We all have our reasons for traveling. We all have our ideas about what it is that we want to experience and how it is going to enrich our lives. But a big part of why people chose to visit our little Island is the nature of Iceland.
And you have undoubtedly heard about the must-see sites in Iceland such as Þingvellir, Geysir and Gullfoss (coincidentally did you know that Iceland is home to the waterfalls Gullfoss, Goðafoss and Gufufoss. I’m pretty sure that there is a way to make a drinking game out that). But what I want to do is to tell you about some of the must-see nature sites here in East Iceland. I could easily have had this list a lot longer, so don’t be shocked if in the future I’ll tell you about another top 5 nature sites of Austurland (and even yet another … you get the idea). So here is my list.
It is hard to put into word what it is like to experience Stórurð. It is a strange and mesmerizing sight to behold. There you will find green meadows and deep clear ponds surrounded by huge boulders that look like they fell from the sky. The truth is that these huge rocks fell and glaciers eons ago, and when the ice started to move it carried the boulders where they now sit. The scene is quite serene but at the same time speaks to the immense power the shaped this beautiful area.
Now Stórurð does not sit by the side of the road and there is a fair bit of hiking involved if you want to visit it. An excellent place to start the journey is by the serves houses in Vatnsskarð (follow road 94 from Egilsstaðir on the way to Borgarfjörður Eystri). From there, there is a marked trail leading to Stórurð (and if you like a guided tour, we offer those at Meet the Locals). Keep in mind that the area is known for gathering a fair bit of snow during winter, so if you are traveling early spring you might want to consult a local person who knows conditions in the area.
It wasn’t so long ago that visitors to Hengifoss were few and far between. But in the last 15 years number of guest that come to call on it has imploded. So what is it that draws people to Hengifoss. Well, to begin with, it is Iceland’s second highest waterfall at 128 meters (which corresponds to about 420 feet). And the backdrop of Hengifoss is beautiful. The rock face is decorated with layers of red strata (personally I always thought that it looks like he is wearing Icelandic woolen sweater).
The path from the parking lot up to the waterfall is about 2,5 kilometers, and the hike up takes about 40-60 minutes. Now the path is sometimes steep and rough, but don’t worry, nature provided an incentive. Roughly halfway up you will come across the waterfall Litlanesfoss. Litlanesfoss is surrounded by beautiful basalt columns that are some of longer ones you’ll find in Iceland.
A word of warning, when there has been heavy rain, or ground is very wet due to the melting of snow and ice, part of the path can be slippery. So have good shoes and be mindful of your footing.
Where: In Fljótsdalur about 35 kilometers (about 22 miles) sits Hengifoss. Please keep in mind that there is another waterfall in Austurland called that is in Norðfjörður. It has happened that people have mistaken the two (although Hengifoss in Norðfjörður is also well worth the visit).
3. Neskaupsstaður nature reserve
The nature reserve in Neskaupsstaður was indeed the first of its kind in Iceland when it was established in the early 1970’s. With beautiful landscape and views, it is a great place to get in touch with Icelandic nature, its fauna and birdlife. There are many hiking paths you can explore. One of which will take you to the cave Páskahellir (which would translate to Easter Cave).
Two explanations have been given as to how Páskahellir received its name. The former says that on Easter morning the sun rises above horizon and dances on the waves of the ocean. The second tells on Easter morning seals came to the shore and cast of their skin and took human form (Icelandic folklore is full of tales like these. On new years night cows take a break from mooing and speak as humans). A local farmer saw this and took the skin of a seal woman he thought was fair so that she could not return to the sea. She then became his wife and bore him seven children. One day she found here sealskin and return to the sea to her family she was separated from when she was trapped in human form.
For further information you can check out this printable PDF with walking routes in the area.
4. Klifbrekkufossar waterfalls in Mjóifjörður
To be fair, Mjóifjörður (the fjord where you’ll find Klifbrekkufossar) could in and of itself be an entry to this list. The fjord is home to about 20 people who live there all year round. Usually, the first winter storm closes the road to Mjóifjörður and isn’t cleared until the spring. During winter the only way in and out of Mjóifjörður for its inhabitants is by boat. But when spring comes the whole fjord comes to life and is amongst other things known for diverse birdlife.
The name Mjóifjörður would translate to narrow fjord and it is with good reason it was given that name. The tall hillsides frame the narrow fjord and rivers and creeks run from the mountain down to the sea. But the crowning jewel of the fjord is the row of the waterfall called Klifbrekkufossar. You’ll find them neatly marked with a sign when you come down the mountain road into the fjord.
Where: On the way to Mjóifjörður. Now, you can drive there yourself, just be aware that the road is a gravel road (I only say this because I know most of you are accustomed to asphalt).
5. The puffins in Borgarfjörður Eystri
Why do we find puffins so captivating? Alas, I don’t have the answer to that. But I do know where one of the very best places to see them in Iceland is. And that is in Borgarfjörður Eystri. By the harbor sits the little Island of Hafnarhólminn (don’t worry, it is connected to land and you can walk over there from the parking lot) where every summer about 8-10.000 couples of puffins breed. The facility at Hafnarhólminn are excellent and allow you to observe the puffins in their natural habitat. It doesn’t hurt either how beautiful Borgarfjörður is.
Want to know more? Check out puffins.is
If you liked this you might also like Nine unique places and buildings in East Iceland, 10 places to enjoy local food in Austurland, Five unique things about Austurland, another five must-see places in East Iceland or Austurland – attractions and things to do in East Iceland.