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The Magic of Northern Iceland

Northern Iceland

Iceland is one of those places I can’t shut up about.

I’m sorry I’m not sorry.

In my defense, every single person I’ve met who has been to Iceland or heard of Iceland says the same thing. That kind of collective love is worth something, right?

By the time we reached northern Iceland on our #IcelandChallenge trip with Tiny Iceland on a 7 day stopover with Icelandair, I was head over heels for this polar little nation. Since it only took 5 days, I guess you could call me easy.

No shame.

Northern Iceland

In a seemingly illogical way, the further north we headed in Iceland, the nicer the weather got, so by the time we were making our way to Akureyri, we were pulling off layers and our pale skin finally got to see some sunshine, in which it promptly burn since Iceland has no ozone layer.

Oh the joys of a being of northern European heritage.

If I had to sum up our journey north in Iceland it would be both epic and magical. Northern Iceland is where the crooked, jurassic mountains fall away into sweeping, vast landscapes that never end, peppered with (occasionally terrifying) geothermal activity.

Northern Iceland

Game of Thrones-style, the north is the land with summer snows and otherworldly natural wonders, and shouldn’t be missed on a trip to Iceland.

Here are my 5 most epic, magical moments from northern Iceland.

Northern Iceland

1. Survive the crazy drive from the east to the north

Forever in search of adventure and quite literally get off the beaten path, leaving the east we veered off Highway 1 aka the Ring Road in favor of a dirt mountain road somewhere between Jökulsárhlíð and Vopnafjörður.

Try saying that out loud, go on, I dare you.

Northern Iceland

Hellisheiði Eystri climbs high above the clouds in the fiords below, and bit by bit we creeped closer to snow fields twinkling under the hot blue skies.

Which is when, of course, our SUV overheated.

Oh happy days!

Eventually we got the car moving enough to get back down the mountain on the other side in search of our next adventure. Thank heaven for Inga and our endless supply of sponsored water from Icelandic Glacial.

Northern Iceland

Northern Iceland

2. Chase some big-ass waterfalls 

Iceland has no shortage of spectacular waterfalls. In fact, I’m surprised it’s not nicknamed the land of endlessly impressive waterfalls.

Come on vikings!

By the time you reach northern Iceland, you might actually be sick of seeing waterfalls. Sometimes we’d pass a sign indicating a waterfall nearby, look at each other, and say “nah, pass,” and keep driving, that’s how many waterfalls there are in Iceland.

However, if there are two waterfalls to be visited in Iceland, especially in the north, they’re Dettifoss and Goðafoss, both of which will knock your socks off.

Northern Iceland

Neither puny nor pretty, Dettifoss is a monstrosity of a waterfall that will guaranteed drop your jaw open and also might make you pee your pants a little in fear. I’m not speaking from experience or anything…

The most powerful waterfall in Europe, and star of the movie Prometheus, Dettifoss is gray massive titon that rips the flat rocky land in two in northeastern Iceland. Don’t be deceived by the ever-present glittering rainbow that floats in its mists; Dettifoss is ferocious, and I was even too scared to even peek over the edge of the security fence midget rope keeping tourists from tumbling over.

Northern Iceland

And if you’re incredibly adventurous, the other side of the waterfall has no ropes to speak of so you can sit on the edge if you want for photos. Though the way Iceland’s tourism is booming unchecked, I doubt it’ll be long before someone tumbles overboard.

Goðafoss, or the Waterfall of the Gods nearby, is much prettier and less frightening. Also unmonitored, you pretty much have free reign to crawl around the pools and peer down below, just don’t slip!

Northern Iceland

Northern Iceland

3. Hunt down some geothermal activity

Near Mývatn as you head further west you start to get into the geothermal area of Iceland, where the ground occasionally rumbles with earthquakes and the air smells like rotten eggs.

Krafla, one of the most active volcanoes in the area is now mildly quiet and open to visitors. Gazing down into the bright blue waters of the crater still surrounded by a bit of snow, you can’t help but wonder at how geologically diverse Iceland is!

From waterfalls to volcanoes in a day! Iceland really does have it all!

Northern Iceland

Nearby is Hverir with bubbling mud pools and steam rising from the ground. Under the hot perpetual sun, it feels like you’ve stepped foot into another world, wandering around these geothermal areas.

We certainly don’t have mudpots back home in Virginia like that!

Northern Iceland

Northern Iceland

4. Step back in time at the Icelandair Hotel Akureyri

After a long day of driving and exploring the north, we were more than thrilled to arrive at Icelandair Hotel Akureyri. Though traveling in Iceland in summer means the midnight sun and a day that never ends, something I can definitely get behind!

After tucking into a fabulous dinner at the hotel’s restaurant, Aurora, with former mayor of Akureyri and current hotel manager Sigrún (I LOVE this about Iceland!) we finally got to chat with a local about life in Akureyri and about tourism in Iceland, something I’m very interested in.

Since I have been pretty much living in hotels since April, anytime my home-away-from-home has some character, I’m charmed. In spite of being part of a larger chain of hotels, each of the Icelandair hotels has its own theme and is unique.

Northern Iceland

Northern Iceland

Almost as soon as we walked in the lobby, what caught my eye was the giant black and white photo of old time Icelanders sipping champagne on top of a snowy mountain, in suits and dresses!

The story behind the photo was the celebration of finishing a project tracking the Northern Lights over Akureyri, the same studies that inspired paintings of the famous Aurora that we would see later on.

Curious, we chatted about it over dinner and it turns out that Sigrún and friends were planning to recreate the photo right after we left, hiking for hours up to Súlur to take the same shot, even dressed like they used to.

It’s these kinds of stories and moments that endear me to a place, and it might actually be one of my favorite memories from Akureyri! I’m just sad I didn’t get to hike up there in a full dress and heels too!

Northern Iceland

Northern Iceland

5. Exploring the capital of northern Iceland – Akureyri

Iceland’s second biggest city (population 17,000 on a good day) Akureyri is a beautiful fishing town in the north. After a week of rushing from one crazy outdoor activity to another, I was grateful for the chance to get in some culture and learn a little more about Iceland’s history.

From walking along the harbor and getting to see the famous Queen Elizabeth cruise ship to exploring the quaint town, our last day in the north was a pleasant one.

Northern Iceland

Coming full circle, in the town’s main museum we got to see an exhibit about the paintings inspired by the men in the photo in the hotel. While I’ve seen plenty of photographs of the Northern Lights, it was pretty cool to see paintings of them from a century ago.

Northern Iceland is special and it didn’t disappoint. Looking back I’m glad we came full circle and ended our trip there and that we had the chance to experience such profound natural wonders combined with local history and culture.

All I wonder now is when I can go back.

Have you ever been to Iceland? Northern Iceland? Would you like to go one day?

Northern Iceland

Northern Iceland

Many thanks to Tiny IcelandIcelandair and Icelandair Hotels for hosting me in Iceland. Like always I’m keeping it real – all opinions are my own – like you could expect less from me!

44 Responses to The Magic of Northern Iceland

  1. Monica January 7, 2014 at 6:59 am #

    Northern Iceland looks incredible! I didn’t make it up to the north while I was there and I’m kind of glad because it gives me something amazing to go back for. Like you, I can’t stop going on about Iceland. I’m sure it’s getting borderline annoying now for my friends and family but I’m not going to stop until they’ve all been!

    • Liz January 7, 2014 at 5:12 pm #

      Me too Monica, me too!!

  2. Alex @ ifs ands & butts January 7, 2014 at 8:11 am #

    Simply spectacular, Iceland is definitely on the list. I love that you were there while they recreated that photo, super cool moment..

    • Liz January 7, 2014 at 5:12 pm #

      It was so cool! I really wish I could have gone up there with them but we were on such a tight schedule!

  3. Andrea January 7, 2014 at 8:43 am #

    Great and wonderful country, and all the superlative adjectives together. So close and so strange at once…

    • Liz January 7, 2014 at 5:11 pm #

      well put!

  4. Katie January 7, 2014 at 9:15 am #

    This sounds amazing! My friend went to Iceland about a year ago, and couldn’t stop telling me how incredible it was. I’ve been desperate to go ever since. It’s definitely up there on the list with places I’d love to visit.

    • Liz January 7, 2014 at 5:11 pm #

      It’s amazing, you’ll love it, trust me! Go sooner rather than later

  5. Laryssa January 7, 2014 at 12:19 pm #

    Who knew geothermal pools could be so sexy?!

    I agree — we definitely don’t have those in Virginia.

    • Liz January 7, 2014 at 5:08 pm #

      haha agreed 😀

  6. Katharina @ 100 Miles Highway January 7, 2014 at 12:47 pm #

    Wow, the Northern Island looks absolutely stunning in summer… I visited a few years ago during Autumn (almost winter!) and although I still think I had the time of my life, I see that I chose the wrong month to go 🙂

    By the way, I was absolutely stunned with all the geothermal activity in the island! Did you go to one of the geothermal spas? I must warn you that it does smell a bit like rotten eggs, but it leaves your skin super soft afterwards.

    • Liz January 7, 2014 at 5:07 pm #

      yeah we did go to a bunch of geothermal spots in Iceland, so amazing!

  7. Kayli Schattner January 7, 2014 at 2:03 pm #

    Wow, every time I see photos of Iceland, I want to go more and more! Beautiful.

    • Liz January 7, 2014 at 5:06 pm #

      It’s so amazing, you have to go!

  8. Angela January 7, 2014 at 3:12 pm #

    I just adore Iceland! Even though I did not get to the northern part of the island, I do plan on going back and driving the full Ring Road. I had a blast in the week I was there and saw the aurora borealis, along with glaciers and waterfalls.

    I just love the recreation of the picture from the painting in your post. It just shows how much find the locals are 🙂

    • Liz January 7, 2014 at 5:06 pm #

      I love the photo too! I am so jealous you got to see the northern lights, next time I go back it’ll be in winter

  9. Hayley January 7, 2014 at 5:35 pm #

    Going to Iceland has been on my bucket list for a while now! I’d love to see the northern lights one day. Your pictures are amazing too. I especially love the waterfall with the rainbow over it and the bubbling mud pools. It’s made me want to go even more now…ahh one day soon I hope! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Liz January 7, 2014 at 6:29 pm #

      I hope you get there soon, it’s phenomenal!

  10. Kelly January 7, 2014 at 5:48 pm #

    Iceland is definitely on my bucket list, I’m dying to go! Maybe next year, when I’m done with school for a little bit 🙂

  11. Liz January 7, 2014 at 6:30 pm #

    go for it, you won’t regret it!

  12. Daniel January 7, 2014 at 8:04 pm #

    Iceland has been my dream for nearly a year now, probably since the day I downloaded that Of Monsters and Men album, and then went on a late-night Wikipedia binge over everything in Iceland.
    I always thought Iceland’s scenery would be much like New Zealand’s, full of waterfalls and sounds/fiords, but clearly there is so much more!
    I was already dying to go, but now I am even more!


    • Liz January 7, 2014 at 10:21 pm #

      Love Monsters and Men, so good! Iceland is amazing, you could even visit during their airwaves festival in the fall!

  13. Anna from The Blonde Banana January 7, 2014 at 11:20 pm #

    Amazing photos!! So jealous, I am really dying to go to Iceland. Hoping to make it there in 2014.

  14. Sam January 8, 2014 at 8:10 am #

    I went to Reykjavik two years ago to visit a friend and didn’t really have time to visit much else of the country (I was visiting from London, so it wasn’t such a long trip to make just for my friend), but I am dying to go back and see more of the country, especially the north. I love the recreated photo of those people on top of Súlur!

  15. Lauren January 9, 2014 at 9:55 am #

    OMG I’m totally obsessed with Iceland already and your pictures have made me want to go back even more! I fell in love with the place in November 2012 and have been dreaming about going back. I went to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty this week which is mostly filmed in Iceland and it finalised my decision to go again this summer. Then I saw this, and it was the icing on the cake!

    • Liz January 9, 2014 at 4:59 pm #

      OMG I need to see that! You are going to love it in summer, midnight sun, so beautiful!

  16. Bridget @ A Traveling B January 9, 2014 at 10:29 am #

    Love this recap! I am in the process of planning a trip to Iceland and while everyone emphasizes to go to South Iceland, I really want to check out the north. I know you only did it in a day, but would you say 2-3 days is enough in the north?

    • Liz January 9, 2014 at 4:58 pm #

      2-3 days should be enough, maybe more if you’re really interested, there’s a lot to cover between the east and west.

  17. Amanda McGough January 11, 2014 at 10:15 am #

    Gah, I’m dying to visit Iceland! I love that the hotels have such character.

    • Liz January 11, 2014 at 6:51 pm #

      Me too!

  18. Wesley January 14, 2014 at 12:02 am #

    The pictures looks so amazing.

  19. NZ Muse January 15, 2014 at 6:25 am #

    Those rainbows! Those mudpots!

    We love Iceland too, and not just because it’s a lot like NZ.

    • Liz January 16, 2014 at 1:22 am #

      I feel the same way 🙂

  20. Jessica M January 16, 2014 at 12:04 am #

    Stunning photos! Iceland is so gorgeous, such an otherworldly, magical place. I never made it up to the Northern shore, it looks even more incredible than the area around Reykjavik! Thanks so much for sharing =)

    • Liz January 16, 2014 at 2:30 am #

      pretty much everywhere in Iceland is more gorgeous than the Reykjavik area haha, next time!

  21. Melanie Fontaine January 16, 2014 at 10:15 am #

    Iceland really looks so beautiful! I’ve actually just booked a flight to Iceland… and I’d be lying if I said that your blog didn’t have anything to do with that! 😉 I’ll be reading through all your Iceland posts again now to get some more travel inspiration, but thanks for giving me the push to finally pursue this one travel dream of mine! 🙂

    • Liz January 16, 2014 at 7:35 pm #

      Yay that makes me really happy to hear!

  22. amelie88 January 28, 2014 at 3:22 pm #

    Iceland is almost like another planet, it’s so eerie and alien looking. Maybe you should head there for a bit after NZ (if you have any plans after NZ, I’m sure you have some grand announcement about that later this year). I recently learned one of my closest friends who currently lives in Peru has been obsessed with Iceland forever and wants to go there sometime this year. I may or may not tag along…

  23. Rebecca February 15, 2014 at 9:28 pm #

    Such a beautiful country – in a kind of harsh way. Thanks for sharing the pics!

  24. Alyson February 19, 2014 at 12:54 am #

    We did Iceland last winter and stayed near Reykjavik and are going back this year in the summer to try out Eastern Iceland – also following the Ring Road! I’ll have to check out the blog for any fantastic suggestions as I get my itinerary together. One of the things I’ve got, although in Reykjavik again is to dive the continental divide! Freezing, but amazing I hear

  25. Vid February 19, 2014 at 2:45 am #

    You have some amazing pictures, Liz 🙂 Savi and I are planning a trip to Iceland in May and your articles (this and the one on the road trip) have been very helpful 🙂

    I love photography so you can imagine how tempted I am to get to this beautiful place 🙂



  26. Ross March 13, 2014 at 10:20 pm #

    I agree totally with you that Iceland is awesome. One of the best places I have been. The landscape is straight out of a movie. Brilliant spot

  27. Christel August 9, 2016 at 3:37 am #

    Your picture are really beautiful and i agree with you about Iceland. This place is astonishing… So beautiful !

  28. NCWpics December 6, 2016 at 12:55 pm #

    So jealous! I’d love to visit Iceland and see those amazing sights. Great photos too!

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