Skagafjörður is beautiful fjord located in the north of Iceland. It is around 40 km long and 30 km wide and has three islands in the midst, Drangey, Málmey and Lundey. The steep Drangey is, without a doubt the most known, shaped like a fort and has a rich birdlife. It also plays a role in the Icelandic Sagas, as it was the refuge for the outlaw Grettir in the Grettis Saga. In fact, the whole of Skagafjordur has a rich and interesting history and five of the largest battles in Icelandic history were fought there in the 13th-century civil war. Culture is, however, not the only factor that characterises Skagafjörð, but it is also known for its beauty. Towards the end of the fjord is a beautiful wide valley surrounded by majestic mountains, grassy plains, blue lakes and glacial rivers. Although there is no volcanic activity in Skagafjörður, there is a lot of geothermal warmth, especially around Varmahlíð. There are around 4000 inhabitants that call Skagafjörður home, there as around 2500 of them live in the town of Sauðárkrókur.
Despite the seemingly small community, culture notably thrives in Skagafjordur. Culture and entertainment have been intertwined in regional get-togethers, often referred to as Sæluvika, or Happy Week. These meetings can be traced back to 1874 and have included everything from theatre and dances to debates and handicraft.
Horsemanship puts a significant mark on the everyday life and culture of Skagafjorður. In 1881 the county purchased the old episcopal property at Hólar to establish an agricultural school. Today, Hólar University College is a modern and popular university focused on horse breeding, agriculture, and tourism. Therefore, agriculture remains the largest economic factor in Skagafjörður.
Skagafjörður offers an abundance of all kinds of adventures and a rich cultural sphere visitors can enjoy while here. The district is an excellent place to enjoy the Icelandic nature. Skagafjordur has some of the best rafting rivers in the country, so rafting is a very popular attraction here, along with horseback riding.
Most travellers that are travelling route 1 or the Ring Road make a stop at Varmahlíð. The village developed around services for travellers and the oldest hotel and restaurant dates back to 1931. It’s a small village but does have all necessary services, such as gas station, restaurant, supermarket and an information centre. Varmahlíð has a lot of geothermal hot water which has resulted in locals building a number of greenhouses to cultivate tropical and sub-tropical fruits and vegetables.
If you are looking for a longer pit stop there is also a sports hall and of course a local swimming pool. We also recommend the walk around the forest growth at Reykjahóll towards the viewing platform and fully enjoy the magnificent view over Skagafjord. Activities such as horse rentals and river rafting are also available in the surroundings of Varmahlíð. Salmon and trout can be caught in the nearby rivers and lakes along with many places of interest can be found near the village. North of Varmahlíð you can explore an old renovated turf farmhouse at Glaumbær museum, giving visitors a good sense of the rural life of 18th and 19th century Iceland and attracts thousands of visitors each year.
Sauðarkrókur is the largest town in Skagafjorður with the population of around 2600 people. Its name can be a bit tricky to pronounce but the direct translation would be ‘SheepRiver-Hook’, and it gets it’s name from the river Sauðá. The town provides a wide range of services such as accommodation, restaurants, shops, museums and exhibitions, sports facilities, skiing slopes and a local swimming pool. Unlike other settlements in Skagafjörður that focus on agriculture, Sauðárkrókur mostly relies on the fishing industry for livelihood although there are many kinds of industries to be found in the village, such as an insulation manufacturing factory, a fur skinning factory, creamery, shrimp factory to name a few.
There are loads of things to do and explore in Sauðárkrókur. We recommend taking a walk towards the cemetery that is located in the hills above the town. Nearby, you’ll find a viewing platform that provides wonderful views of the old town, the countryside and over the fjord. Sauðárkrókur has a lovely local swimming pool, perfect to relax in after a day of activities and the 9-hole golf course is considered one of the best in Iceland. In the nearby valley of Sauðá, you’ll also find Litli Skógur, or little forest which has lovely little trails through birch and beech trees and offers an excellent opportunity for picnics.
We also recommend that you check out Borgarsand, a 4-kilometre long beach, ideal to spend time with the family, taking walking along the sea and playing with the kids. Bird lovers should not miss out on Ásthildarholtsvatn, where you can find a diverse birdlife along with signs that inform of the species that can be found there.
Hofsós is a cosy village that has a 400 year old history and was for a long time the main trade centre in Skagafjordur. In the old village surrounding the harbour many of the houses have been renovated, giving the village a unique ‘period’ look and atmosphere. Because of its rich history, Hofsós has some great historical exhibitions, including the Immigration Museum that focuses on the mass migration of Icelanders to North America in the late 18 century. Across the river, you’ll also find one of the oldest timber buildings in the whole country, a tar-coated and log-built warehouse (Pakkhúsið) that was built in 1772. A little out of the town, you will also find the remains of an old trading centre from 1835.
Hofsós is a lovely village to relax in and explore. As well as major services, Hofsós also offer a range of activities. There is a lovely walk through the old town, over the pedestrian bridge over the river Hofsós, or just stroll around the village and enjoy the unique and cosy atmosphere. The Hofsós swimming pool was renovated in 2010 and is complete must-visit when in town. It was voted the best swimming pool in Iceland in 2015, because of its amazing location and wonderful views over the fjord.
You might be surprised to see how significant the Icelandic outdoor swimming pool culture is. Every small village in Iceland has at least one swimming pool and they are well sought by people of all ages, all year around. During the summer season, Skagafjörður offers seven geothermal swimming pools. Sauðárkrókur, Varmahlíð, and Hofsós pools are open all year round while the smaller ones are only open during summer. The smaller ones are located at Steinsstaðir, Bakkaflöt, Hólar and Sólgarðar. All the pool offers visitors the opportunity to sit, relax and unwind in a traditional hot tub after a day of activities in Skagafjorður.
Skagafjorður offers a wide range of excellent hiking and walking trails, whether it’s a short and light outdoor walk or a longer and more challenging hike in the amazing landscapes of the fjord. For those who like climbing mountains, you’ll find endless possibilities such as Mælifellshnjúkur and Glóðafeykir along with other peaks in one of Iceland’s largest mountain range, Tröllaskagi.
You can obtain a map of hiking trails from the tourist information centres at Varmahlíð and Sauðárkrókur. One of the most popular hikes is on Molduxi, a mountain about 800 metres high and is located in the middle of a mountain range. This trail is a fairly easy one and is suitable for people of all ages. The way up Mt. Tindastóll is a bit more difficult but also a popular hike and offers magnificent views.
The Skagafjorður region is home if a large variety of birds. The wetlands on the mainland are some of the most important bird habitats in Iceland. Parts of the marshland are protected and a reserve for birds. Miklavatn and Borgarskógar are even listed in Birdlife International as one of Europe’s most significant bird habitat. The bird life is maybe especially lively around the islands of Drangey, Málmey and Lundey where you’ll find thousands of seabirds nesting including the funny-looking Puffin, gannets, fulmar, guillemots and shearwaters to name a few.
Áshildarholtsvatn and Tjarnartjörn are also excellent spots for bird watching. The bird life around these lakes is unique and well worth observing. The number of recorded species there are amongst the highest in the region. The Áshildarvatn lakeside is partially protected resulting in a positive impact both on species diversity and bird numbers.
All this means that Skagafjörður is a paradise for bird lovers as the conditions for bird watching are also very good. You’ll find four bird watching centres near Sauðárkrókur with informative signs about the variety of birds found in the area. The nesting and migration time are probably the best time to visit for bird lovers. Around late May and through June, the migrant species have started nesting but they usually leave Iceland again through August and September. The 24 hour daylight during summer is certainly a big plus when it comes to birdwatching in Iceland. The birdlife during winter is more limited but you can still spot some interesting species, including the Snow Owl.
The Icelandic horse is a unique breed that came to Iceland with the first settlers from Norway more than a thousand years ago. It is the only horse breed in the world with 5 gaits and has become very popular internationally. In Iceland, the Icelandic horse is used for farm work as well as for showing, racing and recreation. Horse riding is an excellent way to explore Iceland and its unspoiled nature as the horse can get you to places no car would. You’ll also get much closer and more connected with the environment on a horseback. It is truly one of the best ways to enjoy the panoramic landscapes.
Skagafjorður offers one of the best opportunities in Iceland for horse riding due to the rooted horsemanship culture in the region. A number of tour operators offer a variety of guided riding tours for riders of all experience levels. You can also visit the breeders to learn about the Icelandic horse and their history and influence on life in Skagafjorður, or attend one of the many equestrian events held in the region. The most popular one is the annual Laufskálarétt round-up, attracting around 3000 guests each year. The National Horse Festival is also held in Skagafjordur every few years and is without a doubt the most popular horse event in Iceland with attracting around 10.000 visitors.
There are a great variety of all kinds of adventures awaiting in Skagafjörður. The most popular activity in Skagafjorður is most likely white river rafting. You’ll never forget the experience of rafting down the glacial rivers of Skagafjorður. Floating through the striking surroundings along with the pure fun and excitement makes the river rafting a true adventure.
The region also offers great opportunities for kayaking on rivers and the ocean, fishing, and hunting. You’ll also find boat tours that give you the chance to view some of Skagafjorður’s national treasures from the sea side. There is an excellent golf course, a shooting range and a paintball field in the region. All this, along with the local culture and the interesting history of the area makes Skagafjorður an excellent place fully enjoy and experience Iceland.