This fishing town of just under 2,000 people, on the western shore of Eyjafjörður 44km (27 miles) north of Akureyri, may provide a diversion worth adding to a ferry trip to Hrísey or Grímsey.
Essentials -- By car, take Route 82 from the Ring Road 10km (6 1/4 miles) north of Akureyri. Trex (tel. 587-6000; www.trex.is) runs three buses between Akureyri and Dalvík on weekdays year-round; the ride is 55 minutes and costs 1,100kr ($18/£8.80).
Dalvík's information center, Svarfaðarbraut (tel. 466-3233; www.dalvik.is; June-Aug Mon-Fri 6:15am-8pm, Sat-Sun 10am-9pm; Sept-May Mon-Fri 6:15am-8pm, Sat-Sun 10am-4:30pm), is at the local swimming pool, and the website has thorough service information in English. Cafe Sogn, Goðabraut 3 (tel. 466-3330), is the best place to grab a meal.
Heimaey in the Westman Islands is Iceland's largest and most populated offshore island; Hrísey is second on both counts, with about 180 residents. With its paved roads, well-tended homes, and geothermal swimming pool, the village does not feel particularly marginal. Hrísey has been inhabited since the 10th century but sprouted rapidly in the 19th century as a base for processing and exporting herring. The herring vanished at the end of the 1960s, and in 1999 the fish-freezing plant closed, forcing many residents to leave.
Hrísey has a clear view to the northern horizon, and is perfect for witnessing the scooping midnight sun in early summer. Fjord views on the island are heart-stirring if not heart-stopping. In mid-July, Hrísey plays at being a sovereign nation during its "Independence Day" family festival: Guests pass through customs, get their Hrísey passport stamped, then enjoy tractor and fishing trips, dancing, and a children's singing competition.
Essentials -- The main ferry to Hrísey, Sævar (tel. 695-5544; round-trip ticket 800kr/$13/£6.40 adults, free for children 11 and under; departures every 1 to 2 hr. daily from 9:30am-11pm), leaves from Árskógssandur, a small village on the western shore of Eyjafjörður, 35km (22 miles) north of Akureyri. The ride lasts 15 minutes.
Hrísey's information office is inside the Pearl Gallery (tel. 466-1762; www.akureyri.is/hrisey/english; mid-June to mid-Aug daily 1-6pm), a crafts store by the ferry landing. The Akureyri tourist office is also helpful.
Many travelers studying a map of Iceland notice an obscure speck, 41km (25 miles) north of the mainland and bisected by the Arctic Circle, and feel strangely compelled to go there. Grímsey is indeed a worthwhile and exotic destination, with 95 hardy inhabitants, basalt cliffs reaching 105m (344 ft.) tall, and abundant birdlife.
Many visitors come in late June to see the midnight sun "bounce" off the horizon, but this involves a tradeoff. June and early July is also when Arctic terns most aggressively defend their nests, sometimes drawing blood from the scalps of unwitting tourists.
Getting There -- Until 1931, the only way to get to Grímsey was on a mail boat that came twice a year. Today, Air Iceland (tel. 570-3030; www.airiceland.is) flies from Akureyri daily at 7:30pm (5pm Saturdays) and returns to Akureyri at 9:15pm. The flight is 25 minutes and costs around 6,800kr ($109/£54) one-way; a connection to or from Reykjavík is around 11,200kr ($179/£90) one-way. From June 10 to August 20, Air Iceland offers an evening tour -- round-trip airfare with a 1-hour guided walk, but no dinner -- for 14,400kr ($230/£115) from Akureyri or 30,000kr ($480/£240) from Reykjavík (clearly a much better deal from Akureyri). Mýflug Air (www.myflug.is; tel. 464-4400; 15,000kr/$240/£120) does the same tour for 15,000kr ($240/£120), but leaves from Mývatn in a smaller plane that does aerial sightseeing along the way.
From May 15 through August, the Sæfari ferry (tel. 853-2211; www.landflutningar.is; round-trip from Dalvík 4,820kr/$77/£39 adults; 2,419kr/$39/£19 seniors and children 12-15; free for children 11 and under) sails from Dalvík to Grímsey on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. A bus leaves Akureyri at 7:50am and connects with the ferry, which leaves at 9am and arrives at 12:30pm. The return trip is at 4:30pm, reaching Dalvík at 7:30pm, where another bus bound for Akureyri awaits. From September through mid-May, the ferry departs for Grímsey at the same times, but heads right back to Dalvík after unloading.
One-way tickets for Air Iceland flights and the ferry are half-price, so it makes sense to mix and match. Taking the ferry there and the flight back, for instance, gives you over 8 hours on Grímsey.
Visitor Information -- Consult Akureyri's tourist information office, or either guesthouse listed here.
Icelanders tolerate and even nurture their single-minded eccentrics, as evidenced by the three sights listed. All are on Route 821, which heads directly south from Akureyri.
Between Akureyri & Mývatn
Goðafoss -- Located right off the Ring Road, about 50km (31 miles) east of Akureyri and 53km (33 miles) west of Reykjahlíð, Goðafoss (Waterfall of the Gods) is not very tall or powerful; but admirers point to the separate cascades forming an elegant semicircular arc, the swirling patterns in the blue-green (or sometimes brown) water, and the strange bubbliness of the surrounding lava. According to legend, Goðafoss was named in the year 1000 when the Law Speaker of the Icelandic parliament, after proclaiming Iceland a Christian country, tossed his pagan statuettes into the falls.
Just downstream is the restaurant and guesthouse Fosshóll (tel. 464-3108; www.nett.is/fossholl; 11,500kr-13,500kr ($184-$216/£92-£108) double; May 15-Sept daily 6-10pm; closed Oct-May 14), which serves local trout on top of the usual road-stop fare. You can park right by the falls, but walking upstream from Fosshóll is a more satisfying approach.
Aldeyjarfoss -- This stunning waterfall is worth the substantial detour from the Ring Road. The falls have awesome churning force, and the freakish basalt formations are enough to make spectators wonder what planet they've been transported to. To reach Aldeyjarfoss, turn south on Route 842 from the Ring Road, just west of Goðafoss, and proceed 41km (25 miles) to the marked turnoff. Buses on the Sprengisandur route from Mývatn to Landmannalaugar all make a sightseeing stop.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.