However much you strain to discover some underlying charm, Egilsstaðir isn’t a ravishing beauty. It’s the main regional transport hub, and a centre for local commerce, so its services are quite good (including quality accommodation and dining options). It's growing fast, but in a hotchpotch fashion and without a proper town centre.
If you visit only one town in the Eastfjords, this should be it. Made up of multicoloured wooden houses and surrounded by snowcapped mountains and cascading waterfalls, obscenely picturesque Seyðisfjörður is the most historically and architecturally interesting town in east Iceland. It’s also a friendly place with a community of artists, musicians and craftspeople.
This wee hamlet sits in a stunning location, framed by a backdrop of rugged rhyolite peaks on one side and the spectacular Dyrfjöll mountains on the other; the hiking in the area is outstanding. There’s very little in the village itself (which is less commonly known as Bakkagerði), although driftwood sculptures, hidden elves and crying seabirds exude a magical charm.
Just getting to Neskaupstaður feels like a real odyssey. You travel via the highest highway pass (632m) in Iceland, through a nerve-wracking, single-lane, 630m-long tunnel, then drop from the skies like a falcon into town; attempt to drive further east and you simply run out of road.
The neat historic buildings and small harbour are worth a look, but the main reason to visit this friendly fishing village at the mouth of Berufjörður is to catch the boat to Papey. Djúpivogur (dyoo-pi-vor) is actually the oldest port in the Eastfjords – it’s been around since the 16th century, when German merchants brought goods to trade.
The grey-brown waters of the river-lake Lagarfljót are reputed to harbour a fearsome monster, Lagarfljótsormur, which has allegedly been spotted since Viking times. The most recent ‘sighting’ of the serpentine beast (also called the Worm/Wyrm) caused quite a stir – in 2012 a local farmer released footage of a large creature moving in the river.
In the Prettiest Fjord pageant, Reyðarfjörður wouldn't be in the running to take home the crown. It’s a relatively new settlement, which only came into existence – as a trading port – in the 20th century. More recently, Reyðarfjörður garnered attention when Alcoa installed a giant 2km-long aluminium smelter just beyond the town along the fjord.
Head south from Hengifoss waterfall for 5km to reach historic Skriðuklaustur, where you can investigate medieval and 20th-century history, plus indulge in excellent local produce. Neighbouring the cultural centre at Skriðuklaustur is the worthwhile visitor centre for the eastern territory of Vatnajökull National Park.