Our country’s southern coast gets much of the attention and fanfare, especially for travelers visiting for the first time. After all, it's where you will find black sand beaches, a glacial lagoon, and a massive ice cap. But local travellers are missing a lot if they only focus their time and energy on the South. East Iceland, by contrast, also has a certain charm of its own that you'll need to discover.
Heading up the Iceland East Coast
Once you've left the south east and Vatnajökull behind, there are plenty of East Iceland attractions to keep you occupied. Iceland's Ring Road winds through the fjords and continues on toward small towns and fishing villages. Our tiny Nordic island is famous for these, so you'll feel like you're getting to know the real Iceland.
Here are some recommendations of things to do and places to go when you're traveling along the Iceland East Coast.
The most beautiful mountainscape in East Iceland: Vestrahorn
Chances are that if you're coming to Iceland for a vacation, one of the big reasons is the beauty of our varied and unusual landscapes. Blooming purple lupine set against the mountain’s jagged peaks is one of the most picturesque things you’ll ever see. You may have seen this postcard-perfect image while Googling pictures of Iceland.
The 454 meter (1450 ft) tall mountain gets its otherworldly silhouette from the gabbro rock that it’s composed of. This igneous rock is formed by slowly cooling iron-and-magnesium-rich magma. The whole process happens underground and it forms holocrystalline masses. The end result is a mountain that looks like it has parts jutting out and makes for a pretty cool visual effect.
As you drive on the road leading past Vestrahorn, you'll be struck by its beauty. And if you’re driving at night, the dazzling Northern Lights only heighten the effect. Just don't get distracted while behind the wheel.
East Iceland attractions: Egilsstaðir and surrounding areas
When driving along the Ring Road in East Iceland, you absolutely have to stop in Egilsstaðir. This small town in Eastern Iceland sits right on the banks of the famous Lagarfljót river. The reason I say famous is that this is where Iceland’s own version of the Loch Ness monster supposedly lives.
It’s also the largest town in the east with a population of about 2,400. The area is known not only for its natural beauty but there are tons of recreational activities and outdoor attractions to take part in. You’ll find hot springs and a mild climate in this very green area of Iceland.
Some of the tourist attractions to visit are Fardagafoss waterfall, the East Iceland Heritage Museum, Selskógur park and forest.
East Iceland Heritage Museum
Icelanders are very proud of their heritage, and rightfully so. This museum was founded in 1943 as a way of preserving the history of the region. It has a collection of objects that reflect the culture, society, and day-to-day lives people in East Iceland. The items on display range from the past to the present.
You’ll find a display from rural times (up until the 20th century) when households had to be self-sustaining. People focused on basic survival but also found time to craft beautiful objects to decorate their homes with.
You’ll also find a permanent exhibition on East Icelandic reindeer. This is the only part of the country where you can find wild reindeer. These graceful animals are intricately linked to the culture of this region. They served purposes as varied as fashion design and handcrafts.
Throughout the year there are also some varied temporary exhibitions.
Waterfalls in East Iceland: Fardagafoss
What would a trip to Iceland be without a trip to a waterfall? Of all of the
East Iceland waterfalls you can visit, this is perhaps one of the most scenic. It takes about half an hour to hike there once you leave your car in the parking area. And when you do you will be rewarded with views of a stunning gorge and a sprawling valley.
They've also attached a chain to the cliff to help you descend to the water easier. This gorgeous cascade is a must-do in East Iceland, or Austurland as it is known in Icelandic.
Another East Iceland attraction
Selskógur has some lovely woodchip hiking trails where you can stroll peacefully on longer or shorter routes through the forest. It’s the largest forest in the area. There are places to stop for a picnic and it's a wonderful activity for a group of friends or family traveling together. If you’re driving through East Iceland, this is a must-see and a hidden gem.
The East fjords in Iceland: Borgarfjörður eystri
Course we had to include the East fjords Iceland for things to do. As you drive your car rental in Iceland, you won’t be able to avoid the East fjords. Nor would you want to. These narrow fjords are long, deep inlets set against steep cliffs and were formed by glacial activity. Although people generally tend to associate fjords with places like Geirangerfjord in Norway, Iceland has them as well.
Ours may not be on as grand a scale as our Scandinavian ancestors, but we are still pretty proud of our fjords. They make the landscape of the Iceland East Coast simply unforgettable and will be one of the favorite parts of your trip.
Borgarfjörður eystri is a fjord know in particular for its breathtaking views and beautiful unspoiled nature. And with only 100 inhabitants, this is one of those quintessential fishing villages you hear so much about.
Close to Borgarfjörður eystri are the Dyrfjöll mountains. At their peak they reach 1,136 meters (3,727 feet) tall, making it one of Iceland’s highest. While it sounds tempting, you should only attempt this hike if you are experienced and confident. Scaling Dyrfjöll is no doubt a challenge that some might not be ready to undertake.
Reyðarfjörður East Iceland
When visiting Reyðarfjörður East Iceland, you'll see the widest and longest fjord in the region. It's more than 30 km (19 miles) long and has had quite a history. From Norwegian fishing stations to becoming a center of regional trade occupation during World War II, this area has a unique and interesting past. You can still see some remnants of the war, such as old barracks the War Time Museum.
There are several hiking paths you can go to, the Molinn shopping center and Fjarðahótel or Tærgesen restaurants, which are located in some old houses steeped in history. Nature lovers can go to the waterfall or nearby Mt. Grænafell.
East Iceland hot springs
I don't have any East Iceland hot springs to recommend specifically. But if you're continuing onward and intend to do the Diamond Circle route, you absolutely have to stop at the Myvatn Nature baths. They are a less crowded, less expensive alternative to the Blue Lagoon. And they're located here in northeast Iceland.
East Iceland travel
Sometimes it's nice to go somewhere that’s a little bit off the beaten path, and that is definitely East Iceland. It's got more of a laid-back, less hectic pace than places like Reykjavik or tourist traps like Reynisfjara Beach. Sometimes it's nice to just take a few days off and relax a little. Come enjoy the slower pace of life on the eastern side of the island and you won't regret it.