East Iceland is somewhat off the beaten track, as far as you can get (some 650 km) from Reykjavík. The area does not announce itself as loudly as other parts of the country, preferring subtle charms over big-ticket attractions and the secluded beauty of the Eastfjords is only just beginning to be discovered by travellers. Not many stays to see what this region has to offer and travellers often pass through quickly en route to somewhere else. A true shame, because East Iceland is a wondrous destination – with breath-taking narrow fjords, jabbed peaks, toppling waterfalls, lush forests, charming fishing villages, and endless green valleys. This is where you can truly experience tranquillity and oneness with nature. If the weather is nice, several days spent hiking and exploring the area may be some of your most memorable in Iceland.
This is a list of our favourite things to do in East Iceland.
1. Skaftafell National Park
Scenic landscape, favourable weather conditions and a selection of hiking trails make Skaftafell an ideal destination for those who like to enjoy outdoor activities in Icelandic nature.
Short and easy trails lead to Svartifoss Waterfall and Skaftafellsjökull Glacier, but for those who want to reach further out, the Morsárdalur valley and Kristínartindar mountain peaks are perfect in terms of distance and labour. Skaftfell is also the perfect base camp for those who seek to climb Iceland‘s highest mountain peak, Hvannadalshnjúkur. To enjoy Skaftafell's true value it is recommended to spend at least few days there, either staying at the campsite in Skaftafell or in a nearby accommodation.
During summer Seyðisfjörður is thriving with art, with visiting artists from all over the world and growing community of artists’ residents. The Skaftafell Cultural Centre contains works by some of the famous modern artists such as the Swiss-German artist Dieter Roth (1930-1998). Seyðisfjörður is full of Scandinavian character, a town that approximates to one’s mental image, so rarely fulfilled, of an Icelandic fishing town. Founded in the 1830s, it was soon one of the largest and wealthiest settlements in the East, full of elegant wooden homes that were shipped to Iceland from Norway in ready-made kit form.
Skriðuklaustur is a centre of culture and history in Fljótsdalur Valley. After becoming a renowned author on the European continent, Gunnar Gunnarsson had a mansion built here in 1939 and made it his residence. In 1948 he bequeathed the property to the Icelandic nation. The building is now home to the Institute of Gunnar Gunnarsson, displaying books and artefacts connected with his life and work. In addition, there are various cultural events and art exhibitions. Café Klausturkaffi is located in the dining room. Since 1992, archaeological excavation of a nearby 16th-century monastery has yielded exciting results and attracted general attention. Visitors are allowed to view the ruins.
4. Vestrahorn Mountain and Stokksnes
Vestrahorn, on the Stokksnes peninsula in Southeast Iceland is a natural wonder among natural wonders where you can really experience the isolated, quiet, rustic charm of Iceland. It is one of the country’s most breath-taking mountains. With peaks reaching up to 454 metres, steep cliffs rising from the sides of a stunning lagoon, and black sand beaches all around, it promises to impress. The Stokksnes peninsula also has an interesting history stretching back to the 9th Century, with Horn being one of the country’s first settlements, and it was also a vital location of the British army during World War Two.
Please note that the beach at Stokksnes is private, and has a small entrance fee, which allows the landowner to keep up the maintenance of the road.
5. Hengifoss Waterfall
Hengifoss is the star waterfall attraction of the Eastfjords area around Lagarfljót and the town of Egilsstaðir. This waterfall is the second tallest waterfall at 120m and the red strata patterns on the cliff giving rise to the falls it is also very interesting as it is something you don't typically see in other waterfalls.
Getting to Hengifoss requires a return walk of about one hour. From the car park, a long stairwell leads up the hillside - Hengifoss is soon visible in the distance. It's a steep climb in places but flattens out as you enter the canyon. The walk is 2.5 km each way; halfway up is a smaller waterfall, Litlanesfoss, surrounded by spectacular vertical basalt columns in a honeycomb formation.
6. Hallormsstaðaskógur forest
On the eastern shore is the country’s largest forest, Hallormsstaðarskógur. Nearly all of the woods were protected from grazing animals between 1905 and 1927, and now cover an area of 740 sq km (285 sq miles). Shaded by the surrounding trees, Hallormsstaður is a popular spot for Icelandic holidaymakers (there is a camping ground and an Edda hotel).
A great place for a relaxing walk surrounded by Iceland’s largest forest. As most may know Iceland is not known for dense forests and large trees. But in Hallormsstaður there is a charming forest due to decades of reforestation and dedicated work. The forest consists mainly of pines and birch. But it also includes a botanical collection along a walking path were there are samples of a variety of trees.
7. Borgarfjörður Eystri
If you’re looking for a hiking paradise, then Borgarfjorður is the answer. There are many interesting tracks, up mountains and by the sea. The locals are also more than willing to tell tales of elves and 'hidden people' that live in rocks around town. The town is ringed by dramatic mountains: the ochre range to the east is made from an acidic form of lava called rhyolite. Along with pieces of jasper and agate, the rock is polished into everything from paperweights to gravestones at the álfasteinn café, at the north end of the village. The renowned artist Jóhannes Kjarval was born in Borgarfjörður Eystri and made the area famous by depicting it in his paintings. A monument to the artist can be seen by the main road, just outside the village, and there is a small exhibition dedicated to him in the village community centre. However, a more fitting memorial can be found in the local church, which contains an altarpiece painted by Kjarval.
Mjóifjorður (litterally its name is Narrow Fjord) is 18 km long, situated between Nordfjordur and Seydisfjordur, is known for its pleasant weather and tranquillity. The road leading to the fjord is relatively good, but usually closed during winter. Another road experience is the exhilarating road on the north side which runs along the fjord side to Dalatangi, where you’ll find a lighthouse with a most magnificent view out towards the open ocean.
There are many attractions in Mjóifjorður, considered by many to be the most impressive fjord in Iceland. Today, some 40 people live in Mjóifjorður, mostly in the tiny village, Brekkuþorp. A stay at the guesthouse is a haven of tranquility and the local shellfish with a good glass of white wine at Brekkan restaurant is truly the icing on the Mjóifjorður cake.
9. Stórurð Hiking
Hiking among Stórurð’s labyrinth of giant boulders surrounded by vividly colored aqua-blue ponds and charming mossy meadows is truly magical – even for Iceland. This secret valley lies just beneath a small glacier west of Dyrfjöll Mountains and was most likely created by a glacial landslide at the end of the last Ice Age. From a distance, the rounded grey rocks resemble a giant’s pebbles scattered along the basin. The mystical scenery found at Stórurð is unlike anyplace else in Iceland.
Mjóeyri is a delightful place on the outskirts of Eskifjörður town. Here you will find a lighthouse and a delightful shoreline, where birds and sea shells are to be found. For tourists, it is an oasis and a horn of plenty: Guided tours, a boat- rental, angling, good food and highly agreeable accommodation.
Mjóeyri has a historical past as the last place of execution, on September 30th, 1786. The final resting place of the late convict can be found here.
If you enjoyed this article you might be interested in reading our blogs about West Iceland: Top 10 Experiences and The Best Time to Visit Iceland.