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Top things to do in the East of Iceland13. August, 2020
We traveled for 7 days around the east of Iceland and visited 22 amazing places. Check the list here.
We traveled for 7 days around the east of Iceland and visited 22 amazing places. Check the list here.
The East of Iceland had always been in our plans, but we knew that we needed at least one whole week to enjoy it to the fullest. This summer, we decided to make a road trip and do as many stops as possible, knowing it was a long way from Reykjavík to Akureyri. We drove approximately 1.200 km in 7 days. Check out the places we went to, learn a little bit about the attractions we visited, and the restaurants, swimming pools, and more.
Starting driving south from Reykjavík for approximately 3 hours and 20 minutes, we arrived at Fjáðrárgljúfur. A few years ago, this place became very popular when Justin Bieber came to Iceland to shoot part of his video, “I’ll show you.” It started to be so popular, and not so well kept by tourists that it had to be shut down for the public. Luckily, now it’s open again. Back to the canyon. Fjáðrárgljúfur is about 100m deep and two kilometers long. The palagonite bedrock dates back to the cold times of the Ice Age, and the water of the canyon comes from the Fjaðrá river. Now, it is low, so it is easy to walk and hike through the canyon. The views are stunning all year round.
Our next stop was in Kirkjubæjarklaustur (try to pronounce it). This village of about 500 people has a lovely swimming pool that you should go to if wanting to relax a bit. On the road, you will see some waterfalls like Systrafoss and Rauðárfoss. And if you are looking for something easy to eat, we recommend stopping at Systrakaffi. Let’s hit the road again!
Continue driving for about 1 hour. We are heading to a beautiful National Park, and we are officially in the east of Iceland. Svínafellsjökull is an outlet glacier of Vatnajökull, with easy access and very popular since appearing in Game of Thrones, of course. The beautiful colors and big chunks of ice are the main attraction of this glacier. And perhaps, you will even hear the ice breaking, one of the coolest things ever.
We decided to camp that night in Skaftafell, but we didn’t find any spot. If you, by chance, are looking for a place to camp, try Skaftafell, or just a few minutes away, you will discover Svínafell Campground.
Skaftafell National Park is within Vatnajökull National Park and has many hiking routes displayed on the map you will find in the information center. The views are beautiful, and it can get a little bit steep on the way, but nothing major. You will find toilets, a restaurant and a parking place just at the entrance. There are short and easy trails from the park to Svartifoss and the Skaftafellsjökull glacier, and other longer ones to Morsárdalur valley and Kristínartindar mountain peaks. Many touring companies offer special guided hikes in the park, so check if there is anything you would like. See tours here.
We took the trail path from Skaftafell National Park to start with our 2km one-way hike. We were walking for about 40 minutes until we reached the waterfall. You will see a different landscape in the summertime, a lot of trees and cool rock formations. On the way, at least three other waterfalls are visible. When you reach Svartifoss, you will see this 20-meter waterfall with a beautiful black columnar basalt formation behind the waterfall.
Basalt is a volcanic rock formed from the superheated magma that appears as lava during a volcano eruption. When this basalt lava cools down and is exposed to the air, it gets hard and solidifies. Because the chemical composition of the lava changes when cooling down, the appearance also changes, forming these hexagonal rocks known as columnar jointing. You will see this is a common natural process around Iceland. It can also be seen in Stuðlagil, Aldeyjarfoss, and at Reynisfjara Beach.
After another 45 minute drive, you will reach the famous and one of the most popular places to visit in Iceland, Jökulsárlón, mostly known as the Glacier Lagoon. This place is truly stunning. Big chunks of ice lay on top of the glacial lake with bluish waters, and seals are seen almost all year round. The Breiðamerkurjökull Glacier, part of Vatnajökull, gives a breathtaking view on the back. The waters of this lake exit into a short waterway into the Atlantic Ocean, which leads to another attraction known as the Diamond Beach (Breiðamerkursandur). A few steps away from the lagoon, you will see a black sanded beach with chunks of ice. It is rare and beautiful to see. Now, let’s get back on the road to one of our favorite towns in Iceland.
Taking road no.1, and exiting on 99, we’ve arrived at Höfn. We call it the popping town. Yes, it is a small place, but that doesn’t mean a lot can’t be happening there. We where starving, so we stopped for the best lobster baguette you would ever eat—Hafnarbuðin, a small food truck restaurant perfect for that quick bite.
After, we visited Hornafjarðar, the local swimming pool for a relaxing time. And dinner time is here! We couldn’t wait to go to Pakkhús. Located in the harbor, Pakkhús is one of the most popular restaurants in Höfn. Be sure to pass by before or be a little bit early to put your name on the waiting list. If you have to wait for your table, you can remain in the bar on the first floor, and enjoy some drinks. We went for the delicious lobster soup. It is a small serving, but perfect for one. But the best was the Lakkrís Creme Brulée. Please, if you like dessert, you can’t skip this.
That night, we decided to stay in Höfn Guesthouse. It was a lovely room, excellent price and clean and new shared facilities. The best is that it is a central location at Höfn. You can book your stay here. We highly recommend this town. Don’t miss out!
The next day, we continue on the road. Driving for another 1 hour and a half, we made a quick stop in Djúpivogur. Eginn í Gleðivík (Eggs in Gleðivík) are famous outdoor sculptures from Icelandic artist Sigurður Guðmundsson. There are 34 replicas of eggs that represent the great variety of nesting birds in town. This magnificent exhibition is a must stop.
Vattarnes is a historical landmark with a great view to stop for a few minutes to stretch your legs. Looking at this coastline will just make you fall even more in love with Iceland.
We continue our trip to the town of Eskifjörður. This port town is known for its abundant fishing industry, and it has only a population of around 1,000 people. There is a small maritime museum to visit, but the attraction in this town is definitely Randulf’s Fish House. The house was built in 1890, and it is full of history. The second floor is like a museum; it is accessible for everyone and exciting to see. As for the food, you can find anything related to seafood. We tried the seafood soup for only 1900kr. It was delicious, and the bread with Icelandic butter. You will love the originality of this place.
We had a booking at Vök Baths at 6 pm. We recommend to always book in advance. Forty-eight minutes from Eskifjörður, you will go through Egisstaðir and arrive at Vök Baths located in Lake Urriðavatn. This geothermal luxury destination is only around 5.000kr per person, and it is a vital stop. It has three floating pools, and an exit to the freezing lake, that you must try at least once. The facilities include a restaurant, a tea bar, and very modern changing facilities. Buy your ticket here!
Egilsstaðir is the largest town on the east, and one of the most populated in the country. There are many places to visit around the town, but you can also have a great time here, mainly because it has a lot of right places to eat. We visited Glóð for a late snack located in Hotel Valaskjálf. Other places we recommend are Áskur Pizzeria, Eldhúsið at Lake Hotel Egilsstaðir, and Salt Café & Bistro. We ended our day by staying at the main camping site. If you are lucky, you will see some reindeers. Egilsstaðir is famous for this.
We started by driving by the famous Lagarfljót lake. You might remember the lake from the stories of the Monster of Lagarfljót related to the Loch Ness Monster. Hengifoss is the second largest waterfall in Iceland with 128 meters. The view of the waterfall is beautiful, with basalt rock formations and reddish colored cliffs. To reach the waterfall, you will start the hike from the car parking. 1.2km in, you will find Litlanesfoss and approximately 2.2km in, Hengifoss for a total elevation of 300m. We recommend to be very careful and to go all the way through the canyon to get a better look.
We decided to make a small detour to see the puffins. We drove for one hour and a half and reached Borgarfjörður Eystri. So, yes, we drove only to see the beautiful puffins, and we don’t regret it. We went straight to Borgarfjarðarhöfn, the bird watching area. You will see puffins all over, and don’t worry because you will get at least ten good pictures.
Time to relax. We drove for one hour and 20 minutes to get to Seyðisfjörður. The day was getting a little bit grey, so entering the town took us a little while. It was very foggy and rainy. You will remember this town for the rainbow path on the street that leads to the blue church (Seyðisfjarðarkirkja). Cute picture, by the way. We recommend eating at the Nordic Restaurant, and if you are looking for a place to stay, then Hafaldan Harbour (Hi Hostel) is lovely.
The next day, we woke up with all the energy to go to Stuðlagil. 11km of hiking was waiting for us. Stuðlagil didn’t exist until just a few years ago, well, it was there, but we couldn’t see it. The water level from the Jökulsá river fell impressively, letting us with this grand canyon. If you go during the summer, you will see the water’s beautiful turquoise color contrasting with the dark basalt rock columns. It is a must! The only thing is that you have two ways to see the canyon. Well, kind of. You can park at the Grund farm and walk approx. 250 meters to the viewpoint. The not-so-good thing is that you don’t truly appreciate it, so if you are in for an 11km hike, go further to the parking lot at Klaustursel, and start the hike! You will be closer to the canyon, and walk through it, so we recommend it 100%!
Continuing along with our trip, we stopped at Dettifoss. Its name means the “Falling Waterfall.” Dettifoss is proven to be Europe’s biggest waterfall regarding volume, which averages around 500 cubic meters per second during the river’s standard conditions. The waterfall resides in Vatnajökull National Park, and its water volume can often increase if the glacier is melting. The color of the water can seem a little bit dirty. It’s a greyish white, but this is due to all the sediment it carries from the river’s glacier. You will feel the high power this waterfall has as soon as you see it.
On our way to stay in Mývatn, we stopped at this fantastic geothermal spot: Námafjall. As you enter the region of Mývatn, you will see how the colors change on the mountains. A reddish, more volcanic color starts to appear. We were amazed at the amount of boiling mud pots and smoking fumaroles, and the beautiful sulfur crystals. You will see a lot of them in different colors. The smell can be a little bit strong, but nothing you couldn’t handle.
At this point, you will know how in love we are with hot pots in Iceland. Mývatn has a bathing lagoon surrounded by a beautiful landscape. The typical one from Mývatn, like we were describing before. The installations also include steam baths and a café. The entrance fee for adults is around 5500 ISK, teenagers 2500 ISK, and senior citizens and students 3500 ISK. You can rent towels, bathrobes, and swimsuits if you need to.
After relaxing at Mývatn Nature Baths, we were waiting for the evening to come to go to Grotagja Cave. Since this location was featured in Game of Thrones, tourists have gone wild, and the cave was shut down for some months. It still only allows two people at a time to go in. But what’s all the fuss about this cave? This lava cave has a thermal spring inside and used to be very popular as a bathing site in the 70s. But between 1975 and 1985, the water began to warm up a lot due to volcanic eruptions, so it was unbearable for the human body. In the past years, the temperature has been decreasing. It is a small attraction, but very interesting to see. Be careful when touching the water!
The night was coming, and we decided to take our tent out. If you are interested in camping in Mývatn, check Camping Vogar or Camping Mývatn. The next day, we woke up early to go to the famous waterfall Goðafoss. “Waterfall of the Gods” – has a fall of 12 meters high and a width of 30 meters. Click here if you want to know more about the story behind the name Goðafoss.
Lastly, we arrived at our final destination after a 30-minute ride. Akureyri is the fourth largest town in the country after Reykjavík, Hafnarfjörður, and Kópavogur (all these three are part of the capital region). Akureyri is a lovely place to visit. You will find different things to do for different ages, and if the weather continues to be like it has been this year, you will enjoy the sunniest and warmest days in the country. Akureyri has had on this 2020 summer temperatures up to 22 degrees Celcius, something not very common in Iceland. Here are some of the places we recommend in Akureyri:
So, this was the end of our fantastic trip to the east of Iceland. Enjoy your time!