can contain shades of blue, pink, red, golden yellow and even green.
To Icelanders, Landmannalaugar was a safe haven for weary travellers. This was the place where they would stop on large journeys around the country, to rest, bathe and take in the surrounding nature before heading off on their trek.
When Can I Visit Landmannalaugar?
It is possible to visit Landmannalaugar all year round, but it’s not advisable to attempt to drive there yourself during winter. Iceland has two main types of roads, regular highways and ‘F’ roads. ‘F’ roads are often unpaved and unmaintained dirt roads that should only be driven on by very experienced drivers in suitable vehicles like a super jeep. Throughout winter in Iceland, many of the ‘F’ roads are closed because their conditions are considered too dangerous.
If you want to visit Landmannalaugar during the winter months, the best way to do it is by taking part in a tour with experienced and licensed guides.
To make the most of longer daylight hours and better weather, the summer months are more reasonable for a visit to this incredible region. Generally, from mid-June to early September should provide for the most optimal conditions.
How to Get to Landmannalaugar?
Landmannalaugar is a popular place to visit, but taking a trip there does require a little bit of planning. There are a few ways you can visit it as a tourist and a couple of things to consider.
Driving to Landmannalaugar
As mentioned earlier, there are unpaved and unmaintained roads in Iceland called ‘F’ roads, and in order to drive on them, you need an ‘F’ road approved vehicle. If you intend to drive yourself to Landmannalaugar in a rental car, you will need to make sure you are allowed to take the vehicle onto an ‘F’ road. If your car isn’t approved for ‘F’ roads and you take it anyway, your insurance won’t cover damages.
The easiest route to get to Landmannalaugar is to go from Route 1 in South Iceland or from The Golden Circle. From route 1, take route 26 and follow it till you get to a right turn onto route F208. You will follow that road until reaching F224 to Landmannalaugar. On this route, there is at least a 26km stretch of unpaved road.
The intermediate route to Landmannalaugar starts from route 26, and then you turn onto F225 (towards Landmannaleið) until you reach a junction to turn onto F208. Once you reach this, you will turn right onto F208 and eventually come to F224 towards Landmannalaugar. This route is a bit tougher, but it does allow you to catch a glimpse of the famous Hekla Volcano.
There is a third route that should be considered the most difficult, but it does factor in a lot of scenery. This one starts on the Ring Road (Route 1) in South Iceland. From there, it’s straight onto F208 to Landmannalaugar. Be warned that this route has river crossings and is much more difficult than the previous two routes mentioned.
Taking a Bus to Landmannalaugar
Not everyone who visits Landmannalaugar knows how to drive or even wants to, and during the summer, you don’t have to. There are many bus companies that have regular bus routes from the capital, Reykjavík, to Landmannalaugar.
You can expect to pay around 9,000 ISK for a one-way ticket, and there are numerous stops on the way. Once you leave the city, there are two main stops in Selfoss and Hella.
How Long Does it Take to Get to Landmannalaugar?
Landmannalaugar is close enough to Reykjavík that it could technically be done as a day trip. Taking the easiest route on a self-drive tour, you can get to Landmannalaugar in about three and a half hours.
If you factor in some time to stop for sightseeing, refuelling and something to eat, it will be a long day but certainly worthwhile, especially if you only have a short stay in the land of fire and ice.
Things to do in Landmannalaugar
So it’s been established that Landmannalaugar is beautiful to look at and quite remote, but is there actually anything to do when visiting there? Yes, there’s quite a lot to keep you entertained and help create some incredible memories of your trip to Iceland.
Bathe in the People’s Pool Hot spring
There’s no better way to commemorate a visit to a place called ‘The people’s pools’ than taking a refreshing dip in a geothermal hot spring. Landmannalaugar is full of geothermal activity, and because of this, the landscape is home to many hot springs. It’s essential to bring your bathing suit with you when visiting here because you never know when you might stumble across the perfect place to relax in warm water as you take in the vase expenses of natural beauty that surround you.
Here are a few hot spring tips for you before you embark on this bathing journey. Always pay attention to signs. Not all hot springs are suitable for bathing; some are so hot they can instantly cause third-degree burns or worse. In general, it’s best to stick to well-travelled areas and if there are no signs to indicate the temperature of a hot spring, always test the water before jumping in.
The actual ‘People’s Pool’ of the place name is next to the Laugahraun Lava Field, and most of the year, its temperature stays between 36°C to 40°C (97°F to 104°F)
Go For a Hike
Of course, one of the main reasons people are attracted to Landmannalaugar is the incredible variety of hiking trails in the area. Below are just a few of the top hikes you can take when visiting.
Laugahraun Lava Field
Laugahraun is a small lava field that is the result of a volcanic eruption many years ago. As far as hikes go, it’s relatively easy and can be considered a good ‘day-hike.’ Its total length is 4.3km (2.7 miles) and can be completed in under 2 hours.
Mt Bláhnúkúr is also called ‘The Blue Peak’ in English because of the bluish hue of the mountain’s top. It is also a popular day-hike in Landmannalaugar. Its total length is 6.1km (3.8 miles) and has an elevation of 350 m (1144 ft). This hike can be completed in under 3.5 hours.
Avid hikers often refer to Mt Brennisteinsalda as ‘The Sulphur Wave’ because there are quite a few moments on this trail where you will smell waves of volcanic sulphur. Brennisteinsalda itself is a rainbow coloured mountain, and the hike incorporates geothermal sites, lava fields and vast panoramic views.
The hike is 6.5 km (4 miles) with an elevation of 300 m (1000 ft); it’s considered to be of moderate difficulty and can be completed in around 3 hours.
Bláhnúkur Brennisteinsalda Loop
This hike combines both Mt. Bláhnúkúr and Mt. Brennisteinsalda together. It’s considered to be quite difficult, so it’s more suited to experienced hikers. Its total length is 9.7 km (6 miles) and has an elevation of 610 m (2000 ft). It can be completed by an experienced hiker in under 6 hours.
Ljótipullur means ‘Ugly Puddle’, but its name is a little misleading. This body of water is a deep crater lake filled with trout and surrounded by iron-rich, red hills. This hike isn’t considered to be too difficult, but it’s a long one at around 13.8 km (8.3 miles), taking between 4 and 6 hours to complete.
Stúrtur is a small volcanic crater that, from a distance, looks like it’s covered in pale green fur. It’s quite close to lake Frostastaðavatn right next to the road, so it’s less of a hiking destination and more of a landmark to visit.
The Suðurnamur hike is a loop trail of moderate difficulty. It has a total length of 8.5 km (5.5 miles) and a total elevation of 300 m (1000 ft). The variety of landscapes and higher elevations make this trek appealing to budding photographers. It can be completed by an experienced hiker in under 4 hours.
Salli is one of the longest hikes in the area, with a total length of 15 km (9.3 miles). It can take up to 8 hours to complete, but it’s well worth it if you have the time and come prepared with lots of snacks.
Camp Under the Midnight Sun
Camping can be one of the most cost-effective ways of travelling in Iceland, and during the summer months, it can introduce you to the seductive nature of the midnight sun. Imagine spending a whole day exploring and arriving at a campground, only to have plenty of light to put up your tent and still enjoy the magnificent views of the surrounding countryside as you prepare for some shut-eye.
Pro tip: if you need total darkness to sleep, it might pay to bring an eye mask with you. On the longest day of the year, the sun won’t set till midnight and will most likely pop up again an hour later. Also, make sure you read and understand Iceland’s strict camping regulations before you go off the grid.
Explore the Laugavegur Trail
The Laugavegur Trail is a hiking track between Landmannalaugar and Þórsmörk and has been classified by National Geographic as one of the most beautiful hiking trails in the world.
Laugavegur is one of the most popular hiking trails in Iceland, not just with tourists but also with locals for whom this has become an annual pilgrimage. If you have the time, stamina and energy, this trail will take you through almost the entire variety of landscapes the highlands of Iceland has to offer. You will see the rainbow colours of rhyolite mountains, black fossilised lava, crystal clear lakes, hot springs, black sand deserts and a lush woodland area at the end of the trail.
The hike itself is 54 km (33.5 miles), and it’s recommended to allow for at least 4 days to complete it.
What to Pack For a Trip to Landmannalaugar
Even if you have been to Iceland before and consider yourself familiar with the weather, remember that Landmannalaugar tends to be a bit chillier than the rest of the south. The Icelandic weather is notorious for being unpredictable, and this is a little bit more amplified in the highlands.
Possibly the most important thing to remember when travelling in the Highlands of Iceland is to bring weather-appropriate clothing. Waterproof, windproof and thermal clothing are all ‘must-haves’ for anyone coming here, even in summer.
If you are planning a hike, it’s important to make sure you have enough food and water to last MORE THAN your travel time. You can’t rely on mobile phone service in the highlands, so it’s important to bring a compass and map with you and to make sure you have registered your travel plans and estimated travel time.
What Services Are There at Landmannalaugar?
Landmannalaugar might be a remote wilderness, but it’s a popular one, so the Icelandic government and tourist board have done whatever they can to make sure it is as safe and enjoyable for visitors as possible. Please keep in mind that, in general, the approach of leaving things as you found them (or even better than you found them) is a great way to ensure that places like this are sustainable for others to visit in years to come.
Bathroom Facilities at Landmannalaugar
There is a bathroom facility at the main campsite of Landmannalaugar. A one-time fee of 2500 ISK will give you a wristband that grants you access to the toilets and showers.
Where Can I Get Fuel Near Landmannalaugar?
Unfortunately, there are no gas stations at Landmannalaugar. It’s a good idea to check which direction you are coming from and figure out where the last gas station is and fill up before you arrive.
Parking at Landmannalaugar
There are two general public parking areas at Landmannalaugar. If you are driving in a smaller 4×4 vehicle, you will have to park in the parking lot that is around 1km (.6 miles) from the main campsite; this is because the main parking site next to the campground requires crossing a river.
What Food Options Are There?
There are no restaurants at Landmannalaugar. It’s best to make sure you bring all the food you need for your stay, depending on how long you plan to be in the area. Remember, it is remote, but it’s not the end of the earth; from the parking lots at Landmannalaugar, it shouldn’t take more than an hour to reach a store or gas station for supplies.
There are small, green buses at the main campsite that are called ‘the Mountal Mall.’ Here they sell an assortment of basics and essentials just in case you have forgotten something but don’t rely on them specifically. Remember, when visiting a remote location, preparation is key.
Can I Take a Guided Tour to Landmannalaugar?
There are many different kinds of guided tours you can take to Landmannalaugar. There are experienced guides that are able to take individuals and groups on tours of the areas for day hikes, multi-day hikes or even small day tours while also visiting some other places in the South of Iceland.
The benefit of travelling on a guided tour is that the guesswork is taken out of it all, so you can just enjoy the experience without needing to think about what the next location is and what to do in the event of bad weather.
Where Can I Stay Near Landmannalaugar
As stated earlier, for many people, camping is the best option when they are visiting the Highlands. If you do choose to camp, always remember that you are only allowed to camp in designated camping areas in Iceland. If you stray outside of permitted campgrounds, you are committing a pretty serious offence and will likely face charges or fines.
Camping is a great option if you want to travel on a shoestring, but if you are looking for something with a considerably larger amount of comfort, there are some incredible options in the surrounding area; one place, in particular, is the Panorama Glass Lodge.
Panorama Glass Lodge offers the privacy of the secluded countryside in Iceland’s south but allows the outdoors to come in with the help of incredible glass cabins. Many jump at the chance to stay in these cabins during the Northern Lights season, but they’re also a valuable option for travellers in summer. The long summer days lend themselves perfectly to staying at the Panorama Glass Lodge.
Imagine roughing it on a hiking trail all day and then coming back to your own private getaway, surrounded by serene Icelandic countryside, as you unwind in a personal hot tub. Then you can take in the panoramic views that surround you without even needing to get out of bed.
The Panorama Glass Lodge offers unmatched beauty at an incredibly reasonable price that will help to make your memories of Iceland everlasting.
If you want to visit Iceland and really get a glimpse of a place that’s unlike anywhere else on the planet, Landmannalaugar is definitely something to add to your bucket list. It is a place where you can reflect, explore, imagine and just be one with the elements. Taking the time to step off the beaten track can do wonders for mental health and wellbeing, and a visit to Landmannalaugar could be the recharge you’re searching for.