advertisement

The north of Iceland is tucked just beneath the Arctic Circle and Greenland Sea, but enjoys relatively hospitable weather and forgiving land. Northerners gloat about their climate, which is sunnier and drier than the southwest in summer. The multiform northern coast bears little resemblance to the south coast, which is dominated by glaciers and worked over by the flow of glacial sediments. The north has the highest population of any region outside the southwest corner; even cod are migrating to the north coast as the oceans warm.

Most visitors cluster in the near northeast region comprising Akureyri, Iceland's thriving northern capital; Mývatn, a wonderland of lava forms, color-stained geothermal fields, and birdlife; Húsavík, Iceland's whale-watching mecca; and Jökulsárgljúfur, a national park along an extensive canyon full of magisterial rock formations and waterfalls. Traveling within this so-called "Diamond Circle" -- a bit of marketing one-upsmanship based on the popular "Golden Circle" in the southwest -- you may keep recognizing the same tourists, who can access all these sights by day from the same accommodation.

Venture west of Akureyri or east of Jökulsárgljúfur and the tourist sightings quickly diminish. Visitors zoom past Húnaflói on the Ring Road, but would not regret an excursion to a seal colony on its Vatnsnes peninsula, or the stone church at Þingeyrar. The Skagafjörður region offers Glaumbær, Iceland's best museum of preserved 19th-century farm buildings; Hólar, seat of Iceland's northern bishopric in the Catholic era; and Siglufjörður, a fjord town as scenically situated as any in the country. The Arctic Circle cuts right through the tiny island of Grímsey, which exerts a mystical pull on those travelers who can't resist remote islands. The northeast corner of Iceland, with its driftwood beaches, sea cliffs, lonely moors, and misty lakes and lagoons, is a wonderful place to forget about hectic, goal-oriented travel.

Online, www.northiceland.is has a good search engine for accommodations and other services throughout the region -- though visitor information centers and websites listed in this guide are more thorough.