If you have ever considered a self-drive tour around Iceland you are probably aware that Iceland has a main road which is usually referred to as the ring road, as it circles the country. But, as the shortest way around the country, it is good to keep in mind that there are a lot of great sites that are not by the ring road that are well worth exploring.
Here are five reasons why you should consider leaving the ring road in your back view mirror and explore the eastern fjords of Iceland.
Nr 1. Off the beaten path
We don’t know if you have heard, but Iceland is a pretty big deal around now in the tourist realm. Last year around 1,7 million tourists came to Iceland through the international airport at Keflavík. To put things in perspective there are just over 330.000 people living in Iceland at the moment. With the country becoming more and more popular, those of us that prefer a little bit of peace and quiet are having a harder time finding it. So for those looking for a little bit of emotional space, the eastern fjords are ideal.
Nr. 2 The coastal drive
Picture this, narrow fjords surrounded by tall imposing mountains and quaint little villages. One of the reasons you should consider driving through the eastern fjords of Iceland is simply because it is a beautiful drive.
Nr. 3 Food glorious food
We know that we are a bit touting our own horn here, but we feel safe to assert that we have excellent restaurants and cafés in the eastern fjords of Iceland (as well as in East Iceland in general). Here is a sample of what is on the menu.
Havarí in Berufjörður
Technically Havarí is by the ring road but we are including it for two reasons. For one, many people that are traveling the area take the mountain road of Öxi over to Egilsstaðir. When doing so they bypass this little jew. Second, it is just too cool not to include on this list.
So what is cool about Havarí? Well, it is a farm/guesthouse/restaurant/music venue. On the farm, they grow organic vegetables and in the restaurant, their main focus is vegetarian and vegan dishes. What used to be the barn has been renovated and now host the restaurant, giving the whole place a warm rustic feeling.
Café Sumarlína in Fáskrúðsfjörður
In the eastern fjords sits the charming little village of Fáskrúðsfjörður. In an old house by the marina in Fáskrúðsfjörður sits the charming little café of Sumarlína. If you want a good bite to eat in a cozy ambiance, this place is ideal.
L’abri in Fosshótel in Fáskrúðsfjörður
The old historic French hospital in Fáskrúðsfjörður houses both the Fosshotel and their excellent restaurant L’abri. The inspiration for the menu is French while the ingredients are Icelandic. On a sunny day, you can sit out on the pier that overlooks the fjord and nourish both your body and soul.
Randulffs Seahouse in Eskifjörður
We could name a few reasons to visit Randulffs Seahouse. For one they are determined to offer local food as much as they can, so Randulffs is an excellent place to visit if you are looking for a taste of East Iceland. But what should not be underestimated is the setting. The house was built in 1890 by the Norwegian entrepreneur Peter Randulff to serve as a base of operations for his herring fisheries in Eskifjörður. Each year the Norwegians would return to fish herring until one year around 1920 when they simply stopped coming. Nobody is quite sure why they didn’t return. The fact that they left many of their personal artifacts behind would suggest that the decision was made abruptly. Once the house had served its purpose it remained there on the shore, frozen in time. It wasn’t until 2008 that the house was opened to the public. So you see, when you are in Randulffs Seahouse history truly is at your fingertips (Hint: While you are waiting for your order, have a stroll up to the loft and see how the fisherman lived. Many of their original artifacts remain there).
Hildibrand in Neskaupsstaður
It is always wonderful when people who love food prepare your food. And there is no denying that the boys at Hildibrand have a passion for food. Consummated professionals, they are not just intent on serving local food, they also grow and produce a lot of it themselves. So if you are the type that is looking for quality local food, Hildibrand should definitely be on your radar.
We don’t want to drone on forever so we’ll stop now. But keep in mind, there are many other excellent places to dine or find refreshments on that are not included on this list. For further information, you can check on this information site.
Nr 4 All those quirky little museums
Iceland is covered by strange museums which cover a variety of strange topics like witchcraft, ghosts and penises. Although we might not have any outrageous museums in East Iceland we, of course, partake in this wonderful madness.
Arouras exhibition in Fáskrúðsfjörður
The Arouras is an exhibition dedicated to the Northern Lights. Founded on a pure passion for the lights the brighten up the winter sky the exhibition showcase pictures of the auroras captured by local enthusiasts Jóhanna and Jónína. So if you are traveling through Iceland in the summertime, here’s your chance to see get a glimpse of the northern lights.
Petra’s stone and mineral collection in Stöðvarfjörður
This collection is housed in what used the be the home of a woman named Ljósbjörg Petra María. From an early age, nature and stones in particular captivated her and she soon began collecting them. When she and her husband bought the house in 1946 she finally had a place to store her beloved stones (her story is beautifully told on the collection’s homepage http://www.steinapetra.is/story). And although Petra has passed away, her house and garden filled with her beautiful stones stands as a warm reminder of her passion and love for nature.
The museum house in Neskaupsstaður
The museum house in Neskaupsstaður is home to three museums. Those are the Museum of Natural History, Tryggvi Ólafsson’s Art Collection, and Jósafat Hinriksson’s Seafaring and Smithy Collection.
The wartime museum in Reyðarfjörður
This museum takes you back to about 1940 when British soldiers were stationed in Reyðarfjörður during the second world war. During those years there were 4.000 soldiers living in Reyðarfjörður, which might not seem like a lot until you factor in that there were only 300 people living in Reyðarfjörður beforehand. It was a tumultuous time in the history and the museum takes a look back at this time, both from the perspective of the soldiers as well as the inhabitants.
The French museum in Fáskrúðsfjörður
This museum documents the long-standing ties that the town of Fáskrúðsfjörður has with French sailors. From the mid 19th century until the First World War they maintained a station at Fáskrúðsfjörður and in fact built the buildings, the French hospital and the Doctors house, which house the exhibition.
The East Icelandic maritime museum in Eskifjörður
Now, this museum might be called the East Icelandic maritime museum, but in all fairness that is selling it a bit short. The truth is that you are really getting a three for one deal when you go to this museum. The first part of it that you’ll see when entering is an exhibition dedicated to trade (which makes sense as originally the house used to be a store). In the next room, you’ll come to the part of the museum dedicated fisheries and upstairs is a folk museum (don’t forget to visit the upper floor. It is one of the best parts of the museum).
Breiðdalssetur in Breiðdalsvík
We are going to cheat again and again include something that is situated by the ring road. Again, in all fairness, many people bypass this little town of Breiðdalsvík by taking the shortcut over Öxi.
Breiðdalsvík and the surrounding area have long been sought after by enthusiasts about geology as it is an excellent place to see geology at work. Breiðdalssetur houses an exhibition dedicated to geology and linguistics. It also recounts the history of the house, the village, and the municipality.
Nr. 5 winter roads
We are going end with the most practical (and boring, that is why we are leaving it to last) reason not to stick to the ring road and take the road through the eastern fjords. If you are traveling through Iceland at winter time the roads 92 and 96 who lead you through the eastern fjords are generally safer than the other two options you have. The others being, the ring road that will take you across Breiðdalsheiði and the mountain road over Öxi (road 939). Both of these roads can be treacherous over the winter months and tend to be impassable. If you are unsure whether or not it is safe to cross Breiðdalsheiði or Öxi the Icelandic road services have an excellent page where you can get information on conditions on these roads. Just go to roads.is (hint, red is not a good color in this context)
Yeah alright, we are starting with the obvious one. But if we are going to be blogging about things to do and see in East Iceland we have to include Hengifoss to be taken seriously. Hengifoss is Icelands second highest waterfall and arguably East Icelands biggest attraction. But if you find yourself hiking the path to Hengifoss keep in mind that it has a little brother, Litlanessfoss, that you will find on the way. Now little brothers tend to stand in the shadow of the bigger brothers. But Litlanesfoss holds its own and is quite beautiful in his own right. It is surrounded on either side of the gorge by beautiful basalt columns give it a picturesque frame.
Best time to see: Most people visit Hengifoss in the summer and fall. As with other sites in Icelandic nature, weather conditions plays a factor in how accessible it is. Having said that, the area surrounding it is not known for heavy snow. The website for Hengifoss estimates that it takes about 40-60 minutes to hike to it.
The vending machine in the middle of nowhere
We promised you quirky, right? Well it doesn’t get much more kooky and fun then the wending machine right smack in the middle of nowhere. This is arguably the most famous vending machine in all Iceland and that really is saying something. In it you can buy anything from candy to beverages and … well we guess that that’s about it. If you are wondering where it gets its electricity from, it is sun and wind powered. So if you find yourself in on the road between Egilsstaðir and Borgarfjörður in East Iceland you can swing by and say hello to this lonely guard of eccentricity.
Best time to visit: When you are feeling peckish.
The eggs in Gleðivík
Djúpavogur has long been recognized for producing fun and creative people. It seems that this little town seems to have an endless stream of innovative and creative people. And we are not sure you would find something like the eggs in Gleðivík anywhere else. The artist behind this wonderful display is Sigurður Guðmundsson and they were installed August of 2009. The exhibit is comprised of 34 eggs replicating eggs from different birds in Icelandic wildlife. It is on permanent display in the harbor in Djúpavogur and will continue to bring joy and inspiration for years to come. So if you find yourself in East Iceland and looking for things to do, be sure to swing by.
Best time to visit: Spring, summer, winter and autumn. Really just whenever you looking to fuel your creative side.
The spar mine at Helgustaðir in Reyðarfjörður
Spar, often referred to as Icelandic spar is a crystallized variety of calcite that is clear and transparent. From the mine at Helgustaðir spar was mined from the 17th century until the beginning of the 20th century. It is quite possibly the most famous spar mine in the world. In 1975 the site became a natural heritage and it is now forbidden to remove spar from the mine. The mine is open to the public and is about 10 minutes drive from Eskifjörður.
Best time to visit: As is with sites in nature it really depends on the weather. So it is best to check with local people that know how conditions are. In summer and into the fall the mine is easily accessible and it is open to the public and no admission is required.
We hope you are as excited to reading it as we are to bring it to you. Our mission with this blog is simple. East Iceland is our home and although it is a little of the beaten path, we feel that it is quite special. In this blog we want to share with you our passion and let you see East Iceland through our eyes. We want to introduce you to the nature, culture and people that define us. We are going to tell you all about our favorite things to do and places to visit in East Iceland, or as us locals call it, Austurland. And who knows? Maybe, just maybe, you too might come to be smitten with our little part of Iceland.
Fun to know
Iceland is a country of myths and legends and we love to tell stories. The only difference between the stories in East Iceland and the rest of the country is that ours are all true.
There are a few things you only find in East Iceland and not the rest of the country. The flower bluebell is only native to East Iceland and so are the reindeer that we are so very proud of.
East Icelands arguably biggest attraction is the country’s second highest waterfall, Hengifoss. It is so fabulous that it even has its own website.