North Iceland

North Iceland offers you the chance to go whale watching, experience the Icelandic horse, and visit the Diamond Circle. You can get up close to deep blue lakes, spectacular waterfalls, and vast canyons. There’s plenty to explore in this half of the country.

The Dettifoss waterfall in autumn
Akureyrarkirkja (the Akureyri church) in the evening
Lush trees and lava formations next to Lake Mývatn
The Dettifoss waterfall in autumn
Akureyrarkirkja (the Akureyri church) in the evening

FAQs about North Iceland

North Iceland is a less visited region, but it’s not for a lack of awe-inspiring nature or exciting activities. Whether you want to soak up lunar-like landscapes and admire waterfalls, or jump into something more active, the north has it all.

Like the rest of the country, North Iceland is steeped in rich history and folklore. On a guided group tour, you could learn about legends of the Viking past, or stories of Iceland’s ‘hidden folk’, the huldufólk. The area around Lake Mývatn, including the otherworldly Dimmuborgir lava fields, is especially known for its links to folk tales.

Iceland’s north coast is well known as being one of the best places to go whale watching in the country. To catch a glimpse of these gentle giants of the sea, you can hop aboard a boat tour from the fishing village of Húsavík.

Some other things you can see and do in North Iceland include:

  • Dive into culture and fine dining in Akureyri, the capital of the north
  • Check out an ancient Icelandic turf farm at Glaumbær
  • Spot puffins on a boat tour around Grímsey island, and cross the Arctic Circle
  • Explore the mind-blowing landscapes around Lake Mývatn
  • Recreate scenes from Game of Thrones at the Dimmuborgir lava fields
  • Visit the mighty Dettifoss and Goðafoss waterfalls
  • Relax in the warm waters of Forest Lagoon or Mývatn Nature Baths
  • Walk through the unexpectedly lush Ásbyrgi canyon
  • Admire the impressive Hvítserkur sea stack
  • See mud boil in the ground at the Námaskarð hot springs

If you want to see just the top attractions that the north of Iceland has to offer, 1 or 2 days would be long enough.

On the other hand, if you want to take things at a slower pace, working your way through the north from the west to the east, 2 to 4 days would be better. That way, you have time for things like whale watching or unwinding in a hot spring, without being in a rush.

It’s easy to drive up to North Iceland from the capital Reykjavík, simply follow the Ring Road (Route 1). The drive is around 390 km (240 mi) and takes about 5 hours straight through.

You can also take a short internal flight from Reykjavík to Akureyri, or there are some international flights that go direct to Akureyri.

You’ve probably heard of the Golden Circle, but have you heard of the Diamond Circle?

The Diamond Circle is northern Iceland’s equivalent, and it’s just as amazing as its southern counterpart! This 250-km (155-mi) touring route takes in the following incredible sights:

  • Goðafoss waterfall – Translated as ‘Falls of the Gods’, Goðafoss is a spectacular waterfall plunging down a 12 m (40 ft) drop, and is 30 m (100 ft) wide.
  • Lake Mývatn – With its calm crystal-clear waters, Lake Mývatn is rich in flora and fauna. Visit the lagoon for and take a relaxing dip in the geothermal pools.
  • Dettifoss waterfall – If you want to feel the power of nature, there are fewer places better to do it than Dettifoss! Europe’s second most powerful waterfall, Dettifoss is a roaring expanse of white water. It sits within the northern part of Vatnajökull National Park.
  • Ásbyrgi canyon – A unique horseshoe shaped canyon, Ásbyrgi is an incredible natural feature, but one also steeped in folklore. It is said that the canyon is shaped from when Óðinn’s horse, Sleipnir, stepped foot in the ground and left a hoofprint.
  • Húsavík – This bright and bustling town is the whale watching capital of Iceland, and one of the best places to see whales in the world.

Other highlights on the Diamond Circle tour including the Dimmuborgir lava fields and the Tjörnes peninsula. South of Lake Mývatn is the geothermal area of Námaskarð, where you can hot springs bubble and boil in a Mars-like setting.

If you want to spot whales in Iceland, the north is on of the best places to do so! There are regular whale watching tours from the town Húsavík. In the summer, tours are more frequent, but you can go at any time of year.

Some of the whales you can see in the North Atlantic around Iceland include:

  • Orcas (killer whale)
  • Humpback whales
  • Sperm whales
  • Long-finned pilot whales
  • Blue whales
  • Sei whales
  • Minke whales
  • Fin whales
  • Northern bottlenose whales

You can also see puffins, harbor porpoises, and white-beaked dolphins on this stretch of near-Arctic coast. The sea stacks and basalt columns along the coast are perfect for the birds to dive off and shelter in.

The answer to this question really depends on what you’re looking to get out of your visit to Iceland.

North Iceland offers amazing sights like the Diamond Circle, and the chance to go whale watching. As it’s a little further from the capital, less people visit the region, but that doesn't mean there’s less to see.

If you want to include North Iceland in your itinerary, it’s best to go for a trip of at least 5 to 7 days. This will give you enough time to visit this region without rushing, plus see some of the delights of the south.

South Iceland is great for a multi-day trip from Reykjavík by bus. It’s in this region that you’ll find the Golden Circle. Here you’ll also be able to venture further along the south coast and deeper into Vatnajökull National Park. With highlights like glacial lagoons, black sand beaches, and ice caving, South Iceland packs in plenty of adventure!

Think about what you want from your visit to Iceland, but if you have time, why not combine a north and south itinerary into a Ring Road trip?

Absolutely! With stunning landscapes, nature sites, and villages, it’s hard not to be bowled over by North Iceland. If you love your wildlife, take in puffins, whales, and dolphins along the coast. And if you love out-of-this-world landscapes, the north’s lava fields and geothermal areas are unlike anywhere else on Earth.

If you’re ready to start planning your North Iceland trip, check out these Iceland vacation packages.


See what travelers like you have been up to lately on Instagram.