November was drawing to a close when I was there but already, pretty much every house was adorned with Christmas decorations of some kind. Christmas lights in Iceland are typically simple and subtle; advent candle style lights and lit up paper stars in windows are the most common feature. The place felt like a model town or a Christmas movie set and I remember feeling such a sense of contentment as I walked from street to street; like the feeling you had at Christmas as a kid, filled with excitement and comfort.
I checked out the Akureyri Art Museum and it’s exhibitions for the first time during my visit. I was personally struck by one titled Visitations: Polar Bears Out of Place, which focused specifically on the Icelandic response to the arrival of two polar bears who had drifted to Skagarfjörður of northern Iceland in June 2008, within a historic context of violence and maltreatment towards the bears.
I also couldn’t pass on paying a visit to Akureyri’s pretty special naturally heated geothermal swimming pool. It is one of the town’s most popular attractions for locals and tourists alike and no wonder. Wonderfully maintained and open all year round, it boasts two swimming pools, three new water slides, four hot tubs, a cold plunge, sauna and sunbathing area. Some other spots worth mentioning are Blaa Kannan and Café Berlin for nice coffee or breakfast and Strikið, Rub 23 and Greifinn if you’re looking for somewhere to have a nice evening meal in Akureyri. The infamous Christmas shop is also well worth a visit!
With its Diamond Circle and Arctic Coast Way, the northern region is full of spectacular sights. One such sight is Goðafoss – ‘Fall of the Gods’ – the waterfall which is said to have got its name because of a Viking leader called Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði, who threw his pagan statues into the waterfall upon deciding to make Christianity the official religion of Iceland. Again, whilst I had been lucky enough to visit Goðafoss a number of times during the summer, the waterfall in November looked absolutely stunning against the snow and the colour of the water had been enhanced to a beautiful turquoise blue.
Not far from Goðafoss are the Mývatn Nature Baths – the ‘Blue Lagoon of the north’ as it is sometimes referred to – a set of milky blue geothermally heated pools packed full of minerals, sourced from a nearby borehole. This is a perfect stop to warm up and relax if you’re travelling the Myvatn region during the winter months and is much less crowded than the popular Blue Lagoon in Grindavik. When I visited, there were only four other people in the baths!
From the Nature Baths, take a five-minute drive over the hill to Hverir to discover more of the otherworldly Myvatn region. Bubbling mud pools, steaming rock formations and a vibrant blue lake all make for an extremely unique place that is absolutely thriving with activity. And about a 20-minute drive from this area you will also find the dramatic lava formations that comprise Dimmuborgir and the wonderous Grotagja hot spring cave, which were both used as backdrops for some of the most iconic Game of Thrones scenes.
Drive a little further still and you come to the lovely little town of Husavik. Having become somewhat famous recently thanks to Will Ferrell’s 2020 Netflix film: Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, this small fishing town is known as Whale Capital of Iceland and is also the place where the first house was built in Iceland by Swedish viking Garðar Svavarsson. I also can’t recommend enough taking a rejuvenating dip in the Geosea Thermal Baths if you’re visiting. Situated on a cliff’s edge and next to a lighthouse, here you can relax in these warm blissful waters with a drink in hand and look out over Skjalfandi bay to spot whales! What more could you ask for?
So, whilst Iceland is a popular summer destination, journeying to the north confirmed that the country also makes for a spectacular trip during the winter months too - despite the lack of daylight and harsh weather conditions! Just make sure you have snow tyres if travelling by car and always check the road conditions beforehand.
Text and photos: Ella Berger Sparey
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