What are some of the 'must-see destinations' in North Iceland? What makes them so special, and is it possible to visit them in all seasons? Read on to find out the 8 Must-See Places in North Iceland.
From the earliest Norse settlements to some of the most picturesque and unique attractions in the country, the North has much to offer travellers visiting Iceland this year. Its untouched nature, historical landmarks and vibrant culture all make it well worth the visit... once, or multiple times!
Without further ado, here is a list of 8 places in the North of Iceland that you definitely must-see.
Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Jakob Gleby
Situated in a narrow fjord, Siglufjörður is a small and picturesque Icelandic fishing town. Despite its diminutive appearance, it was once the hub for herring fishing in the North Atlantic. The population of the area expanded to 3,000 during the herring boom of the 1940s and 1950s but has since declined due to the industry's decline.
Today Siglufjörður’s population sits at around 1,300. It is about a one-hour drive from Iceland’s unofficial northern capital, Akureyri.
Siglufjörður’s Herring Era Museum chronicles the importance of the ocean to the survival of Icelanders throughout its history. In fact, it is one of the largest ocean industry museums in the country. Split into three separate buildings, the museum chronicles the fishing process, showcases ships from the 1950s and even provides insight into the herring salting process.
On some days, travellers are even able to view the salting process in action.
Music is also an important part of the history of Siglufjörður. The Folk Music Centre celebrates the life of Reverend Bjarni Þorsteinsson, better known to locals as ‘The Father of Siglurfjörður.’ The centre celebrates a rich history of folk music in the North of Iceland; old Icelandic folk songs (tvísongur) and nursery rhymes and chants (rímur) are brought to life through actual recordings, transporting visitors back to a time ruled by the sea.
In early July each year, Siglufjörður hosts its own folk music festival. It’s an international affair that draws performers and folk music lovers from all over the world. The festival boasts conferences, performances, and workshops, dramatically increasing the traffic to the area throughout its duration.
A beautiful fjord frames Siglurfjörður. The town is overlooked by high mountains, making it a popular destination for seasoned hikers, as well as boasting incredible opportunities for bird watching.
Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by MosheA
Grímsey is the northernmost inhabited landmass in Iceland. It’s situated about 40 km off the coast of mainland Iceland and straddles the Arctic Circle so closely that it is, in fact, the only part of Iceland that is genuinely in the Arctic. Because of natural oscillations of the earth’s axis, the boundaries of the Arctic Circle shift by about 14.5 meters per year.
By the mid 21st century, Grímsey will no longer be part of the Arctic Circle. A monument to Grímsey’s crossing with the Arctic Circle was erected years ago, but in 2017 a second monument was constructed to reflect its movement. The 8 tonne stone sphere now sits closer to the correct location of the boundary.
The shape of the memorial was inspired by the rolling movements of the true Arctic Circle. Since its construction, the memorial has become one of the most visited spots on the island.
Despite it being the most northern part of the country, the climate of Grímsey is quite mild compared to the rest of the Arctic Circle. This is because of the gulf stream which brings warm water from the Gulf of Mexico.
Although the island is almost entirely treeless, Grímsey is home to a vast array of natural vegetation, mainly marshland, grass, and moss. On top of that, the high elevation of the island's cliffs, as well as its lack of predators, make Grímsey a haven for native bird life.
The majority of visitors flock to the island to see the Atlantic puffins which nest there until their winter migration. However, Grímsey is home to an extensive list of birds including Auks, Razorbills and the Northern Fulmar.
For lovers of historic buildings, Grímsey is also home to a small wooden church built in 1867. The church was renovated in 1932 and houses a locally produced imitation of a Leonardo Da Vinci painting (—this artwork is over 100 years old!)
Regular flights and ferries (three times a week) from Akureyri make Grímsey easily accessible to most travellers.
Photo by Regína Hrönn Ragnarsdóttir
Recently, turf homes have made something of a comeback in modern architecture. The practice of building a house into the ground; mounting soil against the walls and roof; or even being wholly buried creates thermal mass which makes it easier to maintain indoor temperature and reduce heating costs.
Turf homes have been around for as long as people have been constructing shelters. Many older Icelanders can recount that their grandparents were born, or in fact grew up in turf homes.
The Laufás Turf Homes are situated about 30 km outside of Akureyri and have a history almost as old as that of the first settlers. Laufás was mentioned in settlement records from 874-930 and was rebuilt in 1879 using traditional methods.
A visit to Laufás is almost equivalent to traveling back in time. The homes once housed at least 20 people and are now owned by the National Museum of Iceland. The Laufás turf homes are somewhat more significant than traditional ones because they were the houses of a wealthy estate and vicarage.
The interiors have been furnished in the traditional style of the early 1900s and reflect how the inhabitants lived their daily lives.
Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Chris 73
According to the book of settlement (Landnámabók), Húsavík was the first area in Iceland to be settled by a Norseman. A Swedish Viking, Garðar Svarvarsson spent a winter there in 870 A.D.
When he moved on the following spring, he left behind a man and two slaves (a man and a woman). A farm was established by them which became Húsavik. The town’s name means ‘Bay of Houses,’ and it is believed this name refers to the homes Garðar built there.
Today, Húsavik has affectionately earned the nickname of ‘the whale watching capital of Europe.’ This is because, during the summer months, many tour operators can boast a 100% sighting rate.
The most common whale seen in Húsavík is the humpback whale. Humpbacks are incredibly popular with whale watchers because of their acrobatic behaviour, gargantuan size and natural curiosity.
These gentle giants of the sea are known for breaching, fin-slapping and raising their enormous tails out of the water when they dive. Other marine life seen in the bay includes white-beaked dolphins and harbour porpoises, but on some occasions, fin whales and even orcas have been spotted in the area.
If whale watching isn’t enough, Húsavík also has a whale museum. It was established in 1997 as a small exhibition in a hotel but, by 2005 it had been moved to its own location by the harbour. The museum has a focus on the entire ecology of whales.
Húsavík has also played a role in space exploration; the astronauts of the Apollo missions trained nearby in the 1960s. A monument to this can be seen outside the Exploration Museum. This museum is dedicated to the exploration of human beings; from early settlers; to the exploration of space; and the race to both the north and south poles.
The monument to the Apollo Missions was unveiled in 2015 to mark the 50th anniversary of the geological training of astronauts in Iceland. Iceland was chosen for the Apollo training program because the landscape of the country was the most moonlike place available on earth.
Húsavík also offers a unique hot spring experience; the Geosea Sea Baths are filled with geothermally heated saltwater, pumped up from two drill holes. The warm, soothing water is said to have healing properties for those with skin conditions, and with incredible views over Eyjafjörður fjord, a dip here is a revitalising and beautiful experience.
Hofsós is one of the oldest trading ports in Iceland, dating all the way back to the 16th century. It had all the hallmarks necessary to develop into a much larger town but, for reasons that are something of a mystery, it didn’t. Today the village has a population of around 200.
It is situated about 37 km east of Suðarkrókur and is home to the Icelandic Emigration Centre. The centre is dedicated to the westward migration of Icelanders to America at the start of the 19th century.
Hofsós was the area from which Thorfinnur Karlsefni sailed to find a new life in what is now known as Newfoundland. He and his wife Guðríður Thorbjarnadóttir had a son, Snorri Thorfinnsson who is believed to be the first European born to immigrant parents in North America.
The museum honours the 16,000 to 20,000 Icelanders who sought a new life in America between 1850 and 1914. The town also boasts enjoyable shore walks where travellers can view hexagonal basalt columns.
Dalvík’s name means ‘Valley Bay’ in English and is the site of one of the largest fish festivals in the country. Each year in August the town celebrates Fiskidagurinn Mikli (the great fish day). Make sure not to miss it should you be travelling in the area during the summer!
The festival kicks off on a Friday night when locals offer fish soup to visitors. This practise continues throughout the weekend with a smorgasbord of fish dishes. In 2018 it was estimated 30,000 people traveled to Dalvík to take part in a festival that includes demonstrations, dining, and concerts.
Dalvík was also home to the tallest Icelander on record. Jóhann Kristinn Pétursson lived there from 1913 till his passing in 1984. He was 2.34 m tall and was nicknamed Jóhann risi ("The Giant") by locals. A museum was established in his honour.
During the winter months, Dalvík is known as the best place in Iceland for alpine skiing. Unsurprisingly, many Icelandic Olympic skiers have come from here.
For those seeking some pampering, not far from Dalvík is the Bjórböðin Beer Spa. The spa first opened in 2017 in the town of Árskógssandur, about a 10-minute drive from Dalvík. Áskógssandur was already known for its brewery, so the owners felt a beer spa was the next logical step.
Beverage-loving guests to Bjórböðin are able to bathe in warm, young beer and live yeast. To top it off, each beer bath is accompanied by a draft beer tap next to it, so you can serve yourself a cold one while you relax.
Ásbyrgi Canyon is a popular tourist destination situated about 38 km east of Húsavík. The Glacial canyon is shaped like a horseshoe and is part of Vatnajökull National Park. It was most likely formed by glacial flooding after the last ice-age between 8,000 and 10,000 years ago. Its steep 100 m cliffs with birch and willow-littered woodland provide some of the most breathtaking views in the country.
Icelandic folklore states that its horseshoe shape was created by the god Odin’s eight-legged horse ‘Sleipnir’ stepping on the ground. Other stories detail that Ásbyrgi is the capital city of Iceland’s Huldufólk (hidden people) and also elves.
Many Huldufólk believers claim to have seen these magical creatures in some of the caverns and cracks of the canyon. You might not be lucky enough to see one, but you may stumble across an arctic fox in the woodland.
Not far from Ásbyrgi Canyon is Jökulságljúfur Canyon, which used to be its own national park until it became part of the Vatnajökull National Park in 2008. Jökulságljúfur is interesting to travellers and geologists alike because of its chaotic canyon and volcanic mountains. Eight thousand years ago a volcano erupted there and the result over time created strange rock columns which have been named Hjóðaklettar (rock of echos).
Dettifoss is Iceland’s largest waterfall and the most powerful one in Europe. It flows from Vatnajökull glacier, as the water runs, it collects sediment turning the water a greyish-white.
The result is an awe-inspiring, otherworldly natural wonder. The falls are 100m wide and have a drop of 44m into the Jökulságljúfur Canyon.
Dettifoss’ waters run at an average rate of 193m/s. To the west bank of the falls is a well-maintained hiking path and viewing platform which allows visitors to get a safe view of the power of this natural beauty accompanied by its almost deafening roar.
Science fiction fans might recognise Dettifoss from the opening scene of Ridley Scott’s 2012 science fiction film, Prometheus.
Did you enjoy our article, 8 Must-See Destinations in North Iceland? Which of these fantastic attractions have you seen on your journey around Iceland? Make sure to leave your thoughts and queries in the Facebook comments box below.