The following contains major Skyrim story spoilers, but it is an amazing list of "must see" places in Solstheim. Proceed at your own risk . . .
With months of adventuring across Skyrim already completed, you’re likely to have exhausted much of the lonely barrows, dingily dells, and strange abandoned homes scattered across this landscape of tundra and mountains. But the isle of Solstheim is a place fewer travelers have set foot on. While the towns of Raven Rock, Til Mithryn, and Skaal Village are bustling with life, intrigue, and dozens of quests, there are many quieter, windswept areas of Solstheim yet to be uncovered.
While the Atlas guides you through each and every location, which places should you be actively seeking out for the most entertaining of activities? Aside from the locations (such as Nchardak and the Temple of Miraak, which must be entered during the Dragonborn Main Quest), the following ten locations should satisfy this curiosity: Behold the must-see areas of Solstheim.
Having trouble prying open some of the more difficult-to-enter locations? Then refer to the Legendary Strategy Guide (look up the location in the index or by their code) for all the information.
What expedition into a half-frozen land mass would be complete without a venture through a Dwarven City? Fahlbtharz certainly doesn’t disappoint, as it features many a trap, automaton, and gigantic chamber to navigate around. The entrance itself is guarded by Rieklings, who have settled in the area close to Moesring Peak and Pass.
Inside is a mixture of the familiar and the startling; the entire structure is sloping as centuries of glacial and seismic activity slowly eat at the tremendous foundations of this epic and archaic conurbation. Yet the machinery of the dwarves still functions, from the fire-trapped control room to the corridors of golden pipework, now home to unpleasant scuttling spiders and flammable oil.
After passing the fungal chambers, your progress is stalled as you cunningly navigate the massive water chamber, which you visit a total of three times as you weave through side chambers. Nimble navigation of the clanking cogs allows progress onwards and upwards, where a bandit adventurer named Eydis died.
Next comes a detour through a head-scratching puzzle in the Boilery. Newly-discovered Dwarven Ballistas, as well as lurching Sphere guardians, await around almost every stone and golden corner. At the piston gate itself, 20 fuel cylinders must be slotted into place using careful aiming at three of the six kinetic resonators. Once through, and the precarious upper platforms of the Water Chamber are negotiated, a final room awaits.
The Grand Hall features a pair of Centurions, and a three-lock puzzle to open the treasure room; two of the locks requiring a Dynamo Actuator you must pry out of the slain wreckage of each colossal foe. But the fraught battle is worth your patience; aside from obtaining a Kagrumez Resonance Gem (to use in the second Dwarven City of this list), the Visage of Mzund (a helmet of incredible armor rating with the unique Breath of Nchuak attack) can be claimed.
2. Castle Karstaag and Castle Karstaag Caverns
Since the time of the Bloodmoon, ancient tales have mentioned a frost giant of great power residing in this collapsed and frozen fortress. Out of the way among the glacial waterfalls of the northern upper ice shelf overlooking the Sea of Ghosts, the Castle requires a supremely-talented lockpicker to enter, or else a traipse through the Caverns that link to the Castle itself.
The Caverns comprise of a massive ice cavern, which you visit on three separate occasions as you wind your way up through the natural rock and snow tunnels. But first, there’s the corpse of Esmond Tyne to find; a traveller with a formula for Bonemold Armor that Glover Mallory of Raven Rock is most interested in.
Higher you climb, brandishing your weapons as the Rieklings that make this cave system their home surprise you from their hiding spots, or attack from their rudimentary huts. Navigating a Bristleback Pen where the tuskers are kept allows a final race across the highest point of the ice cavern, which would be a wondrous place to languish in were it not for the blue fiends still active in this area.
The courtyard of Castle Karstaag features the exterior walls of the ancient fortification, now encased in ice. A small cluster of Rieklings, including a Bristleback rider, must be tackled before the ancient secrets of this place are uncovered. Approach the ice throne with extreme caution.
Have your previous exploits in the Glacial Cave yielded a huge horned skull? Then your reconnoiter ends abruptly here; although you can exit and easily locate it before returning via the Castle entrance. With the skull, you take your life in your hands, by placing the Skull on the throne and summoning the ghost of Karstaag himself! A mighty Frost Giant specter.
3. White Ridge Barrow
The familiar architecture of the ancient Nordic burial mound gives way to a particularly novel and frightening crypt where a variety of horrors can be uncovered. Nestled below Mortrag Peak, recent Reaver activity can be spotted, with two fellows succumbed to unknown wounds. Enter at your peril!
The first of this tomb’s surprises takes the form of the cobwebbed entrance passages, where new and scuttling fiends prove to be a particular trouble if you’re unhappy receiving explosive or fire-based damage. Creep further into these catacombs and enthralled Bandits attack; their heads controlled by a variant of these disgusting arachnids.
As your investigation reaches the grand cavern of the barrow, you encounter Merilar Rendas, a sorcerer partly responsible for the influx of spiders in these parts. Slay him, and you’re able to sneak further into an abandoned mine area, unlock a cage leading to an Imbuing device, where the secrets of the spider are finally revealed; along with the ability to craft your own offensive spiders!
Let us not forget the great Dragon Acolyte Dukaan, who was interred close to a Word Wall (for the Cyclone Shout); he’s a formidable floating fiend and guards a pedestal with one of the fabled Black Books sitting on it. Slay him or flee; but pick up the book when you can, and you’re transported to The Sallow Regent area of Apocrypha.
There’s even a secret exit to this tomb, which allows you to emerge back on the surface near a large river run-off and a web-covered shack (White Ridge Barrow Hut); now you’re able to easily reach the spider-imbuing machine without trekking through the entire barrow again.
4. Altar of Thrond
For those seeking an uneasy feeling of both queasiness and nostalgia, your soul may be beckoned to the Altar of Thrond. If you’ve journeyed here during the time of Bloodmoon, the Hagraven sisters Isobel, Ettiene, and Fallaise should be familiar to you. For those without such memories, this is a place to collect Hagraven Feathers.
The three sisters themselves were part of the Glemnoril Wyrd during the time of the Bloodmoon, but have since been corrupted and driven mad; their current forms cannot be reasoned with. Although there’s little here of worth, and a trio of cackling crones to dispatch, your Solstheim experience is a little less well-rounded without a trip here.
5. Thirsk Mead Hall
An ancient mead house was once at the epicenter of the hardened warrior culture. But the time of Bloodmoon has passed, and the remaining Nords that call this structure home have seemingly abandoned their reputation. How else can one explain the new dwellers of this place; a band of blue-skins under the rule of a particularly intelligent (for a Riekling) chief?
The most novel part of your decisions in this location is that they influence all future interactions here; you must pick a side (and a Side Quest) and defeat one group or the other. Do you partner with the Riekling Chief, complete a series of fetching tasks, and agree to a culminates in the wanton slaughter of the feeble band of Nords that vacated this place?
Or do you side with Bujold? She’s at the retreat down the hill by the Sea of Ghosts, to the east of the Mead Hall, and her sorry excuse for a tribe have hit a low point; they are now little more than refugees. Perhaps if you removed the Rieklings with their help, they could once again return, honor their ancestors and get a grip on Thirsk Mead Hall? You are the only one who can decide that conundrum.
6. Gyldenhul Barrow
When the pirate king Haknir Death-Brand found his final resting place below the waves of the Sea of Ghosts, deep within this coastal Barrow, the legend of his treasure grew to such an extent, it is still talked about to this day. Furthermore, bands of Reavers are actively searching for the reported piles of gold hidden within this crypt. But dare you wake the Ancient Evil that resides inside?
Of course you do: This is one of the more cannily-designed tombs, as a cursory inspection reveals a difficult-to-open door and a pair of Reavers to remove from their camp. At this entrance, your progress stalls as you must pry open a Master level door, if the proper key isn’t inserted.
Did you manage to acquire the key, or utilize lockpicks in an impressive feat of precision unlocking? Then you may step through the threshold, but enter no further: There’s a small antechamber with an adventurer’s corpse and sarcophagi halting your progress. Your progress stalls a second time, until you figure out where the hidden entrance to the treasure room is.
It’s behind the sarcophagus to the southwest, but there’s a sizable deposit of Stalhrim blocking your way. You’ll need an Ancient Nordic Pickaxe to break through (and pocket some valuable mining materials in the process). Then it’s a quick romp through to the treasure room, which… is locked. Your progress stalls a third time as you find the necessary key to open this door. A mass of wealth and riches await!
However, you may have a nagging feeling the tomb hasn’t given up all of its secrets quite yet. Your intuition is correct, and your progress slows as you investigate an ominous burial chamber of Death-Brand himself. It soon becomes apparent that this specter, his lieutenants, and his crew, are not quite ready for Sovngarde. Persevere, however, and a pair of unique weapons (the Bloodscythe and Soulrender) are yours for the taking!
7. Raven Rock Mine (Bloodskal Barrow)
One of the longest and most thrilling dungeon crawls involves the exploration of Bloodskal Barrow; but the actual investigation begins over in the town of Raven Rock, where an abandoned ebony mine awaits, and an elderly Imperial named Crescius Caerellius beckon you in with the promise of intrigue and reward. Can you uncover the hidden secrets of Bloodskal?
Definitely; but you’ll need to find the underground entrance to the Barrow first. Simply visiting Bloodskal Barrow results in a precarious battle with Reavers across two look-out towers, and a brief investigation of a small interior camp. Alas the secret tunnel cannot be accessed from here; only from Raven Rock Mine itself.
Navigate a long vertical plunge down an impressive and abandoned ebony mine shaft, fighting off Frostbite Spiders (the only time you’ll actively encounter them in Solstheim) and locating a barred gate to open using a key obtained from Crescius himself. The way onwards looks ominous; a waterlogged Draugr charnel crypt.
Slog through knee-deep water, where the dead sit slumbering on their thrones, and through a slightly confusing canal section where side tunnels and spiral steps across cage bridges are the norm. After finding a side tunnel, the main secret of Bloodskal Barrow is revealed; a high chasm and runic door, along with the fabled Bloodskal Blade!
Face your fears as you enter the sanctuary of Zahkriisos, another of the ancient Dragon Acolytes active in Solstheim. This foe guards a Word Wall (Dragon Aspect), as well as a Black Book, which transports you to the Apocrypha realm “The Winds of Change.” Or, if you wish your exit to remain in Tamriel, you can flee back into the Bloodskal Barrow interior camp you might have discovered earlier.
8. Kolbjorn Barrow
Like Bloodskal Barrow, the tomb at Kolbjorn only gradually reveals its secrets, and in ways that aren’t particularly straightforward. In fact, you’ll need deep pockets (the princely sum of 11,000 septims) and the ability to trust a Dunmer named Ralis Sedarys, who’s determined to dig out this crypt. All he needs is some funding…
This requires some significant patience, as the clearing of debris from the mine takes its toll on the hired hands. It isn’t the furious pace Ralis demands his lackeys to dig, but the evil awakened as more of the Barrow is disturbed. After a Runic Skull (technically a unique item) is discovered to open a subsequent chamber of dirt, the excavation continues.
Progressing deeper into Kolbjorn Barrow takes time, and other tasks should be completed while you wait for Ralis’s couriers to inform you of the next mishap. Tackling the awakening Draugr inside the maze of unearthed corridors is only part of the fun; there are a number of unique items belonging to an ancient historical figure named Ahzidal to purloin, too!
Dig deeper still, and the full nature of the Barrow begins to become apparent. A sacrificial chamber and a number of increasingly-fiendish traps are uncovered as you descend further, fighting more fearsome Draugr along the way, but with the high-value and high-quality of Ahzidal’s artifacts pushing you onwards. Have you collected all six?
Naturally, this wouldn’t be a major archaeological find without an appropriately vehement guardian. It appears Ahzidal has already awakened, and is putting his own nefarious plans into practice. After a fraught fracas with the fellow, you have some stern words for Ralis regarding his own scruples, and a final secret to discover; a chamber dedicated to the Daedric Prince Hermaeus Mora. Pick up the Black Book: Filament and Filigree and read it… if you dare!
An often-overlooked Dwarven City, due to its particularly sunken exterior, Kagrumez offers its share of secrets and ancient technology you haven’t encountered yet. An unmarked quest allows you to descend via elevator, and investigate a brand new method of setting off traps in a series of challenges to test your mettle.
Your interior exploration begins after you halt a squabble among Reavers attempting to activate a resonance receptacle in the center of a giant chamber. One of them is carrying two Resonance Gems. There are three more of these scattered throughout Solstheim (Revus Sarvani, the owner of Dusty the Silt Strider has one, there’s one in Fahlbtharz, and a third in the Nchardak Aqueduct), but you only need collect four of the five.
Now you must face a series of challenges; the inserting of gems into the receptacle triggers moving walls, traps, and automatons to fight through. There are three increasingly tough trials to complete. This is worth your while though; you’ll emerge into the ash-choked exterior with two new metal chums (a Steadfast Spider and Sphere that act as Animal Companions), as well as the unique Dwarven Black Bow of Fate.
10. Vahlok’s Tomb
We’ve revealed locations across Solstheim that are difficult to explore without certain conditions being met. But in the case of Vahlok’s Tomb; you can’t even find the place until it’s uncovered after a seismic event! For this to happen, you must befriend Tharsten the historian of the Skaal Village. Only he can lead you into this newly-accessible crypt.
The tomb itself features numerous puzzles that are both frustrating and enthralling. Tharsten is beside himself with excitement; and he’s here to offer advice if you find the methods of progress too obtuse. The main chamber requires a sacrifice to be made, after which two side crypts become accessible. Explore in whatever direction you wish.
No matter which order you take the side crypts, you have a puzzle to solve, and a Word Wall (with Battle Fury) to uncover: Each is guarded by a high-level Draugr who sends his tomb-lid a-clattering. Don’t forget to prod him for one half of an Amethyst Claw, which allows further progress across the main chamber.
Tharsten is thrilled when you finally discover a method of summoning ethereal platforms to traverse the main chamber, allowing access to the waterlogged rear of the tomb. Fall here, and expect to be set upon by Corrupted Shades; a rarely-encountered foe that only appears in one other location (Kilkreath Ruins).
The shades are guarding a hall of stories and Nordic Puzzle Door. Fortunately, with famed historian and all-round good-egg Tharsten on your side, you have all the hints you need to open said door: Which leads to a fiery confrontation with the recently-disturbed Vahlok in his high-status ceremonial tomb. Claim the third word of the Battle Fury Shout, and leave the hieroglyphics to Tharsten (optionally checking back later to see what discoveries he’s made).
BONUS: Vista Point: Mortrag Peak
Navigating damp interior dungeons is always entertaining, but Solstheim has a number of exterior vistas worth exploring, too. In fact, there are four mountains you can climb to the top of. Arguably the most spectacular (and certainly the most treacherous) is Mortrag Peak, situated above White Ridge Barrow.
Expect to lose your footing and fall to a bone-breaking death a few times while trying to climb this jagged mountain. The Become Ethereal Shout helps avoid such troubles. Continue your ascension until you reach the top, where you can catch your breath and view almost all of the Northern Mountains; from Castle Karstaag to the north, to Fahlbtharz to the south. There’s even the Stalhrim Source to spot, too!
David Hodgson is the author of the official guide to The Elder Scrolls Skyrim: Legendary Edition. He has written 92 guides since 1996; eight guides with Bethesda. To call him a Skyrim expert is a serious understatement. Follow David at @DavidSJHodgson