Hvitserkur Drinking Dragon

Norðurstrandaleiðin – Arctic Coast Way: Self Drive

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North Iceland route

The travel website, Lonely planet recently named the Northern Coastline of Iceland to be one of the top destinations in Europe this year. The Norðurstrandaleiðin trail joins the dots between 21 towns and villages from Hvammstangi in the North West to Bakkafjörður in East Iceland. 

The Lonely Planet describe the Arctic Coast Way as rugged with colourful fishing villages.  It’s an ideal trip to get away from it all. This Self Drive Guide will help you navigate the Norðurstrandaleiðin easily to make it your own.

Norðurstrandaleiðin - Arctic Coast Way
Norðurstrandaleiðin – Arctic Coast Way


Vatnsnes Peninsula

Arctic Coast Way (Norðurstrandaleiðin) route Hvammstangi to Hofsos
Hvammstangi to Hofsos route.

The Arctic Coast Way starts in the North West town of Hvammstangi. Famous for its seal colonies, the Vatnsnes Peninsula offers around 80km of coastline. Some of which is the grizzly setting for the novel Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. A few miles after Hvammstangi is the Seal Center with seal observation facilities. You are likely to see seals on any part of this North Iceland Self Drive.

Vatnsnes Coastline near Hvammstangi.

Towards the end of the Vatnsnes route you should find a 40 foot volcano plug called Hvítserkur. Named after the shirt of bird shit covering the rock, Hvítserkur resembles a drinking dragon. Groups of seals can often be seen here, along with many other points along the shore.

Hvitserkur - the Troll rock on the Norðurstrandaleiðin.

Hotels near Hvitserkur


Kálfshamarsviti Lighthouse

Kálfshamarsviti Lighthouse in about 35km north of the town of Skagaströnd on the Skagi peninsular. It is a new style lighthouse in Iceland, having been built in 1940s. The surrounding coastline has an incredible array of basalt columns that seem to point in all directions.

Skagafjörður & Drangey

The very fertile Skagafjörður has wild landscapes suitable for horse riding and adrenaline based activities. The quiet coast is at the fringe of range of scenic mountains. A geothermal zone near one of the mountains fuels the picturesque swimming pool at Grettislaug with its coastal views. At the mouth of Skagafjörður is the sheer sided islands of Drangey which was the final home of Iceland’s strongest saga character, Grettir the Strong.

Despite Grettir’s warrior strength and the fortress of Drangey Island, Grettir was overcome by a witch. She floated a log with a nasty curse on it towards the island. Grettir rescued the log as valuable firewood, but soon became very sick and weak from the curse. His weakness led to his death because he was overcome easily by invaders.

Drangey Island is approximately 1.1 km2 (0.4 mi2) in size. Tours of Drangey can give you great opportunities for sea bird and puffin spotting. Tours depart from the harbour beside Grettislaug.

Icelandic puffin


Hofsós to Husavik

The Arctic Coast Way continues from Hofsós, which is a small fishing village on the shores of beautiful Skagafjörður fjord. It is known for its stunning views of the surrounding mountains and the stunning Eyjafjörður fjord, as well as its unique culture and friendly locals.

Arctic Coast Way (Norðurstrandaleiðin) route Hofsos to Husavik.
Hofsos to Husavik route map.

If you’re looking for things to do in Hofsós, here are some suggestions:

  1. Visit the historic Hofsós Harbor. The harbor is known for its wooden vessels and traditional harbormaster’s house. Here, you’ll also find the Hofsós Maritime Museum and the local restaurant, Skálakaffi.
  2. Take a hike in the nearby mountains. The trails here offer breathtaking views of the surrounding scenery, perfect for a leisurely stroll or a more challenging climb.
  3. Check out the local culture by attending one of the many traditional festivals that take place throughout the year. The Ársól Traditions Festival is especially popular, and takes place in the summer months.
  4. Explore the beautiful Eyjafjörður fjord. You can take a day-trip to the nearby fjord, where you can take a boat tour and explore the stunning scenery.
  5. Go horseback riding at Hofsós. The town is known for its horse riding culture, and there are several local stables offering guided tours in the area.
  6. Visit the local hot springs. Hofsós is home to several natural hot springs, perfect for a relaxing dip after a long day of exploring. 7.

Tröllaskagi the Troll Peninsula

The Troll Peninsula is an area dominated by huge snow peaked mountains and runs between Skagafjörður & Eyjafjörður. Some of the best fishing rivers in Iceland can be found in the deep valleys.

Eyjafjörður & Grímsey

Eyjafjörður is the longest fjord in Iceland and is the home of Akureyri (the capital of the North) along with many whales. Whales can often be seen breaching and blowing in the fjord. Ferries run frequently to the isle of Grímsey. Grímsey is a tiny island about 40km North of the mainland and is the only part of Iceland that lies within the Arctic Circle. You can get there by ferry or plane from Akureyri or Husavik.

The Isle of Grimsey is 2.3 square kilometres (0.89 sq mi) in area. 100 years ago, Grimsey was used for quarantining people with contagious diseases, such a leprosy. The Arctic island is home to a variety of seabirds, including puffins, guillemots, kittiwakes, fulmars, and razorbills. Seals, and whales can also be spotted in the surrounding waters.


Waterfalls and Whales

The next part of the route will take you to the famous Godafoss waterfall – the waterfall of the Gods. Then up to Husavik which has by far the best whale watching in Iceland. If you have space for more adventure, you can explore the remarkable landscape at Asbyrgi and then onto Dettifoss waterfall – the most powerful in Europe.

Godafoss  waterfall on the Nordurstrandaleidin
Godafoss waterfall on the Norðurstrandaleiðin.

Husavik to Bakkafjörður

The Nordurstrandaleidin route, then follows more rugged coastline to Bakkafjörður on the east coast. This final part of the Arctic Coast Way reaches some of the least visited parts of Iceland. There are detours that go deeper into the north-eastern peninsulas for those who want more remote coastlines and rich birdlife.

Bakkafjörður is a small fishing village located in the Westfjords of Iceland, with a population of about 500 people. The village is situated on a fjord surrounded by majestic mountains, making it a great spot for outdoor activities.

Here are some of the activities you can enjoy in Bakkafjörður:

  1. Whale Watching: Bakkafjörður has some of the best whale watching opportunities in Iceland. You can go on a boat tour to observe the whales up close and personal.
  2. Kayaking and Boat Tours: Paddle around the fjord and explore its many islands. You can also join boat tours that take you further into the fjords for a true adventure.
  3. Hiking: Explore the breathtaking nature around the village and find some hidden gems. There are some amazing hikes with amazing views.
  4. Bird Watching: There are many migratory birds in the area, so bring your binoculars and spot some rare species.
  5. Fishing: The fjord is teeming with fish, so bring your fishing gear and try your luck. You can also join a fishing tour with local guides.
  6. Horseback Riding: Explore the area on horseback and discover the local wildlife.
  7. Sightseeing: Visit nearby villages and visit some of the historical sites in the region.

The fishing town of Þórshöfn is worth a visit with a good seafood restaurant and camping facilities.


This North Iceland travel guide provides the traveler with a rundown of the exciting activities and places to visit along the Arctic Coast Way. The traveler can experience the beauty of the Icelandic Arctic countryside, visit various local attractions and sample the delicious cuisines at some of the best restaurants in Iceland. The Arctic Coast Way is also home to some of Iceland’s most spectacular natural attractions, such as the majestic waterfalls and unspoilt coastlines.

In conclusion, the Arctic Coast Way is a must-see destination for anyone looking to have a unique, unforgettable experience. It has something for everyone and is an ideal opportunity to explore the magic of Iceland. With the right planning, travelers can maximize the time they spend on the trail and have the best time of their lives.


Blönduós Hotels

These hotels and guesthouses are convenient for connecting to the Arctic Coast Way. Blönduós has good restaurants, services and a swimming pool.

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