Visiting East Iceland requires some time, it is hours away from Reykjavík and does not include the most famous attractions of the country. This is why, unfortunately, too many travelers decide to skip it. However, there is a tremendous amount of places that are worth a visit. I will list 4 of them below, altogether, they can be visited in 2 to 3 days.
I have been to the east for a few trips but none of them was long enough in my opinion. The eastern region of Iceland is too often ignored by travelers driving the Ring Road, this less visited area is full of gorgeous sites preserved from herds of tourists. You just need to know where to look, take your time and dare to wander aside of the Road n°1. This little guide should provide a few hints about what to do and where to go, although, please keep in mind that this is a non-comprehensive list.
Most of the advices and recommendations I give in this post are based on my own experiences. If I sometimes write about places I have not been to, this is because those are landmarks I plan(ned) to visit, therefore, I had the opportunity to gather information about them. I will of course be clear about that.
It is important to understand why just a few people are visiting the east, just so one does not think it is because the region has too little to offer.
The first reason why travelers tend to skip the east is obvious; it is far away from Reykjavik. You cannot go there from the capital on a day trip. The second reason is that the two main cities (the term “city” refers to a town of more than 1000 inhabitants) of east/South-east Iceland on the Ring Road are Egilsstaðir and Höfn. Let’s say a traveler is roaming the Ring Road clockwise during a one week trip. One will be really likely to stay overnight in Egilsstaðir (or Seyðisfjörður) after visiting the famous places of the North (Myvatn, Dettifoss etc.), and willing to stay in Höfn the next night in order to wake up early and enjoy the gems of the south coast (Jökulsarlon, Fjallsarlon, Skaftafell ….). The 3 hours drive (187 km, 116 miles) between the two cities, tempts travelers to skip the eastfjords and drive straight through the region, perhaps stopping for lunch or pictures along the way. Although for sure, driving in the eastfjords and taking pictures on the road is already a stunning experience for a first visit in Iceland.
But if you want to travel a bit off the beaten path, and if you are not that interested in a “must do trip”, then I will definitely recommend that you take at least 2 to 3 days to visit that part of the country. And I will tell you how.
Seyðisfjörður is a fishing village located at the tip of a fjord in the east of Iceland. The population is roughly 650, yet it is a major harbor for cruise ships and ferries. If you do not want to fly out of Iceland, this is where you’ll have to go to take the ferry to Denmark.
I love Seyðisfjörður.
I have been there a few times already and it’s always an amazing experience. There is a lot to do there to enjoy the surroundings, with nice walks along the fjord and a few summits to hike. But I will be honest … I did not do that. I mostly just enjoyed the atmosphere of the town, wandered around the harbor, took pictures and had a few pints and burgers in the great “Kaffi Lára El Grillo Bar”. It’s a wooden pub with quality food and beer that they brew themselves. Another perk of it is the terrace on the colorful rainbow street with a nice view on a pastel blue church.
One must know that there are a lot of small towns in Iceland. With barely a few hundreds inhabitants, most of those villages have nothing special to offer beyond peacefulness and quietness. Seyðisfjörður is quite the opposite; you can immediately feel that despite being a small and remote town it is a pretty lively and artistic place. I cannot explain it more, you just FEEL good in Seyðisfjörður. This short video has been made there and I think it sums up pretty well the atmosphere of the city:
So, if you’re in Seyðisfjörður, whether you got there by the road or on a cruise ship, do not skip it. Go and explore, if you want to chill with a nice lunch/dinner and a beer, you will enjoy your time. If you want to wander in the nature and gaze at the stunning views on the fjord, you will also enjoy your time. This is actually my plan for my next visit.
For a mysterious reason, I never remember the name of this waterfall, even before writing those lines; I had to check it on google first. I have been living in Iceland for almost two years now and I usually have no issue with landmark’s names, including the ones that sound really odd to my French ears. But somehow, Fardagafoss still resists me.
In the previous topic, I was talking about Seyðisfjörður, if you are not on a boat; the only way to leave the place is the road 93 also known as “Seyðisfjarðarvegur”. A bit before the end of the road, on your right, you will find an access to a car park; this is where the walk to the waterfall starts. If you go all the way to the waterfall and back, count 2 hours to be sure, it might take a bit less than that.
Fardagafoss (hopefully, after this article, I will remember its name forever), is not the most famous waterfall of Iceland. It is probably not the most spectacular either, although, it has very nice features that makes it worth your time.
Unlike other places where you have to walk a few kilometers to figure out what you are heading to, you can actually see Fardagafoss from the car park, and you will have it in sight most of the walk. The first part is slightly steep and there are no obstacles on the way. If you do not wear hiking boots, first part is doable; I would still always recommend wearing some.
You will walk along streams of water coming from the waterfall, between dense bushes and lot of colorful flowers. At the end of this first part you will be granted by a gorgeous overview of Egilsstaðir and the valley around on your left side and a stunning view on the whole waterfall on your right.
The second part of the walk is a little bit more technical. It is now going down, path is narrow, it was muddy and slippery when I was there (September 2017) and you might have to hold on the rocks on your left to keep balance. But it is worth it; the perk of this part is that it brings you BEHIND the waterfall, as in Seljalandsfoss (famous waterfall on the south coast of Iceland) and from there, through the water, you still get the view on the city and the valley. Another good point? From my experience? I did it in early September, and I was standing alone behind the waterfall.
To explain if the hike is challenging or not, I would say that first part is really easy, for everyone. I did it with my parents (70 and 80 years old) and they managed. Although they could not follow through the second part, for this one, I would definitely recommend hiking boots, even if it is a short walk.
I have not been to Hengifoss … yet. I planned to go twice during my previous trips to the east, but finally made other choices. Still, as it is on my bucket list and as some friends told me about it, I can say a few things, but I will stay brief.
The path to Hengifoss is pretty easy to find, it is on road 931 and unlike other destinations, Google Maps will guide you correctly (always be doubtful about the accuracy of Google Maps when traveling in Iceland). And it is on the way to the next item of this list: The Waterfall circle hike, Laugarfell.
The walk should take about an hour. The waterfall is 128 meters (420 feet) high and you will also spot another one on the way: Litlanesfoss waterfall known for its basalt columns. Once in Hengifoss, you can either gaze at the waterfall from where you are or, if the river stream is weak and shallow enough, you can cross the river and head to a cave behind the waterfall.
I was there in early May 2018, the weather was still …. let’s say … hmmmm … “Icelandic”. Weather is often better in eastern and northern parts of Iceland than it is the west and the south. This means that we had sunny days and even relative warmth in our cottage in Egilsstaðir. But as soon as we drove on the road to Laugarfell and started to venture more into the country, a bit in altitude, we could see snow within a few kilometers radius.
We were a group of 5 people, with different interests and expectations about our trip, and from what we read online, this hike was the best compromise, because of the perks listed below:
• 8 km (5 miles) hike, no specific difficulty on the way, it is a loop.
• Countless waterfalls.
• Hotpots at the beginning and the arrival of the trail. If you are not a guest of the lodge, you have to pay to bathe in the hotpot and use showers.
Those things did not concern us, but they are also good points:
• Lodge with showers and rooms by the car park where the trail begins. It was closed when we were there and I did not find information about opening seasons on their website.
• Possibility to extend the hike for the most adventurous with another path. Not a loop.
If you do some research online about this hike, you will read that there are 5 waterfalls and one canyon to spot on the way. I think this is an understatement. Even if you just count the biggest waterfalls, they are countless. And I counted at least two canyons, but hey, who am I to say what is a canyon and what is not?
As I mentioned, the hike is quite easy, the path is flat and the trail is well marked. We did it in May and there was still lot of snow on the path and on lands. For sure, it made it special, but muddy. The vision of the waterfalls breaking through ice and snow was gorgeous, and way above our expectations. I really want to do it again in summer though, to see it after vegetation blossomed.
Other highlights of the hike are the canyons. They are scattered with countless waterfalls all along, I would say at least 10 maybe even 20 of them. We also had the chance to spot lot of geese in the area as they were nesting at that time. On the side of the trail, along one of the canyons; there are dozens of piles of wood chunks along the way. I had no idea why they were there, in such a remote place, so I just assumed they were cairns, even though I never saw wooden cairns before.
The access to this hike is easy, you can find it on Google Maps, and it will not require a four wheel drive, at least not when we were there. I think earlier in year driving would have been way trickier, maybe even impossible. So remember to always check road.is and safetravel.is before going anywhere. This advice is 100 times truer if you are going even just a little bit toward the highlands. Weather and conditions can change drastically within just a few kilometers in Iceland.
The hike is easy, but still for “hiking enthusiasts”; if walking is not your thing, do not go there, there is nothing to see from the car park and the hike takes about 4 hours lunch break included. Hiking boots are mandatory.
This article presented just a glimpse of what you can do in the east, with four different locations, lot of waterfalls, for sure, but also towns, canyons and mountains. If you want more information about what to do and see, check directly on Travelade. The four things previously mentioned can be combined in a three days short trip as follow:
_ Day 0: late arrival in Seyðisfjörður, dinner at El grillo.
_ Day 1: Chilling in Seyðisfjörður or hiking around.
_ Day 2: Fardagafoss in the morning, lunch in Egilsstaðir, Hengifoss in the afternoon, night in Laugarfell’s lodge
_ Day 3: The Waterfall circle hike in the morning, then departure to your next adventure.
Here is a Google Map of the itinerary, you can, of course, do it the other way around.
Except for Laugarfell, I did not give any advice about accommodations, as I do not have that information, but you can easily find online many ways to book an AirBnB, guesthouse or lodge. Also, if camping is your thing, please remember to always sleep in a campsite, there are a lot of them all over the country, and they are easy to find.