1. See Goðafoss – waterfall of the Gods
Also known as waterfall of the Gods, this is one of the prettiest waterfalls in North Iceland and dare I say, Europe. For photo opportunities it’s definitely worth crossing Skjálfandafljót River and walking to each side of the horse-shoe waterfall to get different perspectives.
2. Visit Dettifoss – Europe’s most powerful waterfall
To experience the wrath of Mother Nature go to Dettifoss. Believed to be the most powerful waterfall in the whole of Europe with a colossal 500 cubic meters of water falling each second! So powerful, you can feel the ground shake as you get closer and hear the velocity of water crashing into an earth-shattering abyss. Easily one of Iceland’s most extraordinary natural attractions, Dettifoss was famously immortalised in the opening scene of Ridley Scott’s 2012 film, Prometheus.
3. See the Rock Formations at Dimmuborgir
A world of its own; a park filled with bizarre lava formations. Dimmuborgir has inspired much Icelandic folklore, it is believed this is where the earth connects with the infernal regions. If there’s one place where you’re going to believe elves exist, it’s going to be here!
4. Hverir Geothermal Area
There’s a high chance that you’ll smell this place before you even see it, for this is a high temperature geothermal area emitting a strong bouquet of rotten eggs! You’ll be amazed at huge bubbling mud pools, fumaroles and sticky red soil. This is easily one of my favourite places in North Iceland.
5. Hike up Hverfell
This volcano can be seen from miles away: broad, conical, black and shaped in a cone. Hverfell demands attention in an otherwise flat landscape. Formed around 2500 years ago when Hverfell erupted over the Myvatn region, you have the opportunity to take the short hike to the top of the crater for 360 degree views of the surrounding area.
6. Climb inside Grjótagjá lava cave
Entering through a crack in the ground, stop off at Grjótagjá lava cave for a few minutes to climb down into this low-ceiling tunnel harbouring a clear-blue steaming pool. If you’re here in the winter grab your swimwear, however, the pool is too hot to jump into during the summer – so enter with caution!
7. Viti Crater
Icelanders have a favourite word for gaping craters that blast out millions of tons of volcanic debris – víti, meaning hell. Translating to Hell’s crater, this explosion crater formed in 1734 by a massive eruption in the Krafla volcano. It became known as Myvatnseldar and lasted for five years.
8. Explore the Skutustadir pseudo craters
Iceland is often compared to Mars and this is one reason why. Scientific interest in these pseudo craters increased after the discovery of the Athabasca Valles region of Mars, where lava flows superheated groundwater in the underlying rocks. These pseudo craters are among the largest and most beautifully shaped on Earth making here an ideal setting for some scenic hiking, but you’ll also be joined by midges that feed from the lake – you’ve been warned!
9. Soak in Myvatn Nature Baths
Imagine the Blue Lagoon on a smaller scale and with only a fraction of the people (and price) and Myvatn Nature Baths will come to mind. After a day of hiking up volcanoes and traversing lava fields you’ll deserve it.
10. See basalt rocks at Hofsos
This tiny fishing port with a population of only 200 people is home to stunning coastal views. Most visitors come here to soak in a pool overlooking the ocean, but the real attraction is the huge expanse of basalt columns stretching all along the coastline. Surprisingly, very little has been written about these basalt columns so I want to get the message out – don’t miss this natural wonder!
11. Grettislaug hot pool
Nearby Hofsos you’ll discover Gettislaug hot pools which overlooks a huge fjord. Now located on private land, there’s an entrance fee of approx £3.50 and you can soak in the hot pools for as long as you like. They are several pools to jump between and there’s a very good chance of having this place to yourself when you’re travelling out of season.
12. The Pretty Fishing Village of Siglufjordur
The small yet perfectly formed village of Siglufjordur was once nicknamed ‘Herring Town’ due to its abundance of herring which made the water look silver. The golden age of herring lasted just over 100 years, from 1867 to 1968, leading to an economic boom which Siglufjordrur was at the centre of. Once upon a time, the herring from this one town alone provided more than 20% of the country’s total export income.
Though there is no longer any herring, its heritage has been wonderfully preserved at the Herring Museum, complete with herring boats, factory and live re-enactments.
A new addition to the village is Siglo Hotel. It is stunning 4-star hotel located in the heart of the town and boasts spectacular panoramic view of the mountains and fjord. I spent the night here and didn’t want to leave because it’s easily one of the best hotels in the whole of Iceland.
13. Akureyri – the ‘Capital of the North’
Iceland’s largest town outside of the Reykjavik area is dubbed the ‘capital of the North’ and is home to a modest 14,000 residents. On the edge of a fjord, Akureyri has a handful of decent restaurants, cafés, shops and museums. Akureyri is also North Iceland’s tourist hub, with the best selection of hotels and tour companies offering day tours and adventure trips of the surrounding area.
The city’s most striking landmark (like Reykjavik) is its cathedral which sits on top a set of steep steps, from where you can enjoy great views across the town and the fjord.
If you’re a fan of street art, you’ll be able to find this huge mural on the main the high street in Akureyri, North Iceland.
14. Hvitserkur – The Drinking Dragon
© Wikipedia Commons
On Vatnsnes in Húnafjörður an awesome rock formation called Hvítserkur. It is a 15 m high monolith eroded into a strange formation which most people think looks like a drinking dragon, though legend has it Hvítserkur was a troll caught by the sunrise while attempting to destroy the Christian monastery at Þingeyrar.
15. Lofthellir Ice Cave
Want to know what it looks like inside an ice cave? Regrettably I’ve not done this tour so I can’t personally vouch for it, but the tour with Saga Travel gets excellent reviews. For more information check out the Trip Advisor reviews.
16. Whale Watching at Húsavik
It’s not surprising that Húsavik has become Europe’s whale watching capital: Minke whales are seen on most boat trips in Skjalfandi Bay, while harbour porpoises and white-beaked dolphins are also common. Humpback whales are also regular visitors and there have even been close encounters with blue whales but you’d be considered very lucky to see one. The harbour side Whale Museum has an interesting collection of artefacts and skeletons and is well worth a visit.
17. Dalvik and Grimsey Island
North of Akureyri, the vibrant fishing port of Dalvik is the departure point for ferries to Grimsey Island. Straddling the Arctic Circle 40km off Iceland’s north coast, this lonely fishing outpost is barely five square kilometres in area. Guided walks reveal the island’s history and birdlife, and you can also hire bikes and bask in the midnight sun during summer.
18. Bathe in Hell at Askja
© Wikipedia Commons
Getting to this famous caldera you’ll need to venture further south than everywhere else on this list of things to do in North Iceland, but it’s achievable after a couple of hours negotiating the vast ash, sand and lava desert of the island’s core. Interestingly, the area was used during training for the Apollo program to prepare astronauts for the lunar missions. Their main objective in Askja was to study geology but nowadays most people come here to swim in the tepid, stinking water of this huge caldera – how times change!
It’s a little out of the way to get here, and probably requires a 4×4, but it’s definitely one of Iceland’s most unique waterfalls. I’ve seen many of Iceland’s most well loved waterfalls but sadly not this one… yet. If you want something off the beaten track, and also have a penchant for basalt rock, then this waterfall will deliver that and more!
20. Turf houses at Glaumbær
These gorgeous little turf houses at Glaumbær now operate as a museum. They are a great way in seeing how the past used to live. Made from peat it might seem primitive but this kind of cladding retains a lot of warmth, which is something the Icelanders didn’t have much of before they tapped into geothermal energy! Plus, just look how photogenic they are – you’ve simply gotta go.
Have you been to North Iceland? Do you have other recommendations?
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