Following the incredible days in south Iceland, we drove through the scenic eastern fjords. Our ride was really amazing. We must have stopped our car a dozen times to stop and admire the unbelievable and surprising beauty. We had read that region is impressive but we were baffled by the pristine, untouched, sparsely populated wonderland. We called it a day and took shelter in a beautiful guesthouse that was perfect to start early the next day and delve into North Iceland.
North Iceland is a spectacular region. It offers a huge spectrum of terrain and landscape to explore. With 3 days in hand, we felt we had just enough time to see volcanic landscapes, sulfurous geothermal areas, some of the most powerful waterfalls in Europe along with small little villages.
Our first day in North Iceland was all about exploring lava fields, geothermal areas and hot spring mud pots.
Námafjall is a mountainous ridge with a high temperature geothermal area, Hverir, at its feet. Hverir is truly otherworldly. Boiling mud pools, and sizzling vents in shades from red to ochre to grey to blue, the world of Hverir made us feel as if we were exploring another planet. The feeling is magical, although, you are a little taken aback by the smell of sulphur which is horrible!! There is a little walking path to Námaskarð pass and further to Námafjall peak from where the panoramic views are a treat to watch.
North of route 1 lies the active volcanic region of Krafla. Krafla is marked by steaming vents and colorful volcanic craters. Viti crater being one of them. You can walk on the circular path around the brim of the crater and enjoy the calm blue water in it.
Leirhnjúkur is one more impressive crater in the region. To get here, start walking on the well marked path from the Krafla parking area. It takes you through an area with lot of volcanic activity, steaming vents and bubbling mud pots. The walk is extremely rewarding, just stick to the marked path and enjoy the beauty!
The cave known to many Game of Thrones fan is, in my opinion, slightly over-rated. If you have the time and enthusiasm, visit the water-filled cave. After a day filled with smelly geothermal areas, we unwinded ourselves gazing at calm, steamy water in the cave! It is definitely a good place to capture the deep blue water reflecting the surrounding rocky ceiling of the cave on your camera.
Jökulsárgljúfur National Park
We started our day by visiting Jökulsárgljúfur National Park, the northern part of Vatnajökull National Park. Jökulsárgljúfur can be further divided in 3 parts- Ásbyrgi in north, Vesturdalur sitting in the centre, and Dettifoss, the indomitable waterfall in south.
We drove till the horse-shoe shaped Ásbyrgi canyon. Amazed by the sheer scale of vertical rock formation, we did a short walk through a woodland of birch and willow. We were at the base of the canyon, but there are also a couple of hikes which take you on the top of the canyon and I am sure the view from up there would be even better!
Vesturdalur, the middle part of Jökulsárgljúfur national park is one of the remotest areas we have been to. The lush green valley has many interesting geological formations- the unique rocky cliffs, basalt columns and honeycombed caves of Hljóðaklettar, red colored Rauðhólar and Karl og Kerling, the petrified trolls. There are a couple of shorts hikes, ranging from 30 minutes to 3 hours, in Vesturdalur. We walked from the parking through Hljóðaklettar till Rauðhólar and back. The weaving path through Hljóðaklettar is extremely rocky. This hike will mostly take a little over 90 minutes.
Dettifoss, Iceland’s and Europe’s most powerful waterfall was our last destination for the day! I have to say, Dettifoss is gigantic. Not only in its scale, but the huge volume of water pluming down the vertical edge creates a thunderous sound and mist so dense you can see it from a kilometer away. The waterfall is magnetic; the mist soaks you in itself so don’t forget to get your raincoat if you want to see it up close.
There is a small hiking trail from Dettifoss to another smaller waterfall, Selfoss, nearby. The whole hike from parking to Dettifoss to Selfoss and back takes around an hour.
On day 3 in the region, we visited yet another dramatic waterfall, Goðafoss, the waterfall of the gods! Goðafoss is very close to route 1, the ring road, hence very convenient to visit while we began our day to move towards northwest Iceland. Similar to Dettifoss, Goðafoss falls off a vertical edge too, making it look like a water curtain. You can walk on either sides of waterfall and enjoy the view from different angles.
We continued our journey towards the west and made pit stops in several beautiful places that came in the way. Starting from the beautiful church at Akureyri, the second biggest city in Iceland, we took the scenic road (route 76 and 82) Akureyri and Varmahlið. The landscape on this route is magical. Still covered by snow and hence, highly contrasted black mountains with green crawling towards the top and small houses at the base is a treat our eyes will never forget!
Going on the same route, we ended up in the lovely fishing town, Hofsós. The houses in Hofsós looked like they came out straight from a fairytale.
We came across the oldest church in Iceland, Grafarkirkja. The setting of this church is one of the most beautiful that we’ve seen. The turf church sits like a jewel in the middle of a big grass field surrounded by mountains on either side.
We took a small detour to visit the small turf farm and church at Glaumbær, Skagafjörður. The old turf houses are now used as a museum to show period furniture, utensils and way of living.
Before calling it a day, we drove towards Hvítserkur, a 15m high sea stack. Hvítserkur is in Vatnsnes peninsula. There are many other attractions in the beautiful peninsula like Kolugljúfur waterfall and Vatnsdalur known for Vatnsdalshólar, a swarm of small hills.
The bumpy drive to Hvítserkur is about a half hour off of Ring Road on Highway 711. After getting to the parking, we hiked down the last bit for about 30 minutes to reach the isolated cliff that resembles a huge creature drinking water in the middle of the sea!
Even though the whale watching was worth it, honestly, we recommend this with a bit of hesitation! Bad weather and sea sick people around us made us not so happy after all! There are quite a few places in north Iceland that makes the region very unique. We hope the pictures above tempt you to visit some of these. If you’re looking for more inspiration for places to go in Iceland then you can read about our experiences in Golden Circle, South Iceland and Thórsmörk Valley here.