First-time visitors to Iceland will likely want to explore the city of Reykjavik and then head south to experience the gorgeous natural attractions along the south coast and the iconic Golden Circle loop. However, we challenge you to opt for an alternative option and head in the opposite direction to experience the best things to do in North Iceland. After experiencing a couple of days exploring this part of Iceland, we are convinced that you will not regret this decision should you choose to visit this region.
If you read our recent post on the best things to do in South Iceland, you will know that this part of the country is filled with a plethora of natural landmarks. From the gorgeous waterfalls including Seljalandsfoss and Skogafoss to the spectacular Jokulsarlon glacial lagoon, this part of Iceland isn’t short of natural beauty.
However, we would argue that the opposite side of the country, in other words, “the North” is equally as impressive with some of the best waterfalls in Iceland, including Dettifoss and Godafoss, at the forefront of the landmarks that attract visitors from all corners of the globe.
The northern region is much more than just two breathtaking waterfalls and we want to share some of the best things to do in North Iceland and hopefully inspire you to visit on your next trip to the Land of Fire and Ice!
Best Things to Do in North Iceland
Are you ready to hit the Icelandic ring road and explore North Iceland? Don’t worry, although it’s a pretty lengthy drive from Keflavik International Airport, there are plenty of sightseeing opportunities along this route that will make this one of the most enjoyable road trips you have experienced.
The drive from Reykjavik to Akureyri is around 380km and can take as a little as 5 hours but with the number of stops you will likely want to make, I would plan on spending a full day making this drive. Depending on the route you want to take, it’s plausible that you will want to explore West Iceland and the West Fjords before heading east to enjoy everything North Iceland has to offer.
But this post is focused solely on the North and some of the best attractions and places you can explore. The beauty of North Iceland is that you can enjoy a nice blend of natural attractions and urban areas. Here are some of the best reasons to explore North Iceland.
- Lake Myvatn
Where to Stay
Akureyri is the ideal location to spend a couple of nights while exploring North Iceland. We stayed at the Icelandair Hotel Akureyri on our first night we had a great experience staying at this hotel. It is perfectly situated within walking distance of the historic old town of Akureyri and is an ideal accommodation option for those wanting to spend a couple of days exploring the northern region of Iceland.
Alternatively, here are a couple of other options if you prefer to stay in Akureyri or other areas of North Iceland.
- Hotel Kjarnalundur (Akureyri) – Another viable option which is a little further out of town but still within 5-10 minutes of the historic district. We enjoyed a night here and the highlight was certainly the breakfast which was included in the room rate. Check out the latest prices and availability here.
- Fosshotel Husavik (Husavik) – If you are planning on spending some time in the whale capital of the world, check out this gorgeous hotel that will give you easy access to the town center along with the harbor where you can enjoy the vessels preparing to head out for the daily excursions (be sure to hop on one of these!). Check out the latest prices and availability here.
When you think about the best waterfalls in Iceland worth visiting, you can’t help but add Dettifoss to the list! The magical sight of one of Europe’s most powerful waterfalls is a must-see for anyone exploring North Iceland.
Although our visit was tainted with poor weather conditions that led to a lack of visibility, we still enjoyed an epic experience with the sight and sound of Dettifoss unlike any other waterfall we visited during our Iceland road trip.
Located in Vatnajökull National Park in Northeast Iceland, the reputation of being the most powerful waterfall in Europe is certainly understandable as visitors can enjoy water flowing at 500 meters per second over the edge of the precipice along the River Jökulsá.
There are several hiking trails and overlooks that visitors can enjoy and depending on how brave and adventurous you are, this will determine just how close to the edge of Dettifoss you will get. The birds-eye overlook is certainly worth experiencing though when it’s raining, the slippery rocks can be pretty challenging…the rewards are definitely worth it though!
Selfoss is a smaller waterfall a little way upstream from Dettifoss along the Jökulsá River. Although it doesn’t have the size or power of its nearby counterpart, it’s still an impressive sight and visitors to Dettifoss should take the time to take the alternative hiking trail to at least see Selfoss from a distance.
At only 11 meters in height, Selfoss will never challenge the tallest waterfalls in Iceland but it can still certainly pack a punch in terms of power. Hiking across the rocks that line the Jökulsá River, visitors can get relatively close to Selfoss but even from a distance, this is an impressive landmark.
Further downstream, visitors can see the Hafragilsfoss waterfall and in conjunction with Selfoss and Dettifoss, this trio is a truly breathtaking sight and perhaps the best set of waterfalls in close proximity that you will see throughout Iceland. Although Selfoss has always sat in the shadow of Dettifoss, the inherent beauty of this waterfall cannot be denied.
Let’s face the facts when it comes to Iceland’s plethora of waterfalls…it’s an endless list because there are so many amazing ones to experience! Godafoss is yet another gorgeous waterfall in the northern region of Iceland and is a perfect example of one that is easily accessible from the ring road.
Visitors to Godafoss can enjoy the magical sight of the water flowing along the River Skjálfandafljót and then dropping over the edge, creating the gorgeous Godafoss falls. It may not be one of the largest but it is certainly one of the most spectacular and in turn, popular, waterfalls across Iceland.
Nicknamed by one local as ‘The Beauty’ in comparison to ‘The Beast’ of Dettifoss, the name Godafoss could be translated roughly as ‘The Waterfall of The Gods.’
When I read the above statement on Visit Husavik, I was eager to learn how these two waterfalls could be so different. When you actually visit Godafoss and Dettifoss, you will quickly realize why they reference these in such a way.
Godafoss is a much calmer waterfall (though don’t let this fool you because there is still a substantial amount of power generated!) and equally as impressive with the gorgeous backdrop and gorge creating ample photo opportunities for aspiring photographers aiming to capture the perfect shot.
Lake Myvatn is located just a short distance from Akureyri and offers gorgeous panoramic views with a number of other attractions in close proximity. It’s fair to say that Lake Myvatn is a smaller representation of Iceland given the abundance of natural wonders that can be found in and around this lake. From geothermal pools to a plethora of lava fields that surround the lake, this region is the epitome of Icelandic natural beauty.
We found a gorgeous spot overlooking Myvatn to enjoy lunch and this really was a perfect location to spend some time appreciating the scenery before heading on to Dettifoss which is just a short distance from here.
You may be forgiven for thinking that this area is just a region of volcanic activity with the talk of geothermal pools and lava fields but you will also notice that there are plenty of lush green pastures in this part of Iceland, offering a perfect blend and ideal for capturing awesome landscape photographs.
Hvammstangi is an Icelandic village located on the Vatnsnes peninsula and is renowned for being the best spot for seal watching in Iceland. Given that we were driving pretty close to this village, we had to stop to see it for ourselves!
The moment we pulled into this quaint fishing village and headed for the harbor, we immediately caught a glimpse of a seal bathing near the shoreline. Unfortunately, after parking our vehicle, we managed to catch one further glimpse before it decided to head out to sea and our seal sightings ended.
Hvammstangi is home to the Icelandic Seal Center, providing in-depth information on seals within the local area and the greater Vatnsnes peninsula region.
Your visit to Hvammstangi may be relatively short as aside from a couple of shops (restaurant, bank and convenience store) and keeping your eyes peeled for seals, there isn’t much else to occupy your time. However, this village is conveniently located to the ring road so it won’t take much time out of your way to experience everything this quirky location has to offer.
Akureyri is Iceland’s second largest urban area and fourth largest municipality. We spent two nights in this town and quickly fell in love with it. From the gorgeous harbor area where you can enjoy the colorful selection of vessels to the stunning sight of Akureyrarkirkja (Akureyri Church), there are plenty of reasons to love this town.
Akureyri proved to be an ideal location to explore other parts of northern Iceland. Just a short drive from this town was Godafoss and Lake Myvatn while we were also able to venture north to the town of Husavik to enjoy a whale and puffin tour (more on this later!).
There was an incredibly relaxing vibe to this town and just being able to enjoy a morning coffee at the local book shop was definitely one of the highlight experiences in this town.
Did I also mention that Akureyri was home to two delicious restaurants, one that offers some of the best fish and chips I have tasted and the other, an awesome spot to enjoy delicious Icelandic ice cream?
Akureyri Fish and Chips is located in front of the harbor and offers a trendy setting with delicious cuisine…what more could you ask for!
Take a stroll along the harbor front before heading to Brynja to sample a legendary sweet shop known across Iceland for producing the best ice cream in the country.
We always like to leave the best experiences until last and when you hear about the amazing experience we had in Husavik, I am sure you will see why we consider this to be the best!
Visiting Husavik for the first time, we heard plenty of rumors that this coastal town in northern Iceland had a pretty strong reputation for being the “whale capital of the world”. Add to the mix a location that offers some of the best opportunities to see puffins in Iceland and you pretty much have the perfect spot to visit.
After spending some time walking around the quaint town of Husavik, we headed to the harbor to watch some of the vessels returning from their whale/puffin tours. Given that we didn’t have any tours booked, this really just rubbed salt in the wound as it made us want to experience this for ourselves even more.
Heather decided to take a little afternoon nap as we relaxed in Husavik harbor and I figured it was a good time to start checking out some of the tour companies. I quickly found a great deal for a tour courtesy of North Sailing that was scheduled to leave within 30 minutes.
I didn’t hesitate and booked the tour before waking Heather up with a pretty nice surprise…no she wasn’t dreaming, we were about to take an amazing excursion to see whales and puffins off the coast of Iceland!
Our tour was AMAZING but I don’t want to give too much away because you can read all about that tour on our post dedicated to that experience. I will say that the Icelandic whales and puffins didn’t disappoint and we had our fair share of encounters during the three-hour tour.
Husavik is definitely THE place to visit if you are looking for wildlife encounters during your visit to Iceland!
North Iceland is certainly a haven of natural beauty, just like every other region in the Land of Fire and Ice. The beauty of this area is that there is a nice blend of urban and rural landscapes so visitors can enjoy the best of both worlds. The town of Akureyri certainly isn’t the size of Reykjavik but there is enough character and things to do there that makes this an attractive destination for visitors to stay here while exploring other parts of north Iceland.
I am sure you will agree that our decision to take the last-minute Husavik whale and puffin tour was a wise choice and we cannot wait to share a more in-depth review of our experience on board the vessel that gave us the opportunity to enjoy this once in a lifetime excursion.
Whether you are a waterfall aficionado that will immediately fall in love with Dettifoss and Godafoss or you are seeking stereotypical Icelandic wildlife encounters, there are plenty of things to do in North Iceland to ensure a return visit will be on your mind! We cannot wait to return to this region and enjoy more epic experiences.
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