East Iceland

Travel Guide Europe Iceland East Iceland

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Introduction

Austurland is the region of Iceland home to Vatnajökull, Europe's largest glacier. Austurland is a vast and very diverse region. Vatnajökull, Europe's largest glacier, sits on the mountaintops of the south-east, with only a narrow strip of land between the sea and the glacier. The coastline is a long sandy beach, with only one natural harbour at Höfn which is also the main town in the south-east. A little further north, in the central section of Austurland, are the East Fjords. These fjords are dotted with fishing villages in picturesque settings squeezed between the mountains and the sea. Hérað is an inland area on the other side of the mountains from the East Fjords. Hérað is known for being one of the warmest places in Iceland in the summer and a very popular destination for Icelanders travelling in their own country. The main town in Hérað is Egilsstaðir by the Lagarfljót lake. Finally, in the northeast you will find the remote and fascinating villages of Vopnafjörður and Bakkafjörður.

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Cities

  • Bakkagerði - A tiny village in the northeast
  • Djúpivogur
  • Egilsstadir - Regional centre with a domestic airport.
  • Höfn
  • Seyðisfjörður - Iceland's only international ferry port, with a weekly ferry from Denmark via the Faroe Islands between April and October.
  • Neskaupsstaður

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Sights and Activities

Jökulsárlón - a beautiful glacial lagoon (the name literally means "glacier river lagoon") crowded with icebergs right by the ring road in the southeast. A popular location for filming, has been featured in two James Bond films and one Tomb Raider film. It is possible to go sailing on the lagoon.
Vatnajökull National Park - This large national park, covering the entire glacier of Vatnajökull as well as some of its surroundings, reaches into three different regions of Iceland. The glacier itself is most easily accessible in the south, with the service centre and campsite at Skaftafell lying just off the ring road.

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Events and Festivals

Thorrablot

Icelanders celebrate the old month of Thorri with a festival known as Thorrablot. This is a winter feast which celebrates the hardship which the ancestors has to endure. The feast can be held at any time during the month of Thorri starting the first Friday after January 13th. Traditional food is eaten which mainly consists of putrefied shark, jellied rams head, testicles and eyeballs along with many other delicacies. Much of the food is preserved from the previous year.

First day of summer

On a Thursday that comes up after April 18th, Icelanders mark the first day of summer with a national holiday and the greeting 'Gleðilegt Sumar' (Happy Summer). It is believed that if there is a frost and the weather is wintry on this day, then the summer will be very good.

Verslunarmannahelgi

This is Iceland's shop keeper's holiday is always the first weekend of August. It is a national holiday and music festivals are held all over Iceland. The biggest is on the Vestmannaeyjar Islands. The festival here is over the whole weekend and is the Icelandic equivalent of Glastonbury.

Independence Day

Known locally as National Day, this is a major festival for all Icelanders, held on 17 June to mark the country’s emergence as an independent republic. Street parties and entertainers, parades, fireworks, sideshows, traditional music, and dance draw residents onto the streets and into the bars and restaurants until the sun rises the next morning.

Seafarers Day

June sees the Sjomannadagur Festival in Reykjavik, as well as in many other smaller towns if the weather allows. Vintage ships line the Old Harbour for the annual event, with local fishermen competing in rowing, swimming, and other events. Parades, music, fun things to do, and seafood are the orders of the day.

Jonsmessa

The longest day of the year is a mystical time, celebrated in June with Jonsmessa, the Midsummer Night festival which dates back to Icelandic Viking times. On this night, seals are believed to take human form, cows gain the power of speech, and elves seduce travellers at crossroads with gifts and other favours. Rolling naked on the dew-covered grassy mountain slopes is considered a healthy pursuit and bonfires compete with the glow of the midnight sun.

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Getting There

By Plane

Flights are available from Reykjavík go to Egilsstaðir operated by Air Iceland, and from Reykjavík to Höfn, operated by Eagle Air.

By Car

The Ring road, highway 1, passes through the region and connects it with the rest of the country.

By Bus

Strætó operates busses that travel almost the entire length of the Ring Road, with busses coming from the North terminating in Egilsstaðir and busses from the South terminating in Höfn. As of summer 2015 the times of busses are as follows:

Bus 56 to Egilsstaðir leaves from Hof in Akureyri at 15:35.
Bus 51 to Höfn leaves from the Mjódd bus terminal in Reykjavík at 9:00 and 17:40 daily.

By Boat

There is a weekly car ferry, from Hirtshals in Denmark, to Seyðisfjörður, operated by Smyril Line

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Getting Around

By Car

The Ring Road runs through Austurland and most of the inhabited fjords are connected by highways leading off the ring road. Some sections of the fjord roads can be quite unnerving, with steep drops from the road to the sea.

By Bus

Austurland is one of only two regions in Iceland not covered by the Strætó network, the other being the West Fjords. Instead the municipalites in the region have set up their own system, Strætisvagnar Austurlands (East Iceland Busses) or SVAust.

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Safety

As elsewhere in Iceland, weather is the primary safety concern. Always check the weather forecast before setting off on your journey, especially if you're planning to go through one of the mountain passes in the region.

Note that Austurland has the only unpaved sections of the Ring Road and that some of these run along sheer drops to the sea in the East Fjords. Drive carefully.

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This is version 1. Last edited at 13:44 on Nov 1, 19 by Utrecht. 3 articles link to this page.

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