5 Greatest Attractions in Northeast Iceland

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Dettifoss: Europe’s most powerful waterfall. (Accessed via Road#864)
Dettifoss: Europe’s most powerful waterfall. (Accessed via Road#864)

Northeast Iceland is one of the most remote parts of the island nation. Its distance from capital Reykjavík (~6 hours drive) naturally precludes time-tied tourist from exploring this region.

Nonetheless, for visitors fortunate (and well informed) enough to travel to the region, they are handsomely rewarded by some of the most impressive sights and landscapes in Iceland. These include amazing volcanic/thermal formations, an awe-inspiring canyon with multiple waterfalls, and landscapes so “moon-like” that NASA twice sent astronauts there for training.

Many travellers to the region choose Mývatn (lake) as their base due to its accessibility (the Ring Road runs through it) and proximity to most major attractions.

 

This post is part of our comprehensive blog on how to plan for an Iceland Road Trip. Read also:

The following are the 5 Greatest Attractions in Northeast Iceland. (Listed in random order)

 

 

#1: Dettifoss, Hafragilsfoss and Selfoss (map)

“Excellent 3x waterfall. But go via Road#864!”

Dettifoss as view from the west (via Road#862)
Dettifoss as view from the west (via Road#862)

The waterfalls of Dettifoss (height: 45m), Hafragilsfoss (27m) and Selfoss (10m) are in close proximity to each other in the Jökulsárgljúfur National Park and situated on Jökulsá River (which flows from Vatnajökull glacier).

The trio of waterfalls is considered amongst the most remarkable in Iceland. Dettifoss in particular, is the star attraction with the distinction of being Europe’s most powerful waterfall. Definitely a must-visit if you’re in the region.

 

Tip: How to get to the BEST viewpoint for Dettifoss

From the Ring Road, there are 2 routes to reach the waterfalls. Road#862 takes you to the western side of the waterfalls/river, while road#864 (recommended) take you to the eastern side.

 

Road#862: Easier drive. Average view of Dettifoss.

#862 is the easier route as the road is fully paved (from Ring Road to Dettifoss/Selfoss carpark). From the carpark, take an easy walk to Dettifoss and Selfoss (2.5km return).

However, the viewing area here is not the optimal point to view Dettifoss. Although you’re looking directly at the waterfall, it is difficult to take a photo of the entire waterfall with its base.

Dettifoss as view from the west (via Road#862). Not the optimal point to view Dettifoss.
Dettifoss as view from the west (via Road#862). Not the optimal point to view Dettifoss.

After viewing Dettifoss, continue your way upstream to Selfoss. To view Hafragilsfoss (which is downstream of both Selfoss/Dettifoss), drive out of the carpark and immediately look for an unmarked gravel road on your right (before you reach #862). Follow the gravel road to the end where you’ll find Hafragilsfoss (least scenic of the trio).

Selfoss. Access via D2 hiking trail from Dettifoss western carpark (via Route#862)
Selfoss. Access via D2 hiking trail from Dettifoss western carpark (via Route#862)
Hafragilsfoss. View accessible via gravel road near Dettifoss carpark (route#862)
Hafragilsfoss. View accessible via gravel road near Dettifoss carpark (route#862)

 

Road#864: Gravel road. Excellent view of Dettifoss!

This is a more difficult option as #864 is a gravel road. However during summer months, it shouldn’t post problems even to 2WD cars (unless you’re not comfortable with vibration from driving on gravel).

From the carpark, take a short walk to Dettifoss. This is definitely the better viewpoint of Dettifoss as you can see the full waterfall with its base. Most amazing is that you could walk to the edge of the waterfall. The view here is simply spectacular!

From Dettifoss, take a short hike upstream to Selfoss. To view Hafragilsfoss, proceed back to #864 and drive north for a short distance.

Dettifoss: If approached from the east (via Road#864), visitors could walk right up to the edge of the waterfall.
Dettifoss: If approached from the east (via Road#864), visitors could walk right up to the edge of the waterfall.

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#2: Mývatn Nature Baths (Jarðböðin Við Mývatn) (map)

“Excellent nature bath! Absolute enjoyment after a tiring day!”

Mývatn Nature Baths; warm yourself in the hot nature pool while the ambient temperature is plunging as evening approaches.
Mývatn Nature Baths; warm yourself in the hot nature pool while the ambient temperature is plunging as evening approaches.

An excellent nature bath with great ambience, Mývatn Nature Baths is conveniently located a short distance from Lake Mývatn.

Without doubt the best way to wind down a tiring day of sightseeing, especially if you’ve been chilled to the bone by the weather. Nothing beats warming yourself in the hot nature pool while the ambient temperature is plunging as evening approaches. My advice is to go after dinner (they operate till 11.30pm in summer; 9.30pm in winter) so that you could spend 1-2 hours just soaking in the bath, relaxing and enjoying the surrounding Icelandic scenery. I was there for only 45 minutes and truly regret not being able to stay longer.

It is also a value-for-money nature bath! Blue Lagoon charges 40Euros, while Mývatn Nature Baths charges kr. 3500-4000. Though in all fairness, you’re probably paying for better location/amenities/scenery and a bigger brand name in the Blue Lagoon. However, in terms of the actual bath, I believe both offer similar experiences.

Cost-saving Tip (accurate as of Jun-2014): Lake Mývatn Visitor Centre offers 10% discount on the bath tickets! Great deal since they are only 3 minutes drive away from each other. Downside is that the Visitor Centre closes rather early at 6pm.

 

 

#3: Hverarondor Hverir (map)

“Geothermal area right beside Ring Road”

Boiling mudpools at Hverarondor Hverir
Boiling mudpools at Hverarondor Hverir

Hverir is a geothermal area with boiling mudpools and steaming fumaroles at the foothill of Námafjall (volcanic mountain).

You’ll be able to see it while driving on the Ring Road and it is just 5 minutes away from Lake Mývatn Visitor Centre. There is a carpark in front of Hverir. Entry fee is payable (just a few euros) at the entrance for the entire area. Námafjall and Námaskarð (sulfur field) are within walking distance from here (see attached map).

If you’ve been to other famous geothermal areas (e.g. wai-o-tapu in New Zealand), you’ll realize that Hverir is rather average by comparison. Having said, a couple of the fumaroles here are pretty impressive with the volume of steams/gases they emit. If you’re around Mývatn, this is definitely a nice place to visit.

Steaming fumarole at Hverarondor Hverir
Steaming fumarole at Hverarondor Hverir

 

 

#4: Askja (map)

“Out-of-this-world views!”

Askja caldera
Askja caldera

Askja is a caldera located in the remote central highlands of Iceland and is only accessible for a few months of the year. The area is famous for its moon-like landscapes that prompted NASA to twice send astronauts there for training (for Apollo program).

Travellers to the area typically visit it to view Víti crater and Öskjuvatn Lake, both located adjacent to each other within the massive 50km2 Askja caldera. It is possible to bath in Víti crater during permitting seasons.

Askja is without-doubt one of the must-visit places if you’re in northern Iceland. The 4 hours journey (one-way from Mývatn) itself offers some of the most stunning views in Iceland.

Askja: Viti crater (foreground) and Öskjuvatn lake (background) (Jun-2014)
Askja: Viti crater (foreground) and Öskjuvatn lake (background) (Jun-2014)

 

Signing up a Day Tour to Askja

On my last visit to Iceland in Jun-2014, the staffs at Lake Mývatn Visitor Centre strongly advised me against driving my rented Suzuki Vitara to Askja. I promptly followed their advice and signed up for one of the super jeep day tour (~kr. 30,000 per pax). Day tours to Askja don’t come cheap, as with most other products/services in Iceland.

Super-jeep. We took a full-day tour to Askja from Fjallasýn (an Icelandic family firm) in these monster jeeps. Pick-up from Myvatn.
Super-jeep. We took a full-day tour to Askja from Fjallasýn (an Icelandic family firm) in these monster jeeps. Pick-up from Myvatn.

Journey to Askja

Our tour operator picked us up early morning at the Visitor Centre and the journey to Askja would be via the highland route F88. While on F88, it became clear to me why locals advised tourist like myself not to self-drive to Askja; there are at least two deep rivers to ford on F88 and the depth of these rivers would appear to pose serious challenges to your average “urban” 4WDs. Aside from these rivers, the rest of the terrain looks manageable in a Vitara.

Another factor before deciding on whether to self-drive to Askja might be the weather/snow condition. While I was there (end Jun-2014), the snow was still thick (especially nearer to Askja) from the winter. Ultimately, if in doubt, always consult and trust the locals.

Views on F88

The views on F88 are simply magical. One plus point of joining a super jeep tour is that the tour guides will point out to you some of the more scenic spots along the way (including a crater where Tom Cruise filmed Oblivion).

At one of the morning pit stops, our guide showed us views of Mt Herðubreið, a hut at Herðubreiðarlindir and a famous “cave” where one of the local outlaws used to stay during the winter of 1774-1775.

After 4 hours of journey, we reach the ranger station at Dreki campsite. Lunch (self-provided) would be here before departing for the short drive to Askja’s parking area.

Final hike to Víti crater and Öskjuvatn Lake

Once at the parking area, it would be another 40 minutes walk (sometimes in strong wind and thick snow conditions) to reach Víti crater and Öskjuvatn Lake.

Askja caldera: Walking back to the carpark from Viti crater and Öskjuvatn lake (both in distant background) (Jun-2014)
Askja caldera: Walking back to the carpark from Viti crater and Öskjuvatn lake (both in distant background) (Jun-2014)

At this point, another advantage of taking a super jeep tour surfaced. For visitors who self-drive to Askja in average 4WDs, due to the thick snow, they could be forced to park a distance away from the main parking area and be forced to hike the rest of the way.

For those taking super jeep tours, these monster machines can reach the parking area without much hassle. While for those taking 4WD truck tours, the tour operators will arrange for snow transporters to ferry them to the parking area if the truck cannot reach it.

Some tour groups to Askja uses large 4x4 trucks that are not able to reach the carpark of Askja caldera and had to park a distance away. These snow transporters help to ferry these visitors from their trucks to the carpark.
Some tour groups to Askja uses large 4×4 trucks that are not able to reach the carpark of Askja caldera and had to park a distance away. These snow transporters help to ferry these visitors from their trucks to the carpark.

Breathtaking views at Víti crater and Öskjuvatn Lake

Once at the crater and lake, visitors would be rewarded with magical views and words cannot do justice to how beautiful it is.

The only letdown was that we went too early in the summer (end June) and the snow has yet to melt away to reveal the landscape. Furthermore, we could not bath in Víti crater due to the cold. My guide later informed me that the snow would be gone by mid/end July, though this varies year to year.

Nevertheless, the day trip to Askja is more than worth the effort and cost. Views as astonishing as Askja’s are hard to come by.

Yet another Icelandic waterfall. En-route from Askja back to Myvatn (via F88)
Yet another Icelandic waterfall. En-route from Askja back to Myvatn (via F88)

 

 

#5: Godafoss [Goðafoss](map)

“Impressive waterfall!”

Godafoss. Impressive waterfall that is visible from the Ring Road.
Godafoss. Impressive waterfall that is visible from the Ring Road.

Godafoss (or Waterfall of the Gods in Icelandic language) count amongst the most magnificent waterfalls in Iceland. It is situated on the Skjálfandafljót River, and has a height of 12m and width 30m.

An impressive waterfall that is visible from the Ring Road, there is a shop + cafe beside the waterfall. You could view the waterfall from both sides of the river via crossing a pedestrian bridge that is in front of the shop/café.

Surely, Godafoss is a natural wonder that shouldn’t be missed.

 

 

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