After exploring Reykjavik, The Golden Circle, and Southeast Iceland on our drive of Iceland’s Ring Road, Julia, Owen, and I made our way towards the northern side of the country. The north of Iceland is far less renowned than the south, but has been gaining in popularity as tourists discover it’s riches. In this guide you’ll see volcanos, lava fields, waterfalls, hot springs, turf houses, and more. I will also provide a map, photographs, and a detailed trip write up if you’re planning to explore North Iceland on your visit.
- Distance: 640km
- Time: Driving time is roughly 8.5 hours, but with time to explore each site you will need much more. I would recommend at least 2 or 3 days.
- Transportation: To enjoy this guide, you will need to have access to a rental car. There are some tour buses that will drive you around North Iceland, but none that I know of will allow you to enjoy it at your own pace.
- Food and Gas: There are abundant gas stations on this stretch of the drive. Most gas stations have convenience food and some have fast food. Restaurants are in larger towns, but food is very expensive. There are a few smaller markets in the larger towns as well.
A Guide To North Iceland
This first stop on this tour of north Iceland is to Dettifoss waterfall, located at the north side of Vatnajökull National Park. There is a large parking lot at the trailhead for Dettifoss. From the parking lot, you will walk around .8km before you reach the observation deck.
Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in all of Europe, and in my opinion, a photograph or video can not do the experience justice. You have to feel the power. Anyone that has visited a fall like Iguazu or Niagra will know what I’m talking about.
After Dettifoss, we stopped by the geothermal area of Leirhnjúkur. There is ample parking space at the lot here, and two trailheads that leave from the parking area. The path that heads left from the trail sign goes to a hot spring, stay on the trail straight-ahead to see the milky white geothermal pools and lava flows.
Continue on the trail past the geothermal pools and you’ll be standing on a lava flow that is still steaming in areas. The trail can be hard to follow at times, so keep an eye out for the posts that mark the way.
Viti Crater at Krafla
Just up the street from Leirhnjúkur is Krafla and the Viti Crater. The word Viti means hell in Icelandic, but this location is anything but hellish. The Krafla volcanic caldera is 10km wide and has had 29 recorded eruption in it’s history. There is a trail leading from the dirt parking lot that allows visitors to walk around the circumference of the Viti Crater.
Driving in to Mývatn you’ll pass the Mývatn nature baths. These are said to rival The Blue Lagoon, so make sure to stop if you’re looking for a place to relax. Continuing on the Ring Road you’ll see the massive Mývatn Lake. There are a number of hiking trails and scenic lookouts from here. If you’re looking for a place to stop and eat, make sure to check out the small town of Reykjahlíð.
The next stop on this tour of North Iceland is at the “Waterfall of the Gods”, Goðafoss. In the year 1000, a man named Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði made Christianity Iceland’s official religion. This was done at a convention known as the Alþingi, at what is now Þingvellir National Park. If accounts of history are to be believed, Þorgeir threw the statues of his Norse gods into what is now Goðafoss upon returning from the Alþingi.
Akureyri is known as Iceland’s Capital In The North, and is Iceland’s second largest urban area. There is no shortage of things to do here, so make sure to give yourself plenty of time if you plan to explore. There is also the option to go whale watching in the harbor.
There aren’t too many points of interest along the Ring Road on the western stretch outside of Akureyri, so instread of just driving through, we decided to take a detour and explore Trollaskagi (Troll Peninsula). Even if you don’t plan on making any stops, the beauty of Trollaskagi is worth the detour. A word or warning though…don’t take this detour if you’re averse to driving in tunnels! The first tunnel to Ólafsfjörður is a one lane tunnel with pullouts for when you see oncoming traffic. I don’t spook easily, but that tunnel had me gripping the steering wheel with white knuckles!
We ended up enjoying the beauty of Trollaskagi so much that we changed plans and booked a waterfront cabin in Ólafsfjörður!
As you continue driving around Trollaskagion after passing through Ólafsfjörður, you’ll see the historic fishing village of Siglufjörður. There is a ski area that has hiking trails and views of the harbor. While in Siglufjörður, make sure to check out the herring museum and eat some fresh seafood.
It is said that the farmhouse structures at Glaumbær have stood since the Age of the Settlements in 900 AD. They have since been renovated and restored, but the history remains. Visiting Glaumbær is like walking back into Iceland’s history. You can read more at Guide to Iceland.
After visiting the turf roofed farmhouse of Glaumbær, make sure to stop by Víðimýrarkirkja. This is one of the few remaining turf roofed churches in Iceland.
Hvitserkur is a basalt sea stack that juts 15m up from the ocean floor on the Vatnsnes Peninsula. We were lucky to visit Hvitserkur at low tide, which allowed us to walk out to and under the formation. To some the formation looks like a dragon taking a drink (head to the left, feet to the right). There is a large viewing area a short distance from the parking lot. The trail to Hvitserkur is a steep use-trail down a coastal bluff. Be very careful with your footing.
The Vatnsnes Peninsula is a great place to observe Iceland’s largest seal colony, as well as other forms of marine life.
Kolugljúfur Canyon is a bit of a hidden gem in North Iceland. This is one of those locations that will flat out take your breath away. Start out by viewing the waterfalls near the bridge and the dirt parking area. From the bridge, you’ll see a few hiking use-trails that lead down and around the edge of the canyon. You can follow these trails for some once in a lifetime views.
Eiriksstadir – Viking Longhouse
Our final stop in North Iceland was at the Eiriksstadir Viking Longhouse. This replica farmhouse allows travelers to step back in time and experience what life might have been like for Erik the Red and Leif Eriksson. A Viking guide inside of the longhouse told us all about the history and lore of past centuries. He dressed me up and prepared me for battle!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide for North Iceland. Make sure to leave your comments and questions below. You can see more posts about Iceland and the Ring Road here.