The staging post for the southeast, HÖFN is a small town perched on a narrow neck of land, with a prime view inland of four glacial tongues descending Vatnajökull – at least on days when the pernicious fogs abate. The bay here, Hornafjörður, was settled in Viking times by Hrollaugur Rögnvaldsson, distant ancestor of saga writer Snorri Sturluson, though the town itself began life as late as 1897 as a trading post, unimaginatively named Höfn (Harbour) after the bay’s deep anchorage. Expansion followed the 1950s fishing boom and the establishment of a fish-freezing plant, which remains the largest local employer; Höfn is still famed for its fine lobster.
Höfn’s main street is Hafnarbraut, which runs for about 1.5km south through the town, with most services in a loose cluster towards or around the harbour.
Housed in the tourist office building, the Glacier Exhibition has a few dense maps and accompanying text that sketch out regional geology, but the best feature is a nine-minute film of the 1996 eruption under Grímsvotn and the subsequent jökulhlaup flash flood, with incredible footage of house-sized blocks of ice tearing through bridges along the Ringroad. The same film is shown for free at the Skaftafell Visitor Centre
Glacier tours from Höfn
Glacier tours from Höfn
Tours from Höfn, offered by Vatnajökull Travel (t894 1616, wvatnajokull.is) and Glacier Jeeps (t478 1000, wglacierjeeps.is), focus on trips to one of the nearby glaciers descending Vatnajökull. Base camp is the snowline at Jöklasel hut, some 45km west of town along the Ringroad and then 16km up the four-wheel-drive-only Route F985. From here you mount a skidoo and drive out onto the glacier, tearing across a frozen, empty horizon at upwards of 40km an hour. You’ll reach the top of Skálafellsjökull and at least get an idea of Vatnajökull’s extent; the usual destination is Brókarbotnstindur, a sharp-edged nunatak with great views west across a deep valley to more tall peaks and ice. Warm clothing, crash helmet and full instruction are provided (bringing sunglasses is a good idea), but come a month either side of the main season unless you want to share a skidoo – in July and August they have hundreds of people a day up here. One hour on a skidoo costs 17,000kr, two hours 33,000kr; pickup from the Ringroad is extra.