An Island Unto Themselves: A Solstice Adventure On Grímsey

An Island Unto Themselves: A Solstice Adventure On Grímsey

Juliana Iluminata Wilczynski
Photo by
Art Bicnick

The island of Grímsey is the only place in Iceland that’s in the Arctic Circle. Getting there was quite the journey. We left Reykjavik at 2:30am to arrive in Dalvík in time for the 9am ferry, which arrived at Grímsey at noon. It was an energy-drink filled and sleepless night, but we eventually made it to this mysterious island.

It was foggy when we docked in the harbour, right in the ‘downtown’ area of Grímsey. The fog gave our arrival on the island a strangely beautiful feel. LIke many aspects of this far flung island, it felt authentically Icelandic.

Tern, tern, tern

We were driven to our guesthouse, which is owned by Arctic Trips’ owner Halla Ingólfsdóttir and located in a picturesque location in Grímsey’s southern reaches. The house sits on the island’s single main road facing a stunning cliff, with views over the serene ocean to the fjords and mountain peaks of North Iceland on the horizon. As I walked around outside, hundreds of Arctic terns circled in the sky above me, which resulted in having to carry a large stick above my head when I walked outside. These birds are famous for dive-bombing people, and aim for the highest point. Better the stick than my head.

Grímsey looks entirely different from the sea, where the many cliffs give the island the feeling of a fortress.”

Although Grímsey is by far the most isolated place that I’ve ever visited, it’s still as normal as can be, with a functional 4G network, a restaurant, store, and—like any Icelandic village—a swimming pool. However, perhaps unsurprisingly, the wind-battered Grímsey has no trees.

Island fortress

The night of the Summer Solstice, I joined the locals around midnight on a boat tour around the island. The locals were fully clad in rain jackets and clutched beer cans as they climbed on board the tiny ship. I clung to the railing as we made our way around the island, and I was able to fully witness the beauty of Grímsey. This is how I crossed the Arctic Circle for the first time in my life.

Grímsey looks entirely different from the sea, where the many cliffs give the island the feeling of a fortress. Thousands of puffins, razorbills, and arctic terns nest in the cliffs. Seagulls and arctic terns flew above the boat, ever so close to our faces, and I saw jellyfish in the ocean below. As the boat swayed back and forth, spraying salt water everywhere, I couldn’t help but think how lucky I was to be one of the few people in the world who get to visit Grímsey.

The sparkling sea

My last night was blessed with perfect sunshine. This meant clear blue skies, a perfect horizon of the distant mountains of the mainland, and yellow flowers blooming all over the landscape of this treeless island. The evening was spent in the local schoolhouse, which also serves as a community centre in Grímsey.

Later that night I was taken on a classic slow drive (or “rúntur,” in Icelandic) to the northern part of the island by some friends I’d made earlier in the night. The sun painted the sky a vibrant orange above the sparkling sea as we drove the bumpy dirt road. Two in the morning really is the best time to see Grímsey.

Even the horses are friendly

We got out of the car and were immediately confronted by friendly horses. They eagerly surrounded me, nudging my hand, clearly expecting food, having become accustomed to receiving bread. Óskar the horse decided to nibble on my hand instead. Along with the friendly horses, lambs and rams dotted the peaceful cliffs, with many burrowing into cliffside dugouts to shelter from the wind.

If you want to go somewhere where all of the problems of the world feel far away, there is no better place than Grímsey. Being on Grímsey made me question my city living ways, and forced me to live life at a slower, more simple pace. Grímsey is easily reachable by plane or ferry, and if you wish to fulfill your bucket list goal of crossing into the Arctic Circle, you can do so while in Iceland. You can even buy a certificate to prove it. In the year 2047, however, the Arctic Circle will no longer cross Grímsey—but it will remain amazing place to visit.

Distance from Reykjavík: 480 km
How to get there: Drive north the Dalvík to take the ferry, or fly from Akureyri
Accommodation provided by: 
Ferry provided by:
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