Best kept secret
If you’re active on social media, you’ll know that everyone is going to Iceland at the moment. Honestly, I’ve lost count of the amount of Blue Lagoon and Northern Lights posts on my Instagram feed. Which means I feel like I’ve already done the whole Reykjavik and Golden Circle tour before I’ve even set foot on the island.
So while it has been on my bucket list for the past three years, I was keen to discover a part of Iceland that was relatively untouched: East Iceland. The unspoilt region is worth visiting just for the landscape, but there’s much more to it than you’d think. Read on for the perfect itinerary if you’re going there on a short break.
What to do in East Iceland: Day 1 – Obyggdasetur
Where to stay: We went on a little road trip to make the most of East Iceland, so never stayed in the same place for more than a night. After picking up our rental car at Egilsstadir Airport (which is a one hour flight from Reykjavik), we made our way to our first stop: the Wilderness Centre (double room in old farmhouse from £126 a night), in the remote Obyggdasetur Islands. To say it couldn’t be further removed from London is an understatement. Set by a Fjord next to the mountains, the old farmhouse has been beautifully renovated in a modern vintage style by hosts Arna and Denni.
Where to eat: We arrived by night and enjoyed a traditional Icelandic roast dinner in the cosy kitchen: think local roast lamb, red cabbage, and the boiled potatoes in caramel sauce, which sounds weird but trust me, was amazing.
What to do: We then proceeded to the observatory for some stargazing and Northern Light spotting, and we were lucky enough to witness them! The centre offers plenty of activities from cooking classes to hikes, and even has a museum. We opted to do a short hike to a nearby waterfall, which offered us an amazing view of the Fjords.
What to do in East Iceland: Day 2 – Seydisfjordur
Next up on the itinerary was the picturesque Seydisfjordur, which is only accessible via a windy mountain road. If you’re a fan of The Killing and Twin Peaks, then you will fall in love with it. Set on the edge of a lake, it only houses 700 inhabitants, with a church and colourful stores at its centre.
Where to stay: Hotel Aldan (double rooms from £165 per night), a family-run hotel which has two houses and another separate restaurant. As it was winter, we were lucky enough to have the whole hotel to ourselves, though we were perfectly content with our traditional room.
Where to eat: I had one of the best breakfasts of my life at Hotel Aldan. The room is all Scandi wood and tasteful art, and because the sun rises so late, we had a candlelit table overlooking the lake. A typical Icelandic breakfast consists of hard boiled eggs, fresh bread rolls, cold meats, cheese, skyr yoghurt and cereal. Needless to say, no complaints here!
For lunch and dinner, a short walk away is the Skaftfell Bistro, which offers an Icelandic twist on international dishes (definitely try the reindeer pizza) and also houses an art exhibition on the top floor.
What to do: Seydisfjordur is actually known for being an artistic town, and has artists in residence all year round, so it’s well worth checking out an exhibition while you’re there. The ‘rainbow’ high street (the road was first painted in the colours of the rainbow for those marching during the Gay Pride) is also great for buying local crafts and souvenirs.
What to do in East Iceland: Day 3 – Neskaupstadur
Where to stay: The newly renovated Hildibrand hotel (one bedroom apartment from £240 per night).
Where to eat: At the Hildibrand hotel’s restaurant, which is a modern vintage lover’s dream. Think leather armchairs, tile rugs and retro lighting. The menu is quite varied, from local dishes to pasta and burgers.
What to do: Whether you’re an experienced horse rider or not, a visit to Skorrahestar is a must. The guesthouse and farm is run by the colourful Doddi and his family, who have many a good story to tell. We had a walk around the farm, walked a sheep (as you do), and rode beautiful Icelandic horses (NOT to be called ponies, as Doddi stressed).
Once the ride was over, we headed back to the local swimming pool, to relax in one of the heated open air baths. Bliss.
After a night at the hotel, we headed back to Egilstaddir for our flight, stopping over at the East Iceland Heritage Museum for a spot of culture, and Hus Handanna centre for locally-made souvenirs. For some last minute relaxation, do check out the spa at the Lake Hotel and enjoy the fine dining there – the catch of the day is particularly delicious. For something a bit lighter, try the Salt Bistro.
What to do in Reykjavik: Day 4 – Reykjavik
Where to stay: The Swan House (superior room starts from £202 at a special rate for winter stays) which has the most Insta worthy studios, and is conveniently located near the Laugavegur shopping street.
Where to eat: For breakfast, you MUST go to Sandholt bakery, which is on Laugavegur, just a five minute walk away. They have some of the best pastries I’ve ever tried (the almond apricot is divine), and I’m French. They also serve up great sandwiches, bread and cakes and yes, avo on toast.
What to do: We had little time in the city, and as touristy as it sounds, I really did want to go to the Blue Lagoon on the way back to the airport and oh was it worth it. Even if you can’t book yourself into a massage there (you need to do so very far in advance), there is something magical about swimming around the turquoise water, gazing at the snow-covered hills and crisp blue sky – or Northern Lights if you’re lucky. Make sure you sip on a fresh juice and apply a mud mask while you’re there, both of which are included in most ticket prices.
For more information on Iceland, please visit Inspired by Iceland.
All in all, East Iceland is well worth visiting if you’re thinking of treating yourself to a winter break. It was too good not to share…