11 Reasons to Visit North Iceland

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While many first-time travelers to Iceland stick around the capital city, venturing to the Golden Circle route and the South Coast, the north of Iceland is really a place that’s not to be missed, home to its own numerous, spectacular attractions that can be reached via a short flight from Reykjavik, or a scenic drive along the legendary Ring Road.

It's home to some of Iceland's most breathtaking waterfalls
Godafoss Waterfall, Northern Iceland

It's home to some of Iceland's most breathtaking waterfalls

While the South Coast certainly boasts a number of magnificent falls, you’ll see some of Iceland’s very best in the north, including Dettifoss Waterfall. Set deep inside Vatnajökull National Park along the Jokulsa a Fjollum River, Dettisfoss is considered to be Europe’s most powerful waterfall, with over 132,000 gallons of water roaring 150 feet into the canyon below. It was featured in the opening scene of  the 2012 Ridley Scott film, “Prometheus.” Godafoss, located just a 30-minute-drive from Iceland’s “Capital of the North,” Akureyri, is another one of the nation’s most awe-inspiring waterfalls.  Known as the “Waterfall of the Gods,” the turquoise-hued, horseshoe-shaped falls are nearly 100 feet wide and 40 feet high.  There are countless others, including Aldeyjarfoss, which is framed with long, natural basaltic columns, and sits in the uppermost regions of the Bardardalur valley.

You can visit a microcosm of all the country's natural wonders at Lake Myvatn
Lake Myvatn region, Iceland

You can visit a microcosm of all the country's natural wonders at Lake Myvatn

Lake Mývatn is a shallow eutrophic lake that was created by a large basaltic lava eruption that occurred over 2,300 years ago. “From desolate craters to bubbling mud pools and geothermal caves, the area around Lake Mývatn is a microcosm of all the natural wonders,” describes an official Iceland tourist guide. The country’s fourth largest natural lake., it was established as a conservation area in the early 1970s, and became internationally renowned for its bird life and wide variety of duck species. In fact, during the summer there are more different species of ducks gathered on and around the lake than anywhere else on the planet. It’s also known for its bizarre surronding landscape of unique rock formations and moss-grown lava fields, geothermal activity and volcanic craters.

Soak in the more tranquil Nature Baths
Nature Baths

Soak in the more tranquil Nature Baths

You can also combine a visit to Lake Myvatn and other attractions with the tranquil Nature Baths. While the Blue Lagoon is the most famous soaking pool, the Lake Myvatn Nature Baths offer a much more peaceful, less touristy experience. It’s a great way to soothe those aching muscles after a day out hiking, and you can even order up beer right from the pool to sip while  taking in the impressive surrounding scenery and reveling in the glow of the midnight sun.

Bathing au natural in a hot spring cave
Volcanic cave Grjotagja, Iceland

Bathing au natural in a hot spring cave

If the Lake Myvatn Nature Baths don’t offer enough solitude for your liking, bathing in Grjotagjia Cave is sure to fit the bill.  This impressive cave was the very spot Jon Snow “sealed the deal” with wildling Ygritte, in the third season of “Game of Thrones.” It houses a natural hot spring that serves as a popular spot for more adventurous bathers who often soak au naturale.  Bring a headlamp or flashlight to make your way through the dark. When you reach the spring, all you have to do is to strip off your coats and other layers, and enjoy the hot water. Once soaking in the warmth, you’ll forget all about the cold outside.

You can climb to the top of a volcanic crater
Hverfell Crater

You can climb to the top of a volcanic crater

Probably the most dominant landmark in the Lake Myvatn region is Hverfell Crater. The immense, charred crater looms as a constant presence across the east side of the lake.  This imposing volcanic crater formed some 2,700 years ago when Hverfell blew. Judging by its massive size, one can easily imagine just how powerful the eruption was.  While the 1.4-mile road to get to the bottom is extremely rough in the winter, it can be navigated by four-wheel drive. Once there, it’s a surprisingly easy climb to the top, taking just 10 to 20 minutes to get there, depending on fitness level. If the weather cooperates, walk around the rim to enjoy the panoramic view from a variety of perspectives.

Watch Whales From the 'Whale Watching Capital' of Husavik
Whale watching, Iceland

Watch Whales From the 'Whale Watching Capital' of Husavik

The picturesque little fishing village of Husavík is often been called the “Whale Watching Capital” of Iceland, which makes it a must-visit if you hope to see whales while you’re in the northern region of the country. The cold waters off the coast play host to diverse marine life. During the summer in particular, the shores become a veritable feeding ground for many different species of large marine mammals, allowing visitors a chance to observe magnificent whales like orca, humpback, blue and minke whales in their natural habitat. Even if you don’t go whale watching, it’s worth visiting Husavik for its scenery, and for its whale museum which features an exhibition that showcases 11 whale skeletons, including a massive blue whale skeleton.

Ski the Troll Peninsula
Arctic Heli Skiing, Troll Peninsula

Ski the Troll Peninsula

Skiing enthusiasts have the chance to glide down sky-high mountain peaks on the pristine, untouched slopes of the Troll Peninsula between February and June. With over 1,500 square miles of breathtaking Arctic scenery, there is terrain to suit nearly every skier’s ability, from intermediate to pros. Can you imagine skiing right down to beach? Many runs end right on a black sand beach, offering one of most unique skiing adventures in the world. You can be transported by helicopter to a mountain summit, some 5,000 feet above ski level, where you’ll fly through the powder and ski all the way down to the ocean. With the sun up until 10 p.m. in June, night skiing offers another entirely new experience  for those who arrive in the late spring/early summer.

Walking through the 'Dark Castes'
Dimmuborgir area, the "Dark Castes," Iceland

Walking through the 'Dark Castes'

The Dimmuborgir Lava Formations, or Dark Castes, offer another surreal experience that feel as if you’ve stepped onto the set of a fantasy film, or a totally different planet. The series of volcanic caves and rock formations look strikingly similar to city ruins, where it’s easy to imagine that castles, forts and citadels once stood. The twisted towers of coagulated rock breach the earth’s surface, forming a lava field that’s dotted with giant pillars, chimneys and tubes. The area came into existence some 2,300 years ago during a massive volcanic eruption in the Þrengslaborgir and Lúdentsborgir crater row. The most impressive of the formations, a large lava tube with a vault ceiling, is known as The Church, or Kirkjan in Icelandic.

There are a number of hiking routes that run through the area, requiring everything from a quick 10-minute jaunt to a one-hour trek. You can also combine a hike here with a trip to the top of Hverfell Crater, as a longer path leads down from here to the  crater that looms in the distance while passing the eastern side of Lake Myvatn.

Amazing Geothermal Activity
Hverir Geothermal Area

Amazing Geothermal Activity

The Hverir Geothermal Area is also near Lake Myvatn, and it boasts multiple fumaroles and boiling mudpots. The surrounding cracked landscape boasts impressive shades of red, orange, yellow, green and white, and with the steam from the hot vents obscuring the barren grounds slightly, it looks more like something you’d find on Mars than Earth. There are a number of trails through the area, and it’s best to stick to them for obvious reasons, that ground gets extraordinarily hot

You can take a dip at the edge of the North Atlantic in Hofsos
Hofsos Pool

You can take a dip at the edge of the North Atlantic in Hofsos

While swimming in the North Atlantic itself would be a very chilly venture, you can feel as if you’re right in the ocean by taking a dip in the Hofsos swimming pool. The village is home to the ultimate infinity pool which sits right at the edge of the North Atlantic, and seems to spill right out into it. From here, you can gaze out over the magnificent fjord and some of it’s most famous natural wonders, including a number of islands in the bay. It may not be Olympic size, as it was built into the hillside above the sea, but many say it’s the most beautiful pool in all of Iceland.

Akureyri, the Capital of the North
Overlooking Akureyri from Hamrar

Akureyri, the Capital of the North

If you plan to explore Northern Iceland, one of the most popular places to base your stay is in the Capital of the North, Akureyri. This low-key city with a population of around 18,000 topped the list of Lonely Planet’s best 10 places to visit in Europe for 2015. It sits along the north coast under snow-capped peaks at the head of country’s longest fjord. While you shouldn’t expect a big city vibe, there are plenty of shops, bars and eateries that give it more buzz than any place outside of Reykjavik.

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