Road tripping around Iceland: part II, the East

Travelling in Iceland is a life changing experience. I’ll never forget the fabulous landscapes that I saw during the 12 days I spent there in September 2018, the stunning beauty of the wild nature and the recurrent feeling of being in a different world. The best way to enjoy your visit in Iceland would be going on a road trip, especially in summer when the daylight is longer. This is the second of 4 articles describing you a 9-day itinerary around the country with some advice for cheap accommodation if you’re not willing to go camping.

In this article I’ll take you to the East of Iceland and its beautiful fjords, with more waterfalls and canyons on the way. Don’t miss also the village of Seyðisfjörður (“Seydisfjördur”), probably the most beautiful of the country and the gateway to Iceland if you’re coming on a ferry.

📷 For more pictures have a look at my gallery about the East of Iceland

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east-iceland-road

Warning: I did this road trip in September 2018 with mostly good weather conditions (apart from my day in the fjords as you’ll see on my pictures below), low wind and long daylight. Always check the weather forecast and the driving conditions before travelling in Iceland and adapt your itinerary if needed. Remember also that daylight is reduced to less than 5 hours in the middle of winter and that you won’t be able to do as much as in summer.

This second article begins in Höfn, where the first part ended after 3 days on the South Coast. But what I’m describing here as days 4 and 5 of an itinerary around the country could actually also be the beginning of your trip if you’re… sailing to Iceland. Yes, you can really do that! There’s a ferry line connecting Denmark, the Faeroe Islands and Seyðisfjörður. More information here.

Day 4: the East Fjords (Höfn-Seyðisfjörður)

The day I spent driving around the East Fjords was the only time of my trip in Iceland when the weather was really awful. Low clouds, strong wind, alternation of showers and pouring rain… Not the best conditions to appreciate a landscape that must be really gorgeous on a sunny day! But I didn’t mind too much: it was the occasion for me to realise how fierce nature can be in this part of the world, how tough it must be sometimes to live in remote villages, on a rugged and desolate coast, at the mercy of harsh elements.

There are a few nice villages on the way, built around harbours which were for a very long time (before the rise of tourism) the only ways of survival for the fishermen living there. Djúpivogur

Stöðvarfjörður (“Stödvarfjördur”)…

stodvarfjordur-church

Reyðarfjörður (“Reydarfjördur”)…

reydarfjordur-harbour

…or isolated farms and lighthouses.

Don’t hesitate to leave Route 1 temporarily, to take road 955 to Vattarnes for example (be careful, a few kilometers of this road are unsealed) or road 92 until Neskaupstaður.

east-iceland-fjord

Finally, 260 kms after Höfn (if you’re staying on Route 1), you’ll reach Egilsstaðir, the main town of Eastern Iceland (but it doesn’t have any touristic interest). From there, road 93 will lead you to Seyðisfjörður less than 30 kms away, after going over a pass and down into the fjord which is considered to be the most beautiful of this part of the country. The road might seem familiar if you have seen the movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”. This is the road that the main character (played by Ben Stiller) rides down on a skateboard, trying to find Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), not aware that the area has been evacuated because of a volcanic eruption. Halfway down, you can also see a little waterfall called Gufufoss.

Of all the villages I visited in Iceland, Seyðisfjörður was my favourite. I was also lucky again with the weather: the rain stopped when I reached Egilsstaðir and the sun was back when I arrived in Seyðisfjörður. It was perfect to enjoy the colours of the houses, the lovely church and the rainbow path leading to it, the reflections of the buildings on the surface of the water or the harbour where the ferry from Denmark arrives.

seydisfjordur-hafaldan-hostelWhere to stay? The Hafaldan HI Hostel in Seyðisfjörður (part of the Hostelling International network) was one of my favourite places to stay in Iceland. It’s located in a beautiful building formerly used as a hospital, with dormitories, single rooms and even a sauna downstairs. Prices start from 4300 crowns (32€/37$).

Day 5: more waterfalls and canyon adventure (Seyðisfjörður-Reykjahlíð)

Seyðisfjörður is a dead-end; you’ll have to drive back to Egilsstaðir. But before heading North on Route 1 again, take a detour to the South on road 95 then road 931 in the direction of Hengifoss (35 kms away from Egilsstaðir). From the car park on the side of the road, a short (2.5 kms one way) but steep path will lead you to two beautiful waterfalls: Litlanesfoss first and Hengifoss a bit further, the third tallest waterfall of Iceland, with a total height of 128m. It is easily recognisable with its parallel red clay stripes between larger layers of black basalt. The basalt comes from different volcanic eruptions while the red layers are sediments trapped in between, taking their colour from a high concentration of oxidized iron.

A few kilometers further after Hengifoss on route 932, you can find a beautiful black and white building with a grass-covered roof named Skriðuklaustur. It used to be the house of author Gunnar Gunnarsson who built it in 1939. It is now a museum and cultural centre.

skriduklaustur

It’s also between Hengifoss and Skriðuklaustur that I saw some reindeers in a field next to the road, the only ones I spotted during my entire trip. There are about 3,000 reindeers living in Iceland; they were imported from Norway and they only live in the North and East of the country nowadays.

Unless you want to spend more time in Seyðisfjörður or in the East Fjords, after heading back to Egilsstaðir your next destination will be Lake Mývatn, a place that I’ll describe in another article coming soon. Before that there are two more attractions on the way.

The first one is a real hidden treasure called Stuðlagil Canyon. It isn’t very easy to reach which probably explains why it’s completely overlooked by tourists, so if you’re looking for an experience off the beaten track this stunning place is definitely for you! The easier way to get there is to turn left on road 923 around 50 kms after Egilsstaðir on Route 1, then follow the dirt road going along the river for about 17 kms. It’s an unsealed road but if the weather is good it’s easily doable with a normal car, you’ll just have to drive a bit slower. At some point a tiny sign (don’t miss it!) will point you to a car park on the left, with a short path leading to two lookouts just above the canyon.

There’s another way to reach it but this one is way more adventurous. 4 kms before the previously mentioned car park, there’s a farm on the side of the road with a bridge crossing the river. You can park just before the bridge, walk over it and then follow the path to your right towards Stuðlagil Canyon. After approximatively 2 kms you’ll reach a beautiful waterfall called Stuðlafoss. From there the hike gets a bit more complicated: there’s no proper path anymore and you might have to climb over a couple of fences until you’ll finally be just above the canyon, facing the lookouts that I was describing before. You can even walk down into it (there’s a point where it’s relatively easy as it’s not steep at all), but beware of wet and slippery rocks. The entire hike is 8 kms return and takes about 2 hours.

It’s much easier to get to Dettifoss, the next attraction before Lake Mývatn, but this incredible waterfall is also much more touristy than Stuðlagil Canyon… There are two roads leading there: a gravel track (road 864) on the east side but I highly recommend road 862 on the west side as it’s entirely sealed and the view is much better from this side: you’ll be standing directly in front of the waterfall, which is known to be the most powerful in Europe!

There’s actually another waterfall just a little bit upstream Dettifoss called Selfoss which is also worth a look (the path leading to both of them is well indicated from the car park).

selfoss

Where to stay? North Iceland is a very remote area, and there aren’t many accommodations available. The cheapest place close to Lake Mývatn is Hlíd Hostel next to the village of Reykjahlíð. It’s a very basic building but the amenities are alright. Price starts from 4400 crowns (33€/38$) and you’ll need your own sleeping bag (you can rent one from the reception if needed).

To know more about the incredible things to do around Lake Mývatn, have a look at my next article coming very soon!

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