Welcome to Grapevine’s Best Of Iceland—a guide to the best hikes, hotels, must see spots, eateries, road trips, tours, shops and more, all around the black shore of this rocky subarctic isle. We assembled panels of locals, travellers and Iceland experts to help us decide the winners and runners-up in each category: all come highly recommended. On this page, you’ll find our awards for the eastern area of the country.
If you’d like to hold a copy of the Best of Iceland magazine in your hands, you can order one here, posted worldwide; if you think we’ve missed something, give us a shout via Facebook or Twitter. Finally, a word of advice: some places—whether a hiking route or a countryside restaurant—close down during the winter season, so be sure to check ahead.
Winner: Skálanes, Seyðisfjörður
The unusual, ambitious and remote Skálanes guesthouse was heaped with praise from the panel, making it a clear winner. Located in a large nature reserve 17 km east of Seyðisfjörður, it’s the polar opposite of a roadside motel—you’ll have to cross a small river to get to this tranquil and ecologically minded place. “It’s not the most luxurious guesthouse, but it’s the most authentic,” said the panel. “It’s completely isolated. It just you, the house, a couple of other people and the nature.”
Runner Up: Kirkjubær, Stöðvarfjörður
If you’ve been admiring the old-fashioned wooden churches of Iceland, you might like the opportunity to sleep in one. When a new town church was built in Stöðvarfjörður, Kirjkubær was bought and renovated into a cosy hostel by a local family. “The spirit there might not be holy any more,” said the panel, “but it sure is good.”
Budget Pick: Berunes, Berufjörður
The Berunes hostel sits in the peaceful fjord of Berufjörður, and includes lodgings in a homely, old-fashioned farmhouse, complete with the original fittings and fixtures. “The farmers at Berunes are pioneers in hostelling in Iceland,” said the panel. “Their award-winning hostel in the old farmhouse is amazingly authentic.”
Winner (Summer): Norð Austur, Seyðisfjörður
This sushi restaurant in Seyðisfjörður was an instant hit upon opening—so much so that you’d be advised to book ahead, especially on weekends. They serve immaculately presented, locally caught fish in a charming and relaxed first floor dining room. “It has a perfect atmosphere, and the food is beautifully presented—it’s the best sushi I have ever had,” said the panel.
Winner (Winter): Skaftafell Bistro, Seyðisfjörður
As well as winning the Best Gallery category, the basement bistro of Skaftfell in Seyðisfjörður met with universal praise from the panel. Their pizzas are crisp and generously topped, they have a good selection of draught and bottled Icelandic beers, and it’s homely and comfortable enough to hanging out playing board games afterwards.
Runner Up: Hotel Hildibrand, Neskaupstaðir
After driving a long fjord and passing through a disconcertingly narrow tunnel carved through the mountain to reach Neskaupstaðir, a good meal awaits you. At Hotel Hildebrand you can order local meat and lamb, seafood soup, and burgers, served by young local waiters who know everything about the area.
Runner Up: Salt, Egilsstaðir
This warm and comfortable diner-bar has large booths and a varied menu that includes pizza, curry, burgers and Icelandic fish/lamb staples. It’s the perfect place to wait out a snowstorm, and is open 10:00-22:00 Mon-Sat and from midday on Sundays, all year round.
Must See Spot
Winner: Borgarfjörður Eystri
This tiny, secluded village of just 100 inhabitants is 70 km east of Egilsstaðir, far from the tourist traffic of the Ring Road. You can see the Álfaborg (“Elf Castle”) rock formation, where the queen of the hidden people reportedly holds court, and meander round the Víknaslóðir hiking trails; there are good accommodation options, a birdwatching hide, a decent café, and a fish factory that you can visit, all set between scenic mountains and the rippling fjord.
Runner Up: The Arctic Henge, Raufarhöfn
This large stone henge feels like an unlikely site, on a lonely hill in the far north-easterly corner of Iceland. It’s a series of basalt structures with columns that lean together to sharp peaks, forming gates at each corner. The sea view and surrounding landscape is breathtaking, and the atmosphere enticingly eerie.
Runner Up: Hafnarnesviti Lighthouse
Pretty much as far as you can get from Reyjkavík is the proud and impressive Hafnarnes Lighthouse, which lies off Route One between Höfn and Djúpivogur. It easy to miss, but you shouldn’t drive by: “There’s something about it that lifts my spirit every time,” said one panellist.
Best swimming spot
Winner: Neskaupstaður Pool
This town pool has a stunning view across the fjord to some huge mountains that feel almost in touching distance. “It’s a personal favourite,” said one panellist. “It has all you need: a large enough pool to do laps, a choice of hot tubs, and a sauna. But the great thing about this pool though is the atmosphere. There is just a really good spirit amongst the regulars, and interesting conversations to be had in the hot tubs.“
Runner up: Sundlaugin Selárdal, Vopnafjörður
Built in 1949 as a training pool, Selárdal is located on the banks of a famous salmon-fishing river, 12 km from the town of Vopnafjörður. It has a sun deck, hot pots and a great view—if you weather is nice, you could quite easily spend a whole afternoon there.
Runner up: Egilsstaðir Pool
Egillstaðir’s smart and modern town pool is a perfect example of Iceland’s bathing culture. The hot pots are packed with regulars relaxing, passing the time and talking about anything and everything; you can do laps to cool down, then jump back in and soak some more. Afterwards, there’ll be no tension left in your body.
Winner: Stórurð, Nr. Borgarfjörður Eystri
This hike, which begins on the road to Borgarfjörður Eystri, got glowingly enthusiastic praise from the panel. Translating as “The Giant Boulders,” the route takes two and half hours each way, passing lava formations, bright ponds, open fields and the various huge tuff boulders from which it gets its name. “Make a one-day stop here on your way to to Borgarfjörður Eystri,” advised the panel. “The nature here is just spectacular, and the reward when you reach your destination is priceless.”
Runner Up: Waterfall Lane, Seyðisfjörður
Seyðisfjörður is surrounded by vast mountains with countless waterfalls teeming down them. The Waterfall Lane hike goes up a valley with intermittent cliffs—like a staircase made for a giant—and at each one you’ll pass a tumbling waterfall. Looking down to the fjord, the view on the return journey is even better.
Runner Up: Víknaslóðir, Borgarfjörður Eystri
This well regarded hike takes you to some of the abandoned or unpopulated fjords and coves around the town of Borgarfjörður Eystri. You’ll see rhyolite mountains, dramatic cliffs and black beaches; routes vary from a one-day hike up to a ten-day epic.
Best Road Trip
Lagarfljot is a beautiful body of water surrounded by interesting features. You can stop for a hike to the towering Hengifoss waterfall, which is surrounded by dramatic basalt formations, and visit the historical Skriðuklaustur museum and the Vallanes organic farm. Guttormslundur is a grove of Siberian larch trees that are unusually tall for Iceland, with a trail to the lake’s shore. Across the water lies the country’s largest forest of Hallormstaður, which has walking trails, great views, and the Atlavík camping ground.
Runner Up: Kárahnjúkar
The area of Kárahnjúkar, just north of the Vatnajökull glacier and national park, is famous for the construction of a controversial dam—but our panel said that if you ignore that, there are many beautiful canyons to be explored, such as the dramatic Hafrahvammagljúfur and Dimmugljúfur. “See if you can find the secret pool,” said one panellist, mysteriously.
Runner Up: Langanes, Þórshöfn
This long peninsula near Þóshöfn in the north east is famous for its wildlife. After passing by the remnants of ancient farms and various more recent disused buildings, you can drive to the Skoruvík cliffs, which tower over the Stórikarl rock formation, home to a large gannet colony. The picturesque Fontur lighthouse awaits you at the tip.
Winner: Sea Angling Trip, Breiðdalsvík
Whether or not you’re an experienced fisherman, you’ll enjoy the sea angling day trip that leaves from the small town of Breiðalsvík. All the fishing equipment will be provided, and while you fish, you’ll see seabirds, seals and puffins on the islands around the fjord. The tour ends with a trip to Hotel Bláfell, where the catch will cleaned and cooked for dinner by the chef.
Runner Up: Norðfjörður Boat Tour, Neskaupstaður
Neskaupstaður is Iceland’s easternmost town, making it the perfect place to take a boat trip out around the Eastfjords. You’ll get a seaborne view of the various peninsulas, coves and inlets that make up Iceland’s eastern coast, revealing the landscape from a different perspective, and there’s a chance of seeing whales, too.
Runner Up: Horse Riding Trip, Nr. Neskaupstaður
Located on the road to Neskaupstaður, the Skorrahestar family farm offer a two-hour riding trip past fields and waterfalls up to a vantage point with a view down over Norðfjörður. You’ll be treated to coffee and Icelandic cakes, and told about the nature and history of the area.
Winner: Skaftfell, Seyðisfjörður
An outpost of contemporary art in the far east of Iceland is the Skaftafell gallery, which won the Eyrarrós national award for rural arts organisations a couple of years ago. They have a year-round programme that varies between contemporary shows by international visitors and local artists, and work by Dieter Roth, who spent much of his life in the area. “It’s very ambitious,” said the panel, “and it’s nice place to visit if the finer arts are up your alley.”
Runner Up (Summer): Petra’s Stone Collection, Stöðvarfjörður
Petra’s Stone Collection is an eccentric family-run museum dedicated to the lifelong obsession of a local named Petra, who spent her days roaming the area collecting brightly coloured minerals along the way. “You can wander the garden and see Petra’s collection,” said the panel, “and her old bedroom—it’s preserved as part of the display.”
Runner up: The Wilderness Centre, Norðurdalur in Fljótsdalur
Inland from the east coast lies the valley of Fljotsdalur, home to the Wilderness Centre. It’s a jumping-off point into the area’s nature and hiking trails—and also Iceland’s past, via its preserved interiors, and the abandoned farm of Klief. “The people who run it are original geniuses,” said the panel. “No spoilers, just go!”
Runner Up (Winter): Slaughterhouse Culture Centre, Egilsstaðir
An old slaughterhouse converted into culture centre, Sláturhúsið focuses mainly on theatre and dance performances, but it also organizes events, exhibitions and workshops of every kind. Being a pillar of the cultural community of the East, it’s a must-visit destination for curious souls in search of something different.