We are on the eighth day of our journey and today we travel the north of the island.
If you are curious to know the beginning of our journey, here are the links:
- Day 1 and 2, the Golden Circle, click here 😊
- Day 3 and 4, from Hella to Höfn, South Iceland, click here 😊
- Day 5, De Höfn à Egilsstaði, click here 😊
- Day 6 and 7, from Egilsstaðir to Húsavík click here 😊
Best things to do in Iceland
Here we are in the heart of the matter — what to do when you are in Iceland?
Well, you are spoiled with choices, and that’s good. 😃 To help you pick, below you will find some places I visited and the activities I’ve tried. All you have to do is make your choice.
My personal opinion:
😍 Do not miss
😃 Go if you have time
😐 Not very interesting
😭 Unfortunately, we couldn’t do it
Day 8: From Húsavík to Hvammstangi – 270 km
The stops we planned for the day
- Goðafoss waterfall
- Distance from Húsavík 44 km – 35 min
- Visiting time 1 hour
- The town of Akureyri
- Distance from Goðafoss waterfall 116 km – 1h30
- Visiting time 2 hours
- Glaumbær Farm & Museum
- Distance from Akureyri 44 km – 43 min
- Visiting time (closed)
- Hvammstangi Grjótagjá Cave
- Distance from Glaumbær 66 km – 50 min
- Stop for the night
Today we will visit the northern capital of Iceland, Akureyri, the fourth-largest municipality in the country. But before reaching it, we have an appointment with the “waterfall of the gods,” Goðafoss. So we left warmly dressed for a new day of discoveries.
An unexpected site once again caused us to deviate from our itinerary. We spotted some very peculiar houses, so we stopped for some pictures and a bit of history.
😃 Grenjaðarstaður’s old farmhouse
Grenjaðarstaður is the site of one of Iceland’s most famous turf farms. They were the homes of chiefs and wealthy people of the time. Today, the buildings house the Departmental Museum of Popular Traditions.
The current church was erected in 1865, then enlarged and renovated.
The original, dedicated to Saint Martin, was built during Catholicism in Iceland. It then had an altar cloth representing 12 scenes from the saint’s life, a treasure now on display at the Louvre Museum in Paris.
In 1931, the farm was shared to accommodate five families and the pastor.
Turf houses are an authentic cultural heritage in Iceland. If you want to learn a little more about them, click here.
We left the farm to head toward our next destination, and it was in a desert landscape with no one around that we found Goðafoss.
😍 Goðafoss waterfall
Its name means “waterfall of the gods,” or for others, “waterfall of the goði,” the priest.
Located in the Skjálfandafljót river, it is the fourth largest waterfall in Iceland and one of the most spectacular in the country, falling from a height of 12 meters (39 feet) over a width of 30 meters (98 feet).
At the beginning of the colonization of Iceland, the first settlers worshiped various deities, such as Thor, Odin, Loki, and Freya.
In the Year 1000, during the rise of Christianity in Europe, to avoid Norway from invading the still pagan Iceland, the Parliament of Þingvellir’s president had to decide on the orientation of the country’s beliefs.
He lay under a fur blanket for a day and a night in silence, praying to his gods. Eventually, when he emerged from isolation, he announced that Christianity would become the official religion of the land for the good of the people but that pagans could practice in private.
To symbolize his decision, he returned to his home in northern Iceland and threw the idols of his former deities into a beautiful waterfall.
Since then, this waterfall has been known as Goðafoss.
😍 The city of Akureyri
Akureyri is an important port and fishing center whose geographical location has played a significant role in its development. Indeed, the relatively mild climate of the region keeps the harbor waters from freezing, which allows it to operate throughout the year.
Another fact has also contributed to its growth — the rural exodus after World War II.
It is a lovely little place to visit. Most of the oldest houses have been preserved, and the original town planning has been retained.
We admired old colorful houses during the walk, some of which are nowadays hotels, restaurants, or small shops.
A peculiarity of the architecture of Icelandic houses in this region is the use of corrugated iron as an exterior wall covering to protect the woodwork. Traditionally, these panels were intended for roofs and the construction of agricultural sheds.
On some residences, there are also stamped iron plates, like tiles, which ensure the preservation of the walls. These were imported from the United States in the 1930s, and the oldest residences still have this colorful type of coating.
Another peculiarity; the traffic lights
The justification for setting up these brilliant red lights was that as Icelandic winters could be very harsh and the economic situation sometimes tricky, it was necessary to beautify the streets and raise the citizens’ mood in any way possible. The former mayor of Akureyri reportedly said in an interview that he wanted to remind residents what matters and give them a reason to smile at crosswalks and intersections.
After a cold walk and a coffee to warm us up, we left for other horizons — a return to the remote countryside of Iceland.
😭 Glaumbær Museum and Farm
Unfortunately, the museum was closed due to COVID-19 restrictions.
People say that a farm had stood here since the colonial era, in the Year 900.
The 13 buildings of the ancient farm, each of which had its function, were built at different times. The most recent was erected in 1876-79, while the oldest — the kitchen, the “long pantry,” and the middle baðstofa — is substantially the same as that built in the 18th Century.
How was the farm organized?
The entrance hall, the passages, and the access to the south (Brandahús) allowed access to the entire estate. The central unit was the baðstofa, a shared living/sleeping room, where people sat among other things to work.
They stored their food in the pantry which was in the kitchen.
One of the houses served as accommodation for the elders and other household members. It included two guest rooms, two cellars, and a workshop for the blacksmith.
The farmhouse was built of peat, stone, and timber and was similar in architecture and organization to many large Skagafjördur farms of the 18th and 19th Centuries.
It was finally time to go and meet our horses!
Since the beginning of our trip, we were captivated by these little horses, which seemed wild to us, and we couldn’t wait for this moment.
So it was enthusiastic, although a little worried — I’m far from being a good rider — that we went to the farm to conquer the deserted plains.
😍 Our horseback ride
Eventually, there was no reason to be worried. Frankly, if there’s one thing you can’t miss in Iceland, it’s a horseback ride. We even tried the throtl, a gait particular to Icelandic horses. Even if you are not a good rider, the guides adapt the experience to your level, and the horses are so lovely!
It was just great to ride in this wild nature.
Follow me here to learn a little more about these horses.
With a last hug to our new friends, we set off in the direction of Hvammstangi where we will be spending the night. We stopped to admire a small peat chapel. All along the road, there are signs to indicate the curiosities. Do not hesitate to stop because the discoveries are always worth the detour.
😍 Víðimýrarkirkja Turf Church
A church already existed here in the 12th Century, but the current one dates back from 1834. Then, the national museum had it restored in 1936. It was thus the first historical monument to be preserved in this way.
Turf churches were ubiquitous until the 19th Century in Iceland. There are still six left, three of which still serve as parish churches.
Last straight line before Hvammstangi.
There is no particular reason why we chose this village, except that it was on the edge of a fjord and on our way.
After a good night, we are off again to the depths of Iceland to discover the West Fjords.
We had checked the weather forecast before venturing further into these remote lands making sure not to encounter snow or icy roads.
Day 9: From Hvammstangi to Ísafjörður – 367 km
The stops we planned for the day
- Hólmavík, The Museum of Witchcraft
- Distance from Hvammstangi 144 km – 2h00
- Visiting time 2 hours
- Distance from Hólmavík 223 km – 2h40 min
- Stop for the night
I would admit that it was really out of curiosity that we decided to go so far north of the island. There are no particular tourist sites.
The place offers the feeling of being alone in the world in the middle of lunar landscapes. It makes it easy to imagine what the first settlers saw when they arrived here — virgin, magnificent but unwelcoming lands. However, if you don’t have time to wander along these deserted roads, this is something you can skip.
😃 The village of Hólmavík
The small town of Hólmavík is the largest in the region, with 375 inhabitants (2011 census). It serves as a center of commerce for the county.
There is nothing to see except the Museum of Witchcraft
For a small village, it was a pleasant surprise to find this comprehensive museum. We learned about the beliefs of Icelanders, and I tell you, they believe in a lot of things. Weird things sometimes.
😃 The Museum of Witchcraft
If you want a full tour of the museum, and I recommend it, click here.
If I had to pick my favorite part of these two days, I would say the horseback riding. I regret a little not having allotted more time to it before our departure. I’m sure I would have loved spending two days riding the wild plains.
The Museum of Witchcraft was also a delightful discovery. Beliefs in these magic formulas and potions will never cease to amaze me. It is difficult to put oneself in the shoes of people back then — living in fear of unexplained natural manifestations and thus, creating gods to justify them. But imagine looking up one night and chancing upon an aurora borealis, those dancing green lights in the sky, without prior knowledge of what it is. I would readily believe it’s a mystical phenomenon too!
A bit eerie, though!