East Iceland is where you find the actual “ice” of Iceland, including Vatnajökull glacier, a giant white spot on the map that is truly breathtaking in person. You can drive or hike right up to the glacier’s edge in Skaftafell National Park.
In the summer, the only practical time to tour this region, it can be crowded with fellow travelers, but there are plenty of detours to take to avoid the hordes. Lacking buildings and people, the east is the most remote part of the island, and travel is difficult in winter.
One of the least visited destinations in Iceland is one you should keep on your radar: the Eastfjords. If you’re looking for remote, unspoiled beauty, it’s here. The Ring Road weaves through the fjords, where you will see gorgeous mountains, charming fishing villages, and thriving wildlife. It’s not easy to get around the region (you need a car), but it’s worth the costs and trouble.
The east is also home to one of the most active volcanic areas on the island, and Vatnajökull National Park deserves its own day (at least) in its own right. Navigating the glacier (with a guide and proper equipment) is one of those unforgettable, bucket-list excursions.
East Iceland is often overlooked but has some of the most pristine, untouched nature in the country. If you can spare a couple of days, spend some time hiking and photographing the Eastfjords. Even during the high season, there’s a good chance you won’t bump into many other tourists. The east can be your own private treasure.
- Mount Snæfell: The highest mountain (excluding glaciers) in Iceland towers a whopping 1,833 meters, but it’s only a moderate hike to the top, where the view spans from the highlands to Vatnajökull and all the way out to sea.
- Papey: Small Papey is affectionately called “Bird Island” because 30,000 pairs of puffins occupy the island during the summer. Eider ducks and black-legged kittiwake birds also nest here.
- Vatnajökull Glacier: Covering about 8 percent of the country, the Water Glacier is the biggest glacier in Europe and a fantastic region to visit. Under the ice cap are still-active volcanoes.
- Jökulsárlón: This Glacier Lagoon is not very wide, but it is up to 250 meters deep, which makes it the deepest lake in Iceland. Huge blocks of ice constantly break off the glacier, and large icebergs float along the lagoon.
- Skaftafell National Park: Skaftafell is one of East Iceland´s most beautiful places, with striking white glaciers against a backdrop of green fields and black sands.
Planning Your Time
East Iceland is not conducive to tight schedules, as weather can be unpredictable and winds punishing. It’s best to visit in summer. Winter in particular can make travel to the area challenging. The wind and snow can make travel difficult at best, dangerous at worst. Monitor weather conditions closely and check to see if roads have been closed.
The Ring Road (Route 1) takes you through the east, and most people choose either Egilsstaðir and/or Seyðisfjörður as a base. Both towns are complete with guesthouses, bus stations, and airports. Some guesthouses and restaurants operate only June-August. To spend a lot of time in the Eastfjords, Seyðisfjörður is the best option.