Three Peninsulas in Three days – A minibreak in North Iceland
Taking the long route is often a good idea when traveling in Iceland. Between Akureyri in the North and Hvammstangi in the Northwest, the three peninsulas Vatnsnes, Skagi, and Tröllaskagi protrude into the sea and make for a scenic detour with tons of places of interest. Spiked with picturesque fishing villages, historical sites, and experiences of nature, this section of the Arctic Coast Way is a great trip by itself.
Day 1: Troll Peninsula
When searching for the Nordic coastal village flair, the Troll Peninsula, known locally as Tröllaskagi, is the place to go.
From Akureyri, one first finds Hauganes a fishing village of 140 people. The ocean theme is visible at the boat-shaped Hot tubs by the Sandvíkurfjara beach; and at the popular Baccalá restaurant with a porch resembling the deck of a longship.
The next up is Dalvik along Eyja Fjord with great whale-watching options. Theirmakes for great winter fun. Last winter Dalvík had been turned into a film set for the Hollywood production “True Detective” pretending to be an Alaskan village. .
From Dalvík the ferry Sæfari sets over to Grimsey Island, the only settlement in Iceland touching the Arctic Circle. Within three hours one can set foot on the Arctic Circle. For a shorter boat ride, the ferry to Hrísey Island takes only 15 minutes from Árskógssandur. Hrisey, an Island in the Eyja Fjord, is full of birdlife and hosts a famous shark hunting museum, “The house of shark Jörundur".
Ten kilometers past Dalvík is a viewpoint to watch the lesser-known waterfall Mígandifoss splashing a hundred meters into the ocean. To view the waterfall, stop at the eastern entrance to Múlagöng tunnel, the one-lane tunnel to Ólafsfjörður.
Ólafsfjörður is a town situated between impressively high mountains, ideal for skiing and cross-country-skiing winter adventures as well as long beach walks in summer.
Passing towards Siglufjörður, one enters the now deserted Heðinsfjord, a tranquil nature paradise and fishing spot. Its situation between two high mountains led to a dramatic history of avalanches and hardships that ultimately left people no choice but to abandon their farms and the fjord.
Siglufjörður was once a busy town is still palpable, the European influence visible and the atmosphere in the harbour area lively. With the Herring Museum it hosts one of the most extensive maritime museums in Europe, recreating the once bustling herring fishing times, leaving one astonished of how many thousand people used to “work in fish” in this very small town in the first half of the twentieth century. .
Did you know that roughly 15.000 Icelanders emigrated to North America between 1870 and 1914? Harsh weather and crop failure led many Icelanders to search for a better life in the “new world”. Today their ancestors come back trying to trace their roots in Iceland. The place to go is the small town Hófsós where the Iceland Emigration Center tries to help and find answers. While you're in town, use to opportunity and soak in the local infinity pool with a stunning view over the Skagafjord.
Further in the bottom of the Fjord, the big community Sauðárkrókur nestles on the shores of a 4km black sand beach. Explore history through virtual reality in the exhibition 1238 the Battle of Iceland or by visiting the nearby historical sites such as Glaumbær Heritage museum and one of 6 remaining turf churches in Iceland, the photogenic Viðymyra Church.
Day 2: Skagi Peninsula
Grettislaug is a natural bath at the site where legend has it, the outlaw Gréttir the Strong warmed up after his legendary swim from Drangey Island. Skagi impresses with its rough and mystical charme and - due to only a few inhabited farms – tranquility and peace.
Are there polar bears in Iceland? Well, no. And yes. Around 600 polar bears have set foot on Iceland since settlement, most of them on the Skagi peninsula, traveling on ice from northeastern Greenland. Luckily the chances of an encounter are very low, but impressive nature sights are always there: Driving up the east coast of the peninsula awaits Selvík cove, the basis for Iceland’s only sea battle in 1244 and merchant center in the 20th century. Only 10 km ahead the Ketubjörg cliffs and waterfall reach 120 meters into the ocean.
The fishing station at Kálfshamarsvík cove was raised at the beginning of the 20th century and its remnants are still visible. One gets an eerie feeling of being transported back in time when walking through the fields where there used to be a small village. The cove was inhabited by almost 100 people until the settlement was abandoned in 1940, around the same time the lighthouse Kálfshamarsviti was built. Almost two million years old and still standing are the basalt columns in the bay, large hexagonal stacks of rocks, that are amongst the most impressive ones in Iceland.
The Króksbjarg cliffs are worth a stop on the way to Skagaströnd. The seaside village is home of theNes and the Museum of Prophecies (Spákonuhof) where the story of the fortune teller Þórdís who lived here in the 10th century is told. With the help of Tarot cards and palmreading visitors also get the chance to see what the future holds for them.
Walking trails lead from Skagaströnd along the cape Spákonuhöfði, an easy evening walk. The local mountain Spákónufell is covered with marked walking trails with breathtaking ocean views but takes several hours to climb.
Heading back to the Ring Road, the town of Blönduós is a bustling stopover. Its old town has recently gotten a makeover from the owners of Hotel Bönduós. A bridge connects a parking space with the small island Hrútey surrounded by the river Blanda. Walking around this little nature paradise makes for a perfect little hike before continuing the trip.
Day 3: Vatnsnes peninsula – the land of seals
The 90-kilometer loop aroundstarts at Borgarvirki, a volcanic plug nowadays often used as a venue for concerts since its arena shape has great acoustics and a stunning 360-degree view. Famous Icelandic singers such as Ásgeir Trausti and Mugison have played here. On a clear day, it’s the perfect place for a picnic and to admire the surrounding mountains.
After 30 minutes on the sometimes bumpy 711 road, one reaches the next highlight of Vatnsnes: According to folk tales, the basalt rock formation Hvítserkur is originally a petrified troll. Its shape resembling a drinking elephant (or dragon?- you decide) makes for great pictures being it under the Northern lights or the midnight sun. Sometimes seals lying on the black sand around or opposite the coast of Hvítserkur might steal the show. Between 500 and 1000 seals spent their lives on Vatnsnes according to the annual seal count. The seal-watching spot Illugastaðir leaves for a closer encounter, where from a sheltered watching hut, one can examine these relaxed animals in their natural habitat.
Illugastaðir is also famous for its dark history and the famous 1828 murder case that happened on this farm and led to the last execution in Iceland. The best-selling novel “Burial Rites” by Hannah Kent is based on the events following the mysterious murder
In case there are any questions left about seals, their habits and behavior, the Icelandic Seal Center in Hvammstangi has all the answers. In summer the town is a lively hub for travelers. Amongst other services, it hosts a large variety of accommodations, a beautifully situated campground, the KIDKA wool factory, Sjávarborg seafood restaurant, a frisbee golf ground, and swimming pool.