While the southern part of Iceland is a lot about volcanos. East Iceland, on the other hand, is a lot about glaciers and things connected to it. Like waterfalls and lakes. The great thing about east Iceland is that there is a lot of things to do and not too many tourists at the same time. The crowds are mostly on south Iceland and perhaps someone attraction in East Iceland, but generally a lot of places here are quite empty.
Things to do in East Iceland
East Iceland is full of glaciers and some fjords as well. The fjords are not as big as the Western fjords, but there is still something about them. You can also have a look here at the biggest glacier in Europe. Vatnajökkul is supposed to be the size of Switzerland. I’m not sure if that is true, but still, the glacier is massive.
When you arrive from the southwest part of an island, you will notice the change of nature. Suddenly the soil gets higher and gets covered in the snow. You will see the glaciers ahead. If you visit east Iceland, you cannot miss it. There are several attractions around those. There are a couple of attractions that you can experience on a tour. And if you like glaciers, you should consider it.
Ice caves tour
The most popular tour to do would be visiting ice caves. You can usually visit those from autumn until early spring when it is still cold and safe to do it. However, there are a couple of ice caves, that are safe to be visited during the whole year.
A couple of advice on ice caves tours. Even if you come and visit them during the time, when outside air reaches 20 degrees, you still need to remember that it is going to be very cold there and you will need winter clothes. Some companies will be capable of borrowing you some, but it isn’t always the case. So be ready.
A lot of people are asking if they can visit Ice caves just by themselves. The short answer is no. There are several reasons behind it. First of all, you don’t know the terrain. Which means that you can easily get lost. There are a lot of tunnels in the caves and it is not so easy to orient yourself around it.
Another reason the stability of the ice caves. There might be some that are very stable but there still might be ice that won’t be able to hold a lot of people. Which can be very dangerous. Tour guides know what they are doing and know the terrain, so you wouldn’t get lost and wouldn’t fall through the ice wall.
Besides, a simple tour costs 99 dollars and takes from 3 to 5 hours. Most of the tours are departing either right from the destination like Skaftafell or Jokullsarlon or they come from Reykjavík. Those might be a little more expensive.
Snowmobiling in East Iceland
If you feel adventurous, you should probably try some of the snowmobiling tours in Iceland. There are a lot of them in East Iceland as well, since there is a lot of glaciers. With the snowmobile, you will have a lot of opportunities to drive on top of the glaciers and sea cliffs, volcanoes and nature from above.
So Iceland is a great destination for snowmobiling. Mainly because the glacier ice is not so easy to melt and you can snowmobile even when it is relatively warm weather for winter spots. Another reason behind why is East Iceland one of the best locations for snowmobiling is also the fact, that it is in Icelandic culture. A lot of Icelanders have their snowmobile home and they are using it very often in winter when the roads are filled up with snow.
Snowmobiling tours usually cost about 90 dollars. There is usually a tour guide, but he is there mainly to give you the instructions about the snowmobiles, show you how to drive it, and then show you the way. But for the most part, you would drive by yourself to feel the adrenalin in your bones.
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A lot of people would also go for a hike on a glacier. It is recommended for people who don’t feel comfortable with a snowmobile. Also if you are a little bit claustrophobic and feel like caves wouldn’t do any good to you, hiking glaciers would be a great thing to do in East Iceland.
It is really important to pay for a guide there since it is easy to get stuck between the ice. But there are a lot of companies who are doing it, so there will be away and since spring is an offseason, you don’t need to book it ahead.
The eastern glaciers are a little bit less popular than the ones that people are visiting in the south of Iceland. Also, the glaciers on the east are a little bit bigger, which offers a lot of room for people.
The tours are usually taking anything between 3,5 hours up till full day. The good thing here is that if you choose just a regular hike in a glacier, most of the time, you will pay a lot less than if you would go for snowmobile experience or ice cave.
East Iceland Attractions
Vatnajökkul would be the biggest glacier in Iceland. As I mentioned before, you can find their ice caves, snowmobiling experience or hike it with a guide. Those are actual locations where the shooting of Game of Thrones took place. Even though once you are up there, you will notice that it doesn’t matter that much, there is a lot of locations, where this series was filmed.
The glacier covers 8% or the country and it also covers the highest peak in Iceland with 2200 meters. There are several volcanoes under the glacier. And people measured volcanic activities in this area in the past centuries, but generally, if you stick with guides on the glacier, it is not dangerous at all.
And as promised, there is a national park around the glacier. It is called Skaftafell. It is a scenery filled with different peaks, everlasting ice but also waterfalls. The most famous waterfall here is called Svartifoss and I’m sure that if you have ever googled Iceland, you probably saw it on pictures.
Generally, Skaftafell is similar to hiking places like Landmannalaugar or Thorsmork. It is a highland with incredible landscapes. There are about 9 different hikes that you can take, they are all leading from the basic camping ground. All nine paths are from easy to medium difficulty and can take from just a couple of hours to full day.
Getting to Skaftafell
There are several options on how to get there. The easiest one is of course to rent a car. The camp is very close to the main road and you can see the glacier from the road. So turning the direction is one of the simplest things that you can do.
Another option of how to get there is by bus. The bus goes from Vík, which means that if you want to go there from Reaykjavík, you will have to switch the bus at one point. It takes about 2 hours from Vík and about 5 hours by bus from Reykjavík.
Jökulsárlon is a must when if you planning to visit east Iceland. Or Iceland in general. It is one of the most famous places in general and thousands of people are coming to visit it every year.
It is a famous place of glacier lagoon, where part of the glacier melts which makes a lake right under it. There are bigger pieces of ice in the lake. But eventually, this lake meets the sea and melts in it. In some way, it is a pretty sad view since this is a result of climate change. But either way, it is still a beautiful thing to see.
The whole place is much colder than other places in Iceland because the ice is cooling it down. So make sure you have proper clothes. If you are planning to be a part of the tour here, they can borrow you thick clothes as well.
And which tours can you participate in here? First of all, you can jump on a boat here and float between the ice. You can also do the same but with kayak, which has a more intimate atmosphere as there are fewer people.
But generally, it is fine to walk around by yourself. In all honesty, you won’t gain too much by floating on a boat. You will see the same piece of ice as you would on the shore. If you decide to walk around instead, the area is pretty big. But there is a lot of fauna. First of all, you can spot here a lot of fo birds. But more importantly, sometimes you would see seals in the water.
Since we are at walking around the lagoon. I mentioned previously, that the stream from the lake meets the sea. The sea is very close to the lagoon. Only about 300 meters. And I would recommend walking down to the beach because that is the place where the ice ends up.
It is a so-called “diamond beach” because the ice that gets stuck on the sand is glowing in the sun and looks almost like a diamond. Usually, you can find here a lot of pieces of ice. So the only problem is to find the sun that is here quite rarely.
How to get to Jokulsarlon?
Like other attractions, the Jokulsarlon is also directly on road n. 1. So if you are driving, you will only continue on the road until you see it.
The good news is the fact, that the same road, that goes to Vatnajökkul, goes further to Jokulsarlon. It is about an hour from Vatnajokkul and about 3 hours from Vík. So unless you take an opportunity to go on a tour here, it is not a one day trip from Reykjavík.
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Askja is one of the hidden gems in Iceland. It is a volcanic area, with several peaks and a volcanic lake. Askja is further east from Jokulsarlon. These highlands also have a volcano inside. The last eruption took place in the 1960s and the volcano has been only little to nothing active ever since.
Another attraction of Askja highlands is a hike to the lake Víti. Víti is the volcanic lake, where you can bathe. The hike takes about 45 minutes through a valley, filled with volcanic stones and sand. It is mostly flat terrain and so the hike isn’t difficult. The only thing that can make it a little bit more difficult would be snow, but that doesn’t happen too often.
Once you are at the peak of your hike, you will get to the lake Vití. The lake, in general, is gorgeous with bright blue water. But don’t be mistaken, it is not the same as what you could expect from Blue Lagoon. You can bathe here, but the water has only 22 degrees on average. Which means that it is not that pleasant.
Getting to Askja
Couple tours go to Askja, but there isn’t any public bus. The only bus that there is, is a commercial bus for tourists. Which is still a good solution if you want to visit it.
Another option would be to get there in a car. But similarly to a bus, you would need 4×4 vehicles to come to the highland as the terrain is rather difficult.
The roads are open only for a couple of months and that is in the main season, from May until September. After that, the snow and storms are taking care of the roads making them impossible to cross.
And finally one of the hot springs in Iceland. The hot spring goes with a warm waterfall which you can very much use as a shower. Most of the time, this hot spring is not too visited and so chances are that you will be here all alone. When you are bathing, you should try the water just for a little bit before, mainly because sometimes it is too warm to bathe in it.
You can get here by taking a hike from the Kárahnjúkar dam. But you should know that it is about 20 km, so it is rather a long hike. You can also get here just by car. The road is not accessible in winter, so it is much better to come here in summer.
Where to stay in East Iceland?
Some places are suitable for everyone. Around the Vatnajökkul and Jokulsarlon, there are some camps as a budget option. Those are open mainly during summer because of terrible winters but also because a lot of the hiking paths are not accessible during the winter.
If you are looking for someplace in town, I would recommend having a look at Höfn. It is one of the main cities in the east and it is hard to miss. There you have all the necessary accessories like supermarkets, different restaurants or ATMs and a doctor if you need any.
When to go to east Iceland.
That is a pickle. A lot of glacier attractions like ice caves or glacier hikes are accessible only in the offseason when they are safe. And if you are planning to do some winter activity like that, you should probably come in May/October, when it is reasonably warm and at the same time, you can visit these attractions.
Another thing to think about would be the highlands. Askja is a really beautiful place to be in, but you can come here only during summer when the roads are open.
All in all, I would say that May or September would be the best idea, mainly because then you can experience everything that I mentioned. East Iceland is very often overlooked but it is certainly worth it.
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