Lake Mývatn in North Iceland

What can you do around North Iceland’s stunning waterbody, Lake Mývatn? How big is the lake, and how long should you spend there? Read on to learn more about this famous nature site in Iceland’s north. 

Situated in a large geothermal area, the Lake Mývatn nature reserve has become one of the most popular natural attractions in Iceland’s northern region

Given thats its volcanic shores are laden with endless points of interest, the majority of travellers enjoy driving a complete circuit around the lake, stopping as and when they discover fascinating stops.

Mývatn is not a deep lake by any means. Its maximum depth is only 4.5 m (15 ft), but its surface area – 37 km2 (14 sq mi) – more than makes up for its shallow nature. 

Geothermal activity at Lake Mývatn 

Geothermal site near Mývatn
Photo: Private Lake Mývatn Tour

The Mývatn area formed approximately 2300 years ago in a violent fissure eruption. It is thought that basaltic lava flowed through Laxárdalur valley, all the way to the lowland plain of Aðaldalur, where it met the ocean. In its wake, a row of craters has since been named Þrengslaborgir. Signs of this geothermal activity can be found all around the lake. For example, nearby is Krafla caldera, within which sits Viti volcano.

Some particular spots are more noteworthy than others. One area worth checking out is Skútustaðir, a crater row on the lake’s southern side that is today considered a national monument. Craters such as these would have obstructed the steady flow of lava, forcing it to form pools that later drained, leaving large forests of basaltic pillars.

Dimmuborgir rock formations
Photo: Private Lake Mývatn Tour

One great example of this is Dimmuborgir, otherwise known as the Black Fortress or Black Castles. It is a dark, haunting, craggy stretch of gnarled rocks that serves as the setting for countless stories from Icelandic folklore. The best known is the tale of Grýla, a tough ogress who makes up a central part of Icelandic Christmas traditions. 

There are walkways throughout Dimmuborgir that let you appreciate the intense natural formations, as well as ponder on the trolls and elves that are said to live in the area. Kirkjuhringur (Church Circle) is one such hike, coming in at 2.2 km long. It is named after a beautiful arch formation that resembles a country church, hence the route’s name.  

The lake’s glittering blue waters are dotted with small islands. Some are ancient pseudocraters, while others are monolithic columns of basalt. 

Are there other geothermal attractions at Mývatn? 

Mývatn is known for its geothermal energy
Photo: Lake Mývatn Shore Excursion from Akureyri Port

On the slopes of Mount Námafjall, visitors can discover the otherworldly site known as Námaskarð Pass. 

With an abundance of geothermal activity happening just below the surface, there is no vegetation to speak of at Námaskarð. In its place are a wide array of fumaroles and hot springs, each spouting a column of white steam into the air. 

This geothermal activity creates a brilliant natural spectacle. For instance, the ground throughout the pass is caked in different colours, such as red, yellow, orange, green. 

The tranquil interior of Grjótagjá cave
Photo: Private Lake Mývatn Tour

Grjótagjá cave is another well-known site at Mývatn. In fact, many people have seen this cave without ever having visited it! The reason for that is HBO’s fantasy series, Game of Thrones, which used Grjótagjá as a shooting location. 

Remember the scene where Jon Snow and his wildling lover Ygrit, share an intimate moment in a subterranean pool? That, dear reader, would be the cave in question. 

Actually, because of the show’s global success, Grjótagjá can only be visited with a tour guide these days so as to ensure the cave remains undamaged and relatively empty of visitors. 

Mývatn Nature Baths 

Mývatn nature baths
Photo: Myvatn Nature Baths – Admission

One location where you can make the most of the lake’s geothermal activity is at the Mývatn Nature Baths, only 105 km (65 m) south of the Arctic Circle. Having first opened in 2004, this spa offers spectacular views over the lake, best enjoyed while luxuriating in pleasant, naturally-heated waters. 

Not only will you find milky-blue pools outside in the open air, but Mývatn Nature baths also offers a swim-up bar, steam rooms, and their own eatery, Café Kvika, which serves up tasty lunches and snacks. Its facilities are sophisticated in their design and blend in tastefully with the stunning panoramas that make up the lake.

Remember to bring your own towel, though one can be rented onsite should you forget. 

When is the best time to visit Lake Mývatn? 

An aerial view of Lake Mývatn
Photo: Mývatn and surroundings

Thankfully for you, Lake Mývatn can be visited in both the winter and summer.

Each season offers its draws, be it the golden glow of the Midnight Sun washing over the land between March and September, or the snow-laden lava fields that sum up the colder months. 

Be aware that driving to the north during the winter may pose challenges regarding road closures and weather conditions, so make sure to keep a close eye on Safe Travel to avoid any unnecessary disruptions while travelling. 

A note about Mývatn’s midges… 

 
Midges at Myvatn
Photo: Michael Clarke. Flickr. CC.

One drawback for summer travellers is the abundance of midges, a small and pesky species of fly. 

As proof of that fact, the lake literally translates to “Midge Lake,” offering some idea as to how prolific they are here. These tiny insects can be found here in such large numbers that they form visible colonies around the water’s edge, often resembling small, black tornadoes.

Midges can be a particular problem for hikers and campers, so make sure to bring along protective gear so as to avoid being overwhelmed by these tiny winged locals. 

The nature of Lake Mývatn 

The lush shores of Mývatn
Photo: Private Lake Mývatn Tour

It’s rare that visitors will pass through the Lake Mývatn area without stopping to appreciate the beauty of its nature. 

Animals and plantlife all add to the paradisiacal character of this place, making it a must-stop for travellers in the north.

Marimo at Mývatn 

A shrimp sits atop a marimo ball
Photo: RW Sinclair. Flickr. CC.

Anyone who watched David Attenborough’s documentary, The Private Life of Plants might remember a small section about a strange, spherical plant known as marimo

Marimo is otherwise called Cladophora balls or moss balls. Mývatn happens to be one of the only places on earth where marimo occurs naturally. 

It is a filamentous algae that rolls about the lake’s surface like loose tennis balls. It is often accidentally caught up in the nets of local fishermen. Recently, the marimo population at Mývatn dropped considerably due to a variety of environmental factors. Conservation efforts are slowly restoring it to natural levels. 

Birds at Lake Mývatn 

Mývatn attracts many bird species
Photo: Birdwatching private tour: Lake Mývatn Area

Lake Mývatn is well known for its wildlife, particularly the many birds that nest in the area. In point of fact, it is a recognised Important Bird and Biodiversity Area, with most species being migratory. Birds are drawn to the lake due to its nutrient-dense water, as well as the millions of aquatic insects that inhabit it, like Cladocera, or water-fleas. 

With such a buffet on offer, it is little wonder that fifteen species of duck call the lake home. In fact, there are more species of duck at Lake Mývatn than in any location in Europe. The most common are tufted ducks and harlequin ducks, followed closely by greater scaups. However, visitors may also find species like: Barrow goldeneyes, red-breasted mergansers, Eurasian wigeons, gadwalls, mallards, and common scoters. 

Birdwatching is a popular activity at Mývatn
Photo: Birdwatching private tour: Lake Mývatn Area

This is by no means a definitive list. Just know that if you’re on the lookout for ducks, Lake Mývatn has you covered. Actually, it is one of the best bird-watching sites in the entire country. No surprise then that many other species that can be spotted. 

What other bird species can you observe at the lake? 


There are also water birds like slavonian grebes, great northern divers, and whooper swans. In the rocks and moors surrounding the lake, lucky guests might also see rock ptarmigans and even Iceland’s national bird, the gyrfalcon. 

If you’re looking to learn more about the region’s birdlife, you can make a stop at the endlessly fascinating Sigurgeir’s Bird Museum. While it is only a tiny museum, it has an enormous collection of stuffed birds – in fact, they display a specimen of each and every species found in Iceland, minus one. 

Alternatively, you could choose to take part in a dedicated birdwatching tour, where a guide will provide plenty of information about the variety of species that call the lake home. 

What is the best way to explore Lake Mývatn? 

A Reykjavik Excursions coach
Photo: Golli. There are many coach tours in Iceland

There are a number of different ways to discover all that Lake Mývatn has to offer. Most people would rather opt to explore on their own, hiring a rental car. That way, they can take in each attraction as they come. After all, travelling on your own schedule allows you to prioritise what sites you want to see, and how long you spend at each.

Hiring a rental car does not make sense for some travellers, particularly those who are sticking to a budget. In such cases, it is preferable to book a spot on a guided tour. 

Thankfully, Lake Mývatn is part of the popular Diamond Circle tour – the northern alternative to the famed Golden Circle sightseeing route in the west. Other worthy attractions on the Diamond Circle include the likes of Dettifoss waterfall, Husavik town, and Ásbyrgi Canyon.

 

 

Ásbyrgi is particularly worthy of a mention. It is an enormous horse-shoe shaped canyon. It is said to have formed when Odin’s eight-legged steed, Sleipnir, thrust his hoof into the earth. You can learn more in our full article – Norse Mythology: The Gods of the Ancient Icelanders. Regardless of its ethereal origins, you are sure to be in awe of Ásbyrgi’s dense forest basin and dramatic cliffsides. 

Taking a coach tour rather than driving yourself has its own benefits. For one, a professional tour guide will be able to provide informative tidbits about each attraction. It also saves one from having to worry about driving. Not to mention planning when and how to explore the area. As mentioned, this can be a welcome relief in the winter when road conditions are less than favourable. 

Where to Stay in North Iceland

With dramatic landscapes, lush farmlands, and charming villages, North Iceland has much to offer travellers. It’s fantastic for outdoor activities, culinary experiences, and cultural exploration and in terms of lodgings, it’s most definitely not lacking. But with a myriad of enticing options, finding a place to stay in North Iceland can be a challenging quest. But don’t worry – whether you’re after the cottagecore vibe or a city stay, family-friendly, luxury or budget, we’ve got you covered. 

In Akureyri

Staying in Akureyri is a great option for those who want a city break or are going skiing in Hlíðarfjall mountain. Due to how easy it is to get there without a car, it’s also excellent for those who want to explore the North without having to drive. You can simply take the bus or go by plane, and book North Iceland day-trips that leave from Akureyri. Northern lights, geothermal baths, whale watching and major attractions are all on the table. You can even book a tour tailor-made for you!

For a classic city stay, Hótel Akureyri ($$ – $$$) has three fabulous central locations in town. First, there’s Dynheimar, housed in what used to be Iceland’s firts movie theatre. It’s a quaint hotel on Akureyri’s main street, perfect for those who want something modern and eclectic. For a more classic and sophisticated design, go for Skjaldborg (use Hótel Akureyri when searching). The house was built in 1924 by the sobrietry social group Good Templars and later transformed into a printing factory. Lastly, there’s Akurinn Residence, a stately villa with the same classic design as Skjaldborg that can house up to 17 people. 

Ideal for skiers, Hótel Hálönd ($$) is situated at the base of Hlíðarfjall mountain, only a five-minute drive – or a 40-minute walk if you want a warm-up – from Akureyri’s skiing area. You’ll have access to a hot tub after your adventures on the slopes and a chic, modern room to rest up in. There’s no restaurant at the hotel, but the city centre is only an eight-minute drive away.

People skiing on a sunny day in Hlíðarfjall, Akureyri.
Photo: Golli. People skiing on a sunny day in Hlíðarfjall, Akureyri.

On a budget

It must be said that finding cheap accommodation in Iceland is not an easy task. With a high cost of living, hotels and guesthouses tend to be on the more expensive side. On the bright side, the standard of accommodations in Iceland is relatively high, so in most cases, you’ll be getting your money’s worth. Even so, some lodgings have a below-average price tag whilst also keeping up the good ratings. 

Guesthouse Svínavatn ($) by Svínavatn lake is a small and friendly shoreside accommodation offering rooms with shared or private bathrooms. The lake is popular for fishing, an activity guests can enjoy free of charge. The guesthouse is also conveniently located within an hour’s drive from popular attractions such as Kolufossar waterfalls in Kolugljúfur, Kattarauga pond, and the historic Glaumbær turf house.

A 15-minute ferry ride or a short flight away from the mainland, you’ll find Syðstibær Guesthouse ($) on Hrísey Island, also known as the Pearl of Eyjafjörður. It has a retro vibe and a fantastic location, which allows you to experience the island life. You can take a stroll around the island on four different trails or book a sightseeing tour by tractor. Hrísey also has a bring-you-own-discs disc golf course, a sport that has taken Iceland by storm in the past few years, a small swimming pool and a museum (open by appointment; email [email protected] for inquiries).

The Hrísey lighthouse during summer.
Photo: Páll Stefánsson. The Hrísey lighthouse during summer.

Salt Guesthouse ($) in Siglufjörður is simple, comfy, central, and has historical roots. The house was built as a hotel during the boom of the herring era, and the name ‘Salt’ pays tribute to that history. It’s within five minutes’ walk from the bakery, grocery shop, pharmacy, information centre, and several bars and restaurants. Guests on Booking have noted that the guesthouse is not clearly marked on the outside. Look for a flag hanging above the entrance and the marking ‘Hvanneyri 1935’. This is the name of the house and the year it was built.

Right in the centre of Akureyri, there’s Hafnarstræti Hostel ($-$$), which offers a unique, spaceship-like capsule experience, and Akureyri Backpackers ($), a more typical hostel with a slightly cheaper nightly rate and a sauna. These are great if you want a budget accomodation in the town centre, or if you just really enjoy the more social hostel life. 

For families and groups

With tons of family-friendly adventures, North Iceland is a fantastic place to bring your family! From horseback riding and nature exploring to interesting museums and swimming pools, there’s a lot to discover. Finding suitable lodgings for the whole family might be the hardest part, but following are some that accommodate up to seven people and have nearby activities for kids. These are also ideal for groups that don’t want to split themselves up in hotel rooms. 

Brimnes Bungalows ($-$$$), located by Lake Ólafsfjörður, are classic family cottages that sleep up to seven people. They are fully equipped with a kitchen and bathroom, as well as a hot tub on the veranda. Guests also have access to boats to row on the lake, a great activity for the whole family. Ólafsfjörður Swimming Pool, which has a waterslide, is only a six-minute walk away. The price per person depends on the number of guests, as there is a flat rate for the cottages.

Stóra-Ásgeirsá Horse Farm Stay ($-$$$) offers guests a true Icelandic farm experience. As Brimnes, it accommodates up to seven people, making it perfect for family vacations. The kids can run around the fields, interact with the friendly farm animals, and even take part in farm chores. It’s also possible to book horseback riding, an activity that most children love. At Mjólkurhúsið pub, you can buy drinks and traditional Icelandic meat soup, a hearty dish that will fuel you up after a long day. The price per person for this accommodation depends on the number of guests, as there is a flat rate for the rooms.

Hotel Kjarnalundur ($) in Kjarnaskógur forest, one of the relatively few in Iceland, offers accommodation for up to six and is located in an area that is immensely popular with families. It stretches across 800 hectares of land and is filled with fun trails, playgrounds, volleyball courts, covered grill areas, sledge slopes (during winter), and more. You might even spot some rabbits hopping around. It’s a superb area for family adventures and picnics.

Cottagecore

If hotel rooms and apartments are not your vibe, and you want something a bit more country, perhaps the numerous cottages available in North Iceland sound more attractive.

For nature lovers, Hestasport Cottages ($-$$$) in Varmahlíð, surrounded by fields of grass and mountainscapes, perfectly capture the countryside feeling. They offer a serene atmosphere and an excellent opportunity to experience both the magnificent winter sky and bright summer nights. The price per person depends on the number of guests, as there is a flat rate for the cottages.

There is also Vegamót Cottages ($-$$) in Dalvík, which has an old-fashioned village feel to it. You can choose between a small cottage with a private toilet (no shower) and kitchenette or a slightly bigger cottage with a private bathroom, full kitchen and living room. It does have a three-night minimum stay, but if you’re not in a hurry, it’s a good base location for day trips to Siglufjörður, Akureyri, Grímsey, Húsavík, and more. The price per person depends on the number of guests, as there is a flat rate for the cottages.

Romantic and luxurious

There’s also plenty to pick from on the other end of the spectrum. If you’re on the hunt for romance or luxury, North Iceland will certainly not disappoint you. Whether it’s to get the ultimate relaxation, celebrate an anniversary, pop the question, or just to treat yourself, you won’t have any trouble finding the right accommodation. 

Brimslóð Atelier ($$) is situated in the oldest part of Blönduós village. A small, farmhouse-style hotel right by the sea, it’s well suited for a couple’s getaway. Breakfast is included, and those interested in a Nordic culinary experience can dine at the in-house restaurant, which serves “Icelandic heritage food with a modern twist” from locally sourced and natural ingredients. They also offer a cooking workshop where participants learn about Nordic nature and cuisine.

For something striking a balance between nature and city, try Sigló Hótel ($$$), an outstanding hotel located by Siglufjörður’s harbour. Its classy, romantic design, paired with the marina hot tub and sauna, is perfect for a romantic stay or relaxing after a tiring day. A continental breakfast is included in the price. The hotel also runs three restaurants, offering guests dinner and lunch options ranging from fine dining to burgers and pizza. 

Three people enjoying the view of a snow-covered Siglufjörður from the marina hot tub at Sigló Hotel.
Photo: Golli. Three people enjoying the view of a snow-covered Siglufjörður from the marina hot tub at Sigló Hotel.

For those wanting the best of the best, Deplar Farm ($$$$$) is a remote hideout that offers a highly luxurious experience of the Icelandic wilderness. Surrounded by mountains, fields, and rivers, with nothing else in sight for miles, it’s ideal for recharging. It has a Nordic and minimalist style and offers a range of activities, both in summer and winter. With nightly rates starting at around ISK 600.000 [$ 4.500, €4.100] and a minimum stay of three nights, it is one of the most – if not the most – expensive hotels you can book in Iceland. However, it’s also one of the most exquisite, making the 2023 Condé Nast Traveler’s Gold List as one of the “Best Hotels in the World”. 

One with nature

If you’re going to North Iceland to breathe in the exquisite nature, you can enhance your experience by choosing the right place to stay. Although a great deal of the available accommodations in North Iceland are, in fact, surrounded by nature , there are several that really stand out from the crowd in regards to location or design.

Fosshótel at Lake Mývatn ($$$), designed with nature in mind and in perfect harmony with its surroundings, is an excellent choice for those wanting to immerse themselves in Iceland’s beautiful landscapes. Sitting in the magnificent lava fields of Mývatn and facing the lake, the enormous dining hall windows offer an unobstructed view of nature. The hotel has a first-class continental breakfast and an in-house restaurant perfect for those wanting to try the famous Icelandic lamb or fish

Sky sighting Iglúhús ($$) takes the closeness to nature one step further. With cosy and rustic, dome-style cabins that have windows across the roof, you’ll have an unrestricted view of the night sky while you lie in bed. This is a unique way to experience the midnight sun of summer and the northern lights of winter. Located in Árskógarsandur, it’s in the same area as The Beer Spa, quite literally offering their guests to bathe in beer whilst also drinking beer. A cheaper alternative is Hauganes beach baths, where you can refresh yourself with some sea swimming and relax in the ocean-view tubs. If you’re easily disturbed by light while you sleep, this is a place you should visit in fall, winter, or early spring while the sun isn’t up half the night. Note that there are no showers at the accommodation.

Iceland Yurt ($$ – $$$) takes camping to the next level, offering guests a traditional Mongolian wool-insulated and wood-fired yurt. Wake up to the birds singing or the sound of raindrops on the tent and connect with nature in a new way. Five minutes from camp is the Gaia god/dess temple, where you can book conscious movement and dance sessions, as well as deep relaxation. The tents accommodate up to five people, and included in the price is a yummy breakfast stored in cute little cooler boxes.

Camping and campervans

Should you be travelling in a camper van or with a tent, you need to find an established campsite ($) or get a landowner’s written permission to camp on their property. You should be able to locate a campsite easily, as plenty of them are around, but here are some of our favourites. 

People setting up camp.
Photo: Golli/Morgunblaðið. People setting up camp.

Hamrar in Kjarnaskógur, the same one mentioned above, is one of the most family-friendly campsites in Iceland. The campsite, situated in a woodland area just outside the city, is large and offers amenities such as picnic tables, playgrounds, volleyball courts, a bring-you-own-discs disc golf court, mountain bike trails, and covered barbecue facilities. There are also 12 km [7.5 miles] of gravel tracks to walk on, as well as ungravelled trails and tracks.

Ásbyrgi, located in one of Iceland’s national parks, is a curiously shaped glacier valley and a popular attraction. It has strong ties to Old Norse Mythology, which states that the horseshoe-shaped canyon was formed by Sleipnir, Óðin‘s eight-legged horse. The campsite is an ideal base for nature exploring, as there are several trails of various lengths in the area, which will lead you to a handful of natural attractions. If you have the time, you can even plan a multi-day hiking adventure. On the campsite, you’ll have access to electricity, a washing machine and dryer, toilets, showers, and a playground.

Situated in a small forest, Hólar in Hjaltadal has plenty of quiet and secluded corners and beautiful meadows, described by a Google reviewer as “one of the best campsites”. If you want a true old-school camping experience, this might be the place for you. At the Hólar campsite, there is no electricity, bad internet connection, and limited amenities, all of which are part of the attraction for those wanting a break from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. There are bathrooms and sinks with (mostly) cold water but no showers. 

Mánárbakki is the ideal place for a romantic camping experience. Situated on the Tjörnes peninsula, right by the sea, you’ll have an amazing view of the sunset right from your tent. The campsite, which offers washing and cooking facilities, toilets, showers, and electricity, has an exceptionally good rating of 4.8, based on 791 reviews.

Although it is possible to book some campsites in advance, you generally don’t need to. Most campsites are open from sometime in May into September, but this is different for each place, so be sure to look into that beforehand. If you need help finding a campsite or general information about them, Tjalda.is has a list and map of all campsites in Iceland. 

 

Tourists Flock to Unmarked Hot Spring in North Iceland

A hot spring in Eyjafjörður, North Iceland

A hot spring near the Vaðlaheiði tunnel in North Iceland has attracted tourists for its natural 30°C baths and picturesque waterfall. Without official signage or facilities, visitors have turned to social media and Google Maps to locate the popular spot.

“Hope it’s OK”

A hot spring near the entrance of the Vaðlaheiði tunnel in North Iceland has become popular among tourists. The spring was created during the construction of the Vaðlaheiði tunnel when workers accidentally drilled into a vein of hot water. This led to the formation of a brook with water at 30°C, which gracefully tumbles off cliffs, creating a picturesque waterfall.

As noted by RÚV, the site lacks official signage or registration with tourism agencies, and there are no facilities for changing; visitors typically drape their clothes over nearby bushes. Despite its popularity, bathers proceed with caution, uncertain of the legality of their bathing activities.

“We just thought: ‘If people have been here, it should be fine, right? We hope it’s OK. Until someone says it’s not, we’ll just keep doing it,” Maria Lauridsen, a Danish tourist, told RÚV yesterday while bathing in the spring.

The spring and the surrounding waterfall have garnered attention on social media. As noted by RÚV, Google Maps is the most effective tool for locating this secluded spot, which attracts tourists for its no-cost, natural bathing experience. The spring serves as the main bathing site, but the waterfall remains a significant draw.

The Best Museums in North Iceland

Akureyri Iceland

Why should you pay a visit to the museums in North Iceland? What can you learn about the history of this spectacular region? Let’s read more about some of North Iceland’s most prestigious museums.

Given that Iceland’s capital city, Reykjavík, is where most visitors will begin their journey, it is completely understandable that North Iceland is less visited than the south. 

In some respects, this is a shame, while in others, it maintains the north’s secretive majesty. But however you look at it, the region is well-worth exploring. 

 

Closer to the Arctic Circle than any other part of the country, the landscape is known to be wild, mountainous, with deep fjords and stretching peninsulas. Unsurprisingly, this stunning place is a favourite amongst those who enjoy sightseeing, as well as breathtaking wildlife tours. 

Aside from the gravitas and splendour of its nature, the north is a domain rich in culture and history. Its people are proud of their place in the world – not to mention the distinction they hold amongst fellow Icelanders – and they are eager to share as much with visitors. 

You’ll discover so much fascinating information to learn about this amazing place in the region’s many museums, so make sure to break up the sightseeing by shifting your attention to some cultural highlights. 

Akureyri Museum

A historic photo of Akureyri
Photo: Minjasafnið á Akureyri / Akureyri Museum

For those looking for a comprehensive introduction to the North’s history, Akureyri Museum should be your first stop. Two permanent exhibitions – Eyjafjorður from Early Times and Akureyri: the Town on the Bay – display artefacts related to the history of the north’s two major settlements, including those from the Viking period and the Middle Ages. 

With information boards in English, Danish, and German, you will find their litany of facts highly accessible, allowing you to gain deeper insights into this most fascinating of regions. 

Akureyri Museum also operates a number of other establishments, including the likes of Nonni House, Museum Church & Garden, Akureyri Toy Museum, Davíðshús (Davíð Stefánson’s writers museum) and Laufás heritage site. Actually, Laufás is especially worthy of an extra note – it is a beautiful farmstead that perfectly captures how rural Icelanders once lived in the area. 

Address: Aðalstræti 58, 600 Akureyri

Opening Hours: 11:00 – 17:00 1. June – 30. September 

13:00 – 16:00 1. October – 31. May

The Icelandic Aviation Museum

Flight in Iceland
Photo: Photo: Flugsafn Íslands – The Icelandic Aviation Museum

Iceland does not have a military; no Army, no Navy (aside from their Coast Guard), and – most importantly in this context – no Air Force. 

Still, this small island does have a complex and fascinating history of aviation, especially in regards to their arduous but successful development of commercial airlines. 

Founded May 1 1999, Flugsafn Íslands, or the Icelandic Aviation Museum, is located in a hangar at Akureyri Airport. The museum was established due to a lack of hangar space at the airport, with many of them filled with older planes that were no longer in use. These aircraft were then moved to be permanently displayed in an exhibition that would detail how Icelanders first took flight. 

Inside, you will find aerial machines of all kinds, from old bi-planes to gliders, and even smaller models that hang decoratively from the ceiling. Each has an important place in this fascinating story – a tale that began in 1919 with the creation of the first Icelandic airline, to the powerful passenger jets and rescue helicopters that make up this nation’s air-fleet today. 

Flying over Iceland
Photo: Flugsafn Íslands – The Icelandic Aviation Museum

But it’s not all just reading and observing stationary aircraft. 

Visitors can actually look around inside the Coast Guard plane, TF-SYN, gaining a deeper insight into the inner-mechanics of such incredible works of engineering, and even see some of the aircraft in action during the museum’s exciting flight day, held each year in June. 

Address: Akureyri International Airport, 600 Akureyri 

Opening Hours: May 15th to Sept 15th: Open daily 11:00-17:00

Sept 16th to May 14th: Saturdays 13:00-16:00

Ystafell Transportation Museum

Cars at Ystafell Transportation Museum
Photo: Ystafell Transportation Museum

In 1998, married-couple Ingólfur Kristjánsson and Kristbjörg Jónsdóttir founded the Ystafell Transportation Museum, a natural extension of Ingólfur’s semi-compulsive collecting of mechanical parts. 

In fact, many guests attest that the reason as to why visiting is so memorable comes down to Ingólfur’s passion, dedication, and knowledge of the fascinating machines on display.  

Not only does the museum display the largest collections of automobiles in the country, but also many transportation types other than cars, including tractors, aircraft, or snowmobiles. 

Address: Ystafell III, Norðausturvegur, 641 Húsavík

Opening Hours: May 25th ­- Sept 25th: 11:00 -­ 18:00 

The Herring Era Museum

fishing in Iceland
Photo: Golli. A fishing boat in Iceland

Plans to open a heritage museum in Siglufjörður date back all the way to 1957, when newly elected town-council members recognised the need to preserve equipment, artefacts, and photographs related to the local fishing industry. It was not until 1989 that the Herring Era Museum finally opened its doors, allowing visitors the chance to learn more about why fishing – and fishing Herring, particularly – was so important to the town’s development. 

Renovations continued over the next decades, transforming an old fishermen’s shed, Róaldsbrakki, into a bonafide exhibition space, complete with a boat house and two large museum buildings. Today, it attracts over 30,000 visitors a year, as well as hosts countless events, including art shows and music festivals.

As is the case with so many islands, the Icelandic nation is built on fishing. Herring was once called ‘the silver of the sea,’ and is, to this day, considered to be one of the founding pillars of Icelandic society. This is because Iceland’s herring fishing took off at a time when much of the world was experiencing a financial depression, and thus it played a huge role in securing Iceland’s economic independence and stability. 

In fact, one could go as far as to say that the importance of Herring was among the major drives behind Iceland breaking away from Denmark in 1944. 

No other place in Iceland was so influenced by what’s known as the Herring Adventure than Siglufjörður. However, countless other towns developed primarily due to the hunting down and catching of this common fish species, including Dalvík, Akureyri, Seyðisfjörður, and many others. 

Address: Snorragata 10, 580 Siglufjörður

Opening Hours: June – August: 10:00-18:00

May – Sept: 13:00-17:00

Akureyri Art Museum

Akureyri Art Museum is one of the top museums in North Iceland
Photo: Golli. Exhibition at the Akureyri Art Museum

Akureyri Art Museum has a revolving door of exhibitions, showcasing a wide range of creative disciplines from watercolour paintings to contemporary art and even scenography. In short, it is one of the best places in the country to appreciate just how diverse Icelandic artists can be. Each Thursday, a guided tour in English allows visitors the chance to gain some insider knowledge about the artworks on display. 

The museum itself is designed in the Bauhaus-style of architecture, making it immediately noticeable when walking through Iceland’s second-largest city. Its stand-out appearance is quite notable given the building used to be home to a simple dairy. 

Akureyri Art Museum is also responsible for the A! Performance Festival, held in October each year. This fun and unique event draws in eclectic visual artists and weird, experimental theatre-projects of all kinds, transforming the city streets into a bohemian wonderland for a few days in the month. Aside from that, it also hosts the Iceland Visual Arts Awards, having done so since 2006. 

Address: Kaupvangsstræti 8-12, 600 Akureyri

Opening Hours: June – August: 10:00 – 17:00

Sept – May: 12:00 – 17:00

Safnasafnið – The Icelandic Folk and Outsider Art Museum

Safnasafnid
Photo: Daniel Starrason. Safnasafnið

The Icelandic Folk and Outsider Art Museum might be described as a true artist’s museum.

That is because this establishment – founded in 1995 by Níels Hafstein and Magnhildur Sigurðardóttir – displays work by creatives who have, for one reason or another, have been classified as working outside of the mainstream. 

Therefore, guests can expect to see not only the work of professional artists, but also that of amateurs and autodidacts.

Photo: Safnasafnið

Such a strange, diverse array of collected pieces adds a real sense of unexpectedness and curiosity to visiting here, as well as allows for a deeper glimpse into the often peculiar minds of Icelandic creators. 

Address: Hverfisgata 15, Hverfisgata 15, 101 Reykjavík

Opening Hours: May – Sept: 10:00 – 17:00 

The Museum of Prophecies

 

 

Þórdís the fortune-teller is the unlikely star of this strange and otherworldly museum in Skagaströnd. She was the first inhabitant of the region, and it was claimed she was a magic-woman, of sorts, capable of reading the future and unafraid of starting feuds with the settlers who came after her. In other words, Þórdís was a truly independent spirit, so revered in her time that she had a mountain – Spákonufell – named after her. 

Visitors to the Museum of Prophecies will learn about Þórdís’ life story, as well as the role that fortune-telling has played in Icelandic culture over the centuries. Aside from that, they can also have their own fortunes told as part of an informative guided tour.  

Built within a former army barracks, the museum is not large by any means. Still, it boasts incredible replicas of old Icelandic homes and famous people from folktales, and also has a decent gift shop which sells local handicrafts and a small cafe to purchase refreshments.   

Address: Oddagata 6, 545 Skagaströnd

Opening Hours: June – Sept:  13:00 – 18:00

In Summary 

Two people walking along Akureyri coastal path.
Photo: María H. Tryggvadóttir. Two people walking along Akureyri coastal path.

Those in the North should take time to step away from appreciating the spectacular surrounding nature to take-in the history and artwork that help make the region what it is. 

Given the breadth of cultural establishments one can explore, there is simply no other way to get a full sense of why it remains one of the most enticing and fascinating parts of the country. 

Iceland Weather: Storms, Road Closures, and Avalanche Risk

winter tires reykjavík

Iceland’s Ring Road (Route 1) is currently closed over Öxnadalsheiði heath, between Akureyri and Reykjavík, due to weather. Yellow weather warnings have also been issued across much of the country today due to strong winds. The Icelandic Met Office declared an “uncertainty phase” in the East Fjords this morning due to the risk of avalanches.

Seyðisfjörður alavanche risk

There was heavy precipitation in Seyðisfjörður last night, with continuing precipitation at higher elevations and a strong E-ENE wind in the mountains, according to a notice from the Icelandic Met Office. Precipitation should slow throughout the day, and the wind speed is expected to slow and change direction to a northerly. Experts are monitoring conditions closely.

Strong winds and blowing snow

Gale-force winds are expected today across much of Iceland, including the Westfjords, West, North, East, and Southeast. Wind speeds in these areas could reach speeds of 20 metres per second. Blowing snow is in the forecast for most of these regions as well. Poor driving conditions can be expected as a result of weather, as well as traffic disruptions and road closures.

Travellers and affected residents are encouraged to monitor weather and road conditions before setting out.

Siglunes Sheep’s Solo Journey Ends with Surprise Lamb

Sheep

A sheep from Siglunes in North Iceland evaded herders and later navigated a perilous ten-kilometre journey home. Initially presumed sterile, she surprised her owners by returning with a lamb, RÚV reports.

A pleasant surprise

Snjólaug, a sheep from Siglunes in North Iceland, found herself amidst a flock when herders approached in October. Disinterested in accompanying them home, she fled – which was what she had also done during an earlier roundup in September.

When Snjólaug decided the time was right, she embarked on her solitary journey home. The path, highlighted in a below graphic from RÚV, spans approximately ten kilometres and is known for its steep and often treacherous terrain.

Map of Siglunes
Screenshot from RÚV

Despite the risks, Snjólaug safely reached the sheepfold.

Adding to the astonishment was Snjólaug’s unexpected companion; previously thought to be sterile, her owners were pleasantly surprised to discover that she had returned with a lamb. Although exhausted from the trek, the lamb, named Hrafnheiður, has since thrived. When inquired about the fate of Snjólaug and Hrafnheiður, the owners affirmed that both would continue to live, stating that there had never been any other consideration.

Three New Rescue Ships for ICE-SAR

Jóhannes Briem ICE-SAR ship search and rescue

Three new rescue ships have been added to Iceland’s Search and Rescue organisation ICE-SAR’s fleet recently, including the Jóhannes Briem. The latter ship’s home port is Reykjavík, where it was handed over to ICE-SAR team Ársæll on Saturday. ICE-SAR is working on renewing its fleet to improve accident prevention and response across Iceland.

Jóhannes Briem was built in Finland at the Kewatec shipyards. It has a cruising speed of up to 30 nautical miles and is powered by two powerful Scania diesel engines and worm drives. It contains state-of-the-art equipment including a thermal camera and side-scan sonar, as well as having better crew equipment than the association’s older ships.

Jóhannes Briem is the third ship of its kind acquired by ICE-SAR recently, with the other two going to search and rescue teams in Flateyri, in the Westfjords and Húsavík, North Iceland.

At Jóhannes Briem’s handover, ICE-SAR announced it had already ordered a fourth ship, which is to be based in Snæfellsnes, West Iceland.

Sea Ice Unusually Close to North Iceland Coast

The Coast Guard flight yesterday discovered plenty of sea ice unusually close to Iceland’s northern coastline, which could pose a risk to seafarers. At the same time, parts of the North Atlantic Ocean are warmer than ever before. RÚV reported first.

“We have some very scattered ice coming up to the shore some eight to nine nautical miles from Hornstrandir [nature reserve in the Westfjords], which is closer than we’ve been seeing lately,” sea ice expert Ingibjörg Jónsdóttir, who was on the flight yesterday, stated. Thicker sea ice was also present further out to sea. Although the ice is thin in many places, it could be dangerous for smaller ships, according to Ingibjörg.

While the sea of Iceland’s north coast is currently cold, south of the island it has reached higher temperatures than ever before. The average temperature in the North Atlantic Ocean has never measured higher since record-taking began, breaking records for the past three months in a row. The ocean’s average temperature is just over one degree hotter than the average over the past two decades. In some areas, it is up to 4 degrees Celsius hotter than is considered normal.

Halldór Björnsson, Coordinator of Atmospheric Research at the Icelandic Met Office, says there is no doubt about the reason for this warming. “The basic reason is that all the world’s oceans are much warmer than they were, and that is simply the result of global warming,” he stated.

easyJet to Fly Direct to Akureyri this Winter

One of Europe’s largest airlines, easyJet, will operate direct flights between Akureyri, North Iceland and London, from October 31 of this year, Visit North Iceland reports. The flights will operate twice a week, on Tuesdays and Saturdays, through March 2024. Locals of North Iceland have long been calling for more direct flight connections to mainland Europe, both for residents of Iceland and in support of tourism operators in the region, but although several airlines have promised to operate international flights to Akureyri Airport in the past, few have delivered.

EasyJet has already opened for bookings for the flights between Akureyri and Gatwick Airport, which Arnheiður Jóhannsdóttir, CEO of Visit North Iceland, says are “the result of years of preparatory work and collaboration.” Arnheiður adds that direct flights between the UK and Akureyri that were offered a few years ago proved successful and that this new route could lead to over 1,500 overnight stays per week in North Iceland during the winter season.

Akureyri Airport is completing an extension to the terminal that is expected to be fully completed in the spring of 2024. The development of the airport is intended to facilitate international travel to and from the region.

Several airlines have previously announced intentions to fly direct between Akureyri and mainland Europe, but many have also pulled out when conditions did not prove in their favour, including German Airline Condor which was set to fly to Akureyri and Egilsstaðir, East Iceland this summer. Plans to begin the services in 2024 are, however, reportedly underway.

Stranded Ship Will Be Towed to Hólmavík

Pollution fence around Wilson Skaw

The cargo ship Wilson Skaw, which stranded in Húnaflói Bay on April 18, will be towed to Hólmavík for temporary repairs and then to the shipyard in Akureyri, North Iceland, RÚV reports. Before the ship can be towed, however, Icelandic Coast Guard vessel Freyja will be used to move 2,000 tonnes of salt, part of the ship’s cargo, to ensure the ship is better balanced.

Wilson Skaw stranded off Iceland’s north coast last week carrying 2,000 tonnes of salt and 195 tonnes of oil. Most of the oil has already been pumped off the ship to prevent possible environmental damage. The 113-metre ship was refloated on April 21. Due to damage, authorities considered it unsafe to tow the ship directly to Akureyri for repairs.

The ship’s crew has remained on board since the stranding and it has been deemed safe for it to do so.