ActivitiesIcelandThe 23 Best Things to Do in North Iceland
Quiet gravel road, North Iceland
Go Car Rental Iceland travel writer Aron Freyr
By Aron FreyrJun 25, 2024 • 9 min read

The 23 Best Things to Do in North Iceland

North Iceland is a land of striking contrasts, offering a blend of stunning natural landscapes, vibrant towns, and unique cultural experiences. There are many things to see and do here, with options for all tastes.

Known for its dramatic volcanic landscapes, geothermal activity, and rich wildlife, North Iceland is a destination that will bring you fascinating experiences. This humble list aims to help you discover the region and what to see and do, as well as provide detailed insights to help you plan an unforgettable trip. Let’s dip in!

1. Northern Lights

Witnessing the Northern Lights is a magical experience that will last in your memory forever.

The best time to see this natural phenomenon in North Iceland is from late August to mid-April. One of the perks of this area of the country is that it’s normally less cloudy than the west and the south, widening your chances to see them. The region's clear, dark skies provide perfect conditions for viewing the aurora borealis, often visible in green, white, and sometimes red hues.

Guided tours are available to take you to optimal locations for this breathtaking spectacle, such as the countryside around Akureyri, which is the main city in the region, and the remote areas near Lake Mývatn.

Northern Lights above Akureyri, Iceland

2. Whale Watching

North Iceland is a prime location for whale watching, offering some of the best opportunities in Europe. Húsavík, known as the whale-watching capital of Iceland, provides boat tours where you can see humpback whales, minke whales, and even blue whales in their natural habitat. Without a doubt, one of the best experiences Iceland has to offer.

These tours often include a local guide who will give you fascinating details about marine life in general and whales in particular, making the experience educational as well as thrilling. The calm waters of Skjálfandi Bay are a perfect backdrop for these majestic creatures. And, if you're lucky, you might also spot dolphins and seabirds.

Whale and mountains in Iceland

3. The Diamond Circle

The Diamond Circle is a scenic driving route that includes several major attractions: Húsavík, Ásbyrgi Canyon, Dettifoss, and Lake Mývatn. This 260-kilometer (160 miles) circuit offers a perfect day trip filled with diverse landscapes and natural wonders.

Each stop on the Diamond Circle has its unique charm, from the whale-watching opportunities in Húsavík to the dramatic cliffs of Ásbyrgi and the geothermal wonders of Mývatn. But don’t worry, we’re getting into them one by one.

4. Húsavík

This picturesque little town is nested in a beautiful bay. Apart from being the port from where many whale-watching tours depart, it’s a charming place. The most famous landmark is the wooden church Húsavíkurkirkja.

The town also has a museum dedicated to the Eurovision Song Contest. The 2020 comedy Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, starring Will Ferrel and Rachel McAdams, is set in Húsavík.


5. Ásbyrgi Canyon

Formed by glacial flooding during the last ice age, Ásbyrgi Canyon is a striking horseshoe-shaped canyon, one of North Iceland's most captivating natural wonders. The canyon is part of the Jökulsárgljúfur section of Vatnajökull National Park and is renowned for its beautiful vegetation and diverse wildlife. The dense forest at the base of the canyon creates a contrast with the towering cliffs that rise around it.

Numerous hiking trails wind through the area. Whether you prefer a leisurely walk through the forest or a more challenging climb to the canyon's rim, Ásbyrgi offers a variety of options for exploring its natural beauty.

Ásbyrgi is also steeped in mythology. According to Norse legend, the canyon was formed when Sleipnir, the eight-legged horse of the god Odin, touched the ground with one of its hooves. This mythical connection adds an element of mystery and intrigue to the landscape.

Walls surrounding Asbyrgi canyon with orange trees on autumn with lightning

6. Mývatn Lake

This magnificent lake is one of the places to go in Iceland if you want to try its famous geothermal baths and hot springs. The Mývatn Nature Baths allow you to soak in relaxing hot water while the temperature outside might be quite low.

But that’s not the only appealing thing about Lake Mývatn. It's also renowned for its unique geological features and rich birdlife. Many hiking trails surround the lake, taking you to jaw-dropping places. The geothermal activity in the region creates a landscape dotted with pseudo-craters and lava formations, making it a must-visit destination.

7. Dettifoss

Considered one of the most powerful waterfalls in Europe, Dettifoss is a sight to behold. It’s located in Vatnajökull National Park, one of the three national parks in Iceland and the biggest national park in Europe.

The 100-meter-wide waterfall drops 45 meters into Jökulsárgljúfur canyon, creating a deafening roar and constant mist in the air. This cataract has also been nicknamed “The Beast.” A visit to Dettifoss is a humbling experience, showcasing the raw power of nature and providing a perfect spot for dramatic photography.


8. Jökulsárgljúfur

This area was formerly considered a national park. However, a few years ago, Jökulsárgljúfur and Skaftafell—which was also a national park—merged into the larger Vatnajökull National Park.

The park is perfect for hiking and exploring the rugged beauty of North Iceland. There are many routes available. Jökulsárgljúfur is formed by volcanic activity that has created impressive mountains and chaotic canyons. Ásbyrgi and Dettifoss are considered part of this park.

Jökulsárgljúfur viewpoint in northeastern Iceland

9. Goðafoss

Goðafoss, or the "Waterfall of the Gods," is one of Iceland's most spectacular waterfalls. Located on the Skjálfandafljót River, it is easily accessible and offers beautiful views and photo opportunities. It’s especially magical during the winter months, as the weather leaves the waterfall partially frozen.

It’s not only a place of astonishing beauty but also of cultural significance. It was here that the law speaker Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði is said to have thrown his pagan idols into the falls upon converting to Christianity around the year 1000.

Godafoss waterfall in North Iceland

10. Akureyri

Known as the Capital of the North, Akureyri is the largest city in North Iceland and the fifth largest city in the country. It's an important port and fishing center. Even though it’s up north, the harbor area is mostly ice-free, making it an important point of reference in sea navigation.

The town is beautifully situated on the shores of Eyjafjörður, Iceland’s longest fjord, and provides a picturesque setting with snow-capped mountains in the background. Akureyri is also known for its lively arts scene, with numerous galleries, theaters, restaurants, and music festivals throughout the year.

Akureyri, North Iceland

11. Geosea Sea Baths

Located in Húsavík, the Geosea Sea Baths provide a unique geothermal bathing experience. The mineral-rich seawater is heated by geothermal energy, offering a relaxing soak with stunning views over Skjálfandi Bay.

The main difference with other geothermal baths in Iceland is that Geosea uses seawater, which is believed to have therapeutic properties. The baths are designed to blend seamlessly with the natural surroundings, creating a serene and peaceful atmosphere.

GeoSea Swimming Pools at the Sea in Husavik, Iceland

12. Forest Lagoon

Another great option for geothermal baths, especially if you want to be surrounded by beautiful nature, is the Forest Lagoon in Eyjafjörður. This newly developed attraction combines hot spring bathing with a lush forest environment.

The lagoon is nestled in a birch forest, providing a unique setting that differs from the typical Icelandic landscape. Visitors can relax in the warm waters while listening to the sounds of the forest, creating a truly immersive experience.

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13. Krossneslaug

This is a completely different approach to geothermal baths compared to the others we have named before. Krossneslaug is a remote geothermal pool located on the edge of the Arctic Ocean. The pool offers a surreal experience of soaking in warm waters while enjoying panoramic views of the ocean and the surrounding mountains.

The journey to Krossneslaug is an adventure in itself, as it’s a bit remote. The drive involves a scenic panoramic view through the Westfjords. The pool’s isolated location means it is often less crowded than other geothermal baths, providing a tranquil setting for relaxation.

Aerial view on gethermal pool in Krossneslaug

14. Krafla Volcano

Iceland is a country formed mainly by volcanic activity. So, we guess you’re expecting to see some volcanoes here. One of the best for that in North Iceland is the Krafla Volcano, a geological wonder that offers a fascinating glimpse into the dynamic nature of the Earth's crust.

The area is a hive of geothermal activity, making it a must-visit for anyone interested in the raw power of nature. The volcanic system of Krafla has been active for more than one 1,000 years, with its most recent eruptions occurring in the 1980s. Visitors can witness the dramatic landscapes formed by these eruptions, including the famous Víti explosion crater. This crater is a stunning view, as it’s filled with a striking turquoise lake, creating a wonderful contrast.

Exploring Krafla is like stepping into another world. The Leirhnjúkur lava fields, with their vast expanses of solidified lava, offer a landscape that seems from outer space, as if it was on the moon. Hiking through these fields, you can see steam vents and boiling mud pots, highlighting the geothermal activity happening below the surface.

Famous crater Viti at Krafla geothermal area

15. Horseback Riding

One of the most unique and enjoyable ways to explore the breathtaking landscapes of North Iceland is on a horse. Icelandic horses, renowned for their distinctive gait called the tölt and their friendly nature, provide a memorable and authentic experience for riders of all levels. These horses are small but strong and perfectly adapted to the rugged Icelandic terrain.

Horseback riding tours are available throughout North Iceland, offering a variety of options. Imagine riding through the unique landscapes of the region, between beautiful fields, waterfalls, and the view of mountains and glaciers.

Group horseback riding in Iceland

16. Siglufjordur

Siglufjordur, a charming fishing village nestled in a narrow fjord, is a picturesque destination that seems to have stepped out of a fairy tale. Known for its colorful houses, thriving arts scene, and rich history, this nice little town offers a delightful option if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of modern life.

One of the highlights of Siglufjordur is the Herring Era Museum, the largest maritime museum in Iceland. This museum offers a fascinating glimpse into the town's past as the herring capital of the world.

Winter Scene in Iceland small town Siglufjordur

17. Grettislaug

This hidden gem is a geothermal hot spring located near the shores of Skagafjörður. The name translates as Grettir's Pool, named after the legendary Icelandic saga hero Grettir the Strong. The pool is surrounded by rugged mountains and offers stunning views of the fjord, making it a perfect spot to unwind and connect with nature.

The waters of Grettislaug are rich in minerals and maintain a comfortable temperature year-round, thanks to the geothermal activity beneath the surface. The pool is relatively small and less crowded than some of Iceland's more famous hot springs, offering a more intimate and tranquil atmosphere.

Grettislaug Bathing Spot

18. Hiking Tours

One of the best ways to get to know Iceland is by car. Renting is the best option, as public transportation between regions might not be as efficient. Then, once you get to different areas, there’s nothing better than hiking through its amazing parks, fields, lava formations, glaciers, etc.

North Iceland is a hiker's paradise, offering a wide range of trails that showcase the region's diverse landscapes. The area's natural beauty and varied terrain make it an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts looking to explore on foot.

Hiking in Iceland

19. Rock Formations at Dimmuborgir

Dimmuborgir, located near Lake Mývatn, is a fascinating area of unusual lava formations that resemble a field of dark castles. And that’s exactly what its name means: dark castles or fortresses.

These formations were created by a volcanic eruption over 2,000 years ago, and have inspired countless legends and stories. According to local folklore, Dimmuborgir is home to trolls and other mystical beings, adding a sense of enchantment to the landscape.

The area is crisscrossed with well-marked trails that lead visitors through the labyrinth of lava structures. Some formations have been named for their distinctive shapes, such as Kirkjan (The Church), which resembles a Gothic cathedral.

In addition to its geological significance, Dimmuborgir is also a haven for birdwatchers. The area is home to a diverse array of bird species, particularly during the summer months when migratory birds flock to the region.

Panoramic view over the lava fields and rock formations of Dimmuborgir

20. Hverir Geothermal Area

If you’re planning on visiting Lake Mývatn, which is highly recommended, adding Hverir to your route is a great idea. This area is a geothermal wonderland known for its bubbling mud pots and vibrant mineral deposits, creating a landscape that feels almost alien.

Visitors to Hverir can walk along well-maintained boardwalks that lead through the geothermal field, allowing for close-up views of the sulfur fields and steaming vents. The ground is stained with a wide range of vivid colors, from red to oranges and greens.

Hverir geothermal area, Iceland

21. Grjótagjá Lava Cave

This is another great stop near Lake Mývatn. Grjótagjá is a small lava cave with a thermal spring inside. It’s famous for its crystal-clear blue water and was featured in the TV series Game of Thrones.

Another great spot to take enjoy a geothermal bath in North Iceland, although the water temperature can be quite high.

Grjótagjá Lava Cave

22. See Basalt Rocks at Hofsos

This small village is known for its striking basalt columns along the shoreline. Hofsos is also known for its modern infinity pool overlooking the fjord.

Basalt Rocks at Hofsos

23. Hvitserkur

This is one of the most photographed natural monuments in North Iceland. Located in Vatnsnes Peninsula, Hvitserkur is a 15-meter-high basalt rock formation just off the coast. It resembles a dragon that is drinking water from the sea. Some people say that what they see is an elephant, though.

Here you also have good chances of spotting seals.

A man with a lantern watches the Northern Light next to the famous volcanic rock formation Hvítserkur.

Travel Tips

  • Pack smart: The weather can change rapidly, so bring layers, waterproof clothing, and sturdy footwear.
  • Check the weather and road conditions: The weather can change quickly here. It’s recommended that you check the weather forecast before starting your day. Also, some roads may be closed at certain times, so it’s important to check their status.
  • Plan Ahead: Some attractions may be season-dependent, so check their availability and opening hours.
  • Rent a Car: Having a car allows you to explore remote areas at your own pace. If you visit in colder months, ensure it's equipped for winter driving.
  • Book Accommodations Early: Popular spots like Akureyri and Húsavík can fill up quickly, especially during peak seasons.
  • Respect Nature: Follow local guidelines to protect the fragile environment, especially in geothermal areas and nature reserves.

Go North!

North Iceland offers a rich tapestry of experiences, from the serene beauty of its natural landscapes to the vibrant culture of its towns. Whether you're soaking in a geothermal pool, exploring volcanic landscapes, or gazing at the Northern Lights, this region promises an adventure like no other. Plan your trip, embrace the beauty, and create unforgettable memories in North Iceland.

Frequently Asked Questions About North Iceland

Is North Iceland worth visiting?

Absolutely! North Iceland is a hidden gem that offers a unique blend of natural beauty, cultural experiences, and outdoor activities.

When is the best time to visit North Iceland?

The best time to visit North Iceland depends on what you want to do:

1. Summer (June to August):

  • Long days and warm weather
  • Great for hiking, whale watching, and exploring
  • Busy with tourists

2. Winter (December to February):

  • Best for seeing the Northern Lights
  • Winter sports like skiing and snowmobiling
  • Short days and cold weather

3. Spring (March to May)

  • Fewer tourists
  • Mild weather
  • Some attractions may be closed or less accessible

What's the Weather Like in North Iceland?

North Iceland is a bit colder than the South and the West of the country, but not that much. On the other hand, rain occurs less frequently. In the summer, temperatures are mild, ranging from 10°C to 15°C (50°F to 59°F). Also, the long daylight hours provide ample time for outdoor activities. In June, you can experience the Midnight Sun.