North Iceland Road Trip: Top 10 Things to Do in Northern Iceland
Are you looking for something unique to do during your trip to Iceland? Is this your second –or more! –trip to Iceland and you want to do something less touristy? Do you want to explore hidden Iceland like a local? Are you planning to travel around northern Iceland?
All travellers go to Reykjavik, the south shore and the Golden Circle (in fact, we have A LOT of tours dedicated to just that). Very few tourists manage to see northern Iceland. The seemingly endless coastline stretches out for thousands of kilometers, with the backdrop of the raw, untouched Icelandic nature keeping you company throughout the trip.
I fell in love with the north the first time I visited, and I think you would as well. That is why I have compiled this list. If you follow the steps in a row, they will take you through a trip around the entire north shore, from west to east. You can also check out this map!
The best way to do this road trip is with –you guessed it –a car. So you can start your adventure by renting a car that can take you to all these places (4×4 recommended)!
Don’t miss: Top Ten Day Tours From Reykjavik!
Without further ado, let’s see the guide for the ten best things to do in northern Iceland!
1. Hólar Farm
At the start of our trip, we have an unlikely place. Driving up from Reykjavik towards the easternmost part of northern Iceland, there is the Hólar Farm, a place that not many tourists know about.
Once there, you will be greeted by Rebecca, the friendliest of locals. Rebecca and her family run this mini zoo with the kind of love and passion you see in movies.
You won’t find any exotic animals there, nor any grand rooms converted into a jungle. What you will find is the most adorable fox, the most talented raven in Iceland, and many sheep!
If you want to see –and even pet, if she is in a good mood –an arctic fox, definitely make a quick stop at the Hólar Farm, and say hi to little Skotta the fox from me.
Continuing upwards, you first find the Westfjords. When you visit northern Iceland, the Westfjords are a must-see, especially if you are traveling with friends. A road trip around the Westfjords gives you the chance to experience Iceland’s nature at its most raw and most beautiful.
If you have time to spare driving this coastline that spans over a thousand kilometers, you will be rewarded with awe-inspiring views of nature, with snow-capped mountains, sprawling green valleys, and raging waves crashing along the North Atlantic shores.
Along the way, you can also visit some of Iceland’s smaller towns and villages, each with its own unique charm and set of friendly locals, such as Patreksfjörður, Flateyri and Ísafjörður.
While technically a part of the Westfjords, Dynjandi deserves its own spot in this list. The cascading waterfalls of Dynjandi have a total height of 100 meters, making it the largest waterfall in the area.
There is a small, easy hike to Dynjandi, with plenty of opportunities along the way to photograph the smaller waterfalls that accompany it, scattered around the land. Once you are at the top, it is possible to get very close to the waterfall. Just make sure that you are wearing a waterproof jacket and boots! Otherwise, you will leave Dynjandi drenched in cold glacial water.
Dynjandi is truly the crown jewel of northern Iceland. A colossal waterfall so majestic that it’s easy to see how it could inspire the first Icelandic settlers to tie their nature so closely to the gods and to several mythical creatures.
While I don’t believe in fairies –unlike some Icelandic people! –Dynjandi looks like the one place in the world where you could find them.
Continuing westwards, there is Akureyri. Akureyri is northern Iceland’s lifeblood. It is the second most populous city in Iceland, but don’t expect a metropolis or even a smaller version of Reykjavik. Do expect charming little coffeehouses, friendly locals, an abundance of breathtaking nature, and even a few art hotspots.
Most of Akureyri’s traffic comes from tourists and Icelandic locals from all over the country who seek the country’s best ski resort. The ski slopes are situated in Hlíðarfjall, which looms right over the town like one of Iceland’s mythical trolls.
If you still have energy after a day of skiing and you fancy a beer, you can head down to Hafnarstræti. There, you will find Akureyri’s best bars and experience the surprisingly rich nightlife that the town has to offer.
Make sure you don’t miss the Church of Akureyri (Akureyrakirkja in Icelandic), and Jólagarðurinn –or the Christmas Garden –where you can get Christmas treats and decorations all year round!
Between Akureyri and our next stop, you will find the stunning waterfall Goðafoss. Goðafoss means “the waterfall of the gods”, and there is quite an interesting story behind that name. It is said that when Norway forced Iceland to convert to Christianity, the man responsible for the decision of whether to continue their pagan worship or embrace Christianity declared that they would become Christians, but continue to worship their old gods in secret. As a symbol, he threw all the idols of the old gods into the waterfall that became known as Goðafoss.
Goðafoss is also part of the Diamond Circle, the north‘s equivalent of the well-known Golden Circle.
6. Mývatn Nature Baths
Driving west, you can find the beautiful area of Mývatn. The nature baths in Mývatn are North Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, and at 5000 ISK (approximately 42 USD) per adult during peak season, they are a bargain compared to the Blue Lagoon’s average of 11900 ISK (or 99 USD).
The lagoon in Mývatn is a man-made hot spring, perhaps the most popular hot spring in northern Iceland. The geothermal water is completely natural and filled with minerals that benefit all types of skin.
Mývatn’s lagoon is the perfect spot to relax and unwind after a long trip around the north of Iceland. Not only can you soak in the warm geothermal water and watch the landscape bathed in golden hues from the never-setting midnight sun, but you can do so without the vast number of tourists you would encounter in the Blue Lagoon.
Among Iceland’s biggest natural wonders are its lava formations. You will see sprawling lava fields soon after you step out of Keflavik airport and then many more moss-covered lava fields throughout your visit.
Dimmuborgir is one such lava formation in the area of Mývatn. What makes it so special is that the lava has taken strange shapes throughout the centuries, making the entire area look like “dark castles” (which is exactly what its name means in Icelandic, Faroese and Old Norse). No wonder, then, that it inspired several myths. The most popular is that Grýla, a witch, and her children, the Yule Lads, live there.
A bonus fact: some scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed in Dimmuborgir in season three!
Another gem in Mývatn is Lofthellir. Lofthellir is a natural lava cave with the biggest naturally formed ice sculptures in Iceland.
While not for the faint of heart (you have to squeeze through tiny openings to get into the cave and temperatures reach 0 degrees), if you have the courage to go inside, you will be rewarded with stunning views and endless opportunities for photography.
The cave looks like it is housing a whole different world. The ice sculptures, the sounds of water dripping on the ice and the complete darkness if you turn off your flashlight create an enchanting, magical world that you can only find in Lofthellir.
If you visit the cave, make sure to get a guide, as you can’t go in on your own, and wear waterproof clothes!
9. Whale Watching
Iceland offers plenty of opportunities to see some whales during your trip. Northern Iceland is arguably the best place in the entire country to pay a visit to those adorable critters.
Once you have explored Mývatn, you can continue towards Húsavík and Eyjafjörður. Those were the first two towns to offer whale watching tours and are, to this day, the best places to visit. In both towns, the weather and sea conditions are ideal for the whale population to thrive, as well as for visitors to grab a boat ride and see them.
While you’re in Húsavík, you can also check out the Húsavík Whale Museum and learn a bit more about those amazing creatures.
If you don’t have time to travel to northern Iceland, don’t worry! You can also go whale watching in Reykjavik with one of our tours, all year round and right from downtown Reykjavik!
10. Find Puffins
Sometimes finding puffins is like assembling Ikea furniture; you have the right tools and directions, but it’s impossible and everyone ends up frustrated. Well, with this guide and a little bit of luck, it doesn’t have to be that way.
So, where do you find puffins in Iceland? There are many places, but Tjörnes, a peninsula in the north of Iceland west of Húsavík, is one of the top spots. Tjörnes is a popular place for bird watching, especially when it comes to puffins. If you visit the peninsula you will also witness the wonderful multi-colored cliffs by the seaside, a result of volcanic activity.
Látrabjarg is another puffin hotspot. It is situated at the beginning of the trip, in the Westfjords, giving you another reason to visit that magical place in case you weren’t already convinced! The area is rather remote, and as a result the puffins are quite happy to let you approach them a little more than usual.
Would you look at that! You made it through a trip around all of northern Iceland. While this guide to a north Iceland road trip is not complete, it is a good start for someone who would like to explore the north a little bit and find all the hidden gems that Iceland has to offer.