Photos and narration by Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir.
When you’ve driven between Reykjavík and Akureyri innumerable times in your life you stop noticing the ever-changing landscape that flashes before your eyes outside the car window.
You drive past soft, grassy fields, small birch and pine forests, tundra-like vegetation on heaths, mossy lava fields, magnificent mountains and through a few towns which each have their charms.
Foreigners are often surprised at how much space there is in Iceland, the many farms and the few and small urban settlements.
Considering that almost two thirds of the 300,000-strong Icelandic population lives in the capital region, there aren’t many people left to live in other parts of the country.
The 389-kilometer drive between Reykjavík and Akureyri is one of the most frequently-traveled distances on Iceland’s highway no. 1, the Ring Road. Drivers exit the capital region after driving through Mosfellsbær north of Reykjavík, then they drive along the roots of the Esja mountain range.
Shortly thereafter the mouth of the tunnel underneath Hvalfjörður fjord opens up. Before it was constructed in 1998, people had to drive along the long fjord, which added almost one hour to their journey. The journey now takes about four-and-a-half hours.
To continue to Akureyri, drivers take the course for Borgarnes at the roundabout which appears at the other end of the tunnel. They follow the road which lies underneath Mt. Hafnarfjall, where it is notoriously windy, and drive across the bridge to Borgarnes.
The Ring Road then continues through Borgarnes, past grassy fields and farms, summer houses and the Grábrókarhraun lava fields where the small hamlet of Bifröst and the eponymous business university are located.
Birch trees grow in between lava stones which are covered with thick, grey moss. The landscape there is very colorful, and travelers often pause to observe Mt. Baula, which is shaped like a cone and is unusually light in color.
Then the road lies up Holtavörduheiði heath, which is infamous for bad weather. Even when the rest of the country is sunny, there always seems to be fog on Holtavörduheiði. Sheep roam freely on the heath and they often graze near the road, so drive carefully.
Upon descending the heath drivers arrive at a famous pit stop, Brúarskáli. It is the roadside restaurant of choice for those who are continuing to the West Fjords.
Those who are driving to Akureyri, however, most often stop at the next pit stop, Stadarskáli. Before they arrive there, they have to cross the last hazardous one-lane bridge on the way between Reykjavík and Akureyri.
After Staðarskáli the landscape doesn’t change much for a while. Those who are eager to reach the next pit stop grow tired of what seems like endless farms and grassy fields. Drivers now follow one of the longest fjords in Iceland, the 36-kilometer-long Hrútafjörður, which extends out of Húnaflói bay.
Those who have driven between Akureyri and Reykjavík countess times will tell you that this is the most boring part of the journey, but if you are new to this region you might find the peaceful countryside quite calming and enjoyable.
The next village you will drive through is Blönduós, located by the mouth of Blanda river. The Ring Road lies through Blönduós and then leads to Húnaver, where there is a community center for the surrounding countryside, a sheepfold and a camping site.
After Húnaver, drivers continue up a steep hill on their way into Skagafjörður county, famous for its choirs and horses. Apparently, Skagafjörður is the only county in Iceland where horses outnumber people. The next pit stop is the small village of Varmahlíð.
After Varmahlíð travelers on their way to Akureyri drive along Norðurá river until they reach Öxnadalsheiði heath. The road in this area used to be very dangerous, with numerous one-lane bridges, but was fortunately improved last year. Even so, there is often bad weather and slippery road conditions on the heath, even in summer. You should also be on the lookout for sheep on road.
After descending Öxnadalsheiði, drivers find themselves in Öxnadalur valley with its beautiful and rugged landscape. In clear weather they get a good view of the terrifyingly-sharp Hraundrangar peaks.
After driving past the swimming pool in Þelamörk and the road that leads to Dalvík, Akureyri practically lies around the corner. With its 17,000 inhabitants, Akureyri is the capital of North Iceland and the largest settlement outside the capital region.
If you’re about to embark on a road trip, have a safe journey.