Iceland’s east coast is a rugged fringe of long, V-shaped fjords in between rows of layered, pointy mountains. There are 14 fjords in total (not counting the smaller bays) and each one cut out by the fast-moving glaciers of the ice age. These eastern fjords are said to be the oldest in Iceland, evident in the jagged peaks that time has sharpened (younger fjords have flat-topped mountains). The most basic things make this area so extraordinary – the unnamed waterfalls, the single fishing village at the base of each fjord, and the way the sunlight hits the mountains from the east.
As an area, the East Fjords has always felt a little secluded from the rest of Iceland, which makes it one of the most serene and isolated places to visit. The narrow fjords are a more dependable outlet than the barren highlands, and the ring road had no choice but to careen its way around each of the channels.
For all those people whizzing past on Route 1, the East Fjords represents the part of the journey where most people wish they could stop and stay awhile, simply for the view. Every curve in the road is heightened by the surprise of the scene unveiled in the next fjord – it’s no coincidence that so many travellers’ tales begin with: ‘We were driving in the East Fjords, when …’.
Singular fishing villages cling to the base of each fjord – each is home to a few hundred people, and each is totally different from the next one over. After slowing down in the 1990s and 2000s, owing to a drop in fishing, tourism in the country has once again brought new life to these idyllic hamlets. Town museums (some are better than others) aim to lure unsuspecting tourists, but the main attractions are the fjords, the people and birds who live there, the incredible rocks on the ground, and the extraordinary hiking.
Where to visit in the East Fjords
The northernmost point of the East Fjords is terrifically beautiful and well out of the way of the tourist mob. If you like rocks and birds, this is heaven. Because there was already a much more famous ‘town fjord’ on the west side of the country, this one is known as Borgarfjörður eystri (the east). The best reason to head out to this abandoned little corner is to hike: the Dyfjöll Mountains are grand – the views feel almost alpine – and the trails are numerous and amazingly well kept.
The ultimate walking experience is in the Víknaslóðir, or ‘abandoned bays’. Take along the detailed map that’s sold at all the local businesses (as well as the information centres in Egilsstaðir and Seyðisfjörður), and note that most people venture into the region for several days. If you can, check out the lonely wooden churches at Húsavík and Klyppstaðir – truly the end of the earth. There are mountain huts and a campsite in the abandoned bays of Húsavík and Breiðavík.
Getting there and away
Route 94 connects to Egilsstaðir (1hr+), from where there are daily buses in the summer only.
As the main ferry port to and from the continent, Seyðisfjörður plays back door to the whole of Iceland. Despite the crowds of travellers pouring in and out of the town, Seyðisfjörður remains a humble little place of 800 inhabitants at the end of a long (18km), narrow, and slightly S-shaped fjord. Seyðisfjörður is irresistibly cute and yet so unaffected – as first impressions go, this may be one of the most fitting that Iceland can offer to a visitor.
The town was founded by a Norwegian fishing company in 1895, and functioned as a major herring port until the herring disappeared some 50-odd years later. Like many Icelandic towns at the time, Seyðisfjörður materialised overnight as a completely prefabricated town, shipped in boxes from Norway and nailed together before the winter snows arrived. It is one reason why Seyðisfjörður is such a clean- cut town today. The way that all the houses, warehouses, and church match one another is almost toy-like, especially against the background of a giant, ocean-going vessel, and the handsome pair of mountains on either side.
Getting there and away
There’s only one road in and out of Seyðisfjörður (Route 93) that climbs up over the ridge and then back down to Egilsstaðir (25km). During the summer, the bus goes back and forth three times a day on weekdays and once on Saturdays from Egilsstaðir, with a convenient stop at the airport (55mins). The ferry to and from Denmark sails year-round.
Eskifjörður is another Norwegian herring town turned post- industrial Icelandic fishing village. What makes it a worthwhile stop is how curious and simple a place it is today – a single road (Strandgata) runs through the town, past the harbour with its fishing boats, the marine museum, and the quiet, undisturbed lives of about 1,000 people. Since nobody else seems to stop here, the few foreigners who do are treated to a candid glimpse of everyday life in isolated Iceland – the only thing that’s posing here is you.