Mountain-flanked Reykjavik may draw the majority of Iceland travelers, but beyond this capital city’s immersive museums and spirited establishments, a host of charming small towns await. These quaint getaways take hygge and hospitality seriously, from fresh fish caught steps from restaurant doors to local tour guides eager to show why their home fjord is the best.
Rental cars or campervans are a must for reaching these far-flung destinations, but with jaw-dropping scenery, warm welcomes, and hearty fare — not to mention incredible northern lights views — these destinations are well worth the trip. Here are eight of the best small towns in Iceland to add to your travel list.
Nestled between towering mountains and the moody sea, Vík and its bright white hilltop church provide the ultimate Iceland backdrop. While small, with approximately 300 inhabitants, the seaside village offers a variety of can’t-beat attractions: aurora borealis sightings, a black-sand beach, and delicious Icelandic restaurants like the hip Halldórskaffi.
Situated along Iceland’s craggy northern coast, quaint Húsavík brims with small-town appeal. It’s Iceland’s “whale capital,” with up to 23 species visible from the waterfront harbor and Skjálfandi Bay, accessible via whale-watching boat tours. Húsavík is also one of Iceland’s oldest settlements, and believed to be the first place in the country that was settled by the Norse.
Iceland’s northernmost town, Siglufjörður, is about as postcard-worthy as it gets. Boldly colored buildings dot the fishing town’s snow-speckled slopes, while the harbor’s herring and sailing boats add scale to the soaring surrounding mountains. This town of approximately 1,300 may be small, but it’s full of Icelandic charisma. Visit The Herring Era Museum, tap your toes at the Folk Music Center, or admire the fjord on horseback before cozying up to watch those nighttime auroras glow.
Witness Iceland’s lesser-seen side: the Eastfjords, home to the tiny fishing village of Breiðdalsvík. This sprinkling of houses, restaurants, and hotels looks tiny among the town’s dramatic neighbors: ancient volcanoes, sky-high mountains, and nothing but rugged sea between here and Norway. Breiðdalsvík promises that small-town Iceland welcome, with two hotels, the Beljandi Brewery, and an old general store, plus tours to see and experience it all.
Höfn offers two of Iceland’s signature attractions: fire and ice. It’s located along the southeast coast near two top attractions: Vatnajökull glacier, the largest in Europe at 5,250 square miles, and Vatnajökull National Park, home to eight volcanoes. In addition to jaw-dropping natural features, Höfn welcomes tourists with local shops, hotels, restaurants, and museums like the Hornafjördur Art Museum. Don’t miss the 80-foot Höfn swimming pool, complete with all the Iceland bathing essentials: hot tubs, steam baths, and an ice bath.
Seyðisfjörður is another hidden east Iceland gem. This vibrant town of about 700 is tucked away in the innermost nook of its namesake fjord. A string of white houses sits tiny beneath the charcoal mountains, speckled with greenery in the summer and snow from fall through spring. Experience the town’s culture through its local shops and restaurants, such as the artsy Skaftfell Bistro, complete with its own on-site library.
Home to no more than 100 people — but one million seabirds — Grimsey Island off Iceland’s northern coast is about as far-flung as the country gets. The cliff-fringed island, an emerald speck in the vast Arctic Ocean, is home to hordes of puffins from spring through summer. Grimsey Island’s residents live by the harbor in a quaint fishing village, which has a stark white church, a handful of small hotels, and warm gathering places like Restaurant Krían, where catch of the day is the local staple. Get here via ferry from Dalvík on the mainland.
Situated on the far north fingertip of the rugged Súgandafjörður in the Westfjords region, Suðureyri is another idyllic fishing town with a side of adventure. Wide-open ocean lies between the mountain-framed Suðureyri and Greenland. Accommodations and restaurants are limited in this isolated getaway, but the rustic Fisherman Hotel offers rooms with shared bathrooms as well as the best in Icelandic welcomes: a seafood restaurant with fresh-from-the-doorstep fare.