North Iceland’s Untamed Coast: The Atlas Obscura Guide - Atlas Obscura

The Atlas Obscura Guide to
North Iceland’s Untamed Coast

Sponsored by

Any travel enthusiast would be hard-pressed to open any social media channel and not see photos of Iceland, with its jaw-dropping peaks, natural hot springs, pure glaciers, northern lights and snow-covered landscapes. But the island nation’s appeal goes well beyond the well-worn paths of Reykjavik, the Golden Circle and the southern region's countryside. Travel to the untamed north along the Arctic Coast Way to discover otherworldly beauty—sans crowds—around every bend.

Forceful Falls

1. Dettifoss

Iceland is famous for its spectacular waterfalls, many of which are beautiful and serene places for contemplation. Dettifoss is not one of them. Having earned the superlative of “most powerful waterfall in Europe” because of its massive flow rate (3,059,112 U.S. gallons per minute), standing near this unfettered display of power will give you a healthy respect for the fury of nature. 

From Route 1 (commonly known as Iceland’s Ring Road), visitors can easily access Dettifoss by driving north on the paved Route 862. However, if traveling from the north (from Route 85 via the Ásbyrgi canyon area), be prepared to brave some rather rough gravel roads, which may or may not be closed depending on the weather. (There’s a reason why four-wheel-drive rental cars come in handy in this rugged nation.) If the roads are clear, pack your rain gear and hiking boots. Even on a sunny day, mist from the flow of glacial water can be visible from up to a mile away and any wind change might leave you soaked. 

The 330-foot-wide falls are fed by the river Jökulsá, which means “glacier river” in Icelandic, a reference to the Vatnajökull glacier (recipient of another superlative: one of Europe's largest). Be careful as you approach and stick to designated pathways since even they can be rendered slippery in the mist. The falls’ water tends to be a dingy grayish color, thanks to the water picking up the black volcanic silt from the river bottom. Movie buffs might recognize Dettifoss from its star turn as another planet in the opening scene for the 2012 movie Prometheus.

Dettifoss, Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Sci-Fi Stand-In

2. Krafla Caldera

If you want to continue the alien theme, the Krafla caldera—a 6-mile-long active volcano zone that sits squarely on the border between the Eurasian and American tectonic plates—is a must-visit. Drive up a winding mountain road until clusters of red geodesic domes come into view. That’s the power plant harnessing the area’s geothermal energy, and it means you’re close. 

Krafla is part of a large volcanic system and one of Iceland’s most explosive volcanoes. The most recent eruptions occurred frequently between 1975 and 1984, and the eerie landscape bears witness to what churns beneath the surface. 

From the parking area, take a hike along a well-worn path and you’ll notice the geology of the area change before your eyes. Lava fields, puddles of bubbling mud, evaporating clouds of sulfur-scented steam, solidified magma splashes and horizontal striations of various colors from layers of lava make the Krafla caldera look like a scene straight from Mars. It’s such a close match, there are plans for the area to host the Mars Society’s European Mars Analog Research Station (Euro-MARS) to observe humans living in space-like conditions. 

Krafla Caldera, Northeast, Iceland

Farm-Fresh Flavors

3. Vogafjós’ Cowshed Cafe

Many farm families in Iceland boast a closely guarded family recipe for "geyser rye bread," baked with some combination of rye flour, spring water, sugar and seasonings. The ingredients are mixed, formed into loaves and baked beneath the ground, using the natural, geothermal heat for which Iceland is famous. At this pastoral cafe, on the eastern shores of Lake Mývatn, the geyser bread—which is baked underground for 24 hours—is a star menu attraction, along with raw smoked lamb, pan-fried trout and cured arctic char pulled from the lake. 

The cow farm, which is currently home to 16 stout bovines, has been in the same family for more than 120 years. In 2005, the family added 26 guest rooms, and later, they converted their small food takeaway counter into a full-fledged restaurant. Guests who want to get close to the eatery’s agrarian roots can watch the cows being milked or sit outside overlooking the pasture. For a special treat, the kitchen blends the geyser bread into their singular delicacy, geyser bread ice cream.

Vogafjós Farm, 660 Mývatn, Iceland

Serene Soak

4. Mývatn Nature Baths

The north’s lesser-known answer to the southwest’s Blue Lagoon lies in the hot mineral springs next to Lake Mývatn. Unlike the touristic attraction to the south, this picturesque pool is naturally fed by geothermal water drawn from a fissure nearly 2,500 meters deep. Rich in silicates, minerals and beneficial microorganisms, the water is purported to have healing properties. That chemical composition, plus a starting temperature of 130 degrees Celsius, also makes it an inhospitable environment for any undesirable bacteria or vegetation. 

Guests shower in gender-specific locker rooms before wading into the outdoor lagoon, which contains nearly a million gallons of steaming blue water with temperatures between 36 and 40 degrees Celsius. If you’ve had the forethought to order a drink inside, a friendly lifeguard will deliver it to you at the edge of the pool. The complex also includes an outdoor hot tub, two steam saunas, and views of the surrounding volcanic landscape. While the pool structures themselves are man-made, the water is completely natural and the complex represents a good example of Icelandic hot spring culture.

Jarðbaðshólar, 660 Mývatn, Iceland

Lush Landscape

5. Goðafoss

Just about every waterfall in Iceland has a story, and Goðafoss, which means “waterfall of the gods,” is no exception. According to the Icelandic sagas, in the year 1000, Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði, the region’s Viking leader, threw his Norse idols and instruments into the waterfall to signify the end of paganism and the start of Christianity. The nearby church, Þorgeirskirkja at Ljósavatn (Icelandic for Þorgeir's Church), was built in 2000 to commemorate a millennium of Iceland being a Christian nation. 

The powerful falls stretch across a curve of nearly 100 feet, with water from the river Skjálfandafljót tumbling over massive boulders and down 39 feet before continuing on its way. The lush valley surrounding it is primarily covered with shallow lava topsoil, so the delicate flora includes dwarf shrubs, moss and lichen, which grow on the rocks surrounding and separating the falls. Goðafoss is located right on the Ring Road, (named such because it follows the country’s perimeter), so visitors can choose to park on either side. Either way, an easy walk gets you close to the majestic display from the top. For those who wish to view the falls from below, walk to the east side and hike down the rocky path for a new perspective.

Goðafoss, Iceland

Massive Mammals

6. Húsavík Whale Museum

At just 2,300 residents, Húsavík is one of the densest towns lining Iceland’s sparsely populated Northeast coast. The country’s self-described “whale-watching capital” is home to the Húsavík Whale Museum. A former livestock slaughterhouse offers more than 15,000-square-feet of exhibition space filled with 11 whale skeletons, including  an 82-foot-long blue whale found beached at Ásbúðir, a farm in Northern Iceland.

Standing in front of the only blue whale skeleton in Iceland gives you an appreciation for the size of the creatures—the largest ever to have lived, with calls that can travel hundreds of miles underwater. Other fully assembled skeletons include a Sowerby’s beaked whale, minke whale, long-finned pilot whale, sperm whale, and a narwhal, dubbed the “unicorn of the sea” because of its single horn-like tusk. 

Other engaging exhibits include a “touch and see” box with artifacts—like a baleen whale skull bone, part of a shark tail, vertebrae of a northern bottlenose whale, and a humpback whale’s baleen plates—to handle up close. Undulating lighting and underwater noises turn the museum into a place to both learn about and meditate on these giants of the deep.

Hafnarstétt 1, Húsavík, Iceland

Striking Shark

7. Hákarl

In centuries past, food was often prized more for its ability to sustain than its ability to delight the taste buds. There’s perhaps no better example than hákarl, the pungent—some might say putrid—fermented shark the Vikings created in Iceland’s early days. The meat of Greenland sharks, the world’s longest-living vertebrates at 300500 years, is poisonous when eaten fresh. But Viking ingenuity discovered that burying pieces of the shark meat underground for several weeks could neutralize the toxins. Next, the slabs of meat were hung to age further. The bite-size chunks of white meat have a urine-like smell, thanks to the ammonia in the uric acid naturally present in the shark’s flesh. 

While hákarl is now produced primarily to be eaten during the annual midwinter Þorrablót festival, the gastronomically adventurous (or foolhardy, depending on your view of eating what some have described as “urine-soaked cheese”) can find this historical food in high-end grocery stores, like the Hagkaup in Akureyri. When asked if he liked the Icelandic delicacy, the best a store clerk could say was, “It’s a very particular taste.” To sample it like Icelanders do, plan to wash the hákarl down with a shot of Brennivín, the traditional unsweetened, carraway-flavored schnapps.

Hagkaup Grocery, Grenivellir 26, Akureyri, Iceland

Tall Tales

8. Hvoll Regional Museum

This Dalvík museum’s star is an exhibit dedicated to the town’s larger-than-life resident. Jóhann Pétursson was dubbed “The Giant,” because at 7’8” he was known as the tallest man alive during his lifetime (191384). When you visit, snap a photo next to an outdoor display showing Pétursson’s impressive height, sit in a larger-than-life bench that would have fit him, and wonder at archival photos documenting his time as a vaudeville performer around Europe and later as the “Viking Giant” in the United States’ Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. 

The rest of the museum's collection is filled with various tools, furnishings, arts, and crafts, which provide insight into Dalvík's history, culture, and community. The natural history collection contains a large number of taxidermied Icelandic birds and mammals, including a toothy polar bear.

Karls-Rauðatorg, 620 Dalvík, Iceland


9. Tvistur Horse Rental

Saddle up an Icelandic horse at this family-run stable near Dalvík, and you’ll take part in a proud national tradition. The unique breed of smallish horses came to Iceland with the first Viking settlers from Norway about 1,100 years ago. Because of the land’s isolation and stringent laws restricting equine imports, Icelandic horses are among the purest horse breeds in the world. Riders will notice that these friendly and playful beasts have two gaits in addition to the typical walk, trot, and canter/gallop common to other breeds. Experience the tölt, a four-beat prance that’s fun even for beginners. More advanced riders will want to strive for the skeið, or “flying pace,” that can reach up to 30 miles per hour in which all four hooves are suspended off the ground. 

At this stable just south of Dalvík, 40 of the Sveinbjarnarson family’s horses are housed in a former mink farm. Stable staff guide guests of all experience levels on rides atop the sure-footed horses — choose between a walk along the Svarfaðardalsá river or a trek up into the mountains overlooking the stables. On a clear day, you’ll be able to survey the surrounding landscape, including the Kaldbakur peak, which remains snow-capped even in the summer.

Hringsholt, 620 Dalvík, Iceland

Buzzed Bath

10. Bjórböðin Beer Spa

If drinking beer gives you a flushed glow, imagine what taking a bath in a vat of suds will do. At Iceland’s first beer spa, opened in 2017, singles or couples can soak in 700-liter tubs made from Kambala wood from Ghana. Each bath is filled with a secret blend of antioxidant-packed hops, vitamin B-rich brewer’s yeast, warm mountain spring water and essential oils to soothe the body and nourish the skin during the timed 25-minute session. Guests over 20 (Iceland’s legal drinking age) can sip from an all-you-can-drink tap of golden lager brewed by the adjacent Bruggsmiðjan Kaldi, Iceland’s first microbrewery, opened in 2006. 

Once soaking time is up, guests pad upstairs to a dark gabled room full of individual daybeds where an attendant drapes you with a cozy blanket while the yeast goes to work on your skin. Visitors who want more time can spring for a session in one of two outdoor hot tubs overlooking Eyjafjörður, one of Iceland’s longest fjords. Even the locker room showers feature beer-infused shower gel and shampoo. 

Ægisgata 31, 621 Árskógssandur, Iceland

Sustainable Skins

11. Gestastofa Sútarans

Fine leather and wool products are some of Iceland’s most popular souvenirs, but for something more unique, visit the Tannery Visitor Center, one of a small number of tanneries in the world (and the only one in Europe) producing fish leather. The business originally opened in 1961, specializing in lambskins. Forward-thinking local entrepreneurs responded to an economic downturn in the early 1990s with a solution to leverage the seafood skins which would otherwise be discarded. 

Now, leather artisans work with local fishermen to cure salmon, perch, wolffish and cod skins, which are treated with vibrant natural dyes in every imaginable color, including an array of metallics. After curing for at least a month, sales reps claim the finished skins are as much as five times more durable than cow leather. The Center offers both custom and off-the-rack handbags and belts, as well as less expected items like bowties and jewelry made out of sustainable fish leather.

Borgarmýri 5, Sauðárkrókur, Iceland

Bark on the Beach

12. Seal Colony at Hvítserkur Bay

Most wildlife spotting on Iceland’s northern coast—such as whale watching and puffin sighting—requires time spent on a boat. To see one of the region’s largest seal colonies, however, you can stay on the shore, if you know where to look. Make your way to the Ósar Hostel, 26 miles from Hvammstangi (the closest town), and be prepared to rough it a bit. When you turn off of Route 1, you’ll need to brave more than 15 miles of bumpy gravel roads. Bring a pair of binoculars and take an easy walk through a sheep pasture down to the coast. 

Once you’re by the water, you should be rewarded with a view of a large seal colony frolicking in the frigid surf and sunning themselves on the black sand beach. Visitors are most likely to see the critically endangered harbour seals that lounge here year-round, but occasionally guests might spot grey seals, or even travelers not native to Iceland, including bearded seals, ringed seals, hooded seals, and harp seals. An annual “great seal count” happens here every summer, and in recent years an average of 760 seals have been spotted in this area, though they sometimes disappear for a short time in search of a fresh meal.

Vatnsnesvegur, Iceland

Majestic Monolith

13. Hvítserkur

When you approach the 49-foot tall basalt rock stack jutting out of Húnaflói Bay on the Vatnsnes Peninsula, you’ll probably see something in its M-like shape. Some say they see a rhino drinking from the chilly water, others see a dinosaur and still others see a troll, which gives the monolith its nickname “The Troll of Northwest Iceland.” Legend has it that the troll, Hvítserkur, came down from his mountain across the bay to destroy the church bells that annoyed him. When the rising sun shone, however, it turned him to stone. Science tells us that the stack was formed by erosion over millennia, with waves carving holes into the stone to create the leg-like base. Because the rock is constantly battered by waves, some concerned locals added a bit of concrete to reinforce it. 

In Icelandic, the name Hvítserkur translates to “white shirt,” a nod to the color of the bird droppings that cover the rock. It serves as a nesting ground for seabirds like seagulls, shag and fulmar. Confident and sure-footed hikers may brave the steep dirt path to the shore to get an up-close look, depending on the tide. Otherwise, you’ll have to be content with an aerial view from the lookout point above.

Vatnsnesvegur, Iceland

Keep Exploring
Telescopes open up a window to the stars.

11 Close Encounters With Aliens and Explosions in New Mexico

In the arid and remote expanses of New Mexico's landscape, booms and zooms abound. From the volatile effects of the Manhattan Project to the otherworldly possibilities of Roswell's UFO, the Land of Enchantment has never shied away from the controversial or far-reaching. Here are several places to encounter those legacies across this southwestern state. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

Jim Dickerman's sculptures are magical and a little brain-scrambling.

10 Places to Trip Way Out in Kansas

The Sunflower State has a reputation for being flat—in fact, scientists have shown that it is objectively way flatter than a pancake. Far from being featureless, though, Kansas can be mind-bending in its own weird way. Maybe it all started with The Wizard of Oz. From a missile silo that once dominated the world's LSD supply to rock formations shaped like mushrooms, roadside art that will make you think you've been whisked away by a tornado, and a giant pile of sock monkeys, Kansas is full of treasures that are sure to make you do a double take. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

The Museum at Eldridge Street Synagogue has a past full of stories and struggles.

The Resilience of New York in 10 Remarkable Sites

New York been described as a playground for the rich and powerful, but the state's history is full of ordinary people who have overcome extraordinary struggles. What if Seneca Falls, the village that launched the fight for women's suffrage, were as famous as Niagara Falls? What if Weeksville, the historic free Black community in Brooklyn, were as well-known as Williamsburg? From immigrant sanctuaries to the Survivor Tree, here are sites where New York has shown its resilience. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

Flat ground, big skies, huge cows.

7 Very Tall Things in Very Flat North Dakota

North Dakota is not quite the flattest state in the U.S., but it's pretty close. (In one analysis, it placed third, after Illinois and Florida.) During the last Ice Age, glaciers moving across the terrain had a planing effect on the land, dropping sediment that filled in any valleys, creating sprawling prairies and open, big skies. These large expanses are home to more than a few sky-high structures, both natural and human-made. From rocky peaks and multi-ton animal statues to one of the tallest buildings in the world, these are some of the most impressive structures that North Dakota has to offer. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

An architectural pilgrimage.

8 Blissfully Shady Spots to Escape the Arizona Sun

For about half of any given year, much of Arizona is too hot to handle. But even in peak summer, the state is home to a stunning spread of geographic diversity and a mysterious magic that emanates from the landscape—and we don’t just mean the mirages. Locals and visitors alike flock to higher altitudes, recreation-friendly bodies of water, and indoor spaces that are so heavily air-conditioned they practically require a jacket. Here are eight sheltered spots to retreat from the heat, from natural formations to an immersive art exhibit that invites lingering. We've even added a couple cool places (220 feet underground or a mile above sea level) to dream about spending the night. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.


On the Run: Los Angeles

Originally named “Venice of America,” Venice, California, owes its existence to a wealthy developer’s dream of a canal-laden resort town west of Los Angeles. The dream didn’t last long: After opening in 1905, the city went broke before joining Los Angeles in 1926. The decades of neglect that followed earned Venice the nickname “the slum by the sea,” but its affordability also attracted artists, beginning with the Beats in the late ’50s. Venice’s identity as a rough-around-the-edges artist haven endures more than 60 years later, though its affordability less so. If you’re looking to plot a trek across Los Angeles pavement and beaches, zero in on Venice with a run that oscillates between fast-and-furious and slow-and-curious. Take on this 5.2-mile run in one go, break it up into multiple runs, or do it in reverse. With the right running shoes, you’ll be ready to navigate Venice’s storied past and its eternally eccentric personality.


On the Run: NYC

A run through New York City demands a delicate balance: Zoning out versus keeping your eyes peeled. On the one hand, there’s the clear-headed, in-the-zone mental state that any good sneaker-to-pavement exercise requires. At the same time, well, it is New York City. You can hardly walk two blocks without uncovering a hidden gem or noticing some new detail that’s actually been lurking in plain sight for decades. This 5.3-mile run takes you along a scenic route to discover some of these hidden gems. You can run the entire route, break it up into multiple runs, or do it in reverse. With the right running shoes, you’re bound to pick up on one of the million tiny, fascinating details along the way.

The Blythe Intaglios are as mysterious as they are massive.

9 Surprisingly Ancient Marvels in Modern California

Long before California was home to tech campuses, freeways, and palm trees, Native inhabitants etched huge designs into the landscape. Even before that, at roughly the same time that the Pyramids of Giza were under construction, a tree that still survives today began taking root. And even farther into the past, glaciers and mammoths created enduring monuments to antiquity. Across the state, the distant past is still within easy reach. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

One of Houston's four giant concrete Beatles.

10 Art Installations That Prove Everything's Bigger in Texas

There’s a time-tested saying about things being large in Texas—and it certainly holds true for the state’s artworks, many of which are so huge or sprawling they could only reasonably live outdoors. Across the vast expanse of the Lone Star State are artistic testaments to some of the area’s oddest characters and stories. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

Honestly, the tallest building in the state is still a little dinky, compared to skyscrapers elsewhere.

6 Huge Things in Tiny Rhode Island

The smallest state in America is often the butt of jokes. Rhode Island is neither a road nor an island, and it was once famously parodied in the now-defunct website “How Many Rhode Islands”—a simple tool that allowed you to see just how many Rhode Islands could squeeze inside a given country. The United States could contain 3,066 Rhode Islands, and Russia could hold 5,445. But the tiny state has a rather grand history. Rhode Island was founded on the principle of religious freedom, was the first of the Thirteen Colonies to renounce its allegiance to the British Crown, and was one of only two states not to ratify the 18th Amendment, which prohibited the manufacture and sale of alcohol. Many of the state’s attractions still loom large, including a 58-foot-long blue fiberglass termite and an improbably large blue bear slumped under a lampshade. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

Forbidden Caverns, ready for its closeup.

7 Underground Thrills Only Found in Tennessee

Famous for country music and hot chicken, Tennessee is also filled with natural wonders. Across the state, caverns beckon. Venturing into some of Tennessee's strangest subterranean haunts is a great way to experience the depths of the state's spell-binding charm. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

Watch out for any chimp-gator hybrids lurking in the tea-colored water of Honey Island Swamp.

Sink Into 7 of Louisiana's Swampiest Secrets

Louisiana has long had a complex relationship with the wet world. Chitimacha, Choctaw, and Atakapa peoples built communities among the knobby knees of bald cypress trees; French fur traders and pirates eventually made their own marks. Later still, modern engineers attempted to corral waters with levees and dams, or to reclaim land where there had been none. Across the 50,000-odd square miles that make up the state, troves of special places are becoming concealed by rising water. Here are seven places water has revealed or covered up. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

Diego Rivera's mural sprawls across a light-flooded room in the Detroit Institute of Arts.

7 Mechanical Marvels in Michigan

Michigan is famous for its steep, sweeping sand dunes, freckling of lakes, and unique fossils—but across the state, you'll find slews of automated wonders, past and present. From old animatronic toys to the ruins of early assembly lines, here are seven places to be dazzled by industry. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

Who doesn't love an old tree?

11 Wholesome Spots in Nevada

Here at Atlas Obscura, we have a fondness for the forbidden, a hunger for the hidden, a gusto for the grim. (You get the point.) But it wouldn’t be so intrepid to simply highlight Nevada’s underbelly, would it? There’s more to the state than extraterrestrial-themed brothels and nuclear bomb test sites. Kids and grandparents might enjoy enormous Ferris wheels, unusual geysers, or pristine parklands. Even Nevada—home to Sin City—has a family-friendly side. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

All aboard for a plate of pancakes.

7 Places to Glimpse Maine's Rich Railroad History

Maine is widely known for its mottled red crustaceans and stony-faced lighthouses, as well as bucolic towns and the top-notch hiking outside of them. But before all that, Maine was all about one thing: trains. As America industrialized in the 19th century, there was an insatiable demand to build and a hunger for lumber. Maine had plenty of it, and the state’s rivers became swollen with the fallen bodies of pine and spruce, much of which was hauled by rail. Trains did the heavy lifting to coastal hubs including Bangor and Ellsworth, and by 1924, there was enough railroad mileage in Maine to get from London’s King's Cross station to Mosul, Iraq. Over the years, some of the old cars were fashioned into eateries, but many were simply abandoned in the woods. Now, relics of Maine’s railroad history are scattered in museums, restaurants, and more. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

At Glacier Gardens, the tree canopies are flowers in bloom.

11 Places Where Alaska Bursts Into Color

Picture Alaska. You might see in your mind's eye the granite and stark white snowcaps of Denali National Park, or the dark seas that surround 6,000-plus miles of coastline, or the muted olive of its tundra in the summer. But as anyone who's been there knows, the country's largest, most sparsely populated state can absolutely burst with color, from the luminous green of the Northern Lights, to the deep aqua of its glaciers, to the flourish of wildflowers fed by its long summer days. Here are some places to see the full spectrum of The Last Frontier. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.

Workers assess the exterior of the Washington Monument after an earthquake in 2011.

9 Places in D.C. That You're Probably Never Allowed to Go

The District of Columbia is home to a number of places that you need to flash the right ID to access. From restricted rooftops to government storage facilities and underground tunnels, the city is filled with places that are off-limits to the average visitor. What’s more, many of them are hidden within popular tourist destinations and densely populated neighborhoods—so you might catch a glimpse of them, but never get any closer. These are a few of our favorite restricted spots in D.C., and the stories behind them. As the pandemic continues, we hope this virtual trip helps you explore America’s wonders. If you do choose to venture out, please follow all guidelines, maintain social distance, and wear a mask.


2 Perfect Days in Pensacola

If you thought Pensacola, Florida—with its powder-white sand beaches, near-perfect weather, and fresh seafood—was just a place to soak up the sun, think again. In fact, the city and beach of the same name is the site of the first European settlement in the continental United States. Established by Spanish explorer Tristán de Luna in 1559, it was christened Panzacola, a name of Native American origin and the precursor to the city’s modern name. The destination is also the birthplace of U.S. naval aviation and is still home to a naval air station and the thousands of service members stationed there, as well as the Blue Angels, the flight squadron famous for their death-defying fighter plane stunts. This delightful coastal city is an ideal, if somewhat quirky, blend of historical sites (on land and underwater) and activities to get your adrenaline flowing.


Taste of Tucson

The people of Tucson have been eating off the land for 4,100 years. From grains to livestock to produce introduced by missionaries in the 1600s, this UNESCO City of Gastronomy is home to some of the oldest farmland in North America. What once was old is new again in The Old Pueblo where ancient flavors are found in nearly every dish — trendy to traditional.

Look closely and wander widely: Parliament Square is full of charm.

Hidden Edinburgh

Crowds clog Edinburgh's Royal Mile, the main artery between Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. The road is dotted with stores selling Nessie trinkets and lined with bagpipers and street performers pulling off dazzling tricks. But look beyond the tartan tourist traps, and you’ll discover tucked-away gardens, remnants of the city’s medieval past, and much more.


Hidden Haight-Ashbury

In 1967, 100,000 artists, activists, and hippies gathered in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood for the Summer of Love. Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix played free concerts for fields of college dropouts, and San Francisco established itself as a countercultural capital. More than 50 years later, in a city increasingly known for Twitter and tech rather than art and activism, travelers who come on a pilgrimage are often disappointed to find expensive, skin-deep psychedelia. But if you know where to look, you’ll find a walk down Haight Street to be wonderfully weird, full of historic links to hippiedom and modern takes on the vibe.


The Many Flavors of NYC’s Five Boroughs

More than eight million diverse individuals call New York City home, and many of them share their heritage through food. Whether it’s a billiards hall that serves stellar Bhutanese fare or a mosque where Malian vendors sell snacks for just a few hours each Friday, the city offers a vast culinary landscape for those willing to explore it. Venture beyond the flashy hotspots with months-long waiting lists and you’ll find New York’s true flavor lies within the small restaurants and stands rooted in its thriving immigrant communities.

Musical instruments in the courtyard of SecondLine Arts and Antiques in New Orleans' French Quarter.

Hidden French Quarter

It may be famous for Mardi Gras, but New Orleans has subtle, surprising wonders on tap all year long—even in the touristy French Quarter. Around every cobblestoned corner, you’ll find historic ephemera, bits of Creole culture, environmentalism, and no shortage of spooky stories, whenever you happen to visit.


The Metropolitan Museum of Art

From the street, the Metropolitan Museum of Art is hard to miss: The institution’s two-million-square-foot main building, at 1000 Fifth Avenue, spans four New York City blocks and stretches into Central Park. Inside the galleries, you’ll find thousands of objects spanning 5,000 years of world history. With so many treasures under one roof, it's inevitable that some fascinating pieces are tucked into the museum's lonelier nooks and crannies, hiding in plain sight. The next time you spend a day at the museum, keep an eye out for these overlooked wonders.

The RV/MH Hall of Fame.

Motown to Music City Road Trip

Detroit and Nashville are synonymous with two all-American music genres. It’s no surprise that visitors flock to these cities each year to get a feel for the places where artists such as Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross & the Supremes, Johnny Cash, and Dolly Parton began their careers. A (relatively) straight, north to south route connects the two cities, as does musical heritage. Load up the RV, make sure your speaker system is in tip-top shape, and create a playlist filled with old-school Motown and Country hits. If you're not driving on the trip down south, you should be dancing.

The East Texas Bayou.

Gulf Coast Road Trip

The terrain along the Gulf of Mexico is sometimes called the “Third Coast,” but for an offbeat road trip, it’s second to none. Starting in Houston and ending in Pensacola Bay, this journey takes you through some of America’s most diverse landscapes. You’ll cross Cajun swamps, drive along sparkling white sand beaches, and even spend some time in the Big Easy. Take an RV and camp along the way to truly immerse yourself in this wondrous region. The world’s largest gulf, it turns out, holds some of America’s best-kept secrets.

Coachella Valley Preserve.

Hidden Coachella Valley

The Coachella Valley and its environs boom in the spring, when tens of thousands of music lovers flock to catch their favorite artists perform in front of a dramatic, mountainous backdrop. But this region stays wonderfully weird all year long. If the festival drew you to the area and you only have a day to explore, choose a direction: Either head north, toward Joshua Tree and Landers, or southeast to the Salton Sea and nearby oases for a blissful respite. If you can spare a couple of days, lucky you—go forth and see it all.

A view of L.A. from the top of Highland Park.

Highland Park

Los Angeles’ Highland Park is a diverse, eclectic neighborhood that Native Americans and Latinx communities have inhabited for centuries. Celebrated for its history, art scene, ethnic diversity, and cuisine, Highland Park is filled with surprising delights that more and more people are discovering every day. Exploring the neighborhood's nooks and crannies is one of the most rewarding ways to spend a day in L.A.

The heart of Venice.


Once referred to as “The Coney Island of the Pacific,” L.A.’s beachfront neighborhood of Venice has long been a popular tourist destination. Its colorful characters, quirky architecture, and carnivalesque atmosphere are well-known the world over. But take a moment to look past the kitsch, and you’ll discover a place where artistic ingenuity thrives more than a century after Abbot Kinney endeavored to bring a grandiose version of Venice to America. The bohemian beehive has always attracted artists and performers, and everyone is welcome to enjoy the show.

Artist Colette Miller's tribute to the City of Angels.

L.A.’s Downtown Arts District

The 1970s brought a wave of artists into this former industrial area in Downtown Los Angeles. They sparked a fuse of creative imagination that burned for years. Up-and-coming creators took advantage of the then-low rents and built a foundation for the creative mecca that exists here today. In its infancy, L.A.’s Downtown Arts District came to life behind-the-scenes, with artists mostly working in closed studios. Today, the art has spilled onto the streets in the form of colorful murals, attractive gallery spaces, and stylish storefronts. But the curious explorer can still find literal and figurative traces of the ‘70s. In addition to the more historic spots that remain, a creative, entrepreneurial spirit abounds.

The Whitehall Banqueting House is full of topsy-turvy views.

Hidden Trafalgar Square

Wedged between Charing Cross and Leicester Square, Trafalgar Square is known for the throngs of people flocking to its famous attractions. Weave around the tourists on the National Gallery stairs and dodge the crowds clogging the street corners. Instead, duck down dreamy alleys and pop into unique, overlooked museums and shops. There, a secret side of this busy area waits to reveal itself.

An elevator shaft in Tribeca opens to reveal a museum of small wonders.

Secrets of NYC’s Five Boroughs

Few cities on Earth are as well-trodden as New York–but as any intrepid traveler knows, the more you explore a place, the more wonders you find. You may not be able to discover all of these spots in a single trip, but that could be a good thing. No matter how many times you return, the city that never sleeps never ceases to surprise. Visit NYCGo to uncover more of the city’s secret spots.

Plenty of sweet treats are on offer at Pastelería Ideal

Mexico City's Centro Histórico

Anchored by the Zócalo plaza and the architectural splendor of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City's historic center rightfully draws scores of visitors from around the world. If you look, smell, and taste carefully, you’ll also find a universe of culinary offerings that tells stories of immigration, adaptation, and imagination. With the help of Culinary Backstreets, we assembled a primer on eating and drinking your way through the district.

View of the Hollywood Sign from Babylon Court

Hidden Hollywood

Hollywood Boulevard is world-famous—for the Oscars and the Walk of Fame, for schlocky souvenir shops and crowded tour buses. But beyond the terrazzo stars and the occasional celebrity sighting, there’s plenty left to discover. Here’s how to make Hollywood’s acquaintance, whether you’re a visitor or a local who keeps a practiced distance from these busy, saturated blocks. Look closer and you'll find a neighborhood full of nature, history, and wonder.

A subway entrance in Times Square.

Hidden Times Square

There's the Times Square you know, full of blazing billboards, selfie sticks, and costumed characters. Then there's the less familiar one, beyond the lights—the nooks and crannies that most visitors to Midtown Manhattan overlook. They're not obvious, but surprises can still be found along this world-famous stretch of real estate.

Upper Hoh Road, Olympic National Park, Oregon.

Summer Radio Road-Trip

Follow along on our 2,200-mile adventure with NPR's 'All Things Considered.'



Forge your own path in this tourist magnet, toward places that are less crowded but no less wondrous.


Buenos Aires

Find faded grandeur and vibrant street life in Argentina's largest city.



Just when you thought you knew the Windy City, it finds new ways to surprise you.



Find secret vistas, labyrinthine bookstores, and eclectic public art.

The dome of Estrela Basilica in Lisbon.


In the homeland of explorers, your best bet is to keep looking.



Go beyond the beaches in the continental United States’ only truly tropical city.



New York City's most diverse borough is also its most rewarding.


San Diego

Southern California's second city holds plenty of sparkling secrets.



Find surprises around every corner in a U.S. city that embraces history like no other.