What to see in West Iceland
The Bifröst area is largely a 3000 year old lava field, covered with moss, lichen and birch. Climbing the volcano crater Grábrók, that once spew out all the lava, offers an astonishing view and is highly recommanded. The environment offers untold possibilities for hiking and outdoor activites, such as the beautiful lake Hreðavatn, one km southwest of Bifröst, that makes a serene and colourful hiking venue. Walking maps are available.
The cosy Akranes town of 5600 residents is 50 km north of Reykjavík. The Garðar Folk Museum combines indoor and outdoor exhibits, sheding a light on the industrial development in the area. Specimens of Icelandic stones can be found at Steinaríki Íslands museum as well as an exhibition about the construction of the underwater tunnel under Hvalfjörður fjord. Akranes offers various activities and services for travelers and the beautiful lighthouse by the harbour is worth a visit.
The centre of the Borgarfjörður region is the town of Borgarnes. 1800 indivuduals live in Borgarnes. Art, natural history and folk exhibits can all be found at the Borgarfjörður Museum in Borgarnes. The burial mound of Skallagrímur Kveldúlfsson, the father of Egils Saga’s Egill Skallagrímsson, can be found in a park near the centre. There is also and excellent swimming pool with sauna, solarium and hot pots. In 2006 opened the Icelandic Settlement Center and one of the best history and saga muesums in Iceland.
One of Iceland’s most scenic and beautiful fjords is Hvalfjörður. Since 1998 there has been a underwater tunnel under the fjord, making the driving time between Reykjavík and Akranes or Borgarnes around 1 hour shorter. The Saurbær church on the north shore of the fjord contains beautiful stained glass work and the old whaling station is nearby.
The track to the country’s highest waterfall, Glymur (198 m) starts at the far end of Hvalfjörður. The hike takes about 1 hour each way.
Iceland’s Agricultural College is at Hvanneyri, a hamlet of 200 souls. There is also a technical museum of agriculture and a woollen and handicraft workshop.
A cultural centre past and present, Reykholt is one of Iceland’s main historical sites. Iceland’s greatest Saga writer, poet and historian, Snorri Sturluson (1179-1241), lived in Reykholt and this is where he wrote his monumental Sagas. Snorri’s natural hot bathing pool, Snorralaug, is still extant. A centre dedicated to his work, Snorrastofa, has been established at Reykholt. It offers an insight into his life and achivements. A statue of Snorri, by the Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland, stands in front of the main building.
Europe’s biggest geothermal spring is Deildartunguhver. It boils up at a temperature of 97°c, at a rate of 180 litres per second. It supplies both Akranes and Borgarnes with water for central heating. The spring is on Route 50, close to the Reykjadalsá crossing, about 5 km from Reykholt.
9. Hraunfossar and Barnafoss waterfalls
River Hvíta emerges from beneath a lava flow in a water garden of falls and cascades called Hraunfossar, 4 km west of Húsafell. A hiking trail leads upstream from the falls to Barnafoss, where the Hvítá river roars through a narrow chasm. The name Barnafoss means “Children’s waterfall” and is allegedly derived from the tragic drowning of two children that fell into the falls.
One of the highest mountain trails in Iceland lies over Kaldidalur, a valley that can be seen as a kind of an extension of upper Borgarfjörður. In ancient times it served as a short-cut between Northwest Iceland and the annual Þingvellir parliaments. In clear weather the trip across affords glorious views across a vast grey desert to four different glaciers. One of those is Langjökull where snowmobile tours ara available.
The birthplace of Leifur Eiríksson, “Leif the Lucky”, who was the first European to set foot in America is Eiríksstaðir. Þjóðhildur and Eirik the Red, Leif’s parents, built the farm before leaving to establish the first Viking settlement in Greenland. Based on the nearby longhouse ruins of what is believed to have been their farm, a replica has now been constructed.
The peninsula of Snæfellsnes is characterised by rugged mountains rising between a wide coastal plain on the southern side and narrow coast on the northern side. It is about 100 km long, covers an area of about 680 square kilometers and is sometimes referred to as “Iceland in a nutshell”. The 1446 m high dormant volcano Snæfellsjökull glacier lies majestically at the end of the peninsula. It has given inspiration to many and it was the doorway into inner space in Jules Verne’s classic, A Journey to the Centre of the Earth. Snæfellsnes is mainly inhabited on the sheltered north coast, in the towns of Hellissandur-Rif, Ólafsvík, Grundarfjörður and Stykkishólmur.
The south coast has poor harbour conditions and the population is scattered on dispersed farms. Snæfellsnes is renowned for its rich bird life and superb scenery. The highlights are:
- Eldborg: A beautifully formed volcanic crater. A hike to the top takes about 1 hour each way.
- Stykkishólmur: A village of 1100 inhabitants with beautiful historic houses, interesting churches and a nicely sheltered natural harbour. Unforgettable bird watching cruises on Breiðafjörður are available as well as a ferry to the Westfjords and the island of Flatey. The outdoor swimming pool is excellent.
- Bjarnarhöfn: An authentic shark processing farm and a beautiful old church.
- Snæfellsjökull: Hiking and snowmobile tours are available. Numerous roads / routes around the glacier / volcano.
- Ólafsvík: Apart from the obvious attraction of the glacier there is a beautiful waterfall, a scenic beach, a curious triangle-themed church, several mountain hiking routes and whale watching cruises available. The town has 1000 residents.
- Seaman’s cottage: A small maritime museum at Hellisandur.
- Búðir: A wide beach of almost pure olivine sand, amazing lava field and an old timber church. Priceless views, a very romantic place.
- Arnarstapi: A fishing village and harbour. A coastline riddled with arches, grottoes, basalt rocks and absoloutely unique bird life. The semi-mythological creature Bárður Snæfellsás who reputedly makes his home in Snæfellsjökull glacier is represented by a rough stone sculpture. There are great hiking possibilities in the area. Watch out for the aggressive Arctic terns.
- Hellnar: Only 2,5 km southwest of Arnastapi is Hellnar, the hike between these two places is very scenic. There is a large sea-level cave crowded with birds.
- Dritvík & Djúpalón: The Djúpalón rock basin is sea-filled and surrounded by rugged formations. Fishing boat crews at the past fishing station in Dritvík would prove their strength on the four “lifting stones” on the beach. The rock enclosed cove of Dritvík is around 1 km west of Djúpalónssandur, reached by walking along the cliff rim and the grassy headland.