There are few places in Iceland where a human being feels as small and helpless as in the vicinity of Vatnajökull, Europe's largest glacier. Everything here is on a grand scale: the lofty mass of the ice cap, the spectacular mountain peaks, and all the signs of volcanic activity beneath the ice. But it is not only the craggy, rugged beauty of the region that is appealing. In places such as Lónsöræfi, Borgarfjörður eystri and elsewhere, the landscape exhibits an extraordinary palette of colors. In the realm of Vatnajökull, the land is greener, the glacier whiter, the volcanic sands blacker than elsewhere. This otherworldly environment has become a popular location for international film-makers and advertisers.
At the foot of the great glacier lies Skaftafell National Park, founded in 1967; this was Iceland's first National Park founded purely for its nature (Þingvellir National Park has major cultural significance). Skaftafell is a popular tourist destination, with a full program of events for visitors. The Visitor Center informs visitors about the remarkable natural environment of the park, while at Höfn in Hornafjörður there is a glacier exhibition. Activities include sightseeing cruises among
the ice floes on the Breiðamerkurjökull glacial lagoon, and trips up onto the glacier. The southeast boasts a wide variety of bird life, as most migrant birds arrive here, and many vagrant species are also carried here from mainland Europe. But the east of Iceland has more to offer than the splendors of the Vatnajökull glacier.
The East Fjords are a magnificent landscape of long, narrow fjords, steep mountains and jagged peaks. This is one of the oldest regions of Iceland, which was shaped by glaciers in the Ice Age. Glacial action uncovered magma chambers that had been about 3 km beneath the surface, where zeolites had formed. These beautiful rocks can now be seen along the coast; e.g., at Teigarhorn. The more remote fjords are now mostly uninhabited, but hiking tours are available throughout these deserted regions of high mountain ridges and verdant valleys. Off the shore are grassy islands that can be visited by boat. In the Hérað district, in the north of the East Fjords, the landscape is different. Vegetation flourishes in this sheltered, sunny region. The town of Egilsstaðir is the hub of the East, offering a wide range of services for visitors. Farther north the landscape changes yet again: fine angling rivers flow among undulating hills. The East Fjords have many natural harbors, and in the 19th century this led to the development of fishing villages, most of which still exist. These seaside communities have a special charm, and many of them have town festivals every year. A number of museums in the East Fjords focus on various aspects of local history: World War II, French fishermen who fished off Iceland a century ago, local artists and technology. Other exhibitions highlight nature: the region's beautiful minerals, and the reindeer that roam the eastern highlands. Want to know more?
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