Nestled at the bottom of the rugged Fjarðarheiði mountain pass at the end of a long, narrow fjord in Eastern Iceland is the magical coastal town of Seyðisfjörður. Given its remote location (it is about a two and a half hour drive east from Mývatn and another 3 hours to the more popular town of Höfn), and its unique surroundings, we were in for a real treat. It was our sixth day in Iceland following our Ring Road family trip adventure, and we had just spent two fantastic days in Mývatn and Krafla exploring its volcanic wonders. Now it was time to enter into a fairytale world of endless waterfalls, lush green mountains and blue sea as far as the eye could see.
We arrived in the late afternoon, down a long, serpentine, gravel road, pulling out of the clouds and into lush green valley and fjord that surrounds the village. It wasn’t hard to find our hotel or the center of town given the compact size of Seyðisfjörður. Yet instantly we were charmed by the lovely, colorful wooden buildings for which Seyðisfjörður is known for. Since Seyðisfjörður is quite small, many travelers simply pass it by. However, if you love taking a hike and having literally the entire mountainside to yourself followed by world-class Icelandic dining, then a night in Seyðisfjörður is definitely something you should do and highly recommended.
Seyðisfjörður dates back to the early days of the Icelandic settlements and over time developed as a fishing village by hearty Norwegian settlers. Today, it is most known for its tourism and sadly given the size of its fjord, cruise ships do come into town, overwhelming it. Having a keen eye on sustainable tourism I asked a few locals what they thought of the cruise ships and most of them were happy to have the much-needed business to keep them afloat. Furthermore, they ships are not there every day which helps keep this tiny place intact and not overrun. That afternoon when we arrived, there was a cruise ship in port but thankfully it was gone by the evening so we still could enjoy dining at one of the few albeit wonderful restaurants in town.
Before dinner, my husband and I grabbed a drink at the infamous Hotel Alden, known for a brief scene from the movie “The Secret Life Of Walter Mitty” with Ben Stiller, and perhaps even better known for its exquisite , Nordic dining. Since we had two teens with us, we opted for the less formal yet delightful Kaffi Lara – El Grillo Bar which serves locally-farmed Icelandic meats and other delights. I had the “salad in a mug” while my husband and kids enjoyed the pork, all served with one of the best baked potatoes I’ve had in quite some time.
The next morning it was time for us to do a hike before getting back into the car and driving again. Lucky for us, there were plenty of excellent hikes to choose from as Seyðisfjörður is surrounded by mountains with Mt. Bjólfur to the west (at 1085m) and Strandartindur (at 1010m) to the east. The town is also only a five-minute drive to the Vestdalur Nature Reserve, which leads to a few great hikes such as a hike to the Vestdalur Lake and the Mountain Lady Cave.
To reach the trailhead, simply follow the road heading southeast out of town and you come across a small parking lot and a few posted placards. According to the signs, the hike follows a route that used to transport mail and trade between Seyðisfjörður and other small towns in East Iceland before there were roads. From 1880-1910, it was one of East Iceland’s most frequently used trails and today is one of the area’s finest hikes for its raw beauty and unbelievable amount of waterfalls (I believe we counted over 20!).
We set off through the lush, green landscape passing only sheep until we reached a river. Mountains surrounded us along with dozens of tiered waterfalls. In fact, I have never seen so many waterfalls in once place before. It was dreamily surreal.
When we reached the river, we stopped because it was too beautiful and mystical to not take some photos. These photos became some of our favorite from the entire trip as they truly captured the magic of Iceland and the dreamy life of our teenager’s minds.
While we did not make it all the way to the lake, we did find peace, beauty and joy in this two hour hike into the reserve. We did not see another soul and could hardly believe our incredible luck. Had we more time, we would have continued on to the small lake and cave where legend has it, the bones of a 30-year-old woman dating back to the year 940 was discovered inside the cave along with 400 pearls. Hence the name of the hike, Hike to Mountain Lady Lain.
As we turned around, once again sad to leave such a peaceful place all too soon, I reflected on the miraculous, unique beauty of Iceland. We had found a few places during our trip that truly were magical and were untouched by the hordes of tourists who have swept the South of Iceland. To know that these places still exist in an overcrowded, over-traveled world made me feel slightly relieved. It gives me hope to find nature still in its raw form with little impact or damage done by humankind. Let’s hope these places continue to remain so pure.
If you go:
Seyðisfjörður is located in East Iceland, over 661 km northeast of Reykjavík. We followed the Ring Road leaving Reykjavík and arriving on day 6 of our drive in Seyðisfjörður. There are only a handful of hotels and we stayed at a hostel called Guesthouse Post-Hostel for families where we found cheap albeit small room with bunk beds for our family of four. If we weren’t with the kids we would have chosen either Hótel Aldan or Hótel Snæfell which are both in town and are lovely. There is not much to do there so one full day and night is enough unless you really want to enjoy the hikes. However, if you want to see a true Icelandic fishing town set within a magical fjord this is the place for you. You will not be disappointed for its incredible charm and utterly raw beauty.