Skyrim is huge. The world is big, and it’s filled with little discoveries to make in every nook. Honestly, that’s one of the biggest reasons the game continues to be so popular. People love that sense of discovery, and in Skyrim, you can keep coming back and learning new things just by playing a slightly different way. So, Players are well-known for spending hundreds and hundreds of hours in the game. After that much time, you probably know this part of the Elder Scrolls world pretty well. There are probably quite a few dungeons you can navigate in your sleep and very few location markers that have gone undiscovered, even in the DLCs.
But we’re willing to bet that Skyrim is an even deeper and stranger place than you, hypothetical long-time fan, may have realized. Because even with the endless quests and a huge amount of dungeons, there are still secrets within secrets; little and sometimes very big things that players won’t discover unless they know exactly where to go and what to do.
Sure, hardcore players have probably discovered a few of these. Those who are part of the Skyrim community may recognize a few stories even if they haven’t found them out personally. But we’re willing to bet that you haven’t come across all of these and that some will be downright surprising no matter how many characters you have created. Keep in mind, no mods are allowed here: These are the secrets that can be found in the vanilla game and the DLCs. Prepare to be amazed!
Blackreach is a huge underground map lit with cavern lights and vast ancient Dwemer cities, lost under Skyrim for ages. There’s a reason it’s one of the favorite locations Skyrim fans have discovered, but the secrets go far deeper than you might realize. Toward the center of vast Blackreach, there is a huge Dwemer chandelier, like a bronze globe, hanging from the cavern. If you use the Unrelenting Force shout on the chandelier, it will sway and you will waken a secret dragon slumbering on top, called Vulthuryol. You fight an ancient dragon in a huge underground cave lit by mysterious technology and glowing magic! It’s one of the best things ever. But if you don’t know to shout at the chandelier, you will probably never find it. Fortunately, this is one that people usually tell their friends about.
Skyrim players are pretty good at exploring all the corners in case any secret treasure is waiting there. But one thing that most people don’t search is buckets. Sure, you look in one or two, but they usually hold a few plant ingredients or absolutely nothing, so what’s the point? What few have realized is that many buckets in stores and dungeons across the world are actually filled with valuable jewels…if you look hard enough. Most are hidden beneath a couple plants or cooking items, so you have to do a little exploring, but it’s always worthwhile. You can sell those jewels for a lot of money or make great rings out of them. But you have to know to look first, which is all part of the fun. Happy hunting!
No one likes the Soul Cairn (Dawnguard DLC, around where the story gets interesting). The entire point of the Soul Cairn is to depress and confuse you, and it’s really, really good at this. The dour skies and endless, tower-studded gray plains (without a map to consult) act like a perfect maze, trapping players in confusing loops until, well, they usually shut off the game and go do something else for another couple days. But those very few who persist and don’t get out as soon as possible can slowly map out the Soul Cairn and discover many secrets. The ultimate secret, though, is finding life-sapping chests around the map that contain reaper gem fragments. Find three, and you can go to a random tomb in another hard-to-find Soul Cairn location. There, the secret boss reaper will appear: He isn’t a tough fight, but he drops some good loot!
Even if you have to search every dungeon of Skyrim in search of hidden stories (and there are a lot), we bet you have never found this. When you go up way, way north, you find frozen seas and a hundred dotted little islands. Most of these islands are empty plots of land surrounded by ice. Some hold secret tombs and other little surprises. But in the far northeast, there’s one island that very few people explore: There are horkers there, which are basically big woolly seals that occasionally bark at you and try to poke you with their tusks. Find the dead body on this hidden island, you can recover Horker’s Bane, a mace that does extra damage against horkers. It’s entirely useless and serves mostly as a joke find, but it’s the only weapon like it in the game.
One Skyrim playstyle is more unique than any other: Crafting diabolical spiders and throwing them at your enemies to burn, freeze, and control them. Sound crazy? Then you may not have searched the Dragonborn DLC’s dungeon called White Ridge Barrow hard enough. The dungeon is full of creepy spiders and bandits controlled by even creepier spiders and, ultimately, a Black Book with its great rewards. But if you explore the full dungeon first, you’ll find a crafting center where you can create your own spiders using the only unique crafting table in the game. With the right ingredients, you too can pull out spiders and toss them at enemies like…a really weird spider-throwing guy. Make up a good name for the build yourself, because this playstyle is super rare since so few discover this crafting option.
Are you a Skyrim archer? It’s okay, most players eventually are. Archery is powerful, and sneak-sniping enemies with reckless abandon is one of the most rewarding things in the game (until it gets a little boring). But for devoted archers, there is one hidden quest in the game that is more rewarding than any other. No in-game quest lets you know about it, but if you journey up the steep mountains near Falkreath, you encounter a place called Angi’s Camp. It’s a little cabin with a little woman who happens to be the best archer in the land. If you take her tests and hit her targets, you gain a ton of free levels to archery, plus a few unique items. It’s all very zen, and definitely worth doing.
In the Dragonborn DLC, there’s….a lot of stuff: It’s an amazing expansion if you haven’t tried it. But one of the coolest things is finding a secret boss battle that you find by visiting the consumed-in-ice castle of Karstaag. Make your way to the apex, and you find a giant ice throne and a ghost ice giant called Karstaag. He’s very powerful, probably harder than any other boss in the DLC (and mostly beyond), but if you manage to defeat him you get the ability to summon him several times in battle as an ultimate no other enemy can defeat. It’s an awesome reward, but most Skyrim players never even know he exists, let alone have the power to defeat him. Just like a hidden RPG boss should be, if you ask us.
If you like alchemy, you may have spent a little time catching salmon in rivers and lakes. They give salmon meat, you can cook it, end of story, right? Except for a huge secret Bethesda created in one of their updates. You see, normal salmon will give out normal meat, but some salmon are jumping every rapid in the rivers of Skyrim. If you catch a salmon in mid-lunge on these rivers (not super easy) you will get salmon eggs as a reward. This is an incredibly powerful alchemy ingredient that allows you to create potions of water-breathing and level up alchemy crazy fast. But if you didn’t try to catch salmon at just the right moment, you may never knew about it. Good luck, alchemists, because those salmon aren’t easy.
When you break the law in a Skyrim hold (and get caught), you can give yourself up and get sent to jail. There are various reasons that people do this (some players are genuinely nice people, while some like the challenge of trying to escape) but there is one jail that hardly anyone ever sees. It lies in the far north town of Winterhold, which is about three buildings and five people, the only remnants of an old cataclysm that destroyed most of the town, except for the giant Mage's College. There are hardly any laws to break here and little reason to, but if you do manage to get caught by one of the guards (which is probably just the Jarl wearing a different hat), you get sent to a unique jail called The Chill. It's an ice cavern under the College that's guarded by Frost Atronachs and is an entirely different kind of challenge. Try it out!
The Skyrim skill tree is famous for being pretty welcome to newcomers. You pick a perk in a skill tree, you get the associated benefit that it clearly describes. Mix and match to make your character! But there are interactions between skills that Bethesda has allowed and which can make a major difference to your build. Upgrade to the Illusion perk Aspect of Terror, for example, and you get extra damage for all fire attacks (who knows why, but it’s cool)! Upgrade to necromage on the Restoration tree, and if you are a vampire your own skills will get a boost, because you are now weak to undead spells. Surprise! They are fun little skill boost that you may not notice unless you pay attention to every stat on your character.
Deep in the hidden corners of the Forgotten Vale (Dawnguard DLC, go get it), there are a series of frost giant bosses you can kill. Most players don’t even discover them, because let’s face it, the Forgotten Vale is beautiful and exhausting to explore without a good map function. But if you find and slay the giants, you receive powerful jewel paragons, which you can use to unlock a number of secret treasures. The best of these is the amazing Auriel’s Shield, which gathers energy and blasts away enemies as you wield it. Of course, you actually need to know about the paragons and kill the right frost giant, which the game never mentions in either dialogue or book. Good luck finding this one, players!
Necromancers are up to some crazy stuff in Skyrim, and everyone has their favorite stories. But one story almost no one has is a secret dungeon in The Reach called Harmugstahl. No one sends you there, and it’s hard to find outside of radiant quests. But inside is a fascinating story about a necromancer who is experimenting with frost spiders. Everyone hates frost spiders, but this necromancer has found a way to imbue the giant spiders with other types of elements. Along the way, you have to fight fire and lightning spiders that emerge from experimental cells, until you finally find the wizard at work and destroy him. It’s a very cool quest that more people should have found…unless you are afraid of giant spiders, in which case it’s probably for the best.
There is one location in Skyrim that takes a lot of climbing to get to, called Bard’s Leap Summit. It’s filled with Forsworn and has a dragon wall at the top, so most players hack their way through the Forsworn and learn a word from a Shout at the wall, assuming they had finished everything. Not so! If you make your way to the small bridge at the top of the area, you can choose to leap off all the way down to a tiny pool in the valley below. It’s a steep drop and you die if you don’t hit the pool exactly. But if you do make it, you magically survive, and the ghost of the original bard greets you and gives you a speech skill boost. Appropriate! But also almost impossible to find.
Even to most Skyrim diehard players, a pair of unique books called Predator’s Grace doesn’t ring a bell. “What can you sell them for?” they probably say. But you can find them…if you know exactly where to look. The boots wait at Hag’s End, a lengthy dungeon at the end of a lengthy dungeon filled with witches and Hagravens. If you fight your way to the top, you can find the boots hidden behind a snowy waterfall in a chest. Many players are too tired of the dungeon to search that much after finally finishing it, so these boots remain a secret to most. They are hidden behind a waterfall, people, that’s RPG 101! Plus, they have a rare and very handy Muffle spell enchantment, so we’re not talking about peanuts, here.
If you look hard through the secrets of Skyrim, you will occasionally find references to a famous chef called The Gourmet. On rare occasions, you can stumble across his apprentice looking for ingredients in the forests, and even steal a fork from him. If you complete the Dark Brotherhood quest, you find a lot more out about this chef, but otherwise, he is an enigma, carefully hidden away so that many players don’t even know he’s a real character in the game. But he is waiting out there, in a small inn: An orc (called Balagog Gro Nalob) who is known for his cuisine across the world and is here to cook the best meal in reality for the Emperor. We won’t tell you how that ends, but it’s a fun nod to a secret character you may not even know existed in the game.
If you are any type of archer in Skyrim (and who hasn’t played a sneak archer from time to time), then the Bound Arrow spell is a great find. It allows players with enough magic to summon a bow that is far more powerful than any other bow you can get early on in the game. Usually, the Bound Bow spell is locked behind a lot of gameplay, but there is one secret spell tome hidden away at Fort Amol where you can learn it early on. Head toward the castle, enter in the right door, kill a few wizards…and then you will probably never spot it. Because the spell is hidden in another infamous bucket, beneath an old lantern you have to lift out. Find it, and you become a whole lot more awesome!
Players have spent hundreds of hours in Skyrim and never even seen the Headless Horseman. He only appears at night within certain hours, and can randomly appear anywhere in the primary world map. You may see him riding along a road, or you may miss him entirely. If you are lucky enough to catch him, you can follow his path. Sometimes he will wander off and disappear, but most times he will head along the road until he comes to an old graveyard in an early game area. There he stops and stays silent until you leave. That’s it. It helps you discover the tomb, but it wasn’t a hard area to find in the first place. His ghostly obsession is unexplained and unrewarded…but you still feel privileged to see him pass by.
When you join the Thieve’s Guild, it’s lame (for a little while) but you find a book that explains thief sign. There is a sign for friendly places, for people who have lots of stuff, for friendly traders, and so on. But it’s actually really cool: If you look in the towns of Skyrim, you will discover that a vast number of buildings have hidden thief sign somewhere near the doors, telling you what you can expect. It’s a great way to know where to steal and where to be careful. Hey, a good thief knows when to pay attention, right? Too bad most people never even bother to look for the marks even as they are saving the Thieve’s Guild. Maybe pay attention, you aspirant thieves. You could learn a lot.
The road up to High Hrothgar is infamous for a lot of steps and one mean frost troll you have to face on your way to the ancient monk temple. But the steps also have a secret. Along the way, there are little alcoves in the snow that you can read for quick verses about the founding of High Hrothgar. It’s pretty boring…unless you seek out every alcove and read all the verses up to the door of the temple itself. Then (and not many manage to do this), you get a special blessing that makes you immune and friendly to all animals for more than a day of real time. It’s a great way to protect yourself from the average threats along the road as long as you have the patience to seek every alcove. Not surprisingly, this has been secret for impatient players since the game was released.
Back to High Hrothgar and the mountain called the Throat of the World. We understand if you are a bit bored and a lot tired when climbing the thousand-whatever-steps to get to the top, but it’s worth it to look around. One of the things you can find is called the notched pickaxe, You can’t do much with it, but it’s a fun reference to Minecraft that’s a private little joke for players who enjoy both games and maybe want to play as crazy miners either way. There are some weird things about trademarks, but ultimately it’s fun that the company put in this reference and pickaxes are honestly good for mining, so there’s that. Fortunately, things don’t get harder when it gets dark in Skyrim, especially if you are a vampire.
The first mission of the assassin cult Dark Brotherhood has sultry Astrid cooing at you from a bookshelf in a hidden cabin in the middle of a swamp. Fun stuff. But when she asks you to kill a random hostage (or all three), there’s another hidden option. You can kill Astrid herself, and end the story there. She drops a powerful dagger, and this starts a story that has the Emperor’s leaders ask you to visit the Dark Brotherhood home dungeon and kill them all. It gives you a little bit of money and not much else, but if you are playing a good character, it’s an excellent little hidden quest. We just wish that there were more choices like that in Skyrim’s major quests so you could choose just how bad you want to be.
Skyrim has a lot of nods to famous stories, but the most famous one must be the secret cave where you find Luke Skywalker. It may sound crazy, but there really is an ice cave that seems…a little too familiar if you discover it. It’s called Bleakcoast Cave, and if you explore it you will find a monster and a corpse hanging from the ceiling. It is basically like the Empire Strikes Back, but with Skyrim and frost trolls. You can peruse the scene, but in this game, Luke doesn’t get out so easily. Still, it’s a fun homage that few will discover unless you search out every ice cave, and who has time for that? Unless you want to find a tale from a galaxy far, far...wait, how far away is it, really?
People are very torn by Ulfric. He’s one of the first people you see in the game, and of course, you can choose to join his Stormcloaks, who…well, it doesn’t really matter which side you join, there’s a lot of killing and maiming no matter what you think about the Imperial occupation. But Ulfric has a pretty big secret. His sordid past includes a massacre at Falkreath (which was later turned into a tale of heroic defense) and working with the Thalmor, aka the Nazi Elves that the Stormcloaks are actively fighting against! Why, you ask? The Thalmor dossier indicates that he may have been tortured and converted as a sleeper agent to foment unrest in Skyrim, which makes a lot of sense. People who prefer the Stormcloaks insist that phrases like “converted to an asset” and "proven his worth" doesn’t mean what we think, but the evidence is pretty hard to avoid.
Are you ready for some feels? Skyrim provides lots of feels, but the hardest-hitting are always surprise feels. Take the giants. Most of the time these massive herders loom on the horizon as a mild threat, one that will blast you into the stars if you get too close but which are otherwise harmless. As a result, most players learn to give giants lots of room until they are very powerful. But there’s one giant outside of Riften who’s a totally different story. He’s so different, he has even earned his own name as the Mournful Giant. Giants typically herd woolly mammoths, but they also live with them and treat them as part pet, part family. Which is why it’s so sad when you discover this hidden giant and dead mammoth lying in a hot spring before him. Unless the others, this giant won’t attack no matter what you do. Feels!
Of course, there were quests in Skyrim that weren’t completed in time for development: In these cases, the quest dialogue and activities are removed from the game…except in one special case up at the College of Winterhold. It’s a conjuration quest that involves searching for students that ran off on their own adventures and all met their demise experimenting with various deadly elements. But here’s the thing: You can still find their bodies around the land, plus the unique items they have if you know where to look. You can still talk to the Conjuration Master and he will mention them and how they are missing. In fact, you can do basically every step of this quest except actually activate it and turn it in for a reward, which may make it the most secret quest in the whole game.