Top 10 Things to See and Do in East Iceland

Top 10 Things to See and Do in East Iceland

East Iceland is one of Iceland’s most remote corners, boasting a diverse culture, fascinating history, and more than its fair share of breathtaking scenery. It’s a region that receives few international visitors, most zooming through on their way to the more popular natural attractions in the north and south. For many, this leaves little time to really dig into the region.

For those who do stay a while, they do discover that East Iceland is home to some of the most captivating landscapes in the country. You’ll find it in the olden-day fishing villages, the towering fjords, the verdant valleys filled with lakes and forest. The region is the perfect choice to slow down and soak in some of Iceland’s most peaceful and stunning natural environments.

Below, we’ve rounded up the top 10 things to see and do in Iceland. Consider including them in your campervan itinerary – they’re well worth your time.

1. Visit Stuðlagil Canyon

One of the best things to see in East Iceland is Stuðlagil Canyon, located near the Jökuldalur Glacier Valley in East Iceland. Stopping here offers visitors an out-of-this-world experience.  The canyon features basalt columns that tower over a magnificent 150 km long glacial river known as Jökla. It’s a powerful sight, made even cooler when you clamber down to the river’s base to stand on the basalt columns themselves, admiring them as they rise around you.

The Jökla river was once so powerful and dangerous that it divided Jökuldalur Valley into two, isolating farmers and communities for a long time. As a result, a dam was built across it to solve the problem, lowering the water level to reveal the canyon, which has now become more popular among tourists and locals alike. Don’t forget to visit the Stuðlagil when you’re visiting Iceland to enjoy the scenery and marvel at its beauty – it’s the perfect addition to a ring road trip as well.

2. Admire Hengifoss Waterfall

Hengifoss is a 128 m waterfall that cascades from the Moorland Cliffs of Fljótdalsheidi. This is the country’s third tallest waterfall and one of the most famous waterfalls in East Iceland. The red clay layers between the dark-colored basalt rock on the face of the cliff offer a beautiful backdrop for the narrow cascade of water tumbling down, and they are what make the falls so fascinating.

A hike from the parking area to the falls takes around 40 to 60 minutes (remember to bring your walking boots). Located along the scenic route to the falls is another 35 m high waterfall, Litlanesfoss, which is notable for the basalt columns that surround it. Both waterfalls provide visitors with a memorable experience for their campervan trip in Iceland, as well as excellent photo opportunities.

3. Bathe in the Vök Baths

The Vök Baths in East Iceland is a geothermal spa conveniently located near Egilsstaðir, the largest town in the region. The baths sit on the shores of Lake Urriðavatn and are the only floating geothermal baths in the country. Although the waters of the Vök Baths are geothermally heated, they are devoid of minerals such as sulphur and silica, resulting in a lack of the eggy smell found in most Icelandic pools. This is because the water in the lake comes from a spring and flows continuously through the baths – a unique feature in Iceland.

Indoor changing rooms with private showers are available, as well as a reception where swimsuits and towels can be rented. The baths also have a pool bar where you can enjoy refreshing drinks while bathing in its crystal-clear waters. After you’re done, guests can make use of a Tea Bar to make tisanes (teas) with Icelandic herbs and water from the lake, or enjoy a meal at Vök Bistro, an on-site restaurant that serves locally made cuisine.

4. Explore Along the Banks of the Lagarfljót

The Lagarfljót is a 53 sq km glacier-fed lake in East Iceland, and one of the defining features of Egilsstaðir. Silvery water stretches for miles through the valley, offering plenty of chances to get out and explore. One of the most fascinating aspects of the lake is the folklore about a monster within, known as the Lagarfljót Wyrm, not unlike the Loch Ness Monster of Scotland.  There have been several eye-witness accounts over the ages of the monster swimming through the waters, who is claimed to live in the deepest parts. The most recent sighting was in 2012, reported by a local farmer.

With a campervan, it’s easy to drive around and explore the banks of the lake. We recommend visiting Atlavik, one of the best campsites in Iceland. Being by the waterfront is pleasant, and there are several trails that explore Iceland’s largest forest, Hallormsstaðaskógur. The famous waterfall Hengifoss (mentioned above) is also close to the lake.

5. Capture a Photo of the Incredible Vestrahorn

By far, one of the must-see natural attractions in East Iceland is Vestrahorn Mountain – you’ve probably already seen countless photos of this beauty. Also known as ‘The Batman Mountain’ in Iceland, this mountain range is on the Stokksnes Peninsula near the town of Höfn. It is made of gabbro and granophyre rock, unlike the basalt and lava rocks which make up many Iceland's mountains. This fact gives the mountain a unique edge over many others, shifting from black to grey in the often-stormy Icelandic weather.

Vestrahorn is a photographer's paradise not just because of the awesome mountain, but the stunning scenery that surrounds it. A black sand beach, tufts of bright green grass, and a rough sea all help create an atmosphere that will have you hanging around for ages. Calm weather and high tide during the summer allow for beautiful reflections in the water. In the winter, it’s a favourite spot to try and catch the northern lights dancing above the mountain.

If you’re on an Icelandic campervan trip, keep in mind that a small fee is charged at the Viking Café to access the road to the mountain.

6. Complete the Epic Day Hike Stórurð

One of East Iceland's natural treasures is Stórurð (Icelandic for ‘Giant Boulders’), located at the base of the Dyrfjöll mountains. As the name implies, the landscape is littered with large boulders, which were most likely carried down from the mountains by moving glaciers at the end of the last ice age.

To get here, there are several hiking trails to enjoy. Some will take you through lush valleys and green meadows, while others will take you past alpine lakes, waterfalls, and breathtaking mountain views. One of the quickest trials to follow is trail no. 9, a 10 km trail that takes about 4 hours to complete. Another longer option is trail no. 8 which takes about 8 hours to complete. As always when hiking in Iceland, be sure to carry enough food, water, and appropriate gear for the unpredictable Icelandic weather.

7. Soak in the Djúpavogskörin Hot Pot

One of the coolest hot springs in East Iceland is Djúpavogskörin hot pot, which is also a bit of a hidden gem. It is located just off the ring road to the west of Djúpivogur. Once you arrive, there’s nothing for miles except this inviting bath, with stunning views out towards the coast. The water is incredibly hot, so you may need to sit on the edge from time to time to cool down during your dip.

There are no buildings or changing facilities in the vicinity, so changing is done outside or in the parking area, and towels and bags are placed on a metal clothes stand. Hot springs are one of the best attractions of a campervan trip in Iceland.

Read: The 10 Best Hot Springs in Iceland

8. Admire Petra’s Stone Collection

Petra's Stone Collection is a museum founded by Ljósberg Petra Mara Sveinsdóttir, who lived in the little town of Stöðvarfjörður. The Museum features a collection of crystals, minerals, and colourful stones that were amassed throughout Petra’s lifetime; with more than 70% of them coming from the surrounding area. The collection also portrays East Iceland as one of Iceland’s oldest geological regions with a diverse collection of rocks and minerals.

The museum's first visitors were a few Icelanders who wanted to see the stones, but as time went on, the stones begun to attract the attention of tourists. It soon became a popular destination for thousands of visitors each year. The museum now receives between 30 and 40 thousand visitors each year, making it one of the most popular tourist destinations in East Iceland.

9. Visit the Puffins at Borgarfjörður Eystri

Borgarfjörður Eystri is a small village in Iceland's East Fjords. This remote village is surrounded by stunning natural beauty, but one of the main attractions for campers here is that it’s one of the best spots in Iceland to see puffins.

Located a few kilometers north of the town is the islet of Hafnarhólmi, which is set behind a small fishing harbour. Every year from mid-April to mid-August, around 10,000 puffins come here to nest. The intrepid locals have built boardwalks and viewing platforms, making it easy for visitors to get up close and personal with the puffins. Other birds such as fulmars, kittiwakes, and common eiders are also found here.

Once you’ve finished observing the puffins, we strongly recommend you camp overnight here to take advantage of some of the incredible hiking trails that delve into the surrounding mountains. This is one of the best hiking regions in Iceland.

10. Marvel at Askja in the Highlands

The trickiest location to get to on this list, Askja is an area in the Eastern Icelandic Highlands, north of Vatnajökull Glacier. If you’re travelling with a 4x4 campervan in Iceland, you’ll be able to reach this spot – otherwise, you’ll have to join a tour (there are regular departures from both Akureyri and Egilsstaðir). It’s one of the best spots in the Highlands.

The attraction of Askja is in its violent, dramatic, and fantasy-like scenery. It’s an area that has suffered through several powerful eruptions, carving out large craters, jagged mountains, jet-black sand dunes, and incredible volcanic lakes. There’s nowhere else in Iceland that will make you feel as small or as insignificant as this location. Another attraction of the area is a crater filled with milky blue water, which sits at around 25°C – ideal for a quick dip.

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