Iceland Road Trips: The North


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Listen, you’re going to Iceland, do not miss out on the north! So often I hear stories about folks visiting this beautiful country but missing out on what I think is the most incredible area. If you want a combination of adventure and relaxation, trust me on this one!

You can break this down into three main portions: Snaefellsness Penninsula, Siglufjordur and Myvatn.

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SNAEFELLSNESS – SIGLUFJORDUR – MYVATN

By Google: 12h, 30m / 850km
In Reality: 4-5 Full Days

What You Will See:
Underwater and inter-mountain tunnel roads
Basalt Columns/Cliffs
Snaefellsjokul Mountain/Glacier
Helgafell (folkloric hill with a view)
Kirkjufellsfoss and Godafoss (and many more waterfalls)
Hot Dogs
Shark Museum (where you can discover hákarl)
Fjords/Sheer cliffs
Charming fishing towns and the more developed Akureyri
Lake Myvatn
Famous and not-so-famous Hot Springs
Hverir (truly out of this world experience… and stinky. Very stinky.)
Krafla and Hevirfjall Craters
Krafla Volcano (and the beautiful mess it made)

What You Might See:
Northern Lights
Whales, Seals and other aquatic creatures
Husavik


Views from the Gerduberg Basalt Columns

Views from the Gerduberg Basalt Columns

SNAEFELLSNESS

One Full Day (start early!)

This area is generally overlooked in typical Iceland to-do lists. But in my opinion it is equally worth the trip. It begins about 1.5 hour north of Reykjavik on relatively flat grounds, and finishes its reach into the ocean with a glacier-capped volcano. Without stopping, you could do the loop in six hours or so but you’d be wise to plan for a full day.

Everything in Iceland is bigger than it seems. You’re going to want to hike to the glaciers and stop at the waterfalls and make your wishes at Helgafell. You’ll be tempted to take photo stops every other kilometre. Especially if, like us, this is the first taste of Iceland you’ve had.

Along this route, you’ll have the opportunity to experience the detailed preparation and unusual taste of the traditional Icelandic dish Hákarl. Which is essentially fermented (and sustainable) Greenland Shark with the smell of ammonia and a strong, fishy taste.

But don’t fret! If that’s not your thing, you’ll also get to hunt down the Meistarinn Hot Dog Stand in Stykkisholmur. Order the Alfred and the Henrik.

You’ll be tired by the end of this day but do your best to catch the sunset over the ocean. It’s the perfect finale to this day of exploration.

Halfway up Snaefellsjokull Mountain

Halfway up Snaefellsjokull Mountain

Important Points:
1. I suggest booking your first place to stay as near to the Penninsula as you can. We made the mistake of booking ours just north of Blonduos and it turned into a very long and exhausting drive. One of the roads we chose to take was under construction and the potholes were gut-wrenching. It took three times longer than it should have. We also hadn’t picked up any food at this point, which didn’t help. Hangry passengers make for a tough road trip (fortunately 12 hours of adventure had everyone fast asleep)! We had left Reykjavik at 6am and made it to our Airbnb just in time to see the sunset.

2. Pack a lot of food! Throughout the Snaefellsness Penninsula, you won’t find much for food. If you don’t have time to prepare lunches the night before, there is a Bonus Supermarket right after the underwater tunnels. Stock up here and plan out some meals for the next day or two. Don’t forget to grab a lot of water! Grocery stores tend to close around 6pm (as we discovered far too late). So the granola bars I had packed for the entire trip were basically gone by the end of the day.

Otherwise, there are expensive cafés and guesthouses along the way if you’re desperate. Once you round the top of the Penninsula there are the hot dogs and hákarl and probably some assorted cafes but it’s definitely not enough to get you through what will surely be at least a full day’s worth of adventure. You'll want to be well-fed before you attempt to scale the mountain.

They don't look like much but they sure are tasty!

They don't look like much but they sure are tasty!

SIGLUFJORDUR

2-3 Days

This little fishing town is one of the most charming places you’ll get to experience in Iceland. A large portion of this drive hugs the ocean and the views are breathtaking. Nothing but Arctic Ocean as far as you can see. On the other side, sprawling mountains and lush grass. Sheep everywhere.

The only way in or out of Siglufjordur is via dark tunnels dug through the mountains where there’s no space between the ocean and the mountains. The tunnels open up into a narrow fjord where you’ll find the northern-most town in the country, nestled humbly among the mountains.

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I can’t explain what it is about this town that I love so much. Something about it makes me feel calm, relaxed, and right at home. Although there isn’t particularly much to do here aside from strolling the town and conversing with the friendly locals (all 1000 of them).

But you don’t need entertainment here. Stay for a few days -- just relax and inhale the crisp ocean air as you wander the shipyard and museum.  

Important Notes:
1.
As mentioned, you have to drive through dark, sometimes one-lane tunnels through the mountains over several kilometres. It can be a little nerve-wracking at first and if this is something that might make you uncomfortable, look into it first! The only alternative is to turn back around once you’re there. Personally, I absolutely loved the tunnels and made me love Siglufjordur even more. In the case that you aren’t comfortable with this, I’d suggest staying on the main highway, onward to Akureyri.

2. If you’re pressed for time getting to Siglufjordur, you can skip the extension north of Blonduos and cut straight across on the main highway and shave about an hour of driving off the total trip. You’ll be missing a few things here: sheer cliffs and fjords, a lighthouse, sleepy sheep, and the opportunity to see sun-bathing seals. We didn’t see any seals but the views from the cliffs were unbelievable

3. There are restaurants and cafes in Siglufjordur but no grocery stores. Surprisingly there are hotels and a hostel but we chose to stay in an Airbnb and cook our own meals. If you want to save a few dollars, stop for groceries on your way.

4. There are plenty of other ways to keep your food costs in check.

Bonus Supermarkets are everywhere -- until you need one.

Bonus Supermarkets are everywhere -- until you need one.

MYVATN

2-3 Days

Ready for some more adventure? These few days will be PACKED. Say farewell to the charming fishing town and make your way to Akureyri, the second largest city in Iceland.

From here, you can do day trips to the Myvatn area. We did it all in one shot but if you don’t have the endurance to hike mountains, swim, and explore by foot for 12+ hours, I highly recommend planning this over two or three days.

The Myvatn area has everything from active volcanoes to bubbling mud pits and glorious hot springs. There are limitless opportunities for adventure here. Conveniently, though, pretty much all of it is situated right next to each other as if it were planned out like a theme park.

From the top of Hevirfjall Crater

From the top of Hevirfjall Crater

Important Notes:
1.
Once again, pack your lunches if you’re leaving Akureyri! Once you’re around Lake Myvatn, there is almost nowhere to eat. In our time out there we saw just one pizza restaurant and as you can imagine, it was very pricey. If I could do it over again, I would pack a lunch and save it for the landing at the highest point of the Hevirfjall Crater. It’s a hefty hike but you will be richly rewarded with an incredible 360 degree view of everywhere you have been and will be going. Catch your breath, wipe your sweat, and enjoy your lunch atop one of the highest points in the area.

2. Beware of the black flies around Lake Myvatn! They are pros at ruining your fun. But just keep swatting at them or wear a hat. Don’t let them get to you or you’ll miss the fun of running down the paths between lush grass and large, strange ground formations.

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3. In Akureyri, you’ll find plenty of options for food and places to stay. Regrettably, we didn’t spend as much time exploring this city as we would’ve liked. But the downtown area has many nice restaurants that seemed well-priced, and all the souvenir shopping you could ever want. You can also get hot dogs here, similar to the ones found on the peninsula. We took advantage of the grocery stores here and food prepped for the next few days.

4. As an alternative to staying in Akureyri, you can stay in Siglufjordur and do day trips to the Myvatn area. We loved that town so much that we compromised with a longer commute (about 2.5 hours each way) in favour of staying there longer. You could also stay in Husavik but we found it to be a very touristy town with very little there to make it worth the extra trek north (unless you plan to go whale watching, then this is generally the place to be).

Hanging out with the locals in Akureyri

Hanging out with the locals in Akureyri

NOW WHAT?

This trip only covered half of our time in Iceland. For our next adventure, things went South.