One of my favorite places in Iceland is a tiny fishing town called Höfn.
Höfn literally means harbor in Icelandic, and the town’s livelihood centers on its idyllic docks filled with fishing boats distantly ringed by purple mountains and wide open skies. It was just this type of place the helped form mine and Jim’s first impressions of Iceland as being a place of unbelievable beauty where the summer sunlight never quite disappears. Here are a few things I love about Höfn:
Incredible outdoors day trips.
Because Höfn sits below Vatnajokull — Iceland’s immense glacial ice cap that covers about a tenth of the entire country and is also its largest National Park— it makes an ideal base for all sorts of chilly outdoor adventures and day trips. One of my favorite activities is spotting icebergs and hearing the occasional crash of giant blocks of ice smashing into water.
The glacial lake above is about a 30 minute drive west of Höfn along the Ring Road and about 15 minutes up a dirt offshoot. From the shore, we watched a couple of small groups load into inflatable rafts to tour the glacier. We watched the boats slip in and out among the icebergs until they disappeared into tiny specks and we could no longer hear the hum of their outboard motors as they neared the far side of the lake and the base of the glacier.
Jim and I opted to walk the shoreline and skip stones instead. And even with the occasional tourist crunching by on the stony shoreline, it felt hauntingly desolate.
Twenty minutes further west along the Ring Road takes you to the more famous and slightly more crowded spot to check out icebergs: Jökulsárlón Bay. Here instead of a lake, the glacier ends in a bay. The ice that falls off the glacier into the bay slowly work their way to the mouth of the tiny inlet and out to sea.
If you’re in the mood for hiking, Svartifoss (Black Waterfall) is also located in Vatnajokull National Park. We discovered this waterfall after seeing a picture of it in our hotel in Höfn, and asking our hotelier about it. It seemed so nice that we decided to check it out on our way back to Reykjavik on our last day. The trailhead is about a 45 minute drive west of Jökulsárlón Bay and was a perfect short hike (a couple of hours) to take a break from the Ring Road to stretch our legs.
But there are lots of reasons why I fell in love with Höfn, and the fact that it is well-located to a bunch of cool things to see and do is just one of them. I also love the town itself.
Really good, really fresh seafood.
One of the best parts about traveling is experiencing good food that is local to a culture and its traditions, and we had an amazing meal in Höfn.
The restaurant Pakkhús was again recommended by our hotelier, and was one of my favorite sit-down dining experiences while traveling. Besides just having a great ambience with reclaimed wooden furnishings and one-of-a-kind hand made ceramic dishes, the food was incredibly fresh and top notch. Pakkhús is located right on the harbor front and specializes in freshly caught langoustine, a small Icelandic lobster. And I mean freshly caught, their menu proudly points out the boat docked in front of the restaurant as the source of their lobster. And it was incredible — it put all other lobster I’ve had to shame.
Interesting mini museums and parks.
Also on the harbor front, Höfn also has a dry docked boat that you can explore for free and acts like a mini park. There is also a tiny museum — also free — down the street in an old corrugated tin warehouse that focuses on the history of the village and its relationship with the ocean.
How to get there.
Höfn is the last town along the southern border of Iceland before heading into the Almannaskarðsgöng tunnel and up to the Eastern Fjords. It’s only about a five and a half hour nonstop drive from Reykjavik along Iceland’s southern coast, but there’s so much to see and do along the way that we spent three very full days exploring between the two cities.
~ Laura Rowley