Laugarvatn (Hot Springs Lake) is fed not only by streams running from the misty fells behind it, but by the hot spring Vígðalaug, famous since medieval times. A village, also called Laugarvatn, sits on the lake’s western shore in the lap of the foothills. It is one of the better places to base yourself in the Golden Circle area.
A couple of museums and an unusual modern church – the underwhelming service town Blönduós is about as simple as that. There isn’t much to woo you off the road, but it’s an OK place to break the journey and refuel. Overnight options are uninspiring. The churning Blanda river divides the town in half.
Between the township of Hella in the south and Landmannalaugar in the north, you’ll find the sweeping seaside floodplains of the river Þjórsá merging into increasingly mind-blowing volcanic formations and lava fields until you reach Hekla – one of Iceland’s most ominous volcanoes.
Beautifully locked between sheer mountain slopes and dark fjord waters, fishing town Ólafsfjörður still retains a sense of isolation, even with tunnels now linking it with Siglufjörður, its sister settlement further north. From Akureyri, you have to pass through a thin 3km tunnel just to make your way into town, which makes for a cinematic entrance.
In the Prettiest Fjord pageant, Reyðarfjörður wouldn't be in the running to take home the crown. It’s a relatively new settlement, which only came into existence – as a trading port – in the 20th century. More recently, Reyðarfjörður garnered attention when Alcoa installed a giant 2km-long aluminium smelter just beyond the town along the fjord.
Like the setting of a Stephen King novel, distant Raufarhöfn (roy-ver-hup), Iceland’s northernmost township, is an eerily quiet place with a prominently positioned graveyard. The port has functioned since the Saga Age, but the town’s economic peak came early in the 20th century during the herring boom, when it was second to Siglufjörður in volume.
A series of gorgeous broad valleys stretch across the northern shore of Dýrafjörður. The gentle town of Þingeyri is on its south shore, and has great walks and cycling routes. On bumpy track Rte 624, on the northern edge of the fjord, there's a lovely weatherboard church and one of Iceland’s oldest botanic gardens.
Hofsós to Siglufjörður
Wonderfully blustery, Lónkot is a gourmet pit stop along the rugged coast, 13km north of Hofsós. The owner, Pálína, bills it as a ‘bucolic resort’, and she performs magic in the kitchen, inspired by local produce and slow-cooking principles (open noon to 9.30pm; dinner mains kr3950 to kr5000).
Eastern Mývatn may be the ultimate treasure trove of geological anomalies, but the south side of the lake lures with its epic cache of pseudocraters, called Skútustaðagígar. Pseudocraters were formed when molten lava flowed into the lake, triggering a series of gas explosions.