North Iceland Travel Tips
Akureyri is Iceland´s second city – the self-titled Capital of the North. And with its population of nearly 20,000, it´s not hard to see why!
In all seriousness, despite its small population, Akureyri offers constant surprises to the visitor and has as many attractions as a typical town several times its size. It should also be mentioned that it is a very attractive town set against a breathtaking natural backdrop with excellent skiing in winter.
Some of the top attractions include the national aviation museum at the airport and the cathedral with its stained glass windows rescued from Coventry Cathedral (UK) in the Second World War. The swimming pool is top class, with slides, toys, hot pots, bathing decks and more; and don´t forget the world´s northernmost botanical gardens.
On the well-travelled route between Akureyri and Mývatn, you drive past Goðafoss – much more than just another of Iceland´s countless waterfalls. Goðafoss is right beside Route 1 (Iceland´s main highway, sometimes called the ring road) and simply begs the visitor to stop off for a closer look.
The falls are made up of two wide and two narrow waterfalls emptying into a semicircular basin.
Goðafoss may lack the statistics: it is not the biggest, or the fastest, or the tallest. But it is very pretty – and also historically significant.
Goðafoss gets its name from the statuettes of Pagan gods thrown in by Lawspeaker Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði in the year 1000 after he succeeded in persuading Icelanders to vote in favour of converting to Christianity. Þorgeir was actually a Pagan himself; but meditated for a day and night before deciding that Christianity was the best way forward as long as Icelanders could continue to practice Paganism in private. After the vote, he converted to Christianity.
Further to the east beyond beautiful Lake Mývatn lie the caves and ghostly lava formations of Dimmuborgir. A geologist´s dream, Dimmuborgir were formed from a lake of molten lava some 2,300 years ago and the way that lava interacted with water in the area. The complicated geological processes have had some truly amazing and long-lasting consequences.
The whole place resembles the post-apocalyptic remains of an old city and the numerous lava tubes, towers and caves provide more than enough to explore for even the most enthusiastic visitor.
The pretty town of Húsavík is worth a visit all by itself and the drive there is most pleasant. But there are two other very good reasons to check it out: penises and whales.
The Icelandic Phallological Museum is a world-renowned collection of nearly 300 penises from the animal kingdom. The museum aims to hold specimens from every mammal species in and around Iceland and has been promised a human specimen from an elderly Icelandic patron following his death. The 95 year-old gentleman sadly passed away recently – although at the time of writing, it was not confirmed whether or not the offer still stood.
Húsavík is also known as the Whale Watching Capital of Europe due to the amazingly high likelihood of seeing whales nearby and the beautiful wooden sailing boats offering unforgettable tours. The town is also home to an excellent whale museum.
Ásbyrgi is one of several destinations in this mini guide which are inside Europe´s largest national park – the Vatnajökull National Park. The park is so big it covers parts of North Iceland, East Iceland and South Iceland!
Ásbyrgi is a huge horseshoe shaped canyon which is a favourite camping spot among Icelanders due to the fact that it is a perfect summertime sun trap. That is also one of the reasons it is so densely vegetated. The area is crisscrossed with hiking trails and is a great stop off, whether for just an hour or for days on end.