Iceland Attractions: Must-See and Do in the South and East

Iceland attractions
A view of Jökulsárlón, the glacial lagoon.

After months of procrastination, I thought it was about time that I wrote something about my favourite Iceland attractions I came across on our first road trip around Iceland.

I had been putting off writing it down, partly because I didn’t think my words could do justice to the experience, and partly because I hated to admit that it was all over. I think my husband is tired of hearing me lament about how badly I want to go back to Iceland like I’ve been doing since the day we were back in Canada.

I don’t think I’ll be able to write every single detail of the trip, but I can surely recommend a few things to those thinking of visiting Iceland for the first time in the future or researching for a trip there. I had a lot of fun reading a lot of blog posts about Iceland while researching for our trip and I’m writing this hoping that someone out there will have as much fun reading my post. I’m going to write down my recommendations/favourite Iceland attractions in a few installments.

In this first installment, I’m just going to write about the highlights of South Iceland and the East Fjords (according to me anyway; I’m easily impressed), so here goes:

Things You Must See and Do in Iceland

Catch a red-eye flight to Iceland with Icelandair.

Not really something to do in Iceland, but I think it’s worth mentioning. If you’re flying from Toronto or any other North American cities on a clear, dark night, you might get lucky and see the Northern Lights from 37,000 feet above the sea level and catch a glimpse of Greenland in early morning light!

You might have to stay up all night for that, which we were forced to do due to a crying, kicking and screaming baby sitting next to us, but I like to think of it as a blessing in disguise. The views of the Northern Lights high up in the sky and of the fjords of Greenland with icebergs floating free into the open sea are totally worth staying up to.

Greenland from 37,000 feet above the ground.
Greenland from 37,000 feet above the ground.

Have a soak in the Blue Lagoon.

It might be a bit touristy and pricey, and there might be some older American ladies who would passive-aggressively shame you for doing the Icelandic thing in the shower room, namely not being modest (first-hand experience; fortunately I was too tired to care), but you want to go there. It’s lovely. A nice, long soak at the Blue Lagoon is just what you need after a red-eye flight with zero sleep like we had. Unfortunately my camera’s memory card crapped out on me so I have no good pictures of it. 🙁 Make sure to book your time ahead of your visit!

Elliðaey, with not-Björk-house on the left-hand side.
Elliðaey, with not-Björk-house on the left-hand side.

Take the ferry to visit the island of Heimaey.

Even if you can’t catch a boat tour around the island, the ferry ride would give you a glimpse of the beauty of the Westman Islands in general, and allow you to see that little house in the small island of Elliðaey that is rumoured to be the property of Björk (it’s not; it’s really just a puffin hunting lodge). Also, if you rent a car, do book the ferry in advance so you can take your car with you to the island. I wish that we’d had. We would’ve seen so much more of the island. We did take a bus tour around Heimaey with a very knowledgeable guide from Viking Tours but we didn’t get to stop at most of the places we wanted to stop at due to time constraint. But seriously, Heimaey is beautiful. Do go there!

The coast of Heimaey.
The coast of Heimaey.

Go for a little hike to Seljavallalaug.

Seljavallalaug is not really as difficult to find as some people made it sound. Just make sure you wear waterproof boots because you’ll have to cross a stream to get there. In case you’ve never heard of the wonder that is Seljavallalaug, it’s a sort of abandoned swimming pool by the side of Eyjafjallajökull (you know, the volcano that erupted in 2010 and no one knew how to pronounce) and the setting is breathtakingly beautiful! Water from a hot spring flows into this swimming pool which keeps the pool warm (not hot, just lukewarm). And yes, you can swim in it. It’s a relatively short and easy walk to the pool from the parking spot. About 20 minutes, or half an hour if you’re a slow walker like me. This blog post has a rough map to the pool location that you might find helpful.

Seljavallalaug swimming pool, one of Iceland's best-kept secret.
Seljavallalaug swimming pool, one of Iceland’s best-kept secret.

Visit Jökulsárlón, the beautiful glacial lagoon.

I’d recommend you park at one of the parking lots by the side of the road just before the bridge by the visitor centre (if you come from the West; after the bridge if you come from the East) and climb up the hill for a jaw-dropping view of the lagoon. Also be sure to check out the black sand beach across the street from the lagoon to see pieces of glacial ice scattered on the sand, looking like huge chunks of diamond.

Doesn't it look like a big chunk of diamond?
Doesn’t it look like a big chunk of diamond?

Stop at Djúpivogur.

Be sure check out the waterfront for a beautiful view of the fjord with the towering mountain range in the background. It was the only town we stopped at as we drove through the East Fjords and it didn’t disappoint.

The lighthouse in Djúpivogur.
The lighthouse in Djúpivogur.

Have a lunch buffet at Klausturkaffi in Skriðuklaustur.

For about $20 per person (2013 price, likely has changed), you can enjoy an all-you-can-eat buffet of authentic, homemade, Eastern Icelandic food, it’s a steal! When we were there, the menu included reindeer meatballs, a fish casserole, and, my favourite, lamb tenderloin stew which I still dream about every now and then. It was so good! There was also a small selection of soups and salads, cakes for desserts, and a good selection of teas, all included in the price. You won’t regret it!

Skriðuklaustur housed a museum and a cafe with excellent buffet menu.
Skriðuklaustur housed a museum and a cafe with excellent buffet menu.

Stay overnight in Borgarfjörður eystri.

An amazingly beautiful place between the mountains and the sea, it is in fact my favourite place in Iceland. I could stay there forever! It’s supposed to be a hiker’s paradise but we were there a bit too early in the season and most of the trails were still covered with snow. However, we came just in time for the puffin season. Be sure to visit the observation platform by the marina (Hafnarhólmi Harbour) to check out the puffins up close and for free!

This goofy guy was standing about a meter away from me, posing for my camera. Such a great model!
This goofy guy was standing about a meter away from me, posing for my camera. Such a great model!

In the next installments, I will write about the Northeast, Northwest, and West Iceland attractions that became the highlights of our road trip. Unfortunately we didn’t have enough time to visit the Westfjords but we will someday! Stay tuned for my next posts!


  1. Found this post through your Iceland in April post via Google. Two questions – is there anything you wouldn’t do north, west or above, in April (weather wise)?

    We’ll have 6 days, husband wants to prioritise northern lights chasing at some point. What would you 100% not miss from your trip?

    Lovely post, thanks for sharing!

  2. we are going for 4 days in April and really want to hit some of the best things!! this is amazing to read and get insight. Blue Lagoon is already booked but now to find some other things……. ADVICE please. we are planning on staying in the Reykjavik area……

    1. We booked months ahead. Accommodations are very limited in Iceland. They’re usually booked solid pretty quickly.

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