Iceland’s wild and rugged East Coast was both our favorite and most stressful part of circumnavigating Iceland in winter. We had arrived at Hali Country Hotel the evening before just ahead of a winter storm that brought several inches of snow mixed with freezing rain overnight. Following our own advice from our post Tips for Driving Iceland’s Ring Road in Winter, we kept careful watch over the road conditions on the Vegagerdin.is website.
In winter, Iceland has just 4 to 6 hours of daylight so we hit the road for our drive up north in the dark. Plows had only cleared one lane (not ours) and icy roads made things slow going. We started to wonder if all the plows heading south was a sign that we were insane. Reindeer only live in East Iceland and it wasn’t long before we saw the first reindeer crossing sign. Then reindeer quickly outnumbered the 109 cars (yes, I counted) we would see on our 10 hour drive that day.
As dawn finally began to illuminate our surroundings, we were literally surrounded by beauty. Bright yellow lighthouses perched on craggy cliffs above black sand beaches. The Atlantic crashed wildly over lava rocks, leaving white foamy legs chasing the waves back into the ocean.
We crossed questionable one-lane bridges before coming to roadside half frozen waterfalls spraying their mist up into the air.
Then suddenly we would emerge from between the mountains and the road would snake along the seaside cliffs again. It was so picturesque, we literally wanted to stop every couple of hundred meters to take more photos! The solitude of every black sand beach seemed to beckon us to stop but we reluctantly had to press on as the daylight quickly dwindled.
The residents of East Iceland are few and far between, but the occasional house decked out in all its Christmas finest makes an appearance as the road weaves along some of Iceland’s most beautiful fjords.
Reyðarfjörður is one of the most populated villages with around 1,100 residents. We found our first gas station since leaving Hali Country Hotel and a tiny cafe and gift store to grab a quick Icelandic hot dog. We couldn’t hit the road again though before posing with a Subaru station wagon turned monster truck (much to the amusement of several locals), which we imagine is perfect for navigating Iceland’s rugged East Coast!
Our drive finally took us inland shortly after Reyðarfjörður and night quickly descended upon us. I’m sure the beautiful scenery continued all the way to Mývatn but in the pitch black, we couldn’t see a thing. Iceland’s East Coast is definitely a drive we’d love to do in summer when the midnight sun would give us the leeway to stop and explore!
Would you like to explore Iceland’s East Coast?