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North Iceland

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North Iceland [1] is the region of Iceland along the Greenland Sea, flirting with the Arctic Circle.

Towns[edit]

  • Sauðárkrókur - The largest town in the Skagafjörður area, known for its horses, rivers and the former bishopric of Hólar. Nearby is the village of Varmahlíð.
  • Siglufjörður - Formerly a thriving fishing village at the northern edge of the Tröllaskagi peninusla, Siglufjörður's fortunes have declined in the last few decades, but it's transforming itself into a great tourist destination in the far north.
Húsavík
  • Dalvík - A charming little fishing village by Eyjafjörður. Gateway to the islands of Hrísey and Grímsey, the latter of which sits on the Arctic circle.
  • Akureyri - The unofficial capital of North Iceland, and by far the largest town outside the Southwest region.
  • Húsavík - Iceland's number one whale watching town, only a short boat ride from the open Greenland Sea.
  • Raufarhöfn, Þórshöfn and Kópasker - Three tiny villages sitting on the far north-eastern corner of the country, far away from anything else.

Other destinations[edit]

Selfoss in Vatnajökull National Park
  • Mývatn - A lake near Akureyri in the North of Iceland, Mývatn has an unearthly appearance owing to special types of volcanic craters throughout the lake. There are plenty of activities in this area: Smajfall (desert where sulphuric steam comes out of the ground) and Dimmuborgir (aka The Black City aka The Gates of Hell).
  • Vatnajökull National Park - Although Vatnajökull itself is far from North Iceland, the national park also contains the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river system, which flows from the glacier over the highlands and into Öxarfjörður on the north coast.

Understand[edit]

There is no exaggeration in describing North Iceland as Iceland in miniature. It is an area of extremes: The lush farmland of Skagafjörður and Eyjafjörður, the rugged mountains of Tröllaskagi many capped by small glaciers, the almost desert-like landscapes of the far north-east, and Grímsey sitting on the arctic circle. The region as a whole is characterised by wide bays and fjords, surrounded by mountains on two sides and long river-shaped valleys on the third. It is probably the region in Iceland best suited for outdoor activities, but the north is also interesting for its cultural heritage. As Iceland's second largest urban area, Akureyri is an important centre for art and commerece. Many of the smaller villages offer an experience that rustic, rural Iceland with its deep traditions in farming and fishing.

Talk[edit]

The people of North Iceland have one of the few distinct accents left in Icelandic. Until the mid to late 20th century, most regions of Iceland had their own accents, but only the North has retained theirs into the 21st century. Unless you speak Icelandic, this is unlikely to affect your stay much - and even if you do speak Icelandic, there are no difficulties of understanding involved. However this can make for an interesting topic of conversation with locals. The people of North Iceland, as the rest of the Icelandic population, mostly speak good English.

Get in[edit]

By car[edit]

The Ring Road passes through much of north Iceland and the region is easily reached by car from any other regions. The distance from Reykjavík to Blönduós (the first town reached when driving into North Iceland from the west) is 244km with another 144km to Akureyri. From Egilsstaðir in East Iceland to Akureyri the distance is 260km.

By bus[edit]

Busses operated by Sterna [2] link North Iceland with the West and Southwest regions. SBA [3] has busses between Akureyri and Egilsstaðir.

By plane[edit]

Multiple flights a day, operated by Air Iceland [4], link Akureyri with Reykjavík. There are also seasonal flights between Akureyri and Copenhagen with Iceland Express [5].

Get around[edit]

By car[edit]

The ring road passes through North Iceland. The stretch of road between Mývatn and Egilsstaðir (in East Iceland) one of the most remote parts of the road with very few settlements. Because of the shape of the area, many settlements in North Iceland aren't served by the ring road, but road connections are mostly good. Until recently, Siglufjörður was quite cut off, but a tunnel now links it with Ólafsfjörður making connections with Akureyri much better.

Car rentals include Hertz [6] and Budget [7] at Akureyri airport, Bílaleiga Akureyrar [8] at Akureyri airport, Tryggvabraut in Akureyri and in Sauðárkrókur and Avis [9] at Akureyri airport and in Sauðárkrókur.

By bus[edit]

Sterna [10] operates scheduled busses along the western stretch of the Ring Road in North Iceland as well as between Varmahlíð (in Skagafjörður) and Siglufjörður, and Akureyri and Ólafsfjörður. SBA [11] serves the stretch of the Ring Road from Akureyri to Egilsstaðir in the east, as well as the route between Akureyri and Húsavík and Akureyri, Þórshöfn and Raufarhöfn on the other.

By thumb[edit]

Iceland is typically a great country for hitchhiking, but be extremely careful of the weather in this region, as it is highly unpredictable. As late as March or April, terrible Arctic blizzards can blow in off the sea, and hit you in an instant. If you're even a couple kilometers out of town, and one of these storms hit, you will be stranded for an indefinite amount of time. It's wholly possible to freeze to death, or at least come down with hypothermia or frostbite, in such a situation.

By plane[edit]

North Iceland is the only region in Iceland with flights between towns. From Akureyri airport you can get flights to Þórshöfn in the northeast and Grímsey, a small island sitting on the arctic circle.

By boat[edit]

A ferry called Sæfari sails between Dalvík on one hand and Grímsey and Hrísey, operated by Landflutningar [12]. Grímsey is only served on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and Hrísey on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

See[edit][add listing]

Sights listed from west to east:

  • Hólar í Hjaltadal - The former seat of the bishop of North Iceland, in Skagafjörður. The current cathedral is from the 18th century, making it one of the oldest buildings in Iceland, and it contains religious artefacts from the 15th century onwards. Also the location of a folk museum and a small agricultural university.
Goðafoss
  • Goðafoss (Waterfall of the Gods) - One of Iceland's most magnificent waterfalls, located just off the ring road 50km east of Akureyri. Legend has it that Goðafoss got its name when Iceland converted to Christianity. The local chieftains are said to have thrown the idols of the pagan gods into the waterfall, thus giving them a dignified farewell.
Húsavík
  • Húsavík - Take a whale watching and/or puffin cruise. Visit the Húsavík Whale Museum. The landmark Húsavíkurkirkja church was constructed in 1907 from Norwegian timber, and is said to be one of the most attractive churches in Iceland.
  • Ásbyrgi - A very unusual, and very large, cliff formation 60km east of Húsavík in Vatnajökull National Park, said to be the hoofmark of Odin's horse.
  • Jökulsárgljúfur - Further inland from Ásbyrgi, along the glacial river that once shaped Ásbyrgi are the canyons through which the mighty river still flows. Among the sights in the area is Dettifoss, the most powerful waterfall in Iceland. Previously a national park of their own, Jökulsárgljúfur are today a part of the Vatnajökull National Park.
  • Detifoss - Biggest waterfalls in Europe in flow (500m3/s). Worth seeing. Caution: roads 862 (north of Detifoss) and 864 may be closed. Inform locally.
  • Myvatn - This lake, with 50 small islands, is an oasis, 65 miles south of the Arctic Circle, because the waters are fertile - they are enriched with minerals by flowing out of the lava from springs to the east and southeast. And because the lake is shallow, sunlight easily reaches the bottom. Myvatn means "midge lake." Every summer about 500 tons of midges hatch from the lake. They feed the fish and birds. Most of them die and fertilize the fields around the lake. Lake Myvatn attracts the largest variety of ducks, swans, geese and waders of any single location in the world, a mixture of mostly migratory Eurasian, North American, boreal, and arctic species.
Vindbelgjarfjall volcano. Foreground: explosion craters in Lake Myvatn
  • Vindbelgjarfjall volcano - This 529m tall peak is accessible from a trailhead along the road that runs around the western shore of Lake Myvatn, just south of the mountain. The trail runs along generally flat land to the back of the mountain, after which it takes a decidedly vertical turn and leads straight to the summit. The trail is tiring and footing (on loose rock) can be tough - plan about forty-five minutes to an hour for the ascent. Views from the top are tremendous, making this a very worthwhile trek.
  • Sigurgeir's Birdmuseum (Fuglasafn Sigurgeirs), Neslönd (Just off the main road on the northwest side of Lake Myvtan), +354-464-4477, [13]. 11:00 - 19:00. A collection of birds collected by a local, Sigurgeir Stefánsson, who died in an accident on the lake in 1999. The museum has been build to honor his memory. It houses 300 birds of 180 species as well as some eggs. From the dining hall there is a nice view of the lake.  edit
Lake Myvatn from Höfði peninsula
  • Lake Myvatn pseudocraters and lava pillars - Lava flowed over the top of a large lake that was here 2,300 years ago, trapping water-logged lake sediments beneath it. The resulting steam created explosion craters, also called pseudocraters, that are found all around the lake. These pseudocraters halted the advance of the lava in some places, creating temporary lava lakes that eventually drained, leaving behind dark laval pillars. There are a series of trails in the town of Skútustaðir on the south side of Lake Myvatn that lead through these craters and provide further information about the geology behind these formations.
Dimmuborgir: inside the Kirkjan lava tube
  • Dimmuborgir - Trails wind through an eerie landscape, on the east side of Lake Myvatn, featuring lava towers, arches, caves, and bridges that were created 2,3000 years ago when a lava pool at least 30 feet deep covered a marshy lake. As steam rose through the lava, it formed the weird rock shapes that were left behind when the lava pool drained.
  • Höfði peninsula - Trails in a park on a peninsula that extends into the southeast side of Lake Myvatn offer good views of the lake's islands, pseudocraters, and lave pillars. They pass through birch forest and grassy meadows.
  • Hverfjall - The Hverfell volcanic crater is 2,500 years old. It is a nearly symmetrical tephra crater that rises 1,500 feet on the eastern shore of Lake Myvatn, and is two-thirds of a mile across. It is accessible via a trail that runs from Reykjahlíð to Dimmuborgir.
  • Stóragjá - This hot springs grotto is tucked away beneath the rocks at the bottom of a rift in the lava field just south of the village of Reykjahlíð, alongside Lake Myvatn. People used to bathe in the two pools - one for men and one for women - but the water has been found to be polluted.
Grjótagjá
  • Grjótagjá - A beautiful pool in a lava cave fed by a hot springs, about 1 mile east of Lake Myvatn. It was used as a location for the fifth episode of the third season of Game of Thrones, called Kissed by Fire.
  • Myvatn Nature Baths - Like a smaller version of the Blue Lagoon, the water at this spa is geothermally heated by the volcanic activity of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge that looms over the pools immediately to the east. It offers views of Lake Myvatn to the east.
Hverir geothermal field
  • Hverir - A geothermal field, where underground temperatures reach 550 degrees, producing hissing, steaming fumaroles, mud pools and mud pots. It is located on the Ring Road, on the west flank of a section of of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, called Námafjall, that provides views from its summit looking west to Lake Myvatn.
  • Krafla - This large volcanic caldera, located a couple miles north of Hverir along the Námafjall ridge, includes explosion craters (viti) and a lava field. The Krafla Fires eruptions that took place here from 1975 to 1984 are the most recent rifting episode along the Mid Atlantic Rift in Iceland. More than 20 intrusive events and nine eruptions were observed along approximately 80 km of a fissure zone extending out from the volcano, causing an average 16 feet of spreading between the North American and Eurasian plates (corresponding to about 250 years of plate spreading), and up to almost 30 feet of spreading in some areas along the rift.
  • Lofthellir Lava Cave - This almost one-quarter mile long cave has the greatest natural ice sculptures currently known in Icelandic lava caves. It is a 45-minute drive southeast from Lake Myvatn.

Do[edit][add listing]

Icelandic horses

North Iceland is probably the best destination in Iceland for outdoor adventure or activity tours. Practically anything that's available somewhere in Iceland, is available in the North.

  • Horse riding - Many people come to Iceland in part to try out the Icelandic horses. Skagafjörður, in North Iceland, is the often regarded as the Mecca of the Icelandic horse, and is a great place to either just give it a try or to set off on a longer riding tour. If you're not going by Skagafjörður, there are various other horse rental options dotted around the region.
  • Hot pools - In addition to swimming pools in every village, there are several other hot pools to visit in North Iceland. Grettislaug is a pool fed by a natural hot spring just a few meters from the sea in Skagafjörður, about 20km north of Sauðárkrókur. The Nature Baths by Mývatn are another option, forming a sort of less crowded alternative to the Blue Lagoon in the Southwest.
  • River rafting - The glacial rivers of Skagafjörður are, hands down, the best rivers for rafting in Iceland. Several companies offer rafting tours, they are mostly based around Varmahlíð.
  • Skiing - Unlike most of the rest of the country, North Iceland offers some good skiing. Akureyri is a popular skiing destination among Icelanders, and Dalvík and Ólafsfjörður both offer very good and reliable skiing runs. Tröllaskagi (Troll Peninsula) is a world class ski touring and ski mountaineering destination with the season lasting from around mid March and lasts until mid june.
Myvatn Nature Baths
  • Whale watching - Both Húsavík and Dalvík are excellent whale watching locations due to their close proximity to the Greenland Sea.
  • Bakkaflot, Travel Service Bakkaflöt, 560 Varmahlið, ICELAND (Follow road 752 for about 11 km from Varmahlid.), +354 4538245, [14]. Bakkaflot offers rafting trips on the famous East and West Glacial Rivers. West River is perfect trip for families, East River a must adrenaline rush for adventure seekers. You can enjoy this amazing hot chocolate directly from the hot springs on the river side. They have really good facilities (restaurant, accommodation and hot pools). The entry to the hot pools is included in the rafting trip. (N65° 27.816,W019 20.745) edit


Eat and Drink[edit]

There is little in the way of regional food traditions in North Iceland, but one of the best-loved brands of the Icelandic yogurt-like dairy product skyr (KEA Skyr) is produced in Akureyri.

The tiny village of Árskógssandur is home to a small brewery, Bruggsmiðjan, which makes beers under the name Kaldi.

With regards to nightlife, Akureyri is really the only place in Iceland that offers any sort of competition to Reykjavík, and has several clubs and pubs.

Stay safe[edit]

Safety concerns are not much different in the north than elsewhere in Iceland. However, the climate is understandably harsher, and during winters it can get much colder than in Reykjavík or more southern regions.

Get out[edit]

North Iceland has fjords on either side: the West Fjords and the East Fjords (in East Iceland). Both area easily accessible by car or by bus. With well-equipped 4x4s or on specially arranged tours, it's possible to go onto the highlands and cross Iceland by crossing either Kjölur or Sprengisandur. These are the only routes across the island.

There are seasonal flights from Akureyri to Copenhagen operated by Iceland Express.

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