Tired of the most beathen path of Iceland? Want to see something different from the Blue Lagoon? Go North!
Northern Iceland is often described as a geological heaven because of its diverse and dramatic landscape. It has nothing to envy to the more famous Southern region and it’s still off from the mass tourism radar. Temperatures can be rigid in the most northern areas (after all you are closer to the Artic Circle!) but life outdoor is still enjoyable and full of day-trip opportunities even during the spring season. There is so much to see in this region that I wished to have spent more than just two days!
- We visited in late April and be warned despite other areas of Iceland are perfectly ok in terms of roads, some of the Northern Iceland’s roads might be closed because of the snow/ice (e.g. we couldn’t visit Dettifoss because the road was inaccessible!)
- Plan ahead your activities, especially where/when you want to dine as there aren’t many places where you can do this. I’ve suggest you to choose one of the main cities (e.g. Húsavík or Akureyri that offer major services).
- Wear proper waterproof/insulated boots as you can walk in snowy grounds and temperatures can be colder than the South.
- If you want to hunt for the Northern Light, Northern Iceland is the perfect place but be well-equipped to stand outside in very cold nights!
- Take at least two days to visit some main attractions!
For this blog post, I chose seven main things you can experience in Northern Iceland that won’t leave you unsatisfied!
1) Go whale-watching in Húsavík
Húsavík is a small fishing town lying along Skjálfandi Bay. According to sources, Húsavík might be the oldest Icelandic settlement. Indeed, the name of the town means literally “bay of the houses” because it looks like the Swedish explorer Garðar spent here a winter in 867, making of Húsavík the first inhabitated icelandic settlement long before Ingolfur Arnasson settled in Reykjavik.
Nothing is left of the old Norse village, however this has been replaced by a beautiful and colourful town.
2) Hiking in the Krafla caldera
3) Walk in a Mars-looking scenery in Námafjall Hverir
Can you see how beautiful is this scenery? Well, be prepared for an equal amount of smell because these amazing colours are due to the sulphur crystals surrounding the mud pools and sulfataras characterising the area. However, I swear it’s easy to get used to the smell after a while and enjoy just the amazing landscape! The Námafjall area is so far one of my favourite places in northern Iceland.
This geothermal area is one of the largest in the country. It is easily reachable from the Lake Myvatn or from the East Fjords and goes perfect together with a day trip to Krafla. The active fumaroles all around make the scenery really impressive and you have the feeling to have landed into another planet.
Be aware of walking too close to the mud pools as the path is not well signed and they can be really dangerous! If you have time, the Námaskarð Pass hike offers the opportunity to explore a very different landscape similar more to Mars than our beloved Earth. However, despite the Martian look, the Námafjall area is famous also because it was used by NASA as a training-ground for the Apollo lunar missions. Indeed, it looks like the geological conditions of some Icelandic grounds are planetary analogues to that of the moon!
The intense smell and the steam coming from the ground, work as a good reminder of how powerful and beautiful is our planet! I really enjoyed my visit to this place and I hope to go for a second round tour!
4) Live a GoT adventure in the Grjótagjá Cave
If you are a fan of Game of Thrones you don’t want to miss the occasion of visiting this little hidden gem at just ten minutes from Námafjall and Lake Myvatn. Before being known as the Jon Snow and Ygritte’s cave, Grjótagjá was widely used as a thermal bath by Icelanders. This until the ’70 when a powerful eruption caused a sudden rise of the water temperature, which became above 50 degrees.
Today, bathing in Grjótagjá is not recommended, as the water temperature is still very fluctuating. The cave is also quite small and with a low ceiling. Unless you want to swim, I’m not sure it would fit more than five people.
5) Search for the Norse Gods at Goðafoss
Have you ever visited a natural landscape, which is also a piece of history? Well, Goðafoss is exactly this. In fact, its name means “Waterfall of the Gods” and is nothing than a reminder of a significant piece of the Icelandic history.
The name comes exactly from a famous “episode” seeing a law maker of Pinvellir, Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði, taking the hard decision of abandoning the paganism in favour of the new Christian religion in the year 1,000. This decision has been taken (according to the Icelandic saga) after a difficult sleepless night in which the Asatru priest, as a symbol of this change, threw away in the waterfall the idols of the Norse Gods. From that moment onward, the waterfall took the name of Goðafoss.
Reaching the waterfall is very easy as it is situated in the road between Akureyi and Husavik. Godafoss falls from a height of 12 mt and it’s large about 30 mt. If you are going during the summer season, you would probably want to visit also the nearby Dettifoss. Unfortunately, during our visit the road leading there was closed.
6) Warm your afternoon in a Akureyi café.
Akureyri is the second largest urban area of Iceland after Reykjavik often known as “Iceland’s capital of the North”. From Icelandic sources, it is known the area has been colonised in the early Middle Ages by Norse population. Today this little vibrant city is known as a fishing and cultural centre.
Akureyri is much quieter than Reykjavik (especially in winter/spring) with a few tourists and crowd around.
I found this city fascinating for its colours and vitality despite being a little centre, In fact, Akureyri is home of many nice cafes where you can warm your afternoon after a day of wandering in the cold breeze of northern Iceland. One of the nicest cafes we visited was the Bláa kannan café, which is situated in the main street and offers a great selection of cakes and freshly baked bread. We really loved our time in this cosy café as outside was really to cold to go around so it was pleasant to relax a bit inside! The only thing I recommend you is to ask ALWAYS about the ingredient of your food (especially cakes). Icelanders are quite peculiar in this regard, so you might find some food combination that are quite… unusual!
7) Visit the Icelandic version of the Shire at Glaumbær
Northern Iceland does not fail to impress even in this little isolated village built with the old turf-technique used in Iceland since the Vikings time. The village called Glaumbær, which is now a museum, dates back to the 18th century and is one of the best preserved of its genre. Until the use of modern architectural techniques, in cold environments such as Iceland, turf houses offered the best insulation against wooden-base buildings.
It looks like until the early 20th century anyone in Iceland was living in a turf-house. With the increasing of new technologies and better insulation methods, turf-houses were progressively abandoned. However, if you go around Iceland you can still spot some of these characteristic buildings typical of the Icelandic landscape. In my being Tolkien-addicted, I admit I loved how this village looked like a sort of Icelandic version of the Shire with its little houses covered by grass and the bold colours shining in the vast valley.
Being this place a museum there will be an entrance fee if you visit at morning time. However, if you go at dusk (as we did) you can just walk around these little houses without any problem (we were the only ones at that time!). Of course, you can’t enter inside the houses (you will need to return in the morning for this) but if you just want to take some pictures late afternoon is probably the best time.
Where to Stay in Northern Iceland.
For our stay in Northern Iceland we chose two main places. The first night we stayed in one of the cube flats of Laxhús situated about 58,8 miles from Laxamyri and 5 miles from Husavik.
This place is quite expensive compared to others we chose to stay in Iceland (about £ 127/140 per night) but it has everything you need for a perfect stay! The kitchen is equipped with cutlery set, microwave, plates and a coffee machine. You have your own private terrace, a tv and a spacious bedroom!
Pointless is saying also that you have one of te best Icelandic view directly from your window!
We were so lucky to spot also the Northern Lights here! If you can’t see them from your terrace you can go in the ground behind the cube that is free to use for guests!
During our second night in Northern Iceland we stayed at the Guesthouse 46 (ex Guesthouse Höfðabraut) in Hvammstangi. The owners Steinbjörn and Eva-Lena are very welcoming and made us feel like we were at home! Our room was little but cosy, with the best view ever and in the morning Steinbjörn cooked the breakfast for all the guests! If you like to stay in contact with local people this is probably the best place!
That’s all for northern Iceland!! Enjoy your visit!