If you are looking for a region in Iceland to visit that gets you away from the crowds, but still has you surrounded by natural wonders, East Iceland is the place for you. Whether it be the distance or the lack of big-name attractions found here, the east is one of Iceland’s least visited regions. But those who do make the visit will discover an area full of magical gems that locals have cherished for years.
East Iceland is best known for its dramatic coastline that will take you past towering rugged mountains, in and out and narrow fjords with stunning views, and through peaceful fishing towns that will have you dreaming of a slow-paced life in small-town Iceland. The unique landscape and small-town Iceland charm will have you completely entranced with East Iceland from day one!
While only less than 4% of the Icelandic population lives in this area it has become quite the cultural hub in recent years with artists and young people from Iceland and abroad flocking to the region for extended visits. Throughout the year several festivals are held in East Iceland adding to the cultural scene. With nature as gorgeous as the East of Iceland, it is no wonder it has become a creative hotspot, there is inspiration all around.
Now that we have piqued your interest in traveling to this remote part of Iceland, let's add to the excitement with all of the things you can do and see in East Iceland. The below three-day itinerary will have you hiking above fjords, strolling through colorful towns, and learning more about the rich cultural scene in this region. Enjoy the relaxation that comes from staying in this slow pace area and take in all the charm of Iceland.
How to Reach East Iceland
A quick glance at the map of Iceland is all you need to see that the east of Iceland is the furthest to reach traveling from Reykjavik. The remoteness of this area adds to its peaceful charm and makes it more than worth the effort to travel here. While East Iceland is the furthest from Reykjavik you still have the option of a flight or road trip to this region.
By Plane: the quickest way to reach East Iceland is by taking a plane from the domestic airport in Reykjavik. There is only one airport in East Iceland in the town of Egilsstaðir. The flight from Reykjavik is an hour-long so in no time you can be enjoying the magic of East Iceland.
By Car: if you are hoping to experience an unforgettable Icelandic road trip an adventure to the east of Iceland will be sure to accomplish just that! While the drive may be long you will get to travel through other parts of Iceland along the way making the time well spent as you will cover a lot of ground on this road trip. To reach East Iceland from Reykjavik is around an 8-hour drive, many opt to do this by driving the ring road typically going through South Iceland to reach the east, and looping through North Iceland to head back to Reykjavik. The roadside views will certainly keep you entertained along the way, but to complete your road trip experience be sure to listen to our Icelandic road trip playlist!
By Bus: there is not a direct bus line from Reykjavik over to East Iceland so you will need to use a different mode of transportation to reach the area. However, once you are in the region you can take a bus to different towns in the east, you can find information about the bus routes here.
Driving in East Iceland
Where to Stay
The Eastfjords of Iceland is where you will find many of the towns and communities of the region. This area covers around 120 km (75 miles), which in comparison to other regions of Iceland is not as large of a space to cover. But, when you add in the travel time for going in and out of the many narrow fjords it can take a bit longer to drive around the area making it a good place to spend a few days to enjoy slow travel so you can break up the trips into smaller day trips. Even better, each fjord or area in East Iceland has several gems nearby making it easy to group activities together to make the most of each day. All this to say, having a home base in East Iceland is an easy option as you can still explore all parts of the region no matter where you are staying.
The below accommodations options range from staying out in more remote locations for the ultimate fjord life experience, or nearby one of the larger towns in East Iceland to still have amenities close by. An added bonus of this region, the roads in and out of the fjords are all paved unlike in parts of the Westfjords making it a quicker and smoother travel experience to reach different destinations.
Here are a few accommodations options to check out for your time in East Iceland:
- Hengifoss Guesthouse - if staying as close to nature as possible is your ideal accommodation style this guest house is for you. Located in the Fljótsdalur Valley you will be surrounded by beautiful nature in a peaceful environment. Close to many of the region's top attractions, it is a great location for a home base in East Iceland to enjoy sightseeing.
Cute little cabin
- The Wilderness Center - despite the name of this accommodation you won’t be sharing a room with any wild animals, but you will be getting to enjoy some striking views out your bedroom window. The Wilderness Center has a few different accommodation options for guests to choose from such as an old farmhouse and an “Icelandic turf farmstead” which is reminiscent of old Icelandic turf farmstead dwellings. During the summer months, an exhibition is open that shares with visitors the history of the wilderness and the lives of the people who used to live on the farm. A unique accommodation experience that will leave you with a deeper appreciation for Icelandic nature and the resilient people who called this place home.
- Hotel Eyvindará - get all the comforts of a hotel while staying near nature at this option. Located only 10 minutes from the town Egilsstaðir it is a great option for those wanting to be in close proximity to many of the region's top nature spots, while also having easy access to the town amenities.
Start your time in East Iceland with a day filled with magical adventures. Spend some time with the adorable and beloved puffins, explore Iceland’s most charming and colorful small town, and soak in Iceland’s only floating infinity pools. Just reading a brief overview of this day sounds like a fairytale adventure, we promise the real-life experience will live up to the hype!
If you have “see a puffin” on your Iceland bucket list this adventure is about to make your dreams come true! Located in East Iceland is the town Borgarfjörður Eystri, an area that around 10,000 pairs of puffins call home every summer. As an added bonus, Borgarfjörður Eystri is said to be one of the easiest and safest locations to view puffins in Iceland making it a great stop for all to get a glimpse of puffins. Unlike most other puffin viewing locations around the country, at Borgarfjörður Eystri you will find shelters and wooden platforms so you can safely view the puffins up close without needing to be near a steep rocky cliffside. For the best viewing option head to Hafnarhólmi marina and enjoy the adorable puffin show.
When the time comes to say goodbye to the charismatic puffins, don't leave town without a stroll around the area for an experience of small-town Iceland. If you are up for a more active experience try out one of the many hiking trails found in the fjord! Borgarfjörður Eystri is the place to be if you want to go hiking, the trails in this area will have you exploring mountains in a range of colors, walking past black sand beaches and taking in the views of beautiful isolated fjords.
To arrive at the next location of the day you will need to drive through the town of Egilsstaðir, which is actually the largest town in East Iceland, making it a good option for a place to grab a bite to eat.
- Nielsen Restaurant - for a fine dining experience utilizing the fresh ingredients of the region, plan a meal here.
- Klausturkaffi - on the ground floor of the unique building, the Skriðuklaustur mansion, the lunch buffet is a delicious option to enjoy.
- Salt Bistro - if you are looking to grab a quick meal and a menu with a wide variety this spot is for you.
The second half of the day will take you over to yet another delightful fjord, this time on the opposite side of Egilsstaðir. The afternoon will take you to arguably Iceland’s most beloved small town, Seyðisfjörður. Take your time strolling the small streets that are located just off the water's edge. Enjoy the happenings of small-town life, the children running around in their lopeyesa off to the town trampoline, small business owners working away at their shops, and families enjoying a picnic along the water's edge.
The town is surrounded by tall rugged mountains that have dozens of waterfalls trickling down from them. Adding to the fairytale scenery of the town is the bright street art and colorful buildings you will find along the way. Be sure to find the little blue church in the middle of town, you won’t be able to miss it, and if you are having trouble just look for the rainbow-colored street to help lead the way.
Seyðisfjörður is the perfect quintessential town to enjoy a relaxing afternoon in. Stop into cafes for treats or a happy hour and enjoy the locations that will keep you right in the action as many places are found on the main street of the town. If you are looking to grab dinner before leaving the area here are a few ideas to get the taste buds thinking.
- Nord Austur sushi bar - delicious fresh sushi with fjord views.
- Bistro Skaftfell - if you're in the mood for pizza and beer, this is the place for you.
- El Grillo - a cozy bar with a good bbq and a large variety of Icelandic beers to try.
If you are up for a hike there are many trails in the area, you can see a well-detailed list of them here.
As you make your way out of Seyðisfjörður there are a few additional stops you can visit if you have the time. Before you leave the fjord, a stop at Mt. Bjólfur will take you on a drive to the top of the mountain where you will get some breathtaking views over the fjords. And on the other side of the mountain, you will find Fardagafoss, a waterfall situated close to the main road just outside of Egilsstaðir. It is a beautiful sight to take as you drive down the mountainside.
End your day with a relaxing soak at Vök geothermal baths, Iceland’s only floating infinity geothermal pools. The geothermal waters are a natural gem of Iceland, and this location will bring its own unique twist to the experience. Fed by hot springs that are found deep under Lake Urriðavatn, enjoy sitting in the warm waters as you float in the lake with nothing but the stunning nature around you. An unforgettable way to end a magical day!
Note: if it suits your personal preference better, you can switch the day activities around and have a stop at Vök geothermal baths in the early afternoon, and then spend the evening in Seyðisfjörður. Either way will provide an amazing experience, and if you are traveling in the summer months you won’t have to worry about fitting everything in with limited hours of daylight thanks to the midnight sun.
The previous day may have been all about the magical fjords of East Iceland, but this day is going to take you inland to discover the gems hidden there. If you brought your hiking boots now is the time to put them on, there are some epic trails to explore in this area.
Start the morning off with a peaceful walk through Iceland’s largest forest, Hallormsstaður National Forest. The forest consists of native birch trees as well as many exotic species, and an arboretum that has a tree collection with over 80 different species. The forest is a popular outdoor recreation area with over 40 km of marked trails making it a great option for a morning stroll in nature. Check here for an overview of the 11 different trails you can explore in the area.
As you wander through the forest you will find lake Lagarfljót. This glacier water lake is said to be home to the Lagarflót worm, Iceland’s version of the Loch Ness monster. Take a walk along the rocky shores to see if you can have your own Lagarfljót worm sighting.
Just a quick drive around the forest will take you to your next stop of the day, the unique stunner of a waterfall, Hengifoss. The third tallest waterfall in Iceland stands at 128 meters tall, but its height isn’t all that makes Hengifoss special. The waterfall is surrounded by basaltic strata that have thin, red layers of clay mixed between the dark basaltic layers. The contrasting colors that surround Hengifoss just add to the dramatic sight of the waterfall.
The hike to Hengifoss will take around an hour, and while it is not a challenging hike it does get quite steep for a portion of the trail. Thankfully you will have glimpses of Hengifoss in view to motivate you along the way. And keep a lookout for an additional waterfall, Litlanesfoss, which you will spot about halfway into the hike. Litlanesfoss is surrounded by basalt columns making it stand out in its own special way. Two extraordinary waterfalls in one-stop, just another reason to love East Iceland.
This is a good day to bring snacks or a packed lunch if possible as there will be limited dining options in the area. In case you are in need of a lunch spot here are a few places you can check out.
- Hengifoss Food Truck - a perfect way to treat yourself after the hike up to Hengifoss waterfall is with one of the tasty treats at the food truck located close by.
- Hótel Hallormsstaður - with two restaurants to check out everyone can find something to eat. Be sure to confirm open times before arriving as they may be only open for dinner service.
Depending on your interest there are two options you can choose from for your afternoon. The first one will be an action-packed hike along the waterfall circle, which, just as the name sounds, is full of waterfalls. The second option will take you over to the popular Wilderness Center where you can enjoy tranquil nature and wildlife, and even a horseback riding tour. Either option will give you an amazing experience to remember East Iceland by.
Hiking the Waterfall Circle
If you enjoy discovering the majestic waterfalls of Iceland this adventure is for you! The Waterfall Circle loop is an 8km/5mi loop that takes you past 5 waterfalls (and dozens more smaller ones) and past an impressive canyon. This trail is relatively flat and well-marked so no need to be a hiking expert to take on this adventure. The hike will end at Laugarfell Highland Hostel where you will find an inviting hot spring waiting for you to relax. If you are not staying at the hostel you will have to pay a small fee to use the hot spring and shower facilities.
Keep in mind that this hiking trail may not be accessible depending on the time of year you are visiting. The trail is easily accessible in the summer months once the snow has melted, but be sure to double-check this if you will be visiting at a different time of the year.
Visit the Wilderness Center
If you are looking for an interactive experience that will give you a deeper understanding of what life in this part of Iceland used to look like, a visit to the Wilderness Center is for you. The center is a living history center that has two interactive exhibitions for visitors to enjoy. As soon as you arrive at the Wilderness Center you will feel as if you have stepped into the past with the extreme detail put into the center to be remade in the original style so visitors truly feel as if they are visiting the past. It is a unique and fascinating way to learn more about the Icelandic wilderness and the original inhabitants of the farm.
The Wilderness Center offers more than just exhibitions to visit. Guests can also enjoy food and activities that will add to their experience. Feast on meals that are made right in front of you with local ingredients, take a visit to the stone-lined natural hot tub, or join one of the tour options offered here.
Here are a few tour options we recommend:
- Horseback riding tour - enjoy the ride to an abandoned farm and get a look inside an old farmhouse.
- Hiking tour - if you prefer to explore the area by foot this guided hiking tour will take you around the gorgeous surroundings and by the Jökulsá River.
The Wilderness Center also offers mountain biking and other tailored-made tours upon request.
This day’s agenda will have you winding your way in and out of the stunning fjords and charming small towns that make up the southern part of East Iceland. This part of the country is less frequented by visitors but is still packed full of enchanting gems to enjoy. The towns in this part of the region are scattered, with fjords separating them, giving each of them their own unique traits to discover. As you weave in and out of the fjords you will quickly realize why East Iceland is known as a creative hub, how could you not be inspired by all the marvelous nature around?!
Note, that this itinerary is based on the assumption that you are staying in the upper/middle part of the region and will be making your way down the coastline of East Iceland.
Spend your morning soaking in all the beauty of Icelandic nature and wildlife with visits to some special places and towns in East Iceland. Stop by an incredible waterfall, visit the first nature reserve in Iceland, and enjoy a soak in a local pool in the largest fjord in the region. The below stops are listed in the order you will arrive at them, and all places are easily accessible by car. It will be a morning well spent!
This gorgeous waterfall located in Mjóifjörður fjord is a sight to be seen. Standing at 90 meters high, the waterfall, while technically one single waterfall, appears to have multiple falls stacked one on top of the other and is seen. For the best view take in the waterfall just off the side of the road, here you can fully take in all of the waterfall flowing down the mountainside.
The town of Neskaupstadur is located about as far east as you can go in Iceland and is known for its bustling music scene and scenic views. Today you take an 8 km tunnel to access Neskaupstadur, but just 50 years ago it was only accessible by sea. Lucky for us the route to reach this charming town is much easier today! Neskaupstadur may only have a population of just under 1,500 but there is plenty to do in the area to keep you busy all morning.
Here are a few things you can spend the morning doing:
- Visit Neskaupstadur Nature Reserve - located on the edge of town is the first nature reserve in Iceland. Established in 1972, Neskaupstadur Nature Reserve is known for its diverse geology and wildlife. Enjoy taking a stroll along one of the several pathways you will find here and see what types of wildlife you can spot along the way.
- Take a horseback riding tour - this tour is located right in town and will take you on a horse ride along a river full of waterfalls and up the mountainside with beautiful ocean views. There is no better way to explore Iceland than by horseback!
- Explore the Waterfront - take a stroll along the waterfront and enjoy the views over the water with the towering mountains in the backdrop. We recommend stopping to grab a snack or early lunch at Nesbær coffee shop, a popular spot with the locals for over a decade.
The largest fjord in East Iceland covering over 30 km, Reyðarfjörður is an adorable colorful town with rugged mountains surrounding the fjord on all sides. It is no wonder the town has been used as a filming location multiple times. On your visit here keep a lookout for waterfalls trickling down the mountainside and be sure to take a walk at Grænafell, the favored location in this area for outdoor activities.
Complete the Icelandic small-town experience with a visit to the local swimming pool! Reyðarfjörður has a great pool to check out with waterslides to keep the younger travelers entertained, and mountain views to add to the peaceful setting for those looking to relax.
Have a French Experience in Fáskrúðsfjörður
A French experience in Iceland, kind of random right? An Icelandic history fact for you. Back in the early 19th century Fáskrúðsfjörður became the main hub for French fishermen working off Iceland’s east coast. After this period the town has held on to its French heritage which is evident by just a stroll through town. Fáskrúðsfjörður main hub was the former French hospital which was built in 1903. Today this building has been restored into a hotel, restaurant, and museum that highlights the life of the French fisherman in East Iceland.
It is a beautiful town to visit with the fun twist of Icelandic and French charm. Be sure to stroll around town to see if you can spot all the french connections in the buildings and street names. If you are looking for some French inspired food enjoy a meal at Fosshotel restaurant and dine while you look right over the fjord out to the water.
The only town in East Iceland that the ring road drives right through, Stöðvarfjöður is a must stop for the wide variety of natural attractions to enjoy. And as you don’t need to take on any narrow fjord roads to reach Stöðvarfjöður there is no reason not to stop here! Known for its diverse geology and unique nature such as a sea geyser and rock formations, the area is rich in natural gems. Below are some ideas of what to check out while in Stöðvarfjörður.
- Petra’s Mineral Collection - a local woman, Petra Sveinsdóttir, spent her lifetime collecting a variety of stones and minerals she found in the area. Today her impressive stone collection can be seen on display at her home. Stop by to see this wondrous collection with your own eyes and enjoy a treat from the cafe here.
- Saxa - a unique sight to see, Saxa is a sea geyser made by a shoreline opening in the cliffs. Watching the sea water splash against the cliffs and high up in the air is a spectualatural natural occurance to witness.
- Einbúi - located in the Jafnadalur valley is the imposing sight of the large rock formation, Einbúi, also known as “The Hermit”. This large rock formation stands out amongst the otherwise flat surroundings which just adds to its intrigue. Be sure to explore more around the Jafnadalur valley, there are trails to stroll so you can take in more of the scenery.
In case you are looking to grab dinner in the area below are a few options of restaurants in the town of Stöðvarfjörður and the next town over, Breiðdalsvík. As a heads up the options are limited in this part of Iceland but the below places will give you an idea of what can be found for dining here.
- Saxa Cafe - located next to the harbor in Stöðvarfjörður, be sure to double check the cafe’s website to make sure they are open the day you will be in town.
- Hotel Breiðdalsvík - the restaurant here has an evening buffet that highlights fresh locally sourced food products and Icelandic cuisine.
Complete your exploration of East Iceland with a late afternoon/ evening stop at Djúpivogur, a small fishing village that fully embraces the slow and quiet lifestyle. The highlight of the town is Búlandstrindur, a unique pyramid-shaped mountain that stands at 1,069 meters tall and is believed to be around 8 million years old. After you walk through this tranquil fishing town be sure to stop at Búlandstrindur so you can view what many believe is one of Iceland’s most beautiful mountains.
The east of Iceland is a magical part of the country that will leave you feeling awe-struck and rejuvenated. Don’t miss out on visiting this remote part of the country, the tranquil landscapes will be sure to leave a lasting impression on you. If you are looking for more inspiration on what to do and see in East Iceland check out our other blog posts here to help plan your trip.
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