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5 towns to visit in Iceland

When visiting Iceland do not stop only in the capital city of Reykjavik because true gems are hidden across the country. The journey to those gems will be as exciting as exploring the little picturesque towns in Iceland.

In each of these towns, you will find more than a nice and friendly Icelandic community but also fragments of Icelandic history, culture and traditions. There are many beautiful towns in Iceland that are worth being visited but in this blog, I am talking about the bigger ones that can be visited even if you don’t have weeks to explore Iceland.

The start of all trips is in the capital city Reykjavik and the closest town is Grundarfjörður. You can visit Grundarfjörður on a day trip from Reykjavik or on a multi-day or private tour.

Grundarfjörður

Grundarfjörður is of the most known towns in West Iceland because of its location near the most photographed mountain in Iceland, Kirkjufell.

The town of Grundarfjörður was initial a fishing town, the fishing industry being the main economical activity in the area. The harbour in the town was and still is one of the most important harbours in West Iceland.

Nowadays the town is also a tourist centre in West Iceland and it has all the tourist infrastructure one need to stay one or many nights in the area.

Photo by Marco Xu on Unsplash

Grundarfjörður, as its name says, is a little picturesque town located in Breiðafjörður in West Iceland. The main activities in the town are fishing, fish processing and tourism developed in recent years.

The Grundarfjörður Harbour is by tradition the heart of the town. It is one of the “10 largest quota-fishery harbours in the country” according to the official website Grundarfjordur.is and at the same time the place that sustained life there in the past times.

Photo by Marco Xu on Unsplash

The harbour is also a good place to take a relaxing walk and admire the surroundings of the town. There are also some stone sculptures created by the local artist Liston you can admire too.

There are many things to see inside the town and such picturesque towns deserve to be explored. The historical centre of the town is a gem that brings together the local culture under the same roof at Saga Center. You will find at the Saga Center the local public library, the Tourist Information Center and several photography exhibits with collections of photographs from the past everyday life of the town. Do not hesitate to visit the Saga Center, all the exhibitions are free of charge.

In every Icelandic town, you will find a beautiful church and Grundarfjörður Church is no exception. The church in Grundarfjörður is different from what you will see here. Its design is bigger than the other churches in Iceland and the architect was Halldór Halldórsson who designed many other churches in the country.

Inside the Grundarfjörður Church is displayed the first litho-printed copy of the Guðbrand’s Bible.

Photo source: Grundarfjordur.is

There is no town without a swimming pool in Iceland, and Grundarfjörður town has also a swimming pool with geothermal water and breathtaking views. It is located next to the town’s campsite so if you are camping around take a relaxing bath there.

If you are travelling with kids, close to the camping site is also a playground for children that is accessible every day during the summer holiday in July and August, the rest of the year the accessibility may vary.

If you are a fan of golf you have also a golf court in the town. Many other activities can be done in Grundarfjörður such as whale watching, horseback riding, bird watching, glacier hiking, kayaking, sea angling and many more. Snæfellsnes Peninsula offers many adventures and many beautiful places to explore.

Day-tour Snaefellsness Peninsula

Day tour in Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Explore the Hidden Treasure of the West

Whale Watching Grundarfjörður

Whale Watching Grundarfjörður

Experience a whale watching tour is a special place

Snow cat tour

Snow-cat tour at Snæfellsjökull

Explore the mistic mountain in Snæfellsness Peninsula

7 Days Self-drive | Golden Circle, South Coast, Snæfellsnes and Reykjavik

7 Days Self-drive | Golden Circle,
South Coast, Snæfellsnes and Reykjavik

Go on an unforgetable trip to the most famous places in Iceland

7 Days Private tour Golden Circle, South Coast, Snæfellsnes and Reykjavik

7 Days private tour Golden Circle,
South Coast, Snæfellsnes and Reykjavik

Have a memorable experience in the Land of Fire and Ice

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After you explore the town go outside it and enjoy Icelandic nature. The famous Kirkjufell mountain awaits you to photograph it from all angles. Go visit also the Kirkjufellsfoss, a series of waterfalls at the foothill of the mountain. Read more about Kirkjufell on our blog.

Many hiking trails around the town will take you to breathtaking views over the fjords.

Photo by ORLANDO HENRIQUES on Unsplash

In Grundarfjörður you have some restaurants to choose from as well as many accommodations to stay overnight. The views over the fjords will make you fall in love with the town of Grundarfjörður so do not skip it when you explore Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

Another beautiful town that is visited by many tourists and is relatively close to Reykjavik is the town of Vík í Mýrdal on the South Coast of Iceland. 

 

Vík í Mýrdal

One of the most popular towns on the South Coast is by far Vík í Mýrdal. The little town located on the southern coastline is also the southernmost inhabited town in Iceland. You might probably know the picture of the village from the Netflix series “Katla”.

Vík í Mýrdal has a very interesting history and is quite different from the other coastal towns. The thing that makes Vík í Mýrdal different is that it has no port.

The town of Vík was settled permanently in 1890 once the traders that used to come in the area remained there to sell their products: vegetables, fruits, flour, salt and sugar. The town became a commercial area and after some time there were open five food stores and two slaughterhouses.

Photo by Andrew S on Unsplash

Over time, Vík í Mýrdal became a small settlement and a place where Icelandic farmers used to meet. In 1934 the Víkurkirkja Church was built and from that point, Vík í Mýrdal gained its status of being a village.

Víkurkirkja Church is located on a hill that is quite above the town and from there the view over Vík is stunning. People say that in case of an eruption of the Katla volcano the church will be the safest place because the rest of the town will be flooded by the waters from the Mýrdalsjökull glacier.

Photo by Jason Krieger on Unsplash

The community in the town was very small and nowadays is no larger than approximatively 300 people. Vík í Mýrdal is a famous stop for tourists because of its location on the Ring Road and for the fact that is the only larger settlement in the area. The next town is about 70 km away from Vík. It is also the ending point for many day tours on the South Coast.

Vík í Mýrdal is surrounded by very known places such as Reynisfjall Tuff Mountain with the Reynisfjara black sand beach and Reynisdrangar on the west and south part. Katla Volcano under the Mýrdalsjökull glacier is guarding the town on the northern part and the Myrdalur Cliffs to the east.

The area of the town has also rich wildlife and during summer there can be spotted arctic terns on the basalt cliffs of Reynisfjall and puffins on the Dyrholaey peninsula. Sometimes there can be spotted seals, dolphins or whales in the waters around Vík.

Photo by Daniel Mirlea on Unsplash

As I already mentioned the town of Vík í Mýrdal is an important and famous stop for tourists as you can find there important places to supply while on your within Iceland. You will find there a gas station, a supermarket Kronan, an alcoholic drink shop Vínbúðin, a local clothing shop Icewear, some restaurants, cafes and hotels.

Many activities can be done from Vík such as Zip-line adventure, Paragliding, Ice Cave exploring, Lava show.

Zip-line

Zipline Vik, South Iceland

Easy and fun tour for the whole family.

Ice Cave by Katla Volcano

Ice Cave by Katla Volcano

Visit this truly unique Ice Cave underneath Katla volcano.

Icelandic Lava Show

Icelandic Lava Show

Experience real flowing lava up close in a safe environment

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Going further from South to East Iceland, you will find in the Eastfjords the most known town in Iceland, Seyðisfjörður. The town is famous on the internet for the beautiful blue church with the rainbow street in front of it. 

 

Seyðisfjörður

Guarded by Mt. Strandartindur and Mt. Bjolfur and having the entire fjord at its shelter roots unfolding to the ocean, Seyðisfjörður town is truly a gem in the Eastfjords. With a community of about 700 people, they describe themselves as being a big family that is happy to welcome everyone who wants to discover their little picturesque town.

Photo by Svennin Birkir Bjornsson

The town is surrounded by snowy mountains decorated with waterfalls and dramatic colours. On the other side, the fjord opens on a 17 km long lane to the ocean. At another 17 km from the town, there is Skalanes a nature reserve that covers around 1200 hectares and serves as a hub for scientific and conservationist exploration. The area is rich in wildlife. There are four species of Icelandic mammal, 47 species of birds, and 150 species of plants. There is a chance to see reindeer along the road and seals and porpoises on the shore.

The relief around the town consists of steep valleys that have caused avalanches throughout the history of the town and most recently there were also landslides that destroyed a part of the town. The avalanches that happened in 1885 when 24 people were killed and the one in 1996 destroyed two factories.

Photo by Midorie Villeneuve Chasse on Unsplash

Due to its location, Seyðisfjörður town was a fishing town at the beginning and the industry grew together with the community. In 1848 the town was an important trading centre. In the last years, the tourism industry started to grow as well and the town developed with many accommodation facilities, restaurants and many organized activities that everybody can enjoy. The fishing industry led to the modernization of the harbour from where the ferry Norræna is operating transportation to Scandinavia.

In the town, you will find some of the well preserved old wooden buildings in Iceland. Maybe the name of the town won’t give you an image of it but the little town became famous on social media with its blue painted church and the rainbow street that leads to it. Seyðisfjarðarkirkja was brought to the town in 1920. On the sides of the rainbow street, there are a lot of restaurants and cafes where people in town and tourists as well are enjoying their time.

Photo by Redcharlie

There is also an annual festival organized in the mid of July named “The LungA arts festival” and it is a celebration of youth arts. At the festival, you can see many workshops, exhibitions, a fashion show, and concerts.  A lot of cultural centers and activities can be found in the town of Seyðisfjörður such as the arts center, the Technical Museum of East Iceland, and the only two cinemas in the east of Iceland.

Photo by Kevin et Laurianne Langlais

You can travel to Seyðisfjörður on a Ring Road self-drive tour.

The next two big towns are located in the North of Iceland and you definitely need to visit them. Life here is completely different from the rest of the country.

 Húsavík town

“Where the mountains sing through the screams of seagulls, Where the whales can live ‘cause they’re gentle people” that’s where you will find the beautiful town of Húsavík. The town became more famous after the Netflix movie “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” and the song “Húsavík” that was nominated for the Best Original Song at the 93rd Academy Awards, for best song at the 26th Critics’ Choice Awards and for Best Original Song in a Feature Film at the 11th Hollywood Music in Media Awards.

The song also won for the Outstanding Original Song for Visual Media in 2021 at the Society of Composers and Lyricists Awards and the Hollywood Critics Association Awards for Best Original Song. The lyrics of the song describes perfectly the picturesque atmosphere and the local colour of the town of Húsavík.

Even if the movie was not an all-time cinematic masterpiece, it brought the audience closer to the Icelandic culture and aroused the curiosity of people to discover the town of Húsavík.

Photo source: northsailing.is

Húsavík is located in Skjálfandi Bay in the North part of Iceland and has a community of over 2000 people. The name of the town means “the Bay of Houses” and the legend says it was settled before 874 AD, even if this is the official date of settlement in Icelandic history. The official date was established as the settlement date when Garðar Svavarsson who came out from Sweden stayed over the winter in Iceland in 874 AD.  When he left, he let there a man and two slaves set a farm there and the legend says that the town was named after their houses in the bay.

An impressive building that differs from others in Iceland with its architecture and design is the Húsavíkurkirkja church. The church was built in 1907 and has a wooden structure. Along with the church, there is the civic museum for culture and biology where you can find a stuffed polar bear and many ancient boats that are documenting the fishing and seafaring tradition in Iceland.

As I mentioned in the beginning, Húsavík is best-known for whale watching and all the whale watching agencies there has a 100% rate of spotting the whales during summertime.

Photo by: Fabian Moller on Unsplash

In the waters around Húsavík, you can spot Humpback whales which are the most common there, and also White Beaked Dolphins and Harbor Porpoises. Together with all marine fauna, you will also spot different species of birds including the famous Puffin. So if you visit Húsavík during summertime those are some of the most popular activities there: the whale and puffin watching.

GeoSea

GeoSea Bath

Relax your body after exploring the North of Iceland

Whale watching from Husavik

Whale watching from Husavik

Get closer to marine life in the Northfjords

Whales and Puffins

Puffind and Whales

Get closer to the local fauna

17 Days Self-drive | Complete Iceland Tour

7 Days Self-drive | Golden Circle,
South Coast, Snæfellsnes and Reykjavik

Go on an unforgetable trip taround Iceland

10 Days private tour in Iceland Ring Road In-depth Tour

10 Days private tour in Iceland
Ring Road In-depth Tour

Enjoy the beauty of Iceland on a private tour

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You will find a lot of restaurants and different kinds of accommodation in Húsavík. You can enjoy both delicious Icelandic dishes and breathtaking views over the Skjálfandi Bay from Húsavík.

The capital of the North is not to miss on your trip to the Land of Fire and Ice.

Akureyri town

Akureyri is the second-largest urban area in Iceland after the Reykjavik area and the most important trade and services centre in Northern Iceland. Is located in one of the longest fjords in the country and has a population of approximately 19 000 people.

Despite its Nordic location, the climate at Akureyri is mild with medium temperatures around 25°C during the summer and medium temperatures around 0°C during the wintertime. The Arctic Circle is 60km from Akureyri town although the Grimsey island which is considered arctic territory is under the Akureyri municipality administration.

Akureyri is also a popular tourist destination and an important cultural and educational center as well. There are many museums, a botanic garden, the best skiing area in the country as many people say, hiking trails amazing views over the fjord. Also, there are a lot of restaurants, cafes, accommodation, and activities that tourists can do in Akureyri.

The town of Akureyri has a rich history that led to what is the town today. Íslendingasögur or the Icelandic Sagas have all the stories and details about settlements in Iceland and Akureyri is no exception. According to the Landnámabók, the area was settled by an Irish Viking named Helgi Magri Eyvindarson. The reasons he travelled to Iceland are unknown but the way he has chosen the place of landing in Iceland was in the traditional Norse manner that consists in throwing two wooden pillars overboard. He came to Iceland with his wife Thorunn Hyrna, in 890 AD. Helgi Magri Eyvindarson was a devoted Christian but he was known to put his faith in the Thor the Norse God of Thunder.

The legends say that Helgi stayed almost 7 km from the actual location of Akureyri but is recognized as the person who settled the area and the founder of Akureyri.

Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

Akureyri started to be settled permanently in 1778, until then, in the 16th century many buildings in Akureyri were owned by the Danish merchants as Iceland was subject to the Danish Crown. The town gained its official trading title in 1602. Those merchants were not in Akureyri all the year, during the winter they returned to their home country. That is why the town of Akureyri was not settled permanently until 1778. In the same year, the first house was built there. The town of Akureyri was used as a base for the Danish merchants for almost 200 years.

The town received its municipal character in 1786 after the Danish king wanted to improve living conditions in the area for the Danish merchants. He introduced farming techniques and agricultural habits improving the soil condition in the area. But even with all those efforts, the area of Akureyri was not populated by many people so the king decided in 1836 to revoke the settlement municipal character.

Photo by Jeremy Bezanger on Unsplash

The town was settled again almost 30 years later in 1862 and it was the moment when Akureyri started to grow for real. The agricultural activities were retaken and so life in the area was easier to sustain for the workers and their families. Also, the fishing and fishing trade was another factor of growth and development in the area.

The modernization of the area started after the presence of the foreign troops during the World Wars and since then the town was growing to what it is today.

There are a lot of museums where you can learn about Akureyri’s history. Also, the architecture of the buildings, the Akureyrarkirkja together with the street art and the local atmosphere is a must while in Akureyri.

You can do some exciting activities like hiking, whale watching, puffin watching, or enjoying festivals, the nightlife, botanic garden, and nature with all its wonders.

MyVatn Natural Bath

MyVatn Natural Bath

Relax your body in a natural bath

Whale watching from Akureyri

Whale watching from Akureyri

Get closer to marine life around capital of the North

Bjórböðin SPA

Bjórböðin SPA

Relax your mind and body in a beer spa

17 Days Self-drive | Complete Iceland Tour

7 Days Self-drive | Golden Circle,
South Coast, Snæfellsnes and Reykjavik

Go on an unforgetable trip taround Iceland

10 Days private tour in Iceland Ring Road In-depth Tour

10 Days private tour in Iceland
Ring Road In-depth Tour

Enjoy the beauty of Iceland on a private tour

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As a cute fact, you can also enjoy seeing the heart-shaped lights of the traffic lights in Akureyri.

To get to Akureyri you can fly from the Reykjavik domestic airport or drive all the way on the Ring Road on a self-drive tour.

Dyrhólaey peninsula

Dyrhólaey peninsula

The perfect view point over the black sand
beaches in South Iceland

Grimsey Island

Grimsey Island

The only Icelandic territory that is on the Arctic Circle

Mývatn area

Mývatn area

The most beautiful geothermal area in Iceland

Saxhóll Crater

Saxhóll Crater

Explore an ancient volcano in West Iceland

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