Why everyone is talking about East Iceland
From irresistable natural wonders to world-class hiking trails and from meeting the locals to ancient folklores, award-winning travel writer, Will Gray, answers our questions in his guide to the spectacular east.
Why is everyone talking about East Iceland?
The big news is that you can fly there this summer, direct from the UK.
Couldn’t you always fly there?
No. Until now, all flights to Iceland have been to Keflavik in the west.
What’s wrong with Keflavik?
Nothing at all! People are getting excited about the new flights to East Iceland because they take you straight to the heart of one of the country’s most beautiful and little-visited regions. To reach it before, you had to take an internal flight, a three-night ferry from Denmark or a long drive on the Ring Road.
OK, so what’s there to see in East Iceland?
The East Fjords for starters. Even by Iceland’s standards, this stretch of coast is pretty amazing: huge cliffs ribbed with ancient lava flows rising above a crinkle-cut shore dotted with fishing villages. You can follow its ins and outs on a fabulous coastal drive, stopping overnight at harbourside hotels.
So basically it’s a touring destination?
Well, that coastal drive has to rank as one of Europe’s greatest. But there’s more to East Iceland than touring. During summer, the puffin watching is incredible. And if you enjoy walking there are some wonderful trails along the coast and through the mountains. In fact, people are setting their sights on East Iceland purely as a walking destination – the scenery, trails and guides are that good.
I like puffins, but I’m not so keen on hiking…
Don’t worry, you can experience many of East Iceland’s natural wonders, including the country’s largest forest, some spectacular waterfalls and deserted black-sand beaches, all within a short stroll from your car. And there are also plenty of other activities available, from boat trips and horse riding to superjeep safaris across the mesmerizing volcanic landscapes of the interior.
Still sounds a bit epic for me.
You’ll have an unforgettable adventure in East Iceland, there’s no denying that. But you’ll also be able to spend each night in a comfortable hotel – many with restaurants serving delicious seafood and local lamb. There’s even an organic farm in the region where you can sample superb vegetarian cuisine.
What are the locals like?
Only around 3% of the country’s total population of 330,000 lives in East Iceland. The communities are small and friendly, so you can expect a warm welcome. It doesn’t have the numbers of visitors that sites like Geysir in the west attract, so you can expect small-group tours led by guides passionate about East Iceland.
What about the folklore of the region?
East Iceland is definitely the right place for that. This is the home of the Icelandic elf queen herself. Not only will you visit elf churches and troll caves, but you might glimpse East Iceland’s very own ‘Nessie’ in Lagarfljót lake. Walter Mitty has become a legend here too – the film was partly shot in the East Fjords.
Would you say it’s a ‘quirky’ place?
You’ll believe in elves after you’ve visited! Folklore is a rich and intriguing part of East Iceland’s culture, but there are also plenty of ways to mix fact with fiction. The East has an extraordinary seafaring history, which you can explore in several outstanding museums. Being one of the oldest parts of the country, its geology is also riveting. Gemstone hunters have been coming here for ages.
What about volcanoes and glaciers?
You get those too. Actually, East Iceland provides an irresistible ‘back door’ to the country’s interior – a spectacular 4WD route that climbs into the volcanic Highlands before traversing vast ash fields and lava flows to reach the frozen snout of the mighty Vatnajökull icecap. It’s a day trip not to be missed.
So, basically you’re saying I should forget the west and head to East Iceland instead?
There’s limited availability on the new direct flights, so you should book now if you want to get straight to the heart of East Iceland this summer. If you’ve previously visited other parts of Iceland, the East will open your eyes to a whole new range of landscapes and experiences. If you’re contemplating your first visit to Iceland, be warned that it’s a highly addictive destination – once you’ve fallen for the East, you’ll probably want to head next to the West. Still undecided? Then do both. Fly direct to East Iceland, explore the region, then hop over to the West on a special domestic flight.