The Top Things To Do In East Iceland
From spectacular hikes and coastal drives to waterfalls, volcanoes and wildlife, East Iceland is often overlooked. However, for a lot of travellers, this region is a magnet for those searching for a quieter, less visited side of the country. We recommend the top things to do in this pristine and diverse area, easily accessible from the town of Egilsstadir.
1. Explore the East Fjords by car
East Iceland is a great part of the country to get off the beaten track, and explore some of Iceland’s hidden gems. Most people who drive along Iceland’s magic circle, simply stop to refuel and stock up on supplies in Egilsstadir before driving on. Big mistake! As the Ring Road circles around the eastern coast, the landscape becomes wilder and emptier.
Raking the easternmost coast of Iceland, pristine fjords cut deep into brooding basalt mountains, and hugging these dramatic inlets is a road made in self-drive heaven. The scenery will have you pulling over and scrambling for your camera every few miles – whether it’s to capture a panoramic seascape of black-sand beaches and plummeting sea cliffs or to frame a waterfall dousing layer upon layer of ancient lava. From Neskaupstadur to Djupivogur, the road through Iceland’s East Fjords joins the dots between several fishing villages. Most have excellent hotels, allowing you time to spend a few days touring the coast and sampling its wide range of attractions, from boat trips and birdwatching to maritime history and superb seafood.
Discover more about our East Fjord Holidays
2. Find a waterfall all to yourself
It’s easy to get all gushy about waterfalls in Iceland – the country is overflowing with charismatic cascades. Whilst East Iceland’s waterfalls might never steal the thunder of Dettifoss or Gullfoss, it’s the seclusion of them that makes the experience extremely special, you are often undistributed when witnessing these natural wonders. Boasting the mighty Hengifoss – Iceland’s second highest falls at 128m. You can hike to the base of this giant horsetail plume and come across a smaller waterfall called Litlanesfoss, frothing through chiselled cliffs of columnar basalt. Alternatively, you can take a horse ride to Flogufoss in the Breiddalur valley, and gaze at this extraordinary cataract which seems to gush from a rock fortress straight out Lord of the Rings.
3. Have your world rocked by East Iceland!
Music fans can rock on at summer festivals like Eistnaflug in Neskaupstadur and Braedslan in Borgarfjordur Eystri, while those who prefer their rock in good old-fashioned crystalline form are in for an equal treat. The fact is, while much of Iceland is half-baked and still steaming, the East has had time to mature, resulting in some pretty amazing geology. At Petra’s Stone Collection in Stodvarfjordur you can peruse a veritable treasure chest of quartz, agate, amethyst, jasper and other dazzling minerals lovingly gleaned from the area over 80 years by Petra Sveinsdottir. The geology museum in Breiddalsvík is also an eye-opener, while an old quarry near Eskifjorður known as Helgustadanama is world famous for Iceland spar – a particularly pure form of calcite remarkable for its light polarisation properties. A 220kg chunk hogs the limelight in London’s Natural History Museum, but you can still see crystals twinkling in the walls of the quarry.
4. Pay a visit to the ‘Batman Mountain’
East Iceland is home to some of the most amazing natural attractions in Iceland, including the ‘horny’ mountains around the Hvalnes peninsula: Vestrahorn, Brunnhorn and Eystrahorn. When you drive along the south coast of Iceland it is mostly a long flat plain, so when you head further east and drive past the town of Höfn, the ‘Horns’ are an incredible contrast.
Vestrahorn is one of the most photographed location spots in East Iceland, and captivates any one who sets their eyes upon it. The long flat beach, calm blue waters and sharp peaks will stay in your mind for a very long time. Right next to Vestrahorn mountain, is Brunnhorn mountain, known by locals as Batman Mountain due to its three peaks looking like the Caped Crusader’s logo!
5. Put on your hiking boots
East Iceland is home to some of the most supreme hiking areas with trails leading you around magnificent colourful mountains, beautiful rocks and rare stones.
Borgarfjordur Eystri (the northernmost village in the East Fjords) is fast becoming the base in Iceland for experiencing some of the country’s finest hikes. Trails follow the wild and invigorating coastline or delve into mysterious mountains rich in folklore. Elsewhere in East Iceland, Skálanes provides gentle hiking in a wildlife-rich area at the mouth of Seydisfjordur, while Mt Snaefell – Iceland’s highest free-standing mountain at 1,833m – offers a summit challenge.
6. See puffins, reindeers and elves
Iceland’s seabird citadels are legendary. There are few sights in nature more riveting than fulmars and kittiwakes festooning sea cliffs in a confetti of avian aerobatics. But East Iceland gets you twitching in lots of other ways. Swans, geese, eiders and divers all vie for attention, but the region’s puffed-up pin-up is undoubtedly the puffin. The small island of Hafnarholmi near Borgarfjordur Eystri promises intimate encounters between mid-April and mid-August. While you’re there, keep an eye out for the little folk (the queen of Iceland’s elves is said to reign at Alfaborg, a rocky mound on the outskirts of the village). East Iceland is also the only place in the country where you might spot wild reindeer.
7. Get off the beaten track
Just when you thought you were already exploring a remote and untrodden corner of Iceland, along comes a local in a superjeep. For the uninitiated, imagine a 4×4 on protein shakes. With experienced drivers at the wheel, these pumped-up vehicles can take you deep into the interior, travelling south from Egilsstadir before climbing into the Highlands near Mt Snaefell. From there, it’s one long thrill ride, slaloming through eerie lava flows and weaving across volcano-studded plains of pumice and ash before reaching the cerulean cliffs of the Vatnajokull ice cap. This is East Iceland’s very special ‘back door’ into the country’s fabulously forbidding heart of fire and ice.
8. Savour the East
By all means have a nibble of Hakarl (fermented shark), washed down by Brennivín (Iceland’s signature schnapps), but while you’re in East Iceland you can’t fail to notice that the lamb is delicious (reared organically on herb-speckled mountains), or that the cod is so fresh it melts like butter in your mouth. There are also several gourmet secrets in East Iceland. Seyðisfjörður has the country’s finest sushi restaurant (Nord Austur), while Hotel Hildibrand in Neskaupstadur is renowned for giving local game and seafood dishes a gastronomic twist. Keen foodies should also track down Vallanes, an organic farm near Egilsstaðir which grows some 200 varieties of salads, grains and vegetables. Pop in for breakfast – it’ll set you up perfectly for the hike to nearby Hengifoss.
Our team of Nordic Travel Specialists can help you add any of these experiences into your tailor made itinerary. Call on 01737 214 250 or enquire online and plan for an epic East Iceland adventure.