Welcome to North Iceland, a captivating region defined by its diverse landscapes, rich history, and friendly communities. Situated between the Arctic Circle and the capital Reykjavik, North Iceland is a sanctuary for those seeking adventure, serenity, and authentic Icelandic experiences. From its powerful waterfalls to the expansive lava fields and the majestic peaks of the Troll Peninsula, every turn reveals another breathtaking vista that feels worlds away from the bustling urban life.
In this guide, we’ll explore the distinct highlights of North Iceland. We’ll wander through the atmospheric towns that hug the coastline, delve into the geothermal marvels that dot the landscape, and venture into the wilderness to meet some of Iceland’s most impressive wildlife residents.
Here in North Iceland, you can gaze upon the ethereal dance of the Northern Lights, soak in soothing geothermal pools, and journey through history at sites steeped in Icelandic sagas. So prepare for an unforgettable 8-day adventure as we unlock the many wonders of North Iceland.
- Getting To North Iceland
- Major Towns and Cities in North Iceland
- Top Things To Do in North Iceland
- Cultural Experiences in North Iceland
- Food and Drink Options in North Iceland
- Where To Stay in North Iceland
- Travel Tips For North Iceland
- Frequently Asked Questions About North Iceland
- Final Notes on Traveling To North Iceland
Getting To North Iceland
Making your way to North Iceland is an adventure in itself, with the journey from Reykjavik revealing the sheer diversity of Iceland’s landscapes. Whether you’re driving, hopping on a bus, or joining a guided tour, every route offers unique sights and experiences, promising the start of an incredible journey.
How to Get to North Iceland from Reykjavik
If you’re planning to drive from Reykjavik, the quickest route is via the Ring Road (Route 1), a well-maintained highway that takes you directly to North Iceland. The journey, without stops, can take around 5 hours, but you’ll likely want to pause at various points of interest along the way.
Alternatively, domestic flights are available from Reykjavik to Akureyri, the largest city in North Iceland. The flight is short, around 45 minutes, and provides stunning aerial views of Iceland’s landscapes.
Traveling To North Iceland By Car, Bus, or Tour
Driving to North Iceland gives you the most flexibility. Renting a 4×4 vehicle is advisable, particularly if you plan to explore the highland areas or travel during winter.
If you prefer public transportation, regular bus services operate between Reykjavik and several towns in North Iceland, including Akureyri, Húsavík, and Mývatn. The journey can be long, but it’s a cost-effective option and allows you to enjoy the scenery without the responsibility of driving.
Guided tours are an excellent choice if you prefer a curated experience. These tours often include accommodation, meals, and excursions, providing an easy and informative way to explore North Iceland’s best sights. Viator has some great options, which can be found here.
Major Towns and Cities in North Iceland
North Iceland’s towns and cities offer an intriguing blend of historical charm, natural beauty, and vibrant local cultures. Each town is unique, with its own tale to tell, and they serve as great bases to explore the surrounding landscapes. Let’s dive into six major towns and cities in North Iceland that capture the essence of this region:
- Akureyri: Known as the “Capital of North Iceland,” Akureyri is the region’s largest city. Nestled at the end of the stunning Eyjafjörður fjord, it boasts a charming downtown area with art galleries, museums, and restaurants. The Akureyri Botanical Garden and the Akureyri Church are highlights not to be missed.
- Húsavík: This coastal town is renowned as the “Whale Watching Capital of Iceland.” Húsavík offers unforgettable excursions to see these magnificent creatures up close. Its picturesque harbor, wooden church, and whale museum add to its charm.
- Mývatn: Although technically a lake area rather than a town, Mývatn is a vital stop in North Iceland. The surrounding region is teeming with geothermal and volcanic landmarks, including the Mývatn Nature Baths, a relaxing alternative to Reykjavik’s Blue Lagoon.
- Siglufjörður: Once the hub of Iceland’s herring industry, Siglufjörður is now a peaceful fishing town nestled between steep mountains. The Herring Era Museum is a must-visit, offering insight into the town’s rich history.
- Dalvík: This friendly fishing village is the gateway to the beautiful island of Grímsey, the only part of Iceland located in the Arctic Circle. Dalvík is also known for its annual Great Fish Day festival, which showcases the area’s fishing heritage.
- Reykjahlíð: Situated near Lake Mývatn, Reykjahlíð is a small village that played a significant role in Icelandic history during the explosive eruption of the nearby Krafla volcano in the 18th century. It serves as an excellent base for exploring the natural attractions of Mývatn and the dramatic volcanic landscapes.
These towns and cities encapsulate the spirit of North Iceland – a mix of history, stunning landscapes, and warm, welcoming communities. They each serve as perfect gateways to the region’s vast natural wonders.
Top Things To Do in North Iceland
North Iceland is a treasure trove of natural wonders, vibrant wildlife, and remarkable cultural experiences. This region is celebrated for its stunning landscapes, from serene fjords and geothermal hotspots to fascinating geological formations. Here are some of the top things to do when exploring the northern reaches of this enchanting country.
Visit the Dettifoss Waterfall
Dettifoss, located in Vatnajökull National Park, is reputed to be the most powerful waterfall in Europe. Its immense size and the thunderous roar of water crashing down make it an awe-inspiring sight.
The best time to visit Dettifoss is during the summer months when the roads are easily navigable. It’s accessible from both the west and east banks of the river Jökulsá á Fjöllum, though the east side offers closer and more dramatic views. Remember to wear waterproof gear as the spray from the falls can get you quite wet.
Explore Lake Mývatn and Its Surroundings
Lake Mývatn, a geologically active area, is a paradise for nature lovers. The lake and its surroundings boast unique volcanic landforms, birdlife, and geothermal waters.
While it’s beautiful year-round, visiting in summer offers birdwatchers a treat as numerous species nest around the lake. Don’t miss the pseudo-craters at Skútustaðagígar, the lava pillars of Dimmuborgir, and the Mývatn Nature Baths. The area is accessible by car, but guided tours can provide a more in-depth understanding of its geological history.
Go Whale Watching in Húsavík
Húsavík is known as the whale watching capital of Iceland. This coastal town offers various tours that bring you face to face with the magnificent creatures of the ocean, including humpback whales, minke whales, and even blue whales.
Tours operate primarily from April to October, with peak whale sightings in the summer months. Most tours depart from Húsavík harbor, easily accessible by car or bus from Akureyri.
Akureyri, the capital of North Iceland, is a charming town that deserves exploration. Visit the Akureyri Church, enjoy local art at the Akureyri Art Museum, relax in the public geothermal swimming pools, and explore the Botanical Gardens.
Akureyri is a year-round destination. However, winter offers a chance to see the Northern Lights, while summer is perfect for hiking and enjoying the midnight sun. It’s easily accessible by car, bus, or even by plane from Reykjavik.
Experience the Northern Lights
North Iceland, far from the city lights, provides an excellent opportunity to witness the awe-inspiring Northern Lights. Seeing this natural phenomenon dance across the sky is an unforgettable experience.
The Northern Lights are most visible from late September to early April. Conditions must be dark and clear, and there’s never a guarantee you’ll see them, but venturing away from city lights will increase your chances. Many guided tours are available, some even offering photography tips for capturing this celestial display.
These activities encapsulate the allure of North Iceland. Each offers a unique chance to connect with nature and dive deeper into Icelandic culture and history. Whether you’re chasing waterfalls, spotting whales, or basking in the glow of the Northern Lights, North Iceland promises a journey of discovery and awe.
Cultural Experiences in North Iceland
North Iceland offers an abundance of culturally enriching experiences that give you a deep insight into the region’s history, art, music, and culinary traditions. The area is rich with fascinating museums, historical sites, and annual festivals that are as educational as they are entertaining.
The town of Akureyri, often regarded as the cultural hub of North Iceland, boasts notable landmarks like the Akureyri Church and the Akureyri Art Museum. The museum houses an impressive collection of contemporary art from local and international artists, while the church, perched on a hill overlooking the town, is a symbol of Akureyri’s rich architectural heritage.
In Húsavík, the Whale Museum offers a comprehensive study of marine life, focusing on the various species of whales found in Icelandic waters. Sigurgeir’s Bird Museum located near Lake Mývatn, provides a unique opportunity to understand the diverse avian life of Iceland, hosting an array of bird species, some of which can only be found in this region.
Laufás, an old turf house museum, provides a glimpse into the living conditions and lifestyle of Icelanders in the past. Such buildings were common in Iceland until the 20th century, and Laufás, with its well-preserved structure and historical artefacts, is an excellent representation of this unique architectural style.
Annual festivals in North Iceland are another way to immerse yourself in local culture. The Great Fish Day in Dalvík is a feast you won’t want to miss. Held in August, the townsfolk invite visitors to join them in a seafood buffet, showcasing the region’s fishing tradition.
These cultural experiences in North Iceland are meaningful as they help preserve the region’s unique heritage and foster a deeper understanding and appreciation of the Icelandic way of life. By engaging in these activities, you’ll gain a sense of the rich history, resilient spirit, and vibrant culture that have shaped this extraordinary part of the world.
Food and Drink Options in North Iceland
When it comes to food and drink, North Iceland is a region of diverse and delectable offerings. You’ll find everything from traditional Icelandic cuisine to modern global influences. Expect the freshest seafood, heartwarming soups, local lamb dishes, and delectable pastries.
Best Breakfast in North Iceland
- Akureyri Backpackers: Located in the heart of Akureyri, this spot is well-loved for its hearty and healthful breakfast options.
- Berlin Akureyri: A trendy café offering scrumptious pastries, homemade bread, and a range of breakfast dishes.
- Braudan: Famous for its delightful cinnamon rolls and a variety of freshly baked bread and pastries.
Best Lunch in North Iceland
- RUB23: Located in Akureyri, this sushi and seafood restaurant incorporates Icelandic ingredients into their menu with stunning results.
- Húsavík Fish & Chips: Offering the classic fish & chips with the freshest catch from the local harbor.
- Greifinn: A casual and family-friendly restaurant in Akureyri with a diverse menu, perfect for a mid-day meal.
Best Dinner in North Iceland
- Restaurant Strikið: Offering stunning views over Akureyri and a gourmet menu that features local produce.
- Kaffi Ilmur: A lovely restaurant in a historical house in Húsavík, serving traditional Icelandic dishes with a twist.
- Salthús Restaurant: Located in Skagafjörður, it provides a gourmet dining experience with dishes primarily made from locally sourced ingredients.
Best Dessert in North Iceland
- Akureyri Ice Cream Shop: Known for their creamy ice cream, a perfect treat regardless of the weather.
- Brugghúsbarinn: Try their Skyr mousse or lava cake paired with locally brewed beer.
- Kaffi Krókur: Located in Sauðárkrókur, this café serves homemade cakes and pastries to satiate your sweet tooth.
Whether you are a foodie seeking a culinary adventure or someone simply looking to enjoy wholesome meals amidst your travels, North Iceland’s food scene has something for everyone.
Where To Stay in North Iceland
Finding the perfect base for your adventures in North Iceland is crucial to the overall experience. Depending on your preference, budget, and itinerary, you’ll find a variety of accommodation options in the region, including hotels, guesthouses, hostels, and campsites that offer unique ways to immerse yourself in the beautiful Icelandic landscapes.
Budget Accommodations In North Iceland
- Akureyri HI Hostel: Centrally located in Akureyri, this budget-friendly option offers clean and comfortable dormitory-style rooms.
- Húsavík Cape Hotel: An economical choice in Húsavík, it provides simple but clean accommodations with friendly service.
- Guesthouse Hóll: Located in Skagafjörður, this guesthouse offers a range of budget rooms with shared facilities and a communal kitchen.
Mid-Range Accommodations In North Iceland
- Icelandair Hotel Akureyri: This modern, mid-range hotel in Akureyri offers comfortable rooms, a great location, and a warm, welcoming atmosphere.
- Siglunes Guesthouse: A cozy guesthouse in Siglufjörður that offers scenic views of the mountains and the North Atlantic.
- Fosshotel Húsavík: Known as the ‘Whale Watching Capital of Europe’, Húsavík offers this charming mid-range hotel with comfortable rooms and an in-house restaurant.
Luxury Accommodations In North Iceland
- Hotel Kea by Keahotels: Located in the heart of Akureyri, this upscale hotel offers luxurious rooms and top-notch services.
- Siglo Hotel: Nestled in the picturesque town of Siglufjörður, this luxury hotel provides stunning views of the harbor and the surrounding mountains.
- Deplar Farm: For an ultimate luxury experience in the Troll Peninsula, this secluded resort offers geothermal heated outdoor pools, gourmet dining, and a variety of outdoor activities.
Remember, booking in advance is always a good idea, especially during the peak travel season. The best place for you will depend on your budget, desired amenities, and the sights you wish to explore.
Travel Tips For North Iceland
Exploring North Iceland can be an exciting adventure, but to make the most out of your visit, it’s important to be aware of a few key tips and considerations, including the best times to visit, essential safety precautions, and unique local customs.
- Spring (April to June): This is a great time to witness the transition of seasons, with longer daylight hours and milder weather conditions. It’s also a good time for bird watching as migratory birds return to Iceland.
- Summer (June to August): Known for the Midnight Sun, summer in North Iceland is vibrant with blooming flowers and green landscapes. However, it’s also the peak tourist season, so expect crowds at popular attractions.
- Fall (September to November): Autumn is marked by cooler temperatures and the onset of the Northern Lights. While some roads might close due to snow, this is an ideal time for those who prefer off-peak travel and mesmerizing Aurora views.
- Winter (December to March): Winter can be harsh, with heavy snowfall and limited daylight. It’s perfect for those wanting to enjoy winter activities like skiing or experience the magic of Christmas in North Iceland.
Quick Safety Tips
In North Iceland, weather can be unpredictable, changing rapidly within minutes. Always check the weather forecast before heading out and be prepared with suitable clothing and equipment. Roads can be slippery during winters, hence it’s advised to have a suitable vehicle equipped with winter tires. Always stay informed about potential avalanche or storm warnings. Stick to marked paths while hiking and never underestimate the power of nature in Iceland.
Regional Quirks or Customs to Know
The residents of North Iceland, like the rest of the country, take their folklore seriously. Tales of elves, trolls, and hidden people are integral parts of their cultural heritage. Show respect for these traditions, and don’t be surprised if locals include these tales in their everyday conversations.
Moreover, North Iceland is less crowded than the southern part of the country, so locals appreciate respectful behavior towards the environment. Always remember the traveler’s mantra in Iceland: “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.”
Lastly, Icelandic water is some of the purest in the world. Don’t spend money on bottled water; tap water is perfectly safe and incredibly fresh, especially in North Iceland, where it’s sourced from clear mountain springs.
Frequently Asked Questions About North Iceland
What is the best time to visit North Iceland?
The best time to visit North Iceland really depends on what you want to experience. Summer (June to August) offers long daylight hours, warmer weather, and is great for hiking and exploring the outdoors. Winter (December to March), though cold, is perfect for witnessing the Northern Lights and enjoying winter activities like skiing.
Is North Iceland safe to travel alone?
Yes, North Iceland is considered safe for solo travelers. The crime rate is low and people are generally helpful. However, it’s always important to exercise standard travel precautions, especially when travelling in remote areas, and to be aware of and prepared for rapidly changing weather conditions.
What are the must-see attractions in North Iceland?
There are several must-see attractions in North Iceland, including Lake Mývatn, Dettifoss Waterfall, the town of Akureyri, Húsavík (a great spot for whale watching), Ásbyrgi Canyon, and Goðafoss Waterfall.
What unique food options can I try in North Iceland?
North Iceland is known for its fresh seafood. Herring, Arctic char, and halibut are some of the local favourites. You can also try Hangikjöt, a traditional smoked lamb dish, or Skyr, a creamy dairy product similar to yogurt. Icelandic beers and spirits, like Brennivín, are also worth trying.
Can I see the Northern Lights in North Iceland?
Yes, you can see the Northern Lights in North Iceland. The best time to witness this natural spectacle is during the darker months from September to March. However, visibility is subject to weather conditions, so it’s always a good idea to check the forecast.
Final Notes on Traveling To North Iceland
As we come to the end of our comprehensive guide to North Iceland, it’s clear that this region has a distinct charm and character. From the Northern Lights to majestic waterfalls, diverse wildlife, and unique cultural experiences, North Iceland offers an adventure that is deeply rooted in the natural world. This magical corner of Iceland is less crowded than the popular South, offering visitors a chance to truly immerse themselves in the peaceful beauty of Icelandic landscapes.
Whether you choose to explore the captivating towns, take part in exhilarating outdoor activities, savor the local cuisine, or simply soak in the stunning vistas, a trip to North Iceland promises to be unforgettable. With its rich history, friendly locals, and awe-inspiring natural features, North Iceland is a destination that deserves to be explored and appreciated.
We hope this guide will serve as a valuable resource as you plan your 8-day journey through North Iceland in 2024. The adventures that await you are truly unparalleled, and we’re confident that your experiences in North Iceland will create memories to last a lifetime. So, pack your bags, bring along your spirit of adventure, and prepare to fall in love with North Iceland. Safe travels!