North Iceland

Travel Guide Europe Iceland North Iceland

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Introduction

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

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Cities

  • 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.
  • Hólar. Historical seat and church of the bishop for Northern Iceland, today museum and agricultural school.
  • Hofsós. Village with emigration museum and day trips to islands Drangey and Málmey in the Skagafjörður.
  • Siglufjörður. Formerly a thriving fishing village at the northern edge of the Tröllaskagi peninsula, Siglufjörður's fortunes have declined in the last few decades, but it's transforming itself into a great tourist destination in the far north.
  • Ólafsfjörður. Formerly a fishing village now nown for midnight sun in the summer and skiing in the winter.
  • 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.

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Sights and Activities

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 - Iceland's newest national park was founded in 2008 and includes the former Skaftafell and Jokulsargljufur National Parks. Vatnajökull National Park is Europe's largest national park at 12,000 square kilometres (4,600 sq mi), covering about 12% of the surface of Iceland. The park is home to Iceland's highest mountain, Hvannadalshnúkur, largest glacier, Vatnajökull, and Europe's largest waterfall in terms of volume discharge, Dettifoss.
Located on the Jökulsá á Fjöllum river near Lake Myvatn in the northeast of the country, the Dettifoss waterfall is the most powerful waterfall in Europe and also one of the highest. The falls are about 100 metres wide and over 40 metres high. Unlike Gulfoss, visiting Dettifoss requires some 26 kilometres on a very rough road. A reliable car is required. The road is open for just a few summer months.
Jökulsárgljúfur. Further inland, 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.
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 (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.
Ásbyrgi. A very unusual, and very large, cliff formation 60km east of Húsavík, said to be the hoofmark of Odin's horse. Within Vatnajökull National Park.

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.
Swimming - There are swimming pools in almost every village. Those heated by geothermal power are usually outdoors. The swimming pool in Hofsós provides one of the finest views over the nearby fjord.
Soaking - In addition to swimming pools, 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.
Whale watching - Both Húsavík and Dalvík are excellent whale watching locations due to their close proximity to the Greenland Sea.

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Events and Festivals

Thorrablot

Icelanders celebrate the old month of Thorri with a festival known as Thorrablot. This is a winter feast which celebrates the hardship which the ancestors has to endure. The feast can be held at any time during the month of Thorri starting the first Friday after January 13th. Traditional food is eaten which mainly consists of putrefied shark, jellied rams head, testicles and eyeballs along with many other delicacies. Much of the food is preserved from the previous year.

First day of summer

On a Thursday that comes up after April 18th, Icelanders mark the first day of summer with a national holiday and the greeting 'Gleðilegt Sumar' (Happy Summer). It is believed that if there is a frost and the weather is wintry on this day, then the summer will be very good.

Verslunarmannahelgi

This is Iceland's shop keeper's holiday is always the first weekend of August. It is a national holiday and music festivals are held all over Iceland. The biggest is on the Vestmannaeyjar Islands. The festival here is over the whole weekend and is the Icelandic equivalent of Glastonbury.

Independence Day

Known locally as National Day, this is a major festival for all Icelanders, held on 17 June to mark the country’s emergence as an independent republic. Street parties and entertainers, parades, fireworks, sideshows, traditional music, and dance draw residents onto the streets and into the bars and restaurants until the sun rises the next morning.

Seafarers Day

June sees the Sjomannadagur Festival in Reykjavik, as well as in many other smaller towns if the weather allows. Vintage ships line the Old Harbour for the annual event, with local fishermen competing in rowing, swimming, and other events. Parades, music, fun things to do, and seafood are the orders of the day.

Jonsmessa

The longest day of the year is a mystical time, celebrated in June with Jonsmessa, the Midsummer Night festival which dates back to Icelandic Viking times. On this night, seals are believed to take human form, cows gain the power of speech, and elves seduce travellers at crossroads with gifts and other favours. Rolling naked on the dew-covered grassy mountain slopes is considered a healthy pursuit and bonfires compete with the glow of the midnight sun.

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Getting There

By Plane

Multiple flights a day, operated by Air Iceland, link Akureyri with Reykjavík. There are also seasonal flights between Akureyri and Copenhagen with Iceland Express.
From Reykjavík, there are also flights to Sauðárkrókur, operated by Air Arctic. And to Húsavík, operated by Eagle Air.

By Car

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

Buses operated by Sterna link North Iceland with the West and Southwest regions. SBA has buses between Akureyri and Egilsstaðir.

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Getting Around

By Plane

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 Car

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 and Budget at Akureyri airport, Bílaleiga Akureyrar at Akureyri airport, Tryggvabraut in Akureyri and in Sauðárkrókur and Avis at Akureyri airport and in Sauðárkrókur.

By Bus

Sterna operates scheduled buses 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 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 Boat

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

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Language

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.

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Eat/Drink

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.

In the Village of Siglufjördur there is a little, nice chocolatery called "Frida". Here you can find self made art, interesting and funny interior. Even in the restroom you find humor on the walls with a special "Selfie point". Go there! The chocolate, the coffee and cake are superb!

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Safety

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.

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North Iceland Travel Helpers

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This is version 2. Last edited at 13:05 on Nov 1, 19 by Utrecht. 4 articles link to this page.

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