Landmannalaugar: The Complete Guide to Iceland's Central Highlands

From how to get there to the best hikes in the Central Highlands

Sun setting over the Central Highlands

TripSavvy / Lauren Breedlove

Iceland's Central Highlands are a special place — an elevated terrain formed by volcanic eruptions thousands of years ago. The terrain is famous for how tricky it is; during the winter, access to the highlands is restricted unless you're traveling with a tour company that has a certified vehicle for driving on F-roads during the wintertime. But come summertime, the roads are open (although a car with four-wheel drive is always recommended given Iceland's unpredictable weather patterns). You'll find Landmannalaugar hiding out in the Southern Highlands within the Fjallabak Nature Reserve. The region is shrouded in mountain ranges and physical reminders of Iceland's volcanic history: Landmannalaugar proper is nestled next to the Laugahraun lava field, which is full of pitch-black lava rock from an eruption in 1477.

You can certainly get a taste of the region's vast geologies in a day, but if you really want to explore this region, make sure and set aside two to three days. There are also bus tours that will bring you to some of the most iconic sights, as well, if you don't mind sightseeing with a crowd.

Scenic view of landscape against cloudy sky
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The Landmannalaugar region has long been known for its hiking opportunities, but it's equally famous for its hot springs, which serve as the perfect rest stop for tired legs. In the beginning, those enjoying the local hot springs were Iceland's original settlers crossing the mountainous Central Highlands. Today, you'll find a mix of locals and visitors passing through, mostly during the summer months.

How to Get There

From Reykjavik, you've got a three-hour drive ahead of you, mostly along Route 1 until you hit Landmannaleið. If you're looking for the scenic route, plan your drive along a road called Sigölduleið. You'll see the greatest variety of sights along the drive, from hot springs to a lake called Bláhylur inside a volcanic crater. For the best sights, Road F208 off of Route 1 will never disappoint, but it is the hardest to navigate, terrain-wise.

This region is best to visit when you're heading from Reykjavik along the South, as it's approximately the same drive time from Vík and the Glacier Lagoon along the eastern coast of the island. Plan a visit to Landmannalaugar on your way to the north and you'll be spending much more time in the car.

Rolling mountains in the central highlands
TripSavvy / Lauren Breedlove

What to Expect

The Landmannalaugar area is full of rhyolite mountains — a rare form of rock that gives off a stunning spectrum of colors, from red and pink to blue and goldenrod. This is truly a hiker's paradise, so bring proper footwear. Expect to see fields of ancient magma formations, hot springs, valleys, a waterfall, craters, and volcanoes during your time in the area.

Natural bath in Iceland
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What To Do in Landmannalaugar

Landmannalaugar was made for hiking. Trails vary from a few hours to multiple days — if you're opting for the latter, make sure you pack the proper supplies for the constantly changing temperatures. Laugavegur is a multi-day hike that will bring you through volcanoes, rivers, canyons, and colorful mountainsides before you hit the famous Thorsmork area. There are cabins and huts along the way for sleeping. If you're looking to stay near a lake, take on the four-day hike from Landmannalaugar to Lake Álfavatn.

For something shorter, check out hikes to Hrafntinnusker, a giant mountain in the highlands. It will take you between three and four hours to hike the seven-and-a-half-mile trail. The hike to Frostastadavatn lake is another short one with rewarding views. Travel planning website KimKim is a great resource for more hikes in the Landmannalaugar area.

If you're looking for the best view of the region's colorful hilldsides, don't miss Brandsgil Canyon. Ljótipollur, which means "Ugly Puddle," is another brilliant landmark: it's a red crater that certainly does not live up to its name.

Hot springs are also popular attractions in this area. Don't miss the springs along the edge of the Laugahraun lava field. This is also where you'll find the area's only accommodation (more on that later).

If waterfalls are on your must-see list, Landmannalaugar does not disappoint. Visit Ófærufoss, which is located near the popular Eldgjá fissure, otherwise known as the "Fire Canyon."

What to Do Nearby

If you happen to be traveling from Selfoss or the surrounding area, opt to drive through Thingvellir National Park — the historic site of Iceland's parliament from the 10th to 18th centuries — to get to the Landmannalaugar region. On this route, you can stop off at Gulfoss, Geysir, Silfra Fissure, Laugarvatn, Oxararfoss, and explore field after field of lava formations. From the entrance of Thingvellir National Park, it's about a three-hour drive.

Where to Stay

If you're hiking, there are huts located along some of the most popular trails for comfortable sleeping. There is one mountain hut that's run by a group called Ferðafélag Íslands, but it books up months in advance. You can read more about the rates and booking process on the accommodation's website.