East Iceland is the are East of Lake Myvatn and Dettifoss waterfall in the north and Jokulsarlon glacer lagoon in the south. The East Fjords are relatively sparsely populated but the third largest lowland area of the Iceland, Herad has numerous farms and the largest town in the east, Egilsstadir. The landscape is mostly mountainous fjords and the Vatnajokull icecap is the dominant feature in the south-east with its famous Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon.
Egilsstadir is the capital of the East and Fellabaer is an adjacant village on the opposite bank of the glacial lake/river Logurinn. Egilsstadir is known for having almost continental climate, warm summers and cold winters. Egilsstadir only received its municipal rights in 1987 but has been growing in recent years. Thge inhabitants base their livelihood mostly on services to the surrounding agricultural areas, tourism and commerce. Egilsstadir is on the ring road (road 1) and serves as the centre in East Iceland for transport, tourism and communications. It has domestic airport and the 27 km. long mountain road Fjardarheidi connects Egilsstadir with the harbour town of Seydisfiordur where the Norrona ferry from Europe docks.
While most of the towns in East Iceland are relatively recent, Seydisfjordur is renowned for its impressive old houses, the first sight to greet visitors arriving there on the car ferry Norrona to and from Europe. Two other small townships are of particular interest if you want a glimpse back in time. Borgarfjordur Eystri is renowned among Icelanders for it´s peace and quiet, it´s like stepping a century back in time. Preserved old buildings lend a distinctive character to Djupivogur, once the main trading post in the region, and boat trips to the now uninhabited island of Papey are a must for bird lovers.
The port of Hofn on the southeast corner is another major town and a center for Vatnajokull icecap. From Hofn its possible to go for hiking, 4x4 tours, snow mobiles, skiing and ice climbing on Europe´s largest glacier. Hofn´s multimedia Glacier Centre gives fascinating insights into the properties and behaviour of glaciers, and man´s cohabitation with them throughout the centuries. From Hofn it´s not far to one of Iceland´s top attractions; Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon where in summer you can take a boat cruise among the giant icebergs. A more secret treasure is Lonsoraefi (Lónsöræfi) with its strangely colorful mountains which are popular for hiking in the summertime. The landscape is richly coloured, dominated by rhyolite and minerals with great geological and vegetational contrasts. You need a sizeable 4x4 or strong legs with good hiking boots.
Another attraction of east Iceland which is off the beaten path is Mt. Snaefell (Snow Mountain) which is Iceland´s highest mountain outside of glaciers. Mt. Snaefell is located north of eastern Vatnajokull glacier and rises up to 1833 meters. Geologists now believe it may even be an active volcano although Snaefell has not erupted since the end of the last glacial period, 10,000 years ago. Near the mountain there is a cabin on one side where travelers can spend the night and Eyjabakkar marshlands on the other where thousands of geese gather each year. Around Snaefell and in Lonsoraefi you also have a good chance of seeting the reindeer that go wild in the eastern highlands.
Reindeer were brought to Iceland from Norway in the 18th century. The first two herds didn´t make it through the Icelandic winter but the third herd was brought to Iceland around 1850. Today the reindeers live only in East Iceland, mostly at higher elevations in summer but seek lower grasslands in winter. While their primary habitat is in the deserted expanses by Snaefell, reindeer are seen every year in the territory extending from Vopnafjordur in the north to the district of Sudursveit in the south. There is a strong demand for hunting permits, since reindeer meat is one of Icelandic nature’s greatest delicacies. The hunting is good for the herd because it keeps it from growing larger than 3.000 animals, which is what the land is estimated to sustain. Conditions for bird watching can hardly be better than in Southeast Iceland, where Iceland’s only bird observatory is situated. Having flown over the Atlantic, migrant and vagrant birds take a rest along the south-east coast.
East Iceland is also good for hikers and there are number of walking trails. The possibilities range from barren uninhabited areas with hikers’ huts to short routes through vegetated valleys or forests to remote beaches and fjords. Hiking maps have been published for the greatest part of the region so it is relatively easy to walk on your own although going with a guide is always a good idea for longer hikes in the wilderness.
The Hallormsstadur forest is the largest in Iceland which is perhaps not saying much given that only about 1,3% of Iceland is forested. In 1899 the parliament passed a law for the protection of the remaining forest and the reforestation of the area which covers the site of an old manor house and church. Last century the government decided to set up an experimental foretry centre in Hallormsstadur and since then the Hallormsstadur forest has increased tremendously in size is now about 2.300 hectares. Scientists experimenting with what type of trees best cope with the Icelandic climate and more than forty varieties from many countries have been planted. Today, Iceland´s largest forestry project is gradually proofing that Iceland can produce commercial timber and once more grow tall trees like those who were wiped out by during the Ice Age. The arboretum of the forest is well worth visiting. Hallormsstaður is located on the beach of a 35 km long glacial lake, Logurinn. In the small cove of Atlavik there are good camping grounds in the forest which is popular summer destination for Icelanders. Hallormsstadur forest is only 28 km from Egilsstadir.
Cape Ingolfshofdi borders south and east Iceland. It is a cape which rises up to 76 meters high and provides a variety in nature, from steep cliffs and rocks to black sands and green grass. Ingolfshofdi is named after the first settler of Iceland, Ingolfur Arnarson who landed there and spent his first winter in Iceland before settling in Reykjavik. During summertime it’s teeming with thousands of puffins and other nesting seabirds. The cape is only accessible by 4x4 vehicles and due to possible quicksand, it’s not recommended to travel there without guidance.
Laugavalladalur is a remote valley that is situated in the highlands northeast of the mountain Kverkfjoll in Vatnajökull and not far from the canyon Hafrahvammagljufur. It is a beautiful grassy valley where steam rises from hot pools that give the valley its name. In this magnificent surrounding where the traveller can relax in a natural hot pool or enjoy a warm natural shower.
Not far from Laugavalladalur is the turf farmhouse, Saenautasel, which has been restored by the local community and is kept open in summer.
The river Lagarfljot begins in the Vatnajokull icecap and flows north-east to sea. For much of its length, it´s more like a long, narrow lake named Logurinn. Logurinn is Iceland's third largest lake, 35 km long and 2,5 km wide with a maximum depth of 112 m which means that its bottom is almost 90 meters below sea level. It is believed that the lake is inhabited by the famous serpent monster called Lagarfljotsormurinn, whose back is sometimes sighted rising over the waves. According to the tale, it was a small worm from the bushes which grew huge by gloating over a ring that a young girl decided to keep with him. On good days the monster can be seen struggling in its shackles but no local doubt its existence. The monster has over the years become the emblem of the area.
While the residents of East Iceland are few in number, their culture is rich and varied. Not only are they born among tales of elves, trolls, monsters and evil spirits, but have also been shaped by this awareness and the magnificent nature around them into individuals who know what they want. Everything from the difficult fight for existence in earlier centuries to the technological revolution of the 20th century is interestingly illustrated at the museums and centres distributed throughout the region.