Our on-the-road tour of Iceland continues by exploring the northeast coast of this amazing island, leaving the town of Akureyri and spending two days exploring the main natural attractions of this remote and wild part of the island, full of natural attractions, impressive waterfalls and geothermal areas. Continuing along the Ring Road and making a few short detours from time to time, we will discover an amazing area, with a few minor travel snags!
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Our discovery of north-east Iceland starts from the small town of Akureyri, which we reached by taking the legendary F35 route from Reykjavík. The small and lively town of Akureyri will be our base for one more night, as it represents a perfect starting point for exploring the seaport city of Husavik and for those who wish to go “hunting” (virtual hunting, of course!) whales. Then, we will move to the area of Lake Mývatn, to discover some of the main natural attractions – waterfalls, volcanoes, geothermal areas – of this part of the island. In Mývatn we’ll be staying at the Hotel Laxá*, a recently built three-star structure that is located in a quiet position just a few kilometers from the lake and the main attractions of the area. The hotel also has an excellent restaurant, something not to be underestimated if you decide to stay in this area of the island that does not offer any large urban center and certainly does not have many dining opportunities. From here you can easily get lost in exploring the area and, why not, enjoy some relaxation at the Mývatn Nature Baths!
Arriving by airplane
Most travellers choose to reach Iceland by flight. The island is well connected to the rest of Europe and Switzerland by the national airline Icelandair. All flights from abroad land and depart from Keflavík Airport, located about 50 km from the capital Reykjavík. During the summer, a domestic flight to the northern city of Akureyri also departs from Keflavík. The airport has rental counters for all major international rental companies. You can therefore easily pick up your rental car here. By car, the city of Reykjavík is about 50 minutes away. However, if you have chosen an alternative means of transport or if you prefer to pick up your rented car in the city, you can also reach Reykjavík in about 45 minutes by a comfortable express bus service at a cost of about CHF 22,00. In addition, the airport is also connected to the capital by regular buses. This is certainly the cheapest connection option (the ticket costs about CHF 14), but it is undoubtedly also the slowest (about 90 minutes). Finally, a taxi service is of course available at the airport, but this option is by far the most expensive. All informations are available here.
Arriving by ship
Iceland can also be reached by sea. Those who choose this option usually arrive on the island as part of a North Sea cruise. In fact, there are many routes that, starting from the main port cities of northern Europe, stop in Reykjavík or even circumnavigate the whole island making some strategic stops in Akureyri and Ísafjörður. Obviously this is a travel option that does not offer any freedom in the choice of attractions to visit or things to do on the island. It is therefore only advisable for those who do not wish to spend more than a short stay in well-selected tourist destinations.
Leaving Akureyri, the first stop along our itinerary is the imposing waterfall of the Gods, Godafoss, which can be reached in about 30 minutes. Godafoss is certainly one of the most scenic waterfalls in Iceland: an impressive mass of water flowing in a semicircle between black rocks. It is no coincidence that it is probably one of the most visited and photographed waterfalls of the entire island.
It is said that its name Godafoss – waterfall of the gods – originates from an ancient legend: around the year 1000 AD here a lögsögumadur – an orator of the law at the parliament of Þingvellir – after choosing Christianity as the official religion of Iceland, reached the waterfall and let fall into its waters the statues of the old pagan idols. Although this is only a legend and although it seems that the name is even older than the facts told here, in any case we find that this story fits well with the austerity and charm of this place.
Godafoss is easily accessible from the Ring Road and, once at your destination, you can leave your car in one of the two parking lots that are located on the east and west side of the river. Near the parking lot on the east side you will also find a gas station and a small restaurant-café that also sells souvenirs.
We suggest you leave your car at the west parking. From here, continue on foot and reach the waterfall that, from this side, offers the best view of itself. When you are satisfied with the view and have taken your best pictures, you can continue walking along the path that follows the river and reach the east side through a small footbridge. On the bridge, spend a few minutes observing the smaller and less known Geitafoss. Then, from here reach the waterfall on the east side and, if you have time, take a short break for a coffee at the gas station before resuming your journey.
Húsavík and whale watching
Godafoss is just an intermediate stop in our planning for the day. Our final destination is to visit the small town of Húsavík in the North Fjords. This small town – to tell the truth not very interesting – would not be among the main tourist attractions of the island if it had not become, over the years, the perfect starting point for those who want to experience “whale watching”. From this small port town, which on the whales has built its fame and its economy, depart many boats that sail the ocean in search of cetaceans. Searching on the web you will find many organized tours and you can choose what is most suitable for you. However, our experience was not the happiest. The days before our tour were characterized by bad weather and rough seas, which forced the organization to cancel the boat trip on the date initially scheduled and reschedule it for the next day. In the end, despite the sea conditions were not optimal, the organizer chose not to cancel the tour and we chose to participate. The result? The worst memory of our Icelandic vacation! Seasickness and discomfort for the duration of the tour and zero whales sighted.
Therefore, our suggestion is to carefully evaluate whether this kind of experience is suitable for you (do you suffer from seasickness? Are you afraid of rough seas?) and not to be afraid of giving up the experience if the sea conditions are not optimal, even at the cost of losing the money you invested. As expected, in fact, tour operators prefer not to cancel the outings if sea conditions are not optimal and opt for a cancellation only in case of serious security risks.
However, if you decide to reach the town of Húsavík, we recommend not to miss a visit to the small whale museum that is located in the area of the port from which the main whale watching companies depart. The entrance to the museum, which tells the history of the place and the life of cetaceans, costs 2200 Icelandic Crowns (ISK), about CHF / EUR 15.00. You can find all the information at this link.
The second day of our stay in the Lake Mývatn area is dedicated to natural attractions and geothermal and volcanic areas. Departing from Hotel Laxà, the first stop of the day is the area of Dimmuborgir. This region, whose name means Dark Fortress, is an interesting labyrinth of lava formations dating back two millennia, the result of the interaction between boiling lava and water from the lake and surrounding marshes. The result is an area unique in the world, whose creations are visible above the sea surface only here in Iceland.
You can get a taste of what you’ll see from your car on the way to the Hverfjall volcano. But if you really want to explore the area, you’ll have to leave road 848 and turn right towards the visitor’s parking lot. Here you can leave your car and walk along one of the hiking trails. At the entrance you’ll find some informational signs about the area and a map indicating the trails with details on their degree of difficulty. We chose to explore the area only briefly to spend more time exploring the Hverfjall volcano, our next stop.
Hverfjall is considered one of the largest volcanic craters in the world and certainly does not lack charm. This imposing black volcano, formed over two thousand years ago, is a must-see for anyone visiting the Lake Mývatn region. You can easily reach it by leaving road 848 and turning right, just past the exit for Dimmuborgir. At the foot of the crater you’ll find a parking and a small service center with bathrooms and vending machines. From the parking starts one of the hiking trails that leads to the summit, about 400 meters high. The path is obviously slightly sloping but it is easy to walk and the view from the summit will certainly reward you for the effort. For the ascent, consider about twenty minutes, but once at the top don’t miss the opportunity to walk along the crater following the path that goes all around the caldera and takes about an hour to return to the starting point.
Mývatn Nature Baths
Iceland is a land of geothermal areas, fumaroles and volcanoes. But all this heat trying to get to the surface often encounters pools and springs, heating the water and enriching it with minerals. For this reason Iceland is also a land of spas and relaxation. We have already told you about the well-known Blue Lagoon, but we have also suggested you to prefer other spas, less chaotic and touristy. Here, the Mývatn Nature Bath is one of them. Off the beaten tourist track of Reykjavík and its surroundings, this spa is an excellent compromise for those seeking tranquility, organization and good tourist reception. The center is undoubtedly smaller and more basic than the famous Blue Lagoon, but here you can certainly enjoy the true spirit of the great Icelandic spas and, not surprisingly, this center is also widely frequented by the local population. We ended our day of exploration here and recommend you do the same.
You can find all the information about the center, admission prices and opening hours at this link.
Food in Iceland is quite expensive and the Lake Mývatn area doesn’t offer many dining opportunities! Therefore, we suggest that you fill up at a supermarket with non-perishable products and take them with you in the car. They will come in handy especially during a long on-the-road trip and will save you time on restaurant stops!
While driving here, our car suddenly broke down leaving us on foot in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, we were quite close to a major city and were quickly rescued by the car rental company. So, if you decide to rent a car in Iceland, we recommend to choose serious and reliable rental companies that can guarantee high quality standards, cost transparency and an efficient roadside assistance system. In some locations this can really make the difference!