The Interior of Iceland is a rugged snowy territory, accessible only in summer.
This is probably the harshest, most "away from it all" place in all of Europe. In addition to being largely covered in glaciers, this area is also volcanically active. The biggest danger to the average visitor, however, is their vehicles running out of fuel. Plan accordingly. No shops or gas stations are in the area (there are some at the edge of the area). Accommodation in the area is mostly huts with cooking facilities, with a minority of them being motels with restaurants. Tourist information centres exist but they are few and far in-between.
Of the land, 41% is barren, 10% is oases (often located near lakes), 3% is lakes, and the remaining 21% have varying amounts of flora. There are three glaciers in the region, covering 25%, including the largest glacier in Europe: Vatnajökull. The glaciers make it impossible to build an east–west road, and thus the main roads in the interior go from the south to north. The glaciers began to form 5,000 years ago and reached their current size 1,500 years ago. The whole area is 400–600 m (1,300–2,000 ft) above sea level. The region's main attraction is its remoteness and huge expanses of untouched scenery.
Nights are colder here than elsewhere in the country, largely due to the elevation. The average temperature at night is 3 °C (37 °F) and the lowest temperature is −5 °C (23 °F). Daytime average is 10 °C (50 °F) with 20 °C (68 °F) being the highest temperature. The weather can change frequently, every 15 minutes, like is the case also elsewhere in the country.
During the only available season in this region, summer, there is only a few hours of darkness. At average there is only 3 hours of darkness in June, 5 hours in July and 8 hours in August.
Freedom to roam
- See also: Right to access in the Nordic countries
Everybody has the right to roam freely by foot. Bicycles should follow paths or roads and Jeeps are only allowed on marked roads. Tents should only be set up at designated campsites. Within some areas in Vatnajökull park camping is forbidden altogether, due to sensitive soil. The traveller is expected to show care for the environment and return it in the same condition as it was in. The Icelandic government owns a vast majority of the land in this region.
This region splits into several areas. Those three areas are the two main roads are in the region, Kjölur road 35, Sprengisandur road F26 and the third is the Vatnajökull National Park.
- 1 Kjölur — The western part of this region, situated between Langjökull and Hofsjökull glaciers.
- 2 Sprengisandur — The central part of this region, situated between Hofsjökull and Vatnajökull glaciers.
- 3 Vatnajökull National Park — The eastern part of this region
Anyone's biggest worry in the interior is to run out of fuel. Here are a few places to look for. Accommodation is available in all of them as well as food.
- Hótel Hrauneyjar is a small hotel located in the southern interior, just north of Mt. Hekla.
The interior can be reached from the north or south. It is essential to start the journey from outside of the interior in order to get food, fuel and equipment. See the gear section for what gear is needed in this region. Shop at either Selfoss or Akureyri and then continue.
The easiest, cheapest and safest way to venture into the interior is by BSI bus (special 4x4 buses with experienced drivers).
As elsewhere in Iceland, roads that start with an "F" are overall in worse condition and more of a challenge than those that are just a number. Authorities will remove the F from the official designation of a road when it meets the (not terribly high) Icelandic standards for a "regular road". That said, even on normal roads, the Interior can be challenging and there is only very sparse population and service or civilization may be days away in any direction.
The interior has two important roads, F26 and road 35, known by the locals as Sprengisandur and Kjölur. Both of these roads cross the country, connecting South Iceland with North Iceland. The directions below will guide you to these roads.
From Akureyri to Sprengisandur follow road 821 in an southern direction. The road then continues as F821. Turn right into F881 and left into F26. Next fuel stop in 242km, at Hrauneyjar.
From Selfoss to Kjölur follow road 35 in a north-eastern direction. The road will pass by Geysir and the waterfall Gullfoss (in Upcountry Árnessýsla) before it enters the interior. Fill up at the gas station at Geysir before continuing. Next fuel stop in 204km, at Blönduós.
From Selfoss to Sprengisandur follow road 1 in an eastern direction, then turn right into road 30, then left into road 32. The road number will change to Road 26. Fuel up at Hrauneyjar and continue on road 26, which will change to F26. Next fuel stop in 242km, at Akureyri.
From Blönduós to Kjölur follow road 1 in an eastern, then southern direction, turn right into road 731 and left into road 35. Next fuel stop in 204km at Geysir.
Renting a 4X4 is very expensive and must be done in advance. It's best to travel with at least one other car as conditions are extreme. Remember that off-road driving is prohibited in Iceland because it contributes to erosion and can be very dangerous.
Iceland has very few long distance bicycle paths. Follow the same routes as a car would to the interior. Don't do this unless you are an experienced long distance cyclist and can fix all conceivable (and some inconceivable) defects in your bike as help may be days off and more accustomed to cars than bikes.
From Keflavík International airport, you can take the flybus to Reykjavik Domestic Airport and fly from there to Akureyri. From Akureyri you can either take an bus to the interior or rent a jeep. Some airlines offer sightseeing charter flights.
As the interior is an isolated place, it is important to be prepared.
- Warm clothes - preferably several layers (temperatures are lower in the interior than in the coastal lowlands)
- Hiking boots
- Gloves, head cover
- Windproof and water repellent jacket
- Mobile phone
- Tyre repair kit or a spare tyre and jack
- Jump leads
- First aid kit
- Tool kit
- Fan belt
- Rubber boots
- Knee high boots (for fording)
- Walking stick (for fording)
- Towing rope
- Bicycle pants
- Warm socks
- Jogging shoes
- Windproof and water repellent jacket
- Energy packed food
- Bicycle helmet
- Mobile phone
- First aid kit
- Pump and tyre repair kit
- Strong adhesive tape
The area is explored via the main roads of the region, Sprengisandur road F26, Kjölur road 35 and Öskjuvegur Road 910. The interior is only partially interconnected with roads. You can get from Sprengisandur to Vatnajökull park and Landmannalaugar, but in order to get to Kjölur you need to go out of the region to the lowlands first. From Kjölur you can get to Kaldidalur on the other side of Langjökull glacier.
An compass and a map is preferable to GPS. When using GPS, type in areas using coordinates, instead of names. Icelanders have an bad habit of naming several areas the same names. The magnetic declination is -9° (in the east) to -13° (in the west) as of 2023, but check current values as the magnetic pole is on the move.
The easiest, cheapest and safest way to venture into the interior is by BSI bus. Road 35 is covered by Reykjavík Excursions and Sterna's route 610a.
- See also: Driving in Iceland
The easiest way of getting around independently is by car. Only 4WD cars are allowed in the interior. Contact the company from which you rent the vehicle and ask for a vehicle that can handle the terrain of the interior. All roads in the interior are closed in the winter and spring, but are open in the summer.
Most roads are gravel roads or trails, with only some of them having bridges. Those roads are typically marked with an F prefix. An minority of roads are asphalt roads, those are normal roads without an F prefix, most of them are connecting roads from the lowlands to the interior.
Attractions in the interior are situated within walking distances from the roads. Usually there are parking areas near the starting points.
Before you cross any river by car, wade on foot over the river. Use knee high boots and a walking stick. For safety you can tie yourself to the front of the car. Rivers either have a gravel or rocky riverbed. Look for an smooth area to cross over. Look away from the current every couple of seconds in order to prevent dizziness.
If you encounter a lot of current, keep your knees bent. Should you fall, keep the staff firmly in the riverbed, it will eventually allow you to regain control.
Distances within the interior are great and previous cycling experience is recommended. Cycle within your abilities and protect the environment by following roads and paths. Cycling Iceland has detailed maps and other information for cyclists.
Hiking in the Nordic countries has some general advice, including on fording rivers without bridges. On marked routes some rivers do have bridges, but at high waters or at lesser trails, fording may be necessary.
While most visitors are amazed by the Arctic landscape, many Icelanders find it boring. Oases have fauna in the otherwise barren landscape. Pink footed geese, Meadow pipit and European golden plover can be seen here during the summer. Additionally there are several forms of rocks, including palagonite, rhyolite and lahar with rows of craters. NASA has been to this region several times, in preparation for the Apollo missions and for Mars training. Hawaii is the only other place on earth that has been used for this purpose.
- 1 Askja (go into road 1 and turn into road F88 near a bridge on road 1 over the glacial river Jökulsá á fjöllum). A volcano that collapsed in on itself after an eruption in 1875. Since then, water has accumulated in the crater, making a 220 metre deep pool of water.
- 2 Herðubreið. This tuya, surrounded by a lava field, was not ascended until 1908. At a height of 1,700 m (5,600 ft) it is known as "the Queen of Icelandic Mountains" and was added to Vatnajökull National Park in 2019.
- 3 Hveravellir (near the geographic centre of Iceland, between Langjökull and Hofsjökull glaciers, near the main mountain track, Kjalvegur). Geothermal area. This is the only fuel station in the interior. 1.35 m deep pool. Incl. in accommodation.
- 4 Lakagígar (go into road 1, turn into road 206 just south of the town Kirkjubæjarklaustur and continue on road F206). Fissures that were formed after an eruption in 1783–1784, which threatened the population of Iceland at the time.
- See also: Outdoor life
Cooking: Fire is permitted outside of protected areas where there is no risk of damage. Firewood is almost non existent in this region. Fires within Vatnajökull park are only permitted in designated areas at camping grounds. Camping stoves use propane, refills are available at gas stations. Huts have cooking facilities.
Fishing: Salmon and trout can be fished during the entirety of summer, except from 22:00 on Friday to 10:00 on Tuesday, in order to allow the fish to rest. Angling is permitted and fishing nets can only be used when you are unhooking the fish from the fishing pole. Midges can be encountered around fishing areas and cause annoyance, but they are harmless.
Fees are paid for fishing within Vatnajökull park and within landowners lands. Most of the interior is owned by the government and there does not seem to be a fee there. See also Fishing.
Hunting: In the interior the following species can be hunted: great black-backed gull, lesser black-backed gull, European herring gull, the common raven, parasitic Jaeger (until 14 June) and reindeer. Hunters need to apply for an quota from the environment agency of Iceland. Hunters with an European Firearm Licence may transport an documented firearm to Iceland and hunt with an stay no longer than 3 months. Hunters from other countries need an import permit from the Icelandic police in addition to an fire arms permit and an hunting permit. A firearm under transport must be unloaded and in an envelope. When stored, it must be in an locked locker. Hunters are required to return an hunting report to the environment agency of Iceland.
Bathing: The area has several natural pools. Some of these pools have hot geothermal water that mixes with cold water. All of the motels in the area have showers and some huts as-well.
Swimming: The area has several lakes. Keep a reasonable distance to huts and houses. Look for currents and slippery rocks. It can be a good idea to follow up with bathing after swimming since the temperature in the area is below body temperature.
- 1 Laugafellslaug. 0.4-1.5 m deep pool with toilet facilities 700 kr.
- 2 Hitulaug. 0.6-0.7 m deep pool without facilities Free.
- 3 Lægðin. 0.5 m deep pool without facilities Free.
- 4 Landmannalaugar. Pool with facilities 500 kr.
- See also: outdoor cooking
Most of the time, eating is done by using food that has already been bought from either South or North Iceland, by using the kitchen facilities of the huts in the region. In the north the closest supermarket is Bónus in Akureyri and in the south Krónan in Selfoss and Kr in Kirkjubæjarklaustur. Pricer close grocery stores in the north are in Reykjahlíð at Mývatn lake, Blönduós and in the south Laugarvatn.
Some restaurants exist close to the border between the interior and the other regions. Only three restaurants are in the region itself, one at Hrauneyjar at the entry point of road F26 - sprengisandur in the south, one at Kerlingafjöll on road 35, close to midway on that road and finally Hveravellir, also on road 35.
Fishing is the preferred way of replenishing your food. The Icelandic moss is used locally as a medicine against the common cold.
Tap water is safe to drink. Other drinks can be bought from neighbouring regions, but water can be replenished in the interior. Some huts have tap water and showers.
In the wilderness you can usually drink water from springs and streams without treatment. This is an risk however as surface water can contain bacteria. Streams from high ground typically have the best water. Water directly from glaciers should be avoided as it has lots of particles. It may be advisable to boil water from the wilderness for a few minutes unless tested.
Use an sleeping bag rated for the whole year or an winter sleeping bag. The average temperature during night is 3 degrees centigrade and it can go down to minus 5 degrees.
Tents: Since 2015, tents are only allowed in specified camping grounds and thus you do always need to pay a service fee. Use an tent that has good ventilation, but is also waterproof. There are camp sites next to most huts. There are midges around lakes. There is also an camping fee in Vatnajökull park.
Huts: There are more than a dozen huts in the interior. They have cooking facilities and beds, but are less insulated (and thus cooler) than a typical house. Some may have tap water and showers. Huts can be ordered on the homepages of útivist and Ferðafélag íslands. One night costs roughly between 4500 and 7000 kr. Members of the Den Norske Turistforeigning (DNT) get a deposit of 100kr at Ferðafélag Íslands.
Motels: There are three motels in the interior. They all have tap water, showers and either cafés or restaurants. None of them have stores.
- See also: Cold weather
Three things need to be considered to be safe, being adequately prepared, the weather and natural disasters. Since there are very few services and shops in the region you are on your own. The weather is cold due to the high elevation compared to the rest of the country and the weather can also change. Several active volcanoes are in the area, and the area is also on an tectonic plate. 112 is the national emergency number.
- Always leave your travel plan around, either with the safetravel.is/travel-plan search and rescue or with friends and family. Make sure your friends and family know that they are supposed to alert 112 if you do not return at the specified date.
- Make sure you have everything on the gadget list and plenty of food supplies.
- Guards are only in Vatnajökull park, and even there it is not guaranteed that you will be spotted.
- You will have to help yourself for a while. Mobiles help, but in some areas the signal is bad, like in northern Sprengisandur. See an map on signal strength on Icelandic roads.
- Do not enter glaciers without a skilled guide
- The weather can change from windy to rainy or even become both windy and rainy.
- Pack for all weathers, not just the ones the weather forecast tells you about.
- Bring winter clothes, these are highlands and the temperatures will be lower than in the lowlands.
- Frostbite is a risk at severe sub-freezing temperatures, particularly when wind adds to the cooling effect
Carry an portable radio or use your phone as one. Listen for news at LW frequencies 189 kHz and 207 kHz. For the FM frequencies see the frequency map of Rás 1 and 2[dead link].
Avoid staying in an area where the wind is flowing from the eruption site, in order to avoid gasses and ash. Stay high up in the landscape, cover your nostrils and mouth with a cloth. Should the ash get thick or if you have an asthma, go into the next day or wilderness hut, close windows on the side that the wind blows at, close the chimney and stay there until the wind direction changes.
Should you be in close proximity of an eruption walk opposite to the wind direction to get out of the area. If you have concerns that you cannot abandon a hazardous area in time, do not hesitate to call the emergency number 112.
As this is an infrequent travel destination, other travellers may not be interested in socializing. The staff in information centers and motels can probably help you. Icelanders are usually fluent in English, and information for tourists is available in English.
Smoking can be an hazard. In hot and dry periods, a cigarette can cause an fire so avoid leaving litter in nature.
Even though there is right of access, some infrastructure is maintained by volunteers. Walking bridges around huts are usually maintained by the very same trekking association that runs the huts. Birds and other animals should not be disturbed. Do not leave garbage behind.
Icelandic is an compound language. By knowing some landscape words you could spot the difference between rivers and creeks, mountains and fells. Place names end with an word that specifies the landscape feature they are. Also you could spot words on road signs.