While south, west, and south-west Iceland is the hub of commerce with its busy streets, beautiful little markets, monuments, and modern buildings, impressive nightlife, and some of the most frequented tourist attractions like the Golden Circle and the Blue Lagoon, East Iceland brings in the peace and spiritual factor that we all must have heard about. The entirety of east Iceland has been limited to the ones who seek to spend their vacation time in the company of peace more than anything else. The towns are equally beautiful and filled to the brim with historical significance but they are far from the explicit nightlife that towns like Reykjavik and Akureyri flaunt. In short, East Iceland is the less hectic version of the place that you wish to go to on vacation. The secluded glory of East Iceland has been deprived of human touch for the most part which is why it can be enjoyed in its rawest form.
Most travelers who come to Iceland for vacation or otherwise generally limit their travels to the south or the west and occasionally turn towards the north. The reasons for this particular behavior are not very hard to catch. Since most people travel to Iceland by air, they land on Keflavík International Airport which is located close to the capital city of Reykjavik. Attractions that are the nearest to the capital lie either towards the south or the west since Reykjavik is located in the south-western part of the country. When push comes to shove, many of the tourists choose to travel the north because of the Diamond circle destinations, and this leaves next to no time for the east, mostly. The lesser-known attractions of the place also add to this factor. Although when everything is said and done, East Iceland remains to be one of the best places to get some one-on-one time with mother nature and the blinding natural beauty of Iceland – it is isolation at its best.
In this article we will tell you about all the best spots to visit when traveling to East Iceland. Add them to your bucket list and plan a drive around the full Ring Road of Iceland.
This exceptionally beautiful canyon has been hidden for a very long time underwater recently. Stuðlagil is a part of the bigger, Jökla’s canyon located in Jökuldalur valley also known as Glacier’s Valley. A hydroelectric plant – Kárahnjúkavirkjun – was built on the river Jökulsá á Dal also known as, Jökulsá á Brú, and Jökla, which significantly reduced the water flow of the river, revealing the gorgeous hidden canyon. Stuðlagil is definitely one of the most beautiful hidden gems in Iceland given the fact that almost every single element in this valley is nothing but perfection carved into physical form. Not to mention, the valley and the canyon share quite an adventurous spirit which makes it furthermore interesting for the lovers of thrill.
Mind that when we say this, it is not exaggerated at all, when you will finally feast your eyes upon Stuðlagil canyon, you would literally go speechless. The canyon has, hands-down, the most beautiful basalt column formations in the country which is a huge deal considering basalt columns are a very common occurrence in the country and almost all of them are quite beautiful. River Jökla used to be one of the largest and biggest glacial rivers in Iceland and nothing held comparison to its power. Then the hydroelectric plant was built which redirected most of the water that used to get to the Jökuldalur valley to go to the Hálslón reservoir instead in order to power the plant.
The sheer power of the river stopped most people from traveling to the valley since it was impossible to cross it. While the construction of the hydroelectric plant brought in a lot of controversies since it wasn’t doing justice to the environment, it certainly made a way for tourists to travel and experience the gorgeous little valley and the fabulous Stuðlagil canyon. Not only that when Jökla was a glacial river, but it also used to carry a lot of sand, mud, pebbles which made it dusty off-white in color. Now it has become a clear stream of water that features a vibrant aqua color since it is fed by several small sources of water most of which are clear water springs. Out of the two ways that can get you to the canyon, one includes a little bit of hiking which is about 4 kilometers long after you park your car near the farm Klaustursel. The hike will start from the narrow bridge that cannot be crossed in a car. After that, you continue the journey to the canyon on foot which will end with a great prize in the end.
This is the largest sauna and spa in the whole of East Iceland. Vök Baths are located on the edge of lake Urriðavatn and are quite popular for the unique facilities that it offers. There is an open bath on the edge of the lake, 2 huge pools inside the lake which can be accessed through a cold tunnel leading from the bigger outside pool to the inner smaller ones. To top all these fantastic pools, Vök Baths offers a pool bar in one of the pools and a fabulous Tea Bar that makes tisane tea using authentic Icelandic ingredients like herbs and waterfalls. The baths have to change facilities, showers, reception, and places where you can rent swimsuits.
Many of Iceland’s hot springs are filled with naturally hot water with minerals like silica which make them great for your skin. The minerals however give the water a very egg-like smell which is often very off-putting. The water in Vök is naturally heated but does not contain any minerals as such which means that there will be no eggy smell there to disrupt your peace and quiet. So, if the blue lagoon didn’t already bring you the amount of peace that you were looking for then Vök Baths are the way to go. To top it all off, the water in lake Urriðavatn comes from a spring and flows through the bath instead of gathering and staying. Not to mention, the water is drinkable.
The spa welcomes you with a refreshing cup of tisane tea upon arrival. There are several kinds of tickets available at the spa. You can upgrade your general ticket to the comfort ticket which brings you the pleasure of sipping drinks while in the pools. There is a premium restaurant at Vök Baths where you can grab some truly scrumptious dishes made with fresh local ingredients. Needless to say, a trip to Vök is going to be a complete package without being too hard on your pocket.
Hengifoss and Litlanesfoss Waterfall
The third highest waterfall in Iceland, Hengifoss is a waterfall that is better-known for the rocks around it rather than the falls itself. The gorgeous red and black pattern patterned rocks that colors the background of Hengifoss are loaded with years of history that relates to the making and breaking of planet earth. Hengifoss waterfall is quite thin which has earned its name – the ribbon waterfall. There is a beautiful little cave behind the waterfall which you can get to after a small hike. All in all, the experience is going to be quite magical if you are someone who loves nature.
Hengifoss is about 128 meters high and is one of the top landmarks of Eastfjords. It has lava strata surrounding it from all directions. You will find that the cliff in the background has a layered quality with red clay layers and black basalt layers. These layers are a result of 5 or even 6 million years old volcanic eruptions that led to the formation of the basalt and clay layers behind the Hengifoss waterfall. Not to mention, the strips make your pictures several times more beautiful than most other pictures you will take.
Not far from Hengifoss is Litlanesfoss waterfall – another gorgeous beauty with a little bit of basalt magic going on the side. Litlanesfoss is about 30 meters tall and has two separate drops, the first one being smaller than the second one. Litlanesfoss is surrounded by hexagonal basalt columns which can be found at many other places in the country but scarcely anywhere else in the world. However, basalt columns near Litlanesfoss are some of the tallest ones you will see even in Iceland as they go over 20 meters in height. The trail that leads to Hengifoss is the same one that goes to Litlanesfoss. You will pass the smaller waterfall – Litlanesfoss first and then reach Hengifoss after that. Although, if you can find the right angle, you will be able to click a few pictures of Litlanesfoss with Hengifoss peeping from behind. All in all, getting to visit two marvelous waterfalls on a single hike is a sweet deal for every nature lover out there.
With its rainbow high street and the unique blue-colored church, Seyðisfjörður is a gorgeous little town located in the lap of a fjord that goes by the same name. There are about 668 people in this beautiful town of the fjords along with several beautiful waterfalls and mountains. Seyðisfjörður mainly functions on its fish and tourism industry which has been flourishing for the past few years after Iceland established itself as one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. Now, Seyðisfjörður has become a town that is all about the art and artists. The houses are painted in a very quirky manner and the town hosts one of the most popular art festivals of Iceland – LungA – an art festival that celebrates and represents the work of all young artists of Iceland. From concerts to exhibitions, art workshops, and fashion shows, there is basically everything that you would desire from a festival. Not only the tourists, but locals also attend this festival and several others that take place here in this city.
Seyðisfjörður also operates the ferry that travels to Scandinavia, so if you are traveling to Iceland by a ferry, you will most probably start your Iceland journey in Seyðisfjörður. Seyðisfjörður used to be the biggest center for whaling in Iceland before it was banned in the country due to the declining population of the whales. However, whalers, along with Norwegians, are the ones who are responsible for building the town the way it is today along with making it a hub. It also served as a base in world war 2 for the allied forces. There are a telecommunication museum and an art center in the town where you can learn a lot about the history of the town.
The capital in the east, Egilsstaðir is the center of all activities, services, transportation, and commerce in east Iceland. Since it is located close to the Ring Road, it serves as a great place to get some supplies and sleepover for a day or two and enjoy the surroundings as it has great connectivity to the Eastfjords and the Vatnajökull National Park. Egilsstaðir is filled with everything that a traveler would need from hotels, guesthouses, restaurants, information centers, cafés, souvenirs, and gift shops to supermarkets and tour operators along with a domestic airport. As evident, there is probably nothing that you would need and not find in this beautiful town which is very clearly the hub in the east.
Egilsstaðir is also a great place to visit as a tourist destination and not just as a stopover when traveling around the ring road. From cultural events like the electronic music festival – Hringrás, a jazz festival, and the Orsteiti Town Festival to the nearby natural attractions, you will find plenty to indulge yourself in when spending some time in the town of Egilsstaðir. The top two gems that every traveler needs to see when traveling these here parts are Hallormsstaðaskógur – the largest forest in Iceland and the mysterious lake Lagarfjlót. Iceland is not very big on trees and forest areas which makes Hallormsstaðaskógur a unique place to exist in the country. It has grown quite a few over the past century and now features over 8 different species of trees from all over the world.
Lagarfjlót lake gained its mysterious appeal after the reports of sighting of a weird water monster surfaced around the world. The water beast is known as the Lagarfljót Wyrm, a cousin or a distant member of the Loch Ness Monster. Of course, concrete evidence of the same has to be found but several speculations keep surfacing every now and then where people claim to have seen the figure of the shadow or maybe a glimpse of the monster in the lake. Naturally, this mystery has made Lagarfjlót a place of great significance among the tourist destinations around the town.
Primarily a fishing town, Borgarfjörður Eystri is another small town in Iceland which has only 130 residents. A great place for hikers to visit, Borgarfjörður Eystri has many popular trails that are often frequented by tourists and locals with a knack for hiking. The town is surrounded by mountains with the rhyolite ones in the south and the basalt ones in the north. Stórurð, also known as ‘the giant boulder’ is the top hiking site near this town. Along with that, the town and its surroundings are also popular for being one of the best spots in the country for puffin watching.
Many popular Icelandic artists and painters like Johannes Kjarval calls the town of Borgarfjörður Eystri their home. The town several exhibitions and shows that feature the works of the said painter. If you miss the exhibitions or have other plans during that time then you can catch these and many other works in the Kjarvalssafn museum which features several other great pieces of art. A haven for the admirers of good music and public concerts, the town of Borgarfjörður Eystri hosts the Braedslan music festival which represents and features artists like Monsters, Men, Mugison, Belle & Sebastian, Damien Rice, and Emiliana Torrini. The festival was first celebrated in the year 2005 and has even won the Eyrarros award for outstanding cultural achievement in the countryside in 2010.
Something for the lovers of the modern and something for the lovers of the myths, the town of Borgarfjörður Eystri is also known for being the home of the elf queen. There is a huge rock outcrop just outside of the town known as Álfaborg meaning elf rock or elf castle. Tourists are often advised by the locals to go to the castle rock outcrop and pay their respects to the elf queen for good fortune and luck.
Folaldafoss Waterfall is one of the most attractive waterfalls in East Iceland, located close to Djúpavík village. There is a small monument of some sort near the waterfall as well which makes it a place worth visiting to have a time of your life. Folaldafoss Waterfall is 54 feet tall and has an additional 5-feet drop before finally plunging into the gorge. There over a dozen cliffs near the waterfall and the stream manages to squeeze through them and form this waterfall. You will find a little bit of moss on the cliff near the gorge which gives the whole landscape a very fresh and picturesque look. The mountains in the surrounding area of Folaldafoss are very unique and give the waterfall that special look that you have probably not seen before.
If detours are not something that you like to do then this beauty is the perfect place for you to visit. Rjúkandi waterfall is one of the very few waterfalls that one can see from the Ring Road itself. This waterfall is located in the Jökuldalur valley and can be experienced to the fullest once you walk a small path that leads to the waterfall from the main Ring Road. When you are about to reach the Rjúkandi waterfall, you will find that there are a lot of big and small waterfalls that are visible from the ring road. The overbearing number of these waterfalls is probably why Rjúkandi goes unnoticed by most travelers. Rjúkandi is about 305 feet high, 35 feet wide, and has 2 drops. It has a tiered horsetail form which makes it quite pleasing to the eye. The surrounding is filled with beautiful dark-colored rocks and lush green vegetation making it the perfect spot for relaxing and photography.
Fauskasandur Black Sand Beach
A hidden gem even for a part of the country which is known for its lesser-known and traveled destinations, Fauskasandur black sand beach is a true marvel that does not get much recognition as it deserves. Fauskasandur is best known for the giant rock that stands in the middle of the beach, a little inside the water. The rock or the cliff has a little bit of vegetation growing out of it which creates a great contrast with the rest of the dark demeanor of the rock. With white foamy waves crashing on the gorgeous black sand of the beach and the enormous monolith, Fauskasandur proves to be a very scenic place for general visits or photoshoots.
Last but not least, this peninsula of east Iceland houses some of the most wonderful and picturesque tourist destinations of the country which is why it is generally frequented by a lot of photographers. From the most breath-taking mountains of the country to the gorgeous black sand beaches, lagoons, and sky-high cliffs, there is very little that you won’t find here. Vestrahorn from the horny mountain range is the most popular attraction on the Stokksnes peninsula. The whole landscape looks something straight out of a painting and unreal. You will have to visit it first hand in order to finally believe your eyes. The black sand beach on the peninsula is located on a private property which is why there is a small maintenance fee for entrance but it will be worth your while. The dunes of sand with a bunch of dried grass peeping from here and there and the gorgeous Vestrahorn mountain in the background will help you understand why solitude is such a popular thing.