Nothing you might see elsewhere in Iceland prepares you for the stark, raw beauty of the barren upland plateau that is the Interior – known in Icelandic as hálendið or “highlands” – Europe’s last true wilderness. The violence of the elements here means that Iceland’s heart is a desolate and uninhabited place, with no towns or villages, just cinematic vistas of seemingly infinite grey gravel plains, glacial rivers and lavafields punctuated by ice caps, volcanoes and jagged mountains. Sheep are virtually the only living things that survive here, but pasture and vegetation comprise only scattered clumps of ragged grass, and it’s a daunting task for the farmers who venture out every autumn to round up their livestock.

History

Historically, routes through the Interior were forged in Viking times as a shortcut for those making the journey on horseback to the annual law-making sessions at Þingvellir, though the region later provided refuge – if you can call it that – for outlaws, who are said to have been pardoned in the unlikely event that they managed to survive here for twenty years. Today, with the advent of the Ringroad and internal flights, the need to traverse this area has long gone, and there are no sealed roads, just tracks marked by stakes, and hardly any bridges across the rivers, causing some hairy moments when they are forded.

Weather

The Interior’s weather is Iceland at its most elemental. Not only can fierce winds whip up the surface layer of loose grit in a matter of seconds, turning a beautiful sunny spell into a blinding haze of sand and dirt, but snowstorms are common even in July and August. The summer here is very short indeed, barely a matter of weeks, the winter long and severe, when the tracks are blocked by deep snowdrifts and closed to traffic.

Accommodation

The mainstay of accommodation in the Interior is the network of huts, or sæluhús, run by Iceland’s hiking associations. The better ones have self-catering facilities and running water, though all sleeping space is in dorms and you’ll need to bring your own sleeping bag. The huts are very busy during summer, and it’s essential to book in advance; see accounts for contact details. If you’re camping, you need a high-quality tent with enough pegs to anchor it down in the ferocious winds that can howl uninterrupted across the Interior.

Getting around

Of all the various tracks, only two routes across the Interior actually traverse the whole way between north and south Iceland. The most dramatically barren of these is Sprengisandur (Route F26), which crosses between the Hekla area in the south and Lake Mývatn in the north. The alternative is Kjölur (Route 35), from Gullfoss to near Blönduós, which has less dramatic scenery but is the only route on which you might be able to use normal cars.

Other routes lead into the Interior but don’t offer a complete traverse. The western Kaldidalur route (Route 550) runs between Borgafjörður and Þingvellir; east of Lake Mývatn; the F88 follows the course of the mighty Jökulsá á Fjöllum south to the Askja caldera, from near where the F902 continues towards Kverkfjöll; heading inland from Egilsstaðir, Route 910 heads towards Snæfell (en route to Karahnjúkar), before becoming the F910 and kinking northwest to join the F88, while the Fjallabak route (F208) runs behind the south coast’s ice caps.

Book through Rough Guides’ trusted travel partners

Iceland features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

The best day trips from Reykjavík

The best day trips from Reykjavík

Icelanders have a motto which visitors should know: þetta reddast – “It’ll all work out.” Hoping to go for a day in the wilds, but the roads are too ic…

06 Sep 2018 • Rebecca Hallett insert_drive_file Article
Hot tub happiness: the dos and don'ts of Icelandic spas

Hot tub happiness: the dos and don'ts of Icelandic spas

Going to a spa in Iceland can feel wonderfully alien. Against a backdrop of barren moonscapes and denuded hills, the waters are so preternaturally blue, so exag…

02 Mar 2018 • Mike MacEacheran insert_drive_file Article
Iceland: top 10 hot pools to take a dip

Iceland: top 10 hot pools to take a dip

An outdoor soak is an essential part of the Icelandic experience – a surreal way to spend a dark winter's day, or to unkink those muscles after a long day's h…

02 Mar 2018 • David Leffman insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Privacy Preference Center

Necessary

Mandatory - can not be deselected. Necessary cookies help make a website usable by enabling basic functions like page navigation and access to secure areas of the website. The website cannot function properly without these cookies.

PHPSESSID,aelia_cs_selected_currency,cookie_notice_accepted,RS,bp-message,bp-message-type,id,UIDR,w3tc_logged_out,__cfduid
__cfduid

Statistics

Statistic cookies help website owners to understand how visitors interact with websites by collecting and reporting information anonymously.

__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid,__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xt
__utma,__utmb,__utmc,__utmz,_ga,_gid
__atssc,__atuvc,__atuvs,di,dt,ssc,ssh,sshs,uid,uit,xtc

Marketing

Marketing cookies are used to track visitors across websites. The intention is to display ads that are relevant and engaging for the individual user and thereby more valuable for publishers and third party advertisers.

__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID,__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll,c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs
__gads,PISID, BEAT, CheckConnection TempCookie703, GALX, GAPS, GoogleAccountsLocale_session, HSID, LSID, LSOSID, NID, PREF, RMME, S, SAPISID, SID, SSID
__utmv, _twitter_sess, auth_token, auth_token_session, external_referer, guest_id, k, lang, original_referer, remember_checked, secure_session, twid, twll
c_user, datr, fr, highContrast, locale, lu, reg_ext_ref, reg_fb_gate, reg_fb_ref, s, wd, xs