East Iceland, a region of profound beauty and enchanting landscapes, awaits your exploration in this comprehensive guide. A lesser-trodden path compared to its southern and western counterparts, East Iceland offers a retreat into solitude and serenity where fjords carve the coastline, waterfalls cascade in abundance, and the midnight sun casts an ethereal glow over everything in sight.
From the rugged charm of its coastal fjords to the lush wilderness of its highlands, East Iceland unveils a series of natural wonders that remain largely untouched. Highlights of the region include the mystical Snaefell mountain, the secluded village of Seyðisfjörður, and Hallormsstadaskogur, Iceland’s largest forest. This guide will take you on a journey through these gems and more, offering insight into how to best explore and appreciate East Iceland in all its glory. Pack your sense of adventure – we’re heading to the magnificent east!
- Getting To East Iceland
- Major Towns and Cities in East Iceland
- Top Things To Do in East Iceland
- Cultural Experiences in East Iceland
- Food and Drink Options in East Iceland
- Where To Stay in East Iceland
- Travel Tips For East Iceland
- Frequently Asked Questions About East Iceland
- Final Notes on Traveling To East Iceland
Getting To East Iceland
Exploring the rugged charm of East Iceland is a thrilling part of any Icelandic adventure. The journey from the bustling capital to the tranquil east offers its own scenic rewards. Here’s how you can traverse the distance and immerse yourself in the unique beauty of East Iceland.
How to Get to East Iceland from Reykjavik
The distance from Reykjavik to Egilsstaðir, a key hub in East Iceland, is about 700 kilometers by road. By car, the journey takes approximately 8-9 hours without stops. If you choose to drive, you’ll follow Route 1 (the Ring Road) which circles the entire country. The route is scenic and takes you past several of South Iceland’s major attractions, such as the Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss waterfalls, the black sand beaches of Vík, and the magnificent glaciers of Vatnajökull National Park.
If you prefer to fly, domestic flights from Reykjavik to Egilsstaðir take approximately an hour, with multiple services operating daily. The airport is just a 2 km drive from the town center, and car rental services are available at the airport.
Traveling To East Iceland By Car, Bus, or Tour
Traveling by car offers the most flexibility, allowing you to explore at your own pace and take in the awe-inspiring landscapes. However, remember that some mountain roads might be closed in winter due to snow and ice.
Public bus services also operate between Reykjavik and Egilsstaðir, and this can be a more economical, albeit slower, option. The bus journey includes a ferry trip across the Breiðdalsvík fjord, which can be a memorable part of your trip.
Alternatively, numerous tour operators offer guided tours to East Iceland, often as part of multi-day itineraries that cover other regions of the country. These tours offer the advantage of expert guides who can share their local knowledge and take care of logistics. Viator has some great options, which can be found here.
Major Towns and Cities in East Iceland
East Iceland, despite its quiet demeanor, is home to several charming towns and villages, each possessing its own unique character and allure. These settlements, nestled between mountains or perched on fjords, provide a glimpse into Iceland’s rich history, vibrant culture, and the serene lifestyle of its eastern inhabitants.
- Egilsstaðir: As the largest town in East Iceland, Egilsstaðir serves as the region’s commercial and transportation hub. It’s also the gateway to some of the area’s best attractions, including the vast forest of Hallormsstaðaskógur and the ethereal waterfalls of Hengifoss and Litlanesfoss.
- Seyðisfjörður: Renowned for its colorful wooden buildings and thriving arts scene, Seyðisfjörður is a delight for culture lovers. The town, located at the end of a stunning fjord, is also the port for the ferry service to and from Denmark and the Faroe Islands.
- Djúpivogur: This peaceful fishing village, steeped in history, is known for its commitment to sustainable tourism. Don’t miss the outdoor sculpture, Eggin í Gleðivík, a collection of 34 huge granite eggs representing local bird species.
- Reyðarfjörður: Once a vital base for the British and American armies during World War II, Reyðarfjörður offers intriguing history and is home to the Icelandic Wartime Museum. The town is also a haven for birdwatchers, thanks to its rich birdlife.
- Neskaupstaður: Located in the Norðfjörður fjord, Neskaupstaður is surrounded by mountains and the sea, creating a dramatic backdrop. It’s a hub for outdoor activities, including skiing, hiking, and bird watching.
- Borgarfjörður eystri: This small village is a must-visit for nature lovers. It’s known for its breathtaking hiking trails and the puffin colony at Hafnarhólmi, a paradise for bird enthusiasts.
Each of these towns, with their distinctive identities and offerings, adds to the diverse tapestry of experiences in East Iceland.
Top Things To Do in East Iceland
East Iceland, with its rugged fjords, diverse wildlife, and captivating natural attractions, offers an array of unique experiences for the curious traveler. This region is the perfect blend of natural beauty, rich history, and cultural charm. Here are some must-see attractions that make East Iceland a must-visit region on your Icelandic adventure.
Hiking in Hallormsstaðaskógur National Forest
Located near Egilsstaðir, Hallormsstaðaskógur is the largest forest in Iceland and offers a variety of hiking trails, ranging from leisurely walks to more challenging treks. The forest is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna and offers beautiful views over Lake Lagarfljót.
The best time to visit is during the summer months when the trails are clear and the flora is in full bloom. To get there, drive south from Egilsstaðir on Route 1 and follow the signs for the forest.
Visit the Picturesque Town of Seyðisfjörður
Seyðisfjörður, with its charming wooden houses and thriving arts scene, is a must-visit. Walk around the town to admire the architecture, visit the local arts and crafts shops, and check out the Skaftfell Center for Visual Art.
Seyðisfjörður is accessible year-round, but the arts scene is particularly vibrant during the summer with numerous events and festivals. From Egilsstaðir, it’s about a 30-minute drive on Route 93.
Wildlife Watching in Borgarfjörður Eystri
Borgarfjörður Eystri is an excellent place for wildlife lovers. Visit the puffin colony at Hafnarhólmi, where well-maintained facilities provide a close view of these charming birds and other sea birds nesting on the cliffs.
The puffins usually arrive in April and leave by mid-August. Borgarfjörður Eystri is about 70 kilometers from Egilsstaðir via Route 94.
Explore the History in Reyðarfjörður’s Wartime Museum
Step back in time by visiting the Icelandic Wartime Museum in Reyðarfjörður. This museum offers insight into the significant impact World War II had on Iceland, particularly in the east.
The museum is open from June to August, and it’s best to check their website for the latest opening hours. Reyðarfjörður is about an hour’s drive from Egilsstaðir along Route 1.
Experience the Serenity of Snæfell Wilderness Area
The Snæfell Wilderness Area, dominated by the majestic Snæfell mountain and the largest glacier outside the Vatnajökull ice cap, is a hiker’s paradise. The area is also home to a rich variety of wildlife, including reindeer.
The best time for hiking here is in the summer, when the trails are most accessible. The area is around 75 kilometers from Egilsstaðir, and a 4WD vehicle is recommended due to gravel roads.
By exploring these areas and attractions, you’ll gain a deep appreciation for the unspoiled beauty and cultural richness of East Iceland.
Cultural Experiences in East Iceland
In East Iceland, culture is etched into every fjord, mountain, and settlement. This region is not just about natural landscapes; it’s also a treasure trove of cultural experiences that tell the tale of Iceland’s rich history, arts, and traditions. Whether it’s exploring the historical museums, partaking in lively festivals, or visiting archaeological sites, East Iceland offers a unique cultural journey that adds depth to your travel experience.
The Icelandic Wartime Museum in Reyðarfjörður offers insights into the region’s pivotal role during World War II, revealing a fascinating era of Iceland’s history. Seyðisfjörður, with its beautifully preserved wooden buildings, is a hub for artists, hosting the annual LungA Art Festival, where local and international artists showcase their creative skills through various media. Additionally, the Skaftfell Center for Visual Art in Seyðisfjörður is a hub for contemporary art, with exhibitions and events held throughout the year.
Visiting the small fishing village of Djúpivogur offers an opportunity to admire the outdoor sculpture, Eggin í Gleðivík, which symbolizes the area’s close relationship with nature. In Skriðuklaustur, you can explore an archaeological site of a medieval monastery, offering a window into Iceland’s spiritual past.
The cultural experiences in East Iceland are meaningful because they provide a deeper understanding of the region’s history, traditions, and lifestyle. They tell the story of the land and its people, adding a unique perspective to your Icelandic adventure.
Engaging with these cultural experiences allows visitors not only to observe but also to connect with the local community and its heritage. In East Iceland, you’ll discover that culture is not confined to museums and galleries; it’s woven into the fabric of everyday life.
Food and Drink Options in East Iceland
In East Iceland, the culinary scene is a unique blend of traditional tastes and innovative dishes, often inspired by the region’s abundant local produce. Whether it’s a cozy breakfast spot, a hearty lunch joint, or a fine dining restaurant for dinner, East Iceland offers a variety of dining options that cater to every taste and budget.
Best Breakfast in East Iceland
- Tón Café (Seyðisfjörður): A cozy café known for its homemade bread and pastries, and a delightful breakfast menu.
- Kaffi Norð (Egilsstaðir): A popular spot offering traditional Icelandic breakfast options in a comfortable setting.
- Café Nielsen (Egilsstaðir): Known for its rich coffee and a variety of hearty breakfast options.
Best Lunch in East Iceland
- Salt Café and Bistro (Egilsstaðir): Serves a variety of sandwiches, salads, and Icelandic dishes, a great spot for a quick lunch.
- Húsið – Café and Bistro (Egilsstaðir): Offers a wide selection of local dishes, including their famous fish and chips.
- Góði Hirðirinn (Reyðarfjörður): A charming restaurant with a range of homemade soups and sandwiches.
Best Dinner in East Iceland
- Randulf’s Sea House (Seyðisfjörður): Serves fresh local seafood in a historic building. A must-visit for seafood lovers.
- El Grillo Brewery (Seyðisfjörður): A microbrewery and restaurant serving delicious food paired with their home-brewed beers.
- Álfacafé (Borgarfjörður Eystri): Known for its lamb and fish dishes, this restaurant offers stunning fjord views.
Best Dessert in East Iceland
- Klausturkaffi (Skriðuklaustur): Offers a variety of homemade cakes and desserts, best enjoyed with a cup of coffee.
- Bakaríið við brúna (Djúpivogur): A bakery famous for its traditional Icelandic pastries.
- Café Lára – El Grillo Bar (Seyðisfjörður): Known for its variety of beers and a sweet treat called kleinur, a traditional Icelandic twisted doughnut.
From the first sip of your morning coffee to the last bite of your evening dessert, savor the culinary delights of East Iceland for a gastronomic journey through this enchanting region.
Where To Stay in East Iceland
In East Iceland, you’ll find a variety of accommodations that cater to different travel styles and budgets. The region offers everything from budget-friendly hostels and campsites to comfortable guesthouses, hotels, and luxury accommodations. Each provides a unique way to experience the beauty of East Iceland, be it waking up to a panoramic fjord view or nestling in a cozy, home-like environment after a day of adventure.
Budget Accommodations In East Iceland
- Húsavík Guesthouse (Seyðisfjörður): Offers basic, clean rooms in a central location, perfect for backpackers.
- Birta Guesthouse (Egilsstaðir): A family-run guesthouse with comfortable rooms and a shared kitchen.
- Egilsstaðir Campsite (Egilsstaðir): A well-equipped campsite with excellent facilities, ideal for budget travelers in the summer months.
Mid-Range Accommodations In East Iceland
- Hotel Aldan (Seyðisfjörður): Comprises three old but renovated houses, offering comfortable rooms with a charming, historical ambiance.
- Lake Hotel Egilsstadir (Egilsstaðir): Offers spacious rooms with modern amenities and beautiful lake views.
- Bláfell (Breiðdalsvík): A quaint, family-run hotel that offers comfortable stays with a touch of local hospitality.
Luxury Accommodations In East Iceland
- Fosshotel Eastfjords (Fáskrúðsfjörður): Housed in charming old buildings, it offers luxurious rooms and an excellent restaurant.
- Hotel Seyðisfjörður (Seyðisfjörður): An upscale hotel offering modern, stylish rooms with stunning fjord views.
- Wilderness Center (Þingeyjarsveit): Offers deluxe rooms and immersive experiences in a remote and beautifully restored historical setting.
Whether you’re a budget-savvy traveler looking for a cost-effective option, a comfort-seeking tourist opting for a mid-range hotel, or a luxury-lover looking to splurge on a high-end stay, East Iceland has plenty of options to offer. Make sure to book in advance, especially during the high season, to secure the best deals and availability.
Travel Tips For East Iceland
East Iceland is an alluring destination with its captivating landscapes and vibrant culture. However, to make the most of your visit, it’s important to understand the best times to visit, safety considerations, and local customs.
- Spring (April – June): As the snow melts, the region comes alive with blooming wildflowers and longer daylight hours. However, some hiking trails might still be inaccessible due to snow.
- Summer (July – August): The warmest time of the year, with nearly 24 hours of daylight, known as the Midnight Sun. This is an ideal time for hiking, wildlife watching, and attending local festivals.
- Fall (September – October): The fall colors in East Iceland are spectacular, with hues of red, orange, and yellow painting the landscapes. This is also a great time to witness the Northern Lights.
- Winter (November – March): Winters can be harsh with heavy snow and shorter daylight hours, but the snow-blanketed landscapes are enchantingly beautiful. Winter sports and Northern Lights viewing are popular activities.
Quick Safety Tips
Always check the weather forecast before setting off for the day, as conditions can change rapidly. Pack layers and waterproof clothing, even in summer, as the weather can be unpredictable. If driving, be prepared for gravel roads and always adhere to speed limits. Be cautious when hiking in remote areas and inform someone about your plans.
Regional Quirks or Customs to Know
East Iceland maintains a strong connection to its folklore and traditions. Elves, or ‘hidden people,’ play a significant role in local lore, and many locals respect these mythical beings. When you’re out exploring, remember that it’s frowned upon to disturb stones or natural formations where elves are believed to reside.
Moreover, punctuality might be viewed differently here compared to other places. Events often start later than scheduled, and businesses may open or close outside of posted hours. This is a part of the laid-back and flexible Icelandic lifestyle, which allows you to slow down and savor the beauty around you.
Frequently Asked Questions About East Iceland
How long does it take to drive from Reykjavik to East Iceland?
Depending on the route you take and the stops along the way, it could take anywhere between 7 to 9 hours to drive from Reykjavik to East Iceland. It’s advisable to split the journey over two days to fully appreciate the scenery and attractions en route.
What wildlife can I see in East Iceland?
East Iceland is home to a diverse range of wildlife. In the fjords and coastal regions, you might spot seals, puffins, and other seabirds. The region is also known for its reindeer population, which is unique to East Iceland in the country.
Are there any active volcanoes in East Iceland?
Yes, there are several active volcanoes in East Iceland, including Kverkfjöll and Snæfell. However, these volcanoes are located in remote areas and are often inaccessible to the general public.
Can I see the Northern Lights in East Iceland?
Absolutely! East Iceland offers some of the best opportunities to witness the Northern Lights, especially between September and April when the skies are darkest. The region’s minimal light pollution ensures a spectacular viewing experience.
Is it necessary to rent a 4×4 to explore East Iceland?
While many of East Iceland’s main attractions are accessible via well-maintained roads, a 4×4 vehicle can be beneficial, especially if you plan to visit in winter or explore more remote areas. Always check road conditions and local advice before setting off.
Final Notes on Traveling To East Iceland
This comprehensive guide offers a glimpse into the enchanting realm of East Iceland, a region that mesmerizes with its spellbinding landscapes, intriguing wildlife, and rich cultural tapestry. The beauty of East Iceland lies in its diverse offerings, ranging from volcanic wonders and icy panoramas to charming coastal towns steeped in history and tradition.
No matter how you choose to explore—whether it’s tracing the footsteps of Vikings, chasing the ethereal Northern Lights, or savoring the culinary delights of local Icelandic cuisine—East Iceland promises to leave you with memories to last a lifetime.
As you plan your Icelandic adventure, let this guide serve as your roadmap to the East. Be ready to immerse yourself in its distinctive charm, seek out its hidden gems, and embrace the warmth of its people. A visit to East Iceland isn’t merely a journey—it’s an awakening of the senses and a testament to the raw, unspoiled beauty that Iceland holds. So pack your bags, set your spirit of adventure free, and lose yourself in the magic of East Iceland.