Mývatn, a northeastern lake about an hour’s drive from Akureyri, is the preferred summer vacation spot for Icelanders. They come for the mild temperatures, the wealth of nearby activities and some of the country’s most beautiful and tranquil nature.
With schools of herring and abundant plankton, the freezing waters of the Northern Atlantic have always been prime whale territory. In years past, that meant excellent hunting. And though there’s still a little killing going on, today the most common way to shoot whales in Iceland is with a camera.
Until being usurped by tourism, fishing had always been Iceland’s most important industry, and the country’s biggest factory was found in the tiny northern town of Sigluförður. Today the former plant houses a museum dedicated to the bygone days when herring was king.
Here’s a little known fact: anyone who can correctly pronounce the name of Iceland’s National Museum automatically wins Icelandic citizenship. Absolutely true. The immense Þjóðminjasafn (that’s THYOTH-min-ya-safin, if you feel like practicing) takes visitors on an exhausting chronological tour through Icelandic history. If you want to learn about the country and can only visit a single museum, this is the clear choice.
The town of Borgarnes is a standard stopping point for buses from Reykjavík headed toward the north. Although we had been here many times, we hadn’t seen anything except the bus stop’s bathroom. Turns out, there are better places to spend time in Borgarnes, such as the wonderful Landnámssetur Íslands, the Settlement Center of Iceland.
Reykjavík’s Ásmundursafn is dedicated to the work of Iceland’s most accomplished sculpture artist, Ásmundur Sveinsson. The museum is worth visiting as much for the architecture of the building, as for the statues both indoors and out in the garden.
One of Iceland’s most famous historic figures is Snorri Sturluson: a 13th-century author and politician who lived on a farm in Reykholt. Today, the town is home to a museum commemorating his tumultuous life and considerable achievements.
Located appropriately enough on Reykjavík’s harbor, the Víkin Maritime Museum provides a comprehensive overview of the history of Iceland’s fishing industry. It’s a massive place which is more interesting than a fishing museum really has any right to be, and could easily eat up hours of your time.
Upon arriving in the village of Árbær, I was amused by the men and women dressed in historical attire, toiling at tasks around the farm. But after an hour, I no longer registered their presence. And as the day progressed, I found myself worrying about the impending harvest back home. Would old Betsy survive another winter? Say, that’s a fetching wench. I wonder whither she brings that bucket of mead, and what her dowry may be. And then my cellphone rang, snapping me back into reality.
The Latrabjarg Cliffs are about five hours from Ísafjörður by car, but the drive takes most people a lot longer thanks to the abundance of entertaining stops along the way. We needed all day to amble along Route 60, stopping off in five villages before ending at the beach of Breiðavík.