North and East Iceland Travel Tips
Experience the magic of nature and embark on a very special adventure in the land of fire and ice. / North and East Iceland Travel Tips
Akureyri to the north and Egilsstaðir to the east are ideal bases for exploring the famous Ring Road, which connects countless of the island’s natural highlights. Here are 13 tips for your own personal discovery tour through North and East Iceland!
1. Hike to Hengifoss waterfall
There are waterfalls in Iceland like sand on the sea, but some of them now have a very high number of visitors. So how about an absolute insider tip that is in no way inferior to Seljalandsfoss, Gullfoos & Co.? With a drop of almost 120 m, Hengifoss in Austurland is one of the highest waterfalls in the country and is undoubtedly one of the most spectacular! From Egilsstaðir you can reach Hengifoss car park via road 931, which meanders along the western shore of Lögurinn Lake (also known as Lagarfljót). You can’t miss the path to the waterfall from the parking lot and it will take you to the breathtaking masses of water in about an hour.
What is particularly impressive about the waterfall is its backdrop: reddish, grainy basalt layers have formed in the lava rock behind Hengifoss, which form a dramatic contrast to the pitch-black lava rock. A picture for the Norse gods!
2. Explore Stuðlagil Canyon
In the east of Iceland lies one of the most extraordinary gorges in the country, hidden deep in the glacial valley of Jökuldalur. From the Klaustursel and Grund farms you can reach the canyon via a 4 km long hiking trail. Be sure to bring sturdy shoes, as it gets slippery in places and you have to do one or two climbs.
Until a few years ago, Stuðlagil was completely flooded by the glacial river Jökla. However, due to a large dam project in 2016, almost all tributaries were cut off, the river lost around 60 percent of its water body and the mystical basalt columns came to light. The once “dirtiest river in Iceland” turned into a clear, shimmering turquoise river, which provides a wonderful contrast to the reddish shimmering basalt structure. A landscape out of this world, don’t you agree?
3. Admire Rainbow Street in Seyðisfjörður
Attention amateur photographers: this colorful street simply has to be in front of your lens! Seyðisfjörður’s Rainbow Road, leading to the light blue wooden church of Seyðisfjarðarkirkja, has become one of the most popular Instagram spots in Austurland and all of Iceland. The rainbow-colored cobblestones were considered a temporary art event honoring the LGBTQ community, but later remained as a tourist attraction for the site.
Then stroll through the picturesque Seyðisfjörður and admire the many wooden houses, which are atypical for Iceland. Most were built by Norwegian merchants who settled in the town in the mid-19th century to fish for herring. The material also came from Norway and gives the place its uniqueness to this day.
4. Observe Puffins in Hafnarhólmi
An absolute highlight for animal lovers and nature lovers is the small island of Borgarfjörður on the picturesque Borgarfjördur eystri fjord, which is connected to the mainland by a causeway. From mid-April to mid-August, so-called puffins – also known as puffins – breed here with around 10,000 pairs on the bird cliff Hafnarhólmi. From designated observation platforms you can observe the behavior of the beautiful birds and get closer to them than probably anywhere else in the world.
Bird watching is not only a priority here because of the huge puffin colony, as other bird species such as kittiwakes, fulmars and eider ducks also like to cavort in the East Fjords.
5. Chase the Northern Lights
For many visitors, this rare and breathtaking sky phenomenon, with colors ranging from blue to green, is one of the main reasons for coming to Iceland. The Northern Lights season runs from September to mid-April and the night should be as clear and dark as possible. The chances are particularly high between 9 p.m. and 2 a.m.
The north-eastern part of Iceland has very little light pollution and is one of the most scenic areas for watching the dancing lights. Embark on the On the Edge itinerary, which takes you to the most beautiful fjords in Austurland and combines your search for the Northern Lights with a little adventure off the beaten track. In the north, however, a road trip is worthwhile on the 250 km long “Diamond Circle” autoroute, which connects some of the most important sights in the north of the island. With a bit of luck, the sky will shine in a wide variety of colors and you will be part of this magnificent natural spectacle.
6. Visit the Lagarfljót monster
Did you know that there is an Icelandic version of the Scottish “Nessi” monster? The Lagarfljót worm, an Icelandic worm monster, is said to live in Lagarfljót, a lake near Egilsstaðir, according to locals. The sea serpent monster is based on a legend described in Jón Árnason – a former Reykjavík librarian – collection of Icelandic folk tales and legends.
A popular route that goes around the entire lake and starts in Egilsstaðir is The Ring of Riverdale. It is one of the locals’ favorite routes and gives you the opportunity to discover countless natural treasures of the region. Stop at Vallanes Farm to sample some of the delights of local cuisine made from the finest organic ingredients, or sample homemade cakes at Klausturkaffi café in Skriðuklaustur.
7. Relaxing in hot springs and thermal pools
Anyone who goes on an adventure also needs to relax and give new energy to tired muscles. Do as the Icelanders do and treat yourself to a relaxing soak in hot springs. Opened in summer 2019, Vök Thermal Bath is a modern bath by Lake Urriðavatn in East Iceland, just 5 minutes from Egilsstaðir Airport. The water in Vök – the Icelandic word for melted ice holes – is so clean it’s safe to drink, making it the only certified potable hot spring water in Iceland.
The north of Iceland is also known for its wonderful thermal baths. Hidden in the northern forests of Iceland you will find the Forest Lagoon, which only opened in 2022, where two infinity pools overlooking one of Iceland’s longest fjords, Eyjafjörður, await you. At the Geosea geothermal resort in Húsavìk, you can relax in the warm water while watching seabirds and whales in the bay. Mývatn Nature Baths welcomes you at Lake Mývatn, whose milky-blue water is not only rich in minerals, but is also said to have a positive effect on skin diseases of all kinds and respiratory diseases such as asthma. On the other hand, if you want to try something completely different, you should go to the beer spa. Check out Bjórböðin near Dalvík. Leave the stress of everyday life behind you and treat yourself to a bath with warm, young beer and live brewer’s yeast!
8. Ride on the back of an Icelandic horse
They are intelligent, unique and have an extremely pleasant nature: Icelandic horses are the pride of the Icelanders and 100% purebred. Because Icelandic horses may only call themselves whose ancestry can be traced back seamlessly to Iceland. Their coat can take on up to forty different colors and over a hundred variations, also making them one of the most colorful horse breeds in the world. They have served as working animals and means of transport for the local people over the centuries and have inevitably become an essential part of Icelandic culture and society.
All over the island you will find many traditional riding stables that offer a large selection of short as well as multi-day riding tours. A horseback ride allows you to get to know these unique creatures and experience the spectacular natural landscapes of Iceland on horseback. There are also various horse shows and events taking place all over the island, which are accompanied by various information about the special gaits and the history of Icelandic horses.
9. Discover mighty waterfalls in North Iceland
Myths and legends surround some waterfalls in Iceland. This also applies to the breathtaking Goðafoss – which translates as “Waterfall of the Gods”. Its history dates back to the year 1,000 when the Icelanders adopted the Christian faith. The law speaker at that time threw all the old god images and statues into the waterfall and thus gave it its current name. Goðafoss is over 150m wide and over 10m high and is now one of the most famous and, for many travellers, the most beautiful waterfalls in Iceland.
In the north of Iceland you can expect not only the most divine waterfall in the country but also the most powerful and thunderous one in all of Europe – the spectacular Dettifoss. Almost 200 m³ of water fall 44 meters per second into the Jökulsárgljúfur gorge with a deafening roar. A natural spectacle that is second to none. If you are looking for a real insider tip, you should go to Aldeyjarfoss. Surrounded by the black basalt of the volcanic landscape, this waterfall in the highlands of Iceland is a true natural gem. However, getting there is a bit of a challenge because the waterfall can only be reached on foot.
10. Watch whales in Húsavík
Húsavík in Skjálfandi Bay is not considered the whale watching capital of Europe for nothing: after all, you can spot up to 23 different whale species here! The four most common are the minke whale, the porpoise, the white-beaked dolphin and the humpback whale, but with a bit of luck you will also encounter the largest animal that has ever existed on earth: the blue whale! In addition, killer whales (orcas), fin whales or pilot whales can often be sighted here, while passionate bird watchers will also be happy about the huge puffin colony – an absolute paradise for animal lovers!
Húsavík itself is small but very lively. The picturesque village even has an attractive ski area with slopes on steeper mountain slopes as well as ideal conditions for cross-country skiers. The local whale museum is one of the few museums in the world devoted exclusively to whales. Eleven whale skeletons were displayed in more than eight exhibition rooms, including that of a 25 m long blue whale.
11. Circles Lake Mývatn
In north-east Iceland, the spectacular Lake Mývatn attracts locals and tourists alike to its shores and delights with interesting plant life and rich birdlife. In addition, visitors will find impressive waterfalls, hot springs, steaming geothermal fields, caves and craters that are the result of thousands of years of volcanic eruption.
Check into the town of Reykjahlíð and start your 36 km long exploration tour around the lake from here. Lake Mývatn is part of the Diamond Circle, a 250km circular route that includes other attractions in northern Iceland. It starts in Akureyri.
12. Hike the Ásbyrgi Gorge
Ásbyrgi is a 3.5 km long, lush green horseshoe-shaped glacial canyon and part of the world-famous Vatnajökull National Park. According to legend, it was created by the hoof print of Odin’s horse. In the middle of the gorge you are surrounded by breathtaking cliffs that rise up to 90 meters in height. A rocky plateau referred to as Eyjan, or “the Island,” juts out of the ground in the middle of the open end, offering a distinctive view of the scenic canyon.
Countless beautiful hiking trails run around the area, drawing camping enthusiasts and hikers to the gorge in the summer. Many hidden animals nest in Ásbyrgi, such as the Eurasian wigeon and northern fulmar, which you may be lucky enough to spot. In addition, the gorge is said to be a home of the “hidden people”: A sign indicates that it is a cultural and economic center of the elves!
13. Walk through Iceland’s lunar landscape Hverir
In Iceland you will often feel like you have landed on a foreign planet. A visit to the lunar-like landscape in the Hverir geothermal area, 10 kilometers east of the large Lake Mývatn, will also leave you amazed. Located at the foot of the Námafjall mountain in the Hverarönd area, smoke is pouring out of every nook and corner and gray mud pools are bubbling rhythmically. Temperatures of over 200 °C have even been measured here at a depth of 1,000 meters!
Marked paths lead you past bubbling ocher mud pots and hissing green colored solfatars and gray mud pools all the way up to Green Mt. Hverir is located directly on the ring road and is therefore one of the most popular sights in North Iceland.
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