A Road-Trip Adventure Through Iceland’s Forgotten North

If you’re looking for the lonely, peaceful countryside that Iceland is known for, head to Iceland´s remote north. Our local expert Marvi has the perfect road trip.

Just short of the Arctic Circle, Iceland´s northern towns still exude an easygoing, Scandinavian country lifestyle. Farms are still remote, but because survival depends on help from neighbors, everyone is connected even over hundreds of miles.

Your jump-off point will be Akureyri, the second most populated area in Iceland. Start to finish, this is a 137-mile (221 km) drive that would normally take three hours. I suggest making it a leisurely six-eight hour drive.

A full tank of gas (kr. 19,480 or approximately $188 US) can get you to Raufarhöfn. However, it’s wise to gas up again in Húsavík, since gas stations are few and far between.

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Lake Mývatn Geothermal Baths

More natural and less commercialized than the Blue Lagoon, these baths are a straight, 1.5 hours or 60-mile (96.9 km) drive along Road No.1. Make sure to take photos with the steam vents behind you.

Lake Mývatn. Photo credit: iStock

Krafla Lava Fields

After you’re done soaking at the geothermal baths, head north, make a right on Route 1 and keep going until you see the signs to the Krafla Lava Fields. Steam vents and lava formations all around give this place a surreal, otherworldly feel.

Be sure to follow the signs – going off the path might bring you to areas that are too hot to walk on.

Húsavík Whale Watching and the Astronaut Training Center

This takes approximately 55 minutes from Lake Mývatn, still following Road No. 1.

Famous for its whale-watching expeditions (99% likelihood of seeing whales), there is more to the town of Húsavík than that. This is also where Apollo astronauts trained.

Peek into the Exploration Museum, an exhibit of man´s history as explorers as well as artifacts from the astronaut training center.

Húsavík. Photo credit: iStock

Hljóðaklettar (the Singing Cliffs)

Drive 36 miles (57.7 km) on Route 55 and turn right on Dettifossvegur. Drive 1.8 miles (2.9 km) more to reach Hljóðaklettar. These strangely-shaped basalt rock formations were created when glacial river floods washed away portions of volcanic craters. Their twisted contours make eerie sounds as the wind passes through.

The road to Hljóðaklettar is closed during winter. Do not attempt to climb the formations without proper equipment – fatal accidents have occurred.

Hljóðaklettar. Photo credit: iStock

Ásbyrgi Canyon

Go back out the same way your drove into Hljóðaklettar. Turn right into Road 85 and drive for 1 mile (1.8 km), then turn right into Ásbyrgi.

Ásbyrgi is a popular camping and hiking area during summers. The warmest temperatures in Iceland have been recorded here. According to legend, this horseshoe-shaped canyon was formed when the Norse god Odin’s eight-legged horse, Sleipnir, put down his hoof.

Continue another 1.2 miles (1.9km) to the parking lot. Walking the rest of the way, you’ll pass a protected forest area before arriving at an old swimming hole.

Kópasker

Return to route 85 and travel for 30 mins (23.4 miles or 37.7kms) to the town of Kópasker. This will be your groceries stop. There is very little to see in Kópasker – worth visiting, though, is the Snartastaðir Folk Museum just 1.2 miles (2 km) outside the town. The museum has a good collection showcasing life in the region during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Arctic Henge in Raufarhöfn

Leaving Kópasker, continue on Route 85 and turn left onto Route 874. This is a 34 min (27 mile or 43.5 km) journey. The Arctic Henge (Heimskautsgerði) is a modern henge that evokes ancient religious practices and was strictly built according to instructions in ancient Icelandic Sagas. The henge is supposed to harness the power of the Arctic sun during solstices.

Heimskautsgerði is in Raufarhöfn, Iceland´s northernmost town. Often referred to as the village at the edge of the Arctic, Raufarhöfn has a population of less than 200. You might consider spending the night here, as it’s the best place to see the northern lights in winter.

Although its population is small, Raufarhöfn has two B&Bs and one hotel. A campsite by the swimming pool is also well-sheltered and has facilities for grilling, showers, laundry, and electric outlets. Take advantage of the geothermically heated swimming pool, pleasantly warm with a fantastic view of the sea.

Arctic Henge. Photo credit: iStock

Arctic Fox Prairie and Viking Burial Mound

The remote Melrakkaslétta (Arctic Fox prairie) is often forgotten. Raufarhöfn and Kópasker are part of this area. It’s hard to give exact directions – much better to ask your local host once there.

There’s nothing spectacular or extraordinary in the prairie – what is special is the sense of absolute absence of civilization. If you get lucky, your host might point you towards an ancient Viking burial ground. It´s right by the lighthouse marking Iceland´s northernmost point. All the locals know about it, but you’d be hard pressed to find it in official guide books. They say a warrior is buried there.

Langanes Peninsula

Made up of the towns of Þórshofn (Thorshofn) and Bakkafirði, the peninsula is one of the more remote regions of Iceland. Worth a stop is Skoruvíkurbjar, with a platform slung out over the high, steep cliffs, perfect for bird watching but not for those afraid of heights.

Getting there is almost a two-hour drive from Raufarhöfn. Take Route 85 to Þórshöfn, then proceed to Route 869 and stay on it. This will take you to the lookout.

Birdlife in north Iceland is much richer than the rest of the country. During the summer nesting season, most B&Bs have hardhats ready for guests who wish hike or walk around the prairie. Birds love cannonballing on human heads and boy, does it hurt!

Want to know more about Iceland? Check out our podcast. We chat about where to capture the best photos in Iceland, how to speak like a Viking (almost), and how a social policy got the country to the World Cup.

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