The seaside town of Höfn in Hornafjörður is just off the edge of the main South Iceland tourist trail. Lying an hour east of Jökulsárlón, the traffic thins out as you approach through rocky outcrops, abandoned farmhouses and gently rolling farmland populated by occasional herds of wild reindeer. The monstrous, magical Vatnajökull takes up much of the northern horizon, embracing the town on several sides. The gulf stream means Höfn often gets clement summer weather, and the warm seawater means it’s also known as Iceland’s langoustine capital—a village of restaurants has sprung up by the quaint harbour.
Stay: Glacier View & Hotel Höfn
Just outside of town lies the picturesque Hoffell valley, where the Glacier View guesthouse offers unpretentious accommodation in a rural setting. In Höfn proper, there are plenty of options. Hotel Höfn has cosy rooms with ocean and glacier views, but beware of the rather ungenerous 4pm check-in and 11am checkout times. Various smaller guest houses and apartments are also available in the town. If you want something closer to Jökulsárlón and Skaftafell, the Hali Country Hotel is a nice low-key option.
Bathe: Hoffell Hot Tubs
A few kilometres past the guesthouse, down a rough dirt track, you’ll find the Hoffell hot pots—five steaming geothermal tubs embedded in the stony ground. There’s a container unit to shower and dress in, and you can pick the tub you prefer, from pleasantly warm to searingly hot. With several glittering glacier falls in the distance, it’s a spot to remember. Take cash, and leave a contribution in the trust box. If the roads are clear, head onward to the glacier lake at Hoffellsjökull.
Visit: Vatnajökull Visitor Centre
This two-floor museum offers some additional insight into the history, geology and wildlife of the area. With artefacts like antique crampons, taxidermied birds, historical films and informative infographics, you’ll come away with an enriched perspective on life near Vatnajökull. Particularly impressive are the lepidoptery cabinet and a map showing walking routes over the ice cap in times gone by. Whilst one should never venture onto a glacier without an experienced guide, you can take supervised hikes from Jökulsárlón or Skaftafell.
Shop: Urta Islandica Tea Workshop
Started as a post-crash back-to-nature family business in Hafnarfjörður, the Urta Islandica herb company now has a tea production facility and store in Höfn. All of their products are hand-picked from Icelandic nature, and processed locally into teas, infusions, salts, syrups and more. Many of the recipes are based on old Iceland homeopathic remedies.
There are several dining options clustered around Höfn’s harbour area. Humarhöfnin is the place to go to taste juicy langoustine tails in the form of soup, pizza, sandwich or just served with garlicky butter. Pakkhúsið has langoustine, as well as lamb, salmon, duck and more. Íshúsið specialises in pizza. The newest place on the block is Otto, which wins for atmosphere with a cosy, tastefully minimal interior in a house dating back to 1897. The menu is short, but well-done; the barley risotto option is particularly excellent.