What to see in East Iceland
Egilsstaðir is the thriving centre of East Iceland, and together with the neighbouring village of Fellabær the population reaches about 2000 inhabitants. Its economy is based on providing services for the population of the East, as well as travelers. Whether the traveler needs a post office, bank, bus terminal, airport or a supermarket, or simply would like to go out for a full dinner at a fine restaurant, Egilstaðir is the place to go. There are daily flights to Reykjavík from the airport and the town offers a wide range of cultural as well as sportive activities.
2. Hallormsstaður (30 km/30 minutues drive from Egilsstaðir)
Unlikely as it may sound Iceland has a forestry commission, and Hallormstaður is its platform. Situated on the eastern shore of Lake Lögurinn the Hallormstaður forest has over 40 species of trees from different parts of the world. The forest is the largest woodland plantation in Iceland. The visitor can stroll down one of the marked walking paths, stop by at the Tree Museum or check out Iceland’s oldest tree. The tree was planted in 1938, at Guttormslundur, 2,5 km north of Fosshótel Hallormsstaður and has today reached the height of roughly 15 m. At the Atlavík cove travelers can hire pedal boats, rowboats or canoes. The forest and the lake surroundings are perfect for hiking and in late summer for berry and mushroom picking. Hiking maps are available at the hotel.
3. Reyðarfjörður (30 km/30 minutes drive from Egilsstaðir)
The village of Reyðarfjörður, formerly known as Búðareyri, is situated at the head of a fjord of the same name. The community has little over 600 inhabitants. Reyðarfjörður fjord is the largest fjord on the east coast and the village has a good naturally sheltered harbour. The British occupation of the village in World War II is depicted in the World War II museum that opened in year 1995. There is a pleasant walking trail along the river in the middle of the village. Mount Grænafell is a popular attraction, its top may be reached by a two hour hike. The trail leads up an exceptionally beautiful gorge and once the peak is reached the panoramic view of Reyðarfjörður is breathtaking. The more enthusiastic hikers can climb up the 985 m high Hólmatindur which rises behind the town. Another favoured attraction is Andapollurinn, a large duck pond in the village, into which Salmon is released on a regular basis and fishing licenses can be purchased. Perhaps the most curious attraction is the warm spring at the head of the fjord. A worn out vehicle has been converted into a hot pot for bathing by diverting 27°c warm water into it.
4. Minjasafn Austurlands (The East Iceland Heritage Museum) in Egilsstaðir
The history of the Eastfjords from the settlement to the present day is outlined at The East Iceland Heritage Museum. Features include a restored classic turf farmhouse, rebuilt and furnished inside the museum, a 16th century sword, a display of pagan relics and traditions including a grave and church furnishings dating back to 1744. On weekends visitors can observe spinning and weaving demonstrations and go for a ride in a horse-drawn carriage.
The smooth river Lagarfljót runs alongside Egilsstaðir. It originates in the Vatnajökull icecap and flows north to the Arctic Ocean. A large part of Lagarfljót isn’t a river at all, but a narrow long lake, Lögurinn. The lake is 24 km long and 2 km wide at its widest points and it reaches a depth of 112 m. Like similar long and narrow lakes elsewhere in the world, it is alleged to be the home of a monster, Lagarfljótsormurinn (The Lagarfljót Monster). Over the years the monster has become the emblem of the area and is said to put on an occational appearance. Cruises might be offered from Egilsstaðir.
6. Skriðuklaustur (about 40 km/40 minutes drive from Egilsstaðir)
On the lake shores opposite of Hallormsstaður forest is Skriðuklaustur. It was a site of a Catholic monastery from 1493 until the Reformation, when it was demolished by order of the Danish king. It remained a church until 1792. In 1939 the Icelandic author and poet Gunnar Gunnarsson built a remarkable stone building. It serves as a cultural and learning center during the summer where guests can enjoy various shows and exhibitions, a coffee shop and a personal guided tour through the house.
7. Hengifoss waterfall (about 30 km/30 minutes drive from Egilsstaðir)
Iceland’s third highest waterfall is Hengifoss (“hanging waterfall”). It is situated more or less across the lake from Hallormsstaður forest. It is 120 m high. Around Hengifoss there are colourful rock layers that add to the sensation of the hike to the waterfall, along a well-defined sheep track. Halfway up to the fall is a smaller waterfall, Litlanessfoss encircled by impressive basalt columns.
8. Haunted highway to Borgarfjörður-Eystri (about 60 km/1 hour drive from Egilsstaðir)
A spectacular excursion from Egilsstaðir is to Borgarfjörður-Eystri, by route 94 north. This is an unsettling stretch of highway, with great views as well as dramatic drops down into the sea. There are also graphic indications of fresh landslides. The road was once said to be haunted, by a ghost named Naddi, residing in a certain scree called Naddagil. He was thought to be responsible for the many fatal accidents that occurred on this strip in the Middle Ages.
9. Borgarfjörður-Eystri (about 60 km/1 hour drive from Egilsstaðir)
The serene little village of Borgarfjörður-Eystri has around 100 inhabitants. It is also known as Bakkagerði. It is located beneath an astonishing backdrop of rugged rhyolite and basalt mountains on one side and the stunning Dyrfjöll mountains along the fjord on the other side. Borgarfjörður Eystri / Bakkagerði boasts a colourful turf house that is still inhabited, a small church with a fine-looking alterpiece, and Álfasteinn, a rock shop and company renowned for manifacturing items from Icelandic stones. The fjord is reputed to be the home of some of the largest colonies of hidden people in Iceland and on the outskirts of the village is a rock called Álfaborg (hidden people’s castle). It is held to be inhabited by the hidden people and their queen. One of Iceland’s best known artists, painter Jóhannes S. Kjarval, lived at the farm Geitavík close by and took much inspiration from the place. He made the region famous in his paintings. Critics have even claimed that he taught the Icelanders to appreciate the beauty of the Icelandic landscape. At Hafnarhólmi there is a birdwatching platform, where puffins, gulls and kittiwakes are to be seen. Marked hiking trails form a network along the “Viking Path” area between Njarðvík to Loðmundarfjörður.
10. Seyðisfjörður (about 60 km/1 hour drive from Egilsstaðir)
The long and narrow fjord of Seyðisfjörður is flanked by steep mountains and at its head lies the village with the same name as the fjord itself. The village has around 800 inhabitants and is the closest Icelandic port to the Faeroe Islands and continental Europe. The passanger and car ferry Norræna / Smyril Line operates scheduled weekly tours between Seyðisfjörður and the European mainland all year. The oldest part of the village is built in 19th century Norwegian-style architecture, which makes Seyðisfjörður architecturally unique among fishing villages in Iceland. The many beautiful wooden houses, along with the naturally sheltered harbour are the main attraction. There is a Technical museum, a swimming pool, restaurants and several exciting hiking trails in the nearby mountains.
11. Eskifjörður (about 60 km/1 hour drive from Egilsstaðir)
Like many villages in the Eastfjords, Eskifjörður is named after the fjord on which it is situated. The friendly little village is home to almost 1000 individuals an it is built on a small sand spit and up the hills of the mountain on the fjord’s northern coast, only 20 minutes drive from Reyðarfjörður. Fishing and small scale farming are its main industries. There is a Maritime Museum, located in an aged store from the first half of the 19th century. From the top of the magnificent Mount Hólmatindur that faces the town some of the tallest mountains of the Icelandic interior can be viewed. Helgustaðanáman mine, about 10 minutes drive from town, is among the number one sights in the area. The mine is a well known source of Icelandic spar and its area is a nature reserve and open to all, free of charge.
12. The largest stone collection in the world? (about 120 km/2 hours drive from Egilsstaðir)
Through a lifetime of dedication Petra Sveinsdóttir has created a collection of rocks that may very well be the greatest one in the world. Nobody knows how many rocks and stones there are in Steinasafn Petru (Petra’s Collection of Rocks) in Stöðvarfjörður. This unusual assortment of literally thousands of stones is located in Petra’s pleasant home an spread over her large and neat garden. The garden also contains attention-grabbing artifacts found on the beach, such as buoys, parts of machinery from ships and washing mashines, as well as beautiful artifacts made from stones, garden gnomes etc. The rocks have mainly been gathered on the East Coast which is geologically one of the oldest areas in Iceland. The stones are very beautiful and some are even quite rare.
13. Höfn í Hornafirði
Hornafjarðarbær, or Höfn í Hornarfirði, is a community of 1.830 residents situated on a low-lying peninsula in southeast Iceland. The main trades are fishing and processing of marine products, as well as tourism and commerce. Höfn translates as harbour and there isn’t another good harbour west of Höfn until as far as Vestmanneyjar. More than a century ago people started settling in Hornafjörður around an important trading post. In 1988 the town received municipal rights. Some of the landscape in the region has been declared a natural reserve. All kinds of recreational activities are available to the visitor, such as fishing or whale watching, boat tours, glacier tours, sightseeing tours, museums and several cultural events. The Old Store is an interesting museum of natural history. It contains a diverse collection of artefacts that give the visitor a glimpse of the Icelandic farming society in the past, antique cars and old outdoor farming machinery. Knowledge about the glaciers and graphic explainations about the connection and interaction between humans and nature can be obtained at the Glacier Exhibition. The Maritime Museum has art exhibitions and a crafts shop. There are many marked hiking trails in Höfn and the nearby area and few towns can offer such spectacular views.
Europe’s largest glacier is Vatnajökull. Its name means “Lake glacier” and it is derived from the sub glacial lakes in the volcanically active region in its centre. Its highest peak, Hvannadalshnúkur, reaches 2119 m. Vatnajökull covers an area of approximately 8.100 square kilometers, the average thickness of its icecap is 400 m whereas it is up to 1100 m thick at its thickest point. In total it contains about 3300 cubic kilometers of ice and covers around 8% of the country. Under the icecap there are volcanoes that are still active and the last eruption took place in 2003. There is also a several km long ice cavern system. The landscape under the glacier is undulating, about 600 – 1000 m above sea level, with valleys and chasms. The icecap rises 1400 to 1800 above sea level. Numerous glacier snouts of various sizes flows down onto the lower lying areas. It is hard to put the beauty of the glacial landscape into words, but note that tours to the glacier can be arranged from Höfn.
15. Jökulsárlón (78 km / 1 hr drive from Höfn)
Until year 1950 the 1,5 km long course of Jökulsá glacial river was uninterupted. However, since then the glacier has retreated a gradually increasing lagoon was naturally born. The river has an average flow of 250 – 300 cubic metres per second. Because of the continuing sea erosion the river is getting shorter, resulting in a deep bay. The bay will get longer and longer the further back the glacier snout retreats. The lagoon is up to 190 m deep, filled with cold meltwater. The tip of the glacier snout and a great number of vast icebergs float on the water, the icebergs drifting around and melting fairly quickly. Today the lagoon’s surface is almost at sea level and when sea water comes in with the tides the temperature of the lagoon rises. Seals follow the capelin, salmon and herring that enter the lagoon. Eider ducks are also very common on the lagoon. The colours and shapes of Jökulsárlón are breathtaking and the natural ice sculptures astounding.Taking a boat trip on the lagoon, marvelling at the magnitude of nature, is an unforgettable experience. Situated on the eastern shores of the lagoon is a restaurant which seats between 60 and 70 persons. The bus company Austurleið – SBS stops at Jökulsárlón every day during the summer months.
16. Skaftafell National Park (136 km / 2 hrs drive from Höfn)
Skaftafell National Park was established in 1967. It is an oasis wedged between sand and glacier and it contains some of the most unique natural phenomenons of the country. Its spectacular beauty is a result of the favorable weather conditions as well as the constant interplay of fire and ice. There is a network of trails in the park, but no roads. The history of the region is told at the very interesting Skaftafellsstofa Visitor Centre, where a comprehensive pamphlet with maps and hiking tracks is available. There is also a large camping ground, but note that hammering tent pegs into the gravel surface can be tricky. Other services rendered are washing machines, toilets, a restaurant and a small shop. There are regular guided walking tours as well as daily bus tours from the park to the volcanic Laki area. There are also daily bus stops at the area.