Iceland has much to offer when it comes to nature, history, and wildlife. If you are visiting Iceland for a brief time, we suggest visiting the main attractions in the South, the Golden Circle, and West Iceland. If, on the other hand, you have more time on your hands, we highly recommend that you gear up your rental car and head to the Arctic Coast Way in North Iceland.
What is it all about, and why should I visit?
In short: because it will be totally worth it! The Arctic Coast Way comprises 900km worth of roads along the coast in North Iceland, offering travellers the opportunity of veering off the beaten path to explore some of the more remote places in Iceland.
The route starts in Hvammstangi and ends in Bakkafjörður in Northeast Iceland. The coast consists of three separate parts: the Coast of Sagas and Mythology (Hvammstangi to Ólafsfjörður), the Coast of Fishing Towns and Heritage (Siglufjörður to Húsavík), and the Coast of Elemental Nature (Húsavík to Bakkafjörður).
The Coast of Sagas and Mythology
Hvammstangi to Ólafsfjörður.
The Coast of Sagas and Mythology is the first leg of your journey, along the western part of the Arctic Coast Way. It is full of historic land, where the Vikings once roamed and fought their battles. Skagafjörður, for example, is the site of some of the most important historic battles during the Age of the Sturlung (Sturlungaöld).
This segment of the Coast Way is also breathtaking in its natural beauty, full of wildlife. If you are interested in seals, then head straight to Hvammstangi where there is usually a large seal colony.
The Coast of Fishing Towns and Heritage
Siglufjörður to Húsavík.
As the name suggests, the middle part of the journey, the Coast of Fishing Towns and Heritage, is full of fishing villages that have played an important role in Iceland’s economy and history. Be sure to visit the Herring Era Museum in Siglufjörður to learn all about the Herring Adventures between 1867 and 1968 (it is also the largest maritime museum in Iceland, having much to offer to visitors).
The lovely town of Akureyri also falls within this leg of the journey. It is a must-visit for travellers, offering a great variety of activities and sights. The Christmas House is also a must-visit, situated only a few minutes away (by car) from the town. Húsavík, which is only an hour’s drive from Akureyri, is also well worth the visit, especially for those wanting to go whale watching.
The Coast of Elemental Nature
Húsavík to Bakkafjörður
A drive through compelling and mysterious landscape, the Coast of Elemental Nature is the final leg of the Arctic Coast Way. It is the most remote place along the route, offering a view of relatively sparse towns and villages. The Coast of Elemental Nature affords travellers the opportunity of experiencing the elements of Iceland in near solitude.
The difference between summer and winter on the Arctic Coast Way
Different seasons bring different weather, and travellers must be mindful of road conditions and safety during their drive – especially in winter. During summer, most roads are open and easily accessible.
In winter, however, some of the roads may be closed, owing either to a lack of service, too much snow, or harsh conditions in general. The best thing about winter on the Arctic Coast Way is the accessibility of sites to view northern lights (due to the remoteness of these areas).
Main sights along the Arctic Coast Way
Given how much there is to see along the Arctic Coast Way, it is impossible to provide an exhaustive list. Here are some of the main sights within each segment of the Coast Way.
Coast of Sagas and Mythology:
- Kálfshamarsvík lighthouse
- Hvítserkur beach and rock formations
- Svalbarð beach
- Karl rock formations
Coast of Fishing Towns and Heritage:
- Selvíkurvíti lighthouse
- Dalvík beach
- Reykjafoss waterfall
- Goðafoss waterfall
Coast of Elemental Nature:
- Dettifoss waterfall
- Ásbyrgi canyon
- Arctic Henge
- Mývatn area
Activities along the Arctic Coast Way
The Arctic Coast Way is the perfect route for those who love hiking and exploring new areas on foot. The coast offers a great variety of hiking routes, such as the Súlur hike, leading up the mountain Súlur by Akureyri. It affords travellers a great view of Akureyri and the whole fjord, as well. Súlur has two peaks: Syðri-Súla (1213m) and Ytri-Súla (1200m). It should be noted that, owing to heavy snowfall, this hike is not possible during winter.
If you are an animal lover and would like to see some wildlife, we highly recommend whale watching in either Húsavík or Akureyri. You may even spot some puffins and other birds loitering around the big cliffs. As far as animals go, horse riding is also an option; what is better than riding an Icelandic horse through Iceland’s breathtaking landscapes?
If you prefer to relax in between driving, we recommend visiting the thermal pools and springs along the coast, e.g. GeoSea, the Mývatn Nature Baths, the hot tubs in Hauganes, and the many geothermal swimming pools that line the Coast Way.
Want to learn more about the Arctic Coast Way? You can contact What's On before heading out. Be sure to drive safely and respect nature and wildlife!