What to do in Northeast Iceland
1. Whale watching from Húsavík
A rare chance to see the planet’s largest living mammals in their natural environment. Booking in advance is recommanded. Tours are sold at the front desk of Fosshótel Húsavík and Fosshótel Laugar.
2. Mývatn Nature Baths
Mývatn Nature Baths is the latest addition to the region’s many visitor attractions. Drawing on a centuries-old tradition, the tastefully designed complex offers bathers a completely natural experience that begins with a relaxing dip in clouds of steam rising up from a fissure deep in the Earth’s surface, and ends with a luxurious swim in a pool of geothermal water drawn from depths of up to 2,500 metres.
3. Natural sauna and bathing near Reykjahlíð – Grjótagjá, Stóragjá and more
Grjótagjá was a popular bathing spot for a long time. It is one of Iceland’s best known chasms, half full of hot water. The geological upheavals in this area int the years 1975 to 1984 raised the temperature of the water so that the chasm has not been fit for bathing since. The water has been slowly cooling down and it is not unlikely that Grjótagjá will soon again be a popular bathing place. Stóragjá is a rift with hot water, situated east of Mývatn and north of Reykjahlíð village. Although a popular place to bathe, bathing is not recommanded due to the danger of algae infections caused by the slow exchange of water. The Blue Lagoon at Mývatn is to be close to Reykjahlíð, by the road to Námaskarð. It is similar to the Blue Lagoon near Grindavík, but without any facilities. It is possible to bathe or even swim in the lagoon, but travelers should be aware of marked hot zones that can be very dangerous. Standing on the banks of the lagoon one can feel the earth shaking and boiling underneath ones feet. A few hundred meters away the locals have constructed a natural sauna over a hot spring. For those who prefer more conventional bathing a geothermal swimming pool is also situated in Reykjahlíð.
4. Krafla area and Víti
With around 29 known eruptions the Krafla area, including Mt. Leirhnjúkur to the west has been the site of enormous volcanic activity in modern times. Approximately 100.000 years ago a powerful eruption was brought forth by a stratovolcano which then collapsed in on itself. The caldera that was formed by this event is now full of lava from subsequent eruptions. In spite of the smooth appearance of the surface, there is a volcanic quicksand underneath it at a depth of three kilometers. In recent centuries two large volcanic eruptions have been documented, The Mývatn Eruptions (Mývatnseldar) started in 1724 and went on for five years and the Krafla Eruptions (Kröflueldar) that took place in the period of 1975 until 1984. The heat from the twenty year old lava can still be felt at Mt. Leirhnjúkur. The area also has big sulphur mines and the view is an ever-changing display of colours. The best known out of a number of explosive craters in the area is Víti, which means “Hell”. It was formed in a great volcanic explosion at the start of the Mývatn eruptions in 1724 and is about 300 meters in diameter. Simmering hot clay bubbled in Víti for more than 100 years after the explosion. The 19th century scientist and poet Jónas Hallgrímsson composed a poem in which he describes its steaming mud, claiming that the cries of the condemned in hell emanated from it.
Námaskarð is situated about 5 kilometers east of Reykjahlíð. With its steaming jets and boiling sulphur pits it is one of the most visited hot spring areas in the country. The main source of the tight belt of fissures that covers the whole area is east of the mountain. In recent years it has been referred to as Hverarönd. It has very active solfataras (sulphurous mud springs) and fumaroles (steam springs), none of which contain pure water. The mud craters are uncommonly large and are well worthy of the travelers attention, whereas many of the steam craters are drilling holes that have been covered with rocks. There is no vegetation in this high temperature area and the ground is sterile and very acidic due to the effects of the fumes from the mud springs. The substantial sulphur precipitation from the springs was the basis of sulphur mining at Námafjall in previous centuries. The owners of Reykjahlíð profited from the sale of sulphur in the middle ages, as the sulphur was used to make powder. In 1974 the area was declared a protected area, and so was all of Skútustaðahreppur borough. Visitiors should be cautious when visiting the area, as ground layers tend to be insecure and the temperatures are high. The unusual landscapes and vivid scenery are extraordinary and should not be passed by.
Dimmuborgir is a matchless jewel of nature, full of picturesque jagged lava formations with shrubs and growth. Dimmuborgir translates as "dark castles" and are the remains of an old lava pond that formed during the Hverfall fissure eruption. They consist of a variety of lava structures, forming all sorts of bizarre shapes and formations, such as peculiar hollow boulders. A tall vault open at both ends known as Kirkjan (The Church) is probably the most famous formation. Visitors are advised to stay on the paths in order to avoid becoming lost. Dimmuborgir is a fascinating world to walk through and a similar landscape is only to be found in one other part of the world, at the bottom of the sea near the Mexican coast.
Askja is an elliptical sunken crater in which many volcanic eruptions have taken place. It is one of the most remarkable and imposing geological formations in the Ódáðahraun area and was declared a natural monument in 1978. Iceland’s deepest lake, the 217 meter deep Lake Öskjuvatn, is situated in the crater. Anyone who ever looks upon Askja will never forget that sight, as it shows extraordinarily plainly the might of the natural forces and the insignificance of man in comparison. Askja is still quite active, it has many great centres of volcanic activity and its foundation is still gradually sinking. The Víti at Askja (it should not be confused with Víti by Krafla) is a crater at the lake’s northern shore in which water has accumulated. The water in the crater is warm, making it a popular bathing site. Those intending to bathe in Víti should be warned that the path down is slippery when wet and the mud at the bottom is very hot in some places. There is also danger of rocks falling from the edges.
See description above
2. Sprengisandur, for travelling south
The desert between south and north Iceland is called Sprengisandur. It is mostly very desolate and barren, except for sparse vegetation where there is water. In the past it was believed to be the home of ghosts, giants, elves and outlaws and the few brave souls who dared use this route rode their horses as fast as possible. Sometimes they even exhausted their horses and as the verb exhaust is “sprengja” in Icelandic this reveals the name of the area Sprengisandur (“Exhausting desert”). Today the path lies further east than the old path. The distance between the last farm in the North to the first one in the South is around 250 km. The rivers on the way have to be forded, however they swell in warm weathers when the glacial melt water increases and when it rains. In warm rainy weathers they can become very dangerous. The magnificence of the landscape makes this route almost indispensable.