Iceland and its splendid north is a traveler’s heaven. A paradise of majestic waterfalls, lunar landscapes, bubbling hot springs, snow-capped mountains, and whale-filled fjords; this is Iceland at its finest.
As it is closer to the Arctic Circle, the northern region has stronger arctic characteristics than any other area in the country. Winters are darker with more snow than anywhere else in Iceland. The Northern Lights are visible more often and the sun never dips below the horizon in summer, unlike in the south where it does so for a few hours even in mid-summer.
North Iceland’s natural attractions are extremely varied. Volcanic activity has created plenty of impressive sites where you can feel the raw power of the Earth. There are endless surprises waiting to be uncovered: mind-blowing lava fields packed with odd basalt stacks, rock bridges, and other bizarre formations including crater lakes, furious geothermal fields, mineral-rich geothermal baths, and spectacular volcano trails.
One of Iceland’s largest (and probably cutest) towns is located in the north. Little Akureyri topped Lonely Planet's list of the ten best places to visit in Europe in 2015. Windy meadows dotted with freely grazing sheep and Viking horses stretch along a fjord. Adorable fishing villages with cozy country hotels and charming restaurants await travelers. Unparalleled views can be found in every direction.
Sea fishing, whale watching, seal watching, geothermal baths, and local craft beer tastings are just a few amazing activities to try among the many that North Iceland has to offer. In winter, you have the best chance to witness the mystical Northern Lights as they dance across the skies. Traveling to North Iceland will surely bring you the unmatched Icelandic ambiance!
Use our guide to get to know the best places that we recommend you visit in North Iceland!
Grábrók is an impressive volcanic crater in Northwest Iceland. It was formed approximately 3,400 years ago during a fissure eruption. The crater belongs to the longest volcanic system in Iceland, extending 90 kilometers (56 miles) over the Snæafellsnes Peninsula.
The volcanic event that created Grábrók left behind a 7-square-kilometer (4.3 mile) lava field that is 20 meters (66 feet) thick with three craters that lie next to each other. The two smaller craters, Rauðbrók and Smábrók, can be seen from the top of Grábrók.
There is a short hike to the top along a nicely built footpath that is comfortable for anyone. The crater is only 170 meters (560 feet) high. From the top, there is a spectacular 360° panorama over the moss-covered lava field, the two other craters, and the outstandingly beautiful landscape of Borgarfjörður Bay.
Hvítserkur is a 15-meter (49 foot) high basalt sea stack just off the eastern coast of the Vatnsnes Peninsula in Northwest Iceland. This bizarre phenomenon is a very popular photography location, as the oddly shaped monolith resembles an animal, or to be Icelandic, a troll. Many see an elephant or a rhino, while for others it is a dragon or a dinosaur. No matter what specific animal you may see, it looks like a living creature lowering its head to drink from the sea.
This rock formation is the nesting ground for several species of birds, such as gulls and fulmars. The name Hvítserkur translates to “white shirt,” referring to the bird guano that covers the rocks in summer.
As the Icelandic folk legend goes, Hvítserkur was originally a troll from the Westfjords. It came down from the mountains to destroy the annoying bells of the nearby church. Trolls were not Christians and thus tried to protect their ancient religion. In the end, the troll failed to notice the rising sun. It was touched by the sunlight and was petrified for eternity.
There is a viewpoint where you can look down on the monolith and can also climb down a steep trail to its base. At low tide, it is possible to walk straight to the rock, but in high tide, you will only be able to get within 10 to 20 meters of it.
The Glaumbær Turf Farm is a captivating historic site in North Iceland. The farm consists of 13 age-old turf houses that today serve as a folk museum about historic rural Iceland. The farm was inhabited until 1947 and turned into a heritage museum in 1952.
A farm is believed to have stood here since the time of its settlement, ca 874 AD. The oldest of the current buildings, however, dates back to 1750. This historic farm was the home of Snorri Þorfinnsson, who is believed to have lived here with his parents in the 11th century. According to historians, Snorri’s parents went to explore the unknown seas and found America long before Columbus, so Snorri was probably the first European to be born in America.
There are also two charming timber houses from the 19th century, probably the first timber houses built in the region. Both building host exhibitions, but the yellow one, Áshús, is also a café which serves a traditional Icelandic menu in the setting of an authentic household.
The spectacular and historic Goðafoss Waterfall is believed to have been named after Iceland switching from the Norse religion to Christianity. According to legend, Þorgeir Ljósvetningargoð, who was a lawmaker in the old Alþingi parliament, threw his statues of the pagan gods into the falls when taking up Christianity.
Some others believe, however, that the name simply refers to the godlike splendor of the cascades. This is completely credible. The cascade is fed by the river Skjálfandafljót, the fourth largest river in Iceland. The water falls from a height of 12 meters (39 feet) over a width of 30 meters (38 feet), forming a spectacular half-circle or horseshoe shape. According to the locals, this waterfall is often referred to as "Beauty," while its neighboring waterfall, Dettifoss, is labeled the "Beast."
Dettifoss has a reputation as the most powerful waterfall in Europe with the greatest volume. The Norwegian Sarp Falls, however, have a greater water flow but are only half as tall as Dettifoss.
500 cubic meters of water tumble over the edge of the Beast per second, dropping 45 meters (144 feet) over an impressive 100 meters (33 feet) of width. The water originates from the giant Vatnajökull Glacier is collected from a large area in Northeast Iceland. It should not be surprising, therefore, that Dettifoss enchants every visitor!
Covering an area of 36.5 km2 (22.6 square miles), Mývatn is the fourth largest lake in Iceland. It is a shallow lake with extremely rich water and a vast area of wetlands that provides a great habitat for an exceptionally rich collection of flora and fauna.
Mývatn is situated in an area of active volcanoes near the Krafla volcano. The lake itself is the result of a major eruption that occurred 2,300 years ago. This event formed the surrounding landscape which is now dominated by volcanic landforms including lava fields, countless tiny islands, active geothermal areas, bizarre lava pillar parks, and impressive craters. The Lake Mývatn area is deservedly one of Iceland’s most precious natural gems.
This curious geological feature is the best seen from the air. Skútustaðagigar are the picturesque pseudocraters that formed approximately 2,300 years ago during the same volcanic event that created the Dimmuborgir lava field. When molten lava entered the lake and trapped the wet sediment underneath, the many steam eruptions resulted in widely varied and interesting lava rock formations. The pseudocraters look like small volcanic craters, but it was stream rather than lava that exited through the vents. Today, these friendly, small craters are covered with grass and with marked walking paths wind through the area.
Krafla is one of the most well-known volcanoes in Iceland with a peak that reaches 818 meters. The caldera of the volcano is approximately 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) in diameter and 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) deep, sitting on a 90-kilometer (56 mile) long fissure zone. Throughout recorded history, Krafla has erupted 29 times with the most recent eruption lasting for 9 years and ending in 1984.
Krafla is still an active volcano but has no eruptions happening at the moment. The vast area around the Krafla caldera, however, is characterized by very strong geothermal activity. The Krafla Geothermal Power Plant is one of the largest in the country. The power of Krafla also feeds the beautiful Mývatn Nature Baths which are known as the Blue Lagoon of the North. The geothermal field at Námaskarð is among the most striking in Iceland.
There is an insanely picturesque crater lake in the Krafla volcanic system. Its name, Víti, translates to ‘Hell.’ The name refers to the massive, five-year-long volcanic eruption that took place in Krafla and which formed the stunning Víti Lake. Today, the 300-meter (984 foot) wide volcanic crater is filled with milky greenish-blue water that was once warm but is cold today. The ground, however, still steams around the crater, giving it an otherworldly look.
Dimmuborgir is another piece of impressive proof of the violent volcanic history in the Krafla system around Mývatn. This magnificent lava field was formed approximately 2,300 years ago. According to geologists, molten lava flowed over the water, trapping it underneath the surface. Eventually, the water started to boil and steam vents broke through the lava. This formed a wide variety of lava sculptures which then solidified and will remain standing there for eternity.
This enthralling lava sculpture park is loaded with massive lava rock pillars, caverns, tunnels, lava bridges, and other odd rock formations. Exploring this bizarre scenery feels like walking on another planet! Don't be surprised if you happen to run into trolls or other magical creatures here!
This specific geothermal field has at least four names, so don’t be surprised when you hear different versions. They all refer to the same place: a thrilling geothermal field near Mývatn. The area is located in the Krafla volcanic system and is wildly active today.
One of Iceland’s most impressive (and probably loudest) fumaroles is found here, along with countless bubbling hot springs and mud pots surrounded by poisonous soil. Minerals have painted the site with vivid colors and an intense sulfur smell fills the air. With the quaint, 432-meter (1,417 foot) high Námafjall mountain in the background, this site may be the most impressive of all of the Icelandic geothermal fields.
This gorgeous bath is North Iceland’s answer to the Blue Lagoon. The Mývatn Nature Baths have the same milky-blue, mineral-rich waters, and spectacular panorama. Iceland’s northern Blue Lagoon is more intimate, less touristic, and less hyped than the original Blue Lagoon, though.
The approximately 130°C water comes straight from the National Power Company’s borehole. It is stored and cooled in a huge basin right next to the lagoon, forming an impressive, man-made hot spring. When it flows into the lagoon, the temperature is a friendly 36-40°C. The water contains a large number of healthy algae and minerals in which undesired bacteria cannot thrive. Mývatn is definitely a must-visit place for lovers of hot springs!
With approximately 1,400 inhabitants, Dalvík is a tiny, adorable fishing village in North Iceland. It sits on Tröllaskagi, the ‘Troll peninsula,’ on the shore of the Eyjafjörður fjord. This bay is widely known as one of the best whale watching sites in Iceland. Zooplankton and krill flourish in the sheltered bay where warm and cold currents mix, creating extraordinarily rich feeding grounds for whales all year round.
Humpback whales, white-beaked dolphins, minke whales, and harbor porpoises are very commonly seen off the shore of Dalvík. Humpback whales are renowned for being the most fun whales to observe.
They always show off their giant tails before they dive and have many entertaining behaviors at the surface, such as leaping, fin slapping, and approaching the boats. Visitors love watching them show off! Whale sighting success rates exceed 98 percent, with over 99 percent in summer. In 2018, the whale sighting success rate was 100% throughout the summer season.
The fjord is surrounded by beautiful mountains and a gorgeous landscape. Dalvík is surely one of the best whale watching areas in the world!
Hofsós has a long history as one of the oldest trading ports in North Iceland. From the 16th to the 18th century, it was a rather busy trading port. Thanks to its great location and the rich water of the bay, Hofsós was a major trading post for the Danish Trade Monopoly.
The houses in the old village and around the harbor have been renovated recently, giving the town an extremely charming look. Hofsós is also famous for its geothermal pool. Its view could easily be awarded a prize for the best view from a swimming pool in Iceland. The pool was built into the hillside above the sea, allowing it to provide a flawless view over the fjord and the marvelously scenic Drangey Island.
Akureyri is the second-largest urban area in Iceland, after Reykjavík. With a population of approximately 19,000 inhabitants, Akureyri is a busy metropolis compared to any other town or village in North Iceland. It is often nicknamed “the capital of the North.”
Akureyri is an important fishing port and cultural center. Cozy cafés, fine restaurants, various art galleries and museums, busy festivals, and excellent hospitality facilities await travelers. For these reasons as well as for its charming downtown and unique ambiance, little Akureyri topped the list of the ten best places to visit in Europe in 2015.
According to the Book of Settlement, Húsavík was the first place in Iceland to be settled by a Norseman. A Swedish Viking wintered here at around 870 AD, six decades before the first official settlement on Iceland. When he left the island in the spring, he left behind a man and two slaves who then established the very first farm in Iceland at Húsavík.
Today, Húsavík has around 2,200 inhabitants and is a vibrant little village. Plenty of cozy cafés, restaurants, and guest houses are available to serve the rapidly growing number of tourists.
Ásbyrgi is a gigantic horseshoe-shaped canyon created by catastrophic glacial river flooding after the last Ice Age, 8,000-10,000 years ago. The canyon is located in the Vatnajökull National Park. It is 3.5 kilometers (2.17 miles) long and over 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) wide, framed with dramatic 100-meter (330 foot) high cliffs. A 25-meter (82 foot) high cliff cuts through the middle, making it look like a giant horseshoe. According to legend, the canyon is the footprint Sleipnir, Odin’s 8-legged horse.
In summer, the ground is beautifully covered with colorful flowers. The chorus of the birds is amplified by special acoustics in the lush forest of birch trees. Hiking here is truly a special experience!