Grímsey, Iceland’s Faraway Island (Tips and Info)

Icelandic horses roaming in the meadows of Grimsey

photography by: Anna & Michal/ Flickr

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In recent years, tourists have flooded Iceland, outnumbering locals by a ratio of 1:6, making it one of the most visited countries per capita. Drawn to its numerous natural wonders, the majority of travelers usually arrive to the capital, Reykjavik, and then head to the countryside following the "ring road", Iceland's main coastal road. But for those who are looking to truly get off the beaten path, the remote island of Grimsey, 40 kilometers further north off Iceland's coast, remains largely unspoiled by commercial tourism. Less than 100 people permanently reside in the island, eclipsed by more than one million seabirds that call this small speck of land home. Grimsey is merely 5 square kilometers in total. As such, it’s possible to see the entire island in just one day, but you can also stay for longer and thoroughly explore the barren wilderness that is disturbed only by Sandvik, the island’s sole settlement.

History and Geographic Context

North of Iceland and straddling the Arctic Circle, Grimsey is an ideal getaway for wildlife lovers and those seeking to have an off-the-beaten-path experience in northern Europe. The island has been inhabited since the Vikings arrived in Iceland, with local legend suggesting that King Olafur of Norway requested the island as a gift in exchange for his friendship in 1024.

Stuðlaberg, Grimsey's basalt column cliff

photography by: Jennifer Boyer/ Flickr

The first recorded human settlement on the island dates back to 1222, with the first church on the island being established in the eleventh century. Following the introduction of Christianity to the island, Grimsey was owned by monasteries, subsequently, the few farmers who lived there were required to pay rent.


By the 1700’s, the population of Grimsey was severely dwindling, as many people had succumbed to accidents at sea or had escaping southwards to avoid the island’s harsh Arctic winters. Against all odds, Grimsey retained a human population throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, and today, there are around 100 permanent residents living on the island.

Grimsey's sole settlement, the tiny village of Sandvík

photography by: John Lester/ Flickr

One of the natural features that makes Grimsey particularly intriguing is the fact that the Arctic Circle currently runs through the island. We say ‘currently’ because the Arctic Circle shifts northward by fifteen meters every year. Consequently, in the future the Arctic Circle will eventually no longer cross Grimsey at all.


The main economic activity on the island is commercial fishing, with the island boosted by income from tourists who wish to experience the Arctic landscape and witness the phenomenal bird colonies that constitute a mega seabird metropolis.

Grimsey's craggy terrain

photography by: Jennifer Boyer/ Flickr

Things to See and Do

While the island is most famous for being traversed by the Arctic Circle, Grimsey has far more to offer than just hosting the global imaginary line. In fact, any traveler who makes it here will be rewarded by the rugged beauty of Iceland’s northernmost island, whether they’re on the island for one day or have decided to stay for a longer period of time.

A carpet of yellow flowers

photography by: Jennifer Boyer/ Flickr

Cross into the Arctic Circle

As we’ve already alluded to, most visitors arrive in Grimsey to cross into the Arctic Circle. Because of its northward track, you will have to visit the northern tip of the island to say that you’ve actually crossed into the Arctic Circle. In 2017, a 9-ton stone spherical monument was erected at the site where the circle was at the time. If you arrive on Grimsey with the help of a tour guide, he will be able to take you to the exact point where the circle currently traverses the island, ensuring you can say with complete certainty that you’ve explored the Arctic Circle.

Grimsey's former arctic circle monument

photography by: Brad Weber/ Wikimedia Commons

Visit Grimsey Church

Originally built of driftwood in 1867, Grimsey Church underwent extensive renovation works in 1934 and was reconsecrated in 1956. Within the altar is a beautiful piece of original artwork painted by Icelandic artist Arngrimur Gislason. It is modeled on Da Vinci’s Last Supper and dates back to 1878. It’s the main feature of this quaint Lutheran church and is a rare piece of human art in an otherwise bleak natural landscape.

The red-roofed church of Grimsey

photography by: John Lester/ Flickr

Watch the Puffins

Puffins spend most of their day out at sea, but by the early evening, they return to the coast of Grimsey in their thousands. One of four Puffin species, the Atlantic Puffins are distinguished by their tricolor beak and bright orange feet. These majestic birds habituate Grimsey in the summer months, from mid-April until mid-August, arriving on land to breed. They can be seen on the craggy cliffs that lead down to the coastal waters, providing visitors with excellent photo opportunities.

Puffins perching on rocks at Grimsey

photography by: Jennifer Boyer/ Flickr

Witness the Northern Lights

Most if not all winter tourists in Iceland and Grimsey in particular, are hoping to have a glimpse of the Northern Lights. This natural phenomenon, where charged particles emitted by the sun collide and react with Earth’s upper atmosphere, is almost always visible only during the winter months. However, even then, you’ll have to check the aurora forecast beforehand to ensure you visit at a time when you’re most likely to witness the rare spectacle.
Thanks to the lack of light pollution and its northern location, there’s nowhere better in Iceland to view the Northern Lights than in Grimsey.

Aurora Iceland 26.10.2019 #13

Hike Amidst Nature

As already previously mentioned, Grimsey is the one of Iceland’s most isolated places. Outside of Sandvik, you’re exposed to the elements and only have birds and other types of wildlife to accompany you. When you head out of the settlement, you can pick up one of the several trails that lead out into the wilderness. Perhaps the highlight of any hike would be walking along the island’s formidable promontories that dramatically meet the ocean in a vertical angle. Take note that the surrounding ocean generates strong wind currents, requiring warm and insulating outfit.

Grimsey's verdant and vertical cliffs

photography by: Brian Gratwicke/ Flickr

Where to Eat

Given Grimsey’s miniscule size, don’t expect for ample culinary scene, as there aren’t many options around. The Island’s only restaurant is Krian, offering a seasonal menu that is largely based on locally sourced ingredients. Particular dishes of note include the fried puffin and the local catch of the day, which ultimately depends upon the success of the fishermen who supply the restaurant. As the only restaurant on the island, it’s best to call ahead and make a reservation.


One thing that many travelers agree about their experiences in Iceland is that the food is super expensive. If you’re on a budget, you could always opt to buy your food from the only supermarket on the island, which is located in Sandvik. You can pick up fresh and canned produce here, which is ideal if you want to have a picnic during the mild summer months. If you’re visiting from the mainland on a day trip, you could always bring supplies with you from Iceland if neither of these options appeals to you.

Krian Restaurant

How to Get There

The easiest and cheapest way of getting to Grimsey is by ferry. It sails from the northern Icelandic village of Dalvik three days a week all year round. It’s a five-hour drive from Reykjavik to Dalvik, and the ferry will take a further three hours. Be sure to check the weather conditions before you plan your trip to Grimsey, as rough seas can cause the cancellation of your trip. It’s also not a journey for the faint-hearted, as the rough Atlantic waters are known to have caused sea-sickness.

The ferry service from Dalvik to Grimsey

photography by: Jennifer Boyer/ Flickr

You can also fly to Grimsey from Akureyri, as Air Iceland operates the route three times per week in the winter months and daily in the summer.


Whichever way you decide to travel, be sure to plan your trip in advance, as both options can sell out quickly during the peak tourism months in the summer.

Grimsey Airport

photography by: Aero Icarus/ Flickr