When we made plans to travel around Iceland, the opportunity to visit the Arctic Circle was particularly appealing. An island called Grimsey, located north of the mainland of Iceland, is the only part of the country where people can venture north of 66°. To reach it, we had to catch a ferry at 9:00 a.m. from Dalvik, a small fishing town in the north.
Though we had good weather throughout our trip, the day we set sail for Grimsey was exceptionally beautiful. The sky was a crisp blue and there was almost no wind. We anticipated having to go below deck once the ferry started moving, but the weather was so nice that many travelers spent a lot of time outside during the ride.
Grimsey is only about 5.5 kilometers from end to end, yet there is a thriving community living there. About a dozen houses, a small market/post office, a restaurant and a fish warehouse are located immediately next to the ferry dock. Along the western part of the island, there are a couple guest houses, a one-runway airport and even a single hole golf course. The rest of the island is fairly bare with no trees, roaming sheep and thousands of birds. Walking across certain parts of the island put us in the flight path of diving Arctic terns.
The Arctic terns nest in the interior of the island, but puffins make their homes on the cliff sides. Puffins dig holes into the edge of the land, and people are advised not to go too close to the edge because the land can collapse under the weight of an adult.
Puffins can be found along many of the shorelines of Iceland. In addition to living on Grimsey, there are thousands living at the very end of the Látrabjarg Peninsula, the westernmost point in Iceland in the West Fjords.
Sheep on Grimsey, like throughout the rest of Iceland, are free to wander where they choose. One woman told us that if you don’t want sheep on your property, it’s your responsibility to keep them out, but that’s too difficult so it’s easier to just let them wander through. Sheep usually travel in groups ranging from three to six. They take their time crossing roads, and munch on grass as they make their way to nowhere in particular.
We anticipated Arctic temperatures on Grimsey, so we dressed in layers—long underwear on the bottom, pants and long sleeves on top, jackets and hats just in case. Our day north of the Arctic Circle ended up being the warmest day of our two-week trip, though, and we stripped down in order to stay cool as we hiked across the island.
I thought there would be some sort of plaque or big sign marking the point at which people crossed into the Arctic Circle, but there was not. About one-hundred yards off the well-worn path that circumnavigates the island, there is a small footbridge and a sign that indicates how far away other major destinations around the world are located. It is near the airport, so people who want to snap a picture crossing the Arctic Circle should veer off the path to catch this inconspicuous site.
The sky was so clear that we could see the mainland of Iceland 41 kilometers away. We took advantage of the warm weather by buying ice cream bars and letting the cool treats melt on our tongues while we admired the mountains in the distance.
At 4:00 in the afternoon, it was time to reboard the ferry and head back to the mainland. As the boat pulled away from the dock, the little community on Grimsey—a place where fishing boats seems to outnumber houses—and our day north of the Arctic Circle was left behind.