Northeast Iceland forms a thinly populated, open expanse between Akureyri and the East Fjords, half of which is dominated by the lava-covered Ódáðahraun plateau, which slopes gently from the Interior to the sea, drained by glacial rivers and underground springs. Tourists, along with most of Iceland’s wildfowl population, flock to Mývatn, an attractive lake just over an hour’s drive from Akureyri, whose surrounds are thick with hot springs and volcanic formations – many of them still visibly active – as well as a sublime geothermal spa that is the northeast’s less-touristy answer to the Blue Lagoon. North of here, the pleasant town of Húsavík offers summer whale-watching excursions, and is just a short jaunt from Jökulsárgljúfur, a broad canyon cut into the wilderness by one of the region’s glacial rivers, which thunders through a series of gorges and waterfalls – a superb place to spend a few days hiking or camping.
The eastern half of the region has far less obvious attractions; indeed, the only real access to this mix of mountains, lava desert and boggy lowlands is along the coastal road between Húsavík and Vopnafjörður. However, it’s a great place for purposeless travel, bringing you close to some wild countryside, breezy coastal walks, and small, isolated communities – plus the chance to reach the mainland’s northernmost tip, which lies fractionally outside the Arctic Circle.
Away from Mývatn and Húsavík, services are thinly spread, though most settlements have at least a bank, a supermarket and somewhere to stay; elsewhere, there are farmstays, a few hostels, and limitless camping opportunities. The northeast’s weather is much drier and often sunnier than southern Iceland’s – and this far north it barely gets dark for three months of the year – though winters are bitterly cold, with heavy snowfalls throughout.