Northern Iceland's must-see places
Akureyri is a beautiful, vibrant town, Iceland´s second largest urban area, nicknamed the "Capital of North Iceland". It is 45 minutes by air from Reykjavík (Reykjavik) and about five hours by road. Well known for its flourishing cultural life, eminent Botanic Garden and historic old town, Akureyri is also the regional centre and a superb base for travellers, with a whole world of nature right on its doorstep. It offers different attractions throughout the year, with family-friendly outdoor leisure sites and a variety of activities. Designated the winter sports centre of Iceland, Akureyri has some of the finest ski slopes in the land. Diverse activities include golf, hiking, horse riding, sea angling, whale watching, birding, and a myriad of others.
Skjálfandi (Skjalfandi) Bay lies to the east of Akureyri. The town of Húsavík has established itself as Europe´s main whale watching centre, with astonishingly high sighting rates. Marine species spotted in the Bay include minke whales, humpback whales, harbour porpoise, white-beaked dolphins and even the blue whale.
Húnaflói (Hunafloi) Bay is a large bay between Strandir and Skagaströnd (Skagastrond), to the west of Akureyri, with numerous inlets. Towns Blönduós and Skagaströnd are located on the Bay's eastern side. Húnafloi Bay is one of the most accessible shores in Iceland for watching seals in their natural habitat.
Skagafjörður (Skagafjordur) offers rich lifestyle and cultural experiences. A wide range of travel services can be found at Sauðárkrókur (Saudarkrokur), the main town in Skagafjörður, as well as in the smaller communities inland and along the coast. Skagafjörður district, with its smooth green valleys, stark mountains and mighty glacial rivers flowing down from the highlands, is one of the big centres for river rafting. It is also the traditional heart of horse riding in Iceland. Historical sites abound, including many from the Saga Age, evident in museums and beautiful old buildings. Top attractions include Glaumbær (Glaumbaer) Folk Museum in an old turf built farmhouse, the old episcopal see of Hólar (Holar) and the Heritage Centre in the village of Hofsós (Hofsos), which is dedicated to the 19th century emigrations from Iceland to North America.
Skútustaðahreppur (Skutustadahreppur) is Iceland’s highest altitude borough and one of the largest at 4,926 km2 (1,903 sq. mi). Its boundaries to the east follow the glacial river Jökulsá á Fjöllum (Jokulsa-a-Fjollum) from its source down to the spectacular falls Dettifoss. To the north, the boundary runs from Dettifoss, past Mt. Elífur (Elifur) and on to the west, north of Gæsafjöll (Goose Mountains). To the west, Skútustaðahreppur’s boundaries run through Hólasandur (Holasandur) and through the heaths between Mývatnssveit, Reykjadalur Valley and Bárðardalur (Bardadalur) Valley, up to Vatnajökull (Vatnajokull) glacier to the south. Reykjahlíð (Reykjahlid), located on the north side of lake Mývatn, and Skútustaðir (Skutustadir), a hamlet on the south side of the lake, are both set in beautiful surroundings.
Svarfaðardalur - Árskógsströnd - Hjalteyri
Near Dalvík (Dalvik), a sizeable valley extends from Eyjafjörður into the highlands. This valley is Svarfaðardalur (Svarfadardalur), 20-25 km in length. About 10 km from the sea, Svarfaðardalur joins the valley of Skíðadalur (Skidadalur) to the east, at the very head of which rests the cool ice mass of Gljúfurárjökull (Gljufurarjokull) glacier in a spectacular setting. The Svarfaðardalur countryside is dotted with prosperous looking farmsteads and fertile hayfields. Along the shoreline from Dalvík is Árskógsströnd (Arskogsstrond), with its two fishing villages in close proximity to each other, Árskógssandur and Hauganes. Farther along the fjord is Hjalteyri, where world famous research program in the field of halibut aquaculture is being carried out.
Möðruvellir in Hörgárdalur area is rich in historical connotations and the farm of Möðruvellir (Modruvellir) is one of the most important locations relating to Icelandic history. For centuries, this was a manor farm, situated in the midst of some of Eyjafjörður's most fertile farmlands. In 1296 a monastery of the Augustinian order was established at Möðruvellir, and, according to some sources, it contained one of Iceland's most remarkable mediaeval libraries. In spite of these cultural associations, the monks' conduct apparently was not always exemplary as they were prone to bickering and infighting. Möðruvellir used to be the location of a well-known school, but the school was destroyed in a fire in 1902 which wrought more havoc than anywhere else in Iceland.
Gásir (Gasir), located to the south of the spot where the river Hörgá (Horga) joins the sea, is a place frequently referred to in the Icelandic sagas from the 13th and 14th centuries, and old tales and annals. For five centuries Gásir used to be the main harbour and trading post in Eyjafjörður. By 1400, however, it is thought that the deposits from the Hörgá River had damaged the harbour to such an extent that it was no longer navigable and all commercial activities had to be transferred to Akureyri. Nevertheless, the location at Gásir contains remarkable reminders of its past days of glory and antiquities from the Middle Ages. Ongoing archaeological excavation in the area has shown that it was a trading post up to the 16th century. Walking paths around the archaeological site now make the site accessible to visitors. “Medieval days at Gásir” festivities are held each summer.
Öxnadalur (Oxnadalur) is a long, picturesque valley which contains the magnificent 1075 m peak of Hraundrangi, rising from the mountain range. For a long time it was believed to be completely inaccessible and, according to ancient folklore, a chest filled with gold rested upon its top. About the middle of this century the spire was finally ascended, but the climbers unfortunately did not reap their golden reward as no chest was found.
Directly below the peak is the farm Hraun, birthplace of one of the nation's most dearly beloved poets of all time, “bard of Iceland”, Jónas Hallgrímsson (Jonas Hallgrimsson, 1807–1845). Jónas was also an Icelandic independence hero, author and scientist. The imagery in Jónas´s poetry was profoundly influenced by Icelandic landscapes, and his contribution to the Icelandic language was so great that, since 1996, his birthday, 16 November, has been celebrated in Iceland as the Icelandic Language Day. In 2007, a memorial centre dedicated to Jónas Hallgrímsson was opened at the farm Hraun, to mark his 200th birthday.