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Some call it Iceland’s best-kept secret, others call it the last pit stop before the Arctic circle, and we like to think of it as the crown jewel of Iceland. While many first-time travellers prefer to explore the capital city and the western coast, spending time in the north can be just as exciting.
That said, we hope you will enjoy our “small” guide on how to spend 5 unforgettable days in North Iceland during the Summer season.
You have safely landed in Reykjavík and are eager to start your northern adventure, here are a few steps to keep your ride interesting.
The Grábrók crater - Just off Route 1, you can stop to stretch your legs and take a short stroll up to the rim of this crater, which offers spectacular views of the surrounding area.
The Icelandic Seal Center in Hvammstangi - The town is located just off Route 1, and it’s nestled right between Akureyri and Reykjavík. This whole region is famous for its seal colonies. In fact, it’s the best place in Iceland to observe and discover seals in their natural habitat.
The basalt troll Hvítserkur - Close to the shore, along the Vatnsnes peninsula, is the black and white rock formation known as Hvítserkur - a troll who, according to the legend, was caught in the sun and turned into stone.
Varmahlíð - If you want to see how Icelanders used to live, make sure to stop in the small town of Varmahlíð, where Route 1 and Route 75 intersect, and visit the Glaumbær Farm and the Víðimýrarkirkja Turf Church, built in 1834. We promise you won’t be disappointed, as the whole settlement is like something out of a Tolkien novel.
The town of Akureyri - Iceland’s northern capital is where we suggest you set up camp for the rest of your journey. With 18,000 people, Akureyri is Iceland’s second-largest city, and it is ideally positioned as a northern hub from which you can easily reach all that Iceland’s north has to offer.
Be sure to check out the thriving restaurant, cafe, and bar scene, and visit the Akureyrarkirkja church on the hill. If time allows, follow the footpath along the old harbour to see more of the picturesque fjord.
Should you arrive in Akureyri before 8 PM, we warmly recommend you grab dinner at the Bautinn restaurant, located in one of the oldest structures in Akureyri, built in 1902.
As far as accommodation is concerned, feel welcome to check the availability of rooms in IG Akureyri.
If you are one of those “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” people and if you have decided to stay in our Guesthouse, you can prepare your “brekkie” in one of our kitchens, grab fresh pastry in the adjacent bakery, or feast off the mouth-watering menu of Café Ilmur.
After breakfast, we suggest you spend some of those calories and recharge your batteries in Akureyri’s thermal pools. If you feel like walking, do visit the Botanical garden and stroll down the Spiltalavegur street to enjoy some ice cream in the local Brynja shop.
Make sure you leave your trace and snap a picture or two next to the Hearts of Akureyri. You see, in Akureyri, stopping at a red light is much more pleasant than elsewhere. The red lights are heart-shaped! After taking a perfect selfie, make sure to use the #heartsofakureyri hashtag.
At that point, you will probably feel a bit peckish. Motivated by hunger, follow the main road until you reach the Greifinn restaurant.
On your way back to the Guesthouse, you can stop by the First Settlers monument, which is a statue of Helgi magri (Helgi the lean) and Þórunn hyrna (Þórunn the horned), who first settled the area, way back in 890. The monument stands on the Hamarkot rocks on the Brekkugata street near the police station.
After some well-deserved rest, it’s dinner time! We recommend the Centrum Kitchen & Bar, located nearby IG Akureyri.
Well-fed and hopefully and bit tipsy, enjoy the rest of your evening as the following day the Grímsey Island awaits! Far up in the north, it is home to one hundred people and one million seabirds!
The early bird catches the worm or in this case a 40-minute ride to a place called Dalvík, where at 9 AM sharp, a ferryboat awaits to take you to Grímsey Island. If you wish to explore the island by car, make sure to arrive at 8 AM, and bring some extra cash for the car transport fee.
The ferry ride is about 3 hours long, and a return ticket will cost you around 8.000 ISK per person. The ferry will take you back to Dalvík at 5 PM, so all in all, you will have a few hours at your disposal to discover the island’s attractions.
Once on the island, you can walk north, up to where the Arctic circle crosses the Island (there is a giant ball marker) and enjoy your lunch on the Arctic line. This path is a dream come true for bird lovers, as Terns and Puffins come by the thousand and rarities like Snow Bunting are abound. The view is stunning!
Once back on the ferryboat, if you are lucky, you will be able to watch a spectacle that the “local” dolphins make whilst swimming carefree in the cold waters of Iceland.
You should return to Dalvík by 8 PM, which will give you plenty of time to find a nice dining spot and to rest up before the following day’s advanced adventure!
The fourth day of your North Iceland adventure should also start early. Grab a quick breakfast, pack a raincoat and a lot of snacks, as you are in for 12 hours of pure bliss!
The goal is to meet and greet the famous Diamond Circle. The Diamond Circle was born in 1994 when a few locals from Húsavík came up with the idea to create a northern alternative to the Golden Circle.
The first stop is Goðafoss, “The Waterfall of Gods”, a massive landmark featuring a series of powerful torrents cascading into an impressive canyon. The waterfall is well known for its beauty, as well as for a Saga-Age legend that gave it its name.
The Legend says that when in 1000 AD Þorgeir Þorkelsson, a local chieftain made the tough decision to convert the country from Norse Paganism to Christianity, to avoid disastrous bloodshed, he threw the old gods into the falls to symbolize the coming of the new era.
Lake Mývatn is your second stop. You could easily spend your entire holiday in this extraordinary destination, so it would be smart to mind your schedule. Here’s a list of things you might want to see while in the area: Dimmuborgir, Skútustaðagígar Pseudo Craters, Hverir Geothermal Area, Grjótagjá, Hverfjall and Stóragjá. Also, you could check out the Mývatn Nature Baths and have some coffee, or a glass of fresh milk at the Vogafjós Cowshed Café.
The Dettifoss waterfall is your third stop. It is Europe’s most powerful waterfall featuring an extraordinary 328ft or 100m wide cascade of water that thunders over a 147ft or 45m drop. It is so powerful that it makes the ground beneath your feet vibrate. During the summer, the fall is at its mightiest.
The fourth stop of your Diamond Circle adventure is reserved for the Ásbyrgi canyon. The road from Dettifoss to Ásbyrgi is not paved so drive carefully! This beloved natural feature is only a small corner of the extensive and dramatic Vatnajökull National Park, but undoubtedly one of its most breathtaking. According to a local legend, the canyon was created by Óðinn’s gigantic eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, who touched down on Earth one night, leaving a giant hoof-shaped hole behind.
The Tjörnes peninsula is your fifth stop. This little peninsula is one of Iceland’s most important geological locations. At Tjörnes you can find fossils in abundance, and the strata of fossils are a testimony to the changes in climate over the past 4 million years. Stop at Tjörnes for a little stroll at the beach and a quick gaze at the fossil layers. There’s also a very charming café by the harbour called Tungulending.
The charming town of Húsavík is your final stop before returning to Akureyri. It is the whale watching capital of Iceland. Unlike other regions, where you must set sail to find whales, Húsavík often has whales, porpoises, and seabirds close to the harbour. Should you choose to observe the marine life on the sea, we recommend the North Sailing tours. They even provide carbon-neutral, silent whale watching!
If you are not completely exhausted from your Diamond Circle adventure, we propose you drive yourself yet again to Dalvík and take a dip in the famous beer bath in Bjórböðin.
After this interesting bath, we suggest you visit the local Hvoll Folk Museum and get a history lesson about the natural occurrences that have affected living at Dalvík.
For lunch, make sure you visit the Gísli, Eiríkur, Helgi - kaffihús, as this place has it all, an incredible interior showcasing Icelandic history, delicious food with options for vegans and vegetarians and the friendliest staff.
After you’ve spent some quality time in Dalvík, you might want to drive yourself further north to see the Herring Era Museum.
And finally, you are back in Akureyri again! Should you find yourself craving some dinner, do check out the Strikið restaurant, which is only a few minutes away from our Guesthouse.
Yes, we are aware this travel itinerary is rather ambitious, but our idea was to suggest as many options as possible, so you can easily tailor your very own adventure in North Iceland. We hope to see you in Akureyri soon, and in the meantime stay safe and healthy wherever you are!
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