If you want to spend some time getting off the beaten track, and away from the crowds in the South, heading to the Troll Peninsula in the North of Iceland is an excellent idea. It’s a unique and serene experience, much like Iceland used to be “in the good old days”.
And if you want to truly treat yourself at any point during your trip, make sure that it happens in the gorgeous little town of Siglufjörður – where you can get the chance to stay at the beautiful Sigló Hotel.
I went there recently on a three-day adventure, using Siglufjörður as my base for exploring, and here are some of the highlights and recommendations from this trip.
Start your day early driving from Reykjavik as you’ve got around 380 km drive ahead of you (not counting stops and detours, of course). Consider preparing some Icelandic tunes such as Vök, Sigur Rós, Ásgeir Trausti or Kaleo before heading out, to get yourself in the right mood while cruising through the beautiful landscapes.
Once on the road, apart from the breathtaking scenery all around, there are a number of landmarks on the way (or a reasonable drive off the main route) that you should not miss. To name a few;
Hvitserkur – also known as The Troll of the North is a 15-meter-high basalt rock formation. According to Icelandic legend, it was a troll that forgot to retreat from the sunlight and turned into stone upon the rise of the sun. It’s a stunning place and great easy hiking opportunities around to enjoy the serenity. You might also just end up spotting some seals during you stay there, curious of people, they often come close to the shore. When the tide is low, you can actually walk out to the rock formation.
Grettislaug – a man-made pool build over hot springs named after the Icelandic saga character, Grettir the Strong, an Icelandic legend. There are in fact two pools, both filled with 39° hot geothermal water, only few meters from the shore. Nice cafe and changing facilities are available, but don't forget to throw in some cash to help support the pool and the area.
Kolugljúfur – and the Kolufossar waterfalls, which is a beautiful and peaceful waterfall.
Borgarvirki – is a stunning ridge of columnar basalt, offering great views over the surrounding area. Borgarvirki is a volcanic plug and it is said to have served as a natural fortress or battlefield in the past.
When planning your trip, a good source of inspiration would be to check out Visit North Iceland. A number of interesting museums, local arts and crafts and cultural centres can be found in these areas, so plan your time accordingly to add some of these to your list.
Siglufjörður has gone through a major transformation since the 60's from being one of the world's herring capitals to one of the coolest and most original spots in the country. Whether it’s the beauty of this little fjord, the people or its’ strong heritage, there is something magical about Siglufjörður. You can easily spend a few days here just strolling around, taking in the views and the special atmosphere of the place.
Sigló Hotel, beautifully located on the historic harbour, it is easily one of the best hotels in Iceland and you should not miss the chance to treat yourself with this experience. Enjoying the stunning view from your room and taking a chillout session in their gorgeous hot pool, is a great way to slow down and ease into the spirit of the area. The hotel staff is friendly and accommodating, which adds on to the ultimate spoil-yourself kind of experience. Here you can check out more info on Sigló Hotel.
Using Sigló Hotel as your base to explore the neighbouring fjords and towns is an excellent idea, but before doing just that, I suggest that you spend a little time laying low in the city.
There are some nice cafés in the city where you can meet the locals, hang out and get some delicious food. Also, Siglufjörður is home to the world famous Herring Era Museum, which really is a must-see.
It is without a doubt one of the best and most original museums I have visited and gives an authentic insight into life in Iceland during the herring era, which lasted from 1867 to 1968. This period played an important role in shaping the modern-day Iceland we know today, helping the country pull out of poverty and enabling it to gain the economic foundation and regain its independency. If you are interested in Icelandic culture and heritage, this should definitely be a point on your to-do-list.
As for the more active travellers, I recommend taking a hike up the mountain side (there is a hiking route and a beautiful vista-point overlooking the city) as well as the scenic Hvanneyrarskál.
The Troll Peninsula is mountainous area curved by its surrounding valleys, fjords and mountain peaks, with the highest being Kerling (1538m). Apart from the highlands, the Troll Peninsula offers the highest elevation points in Iceland and since the main road around it leads just by the shore, you can be sure to experience some incredibles view.
It’s a good idea to divide the peninsula into West and East side and start by either of the two. On the West-side, you will find sights such as:
Hofsós – a dreamy little town which has one of the oldest trading harbours in Iceland. Hofsós also has one of the nicest swimming pools in Iceland, situated on the shore side overlooking Skagaströnd.
Hólar – home of the Hólar Cathedral and the Hólar University, this is an important historical site in Iceland. The first church was built in the mid 11th century, and as a bishopric Cathedral, it was considered somewhat a capital of the North.
Sauðanesviti – sitting on the tip of the Troll Peninsula overlooking the Greenland Sea, this spectacular lighthouse is one of my favourite in Iceland.
And on the East-side:
Hjalteyri – another important historical sight and home to the Hjalteyri Herring Factory, which closed down in 1966. Now it’s a piece from the past – almost frozen in time. However, change is coming to Hjalteyri, which has become home of Styrtan Dive Center, where you can visit the only underwater geothermal cone that is accessible through for scuba diving. Consider spending a little time just roaming around Hjalteyri and enjoy the alternative mood of the area.
Ólafsfjörður - another cozy little fishing village, just two fjords away from Siglufjörður.
Bakkabræður Fótalaug – a small geothermal foot bath with an interesting story,which I encourage you to find yourself.
Dalvik – cozy little fishing village and home of the Bryggsmiðsjan Kaldi Brewery. Furthermore, from Dalvik you can take the ferry to the beautiful Hrísey island or jump onto one of the whale watching tours operated from the city.
The best part of being on the road in the North is the peace and quietness you will experience - as well as the number of unexpected things you might encounter during your travels – just like that mysterious fog drifting over the fjords, scenic sunsets and unspoiled wildlife.
If you ask me, it can all be done in 3 days, but consider allowing for more time, to really get into the vibe of the North.
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