Iceland Travel Planning: North Iceland

There’s a lot to explore in North Iceland, and Akureyri is the center of it all.

Iceland’s second most populous city, Akureyri has a thriving art scene, gorgeous gardens, and restaurants that rival Reykjavík’s. The harbor serves as a port for large cruise ships, and visitors are treated to views of the country’s highest peaks and longest fjord.

Akureyri is a perfect place to base yourself when exploring the north. The open terrain from Akureyri to Siglufjörður, the northernmost town in Iceland, treats visitors to sights of traditional churches, wondrous waterfalls, and a dreamy seaside.

Farther west is Northwest Iceland. This region comprises sparsely populated farm country. In fact, depending on the time of year, you may see more seals, birds, horses, and whales than people in areas like Húnaflói and Skagafjörður.

Heading from Akureyri toward eastern Iceland, stops include Krafla’s steamy lava fields, Lake Mývatn’s lush lands, and the majestic Dettifoss waterfall, to name a few. In the summer, birders and geology buffs will want to stretch the drive out an extra couple of days.

From waterfalls and hiking trails to the best skiing on the island, the north has plenty to keep you busy.

Mývatn Nature Baths in Iceland.

Mývatn Nature Baths. The water stands at 36°C (96.8°F) and the bottom of the lagoon contains healing minerals. Photo © Anna Pauktina/123rf.

Highlights

  • Lystigarður Akureyrar (Akureyri Botanical Gardens): The northernmost botanical garden in the world has an eclectic collection of native and international flora.
  • Goðafoss: Witness the thundering Waterfall of the Gods, a spectacular sight any time of year.
  • Jarðböðin (Mývatn Nature Baths): Just try to resist taking a dip in the soothing, heated waters of Mývatn. The water stands at 36°C (96.8°F) and the bottom of the lagoon contains healing minerals.
  • Whale-Watching in Húsavík: The unofficial whale-watching capital of Iceland offers the chance to view as many as 12 species of whale. Seeing these gentle giants up close is truly beautiful.
  • Ásbyrgi: This gigantic canyon features cool rock formations, looping walking paths, lush greenery, a lot of birds…and tons of photo opportunities.
  • Dettifoss: The largest waterfall on the island, and the most powerful in Europe, spans 100 meters wide and 45 meters high. It’s common to see a rainbow or two depending on the weather.

Planning Your Time

North Iceland is a huge chunk of land (for Iceland), but it’s quite easy to split the sections, using a major town as a home base and doing day trips. For instance, Akureyri, Húsavík, and Mývatn are the largest and most frequented destinations for tourists, with museums, outdoor activities, and historical sites to visit.

If you’re traveling the Ring Road, Northwest Iceland would be your first destination after visiting the Westfjords. The northwest offers some of the most exquisite scenery on the island in the small towns and counties including Hvammstangi, Blönduós, and Skagafjörður. Akureyri is a great base while visiting this area.

Akureyri rivals Reykjavík for the center of artistic life in Iceland. Plan to spend as much time as possible up here, with at least one day each in Mývatn and Húsavík and two days in Akureyri—three days if you want to include a trip to Grímsey.

When driving in the north, it’s important to take the weather into consideration. Some roads are impassable in the winter. It’s possible to see much of North Iceland by sticking to the Ring Road, which is the best-maintained road in the region. However, always be sure to check the road conditions and weather forecast before heading out in a car.

Travel map of North Iceland

North Iceland

Travel map of Mývatn Region

Mývatn Region


Excerpted from the First Edition of Moon Iceland.

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