You know that we at Regent love getting off the beaten track, so when the opportunity arose to travel along four of the six or seven peninsulas that make up North Iceland’s Arctic Coast Way (even during a pandemic), I couldn’t say no!
It was an easy scenic drive up from South Iceland to the small town of Hvammstangi at the beginning or end (depending on where you start) of the Arctic Coast Way. Located just off the main Route 1 that circumnavigates the island, this small town is home to around 600 inhabitants, the fascinating Seal Centre (which has very good tourist information) and the Kidka Wool Factory.
For any knitters out there or if you are in the market for a natty Icelandic jumper, a visit to the KIDKA wool factory and shop is highly recommended, whether you want to buy some of the excellent knitwear or if you want to buy some wool and a pattern and knit your own!
Heading north out of town on a single gravel track along the coast on the Vatnsnes Peninsula, the drive including a few brief stops took around two and a half hours to reach Blönduós on the next section. I stopped at Illugstadir, a beautiful wild place where I took in the fresh sea air on a walk back towards Svalbað – a great place for spotting seals! I saw four or five playing in the small bay.
Further along this remote peninsula, I stopped at Hvítserkur Sea Cliff, where there is a great viewing platform. If weather is good (it was not for us!) you can walk down to the beach for a close-up view of the cliff. For a more macabre visit, stop at Þrístapar, where the last execution in Iceland took place in 1830.
I enjoyed an absolutely delightful stay at Brimslóð Atelier Guesthouse, where the highlight was a delicious family-style meal cooked by our lovely hosts around a huge table, conversing with our fellow travellers.
Then, the road less travelled took us around the Skagi Peninsula from Blönduós over to Hofsós, which took around seven hours including our stops.
First on the agenda the next day was the small town of Skagaströnd. North of the harbour is the small peninsula Spákonufellshöfði, where the reward for a short walk to the shore is a magnificent open view to the north. It all felt very remote, driving around coastal gravel roads with amazing sea vistas and mountainous landscapes. Stop at Kálfshamarsvík, a small cove in the northern part of Skagi, famous for its unusual, beautifully formed sea cliffs of columnar rocks, created about two million years ago.
Now, I love a geothermal dip so I backtracked up the coast on the rough Route 748 to take a dip in the authentic Icelandic nature baths at Grettislaug. The café there was serving snacks/hot drinks and a tasty looking lamb stew. Take care stepping into one of two pools, but once you’re in it’s easy to simply relax in the 39° heat and admire the surrounding mountains and sea.
The next town is Sauðárkrókur, where the new interactive museum 1238: Battle of Iceland is located. I’d highly recommend this as a stop; I loved the virtual reality experience at the end - it’s great fun.
That evening saw the most amazing sunset of the trip at Kolkuós Guesthouse, remotely located just before the small town of Hofsós. With just four simple en-suite rooms, my group had the entire guesthouse to ourselves. Being the middle of summer, the sun finally sunk below the horizon at 1030pm, which was spectacular.
Two things not to miss in Hofsós are a dip in the amazing local municipal infinity pool, where for a mere 1000 Icelandic Krona (ISK) you can enjoy such views as these.
The other unmissable stop is the really fascinating Immigration Centre, located at the pretty harbour. The museum documents the history and individual stories of Icelandic people who emigrated to the USA, Brazil and Canada many years ago.
The next day I headed off around the Tröllaskagi Peninsula or, as it’s known, Troll Peninsula! Unfortunately I didn’t get to see any trolls, but we saw lots of black sandy beaches, spectacular cliffs and roads that seemed to drop off into the sea.
I love Siglufjörður, once named the Herring Capital of the world… naturally, a visit to the Herring Museum is a must! Spread over three buildings, I always find the building showing the living quarters of the ‘herring girls’ who worked on the harbourside gutting and salting the fish the most fascinating. I could almost hear their laughter and gossip as they got ready for some dances with the local fishermen!
On my way out, driving through the two road tunnels connecting Siglufjörður and Ólafsfjörður and out into bright sunshine certainly made the afternoon drive a pleasure.
From here, the road continues around to pass Ólafsfjörðurm before continuing to Dalvík. I didn’t have time on this trip, but there are some great whale watching tours to experience from here. I passed the town of Árskógssandur, where the Beer Spa is located, and the town of Hauganes, where you can find fresh fish at Baccalá bar and hot tubs on the beach! Unfortunately I just did not have time to stop on this occasion, as the town of Húsavik was calling to us.
This small fishing town has been made more famous recently due to Will Ferrell’s Netflix film Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga. The film tells the story of a musical duo from this town, whose greatest dream is to compete in the annual kitsch-fest! Who among us hasn’t enjoyed the many hits on the lockdown-favourite soundtrack, including “Husavik (My Hometown)” singing of mountains, screaming seagulls, gentle whales and the colourful northern lights?!
Of course, I had to take a guided tour. Mine was led by the lovely Giuditta from Travel North (travelnorth.is); we saw some of the places where the filming took place including the original bar, Lar’s blue house and the church. No visit to Húsavik is complete without heading out of town up to the Geothermal Sea Baths GeoSea! This is always an amazing experience, even with wind whipping up from the Fjord.
On my fourth day (the last of my trip), I drove around Tjornes Peninsula back towards Akureyri. I stopped for a dip in Myvatn Nature Baths, which took most of the day. Asbyrgi itself is an impressive horseshoe-shaped canyon. There is a popular hike here which takes around 90 minutes along a ridge which has spectacular views over the National Park.
I was now off the Arctic Coast Way and made my way south towards Lake Myvatn, stopping at Godafoss Waterfall and the steaming fumaroles and bubbling mud pots at Hverir. The perfect way to end my trip… and what a fabulous trip, full of small town explorations, geothermal pools and the most amazing views!