This past fall, we ventured into Akureyri, the second-largest city in Iceland. Because we like to explore off the beaten path, we rented a car and traversed the Trollaskagi Peninsula in the northern part of the country.

Famous for its cliffside views, towering mountains, and remarkable fjords, the Troll Peninsula also sports small welcoming villages, which include fishing ports.

Starting our trip from Akureyri, we traveled north through the solitary Mulagong Tunnel, the only path over the peninsula’s mountains. Driving was challenging because it only had one lane with limited pull-offs. But with determination and the promise of breathtaking views, we pressed on. It was scary, but we followed a car in front of us, and when he pulled off for oncoming traffic, so did we. I also had my trusty co-pilot help me navigate the tricky tunnel. Our research indicated this was the only tunnel with one lane; it lied. The next tunnel also had only one lane, but we considered ourselves pros by then.

After the tunnels, the rest of our journey featured plenty of stops at fantastic viewpoints to check out the scenery. We drove through the charming fishing village of Siglufjordur, looking at the shops and cruising a few streets for a better view of some beautiful churches.

Church in Hofsos Iceland
Outdoor pool in Hofsos Iceland
Basald colums Hofsos Iceland

Exploring Hofsos: A Hidden Gem in Iceland's Landscape

After a thrilling drive through the Mulagong Tunnel, we ended up on a stretch of steep, winding road, that was unpaved. I certainly didn’t see this on Google Maps! The road clung to the side of the mountain with what some might call an incredible view. Since I wouldn’t say I like heights, I thought it terrifying. It was a narrow, gravel road (more like a path) that had no rails and steeply descended to the ocean below. I stopped the car and made Jim drive while I hid in the back seat. Oh, and did I mention the check tire light went on in the dashboard? There was no shoulder on the road to do this!

From there, our journey led us to the charming town of Hofsós. The community pool, unusually located alongside fjords and basalt columns, was our main focus here. This pool offers a unique blend of relaxation and incredible views.

Unlike any other in Iceland, Hofsós community pool sits on the fjord’s edge, seamlessly blending into the mountainous backdrop. With geothermal waters warming the pool, a dip offers a refreshing retreat. Most of the people we visited in Iceland mentioned they visit some thermal spa at least weekly (some more). It appears to be part of the culture here.

The Hofsós pool offers a year-round treat; its doors remain open to those seeking tranquility amidst beautiful landscapes. Beyond just a swimming pool, the site also features several hot tubs and a sauna, perfect for soaking in the geothermal luxury while reconciling nature’s serenity.

Tall basalt columns stand in structured rows just mere steps from the pool. While these columns might not match the grandeur of their cousins in the southern part of Iceland, they hold a beauty of their own. Surrounding the area, hiking trails allow for further exploration, descending past the columns and revealing more stunning fjord views. However, the trail is steep and slippery under rainy weather conditions.

There is a gas station close to the pool that serves great ice cream and has clean bathrooms.

Grafarkirkja historic church Iceland
Grafarkirkja historic church door Iceland
Grafarkirkja historic church rear view in Iceland

Grafarkirkja: Iceland's Time-Honored Church

Sitting amidst the scenic landscapes near Hosfos is Grafarkirkja, a quaint old church. Stepping through its gates takes you on a journey back in time, with its turfed roof and intricate hand-carved wooden beams. The parking lot, accessible only through a gate, must be closed when you enter and leave, as goats roam freely in the area.

Built as early as the 1700s, Grafarkirkja is a testament to Iceland’s resilient heritage and deeply rooted religious traditions. Touted as one of Iceland’s oldest-standing churches, it instills a sense of reverence and cultural interconnectivity. It’s a little walk to get to the church from the parking lot, but the path is well-worn and easy to navigate. Looking closely, you’ll find some weathered headstones of past residents.

Roaming sheep near Akureyri Iceland
Godafoss waterfall Iceland
Godafoss waterfall Iceland

Godafoss: An Icon of Iceland's Natural Splendor

As the sun rose on the second day of our road trip, we set our sights on Godafoss waterfall. Along our journey, our progress was occasionally halted by little flocks of sheep minding their own business on the winding country roads. Sure, it was a tad inconvenient, but we found them charming. They were a reminder that we were visitors to their home, and they would move when they were good and ready.

Godafoss, about 21 miles (34 kilometers) from Akureyri, holds the title for one of the most breathtaking waterfalls in all of Iceland. Spanning a width of 98 feet (30 meters) from which the water plunges 39 feet (12 meters), it’s a beautiful sight. The backstory of this captivating ‘Waterfall of the Gods’ lends to its allure. Legend has it that in the year 1000, Þorgeir Ljósvetningagoði, the law speaker, threw his pagan idols into the falls. This act symbolized Iceland’s official conversion to Christianity, deeply rooted in the waterfall in the nation’s spiritual history.

We arrived early and were one of the first people at the waterfall. We could take pictures and bask in the untouched beauty around us. The ideal seasons to visit would be spring or autumn when you miss the big crowds. Our choice was summer, an adventurous one considering the invited swarm of insects. A helpful tip – carry a head net and some insect repellent.

A small parking lot is available at the falls, but brace yourself for a possible game of ‘musical cars’ at peak times. Several wandering paths take you to varied viewpoints of this majestic waterfall. Make sure to arm yourselves with waterproof footwear, as the trails can be slippery. But the view? It’s entirely worth the trek.

Skutustadagigar pseudo-craters near Akureyri Iceland
Skutustadagigar Pseudo-Craters near Akureyri Iceland
Skutustadagigar Pseudo-Craters map near Akureyri Iceland

Skutustadagigar Pseudo-Craters: Geological Mysteries at Lake Myvatn

The crowds arrived at Godafoss, so we left and headed towards the Skutustadagigar pseudo-craters in the Lake Myvatn region. Brought to life by explosive steam interactions with the cool, moist surface under flowing lava some 2,300 years ago, these remarkable craters are like nothing you will see anywhere else. A fascinating quirk – they’re not volcanic vents, but they look like they are.

Once again, we were ahead of the massive tour buses and had the craters almost totally to ourselves. There are paved paths that wind through the craters, and you could spend several hours hiking here if you wanted. There are also a couple of nice lookouts over the lakes. Besides that, and a small hotel/gas/diner-looking place, there is nothing for miles around.

Dimmuborgir rock formations Iceland
Dimmuborgir rock formation Iceland
Flowers in the Dimmuborgir area of Iceland

Navigating the Mystic Labyrinth of Dimmuborgir

After visiting Skutustadagigar, we visited the mysterious Dimmuborgir, fondly known as the “Black Fortress.” This mystical landscape is a vast field brimming with peculiar rock formations birthed from the lava flow of ancient volcanic activity. The eerie resemblance these structures bear to a medieval fortress earned this lava field its name.

As we strolled around Dimmuborgir, we found a trail through the labyrinth of lava tunnels and overarching arches. The atmosphere hung heavy with an uncanny yet magnetic aura that subtly drew us in, offering a glimpse into why it’s a hotspot for tourists worldwide. With an added pop culture allure, this landscape starred as the backdrop for several movies, including the popular epic Game of Thrones. Undeniably, it felt like we’d entered a different realm altogether!

Hverir Geothermal Area Iceland
Hverir Geothermal Area Iceland
Hverir Geothermal Area Iceland

Exploring Hverir: Iceland's Geothermal Spectacle

Leaving behind the mystical realms of Dimmuborgir, our journey led us to the geothermal marvels in the Hverir area. Situated at the foot of Namafjall and in the neighborhood of Lake Myvatn, Hverir is a collection of natural wonders, including steaming mounds, mud pots, and hot springs.

When you step foot in Hverir, you first notice the smell; the signature rotten egg smell is everywhere. Vent holes are scattered underfoot, spewing out plumes of steam and gases, and mud pots erupt in boiling mud pools. The area has some beautiful colors thanks to the Sulfur deposits.

We walked around a little while checking out the various vents and mud pots; however, the scalding terrain and the hot steam are nothing to trifle with and can cause discomfort or skin irritations. Stick to the marked pathways and take note of your time. It’s not a place that would be healthy to stay at for any length of time.

There is a paid parking lot close by and because of the wonderful smell, its generally easy to find a spot as people don’t stay that long.

Main Street Akureyri Iceland
Jim eating a vegan hot dog in Akureyri Iceland
Ice cream shop in Akureyri Iceland

Heading Back to Akureyri

After a brief pit-stop at a local store to replenish our supplies (and ourselves), we retraced our path back to Akureyri. Along this route, we sailed through a swarm of airborne critters buzzing about. They sounded like hail hitting the car. The sheer density of these winged insects was astounding – so much so that our windshield wiper fluid ran out, and we had to pull over to debug our windshield. We used some of the water we had packed for the day and finally found a gas station with windshield cleaning supplies.

In summary, we had a wonderful day as we drove across some of the most awe-inspiring pockets of Iceland.