We traveled from East Iceland through the highlands to reach North Iceland, which is known for whale watching, Lake Myvatn and waterfalls. The largest metropolitan area in Iceland outside of Reykjavik is Akureyri, which is located on a fjord in North Iceland. Some of our favorite parts of North Iceland include:
Northern Iceland has several stunning waterfalls, and we saw three.
- Dettifoss is the most powerful waterfall in Iceland on the Jökulsá á Fjöllum River, within the Vatnajökull National Park. The milky-gray water comes from the Vatnajökull Glacier. There is about a 10-15 minute walk on a gravel path with steps from the parking lot to the overlook. 65°48′52.8″N 16°23′04.1″W
- Kid Facts: The stunning falls are 330 feet wide and drop 144 feet down to the Jökulsárgljúfur Canyon.
- Kid Moments: Count the steps leading down to the waterfall to make the journey more exciting.
- Kid Caution: The walk to the falls was more strenuous than most, but our two year old did most of it by herself. The view of Dettifoss is from above, and it is an extremely powerful waterfall. Make sure children stay well back from the edge, especially on a windy day.
- Hafragilsfoss is a waterfall just downstream from Dettifoss. 65°49′57″N 16°24′00″W
- Kid Caution: We visited Dettifoss and Hafragilsfoss on a particularly windy day, and the hike up to the Hafragilsfoss viewing area was steep with cliff edges. So, I chose to stay in the car with the kids while my husband took hiked up to view the falls and take a few pictures.
- Goðafoss is a beautiful waterfall with amazing rock formations surrounding it located right on the Ring Road between Myvatn and Akureyri. It is considered the “Beauty” to Dettifoss’ “Beast.” 65°40′48″N 17°32′24″W
- Kid Facts: Goðafoss means “waterfall of the gods” and was named by Thorgeir Ljosvetningagodi Thorkelsson, who made Christianity the official religion of Iceland in 999 or 1000. At that time, he threw his pagan statues into Goðafoss. A window in Akureyrarkirkja illustrates this story.
Husavík is an idyllic fishing village known for whale watching, specifically because visitors are more likely to see different species of whales than any other whale watching destinations where it is rare to see any whales other than humpbacks. The three whale watching tour providers are: Gentle Giants, Salka Whale Watching and North Sailing. We spent a night at an adorable apartment right near the harbor, and guests receive discounts at both Gentle Giants and Salka Whale Watching. We planned this stop to take a whale watching tour, but the trips were unfortunately cancelled due to weather, so we headed to the Myvatn area instead. It was wet and rainy the whole time we were there, and we thought we would come back the next day for whale watching, so we ended up with no pictures. We recommend take out fish and chips. Because we were in Akureyri the next night, we opted to whale watch in Dalvík instead.
Lake Myvatn is a pretty significant tourist area with many attractions. There is a tourist office in Reykjahlid next to the supermarket that offers great maps of the area and advice. We spent the most of a day in this area.
- Dimmuborgir is a lava field with volcanic caves and unusually shaped rocked collections. There are paved and unpaved, kid-friendly trails that our family particularly enjoyed exploring. There is a tourist center with a gift shop and restaurant located off of the parking lot. 65°35′25″N 16°53′58″W
- Kid Facts: The Dimmuborgir area was formed about 2300 years ago by a collapsed lava tube where lava pooled over a small lake. Lava pillars were formed by vapor that rose through the lava. “Dimmu” means “dark”, and “borgir” means “castles.”
- Kid Moment: Remind your kids that Dimmuborgir’s geology is so unique that the only similar locations exist on the ocean floor.
- Holfdi Viewpoint is a penninsula that stretches into Lake Myvatn. There are a number of hiking trails in this forest. We took the one that went up to the overlook and saw more trees on this hike than anywhere else in Iceland. It was buggy, but none of us were actually bitten.
- Grjótagjá consists of two portals into a small lava cave that each have a thermal spring filled with blue water that used to be a popular location for swimming, but the water temperature has risen after volcanic eruptions and is now too hot. Apparently, the temperature is falling, and there are times when it is safe for people to enter, but no one was in the water during our visit.
- Kid Facts: Kids may be interested that Grjótagjá was the filming location of an iconic Game of Thrones scene, but the actual scene is not kid-friendly.
- Kid Caution: The climb in is a bit steep, but our seven and nine year old boys had no difficulty. We chose not to bring in our toddler due to the risk of hot water.
- Hverir is a large geothermal field of bubbling mud pools, steaming fumaroles and cracked mud that seems right out of Star Wars. It was the muddiest part of our trip, and many tourists had those blue shoe coverings, which I was a bit envious of for the first time in my life. The kids enjoyed exploring but wished there was some way to cover up the sulfuric smell (like rotten eggs). While Yellowstone’s geothermal area is more extensive, Hverir is unique in that you feel like you are truly visiting another planet.
- Kid Facts: A fumarole (meaning “smoke”) is an opening in the Earth’s crust often found near volcanoes that emits steam and gases.
- Kid Moment: This is a great place to talk about what it would be like to live on another planet.
Akureyri’s population of 18,000 makes it the largest metropolitan area outside of Capital Region and the fourth largest municipality (after Reykjavík, Hafnarfjörður and Kópavogur). It is a quaint town located on the Eyjafjörður fjord. We stayed at an AirBNB in the center of town, around the corner from the Lutheran church, Akureyrarkirkja. There are a few shopping streets, similar to those around Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik. There are also both Chinese and Thai restaurants and Indian takeaway. You can go whale watching in Akureyri, but most people choose to go in Dalvík or Husavík. We also visited the Akureyri Thermal Pool, just outside the center of town. We had a lovely time even though construction was underway on slides at the time of our visit.
- Kid Facts: Guðjón Samuelsson, the State Architect who designed Hallgrímskirkja also designed Akureyrarkirkja, which was completed in 1940. Akureyrarkirkja contains a 3,200 pipe organ, and its central window above the altar came from Canterbury Cathedral in England.
Dalvík is a town located on the Eyjafjörður fjord north of Akureyri that offers whale watching. We chose to do a tour through Artic Sea Tours because of Dalvík’s proximity to Akureyri and because the tours include a fishing portion, which interested my sons. My daughter had just woken up from a nap when we arrived at the office and was not happy about the red jumpsuit she was offered to wear. Although she had never before had an issue with the color of clothing, she yelled, “But red is not my favorite color!” for about 10-minutes straight on the bus we took to the boat. Luckily, the others in our tour were highly amused, and she ultimately decided that putting on the red jumpsuit was a wise choice. The humpback whales were amazing, and the views of the Eyjafjörður fjord were breathtaking. We particularly enjoyed bird watching. Near the end of the tour, fishing rods are distributed, and all fish caught are cleaned and grilled upon your return to be shared by the members of the tour. My boys caught a total of three large cod, which they enjoyed possibly as much as seeing humpback whales. Our picnic afterwards included the freshest fish we had ever tasted.
Many Iceland visitors miss North Iceland, but we were glad it was part of our itinerary! On our trip back to Reykjavik, we ignored our GPS’ suggestion to divert from the Ring Road and immediately shaved an hour of time off our journey.