My north, my south, my east, my west: Directions in Iceland

I don’t know if you have noticed this but Icelanders are really obsessed with the points of the compass. You’re invited to come enjoy this and that in South Iceland, West Iceland, North Iceland and then we complicate things even more with adding the Westfjords (which are the north west and should not be confused with the west), the northeast, southwest and so forth. For example, Reykjavík is in the southwest, so is Reykjanes (which also belongs to Suðurnes) , but if you drive for half an hour to the east you’ve kind of reached the south, although geographically you’re probably still in the southwest. Does this make sense to anyone?

I’ve been working a lot with the West Iceland marketing office for the last few months, partly on a project revolving around the Breiðafjörður area. Half of the area belongs to West Iceland while the other belongs to the Westfjords and it’s difficult to position the area for travelers because we rely so heavily on the these directions. Another thing I’ve noticed is that people are often traveling in the Westfjords but think they are in West Iceland (which to me is completely logical), tagging their photos on Instagram incorrectly or giving bad directions on their blogs, which is inconvenient when someone is trying to market the area they believe is west Iceland as exactly that, West Iceland. Then they have areas like Snæfellsnes, which no one seems to know is a part of west Iceland because it’s so well known as Snæfellsnes. If Reykjanes is it’s own area, why isn’t Snæfellsnes, Vatnsnes or Langanes the same?

If you are confused by now, don’t worry, so are many Icelanders. I, for example, can never remember whether I live in Reykjavík North or Reykjavík South so when there are elections on the horizon I have to start by checking which area I belong to before I can look at the candidates and parties. I feel somewhat ashamed for this fact since I studied political science for a while and should know this. Maybe we rely so much on the directions because of our voting system or some other geographical social institutions but one thing is sure: it doesn’t help our travelers find their way around the country.

Introducing: A really bad map of Iceland

Iceland directions

This map is not accurate (since I am too lazy to do this properly – remind me to teach you the phrase: “Svona sirka”) but hopefully it will clear up some of the confusion over which is what. I must say though that I hardly hear anyone talking about the North West (and maybe the area as I mark as north west is just referred to as north) and the North and the North East overlap somewhat (like is lake Mývatn a part of the North or the North East? The North, right?)

In the end nobody cares. Except us Icelanders that cling on to this like our life depends on it.  So just tell people you’re going to Iceland and that you visited Akureyri/Snæfellsnes/Jökulsárlón/Whatever. Leave us to scratch our heads over which direction the compass is pointing.

Spread the word


7 thoughts on “My north, my south, my east, my west: Directions in Iceland”

  1. Heather Linnett says:

    Well I liked your map, perfectly logical to me. And not only but also, I don’t care where I am in Iceland, as long as I am there, once a year. Thank you. Bless Bless 🙂

  2. Katharine Kroeber says:

    I believe the answer to ” is lake Mývatn a part of the North or the North East?” is Yes. Or, possibly, Ju. 🙂

  3. CJ stotts says:

    Could someone please tell me the best road map for Iceland. We will be touring for 10 days
    Thank you, CJ

    1. mm Auður says:

      Hi CJ,

      You can get a free map that will get you surprisingly far and then you can buy a good road map (if it’s not included in your car rental price) at a book store. Alternatively, if you think that’s not sufficient, you can buy the Icelandic road atlas.

  4. Deborah Rubin says:

    I have started to learn Icelandic because my favorite mystery writer is Icelandic and it is a beautiful language – now my sister and I have decided to visit Iceland in late October – early November. I have been reading travel books and I am confused as to whether to stay in Reykjavik or somewhere else, in West Iceland or in Southwest Iceland. Do you have any suggestions as to where we should make our home base while we are there in order to see as much as possible of the natural beauty of Iceland. We were thinking maybe Hella (Hotel Ranga) or the Snaefelles Peninsula. It is very confusing because there is so much to see and do.

    1. mm Auður says:

      It really depends on what you are going to see and do – both places are great and can be used as hubs to explore the surrounding areas.

  5. Leanne J says:

    If anyone is travelling who has a smartphone or tablet with them – you can actually pre-download maps from Google Maps app and it stores them, using much less data when you are on the road (& none if you don’t ask it to calculate directions). We have used this twice all across Iceland with no problems 🙂 Yes we have a paper map but having an easily accessible one with directions is much more useful.

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