Highlights of the Icelandic East Fjords

In Iceland’s East Fjords, you’ll find many peaceful fjords, small fishing villages, and scenic trails tucked away in the hollow of towering mountains. Often overshadowed by more hyped, nearby attractions like the Glacier Lagoon and Myvatn Lake, make no mistake--the East Fjords are definitely worth a few days' trip. Day excursions will take you hiking past waterfalls, kayaking through the fjords, or exploring emerald ponds.

The following sights are listed roughly in order as you would approach from north to south, driving clockwise along the ring road.

Hengifoss and Litlanesfoss

Hengifoss

Driving south on the road from Egilsstadir to the East Fjords, take a quick 20-minute detour from the Ring Road. Drive on the east side of Lake Lagarfljot, past a scenic view of Mt. Snæfell and the Hallormsstaður forest. Continue along Route 931 to the parking lot at the base of the trailhead. From here, it’s just 2.5 km to Hengifoss waterfall, the third largest waterfall in Iceland, and you’ll pass Litlanesfoss on the way. If you’re looking for hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops or visitors centers, they cluster around in the area as well.

The waterfall and its huge basalt gorge face southeast, so best light is in the morning, when the sun’s rays fall fully on the water. Best months to visit are in late June and July, when the waters flow in abundance--and less so in drier August.

 Borgarfjordur Eystri

The Harbor at Borgarfjordur Eystri
The Harbor at Borgarfjordur Eystri

Driving north on road 94 will take you to Borgarfjordur Eystri. This town is a paradise for hikers, with a plethora of trails up the mountains and beside the ocean. A fantastic day hike is Stórurð, a tranquil hiking area full of mossy meadows, gigantic tuff boulders, and sea-green ponds. It’s no wonder that this area is populated with tales of elves and hidden people who live in the rocks! Take Road 94 or hike 2-3 hours from town to reach the trailhead. Climb past a short steep ascent on Geldingafjall and it's smooth hiking for 6-8 hours in otherworldly surroundings. 

Wild Reindeer

You can often spot wild reindeer roaming in the East Fjords

Driving through the East Fjords, you may just spy some wild reindeer on your route. The area is famous for herds of reindeer, introduced from Norway late in the 18th century. Their territory ranges from Vopnafjördur to the Glacier Lagoon, but their favorite habitat is the area around Snæfell.

Seydisfjordur

Sedisfjordur from the Vestdalur trail (photo by Chris McCarty)

After a 1.5-hour drive through the mountain pass, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the fjords. Once in Seydisfjordur, explore this artsy town with its colorful Norwegian-style houses, and displays of public art and sound sculptures. This is one of the prettier towns to spend the night in the East Fjords.

The adorable town of Seydisfjordur is populated with local and visiting artists from all over the world. In summer, the artist community throws events and exhibits all over town, If you’re in the area in July, visit the Lunga art festival--a weeklong celebration of culture and creativity, with seminars, lectures and concerts.

A few simple trails lead from the town to a troll church, or to waterfalls that pour into the fjord. Hikers looking for more of a challenge should head to the north side of the fjord, keeping eyes peeled for a parking lot, just before the hotel Langahlid Seydisfirdi. From here, hike 20-30 minutes onto a very rough dirt road, past beautiful cascades. Continue upward for spectacular views of the fjord and Mt. Bjolfur. This historic route used to transport mail and goods between Seydisfjordur and other nearby towns at the turn of the 19th century. At the very top of this summit lies the beautiful lake, Vestdalsvatn--you should reach it after 3 hours of hiking. This is also the site of a tiny cave where workers found the remains of a 30-year-old woman from the Viking era. Dubbed Fjallkona, or "Lady of the Mountain," her grave was adorned with more than 400 pearls and brooches that date back to the 10th century.

Scenic Fjord Route 92

View north along Scenic Route 96

As you drive on southward, you can choose from Route 1 to Breiðdalsvík or the more scenic route 92 to 96. Route 1 is faster by nearly 40 minutes, but you can’t beat the gorgeous views of the fjords along Route 96.

Breiðdalsvík

Stretch your legs at this harbor town, just off the Ring Road. The tiny town of Breiðdalsvík boasts a meager population of 139, but it's the cool market of Kaupfjelagið that’s worth a stop. Here you can shop for souvenirs, fresh bread, wool clothing, mittens, hats, local dried cod, snacks and other knick-knacks. Plus you can’t beat the landscape: blue seascapes, black sand beaches, majestic mountains and the Arctic forest of Jórvíkurskógur. The alpine peak of Tóartindur dominates over the valley.

Djúpivogur

Djúpivogur lighthouse along the shore (photo by Chris McCarty)

Djúpivogur sits on edge of its fjord and, as the southernmost town of the East Fjords, is a great place to hang your hat. You can take a brief 1-mile walk along the shore to explore the lighthouse on the rocks. Langabúð is the local café with homemade cakes, and for fresh fish dinner, try Hótel Framtíð.

Papey

Hop on a ferry from Djúpivogur to Papey, the island of puffins. The ferry ride is stunning but only available in the summer. Watch herds of seals on skerries and thousands of birds hanging on cliffs, and explore the oldest and smallest wooden church in Iceland. Local folklore claims that Irish monks inhabited Papey in the decades before the first Viking settlements in Iceland.

Höfn

View of Vatnajokull Glacier from Hofn (photo by Chris McCarty)

Continue along the Ring Road to Höfn, making a stop at the black rock beach at Hvalnes Nature Reserve. If you’re lucky, you may even spy the ballets of swans that hug the jagged cliffs. Stop by the Pakkus restaurant for a lunch of langoustines and lobster. Höfn’s Visitor Center is a crash-course in the Vatnajökull National Park and the history of Höfn.