The Ring Road offers a straightforward route between Egilsstadir and Akureyri, the “Capital of the North”, taking in Myvatn along the way.
An alternative approach to the northern quarter is to strike north via Vopnafjörður towards Langanes, Ásbyrgi, the Tjörnes peninsula and Húsavík on Route 85, which offers unceasingly gorgeous views on a long, lovely smooth road, as well as the benefits of being relatively underused too.
After Vopnafjörður, Route 85 hugs the coast overlooking Bakkaflói, with the giant promontory of Langanes stretching far out to sea, filled with bird watching opportunities and hiking trails.
Raufarhöfn is a relatively short detour from Route 85 on the very smooth Route 874, with the Arctic Henge as it’s main attraction.
Very much a work in progress, mighty basalt blocks are being carefully aligned in order to create a striking stone circle on a hill a little way beyond the village. There’s a good cafe here too, called Kaupfelagid, with some intriguing artistic displays to go with the food.
It’s possible to go even further north from here to Hraunhafnartangi and Rifstangi, which wrestle over the award of Iceland’s most northerly point, but the road will probably require the use of 4WD vehicles.
Staying on Route 85 will lead to Kópasker and then onto one of the highlights of the North, the enormous horseshoe canyon of Ásbyrgi, at the northern end of the Vatnajökull National Park.
Consider carefully the route to Ásbyrgi and Dettifoss, as Route 85 arrives at the Visitor Centre at the northern end of the canyon, with two roads leading either side, southward towards Dettifoss. These roads are testing and should only be considered if a 4WD vehicle is being used.
For 2WD vehicles, Dettifoss should only be approached from the south on Route 862 from Myvatn or from the Ring Road.
Ásbyrgi can easily occupy a half a day, if not much more.
It’s possible to see it quite quickly by driving it’s entire length to the cliff-face and the Botnstjörn ponds, passing the standalone outcrop of Eyjan about halfway into the canyon en route.
Alternatively, with more time to spare, a 4km walk along its escarpment is rewarded by incredible views over the whole area. It’s not possible to return to the Visitors Centre without retracing steps the same way.
As well as that, the climb onto the escarpment requires quite a diversion to the left, past the golf course, to locate the path leading gently upwards.
The other approach is not for the faint hearted, as a set of two steep ladders linked by ropes allow visitors to scramble 60 to 70 feet up the cliff-face from a wooded area about a quarter of the way into the valley. This route should only be tackled by confident walkers.
Heading onwards to Húsavík, the Tjornes peninsula offers splendid coastal viewpoints out to the Greenland Sea and towards Grímsey and the Arctic Circle.
Húsavík has transformed itself into Iceland’s premier whale watching location, with several companies offering three or four hour voyages out into Skjálfandi Bay in search of cetaceans, with genuinely high success rates in summer months, when as many as 11 different species visit these waters.
The town itself is one of the oldest settlements in Iceland and there’s a number of good restaurants and bars, as well as the Húsavík Whale Museum and Húsavíkurkirkja, a Norwegian style church.