The extremely easy to pronounce Landmannalaugar area of Iceland’s southern Highlands is one of the most Icelandic looking places in the world.
Landmannalaugar looks extremely Icelandic not because most of Iceland looks like this (it doesn’t), but because Iceland is practically the only place you will see landscape like this.
The cascading ranks of bare-sided rhyolite mountains look a bit like a massive cake spackled with cream caramel icing, over which occasional streaks of garish food coloring have been indiscriminately flicked. It might be easy to believe for a while that this was the site of a huge industrial accident which has poisoned the land and killed it totally.
But it won’t take long to see through the lie, as the valleys and plains between the mountains are coated in lush grasses and meadow flowers; the slow-to-depart snow patches on the peaks are pearly white; the birds, tourists and other creatures are evidently in the peak of physical health; and the lakes, ponds, and rivers are pristine and pure.
The rivers are hot, however – which is one of Landmannalaugar’s biggest attractions. The name Landmannalaugar could, in fact, be translated as Pools of the People, due to being such a fantastic (and free) place to bathe in natural warm water.
Landmannalaugar is in the Highlands and therefore not easy to get to – and totally inaccessible between roughly October and May. But one of the three 'roads' leading to this magical place is juuuuuust about suitable for normal two-wheel drive cars in the summertime. Although maybe not your own car, if you love it!
There are limited facilities in the area, including huts to sleep in, a campsite, a very basic shop, and scheduled coach services passing through from time to time. This puts some people out of their comfort zone, while others find it all far too much. As probably the busiest and best-serviced place in the Icelandic Highlands, the former group will have to resign themselves to the fact that it doesn’t get any better – while the latter group can rejoice that it doesn’t get any worse.
Whichever group you fall into, Landmanna- laugar is a crazy and unique place you will want to visit at least once. Climb a red or purple mountain, see for many tens of kilometres in every direction, relax in the hot streams, revel in being in the middle of nowhere (even if there are a fair few other people there with you). Landmannalaugar is even allegedly the best place in Iceland to see the northern lights.
The reason for this is that there is absolutely no ambient light pollution, that you absolutely have to be soaking in the hot water while gazing upwards, and that the colors and shapes of the lights match the landscape like nowhere else. Pure heaven! But it’s really only late August and September, when the area is still accessible and the nights actually get dark, that you’ll be able to indulge in this surreal pleasure.