Iceland on the road: North-west Iceland among seals, waterfalls and fjords
According to some, north-western Iceland is not among the most interesting regions of the island. But if you love unspoiled nature, seals and whales, waterfalls, fjords (other than those visited in the Westfjords), then it’s definitely worth visiting North West Iceland.
From June 8, 2019, visiting North Iceland is easier thanks to the Arctic Coast Way, a real on-the-road tourist route that runs 560 miles (900 km) through the fjords from Hvammstangi to Bakkafj’ràur and through 21 fishing villages. The length of the coast can be covered even in a day, but it is better to enjoy it at a slower pace by stopping along the way and staying in some of the fishing villages. The road is off the beaten track: instead of following the Ring Road, you will follow a mix of paved and gravel roads. This means that although the route is accessible all year round, some sections are more suitable from spring to autumn.
Iceland on the road: the seal peninsula, Vatnsnes
Road 711 follows the entire perimeter of Vatnsnes Peninsula: it is the kingdom of seals! Although each spot is potentially good for spotting seals, there are three places that guarantee almost 100% sighting: Svalbar, Illugastashir, and Hv-tserkur.
llugastasir is on the west coast of the peninsula: you will find the point marked by the signs. From the parking lot (with bathrooms) with a walk of about 15 minutes, crossing first the fields and then skirting the shore, you will reach a seal-watching cabin. There are also binoculars in the cottage and the place is perfect for shelter from rain and wind.
Hvitserkur means “white shirt”: this name is due to the large amount of guano of the birds that inhabit the area that have colored the great geological formation. The wind and waves dug three holes through the base, creating a figure reminiscent of that of a giant stone rhinoceros. Legend has it that this rock is a troll paralyzed by the rays of the Dawn Sun while trying to destroy the Christian monastery of Thingeyrar. Even at this point it is easy to spot seals.
Iceland on the road: Glaumbar, the turf houses
Glaumbar’s turf houses were inhabited until 1947. On this site there was already a farm in the year 874 and these houses represent an opportunity to understand Icelandic life and culture. Surely Glaumbar is a site that will appeal to children too! The current farmhouse consists of 13 buildings and the “most recent” addition to the house was built in 1876-1879. The oldest parts of the house of grass and mud date back to the middle of the 18th century. In 1947 Glaumbar was declared a protected site and now belongs to the National Museum of Iceland.
Glaumbar is the farm with the largest amount of turf houses in the whole country, due in fact due to the poverty of alternative material, such as the building stone, very rare in the area, and the abundance of excellent square peat. The walls were erected with peat bricks, squared and laced. The timber used for the infrastructure, on the other hand, came mostly from the piles of wood that piled up on the island’s beaches and come adrift from the ocean. For this reason it was wood of different varieties and types, not unitary but varied.
Iceland on the road: Akureyri, the “capital” of the North
The main town in North Iceland is Akureyri, Iceland’s second largest city, which is in a very nice location. It has just 20,000 inhabitants, but for Iceland it is practically a metropolis!
Don’t miss the Akureyrarkirkja, built in 1940 by the same architect as The Hallgr’mskirkja in Reykjavik. This church is located on top of a hill from which you can enjoy one of the best panoramic views of Akureyri. The interior is austere, like most Lutheran churches, and among its white walls stand out only a large organ and a model of ship hanging from the ceiling. If the good
weather accompanies you, you can visit – children will also be very popular – the Botanical Garden of Akureyri, Lystigar-urinn, which is the most northerly botanical garden in the world. Along its picturesque paths, you can admire a full range of all native plants, as well as some examples of other ecosystems with plants coming from all parts of the planet.
Iceland on the road: Godafoss, the waterfall of the gods
Despite not being the biggest in terms of jump or reach, most people visiting all of Iceland agree that Godafoss is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the country.
Halfway between Akureyri and Lake Myvatn, Godafoss is one of the most visited spots in northern Iceland. It is a beautiful waterfall, twelve meters high and thirty meters wide, in which the waters of the river Skjolfandaflj’t fall furiously in the middle of a picturesque volcanic landscape. The trail to reach the vantage points is easily accessible, even by young children.
It is known to all Icelanders as “waterfall of the gods”. The origin of this curious and mystical name at the same time is due to one of the most important events in the history of Iceland: its Christianization in the year 1000 A.D. According to legend, after banished paganism into Thingvellir Alpingi, the orgeir Ljasvetningagoi (one of the island’s rulers at the time) threw all pagan idols into the water of Godafoss, thus changing the Viking gods to the Christian God.
Iceland on the road: the Kingdom of the whales
It is located further north than Akureyri and overlooks the bay of Skj’lfandi. Thanks to its location, the city has grown economically on the basis of two fundamental pillars: fishing and tourism.
Although it is also possible to practice whale watching in Reykjavik or other cities in northern Iceland such as Akureyri, it has earned the right to be known as the best place to see the whales in Iceland.
Up to eleven different species of cetaceans approach the coast of the Bay of Skj-lfandi to feed. The best time to see whales in Husavik is summer, between June and August: during this season it is possible to guarantee almost 100% of whale sightings here. In addition to whales, in the same period you can also see the cute birds symbol of Iceland: puffins.
It is one of the most picturesque villages in northern Iceland and has several tourist attractions, first of all the early 19th-century Husavik-kurkirkja, which does not leave travelers indifferent thanks to its extraordinary wooden facade white, red and green.
To stay on the theme, it also has a Whale Museum that can be the perfect complement to any whale watching excursion. The museum will also be interesting for children, as it explains the habits and peculiarities of the different whales that inhabit the northern coast of Iceland, as well as telling the story of whaling in the country.
Iceland on the road: Salthus Guesthouse in Skagastrond
Skagastrond is a good place to base if you want to visit North West Iceland. If you don’t want to camp or go on an adventure for accommodation (which I don’t recommend as the area is quite desolate and, especially in summer, demand far exceeds supply), Salthus Guesthouse is a great option.
Despite being populated by 500 inhabitants, Skagastrond is a marine fishing and research center and also an international creative arts center. There is a grocery store, sports centre and a pool with a hot tub (geothermal heated) in the village, while a 9-hole golf course can also be found nearby.
The guesthouse hosted us in a nice and spacious family room, but double rooms and double rooms with disabled access are also available in the property. All rooms have en-suite bathrooms, and the rooms on the ground floor have their own patio that overlooks the beautiful bay. All the furnishings are new, the mattresses very comfortable and the temperature adjustment of the rooms is perfect. There is also a common kitchen, very clean and very organized, where you can prepare breakfast or arrange for lunch or dinner.
The view from the patio is incredible, in all weather conditions: the view ranges from the bay to the headland of a protected national park in the northern part of the city. With a small hike, you can even see the Skaginn mountain range from the headland, and to the west Strandir area in the western fjords.
Salthus Guesthouse: info
Email: [email protected] Website: salthus.is
GPS Coordinates: Longitude -20.322100 Latitude 65.826200