Greinasafni: Icelandic Times
Deep in the Eastern Fjords
  • The popular historic sea-house Randulf´s Sjóhús.

The east coast of Iceland is particularly long, twisting in an endless number of fjords, bays and inlets. Above the coastline, sheer blue mountains reign, beautiful waterfalls dramatically streaming from their sides, often through high and striking canyons.

One region, which covers a large part of these deep picturesque fjords, with no less than six beautiful towns, is called Fjarðabyggð.

The Towns in the Fjords

Each of Fjarðabyggð’s six towns is located in a different fjord: Norðfjörður, Mjóifjörður, Eskifjörður, Reyðarfjörður, Fáskrúðsfjörður and Stöðvarfjörður. Although it may be off the beaten path for many visitors to Iceland, these towns of Fjarðabyggð will not disappoint. There is indeed, something for every one.

If you have come to Iceland seeking isolation, Mjóifjörður might be the place for you. Tucked in this narrow fjord is a small, cozy village of just 33 permanent residents and a lot of interesting places to see. During the winter months driving to Mjóifjörður can be an arduous endeavour, leaving sailing as the only practical means of transport. Nevertheless, Mjóifjörður’s breathtaking waterfalls and canyons make the journey worth the effort.

Norðfjörður is the largest town in the region, with a population of about 1400. As in most of the other towns of Fjarðabyggð, fishing and work related to fishing makes up the town’s main industry. A visit to the museums and galleries of these towns provides visitors with an appreciation for this centuries-old way of life. Natural splendour and history is also prominently featured. The Petra’s Mineral Collection in Stöðvarfjörður is not to be missed.

The fjords, the mountains, all the stunning landscapes of this area provide an awe-inspiring backdrop to the vibrant life of the communities dotting the coastline. It is only when nature dons the white cloak of winter that the majestic landscape of Iceland becomes truly imposing. It is during the winter that you first get the feeling that you have suddenly found yourself in the middle of the famous tale of the Lord of the Rings. These are the effects that the intrigue of the Eastern fjords can have on you, but let’s take a better look at some of the most interesting sites.

  • Relaxed traveller, view over Reyðarfjörður.

An Outdoor Paradise

Fjarðabyggð offers plenty of attractions which are ideal for outdoor enthusiasts. From mysterious caves, amazng mountain peaks and spectacular walking paths, there is something for every age and ability. Although summer, with its midnight sun and blossoming flora may seem like the obvious time, Fjarðabyggð is an ideal setting for year-round adventure.

At the base of Nýpan, the outermost mountain in the range separating Mjóifjörður and Norðfjörður, lies the first official national park in Iceland, Fólksvangur, that offers marvelous outdoor recreation. There are, of course, various walking paths, but the most famous is to a cave known as the Páskahellir, a vault just above sea level. The Icelandic name Páskahellir translates to ‘Easter Cave’ and it is said that on Easter morning, the sun dances around the cave. A tour inside Páskahellir is exciting; a marked trail allows visitors to fully experience this cave, which was carved out by the waves. Along its walls, small holes left by trees that were covered by lava many years ago are a fascinating glimpse of Iceland’s volcanic history. Looking eastward out of the cave, toward the peninsula Barðsneshorn is a magnificent vista dominated by the red rhyolite glow of Rauðubjörg.

Norðfjörður also boasts of a great skiing area in Oddskarð. The area is nicknamed ‘The Alps of the East’ as peaks rise 800 meters above sea level and provide skiers with an amazing view along their descent.

Between Norðfjörður and Eskifjörður lies the easternmost point of Iceland, Gerpir. The walk to Gerpir point is fairly easy and boasts spectacular views both out to sea and back towards the surrounding cliffs and mountains. The walk makes up a part of many hiking trails in the area and is easy to include when taking walks around the nearby area.

  • Family sailing in a boat from Mjoeyri Boat
    Rental in Eskifjörður.

On the other side of Eskifjörður is the nature reserve, Hólmanes. This is another ideal place to enjoy a good walk either down to the sea or up to the hills. Views of birdlife and remarkable rock formations make Hólmanes a very pleasant stop along the eastern coastline.

One of the world’s best-known Icelandic spar mines is at Helgustaðir in Reyðarfjörður. The mine was operated from the 17th century until the early 20th century. Most of the Icelandic spar in museums around the world was mined in Silfurbergsnáman. There is a good walking path to this interesting place, now declared a nature reserve.

Legendary Skrúður is a wonderful island in Fáskrúðsfjörður. It is a high, grassy island with cliffs rising from the sea. In Skrúður there is a large cave that was once a regular stopping point for sailors journeying southward. According to Icelandic folklore, three famous brothers, giants, lived in eastern Iceland, one of them in Skrúður, another in Streitishvarf and the last one in Papey. The brother in Skrúður went to Kolfreyjustaður, a priest’s farm. He captured the young priest’s daughter and took her for his wife. The stories of these giants were spread by the sailors who claimed to have known them.

Sandfell is a distinctive 743 meter rhyolite mountain between Stöðvarfjörður and Fáskrúðsfjörður. The best way to approach it is from the south side of Fáskrúðsfjörður. The scenery is excellent en route, with views of Fáskrúðsfjörður and Andey and Skrúður islands, composing a round-trip of about 5 hours.

  • The famous Petra's stone collection in Stöðvarfjörður

French influence is strong in Fáskrúðsfjörður - so strong that even the street signs are both in Icelandic and French. There is a French graveyard and a French hospital. The graveyard is a remnant from the times when French sailors were frequent visitors to Fáskrúðsfjörður. There are 49 known graves in the graveyard. The French Hospital is located in the former village of Hafnarnes. Originally built in 1903 as a hospital for the French sailors, the house was moved to Hafnarnes by boat in 1939.

Along the northern edge of this region lies Jafnadalur, a valley in Stöðvarfjörður, famous for its mysterious rock formations. The monolithic stone structures include Einbúinn, the Hermit, which is a huge free-standing stone.

On the east side of Álftafell is an equally striking 6 metre stone arch. Hikers will enjoy the trail from Jafnadalur to Fáskrúðsfjörður.

A very cheap vacation!

If you are already planning your trip to Iceland and these deep fjords in the East have captivated your imagination, you’ll be glad to discover that each of these fjords have very nice camping grounds, free of charge! So even on the most modest budget, travellers will find the region of Fjarðabyggð attractive!

  • The old and new lighthouses at Dalatangi in Mjóifjörður

One particular camping site has received quite some attention. The small, cozy camping area in Stöðvarfjörður has been called the cutest in Iceland. The caretakers do their utmost to make it especially homey and quaint. In summer, flowers are everywhere! Even the toilet facilities are painted vibrant pink colours and adorned with colourful blooms.

Visiting these deep fjords is worth the while in any season. Summer is certainly more popular and guests will find the hillsides dotted with glowing campfires and those cozy Icelandic sing-alongs. Nevertheless, it is during the winter that the landscape gets really majestic. Stopping for coffee inside a warm café after a refreshing walk to any of the sites mentioned above, pondering that these fjords have been inhabited for centuries – and long before the advent of central heating - is a special experience indeed!

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