Narration and photos by Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir.
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There is much to see and experience in north Iceland, an area stretching all the way from Hrútafjördur fjord in the west to Vopnafjördur in the east, much more than can be seen on a two-day whirlwind bus tour.
At the invitation of the North Iceland Marketing Office and other tourism representatives, two IR staff members traveled to northeast Iceland along with other media and travel agency representatives on Thursday and Friday with the purpose of getting a taster of what the region has to offer.
After landing in Akureyri, the region’s largest town, and boarding a bus, the group headed eastwards towards the nature reserve Ásbyrgi, where spectacular cliff formations inspired legends that Ódinn’s eight-legged horse Sleipnir had put his hoof down there.
Now part of the Vatnajökull National Park, the information center Gljúfrastofa has a very interesting exhibition for travelers on the park’s flora, fauna, geology, natural wonders and history of human habitation, including as obscure objects as falcon vomit.
As opposed to most museums, visitors to Gljúfrastofa are actually encouraged to touch and smell the objects on display—what does the park’s heather smell like?—and solve various riddles, such as what eggs belong to which bird species.
Onwards to the idyllic seaside town Húsavík, Iceland’s whale watching capital, three museums demand the attention of visitors. In addition to the informative Whale and District Museums, the world famous Phallological Museum is located in Húsavík.
Just as well, because if people wonder after observing the huge whale skeletons on display in the Whale Museum what a whale’s penis looks like, their question will be answered at the Phallological Museum, which carries specimens of the penises of all Icelandic mammals, apart from the Icelandic man, although such a specimen is pending.
If the District Museum seems too conventional to be worth a visit compared to the other two museums, think again. It exhibits various objects and taxidermied animals which were part of the lives of people who lived in this region and their story is told through their own words, collected from annals and other sources.
The frozen lake Mývatn—a breathtaking winter wonderland—is the next stop. By the banks of the lake famous for its rich birdlife is the comprehensive and award-winning Sigurgeir’s Bird Museum, also worthy of a visit.
Bird watching is becoming increasingly popular among tourists and next summer bird trails of various distances will be outlined across the northern region.
Although the frequented tourist destination of the Dimmuborgir lava fields is perhaps best visited during the day, the total darkness on a clear night provides an opportunity like few others for gazing at millions of twinkling stars. Afterwards a relaxing dip in the Mývatn Nature Baths is in order.
The next day, the bus took the travelers towards Akureyri, along the western coastline of Eyjafjördur fjord and passed through the towns of Dalvík and Ólafsfjördur before reaching the final destination: Siglufjördur on Tröllaskagi peninsula, which can now be reached through a new tunnel.
It’s two tunnels, actually, with an opening in Hédinsfjördur, an uninhabited fjord which used to be the peninsula’s best kept secret, only accessible by foot or boat. Now Hédinsfjördur is open for all to enjoy, a peaceful and narrow fjord fenced off by steep mountains.
In Siglufjördur, locals are optimistic that the new tunnel might bring an influx of travelers and make this fishing town of approximately 1,400 inhabitants as lively and bustling as during the height of the herring mania in the 1950s.
The town’s Herring Era Museum bears witness to this period of prosperity when the ‘silver of the sea’ made Siglufjördur better known than Iceland’s capital in some parts of the world, only to fall into oblivion once the herring disappeared due to overfishing.
Back at the Akureyri airport, weary but satisfied travelers tried to sum up the experiences of the whirlwind tour. One thing is certain: The next trip to north Iceland will be longer and more thorough.