Forty kilometres north of the mainland, the five-square-kilometre chunk of craggy basalt that defiantly rears up out of the Atlantic is the island of Grímsey, straddled by the Arctic Circle, where Iceland ends and the Arctic begins. First settled by the Viking Vestfjarða-Grímur Sigurðsson, and named after him (“Grímsey” means Grímur’s Island), the island supports one tiny settlement, scruffy Sandvík, on its southwest coast. While many come here to cross that magical geographical line, Grímsey also hosts some amazing birdlife, including puffins, razorbills and guillemots, which are resident on the island’s cliffs for most of the year – some 36 species breed here. Take special care when walking around the island since you’re likely to be attacked by arctic tern, in particular, which will stop at nothing to protect their eggs – they are present on Grímsey from early May to early September.
There’s just one road on Grímsey, which runs the length of the west coast from the lighthouse at its southernmost point, Flesjar, past the indoor swimming pool at the southern end of the runway (which opens if three or more people want to swim – enquire at the store) through the village to the airport at Básar – a total length of 3km. Landing here in the Air Iceland Twin Otter plane that links the island with Akureyri can be quite an experience, as it’s often forced to buzz over the runway on the initial approach to clear the hundreds of potentially dangerous birds that gather on it before coming in a second time to land. Taking off is no less hazardous – although one of Grímsey’s few cars is driven up and down the runway to achieve the same result.
Just past the airport, the Arctic Circle is marked not by a line but by a signpost – there’s a picnic bench beneath it, and you can read the signpost to find out how far you are from home.