North Iceland is also a very popular region of the country, and what it has, it has in spades. The “Capital of the North”, and Iceland’s second-largest town, is Akureyri.
A lively and charming town, Akureyri is a 5-hour drive from Reykjavík, or a mere 45 minutes flight away, so it is very accessible and this makes North Iceland a highly recommended stop on your schedule. Within a day’s reach are a myriad of gorgeous gems, but it is not exactly short on these within the city limits.
The beautiful church is iconic and stands proud in the middle of the city. It is also beautifully lit in the winter evenings. The summer is a perfect excuse to visit the botanical gardens, as well as to simply soak in the atmosphere of this very special town. While it is a very small town, there is an unmistakable buzz in the evening, especially on the weekends.
Whilst the south of Iceland has the Golden Circle, the north offers the “Diamond Circle”, starting with Góðafoss (Waterfall of the Gods) which is a pretty spectacular place. Close to Góðafoss is the alien-like landscape of Námaskarð. Here, the earth is alive with bubbling pools of sulfuric mud, where fumaroles surround you in this bizarre, but no less beautiful, landscape.
Dimmuborgir or, “Dark Cities” is a mysterious labyrinth of citadel-like lava formations and nearby Lake Mývatn is where you will find the Mývatn Nature Baths, a Northern alternative to the famous Blue Lagoon.
In North Iceland, you will also find the horseshoe canyon of Ásbyrgi, as well as Dettifoss, Iceland’s most powerful waterfall and perhaps the most powerful waterfall in all of Europe. It is pretty difficult to describe the incredible impact of this place, so it can only really be experienced in order to gain a little perspective of the true forces of nature.
Towns, Whales, and Puffins
North Iceland is also home to many remote and utterly charming towns and villages. From Siglufjörður, to Dalvík, Sauðarkrókur, the list goes on. However, there is one town around a one-hour drive from Akureyri that offers incredible opportunities to see Iceland’s titans of the sea.
Húsavík is the “whale watching capital of Iceland” and here you can embark on one of the town’s popular whale watching tours. You are almost guaranteed to see all manner of whale species through different seasons. Humpbacks, minkes, sperm whales, pilot whales, and even the largest animal on the planet, the blue whale. Also, don’t forget dolphins and porpoises, as well as the good old puffin making another appearance, as they often do. In general, North Iceland is the best place to see whales, with very high chances of sightings from a variety of locations such as Húsavík, Akureyri, Hauganes, and Eyjafjörður.
Húsavík also featured more recently in the Netflix movie Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, where the two main characters, played by Will Ferrel and Rachel McAdams, hope to do their town and country proud by winning the Eurovision Song Contest. The song “Húsavík (My Home Town)” was nominated for an Oscar at the 2021 Academy Awards. Húsavík is also home to the GeoSea baths, a stunning infinity pool on the cliff that gazes down into Skjálfandi bay.
Did you know that Iceland is, technically, in the Arctic Circle? The island of Grimsey is the only part of Iceland that falls within the Arctic Circle, and so taking a flight or boat trip to this tiny island means that you can officially consider yourself an arctic explorer. You can even celebrate the summer solstice with the locals.
It is in North Iceland where you will also find the “troll rock” Hvítserkur, which looks like perhaps more like an elephant drinking from the sea. Or you could visit a fascinating ‘work in progress’, the Arctic Henge at Raufarhöfn. This is a stone monument designed to depict the “Völuspá” which is a story about the creation of the world and its ultimate destruction, or “Ragnarök”.
Activities and Festivals
There are many activities in North Iceland. From whale watching, sightseeing, horse riding, lava caving, skiing, as well as golfing on the northernmost 18-hole golf course in the world. You can even participate in the Arctic Open at the Summer Solstice every year. If you like fish, then you can attend the Great Fish Day in Dalvíkurbyggð and enjoy the fresh, seafood buffet. Motorsports festivals, biking competitions, hiking festivals, arts and crafts festivals, etc. North Iceland is certainly not short on activities. Beer lovers will be delighted to know that you can visit the Beer Spa, as you soak in a beer tub and enjoy some of Iceland’s best beers from one of the most well-known breweries. It’s for your health and wellbeing……honest. It’s important to look after yourself, you know?
If you are traveling around Iceland, we recommend that you spent at least two nights in Akureyri, as it serves as a comfortable base camp for all the incredible locations within a day’s drive.