Sauðárkrókur and Around: Ride Horses Through Viking History
On the rim of Skagafjörður, in Northwest Island, sits the region’s largest town: Sauðárkrókur, a quiet community that serves as a great home base to explore some of Iceland’s cultural heritage.
The steadily-growing town of 2600 is an especially great stop if you are doing the Arctic Coast Way, tracing the coastlines of the north fjords rather than taking the Ring Road.
This area, first claimed by the Viking Sæmundr Suðureyski who hailed from Scotland’s Hebride Islands, was historically difficult to dock in, as the fjord around it has few natural harbors. That means developed settlements are few and far between, and also makes the area a great escape from more crowded touristic areas, especially in the height of summer.
And there’s another reason this is a good destination for summer days: the town lies just south of the Arctic Circle, but due to atmospheric refraction, Sauðárkrókur sees the midnight sun for four or five days during the solstice in June.
Grettislaug Hot Pool
Year-round, you can still take a dip in the natural hot pool of Grettislaug, 15km north of town, which is mentioned in Iceland’s renowned Grettis saga. Ringed by stones with a view of rolling mossy hills, this is the legendary bathing place of Grettir the Strong, a warrior outlaw who battled trolls.
Jump on a horse
Get a view of the rolling landscape by taking a horse riding tour from Helluland Farm down to the black sand beaches around town. Kids too small to ride can take a look at the farm animals, like sheep and goats, and accommodation can be booked at the historic century-old farmhouse.
Immerse in 'the Battle of Iceland'
1238: The Battle of Iceland is an immersive exhibition that goes a step beyond the regular history museum. An immersive and interactive historical experience that uses virtual reality to stage the famous Viking battles and events of the age of Sturlungs. The exhibition highlights the Battle of Örlygsstaðir, a turning point that marked the beginning of the end of Iceland's independence.
Prominently located on main street, with a bistro and a Viking themed gift shop attached.
Next door is Hotel Tindastoll, the oldest hotel in Iceland, dating from 1883. The rooms are comfortable, and the building offers rustic charm and exposed beams.
Further up Main Street (Aðalgata) is the beloved local bakery Sauðárkróksbakarí and the newly renovated public pool Sundlaug Sauðárkróks. Among the many restaurants in town, Sauðá is the latest addition.
Hofsós Village and the Infinity Pool
The nearby town of Hofsos is one of the oldest trading ports in northern Iceland, dating back to the 16th century, and sits around the bend of the fjord, 37km northeast of Sauðárkrókur. This village, despite being centuries old, has only around 200 inhabitants today.
Hosfos is home to the Icelandic Emigration Center, a museum dedicated to Icelanders’ westward migration to North America. If you’re visiting Iceland because you have family roots here, this is a great stop to learn more about the many thousands of Icelanders who emigrated in the late 19th and early 20th century, partly due to natural disasters which upended agriculture and the economy.
Grafarkirkja nearby is the oldest church in Iceland, about 5km from the town, located in a large field ringed by mountains and protected by a circular turf wall. It is closed to the public, but worth seeing from the outside as it has been so beautifully preserved over the centuries.
One of the nation’s most scenic swim spots is here, at a beautiful and scenic eternity pool overlooking the fjord. A short walk nearby, by the shoreline, you can take a walk past hexagonal basalt columns, or even (carefully) climb across them. Keep your eyes peeled for elves, who were once said to abounc by this shoreline. About 7km to the north sits Höfðavatn, a long shallow lake rich in bird life and trout fishing.
Birdwatching at Drangey Island
This is also a launching point for trips to Drangey Island, a dramatic slice of volcanic island jutting from the fjord. The island is ideal for birdwatching, as the island is a nesting colony for thousands of seabirds, including puffins, shearwaters, and gyrfalcons. The island’s sheer sides tower 180m above the waves, and a tour takes about four hours as you walk the path to the top of the island along the cliff face.
At Glaumbær, a protected site and part of the National Museum of Iceland, you can enter one of 13 turf houses to see how Icelanders once lived. Stables also show how horses were once kept, and you can learn how the history of Icelanders and Icelandic horses are intertwined.