Northern Iceland: Myvatn Nature Baths

Northern Iceland typically only makes it onto longer Iceland itineraries. The region is too far from Reykjavík for a leisurely day trip and is best experienced on an extended holiday, like a one- or two-week circular tour on Iceland’s Ring Road.

About 90 minutes by bus from Akureyri, Iceland‘s second city and Northern Iceland’s most important population center, is Mývatn Nature Baths. The baths overlook Lake Mývatn, one of Northern Iceland’s big tourist attractions. The baths consist of an enormous pool and steam rooms. Unlike the much better known Blue Lagoon near Reykjavík, facilities are pretty minimal beyond this. A café serves a decent selection of Icelandic beer and delicious homemade bread, and there is a gift shop as well.

Admission runs 2500 ISK (about $20) for adults; a towel is an additional 500 ISK ($4). Perhaps it should go without saying that you should bring your own swimsuit, but if you don’t you can rent one for 500 ISK.

The Mývatn Nature Baths are fed by a borehole 2500 meters deep. Their waters are high in minerals and silicates. The water interacts with the pool’s basin to produce a therapeutic mud that many bathers plaster over their bodies. The facility’s steam rooms are fed directly by clouds of steam emerging from deep fissures in the earth. Best of all, they’re not packed with bathers. Until tourism picks up in May, many visitors will move through these therapeutic waters more or less alone. (Bathers hoping for maximum privacy should consider weekday afternoon visits to avoid the after-work crowd.)

Sheer solitude places Mývatn Nature Baths in a very different category than the Blue Lagoon, one of Iceland’s biggest tourist sites. The Blue Lagoon is located very conveniently about 20 minutes from Keflavik, Iceland’s main international airport. It is an ideal spot for a quick layover and also makes a great final pit stop en route to the airport.

If by some unexpected development Akureyri becomes a significant transport hub, perhaps Mývatn Nature Baths will evolve into a major tourist site. But for the foreseeable future — and especially in off- and shoulder-seasons — this is one low-key gem.

There is a bus from Akureyri to Mývatn daily in the summer and four times per week in the winter. It costs 3400 ISK ($27) round trip. Passengers traveling to the baths should communicate directly with the driver regarding drop-offs. Upon request, the driver will release bathers just down the hill from the baths on the outskirts of the town of Reykjahlíð.

Five Exciting Things About Iceland’s Second City

Akureyri is Iceland’s second city. It’s not Iceland’s second largest city in terms of population – that honor goes to Kópavogur just south of Reyjkavík – but it is the country’s second city in cultural terms. Akureyri may have just 18,000 residents but with its range of tourist facilities, restaurants, hotels, guesthouses and cultural institutions, it possesses a certain urban atmosphere.

Akureyri makes an easy base for nearby sites of interest, too. The tiny island of Grímsey, which bisects the Arctic Circle, is about 60 miles north of Akureyri. Lake Mývatn, a major summer tourist attraction, is about 55 miles to the east of Akureyri.

Akureyri itself is worth some time. Mountains frame the city and the air is incredibly crisp. Once you’re done just taking in the physical environment, there are things to do. Here are five of them – five exciting Akureyri activities.

1. The city’s core – Akureyri Church, designed by Icelandic state architect Guðjón Samúelsson, is an imposing structure with art deco elements. It bears some stylistic similarity to the architect’s much better known Hallgríms Church in Reyjkavík. Across the street is the visit-worthy Center for Visual Arts (Kaupvangsstræti 12). And on Hafnarstræti at the epicenter of town there is Blaá Kannan Cafe, a bustling place to socialize and eat cake.

2. Hof – This culture, conference and performance center also houses a tourist information center, a shop selling lots of nice items (many of them Icelandic) and a cafe. Architecturally, Hof is pretty impressive. The hockey puck-shaped building is round, squat and graced by enormous windows to maximize light. Hof opened in late 2010.

3. Northern lights – Your chance of sighting the aurora borealis from November through April is quite good, assuming clear night skies. Saga Travel offers a night’s excursion for 9000 ISK ($71), including hot chocolate. They’ll take you out the following night if you don’t see the Northern lights on your first trip out.4. Kjarnaskógur Forest – Iceland doesn’t have many forests to speak of. This one, just south of Akureyri, is one of the best loved in the country. The forest features several walking trails, some accessible at night as well as a dedicated bicycle path. A river runs through the forest.

5. Flóra – This amazing shop, open Thursday through Saturday, sells both new and vintage items, mostly of Icelandic provenance. Notable wares include foodstuffs (tea, honey, syrups), clothes, yarn and artwork. The emphasis is on sustainability across various product lines, and the aesthetic (see above) is homespun yet stylish. Flóra also features exhibitions and occasional talks.

10 best places to live for avoiding world conflict asked the question, “Where would you be the safest if World War III broke out tomorrow?” The answers arrived in a post titled “10 Best Places to Live for Avoiding World Conflict.” Irrelevant as it may seem to you, the claws of conflict affect a revolving roster of nations. The knowledge of where not to go because of conflict, or better yet, where to go to avoid it, can be useful if you’re planning to live, or even just spend some time, abroad. According to this article, countries that make the safety cut are: Switzerland, Costa Rica, Papua New Guinea, Canada, Seychelles, Finland, Tuvalu, Iceland, Bhutan, and New Zealand. Most of these choices make sense to me, based on what I know, but the undeniably gorgeous Seychelles seems like a somewhat uncertain choice. News stories covering the Somali pirates swarming the Seychelles area are prevalent. To be fair, I’m not convinced Somali pirates are a current threat for World War III. What are your thoughts? Where would you move in order to be as far removed from world conflict as possible?

Explore More Options with These Art Maps for the Home


Correspond with Iceland on Tumblr

Have you ever wished that specific places around the world had a voice of their own that could be used to tell tales, answer questions, and the like? We sort of have that now, thanks to a Tumblr user who has taken on the entirety of the voice of Iceland (Iceland on Tumblr). Judging by a link on the Icelandic Tourist Board to the corresponding Iceland Facebook page for this Tumblr, the Tumblr appears to be managed by someone working with the Icelandic Tourist Board. Iceland on Tumblr’s welcome message reads:

“Halló, I am Iceland and this is my Tumblr. I am an island and I want to be your friend. I am also on the Twitter, the Face-book, the Vimeo. (You can also visit me one day, if you are not too busy and important.)”

The page includes responses to questions that visitors to the site post, photos, videos, informative tips like How to Celebrate a Birthday in Iceland, and Tweets like “I am still here, in the middle of the ocean”. Perhaps most importantly, everything on this page is written in what I want to call First-country narrative. Iceland is speaking for itself in these posts and this Tumblr is nothing if not cute.

Iceland photo set

If you enjoy perusing well-shot destination-specific photography, you will enjoy this Iceland photo set without a doubt. Flickr user Vamitos, Carmen Marchena, excels in discovering and documenting magical landscapes and scenes within Iceland for this photo set, aptly named ‘Magicland’. Swooping clouds, blinding sun rays, dramatic peaks and valleys, surrealistic teal-blue glaciers, stunning silhouettes, and dizzying mist all make cameos in this set of photos. So take a moment and explore these carefully taken and well-appointed photos. There are 52 in all, and, in my opinion, not a single one leaves anything to be desired in the realm of sheer beauty. Granted, when working with such a phenomenal muse (Iceland), inspiration is likely not easily lost. Enjoy.