A Local’s Guide to Exploring Western Iceland

Western Iceland and Snæfellsnes Peninsula are steeped in Viking history and sagas. Our insider Margo shares the best ways to explore the rugged landscapes that inspired them.

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Photo © iStock/dkaranouh

Come to Western Iceland and you’ll understand why it’s the place which inspired Tolkien‘s, Lord of the Rings, Jules Verne´s, Journey to the Center of the Earth and Wagner‘s Ring Cycle Opera.

This impressive cast of gods, mortals, and giants is reflected in rugged lava fields, the majestic Snæfellsjökull glacier, and vistas of ocean and sky. It‘s not surprising this setting is considered one of the seven major energetic power centers of the world.

Here’s where to find the best out-of-the-way spots in this spectacular corner of Iceland.

Glymur Falls Hike in Hvalfjöður

With the new tunnel under the fjord diverting local traffic, Hvalfjörður is now off the beaten track – and Glymur, Iceland‘s second-highest waterfall, is at the east end of the fjord. You’re in Iceland to see waterfalls, right? It’s worth the trek if you have four hours to do the hike. The deserted WW II British military base and the abandoned whaling station offer excellent photo opportunities.

Glymur Falls. Photo credit: iStock

Borganes

The highlight of this picturesque town is the Settlement Center, a museum with fascinating exhibits about Icelands first settlers.

Reykholt

Home to Iceland’s most famous medieval poet, Snorri Sturluson, Reykholt is a major center of Norse mythology. Dive into the history at the Snorrastofa Cultural and Medieval Center, or if that’s not your thing, check out the nearby hot springs of Deildartunguhver and the waterfalls of Barnafoss and Hraunfoss (which streams straight from a lava-tube river). Or take a guided tour of Viðgelmir, the largest cave in Iceland, which lies to the east.

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Visit a Family Farm

Farmers in Iceland have to work in harmony with the delicate landscape, and they put the local geothermal energy to good use. Stop in to buy fresh berries and vegetables from Sólbyrgi in Kleppjárnsreykir greenhouse village, heated by thermal waters.

Gerðuberg

As Hwy 54 turns west, look for signs to this impressive wall of cliffs with striking geometric basalt columns.

South Snæfellsnes Peninsula

Búðir, Arnarstapi, and Hellnar offer places to stay the night. Walk the paths through lava fields and along sea cliffs while puffins and gulls fly above.

Snæfellsjökull National Park

Malarrif Visitors‘ Center offers free, guided hiking tours from park rangers with information about the area’s history, geology, and biology. The lava-tube cave tour at Vatnshellir is worth the price of admission – there’s also an abundance of organized glacial adventures and hiking paths throughout the park.

Snæfellsjökull, Snafellsnes Peninsula. Photo credit: Emily Kydd

Kirkjufoss

This waterfall, with iconic, cone-shaped Kirkjufell just beyond, is one of the most photographed landmarks in Iceland. If your heart’s set on taking a snap, you’ll find it between the towns of Ólafsvík and Grundarfjöður.

Sample Some Shark

Far more off the beaten path is Bjarnarhöfn, a small family business on the way to Stykkishólmur. Their Shark Museum tells of generations of shark fishing and processing – the visit includes tastings of dried and fermented shark, an experience not to be missed.

Berserkjahraun

Opposite Hwy 54 from Bjarnarhöfn, a dirt road takes you through the “Lava Field of the Berserkers,” a moss-covered fairyland of lava formations. The name comes from an Icelandic saga about fierce warriors (berserkers) from Sweden who met their untimely end here.

Lava Field of the Berserkers. Photo credit: iStock

Stykkishólmur

This small scenic village is known for its collection of old Danish trading houses, as well as its excellent Volcano Museum. Watch their film about the 2010 eruption of Eyjafjallajökull to comprehend the natural forces that created everything you’ve been observing since arriving in Iceland.

Stykkishólmur. Photo credit: iStock
Want to know more about Iceland? Check out our podcast. We chat about where to capture the best photos in Iceland, how to speak like a Viking (almost), and how a social policy got the country to the World Cup.

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