What to see in Northwest Iceland
The largest urban area in Skagafjörður is Sauðárkrókur, with a population of approximately 2.700 people. The town is the cultural and commercial center for the district of Skagafjörður. There is a post office, shops, banks, restaurants and a café, an airport with daily flights to / from Reykjavík, a folk and art museum, a swimming pool and a horse riding hall. There are also fine skiing slopes on Mount Tindastóll with 1150 m long ski lift, only 15 km away from the town. There are few places better than Sauðárkrókur to experience the midnight sun between June and August.
2. Drangey Island
The almost 200 m high rockstack Drangey in the middle of Skagafjörður fjord is the remnants of an 700.000 years old volcano. It’s highest point rises about 180 m above sea level. A paradise for bird watchers, it is without a doubt one of the best spots in Iceland to see Atlantic puffins in their natural habitat. Thousands of sea birds colonize the cliffs, nesting on the narrow ledges. In olden times the island was sometimes referred to as the milk cow of Skagafjörður, as it was the main food source for the local population. Several folk tales are connected to the island. According to Grettissaga, this is where the outlaws Grettir and Illugi, sons of Ásmundur, resided for three years between 1028 and 1031. Grettir’s swim from Drangey to the mainland (Drangeyjarsund) is famous. Anyone who travels to Drangey must be prepared to climb the steep path leading from the landing place. The locals recommand reciting the Lords Prayer before attempting the climb to the plateau of the island, as only a part of the island was blessed by the early priests and the north-eastern side remains an obode of spirits of the other world or the old faith. The incredible view from the summit and experiencing the birdlife make the travel to Drangey unquestionably worthwile and it may even be one of Iceland’s best sightseeing and adventure tours. It takes about 2,5 hours to go around the island on a boat tour and about 5 hours if the tour includes a hike to the top.
3. Glaumbær turf-farm (20 km / 20 minutes drive from Sauðárkrókur)
The Glaumbær farm, between Sauðárkrókur and Varmahlíð was built in the 18th century, it’s oldest part dating back to 1834. The regional history museum is housed in this wood-gabled, turf and stone building. Glaumbær gives an insight into the lifes of people on large estates in Iceland through the ages. Áshús is a timber house from Ás in Hegranes, also to be found at Glaumbær. It was built as a women’s vocational school between 1883 and 1886 and now holds the reception desk and a café. It is very elaborate and used to be one of the largest timber houses in Skagafjörður. In the 11th century Snorri Þorfinnsson lived at Glaumbær. His parents were Þorfinnur Karlsefni and Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir. Snorri is presumed to be the first European to be born in North America and he is said to have been buried at Glaumbær.
4. Víðimýri Church (30 km/30 minutes drive from Sauðárkrókur)
The home of one of the key families caught up in the civil war in the 13th century is a church side just east of Varmahlíð. The current Víðimýri church dates from 1834 and is one of Iceland’s six remaining turf-built churches. It has been renovated completely and brought back to its original form. It is truly one of the most beautiful examples of traditional Icelandic architecture at its best.
5. Grettislaug - The pool of Grettir (15 km / 25 minutes drive from Sauðárkrókur)
The open air pool at the end of Reykjaströnd is called Grettislaug. It is situated by the deserted farm Reykir, just below where Grettir Ásmundsson came ashore after his swim from Drangey. The Sagas tell that Grettir bathed in the warm natural spring after his swim from Drangey. The pool has now been restored and it is possible to bathe in the same way as Grettir did. There is also a sea cottage at Reykir, from which people rowed out to the fishing grounds in earlier times. The sea cottage is currently under renovation.
6. Hofsós (37 km / 40 minutes drive from Sauðárkrókur)
Dating back to the 16th century Hofsós is one of the oldest trading ports in Iceland, with a population of about 200 individuals. The village has a good natural harbour and the economy is predominantly based on the fishing industry and services to the local farms. Most of the houses have been renovated. This gives the town a distinguished look and some of the beautiful old buildings hold old style restaurants and cafés. The oldest renovated house is the old Pakkhús, a log house built in 1777, in the time of the trading monopoly. It is one of the oldest houses in Iceland. It is a protected property, belonging to the National Museum of Iceland. Pakkhús houses an exhibition connected to the history of Drangey. The Western Emigration Centre (Vesturfarasafn) in the old cooperative building is dedicated to the westward migration of Icelanders that reached its peak at the turn of the 19th century. Close to Grafarós, the estuary of river Grafará, are the remains of an old trade center, abandoned in the early 20th century. There are also pleasant walks south of the town near Grafarós, where some unusual basalt columns can be seen. There is an old turf-church at the farm Gröf, 2 km south of Grafará, rebuilt and re-consecrated in 1953. Hofsós is an ideal place to visit for those who appreaciate tranquile ambiance.
7. Hólar in Hjaltadalur (32 km / 35 minutes drive from Sauðárkrókur)
One of two Episcopal seats in Iceland is Hólar in Hjaltadalur. It is also one of the primary historical sites in Iceland. The Bischopric dates back to 1106 and Jón Ögmundsson was the first bishop. Hólar remained a Bischopric for almost seven centuries. In relation to the bishop’s seat a school was operated for most of the time. During that era Hólar was the true capital of northern Iceland as well as a major culture center of the area. In 1802 the bischopric came to an end and Hólar was sold. However, the bishop’s seat was brought back to Hólar in 1985 and today the auxiliary bishop sits there. The best known bishops through the history were the last catholic bishop, Jón Arason, and Guðbrandur Þorláksson, who printed Guðbrandsbiblía (Guðbrands bible). The present church was built in 1763 and is the fifth cathedral at Hólar in a row. The building material used for erecting the church was red sandstone from Hólabyrða, the mountain that rises above Hólar. The church, which is the oldest stone church in Iceland, has now been partly reconstructed to its earlier form. It is possible to take guided tours of the remarkable church every day between 9 am and 6 pm.
In 1882 the Hólar school was revived and the agriculture school was established in order to try to reduce the immense westward migration of the Icelandic people. It currently teaches fisheries, equine and tourism at university level. A brochure that leads tourists through a historic trail covering the most significant places at Hólar is obtainable. Various other recreational activities are available at Hólar and the neighbouring area.
8. Merkigil (50 km / 50 minutes drive from Sauðárkrókur)
The dramatic, deep and steep gorge Merkigil, at the edge of the highlands is in the heart of Skagafjörður. Crossing through it, whether on a horseback or hiking, makes an unforgettable experience.
9. Siglufjörður (50 km / 50 minutes drive from Sauðárkrókur)
The Siglufjörður town is situated on a fjord of the same name. It enjoys a dramatic setting at the northernmost point of Tröllaskagi peninsula, and is in fact the northernmost town on the Icelandic mainland. The town has around 1.600 residents, boasts historic architecture and is widely considered to be one of Iceland’s most idyllic fishing villages. The village can be explored by foot, enjoying the colorful roofs of the upper town, the pictoresque harbour, the splendour of the mountain view and the inspiring backdrop. Tourism, fishing and fish processing play an important role for the economy. For a period of time during the 20th century Siglufjörður was the largest herring center in Iceland, as harbour conditions were exceptional. There is a Herring Museum in the original barracks and on Saturdays during the summer months there are lively herring-salting demonstrations. There is also a herring festival every summer.
10. Vatnsnes Peninsula (50 km / 50 minutes drive from Sauðárkrókur)
There are many interesting sights on Vatnsnes, such as Hvítserkur. The 15 m high basalt slab resembles a giant fantasy animal having a drink from the ocean just off the coast on the eastern side of Vatnsnes. Its name Hvítserkur translates “White Shirt” and the white color of the rock is caused by the droppings of the birds that live on it. Borgarvirki is a natural fortress, rising on a ridge made of columnar basalt. Its natural ramparts are 10 – 15 m high, it is round inside and contains the ruins of medieveal dwellings and a well. No one knows for sure about its origin, as there are no historical references to it, but it is assumed to have been used as a fortress. There is great panoramic view from Borgarvirki. Out of the several bird and seal watching spots on the Vatnsnes peninsula the best known is Hindisvík. It makes a perfect place for a brief stop to enjoy the sundry shorescapes, and the view over to Strandir, visible when weather conditions are good. A marked hiking trail leads to the seal colony.
11. Kolugljúfur (50 km / 50 minutes drive from Sauðárkrókur)
Kolugljúfur is a 1 km, 40 – 60 m deep chasm in the course of Víðidalsá river. The river plunges into the chasm in two grand waterfalls, Kolufossar.