Dancing along the edge of the Arctic Circle, North Iceland probably sounds pretty cold! However, in reality, this area experiences some of the mildest temperatures in the country. This part of the country offers a huge spectrum of scenery to explore, from the soft and gentle to the awesomely spectacular.
The North is rich in history as well as wildlife, with amazing volcanic landscapes, unusual museums, a wealth of antique farms, fjords and saga sites. It is no wonder the region was recently named a top European destination by Lonely Planet!
It is hard to resist its appeal and only a few places can compare with its local charm, staggering remoteness and natural contrasts all melted together in one place. Let’s see what the North of Iceland is all about!
Attractions in North Iceland
- Dettifoss Waterfall
- Lake Myvatn
- Hverfjall Crater
- Dimmuborgir Lava Park
- Godafoss Waterfall
- The Town of Siglufjordur
- Hvitserkur Rhino Rock
North Iceland is home to the unexpectedly lush Jokulsargljufur area, the northern section of Vatnajokull National Park including Dettifoss, Europe’s most powerful waterfall. The name, Dettifoss, roughly translates the ‘falling’ fall likely grown from its incredible force. If you are looking to reconnect with nature, coming up close and personal with its exhilarating power then this is the spot!
Let’s start with the North East of Iceland
In the northeastern corner, you will also find the enchanting Lake Myvatn with all its many gems. The lake itself is a beautiful sight but surrounding it are the pseudocraters Skutustadagigar, the pitch-black crater mountain Hverfjall, Hverir or Hverarond hot spring string, the turquoise blue water in the volcanic crater Askja, Myvatn Nature Baths the North’s answer to the Blue Lagoon, Dimmuborgir and the infamous Krafla caldera which has erupted 29 times in recorded history. Many of which were in the 1970’s and 1980’s!
Another must-stop is of course the dazzling, heavenly Godafoss. Often nicknamed the waterfall of the gods. But Þorgeir Ljósvetningargoði (yes, that was his name) is said to have thrown his pagan statues into the falls upon taking up Christianity. Evidently, this event led to the namesake which we still use today.
On Skjalfandi Bay, Husavik has established itself as Europe’s main whale watching mecca with the superb harbor-side Whale Museum and sightings of rare species like the blue whale. There you can also find the extraordinary new facility, GeoSea, offering a splendid infinity pool style bathing.
Now Let’s move to North West Iceland
Another charmer worth a mention is the colorful fishing village Siglufjordur. Not only is it rich in history, as the town once housed thousands of people who came to work the golden herring age in the town, but recently the local people have placed great effort and funds into restoring its old status. Old houses have been rebuilt, renovations on the once that still stood left, new restaurants and museums have opened up and the town is once again lively and exciting. Moreover, the town is excellent for skiing so this spot is great any season!
Next on our countdown is Skagafjordur bay, with its green valleys and ancient mountain ranges, is the traditional heart of horse breeding in Iceland and boasts many historical sites from the classic Sagas. It is a place of great natural warmth, so hot spring bathing is a given at almost every turn.
Hunvatnssysla is another must-mention. The region offers fantastic opportunities for horseback riding, seal spotting tours and a visit to the magical Hvitserkur rhino/dinosaur cliff. This is one of those places in Iceland where you almost can’t believe it is not man-made. But fear not, there is a perfectly logical geological explanation behind the whole thing. However, eerie folklore tales do surround the place.
Things to do in North Iceland
- Go Whale Watching
- Drive the Arctic Coast Way Rout
- Take a ferry to the remote Grímsey
- Taste a hot dog with fries
- Try a full-throttle white water rafting tour
- Go bathing in a beer bath
- Drive the Diamond Circle
- Bath in natural hot springs and spas
The Midnight Sun is an extraordinary spectacle in these northern latitudes in summer. However, during the Northern Lights season, the magnificent vistas are made even more theatrical by the glow of Aurora Borealis. They say the farther north you go the better the lights are, so going to the northern parts of the already north Atlantic island of Iceland must be close to perfect!
One of the more popular road trips to do around Iceland is the Arctic Coast Way. Which brings you a carefully chosen map to the best of the North of Iceland. The trip leaves no place highlight unvisited with additional historic and natural beauties to decorate the itinerary. The trip can be done as an add-on to the Ring Road or on its own as you can fly to both Akureyri and Egilsstaðir að pick up a rental from there!
Things to do in Northwest Iceland
Seasonal delights include golf under the Midnight Sun at the world’s northernmost 18-hole course in Akureyri, taking to the slopes at one of eight skiing areas, snowmobiling, horse trekking, super-jeep excursions, white-water rafting and hiking on along the rugged coastline.
Akureyri has often nicknamed the capital of the North and is a busy little haven, with an amazing blend of culture, local charm and stunning sights. The local dish is a hot dog loaded with fries and melted cheese. Try if you dare, it is hard to stop!
From Akureyri, you can also take the ferry out to the beautiful Grimsey island, located right on the Arctic Circle. The island is famous for its small population which is many times over outnumbered by puffins and other cute wildlife.
In June 2017, the first beer spa in Iceland was opened in the nearby village of Dalvik, where people can cleanse their skin by lying in a tub filled with beer, water, hops and yeast. Dalvik is yet another great spot for whale watching but together with Husavik and Akureyri the three are absolute whale watching winners. Additionally, the record sighting is held in Dalvik with over nine different whale species seen in one trip!
In Skagafjordur, previously mentioned as the bay of horses you can also find adventurous tours such as the wildest white water rafting tour in Europe!
Things to do in North East Iceland
The Diamond Circle is the Northern version of the Golden Circle and includes some of the most stellar sights in the North. Its key destinations are Asbyrgi, Godafoss waterfall, Myvatn and Husavik. So, for anyone looking to get the best of the Northeast in one day, this is surely the way to go!
Asbyrgi is a grand horseshoe-shaped canyon filled with small springs and birch trees. Seemingly like a scene from Lord of the Rings. Once you walk around it you will know what we mean.
Godafoss is yet another delight, falling beautifully in almost the same shape as Asbyrgi. Myvatn is of course a given on the list with its many attractions and incredible sights. And, we must mention Husavik with its homey feel, great restaurants, swimming pools, hot springs and whale watching adventures!
A visit to the hot springs at Myvatn Nature Baths are without a doubt a memory you will cherish. As it has all the perks of the world-renowned Blue Lagoon. However, much smaller crowds, and moon-like surroundings. Another delightful stop to make in the northeast is at Grjotagja but this place became quite the hot spot after the steamy scene between Game of Thrones’ Jon Snow and Ygritte which was filmed in this fairytale-like place!
For more detailed information about attractions, villages and activities in north Iceland be sure to go through our destination guide.