Welcome to the North! Day 6 started out strong with our first included breakfast of the trip. (So long yogurts that have been riding around in the trunk for a day or 2…) HELLOOOO Smörgåsbord!
There were some fruits, various breads, crackers, cold meats and cheeses, yogurts (skyr) with cereal toppings, juices, teas, coffees, and the truly interesting breakfast option of SMOKED TROUT. (good but for me… just not a breakfast food)
Our first stop of the day: Skútustaðagígar
which was LITERALLY right next to the guesthouse we stayed in… Like we could’ve walked over! The map above shows various great walking paths around the cones with a couple loops (Small and large!) depending on your time. It was cold and raining (typical) so we opted for a shorter loop.
The Skútustaðagígar pseudocraters were formed when molten lava flowed into Mývatn lake, triggering a series of gas/steam explosions. These dramatic green dimples then came into being when trapped subsurface water boiled and popped, forming small scoria cones and craters.
The cones can be found all around Myvatn lake but the largest collection (and thus easiest to see) are at Skútustaðagígar in the southern region of Myvatn.
Sheep roam all around the pseudo craters!
The parking area and walking paths are FREE to visit and didn’t appear to have any hours posted. There weren’t any toilet facilities in the parking area but there is a gift shop/ cafe across the road from the main parking area that may have facilities.
The coolest part for me was how the lake was so immense and filled in a bunch of the gaps between the craters. This was definitely a cool and unique landscape that can take you anywhere from 10 minutes for a quick stretch of the legs or a few hours walking the paths on a nice day.
Next up: Dimmuborgir: A land rich with both cultural and geological oddities! But first the culture and thoughts on this sign above:
According to Icelandic folklore, Dimmuborgir is the home of a homicidal troll named Grýla, her third husband Leppalúði and their sons The Yule Lads. Though Grýla has psychopathic tendencies, the children aren’t quite so murderous, and are more mischievous than anything. Originally told as a scary story to stop children misbehaving, the Yule Lads have now been merged with the idea of Santa Claus. Children either get gifts or rotten potatoes in their shoes at Christmas depending on whether they’ve behaved well or not.There are 13 Yule Lads in all, each with their own mischievous plans.
Favorite Yulelads: Doorway-Sniffer (Gáttaþefur), Window-Peeper (Gluggagægir), Sausage-Swiper (Bjúgnakrækir), Door-Slammer (Hurðaskellir), and Spoon-Licker (Þvörusleikir)
Beyond the interesting culture of trolls and yule lads, Dimmuborgir has incredible rock formations that you can’t really see anywhere else! The only other similar land mass known to exist is beneath the sea, off the coast of Mexico.
The Dimmuborgir area consists of a massive, collapsed lava tube formed by a lava lake flowing in from a large eruption about 2300 years ago. The lava pooled here, over a small lake and as the lava flowed across the wet sod, the water of the marsh started to boil. The vapor rose through the lava forming pillars from drainpipe size up to several meters in diameter.
The Fall colors in the moss and brush made this place seem even more mystical when combined with the fog and rain.
Braden being sneaky as he came down from inspecting a yule lad cave!
There are miles of paved walking paths, with many loops and options. In fact, the park is very large making it VERY easy to get lost. We didn’t explore for too long but from where we did walk, we came across at least 4 or 5 intersections of paths.
*Tip: Take a picture of the trail map at the entrance that way you know where all the various trails (and their names) lead.
Language time! Dimmuborgir literally means Dark Castle!
(dimmu “dark”, borgir “forts”, “castles)
Detail shot of moss growing on a lava pillar.
Let’s not forget to mention a very REAL reason we visited here… 3 words:
Game. Of. Thrones.
While most of the filming scenes look quite different, it’s not because of CGI but because of winter! They primarily filming the wildling camp north of the wall here, and everything is just about covered in snow.
A Yule lad cave/ lodging?
Really cool entrance to the yule lad cave!
View of he lake and fall colors from the Dimmuborgir parking area.
Parking is for SURE free
Entrance… We had read that there was a fee if you didn’t purchase a meal at the cafe, however when we got there, the gate was just open with NO signs saying anything like that… so going to say entrance is ALSO FREE.
*Though give the cafe a thought as the lamb stew and rye bread (that is actually cooked in local geothermal ovens) have amazing reviews and we would’ve loved to try it… if it wasn’t before 10 AM. haha
There are toilet facilities in addition to the cafe that are 200 ISK (around $2) for entrance.
As the sign above says, our next stop was a mere 10 minute drive from Dimmuborgir and mostly made it only the list as it was a more recognizable… filming location…
for Game of Thrones…
So of you avid fans like myself may recall a scene in season 3 with John Snow north of the wall.. you know what I’m saying… 😉 but Game of Thrones location aside, the cave spring is actually a pretty cool visit. Here’s a blurb about it: In early 18th century the outlaw Jón Markússon lived there and used the cave for bathing and until the 1970s Grjótagjá was a popular bathing site. However during the eruptions from 1975 to 1984, the temperature of the water rose to more than 50 °C (122 °F), and while the temperature is slowly decreasing and has fallen below 50 °C again the cave is owned privately and swimming is still not permitted.
*Note: The nearby lava cave of Stóragjá is supposedly available for swimming but not as hot.. and potentially bacteria infested. Basically I just wouldn’t plan on swimming! haha but they are fun to walk around and check out!
Beautiful HOT!! water at Grjótagjá cave
From outside the cave parking area you could see the incredible Hverfjall volcano.
This site was actually on my wish list but as it was cold and rainy and supposedly takes a LONG time to walk the rim (which I believe the thing looked massive!) it wasn’t in the cards for us.
However if you want to plan a trip, the all black volcanic cone DOES look really cool, is less than 10 minutes away from this other spots, and FREE to visit as well. Just know that if you want to walk the rim, it will likely take a while. The diameter of the cone is 1 KM! So the walk around is over 3 km. There are 2 paths up to the top that are steep but should only take 10-15 minutes if you just want to hike up for the view.
Back over by the Myvatn Nature baths (again a short drive away) lies the Námaskarð geothermal area. The mud pits.
Again a little Yellowstone like, but this steaming piles of rock that were quite loud were a site to see, and the boardwalk is a fun short venture to walk around.
All in all another short, FREE, stop. (No facilities here however with the last toilet available being back at Dimmuborgir.
The sign at the parking area for the geothermal area.
Then it was a slight reroute back East to check out my most anticipated stop in Northern Iceland yet.
Europe’s most POWERFUL waterfall. There are 2 access points with 2 completely different views. I had originally gunned for the EAST side as you can get CLOSER to the waterfall and actually SEE the entire thing from top to bottom. However the road is said to be horribly bumpy and on a wet day.. probably not the best idea.
The WEST side however is a smooth easy, paved road with still great views, just expect a 10-15 minute walk from the parking area to the falls vs a short <5 minute walk on the Eastern approach.
For a better explanation for the pros and cons of each side, I found this post
to be VERY helpful.
Needless to say, the weather really only permitted us to visit the West side… and what a view we had!
lol glad we didn’t torture ourselves with the bumpy scary road out to the East bank when you could hardly see the falls through the mist and clouds! That being said, the falls had quite the roar and were still amazing to see! Just hard to photograph!
Not to mention FREEZING. There is actually a nice walking path to another set of beautiful falls further up river called Selfoss. (the previous link will give more info on that) as our walk out to the falls and 5 minutes of picture taking left us THOROUGHLY drenched… we hit a new low point and decided against walking out to Selfoss. lol
Rain clothes and all couldn’t protect you from the heavy wet rain of this day. The water just clung to everything and like I said.. new low. We were ready to get back to the warm car.
The most clear shot (without mist) I got of the falls.
Dettifoss is actually run off flowing down from Vatnajökull glacier and collects water as it goes from a large area in Northeast Iceland. The falls are 100 m (330 ft) wide and have a drop of 44 m (144 ft).
So with our actual planned items all done for the day early, and with us desperately in want of drier activities… we headed into a whaling town for some unplanned adventure.
Up next: Húsavík: Whale Watching Capitol of the North
The biggest draw to this sleepy little town are Whale watching tours… which are outside. We happened to want to be INSIDE, so best option? Husavik’s whale museum! While Iceland museums aren’t the cheapest, I would actually consider this a solid museum for someone with medium interest in whales to start with!
The Whale Museum offers two stories of exhibition area with special attention given to the manner in which information is presented. Exhibits were very creative while also being super informative! Lots of fun whale facts throughout! The lower floor hosts a main section on marine ecosystems (above photo), and additional exhibits describe the cetacean species in the North Atlantic and their natural history, strandings, whale watching and past/present Icelandic whaling.
The skeleton and incredible tooth of a
unicorn whale Narwhal
One of the biggest selling points on this museum for me was the “whale gallery” with authentic skeletons of 9 species. (multiples of some skeletons)
Fun facts: 1.The horn on a Narwhal is actually a tooth that “erupts” in the adolescent years. The whales all have 2 teeth and it us not unheard of for both teeth to erupt forming 2 large tusks.
2. The tooth can grow up to 10 feet long!
3. It is the only STRAIGHT tusk known, and ONLY spirals to the left.
4. It’s tooth is incredibly FLEXIBLE and can bend up to 1 foot without breaking.
5. Only males and about 15% of females tooth erupts into a tusk.
A smaller whale skeleton
Braden admiring a sperm whale skeleton.
Each skeleton has information about the type of whale and how/ when the museum acquired it.
Looking down the whale gallery
At the end is a small seal skeleton as well!
The real crowning glory of the museum: a skeleton of the LARGEST animal to EVER live: The
The skeleton at this museum is almost the length of the main gallery! There are many photos and plaques explaining where they found the carcass and how they managed to move it.
to see photos and read a bit about it. It’s also interesting to note that Iceland is one of the few places in the world you can actually SEE this incredible animals.
Me standing next to and being dwarfed by just the head!
Blue whale fun facts:
1. Blue whales belong to the Baleen family of whales which get their names from how many “Baleen” plates (sort of their teeth) are in their mouth.
2. They can hold their breath for 20 min or longer.
3. They eat up to 5 tons of krill per day.
4. They do not reach full size until about 50 years of age.
5. Blue whales sleep while swimming and only with one half of their brain at a time.
6. They can range up to 110 feet long (33 meters) in size making them larger even than the largest dinosaur that ever existed. They can weigh up to 200 tons (181,437 kilograms).
7. Their mouths, when fully open, can take in approximately 90 tons
8. Their tongues alone can weigh as much as an average adult elephant.
9. Both the blowhole and the arteries of the blue whale are large enough to fit a baby through.
10. Baby blue whales weigh approximately four tons at birth or the equivalent of two large cars. They then grow at a rate of about 200 pounds per day.
And of course, our other favorite aspect of this museum: The Whales, Books, and Coffee nook! They had a range of books about whales and even a small child play area. The coffee was a wonderful way to warm up and sit down at the beginning of our museum tour. (Of course I read the section about Narwhals! in the book pictured below)
Free coffee and some books about whales to enjoy!
And the last picture from the museum, a whale carved into a WHALE JAWBONE.
Húsavík Whale Museum Practical Information:
Hours: June, July, August:08:30–18:30 daily
May and September 9:00–18:00 daily
Cost: Adults:ISK 1900
Adults(with whale watching discount):ISK1500
Seniors, students, or disabled:ISK 1500
Family price (2 adults, 1-5 children):ISK 4000
After some time in the museum we walked around the pier for a bit and witnessed a small group come back from a whaling tour. (They looked SO miserable… 1 person actually was limping off with help and looked near frozen to death) Needless to say, we were pleased enough with our whale experience in the museum. haha
Besides whales, Húsavík actually has another claim to fame as it was the first place in Iceland to be settled by a Norse man. The Swedish Viking Garðar Svavarsson stayed there for one winter around 870 A.D. When he left the island in spring of 870, he left behind a man named Nattfari and two slaves, a man and a woman, and they established a farm here. The name of the town means “bay of houses”, probably referring to Garðar’s homestead, which may have been the only houses then in Iceland.
After walking around the harbor, we had a travelling lunch. We grabbed some fish soup and dessert at a recommended location in town, but after spotting this joint on our walk around the harbor, our hearts called for Fish and chips. So we headed back and I can’t recommend this spot MORE! It was FABULOUS, FAST, and AFFORDABLE. For $16 we got enough fish and chips to easily split between the two of us and if you wanted you could add more fish or chips a la cart. It had restrooms and a small eating area upstairs.
View out of 1 of our windows at Kidagil Guesthouse
After the excitement of Husavik, we headed to our stop for the night quite a bit off the beaten track of the ring road but one of the cheapest nights of our trip! Kidagil Guesthouse
was HUGE and the best part was we were the ONLY guests that night. haha and it happened to be a night all 4 of us bunked in the same room. Hilarious! It was originally built as a boarding school and still in a way felt like a museum. There were lots of informational banners about Icelandic outlaws living off the land and even a few “artifacts.” Loads of fun! Anyways we drank lots of tea and had a relaxing evening inside.. and DRY. Solid day DESPITE the weather.
Total Car driving distance and time: 230 km and around 3 hr. 15 min
Day 6 Costs:
Rental Car breakdown for 1 day/2 people: $66
Gas breakdown average/ day for 2 people: $18/ day
Breakfast- wonderfully included in hotel
Husavik Whaling museum $28.20 (with student discounts for 2 people)
Fish Soup and Date cake at Naustiq for around $30
Fish n chips $16.00
Kidagil Guesthouse: $220/ 4 people so $110 for Braden and I
Day 6 Total Cost: $268 for 2 people