About Iceland


Iceland´s capital Reykjavík (Reykjavik) is the world’s most northerly capital and Europe’s most westerly capital. Located in southwestern Iceland, spread across a peninsula with striking panoramic views of the mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, Reykjavik is the centre of Iceland’s government, administration and economic activity. Designated UNESCO City of Literature 2011, Reykjavik is also home to Iceland’s main cultural institutions, has a flourishing arts scene and is renowned as a vibrant, creative city with a great range of cultural events and a dynamic grassroots arena. With the opening of the Harpa (2011), Reykjavik’s magnificent concert hall and conference centre on the harbour, the city has reaffirmed its place as a pivotal spot in world events and culture.

Reykjavik is diverse, cosmopolitan and exciting, a city with its own inimitable character, one easy to fall in love with. Friendly, energetic, beautiful; famed for its audacious design and architecture, chic shopping, great restaurants, notoriously “enthusiastic” nightlife, summertime exuberance and wintertime ambience of sheer magic, Reykjavik is also a perfect base for day, weekend, or longer tours into the countryside and all the hot spots in southwestern and southern Iceland. Taking a tour by super jeep, an Icelandic invention enabling glacier-driving and easy handling of rugged terrains, it’s possible to explore the many natural wonders of Iceland and experience a world of blue ice, incredible volcanic surroundings, the lunar-like landscapes of the interior and venture off the beaten track into the otherwise inaccessible regions of staggering natural beauty.

Citizens of Reykjavik, “Reykvíkingar”, are the largest community in Iceland, with population numbering around 120,000 – or 200,000 in the Greater Reykjavik Area. Almost ⅔ of Iceland’s total population of around 320,000 live in the south-west part of Iceland, mostly in or around Reykjavik. The city covers an area of more than 270 km² and it’s constantly expanding. Whilst Iceland is the least densely populated country in Europe with only 3 people per km2, the Reykjavik municipality population density is around 436 per km2.

Iceland was settled by Norwegian and Celtic immigrants during the late 9th and 10th centuries AD. According to the Book of Settlements, Landnámabók, Ingólfur Arnarson (Ingolfur) – the first settler of Iceland – built his farm on the peninsula where Reykjavik stands today. Old accounts say that the ancient gods guided Ingólfur to make his home here: Ingólfur had decided on the location of his settlement using a traditional Viking method of casting his ”high seat” pillars overboard when he sighted land and he settled where the pillars came ashore. Reykjavík means “Bay of Smokes” or “Steamy Bay” and it got this name because of the columns of steam that rise from the hot springs in the area that made such a profound impression on the original settlers.

Reykjavik’s urban development began in the 1750s when the Royal Treasurer, Icelander Skúli Magnússon (Skuli Magnusson), known as the Father of Reykjavik, established wool workshops in the city as part of his efforts to modernise the Icelandic economy. In 1786 Reykjavik received its town charter. The Icelandic parliament, Alþingi (Althingi), which was founded in the year 930 AD at Þingvellir (Thingvellir) in the southwest, moved to Reykjavik in 1798, and to the Parliament House on Austurvöllur in 1881.The location of Alþingi in Reykjavík effectively established the city as the capital of Iceland.

Reykjavík is a city that honours its cultural heritage, treasures its Viking past, celebrates its present and looks unwaveringly to the future – the spirit very much reflected in its myriad of attractions. Insights into Icelandic history are offered, amongst others, by the National Museum of Iceland, the Víkin Maritime Museum – tribute to Iceland’s seafaring heritage, the National Art Gallery, Árbær (Arbaer) Open Air Museum, and the Culture House which has a permanent exhibition relating to saga history and Árni Magnússon (Arni Magnusson), who devoted his life to saving Icelandic manuscripts.

Reykjavík’s architectural gems and buildings of interest include the Nordic House designed by Alvar Aalto, with its exceptional ultramarine blue ceramic rooftop, Hallgrímskirkja (Hallgrimskirkja) church, designed by Guðjón Samúelsson, offering an unmissable 360º view of the city from its 74.5 m high tower, Höfði (Hofdi), the venue for the 1986 Reykjavík Summit meeting and Perlan (The Pearl) with its 10, 000 m3 of exhibition space, a viewing deck with panoramic telescopes, shops and a revolving restaurant. Another must-see structure is Harpa (Harp), a collaborative project between Henning Larsen Architects and artist Olafur Eliasson, which won the EU Prize for Contemporary Architecture, Mies van der Rohe Award 2013 and which, according to Wiel Arets, Chair of the Jury, “has captured the myth of a nation – Iceland …”

Throughout the city there are world-class restaurants, serving traditional and New Nordic food, cosy cafés, fashionable music, art and film festival venues; weekend nightlife scene with over 100 bars and stylish clubs, and numerous state-of-the-art geothermal pools.

Recreational areas
As everywhere else in Iceland, nature takes centre stage in the capital, with sea, mountains, rivers, woodlands, parks and geothermal swimming pools all close by. Laugardalslaug geothermal pool is the largest pool in Iceland, with the best facilities: an Olympic-size indoor pool, an outdoor pool, four “hot pots” (Jacuzzi like pools) filled with natural geothermal and seawater, a whirlpool, a steam bath, and an 86 m water slide. Relaxing in “hot pots” is very much part of the city’s social life.

Next door is Reykjavík Botanic Gardens which has more than 5,000 varieties of subarctic plant species, wonderful seasonal flowers, a summer café and lots of bird life, particularly grey geese. There are parks, beaches and green areas within walking distance from most places in Reykjavik.

Tjörnin is the little lake at the centre of the city. It has over 40 species of visiting birds, including swans, geese and arctic terns. Lovely parks interspersed with sculptures line the southern shores, and their paths are much used by walkers, cyclists and joggers. In winter, the lake is turned into an outdoor skating rink.

Reykjavík is perfect for outdoor and wildlife lovers and it’s easy to “get away” into the great outdoors. There is even a salmon fishing river, Elliðaár (Ellida River), which runs right through the city, and where anglers enjoy landing salmon from clear, unpolluted waters under the bridge of a busy motorway. The whole valley, Elliðaárdalur (Ellidaardalur) is a green recreational area, with hiking, bicycle paths, a swimming pool, a small ski lift and horse riding facilities. The birdlife is varied and includes more than 60 different species. As well as swans and 8 species of ducks, there are many song birds to be found, for example, the thrush.

Reykjavík has it all: from precious cultural treasures to premier entertainment, stylish shopping, beautiful green spaces for outdoor activities, leisurely walks around the harbour or along the waterfront, to opportunities for unforgettable adventure expeditions into Iceland’s wilderness on super jeep tours – the choice is endless.

A full range of accommodation is available in Reykjavik, from international-standard hotels with good conference facilities, through smaller hotels and cosy guesthouses, to a campsite in the city’s biggest park.

West Iceland

The area of west Iceland is defined by Hvalfjörður – Hvalfjordur (Whale Fjord) in the south (just outside Reykjavik), the Vestfirðir (Westfjords) in the north and Langjökull (Langjokull) glacier in the east, with the countryside of Borgarfjörður (Borgarfjordur) and Snæfellsnes (Snaefellsnes) peninsula in the middle stretching out westwards. West Iceland has all the natural wonders and unique attractions of Iceland: glaciers, lava formations, waterfalls, geothermal activity, as well as many historical sites.

Borgarfjörður (Borgarfjordur) is Iceland’s second largest lowland area, rich in farming, lakes and rivers for fishing, but also rugged scenery with chasms and waterfalls, with glaciers forming a majestic backdrop on the western rim of the highlands.

History and the Sagas
West Iceland was home to some of the great figures in Iceland’s cultural history. This part of the country is the richest in Saga literature and it’s connected with Landnámabók – The Book of Settlements and numerous sagas. West Iceland is the setting of, amongst others, Gunnlaugs saga ormstungu – Gunnlaug’s Saga (The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-tongue), Harðar saga – Hordur’s SagaLaxdæla saga – Laxdaela Saga (The Saga of the People of Laxardal), Egils saga – Egil’s Saga, and Eyrbyggja saga – Eyrbyggja Saga (The Saga of the People of Eyri).

Iceland’s great historian, chieftain, poet and author of the Prose Edda and Heimskringla, Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241), lived in Reykholt where the visitors can see an interesting saga exhibition and the geothermal pool where Snorri took his daily bath. The pool is filled with water from the hot spring Skrifla by means of the original stone aqueduct used in Snorri’s day. Snorrastofa, a culture and medieval centre founded in Snorri’s memory, situated in his ancient homestead, manages various research projects, runs a library and provides reception and information.

At Eiríksstaðir (Eiriksstadir), there is a replica of a Viking farm. Eiriksstadir was the home of Eiríkur hinn rauði (Erik the Red) who left Iceland to settle in Greenland; and the birthplace of Leifur Eiríksson (Leif Eriksson), who discovered America in the year 1000 AD.

Some of the amazing sights in West Iceland include the highest waterfall in Iceland, Glymur, located at the bottom of the Hvalfjordur. Glymur cascades down an impressive height of 190 metres. Other beautiful waterfalls are Hraunfossar (Lava waterfalls) and Barnafossar (Children’s waterfalls) in Borgarfjordur. The water in Hraunfossar seeps underground at the periphery of a lava field before coming out at the edge of a birch forested top of a small canyon. The neighbouring waterfall of Barnafossar is just a few hundred metres away.

Lava Tube Caves
West Iceland is very rich in lava tube caves, the largest one being Víðgelmir (Vidgelmir) in Fljótstunga (Fljotstunga), one of the world´s largest, around 198,000 m3 and 1,585 m long. Vidgelmir contains beautiful traces of ice prints, lava flows, stalactites and stalagmites. Other large lava caves in the area include Surtshellir and Stefánshellir (Stefanshellir). Surtshellir is a cave in the Hallmundarhraun lava fields and it is 1,970 m long. Stefanshellir cave is close by; in the same area, but a rock-fall has separated the two. Together, the caves are about 3,500 m long. It is possible to go for guided tours to see the otherworldly ice formations and stalactites inside the caves.

Other Main Attractions

At the tip of Snaefellsnes peninsula, the mystical Snæfellsjökull (Snaefellsjokull) glacier rises almost from the sea level to crown the beaches and sea cliffs brimming with birdlife. Snaefellsjokull National Park is one of Iceland’s three national parks.

Coastal villages include Ólafsvík (Olafsvik), a whale watching cruise base, and from Stykkishólmur (Stykkisholmur), visitors can take cruises or a ferry across to Breiðafjörður (Breidafjordur) Bay with its swirling waters, “countless islands” and period-piece houses on Flatey island, once quite a cultural centre.

Hvalfjörður is a scenic, mountainous fjord said to be one of the most beautiful in all Iceland. After World War II, a whaling station was started there and was the longest running station in the country.

Borgarnes is the centre of a region steeped in history. Skallagrímur Kveldúlfsson (Skalla-Grim), mentioned both in The Book of Settlements and Egil’s Saga, was the first to settle there and made his home at Borg. Borgarnes derives its name from his great manor, although the headland on which it stands was initially called Digranes.

Deildartunguhver in the Reykholtsdalur valley is the biggest geothermal spring in Europe, if not the world, producing 180 litres per second at 97°C. Both Akranes and Borgarnes are supplied with hot water by this spring. The piping carrying the water to Akranes is 64 km long and to Borgarnes 34 km long.

Langjökull (Langjokull) glacier is Iceland’s second largest glacier, covering 950 km2, and mostly between 1,200 and 1,300 m high, although the highest point is 1,355 m above sea level. Trips by snowmobile, super jeeps and snow trucks are offered up the glacier in summer. There’s a good view to the glacier from Husafell, a popular vacation place for Icelanders. There’s a swimming pool at Husafell as well as a small golf course.

The mountain Grábrók (Grabrok) in the Norðurárdalur (Nordurardalur) valley is the biggest fissure crater of three along a short volcanic crack. There are very good hiking and walking paths up to the crater and it’s well worth the visit – the views from the top over the valley are quite spectacular.


Vestfirðir, the Westfjords (West Fjords), Iceland’s most remote region, are home to Látrabjarg (Latrabjarg), one of the world’s largest bird cliffs, and the world’s largest razorbill colony. It is a peninsula in north-western Iceland, connected to the rest of Iceland by a 10 km wide isthmus between Gilsfjörður (Gilsfjordur) and Bitrufjörður (Bitrufjordur).

The Westfjords are very mountainous. The long, stunningly beautiful coastline – about half of Iceland’s total shoreline, is indented with dozens of fjords carved by intense glaciation. The shore is infinitely varied, changing with the seasons, lying on the mystical border between different worlds. Seals bask on the rocks, huge colonies of seabirds are seen and the king of the skies, the white-tailed eagle, watching over.

In many ways the Westfjords has remained “a world apart” from the rest of Iceland. The nature there is as wild as it was a hundred years ago – and now there are probably less people. Vibrant birdlife, majestic mountains, deep blue fjords, seals and the arctic fox – as well as the extraordinary natural silence, attract visitors to Westfjords. Hornstrandir Nature Reserve is also located there, a nature paradise at the edge of the Arctic Circle, extremely popular with hikers, mountain bikers and birdwatchers in the short summer.

Except for the central highlands, the Westfjords are the most sparsely populated area of Iceland, and its northernmost part, Hornstrandir, is totally uninhabited. Most visitors to the Westfjords go to West Iceland first, either heading by road for the looping fjord coast or the Strandir shore, or skirting the southern Westfjords after arriving by road or ferry. Whichever route is taken, it presents a striking cross-section of scenery and culture. In addition, there are countless opportunities for boat trips and experiencing the untouched nature.

Látrabjarg Cliffs and Hornstrandir Nature Reserve
At 14 km long, the cliffs at Látrabjarg (Latrabjarg), Europe’s most westerly point, are the longest bird cliffs in the North Atlantic Ocean. Látrabjarg is one of the three largest bird cliffs in Iceland; the other two are Hornbjarg and Hælavíkurbjarg (Haelavikurbjarg) in the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. Látrabjarg is the easiest of the three to visit as a road leads practically to the cliff’s edge. A walking path is provided. The main attraction is the puffin. In few places in Iceland, if any, are the puffins more trusting towards humans. The puffins there are so confident, that if one approaches them quietly and slowly reaches out, it is possible to touch a perched bird without frightening it away. This trust towards humans has been developed over a long period and there is an obvious reason for it: the Látrabjarg cliffs are not harvested.

For a few months every year, this massive 440 metre high cliff becomes alive with the nesting activity of millions of seabirds. The seabird colonies at Látrabjarg are enormous, and they include Stórurð (Storurd), scree beneath the cliff, which is where razorbill colony nests. The puffins, which dig their burrows in topsoil at the cliff’s edge, are not the most numerous species, but they are arguably the most noticeable. Other auks that breed at Látrabjarg, as well as the razorbills, are the Common Guillemot and the Brünnich Guillemot, a high Arctic species that is at its southern breeding limit in Iceland, one of the target birds for any serious birder or birdwatcher.

Towns and Counties
The lack of flat lowlands in the Westfjords makes them unsuitable for agriculture, but good natural harbours in many of the fjords and closeness to fishing grounds are vital for the local economy. The Westfjords population numbers have been steadily declining; currently there are around 7 000 people living in the region. Some rural areas have fast depopulated in the latter half of the 20th century and now a few of the fjords between Reykjanes and Vatnsfjörður (Vatnsfjordur) are uninhabited.

The largest town in the Westfjords is Ísafjörður (Isafjordur) which serves as a center for commerce, administration and transportation in the region. In the county of Ísafjörður, there are six towns or villages where fishing is the main industry, although the service industry has grown considerably and farming is still important in some areas. Barðaströnd (Bardastrond) County is the southern part of the Westfjords and covers the area from the bottom of Gilsfjörður (Gilsfjordur) in the east to Langanes in Arnarfjordur to the west. Many of the islands of Breiðafjörður (Breidafjordur) are part of this area. The islands, now mostly uninhabited, have a rich history and are renowned for their beauty and the variety of their flora and fauna. Relics from life in the other once-thriving outposts can be seen in places such as the now abandoned herring centre of Djúpavík (Djupavik). The settlement of tiny island of Vigur is a place where time seems to stand still.

Dynjandi and the Mountains
An absolute must-see in the Westfjords, is the magnificent Dynjandi waterfall which, from a width of 30 m on the top, fans out to reach 60 m at the bottom in the course of its 100 metre thunderous cascade down the ridged mountainside. Dynjandi is the largest waterfall in the Westfjords.

The steep mountains between Dýrafjörður (Dyrafjordur) and Arnarfjörður (Arnarfjordur), sometimes locally referred to as the Westfjords Alps, are unlike the other mountains in the Westfjords. Most of the other mountains in the Westfjords are table top mountains, totally flat on top. The highest mountain in the Westfjords is Mt. Kaldbakur, 1,173 m high.

The Stories Old and New
In olden times, the Westfjords were renowned for wizards and sorcerers, and Hólmavík (Holmavik) hosts an exhibition on witchcraft and witch hunts. When driving through the majestic landscape, fjord after fjord towering above shore and sea, it’s easy to understand how all the tales of witches, trolls and black magic would have emerged in this remote area.

The Cliffhanger Rescue
There are also many stories of heroism in the Westfjords, some not that old. In a freezing storm just before Christmas in 1947, a British trawler, the Dhoon, ran aground off Látrabjarg Cliffs, 70 m away from the shore at “Geldingaskoradalur” where the cliff falls 200 metres straight down to the sea. Rescue mission seemed impossible for anyone to even contemplate. However, 12 brave local farmers decided to abseil down the icy cliff to help the stricken crew. They first lowered themselves down to “Flauganef”, a cliff overhang protruding out from the cliffs at a height of 80 metres. From Flauganef, 4 men continued this cliffhanger rescue, abseiling all the way down and managing to carry the heavy rescue gear about 1 km over icy rocks in the appalling weather. They then managed to shoot a lifeline to the trawler and rescued 12 of the shipwrecked crew. All crew members, some of whom could hardly move due to hypothermia, were eventually brought to safety – hauled by rope up the mostly vertical 200 m high cliff. The rescue team was later specially honoured by the Queen of England for their outstanding heroic feat.

But the story doesn’t end there. The following year, a film maker was commissioned to make a documentary of the Dhoon rescue and most of the actual participants in the Dhoon rescue re-enacted their roles for the film. During the filming near the Látrabjarg cliffs, notification was suddenly received that another British trawler, the Sargon from Grimsby, had run aground in the nearby Patreksfjörður (Patreksfjord). As the film “cast”, the original rescuers, rushed off to save the shipwrecked men of the Sargon, the film director managed to film this real-life rescue of the 6 surviving crew members, and the footage was later included into the documentary about the Dhoon rescue – of which no original film-footage exists. Not surprisingly, when the film, The Great Látrabjarg Sea Rescue, directed by Óscar Gíslason, was shown in 1949, it caused a sensation.

South Iceland

South Iceland is the area bounded by Reykjavík (Reykjavik) in the west, Jökulsárlón (Jokulsarlon) glacier lagoon in the east and the central Highlands.

The South is both densely and sparsely populated. In general, the further you go from Reykjavík, the less populated the area is. In the eastern part, between Jökulsárlón and the river Markarfljót (Markarfljot) are vast alluvial or outwash plains, black sand beaches and lava fields with only narrow strips of lowlands, which limit agricultural activities and therefore the area is less populated. The western part, though, contains the largest and best agricultural area in Iceland, as well as a few towns. The landscape, both the lowland and highland areas, contains many of the most interesting and beautiful sights in Iceland, including two national parks: Þingvellir (Thingvellir) and Skaftafell – now part of Vatnajökull (Vatnajokull) National Park. The southern central Highlands boast of the largest glaciers, most active volcanoes as well as the stunning mountain ranges with some of the most popular hiking routes. One of the best known hiking paths in Iceland, the Laugavegur (road to Laugar) hiking trail, is in the southern Highlands, starting from Landmannalaugar, going into Þórsmörk (Thorsmork) and continuing from there over Fimmvörðuháls (Fimmvorduhals) to Skógar (Skogar) on the south shore.

Nature Features and Attractions
There are three glaciers almost literally on the south shore: Vatnajökull (Vatnajokull) in the east, Europe’s largest glacier, and Eyjafjallajökull (Eyjafjallajokull) and Mýrdalsjökull (Myrdalsjokull) a bit further west. The most famous volcanoes include Hekla, Katla, Vestmannaeyjar (Westmann Islands), Surtsey and Lakagigar (Laki craters). The Lakagigar crater series, a few miles inland from Kirkjubæjarklaustur, produced the largest lava flow ever witnessed in historical times anywhere in the world, during the Skaftareldar eruption of 1783. Another large lava field is the Þjórsá (Thjorsa) River lava field which flowed from the Veiðivötn (Veidivotn) crater area all the way into the sea about 8000 years ago. Hekla is one of the most famous volcanoes in the world.

In the south west is the Reykjanes peninsula. Keflavík (Keflavik) international airport is at the tip of the peninsula and on the short drive to Reykjavík you can see rugged, moss-grown lava fields, some only a few centuries old. Geothermal activity is also very much in evidence – natural hot springs such as those in Krýsuvík (Krysuvik) geothermal area, and especially at the Bláa Lónið – Blue Lagoon spa, one of Iceland´s top favourites with visitors.

There are many charming towns and villages in this area, including Hveragerði (Hveragerdi), located in a geothermal area and known for its greenhouses heated by hot water from volcanic hot springs. To the south of Hveragerði is Þorlákshöfn (Thorlakshofn), fishing port and point of departure for the ferry to the Westman Islands.
Selfoss is the largest town in South Iceland; Stokkseyri and Eyrarbakki have beautifully preserved old houses, and Vík (Vik) is the base for cruises through the “natural doorway” of the Dyrhólaey (Dyrholaey) cliff, Iceland´s southernmost point and nesting place for puffins and other seabirds.

The longest river in South Iceland is Þjórsá (Thjorsa), 210 km long. Together with its tributary Tungnaá (Tungnaa), it provides a great percentage of the electricity produced in Iceland. Other big rivers include Ölfusá (Olfusa) River, Markarfljót, the Jökulsá (Jokulsa) and Skaftá (Skafta) rivers. There are beautiful waterfalls in abundance: Gullfoss (the Golden Falls) in Hvitá (Hvita) River, Skógafoss (Skogafoss), Seljalandsfoss, Háifoss (Haifoss) and Hjálparfoss (Hjalparfoss) waterfalls. All these waterfalls are easily accessible but less known and not as easily reached is the waterfall Dynkur in Thjorsa.

Jökulsárlón (Jokulsarlon) – Glacier River Lagoon, is a natural wonder located at the edge of Vatnajökull glacier. Huge blocks of ice, up to 30 m high, that break off from the edge of the glacier fill the lagoon with luminous blue and white icebergs, some of them appearing as natural sculptures due to volcanic ash that partially covers the ice. Seals can be seen swimming in the lagoon or lying on icebergs, as well as migratory birds, especially arctic terns. Unsurprisingly, the exceedingly beautiful Jokulsarlon has been the setting for several films – considered a must for film buffs, photographers, bird watchers and nature lovers. It is possible to take a boat tour on the lagoon.

Historical Sites
History and heritage are present everywhere in South Iceland. Archaeological excavation in 1939 found ruins of several Saga Age farms, among them the farm at Stöng (Stong) in Þjórsárdalur (Thjorsardalur) valley. The ruins had been covered with pumice during the Hekla eruption of 1104 AD, but, in 1974, the farm at Stöng was reconstructed as the Saga Age farm and now stands in a beautiful hollow under Sámsstaðamúli (Samsstadamuli).

The Saga Centre at Hvolsvöllur (Hvolsvollur) houses exhibitions on the Njal’s Saga and the Viking age. The actual historical settings relating to the characters and events of Njal’s Saga are in the area, including the sites of the ancient manor farms of Bergþórshvoll (Bergthorshvoll), Njal’s home, and Hliðarendi (Hlidarendi), where Gunnar of Hlidarendi lived – enabling visitors to literally follow in the footsteps of the characters in the Saga to the places where the events unfolded.

The old bishopric of Skálholt (Skalholt) and the regional folk museum at Skógar (Skogar), probably the most comprehensive of its kind in the country, are also in the area, as well as Oddi  –  chieftain farm in the Rangárvellir (Rangarvellir) area and a major seat of culture and power in its day. Oddaverjar (named after Oddi) were among the most powerful family clans in the medieval Icelandic Commonwealth. The School of Oddi, which Sæmundur Sigfússon fróði – Saemundur the Learned Sigfusson (1056-1133) made famous, was located there. Oddi became the chief dwelling-place of his grandson, Jón Loftsson – Jon Loftsson (1124-1197), the most famous chieftain of the country in his time, under whose guidance Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241) grew up. Snorri later moved to Reykholt in West Iceland where he wrote the Heimskringla and Snorri’s Edda.

Þingvellir (Thingvellir), (Parliament Plains), is Iceland’s national shrine where the Alþingi (Althing) general assembly was founded in 930 AD. A place of outstanding natural beauty and grandeur and immense historical importance, Thingvellir National Park is on the UNESCO World Heritage List. In addition, it is the site of a rift valley on the crest of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, geologically unique, surrounded by Þingvallavatn (Thingvallavatn), the largest natural lake in Iceland. As a site of historical, cultural, and geological importance, it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland.

Iceland’s most popular day tour is the “Golden Circle Tour” which includes geysers Geysir and Strokkur, Gullfoss (Golden waterfall) and Thingvellir National Park. South Iceland, however, has a lot more features that make Iceland a top destination to visit all year round: hot springs, lava fields, volcanoes, waterfalls, the highlands, glaciers, rivers and lakes, picturesque towns, wonderful countryside, historical sites, the arts, as well as some of the most extraordinary natural wonders.

Westman Islands

Vestmannaeyjar (the Westman Islands) archipelago is just off the south coast of Iceland – by ferry, about 30 minutes from Landeyjahöfn (Landeyjahofn), or 3 hours from Þorlákshöfn (Thorlakshofn); or by plane – 20 minutes from Reykjavík. The archipelago consists of around 15 islands. Heimaey, 13.4 km2, is the largest and the only inhabited isle, with a population of around 4, 500.

Ideal for either a day-trip or a longer stay, the Westman Islands are a particular favourite with bird watchers. The largest puffin colony in the North Atlantic is in the Westman Islands. It’s estimated that the habitat contains 1/5 of the world´s total number of puffins, making it the largest single puffin colony in the world. From April through August, Heimaey in the Westman Islands is a must for all puffin enthusiasts.

The Westman Islands are also known for their volcanic history. Formed by submarine volcanic eruptions between 10,000 to 20,000 years ago, the latest volcanic eruption took place in 1973 when a 1600 metre long fissure opened, traversing Heimaey from shore to shore. Within 2 days a cinder-spatter cone rose more than a 100 metres above sea level, later named Eldfell or “fire mountain”. The eruption lasted nearly 5 months, but miraculously no lives were lost. The fishing port, also called Vestmannaeyjar, on Heimaey island was almost ruined, and the effects are still visible in the town in a project called “Pompeii of the North” –  an enterprise to excavate some of the almost 400 homes and buildings still covered by lava and ash from the eruption.

At the time of the eruption, all Iceland, directly or indirectly, participated in helping the residents of Heimaey. On the advice of the Icelandic geologists and geophysicists, it was decided to fight the lava flows that were threatening to destroy the town and the fishing port completely. An operation was mounted to cool the advancing lava flows by pumping seawater onto it, thereby managing to slow, divert or stop the flows. Not only was the endeavour successful in preventing the loss of the harbour, but the lava that almost blocked the harbour entrance has been turned into an asset and is now acting as a breakwater, helping to protect the harbour from storms. In the booklet describing these events, Man Against Volcano: The Eruption on Heimaey, Vestmannaeyjar, Iceland by Richard S. Williams, Jr., and James G. Moore, the writers conclude: “Vestmannaeyjar once again has become a vigorous fishing community, a laboratory for geologists, a major tourist attraction, and a testimony to the perseverance and courage of the islanders to turn, with the help of other Icelanders and foreign friends, a seemingly hopeless situation into a bright future.”

Probably the most tragic event in the history of the Westman Islands was the raid by Barbary corsairs in 1627 when the pirates abducted 234 people, nearly half of the inhabitants at that time, and took them away into slavery in Algeria. Most of them were never able to return to Iceland. Many place names on Heimaey are a reminder of this heartrending event.

Today, the Westman Islands remain one of the most important fishing centres in Iceland. Surrounded by mountains, isles, volcanoes and seabirds, Westman Islands is also one of the major tourist destinations in Iceland. Among the many attractions are deep sea fishing, bird and whale watching, horse riding; natural history and folk museums, to name a few. Heimaey also has one of the most beautiful and extraordinary 18 hole golf courses in the world. Hiking up volcanoes, over lava fields or along the shoreline are also favourites.

The locals are famed for their hospitality which is also greatly in evidence during the major Westman Islands annual festival – Þjóðhátíð (National Festival),“The Festival”, which attracts thousands of people. The Festival is usually held on the first weekend in August; it’s a 3-4 day outdoor festival with various kinds of entertainment, including a traditional bonfire and fireworks.

Another annual event, unique to the Westman Islands and a special children’s favourite is the “puffling-rescue-time” during August when the young puffin chicks leave their cliff nests to fly off across the North Atlantic. Since they navigate by moonlight, they often become confused by the city lights, and crash land in the streets instead. But, the Heimaey children are there to rush to the young pufflings’ rescue, and release them to the sea. The annual search-and-rescue of the young puffins is a custom passed from generation to generation.

North Iceland

North Iceland is a fascinating region, offering a great variety of attractions and activities. Unforgettable tours and excursions are available: into the highlands to view the extraordinary landscapes, mountain ranges, hot springs, waterfalls, glacial rivers, volcanic craters and other amazing geological features. The world renowned Mývatn (Myvatn) Lake is also in this area, providing fantastic opportunities for bird watching. Fishing, hunting, golf, horseriding, whale watching, river rafting or Heli-Skiing are all offered. All seasons in the North of Iceland are enchanting. The Midnight Sun in the summer and the Northern Lights in the winter add that extra touch of magic.

Favourite Sights
On the west side of Húnafjörður (Hunafjordur), the rock arch of Hvítserkur (Hvitserkur) towers just off the shore; far to the south, nearly at the pass out of North Iceland. Hveravellir, geothermal area of fumaroles and iridescent hot pools adds colour to the highlands with one of the country’s largest geothermal fields. The islands of Málmey (Malmey) and Drangey in Skagafjörður exude folklore, while the people of Eyjafjörður (Eyjafjordur) boast of more magnificent mountains and more prosperous farming communities than one can generally find. The two Þingey (Thingey) counties present nature that is simultaneously rough, mild and breathtaking, with so many stunning sights that it would be hard to find more natural masterpieces anywhere else. Goðafoss waterfall, one of the most spectacular in Iceland, and Dettifoss waterfall, considered Europe’s mightiest, are just a couple of examples. Downstream from Dettifoss, you can explore Jökulsárgljúfur (Jokulsargljufur), one of the country’s most awe-inspiring canyons, located in Vatnajökull (Vatnajokull) National Park. The Hljóðaklettar (Hljodakettar),”Echo rocks”, lava formations can be found in the area, and Ásbyrgi (Asbyrgi), where the rushing waters of the Jökulsá (Jokulsa), Glacier River, have shaped stark cliffs. Far to the south, Askja epitomises calderas and volcanoes. The Mývatn (Myvatn) Lake and its entire surroundings are world-famous for their beauty, and the cliffs of Dimmuborgir comprise a wondrous world of their own.

Mývatn Lake District and Mývatn Lake
Mývatnssveit (Myvatnssveit), Myvatn Lake District, is one of Iceland’s most popular tourist destinations. The area is world renowned for its awesome natural beauty, with volcanic eruptions having played a crucial role in the formation of the landscape since ancient times. Extraordinary natural lava sculptures stand out in and around the lake, while at geothermal fields the land is painted in all colours of the rainbow. Roads and walkways lead travellers to interesting locations, whether the plan is to enjoy the strange landscape, examine unique natural phenomena or take a closer look at the plant and bird life. Mývatnssveit offers a variety of services in accommodation, food, and entertainment, based on years of experience and local knowledge.

Mývatn Lake is a unique pearl of nature, the fourth largest lake in Iceland, covering 36.5 km2 (around 14 sq. mi). It is situated at 277 m (908 ft.) above sea level, and has more than 40 small islands. Mývatn (mý – midge; vatn – lake) derives its name from these small insects  which provide a large part of the diet for various birds as well as trout. Mývatn and the surrounding wetlands have a remarkably rich fauna of bird life, and are home to more species of ducks than any other place on earth. The densest habitation of Harlequin Duck in the world is at the upper reaches of Laxá (Laxa), Salmon River, and the Barrow’s Goldeneye duck is found in no other place in Europe. Other bird species include the Red-breasted Merganser, Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, European Teal, Long-tailed duck and Eiders. Laxá River is famous for rich fishing of brown trout and Atlantic salmon.

Day trips from Akureyri to Mývatn Lake are immensely popular. The distance to the Mývatn District is about 90 km east of Akureyri. The surroundings are truly magnificent, formed by volcanic activity which is still ongoing. The latest eruption occurred about 20 years ago and the bubbling clay pits and sulphuric fumes wafting over the area are a reminder of the titan forces surging beneath. The results of these forces being unleashed can be seen in the lava formations which have been forged into towers, castles and caves, resembling a fantastic giant’s playground.

A vibrant community has developed around this bird watcher’s paradise.  Some way to the east, Jökulsárgljúfur (Jokulsargljufur) canyon completes the North’s triangle of must see locations, stretching along an exceptionally scenic area which includes the Dettifoss waterfall.

Nature Highlights

North Iceland has an abundance of remarkable masterpieces of nature, as well as the magnificent natural phenomena of the Midnight Sun and the Northern Lights. Amazing landscapes of the highlands, mountain ranges, geological peculiarities, volcanic features, hot springs, waterfalls, glacial rivers are all found in this region. The famous Mývatn (Myvatn) Lake, an exceptional jewel of Iceland’s nature, is also in this area with its unique flora and fauna. North Iceland has much to offer to any visitor, whether nature lover, or an artist, photographer, adventurer, Icelandic saga fan, historian, anyone who enjoys discovering authentic places of great natural beauty.

Sightseeing Pearls
On the west side of Húnafjörður (Hunafjordur), can be seen the rock arch of Hvítserkur (Hvitserkur). Hveravellir is a geothermal area of fumaroles and iridescent hot pools of delicate kaleidoscope colours. The islands of Málmey (Malmey) and Drangey in Skagafjörður are known for folklore, while Eyjafjörður (Eyjafjordur) has impressive mountains and verdant farms. The two Þingey (Thingey) counties present contrasting aspects of nature, both rugged and tame. Goðafoss waterfall, one of the most spectacular in Iceland, and Dettifoss waterfall, the most powerful, are both in this area. Jökulsárgljúfur (Jokulsargljufur), an awe-inspiring canyon and one of Iceland´s National Parks is in the vicinity. The Hljóðaklettar (Hljodakettar),”Echo rocks”, lava formations can be found in the area, as well as the sharp cliffs of Ásbyrgi (Asbyrgi). Far to the south, is the Askja caldera. Mývatn (Myvatn) Lake and its entire surroundings are world-famous for their beauty, while the cliffs of Dimmuborgir are a marvel in their own right.

The Midnight Sun and the Northern Lights
Eyjafjörður(Eyjafjordur) is one the best places to enjoy the Midnight Sun phenomenon in Iceland. Eyjafjörður has its own special character and a more detailed description of the fjord can be found on the Eyjafjörður page. From September through March, on clear nights, the otherworldly displays of the Northern Lights – Aurora Borealis can be observed in many locations in Iceland, including the North.

The Arctic Circle
Iceland’s northernmost face is the island of Grímsey (Grimsey), in the Arctic Ocean, which crosses the Arctic Circle. Grímsey is a small fisherman’s island, about 60 km from Akureyri, where about 100 inhabitants and millions of seabirds live in proud defiance of the elements. The island is a must see, and crossing the Arctic Circle is something many people want to do. All who come to the island are provided with a document confirming the fact that they have actually travelled north of the Arctic Circle and the precise location of the Circle itself is marked by a signpost indicating distances to some of the world’s main cities.

The Arctic and Antarctic Circles are lines drawn on maps near latitude 66.5°, North or South. The particular significance of these Circles is that they delimit the areas on earth where the sun remains in the sky for 24 hours in summer, and, conversely, where the sun disappears entirely for 24 hours or more in the wintertime. In the vicinity of the Arctic and Antarctic Circles one can find the true territories of the Midnight Sun. Sunshine at midnight can be enjoyed in many parts of northern Iceland during summer, since the Arctic Circle narrowly misses the country’s northernmost points.

Dettifoss waterfall
In many people’s opinion, Dettifoss is the most spectacular waterfall in Iceland. With a height of 44 metres and an average water flow to the volume of 200 cubic metres per second, it is the most powerful waterfall in the country, and, as a matter of fact, in the whole of Europe. Dettifoss also has an impressive power to attract tourists from far and wide. The waterfall is only 135 km away from Akureyri, so a visit from the capital of North Iceland makes an ideal day outing.

Goðafoss (Godafoss) – Waterfall of the Gods
This waterfall is among the finest in the country, not very high but impressive in shape as it divides into two horseshoe-shaped falls. Not far below the waterfall, the river Skjálfandafljót (Skjalfandafljot) splits into two branches which flow around the island Hrútey (Hrutey). The lava field by the waterfall, Bárðardalshraun (Bardardalshraun), flowed out of the volcano Trölladyngja (Trolladyngja), north of Vatnajökull (Vatnajokull), Europe’s largest glacier, more than 7,000 years ago and reached as far as 100 km from the crater. Goðafoss is about 40 km east of Akureyri. The landscape around the waterfall is spectacular.

How Goðafoss got its name
During the Icelandic Commonwealth period (930 AD to 1262 AD), the Icelandic Parliament met each year at Þingvellir (Thingvellir), “the assembly fields”, or Parliament Plains. One of the chieftain-priests (goði) present in the year 1000 when adoption of Christianity was being debated at the Assembly, was Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði – Thorgeir, goði of the people of Ljósavatn and Lawspeaker at the Assembly. Þorgeir was eventually given the authority to decide whether Christianity was to be adopted, or paganism was to continue as religion. He was a pagan himself, but after a period of profound thought, he decided that all Icelanders should have one set of laws and one religion, and that Christianity was to be the religion of Iceland. Upon his return home, it is said, he took the statues of the pagan gods he used to worship and threw them into the waterfall – “foss” in Icelandic, near his homestead. From this time on, the waterfall has been known as Goðafoss – Waterfall of the gods. Þorgeir’s story is preserved in Ari Þorgilson’s (Thorgilson’s) Íslendingabók – The Book of Icelanders. One of the beautiful stained glass windows in the Cathedral of Akureyri illustrates this event.

Towns and Bays

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 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 the Icelandic landscape, 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.


Eyjafjörður (Eyjafjordur) is the longest fjord in North Iceland. Surrounded by spectacular mountains, mostly over a 1,000 m high, this area has well-sheltered spots for farms and hayfields, and wonderful paths for hikers, mountain climbers and nature lovers. Steeped in Viking history, Eyjafjörður’s attractions are many and varied: from extraordinary landscapes to saga trails, beautiful old churches, arts and crafts, heritage museums and an elf gallery, this area has it all. In summer, Eyjafjörður is also one of the best places in Iceland to experience the Midnight Sun.

Eyjafjörður even has better weather than most other Icelandic regions. This is clearly shown by its fertile vegetation and strong agriculture. A relatively dense pattern of population, by Icelandic standards, is also unique. All services are close at hand, and yet the calm and quiet of the wilderness is within easy reach. Serene valleys and solitary spots abound, where untouched Icelandic nature displays its fairest hues and where one finds nothing to interrupt the tranquillity, except the singing of birds and the soft murmur of mountain brooks. In addition, Eyjafjörður is rich in Icelandic culture and unbroken history that goes back many centuries to the time when the first Viking settlers made their homes in Iceland more than eleven hundred years ago.

The district inland from Akureyri, south of the head of the fjord is named Eyjafjarðarsveit (Eyjafjardarsveit). The valleys of Eyjafjarðarsveit are surrounded by impressive mountains. The view from the valley ridges is magnificent at many sites, especially from Hólafjall (Holafjall) and, in particular, Kerling, which at 1,536 m above sea level, is one of the country´s highest mountains. In the adjoining valleys, the landscape is often ruggedly enchanting, featuring huge ravines with near-vertical slopes and peaceful small lakes.

Hrafnagil and Kristnes
This lush farming country with a population of about 1,000 has two main centres, or country villages. They are located at Hrafnagil and at Kristnes, the farm founded by the Viking settler Helgi the Lean. At Hrafnagil you will find Íslandsbærinn (Islandsbaerinn), a representation of a typical Icelandic turf farm, and Jólagarðurinn (Jolagardurinn), the Christmas Garden. Both sites are lovely and attract many visitors.

Íslandsbærinn is a traditional manor estate with four wooden panel walls and a turf walled exterior. Inside there is a large banquet room decorated in the traditional rustic fashion with seating space for 70 persons. A buffet that is a true gourmet’s delight emphasises Icelandic food and drink. Íslandsbærinn offers an excellent opportunity to establish a temporary connection with the culture of the past and the history of the Icelandic people.

In Jólagarðurinn, Christmas in celebrated throughout the year. The house itself is quite curious and resembles a cookie house. Inside, the fire glows and crackles snugly in the fire place. Christmas melodies and aroma fill the air. All kinds of Christmas items are sold, including Icelandic Christmas handicrafts. Icelandic “laufabrauð”(“leaf bread”) is there, wafer-thin, circular pieces of pastry carved with intricate traditional decorative patterns, as well as Christmas cookies, nuts and raisins. The garden around the house is decorated with lights and benches and tables are provided, making this a great spot for having a picnic lunch or enjoying the stillness of an evening.

Historic site Grund
There are many other interesting places in the valley of Eyjafjörður. Grund is a historic site and the impressive church there dates from the beginning of the century. Many important historical figures have lived at Grund, for example Þórunn (Thorunn), daughter of Jón Arason, the last Catholic bishop of Iceland, who was executed with the sanction of Danish authority. Feisty Þórunn reputedly tried to avenge her father´s death, but the attempt failed. Near the highway, in the piece of land belonging to Grund, there is a lovely wooded area named Grundarreitur, believed to be the second oldest woodland area in Iceland. It’s a popular place visited by many travellers.

Historic site Munkaþverá
At Munkaþverá (Munkathvera) there is an old church, built in 1844, and there is also a memorial dedicated to Bishop Jón Arason, who attended the monastery and did his studies there. Munkaþverá is a highly important historical site that once was the home of such famous heroes of saga literature as Einar Þveræingur, Víga-Glúmur and Bergur Sokkason and it is believed to be the burial place of Snorri Sturluson’s brother, Sighvatur Sturluson (1170-1238 AD), and his sons who died in the battle at Örlygsstaðir (Orlygsstadir).

Saurbær and Hólar
Saurbær is the site of an attractive little turf church, built in 1858. This is now a protected building, along with the adjacent old-style churchyard gate dating from 1781. The church contains relics such as a 15th century carved alabaster altarpiece. Yet another 19th century church is situated at Hólar which is also the site of the most remarkable turf farm that still stands in Iceland. At the farm, there is a spacious hall that is believed to date from the 17th century. The farm can be visited with the permission of the occupants and the same applies to the churches at these manor farms of ancient fame.

Geothermal area Laugaland
There are several geothermal areas, including Laugaland, which provides most of the hot water piped into Akureyri homes. This district also has its share of historic spots and there is certainly a lot to see and study. There is a road leading from the end of the valley up into the highlands but the terrain is rough, and it can only be traversed in the summer by suitably equipped vehicles.The southernmost parts of Eyjafjörður lie outside the circle route around Iceland but travellers in the northern parts of Iceland enjoy visiting this flourishing region of picturesque farmsteads and green mountain pastures.

The Northwest –Northeast boundaries
The boundaries of this area are drawn between the centre line of bays Hrútafjörður (Hrutafjordur) and the Siglufjörður (Siglufjordur) bay. This is a relatively densely populated agricultural region with a few hamlets and villages. The landscape is varied with mountain ranges of different size dividing the lowland areas. The northeastern boundaries of the area are drawn between the towns Siglufjörður and Þórshöfn (Thorshofn). The western part of the Northeast is more densely populated. Route 1, the Ring Road, passes through it.

East Iceland

East Iceland is the area east of Lake Mývatn (Myvatn) and Dettifoss waterfall in the north and Jökulsárlón (Jokulsarlon) glacial lagoon in the south. The Eastfjords are relatively sparsely populated but the third largest lowland area of Iceland, Fljótsdalshérað (Fljotsdalsherad), has numerous farms and the largest settlement in the East, Egilsstaðir (Egilsstadir). The landscapes of this area are contrasting, strikingly beautiful with many mountainous fjords along the eastern coast, while the Vatnajökull (Vatnajokull) icecap is the dominant feature in the south-east with its famous Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon.

Picturesque fishing towns, hauntingly beautiful fjords, steep mountains, highland farms, villages, forests and woodlands, clear mountain streams, bird cliffs, columnar basalt formations, and vast expanses characterize East Iceland. Amongst the many attractions and activities are fishing, horse riding, bird watching, seal watching, skiing and hiking. The locals are justly proud of their many diverse trekking and hiking trails and hiking maps have been published for the greatest part of the region.

East Iceland has most of what makes Iceland so unique, as well as the reindeer in the wild, not found anywhere else in Iceland. The reindeer, brought to Iceland from Norway, live mostly at higher elevations in summer but seek lower grasslands in winter. Although their primary habitat is the heathland around Snæfell (Snaefell), they can be seen from Vopnafjörður (Vopnafjordur) in the north to the district of Suðursveit (Sudursveit) in the south.

Towns and villages
Vopnafjordur is well known for the beauty of its pristine landscapes, highland farms, as well as its salmon rivers Hofsá (Hofsa) and Selá (Sela), which attract numerous local and foreign visitors, artists and celebrities. First settled by Vikings in the late 9th century, Vopnafjordur is the setting of Vopnfirðinga sagaThe Saga of the People of Vopnafjord and Þorsteins saga hvítaThe Saga of Thorstein the White. Additionally, the area’s highland farms inspired the setting of the great novel Independent People by Iceland’s Halldór (Halldor) Laxness (1902-1998).

Geology of this area is also fascinating: the only fossil of a mammal, a deer, from before the Ice Age was discovered close to the folk museum at Bustarfell, suggesting that millions of years ago Iceland might have been connected by a land-bridge to Scotland, via the Faroe Islands.

Borgarfjörður (Borgarfjordur) Eystri, an enchanting fishing village, is renowned among Icelanders for its peace and quiet, as well as being home to “a very large population of elves”, according to regional folklore. There are a great variety of hiking routes and marked trails as well as bird watching options. One of Iceland’s most celebrated painters, Jóhannes S. Kjarval (1885-1972) often spent time painting in this area – in the nearby Bakkagerði (Bakkargerdi) you can visit Kjarvalsstofa and see an exhibition on Kjarval’s life and works.

Egilsstadir is the principal township of Eastfjords on the banks of the glacial lake Lögurinn (Logurinn), located on the mid-reaches of the river Lagarfjót (Lagarfljot). Egilsstadir is known for having an almost continental climate, warm summers and cold winters. The locals base their livelihood mostly on services to the surrounding agricultural areas, tourism and commerce. Egilsstadir is on the Ring Road (Route 1) and it has a domestic airport.

Seyðisfjörður (Seydisfjordur) is connected with Egilsstadir by a 27 km long mountain road Fjarðarheiði (Fjardarheidi). It’s a harbour town where the M/S Norröna (Norrona) car ferry to and from Europe docks. While most of the towns in East Iceland are relatively recent, Seydisfjordur is renowned for its impressive old houses, the first sight to greet visitors arriving there on the ferry.

Djúpivogur (Djupivogur) is a lovely town with a long history, and well preserved old buildings which lend it a distinctive character. The main industry is fishing, with tourism growing rapidly. Boat trips from Djupivogur to the now uninhabited island of Papey with its large colonies of Atlantic puffins are a must for bird lovers. Seal watching and hiking are also available.

The port of Höfn (Hofn) on the southeast corner is another major town and a centre for Vatnajokull icecap exploration. From Hofn, it’s possible to go for hiking tours, 4×4 tours, snowmobiles, skiing and ice climbing. Hofn’s Glacier Centre gives amazing insights into the properties and behaviour of glaciers and how they’ve affected people throughout the centuries. From Hofn, it’s not far to one of Iceland´s top attractions: Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon where in summer you can take a boat cruise among the giant icebergs. A more secret treasure is Lónsöræfi (Lonsoraefi) with strangely tinted mountains which are popular for hiking in the summertime. The landscape is richly coloured, dominated by rhyolite and minerals with great geological and vegetation contrasts.

Nature trails
The whole of Fljotsdalsherad, the wide valley southwest from the black beaches of Héraðsflói (Heradsfloi) to the Vatnajokull glacier and Kverkfjöll (Kverkfjoll) volcano is a fascinating region. It covers an area of 9,400 sq. km, almost 10% of Iceland, and it includes Snaefell and the highlands, as well as the sub-glacial landscapes of Möðrudalur (Modrudalur). This district is also the scene of Hrafnkels saga, and at the cultural centre Skriðuklaustur (Skriduklaustur) was the East’s only monastery.

The river Lagarfljót (Lagarfljot), about 140 km long, originates in the highlands of the Vatnajokull icecap and flows north-east to the sea. Much of its length is occupied by the narrow lake Lögurinn (Logurinn). Logurinn is Iceland’s third largest lake, with an area of 53 sq. km, and a maximum depth of 112 m which means that its bottom is almost 90 m below sea level. It is believed that the lake is inhabited by a serpent monster called Lagarfljotsormurinn, whose back is sometimes sighted rising over the waves. According to the tale, it was a small worm, or heath dragon, which grew huge by gloating over a ring that a young girl had let him guard. No local doubts Lagarfljotsormur’s existence. The phenomenon has attracted much attention over the years.

Hallormsstaður (Hallormsstadur) is the main centre of the Iceland Forestry Service. It is located on the beach of the Logurinn Lake. The Hallormsstadur forest is the largest in Iceland which is perhaps not saying much given that only about 1,3% of Iceland is forested. In 1899 the parliament passed a law for the protection of the remaining forest and the reforestation of the area which covers the site of an old manor house and church. An experimental forestry centre was set up and since then the Hallormsstadur forest has increased tremendously, now covering about 2,300 hectares. Scientists are experimenting with what type of trees best cope with the Icelandic climate and more than fifty varieties from 177 countries have been planted. Today, Iceland’s largest forestry project is gradually proving that Iceland can produce commercial timber and once more grow tall trees like those which were wiped out during the Ice Age. The Arboretum of the forest in Mörkin (Morkin) is well worth visiting: the trail has stone bridges, a memorial commemorating the poet Thorsteinn Valdimarsson from farm Teigur in the Vopnafjordur area, lovely open grassy spaces, and a picnic spot. Outdoor art exhibitions and various events are held there over the course of the year, and the “Great Forest Day” in June includes Icelandic lumberjack championship.

In the small cove of Atlavík (Atlavik) there are good camping grounds in the forest which is a popular summer destination for Icelanders. There is also an excellent camping site at Höfðavík (Hofdavik), both a tent and a campervan area. Hallormsstadur forest is only 25 km from Egilsstadir.

Laugavalladalur is a remote valley situated in the highlands northeast of the mountain Kverkfjoll and not far from the canyon Hafrahvammagljúfur (Hafrahvammagljufur). It is a beautiful grassy valley where steam rises from hot pools that give the valley its name. In these magnificent surroundings, the traveller can relax in a natural hot pool or enjoy a warm natural shower.

Another attraction of East Iceland which is off the beaten path is Snaefell (Snow Mountain) which is Iceland’s highest mountain outside of glaciers. Snaefell is located north-east of Vatnajokull glacier and rises up to 1,833 m. Geologists now believe it may even be an active volcano although Snaefell has not erupted since the end of the last glacial period 10,000 years ago. Near the mountain there is a cabin on one side where travellers can spend the night, and Eyjabakkar marshlands on the other, where thousands of geese gather each year. Around Snaefell and in Lonsoraefi, there’s also a good chance of seeing the reindeer.

Cape Ingólfshöfði (Ingolfshofdi) borders South and East Iceland, rising up to 76 m, with a variety of landscapes – from steep cliffs and rocks to black sands, marshes and green grass. Ingolfshofdi is named after the first settler of Iceland, Ingólfur (Ingolfur) Arnarson, who spent his first winter in Iceland there before settling in Reykjavik. During summertime it is teeming with thousands of puffins, the great skua and other nesting seabirds. The cape is only accessible by 4×4 vehicles and, due to possible quicksand, it’s not recommended to travel there without guidance.

There are numerous other places in East Iceland to visit. Wherever you go, you can be sure of a warm welcome and an unforgettable travel experience.

While the residents of East Iceland are few in number, their culture is ancient, rich and varied. Their illustrious history, and the magnificent nature around them have shaped the locals into individuals who know what they want. Everything from the difficult fight for existence in earlier centuries to the technological revolution of the 20th century is interestingly illustrated in the museums and centres distributed throughout the region.