Iceland: The best of Arctic Coast Way
August 14, 2019
by Domi Záhoranová
Iceland: History of discovering new worlds, the Era of strong fearless Vikings, Elves and Trolls coming out their hiding places only after sunset, fascinating geological history of mountain ridges, fjords, glaciers, wild rivers, gushing waterfalls, sleeping or active volcanoes, impenetrable fog, deadly lava and ash, geothermal springs, fascinating flora, and fauna – all of this creates one huge symbiosis of the current manifestation of life in Iceland. Enclave whipped by the wind and ocean waves. Land not dominated by man, but rules being dictated by nature. Geographical phenomenon. Breath-taking, dynamic, drastic, almost surreal Iceland.
Arctic Coast Way, freshly opened on the 8th of June, 2019 on World Ocean Day, is an extraordinary adventure following 900 km of coastal roads close to the Arctic Circle in the North of Iceland. It presents a variation of activities, from visiting towns and fishing villages, where you can experience real Nordic life, to mainly enjoying the pure nature. Rich birdlife will keep singing to you along the journey and wind will whisper to your ears. There are many possibilities for outdoor recreation; from horse riding, whale and seal watching, angling, hiking and at the end of a day relaxing in natural geothermal pools.
A big advantage of the North is, compared to South and West, that it isn’t so touristic, there even are some of the most remote places in the entire country, so one has time to stop for a while and truly appreciate the sound of nature.
It’s difficult to pick only a couple of spots, but here are my Top 6 places from the journey along the Arctic Coast Way:
The Northernmost mainland point, set close to -lost-in-time- town Raufarhöfn, where The Arctic Henge takes place, is one of the most remote places in Iceland. The monument, similar to its ancient predecessor, Stonehenge, tells the stories about 72 dwarfs. Continuing the road on the peninsula, you will find nothing, but kilometres of empty beaches and the true meaning of words ‘The end of the world’.
Ásbyrgi Canyon is a spectacular horseshoe-shaped formation, deeply rooted in traditional Icelandic folklore. An old legend says, the canyon’s horseshoe shape was Odin’s steed, Sleipnir, placed one of his feet on the ground at this very place, leaving its imprint on the Earth. Other myths claim that Ásbyrgi is home to Iceland’s ‘hidden people’, and mystical elves. Knowing these famous sagas made visiting this canyon even more magical. 100 metres feet high cliffs, formed by tons of glacier water, are creating stunning and rare natural theatre, which definitely should not to be missed along the way.
Húsavík, also known as the capital of Whale Watching, is a must-visit place. Besides the lovely atmosphere of the town, several cafés and restaurants, and a newly built swimming pool, the biggest pride is the Whale-Watching tours provided by several Icelandic companies. Sailing usually takes approximately 3 hours, it is guided by excellent local guides and accompanied by basic refreshments like hot chocolate and pastries. Even in summer, it is cold and windy on the ocean, so proper clothing is necessary. Waterproof overalls of bright colours are provided by the sailing company. Húsavík tours have a very high rate of spotting whales, mostly humpback whales, minke whales, and dolphins. The biggest living mammals on Earth, wild and majestic creatures, would surely add a sparkle in your Icelandic adventure. If you’re lucky enough, little puffins will accompany your sailing journey.
Hauganes Hot Pots
A small village on the coast in Eyjafjörður with a population of only 140 is a refreshing stop and one of my favourite. Besides a camping area only a few meters from the beach, the newly built Honesty Hot Pot takes place. It consists of 4 tubs with the water’s temperature about a pleasant 38-39 degrees and a brand new hot tub in the shape of a boat. At high tide, you have the feeling you’re actually sailing. Single entrance per person is 500 ISK or 5 EUR, there are changing rooms, shower, and toilet available for the visitors.
A typical fisherman village, Dalvík, has a special significance for me since it’s been a place I’ve been living in, for the past months. One would fall in love with its black sand beach, another with splendid mountains standing above the ocean or several hiking trails leading you to another world. Many sheep and horse farms around, natural bird reservation, or vivid atmosphere in August, when the biggest event of the year takes place – The Great Fish Day. Every year fish producers welcome hundreds (mainly Icelanders), to a free seafood buffet. The purpose of this generous offer is to get people together to try the flavour of different local fish and enjoy the village feast together. It is accompanied by a cultural program, live music, and various mini-stores with hand-made items.
This little green piece of flat land floating in the ocean is the northernmost part of Iceland. It is best known for its proximity to the Arctic Circle, which cuts across the island. Many travellers go there to step across the line for symbolic reasons. It is 5.3 km2 in area, and the distance from the mainland is 41 km. Ferries from Dalvík sail to Grímsey all year long: in winter 3-4 times a week, in summer 5 times a week. In case you like to keep your adrenaline high, visit the island at the beginning of summer. Thousands of nesting arctic terns protecting their chicks would attack everything, even you! Easy tip, bring an umbrella or a stick, they always aim for the highest peak of the body. Protect your head by putting something above it. Naturally, birds are not dangerous.
In the end, I asked the local Icelandic authority’s office, set in Akureyri – the capital of North, why is Arctic Coast Way special and worth to visit:
”This 900 km long tourist route, the first official one in Iceland, is full of unforgettable experiences. They relate to the unspoilt nature, the closeness of the Arctic Circle that runs through Grímsey Island and the unique way of life, that Icelanders have forged through centuries of living next to the North Atlantic Ocean.” Arnheiður Jóhannsdóttir, spokesperson
(more information available at www.arcticcoastway.is)