The west of Iceland is a region packed with cultural, historical and natural significance. It has majestic glaciers, hot springs, thundering waterfalls and quaint little villages; in short, everything you’d want to see during a trip to Iceland. Yet, for some reason, most tourists don’t venture there. This is good news since it means you get to escape the crowds and experience the area without interruptions.
I grew up in the region, so I know first-hand how wonderful it is. I recommend taking a few days to explore the region, picking a central location such as Borgarnes for accommodation and using your time to the fullest. Go swimming, horse riding, hiking, sailing and meet the Icelandic goats, but whatever you do, don’t miss these top attractions in the west of Iceland.
Borgarnes is my beloved hometown so I freely admit to being completely biased when I recommend it. But seriously, it’s great. Go there. I especially recommend the exhibitions at the Borgarfjörður Museum – there’s one that tells the history of the 20th century in Iceland through photographs of children and their surroundings, and another one featuring Icelandic birds, a truly amazing visual experience. The town and the surrounding area is also the setting for Egil’s saga, one of the most popular Icelandic sagas, telling the story of the Viking Egill’s incredible adventures. If you want to know more about the town’s Viking past, check out the Settlement Centre.
My family has a cottage close to these beautiful waterfalls so I went there often as a kid. But it wasn’t until I started working at a Tourist Information Center that I realised how incredible they were. “So there’s this vast lava field, and at its edge, there are hundreds of tiny waterfalls sprouting from underneath the lava, cascading over red cliffs worn smooth by the water, into the blue river below.” When I started saying this to tourists, the ooh’s and aah’s made me register just what an unusual place it is. I always knew it was beautiful, though!
Bonus tip – If you manage to take your eyes off Hraunfossar and walk a few steps further, you’ll be rewarded with the sight of Barnafoss (e. Children’s waterfall – the grim story of how it got its name can be read at the sign by the walking path), a powerful force of a waterfall, foaming white as it hits the rough cliffs around it.
The legendary Snæfellsjökull is probably one of the best known glaciers in the world. The glacier has always had a mythical aura that has inspired literature as diverse as the fantastical Saga of Bárður Snæfellsás, Jules Verne’s Journey to the centre of the earth and Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness’s Under the glacier (as the titular glacier). It’s also been rumoured to be the intended landing spot for extraterrestrials several times. If that’s not enough for you, it’s also just really pretty.
This black beach of beautiful round pebbles has an aura of mystique to it. Ships have been wrecked just off the coast and you can see the rusty debris from some of them lying around in the sand. There used to be a sort of fishermen’s camp in this area, where men from all over the country came for a few months at a time to go fishing. They used to test their strength by lifting four different weight stones that can still be seen in Djúpalónssandur. Aside from the place’s intriguing history, it’s just incredibly beautiful as well as conveniently located close to the main road.
This is easily one of Iceland’s most charming villages. It’s full of colourful little houses and has a beautiful harbour area. You can walk to the top of a small cape that gives you a view over the countless islands in the Breiðafjörður bay. You can even do boat tours from Stykkishólmur and sail among the islands while eating freshly caught delicacies from the bottom of the sea. Stykkishólmur is a lovely place and it’s perfect for walking around, taking in the atmosphere, getting to know the history at the museums and/or enjoying the local cuisine at one of their great restaurants or cafés.
If you thought Stykkishólmur was charming … JUST YOU WAIT. Taking the ferry, Baldur, to this tiny island in the middle of Breiðafjörður bay is like going back in time. It has the same colorful, old-timey vibe as Stykkishólmur, but with fewer houses and even closer to nature. At the beginning of the 20th century, almost 400 people were living on the island but today, habitation is mostly seasonal. In the summer, the island teems with live, with birds such as Arctic Terns, Cormorants and Eider Ducks. There are no cats, minks, rats or mice on the island so the birds have a carefree summer in Flatey – dog-owners are even encouraged to leave their dogs on land when visiting the island, to protect the birds. During the summer, the Flatey hotel puts on concerts and dances.