Top 10 things to do in West Iceland
The landscape itself is worthy of such epic tales, with mesmerising natural wonders – from the glittering glacial cap of Snæfellsjökull to the sweeping black sands of Djúpalónssandur.
If you’re looking to participate in classic Icelandic activities such as a lava field hike, a snowmobile trip over the country’s second largest glacier or a soothing dip in a steaming geothermal pool, the west is sure to delight and deliver. However, those looking to delve into the culture of the country and get acquainted with Icelandic rural life won’t be disappointed – amongst the waterfalls, valleys and rugged rock formations of the coast are picturesque villages that are well worth a visit.
As you enter ‘Viking Country’, you’ll have the chance to soak up the history and heritage of Iceland; it’s a region where much of the action recorded in the famous Sagas took place, showcasing the struggle and conflict that arose amongst the early generations of Icelandic settlers.
1. The village of Reykholt
The cultural and historical heart of Iceland, Reykholt is renowned for being the home of the country’s best known author Snorri Sturlson during the years 1206-1241. Sturlson wrote The Prose Edda, considered by many to be the world’s most extensive source for Norse mythology and one of the most important works of Scandinavian literature. The village plays host to a fascinating cultural and medieval centre, Snorrastofa, as well as the beautifully designed Reykholtskirkja church with its Swiss-chalet style exterior and neoclassical features. There’s also a tiny geothermal pool named Snorralaug, thought to be one of the oldest springs used by humans in Iceland. Fosshotel Reykholt is just a few steps away from the church.
2. Waterfalls and lava fields
Some of the most enchanting waterfalls in Iceland, Hraunfossar, Barnafoss and the Glanni waterfall, are located in the West. Hraunfossar (Lava waterfalls) is actually a series of smaller waterfalls, formed by water streaming through the irregular shapes of the Hallmundarhraun lava field and cascading over the moss-covered cliffs; Barnafoss (Children’s waterfall) is located a short, scenic hike away. Glanni waterfall is located near to the otherworldly landscape of the Grábrókarhraun lava field, its small yet perfectly formed side-by-side drops and multiple tiers creating a perfect postcard scene. The lava field is also the location of the Surtshellir cave, the longest open lava cave in Iceland.
3. Langjökull – Iceland’s second largest glacier
The most popular glacier for skiing and hiking in Iceland is Langjökull – the country’s second largest glacier and the glittering diamond in the Vesturland’s crown. Living up to its name which means ‘the Long Glacier’, Langjökull offers a 367 miles sq (950 km sq) stretch of ice cap, ideal for snowmobiling and admiring the winter wonderland scenery. However, that’s not all Langjökull has to offer: beneath the frosty surface lies a network of vast manmade ice caves where a world of shimmering blue and silver ice is waiting to be explored.
One of the most famous landmarks in Iceland, Snæfellsjökull is a 700,000-year-old stratovolcano with a glacier cap, situated on the most western part of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. The crater served as the entrance to the fantastical subterranean world in Jules Verne’s classic 1864 novel, Journey to the Centre of the Earth and the peninsula also found fame in the 90s when thousands of people congregated to welcome aliens to Earth. There must be something magical in the air around Snæfellsjökull though – for centuries it has been considered a source of power, mysticism and energy amongst the superstitious locals and its reputation holds strong.
5. Deildartunguhver and Krauma
Near to the historical village of Reykholt lies the mighty Deildartunguhver, the largest and most powerful hot spring in Europe. Drawing on the geothermal reserves of the Reykholtsdalur valley, this magnificent force of nature pumps out a colossal 180 litres of steaming water per second. The water is primarily used to heat the nearby towns of Borgarnes and Akranes, as well as to assist nearby greenhouses and speed up the growth of plants and vegetables. If you want to take a dip, visit the sophisticated Krauma baths where you can enjoy all the benefits of naturally heated pools, calming saunas and the soothing relaxation room – you won’t want to leave.
6. Háafell goat farm
The Icelandic goat is an endangered species, so Háafell goat farm works hard to protect and maintain the goat population in Iceland. Expect a very warm welcome from the playful goat residents who are friendly and like to meet new people – some have even featured in HBO’s Game of Thrones. The owners will provide plenty of information about their beloved charges and there’s a small shop on site where you can pick up a variety of fresh produce, from homemade cheeses and ice-cream to skincare products. It’s also possible to foster a goat for a small fee – foster parents will receive regular updates and pictures of their goat as well as enjoy two free visits to the farm with their families each year.
7. Steðji micro brewery
Those that can’t help but indulge in a tipple or two when on holiday should make time to visit Steðji, one of the most famous micro breweries in Iceland. Learn about the heritage of Icelandic beer, see how it’s brewed on site and sample the fine glacier water-brewed beverages in a fun, friendly and relaxing environment. This family-run brewhouse has a top selection of local beers, from strawberry beer to lager and seasonal beers – you might find it hard to pick your favourite! Visits last around 45 minutes and, thanks to its accessible location, can easily be tagged on to some of west Iceland’s most popular tours.
8. Vatnshellir Cave
Make your own journey to the centre of the earth with a tour down into the depths of the 8,000-year-old Vatnshellir Cave. This lava tube descends 35m below the surface and stretches more than 200m in length, so expect to negotiate staircases and uneven ground during this unique and unforgettable experience – sensible shoes are a must. Marvel at the fascinating formations and features in the upper part of the lava cave, before experiencing what total darkness looks and feels like in the lower regions when your guide switches off the torch.
9. Kirkjufell mountain
If committing your Icelandic adventure to film is an essential consideration, be sure to visit the most photographed mountain in Iceland – Kirkjufell. Rising 463m above sea level, this perfectly symmetrical cone is an unmissable part of west Iceland’s coastal skyline. As well as being a photographer’s dream, the beautiful nature trails and abundant bird life of the mountain make it an ideal destination for those who can’t get enough of the Great Outdoors. Stand beside the Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall for the best view of this iconic mountain.
10. Breiðafjörður bay
The wide, shallow bay of Breiðafjörður is one of the best destinations for nature lovers in west Iceland. The region is made up of around 3,000 islands, islets and skerries, all playing host to around 50 breeding birds, including the common shag, puffin and the magnificent white-tailed eagle. Hop aboard a boat tour to make the most of this diverse natural environment, admiring the fairy-tale scenery and maybe even sampling a taste of fresh-off-the-boat shellfish en route.
Book tours and activities
Snæfellsnes peninsula is famous for its glacier, Snæfellsjökull, and the countless islands in the Breiðafjörður bay with its colourful bird and sea life. Boat tour on Breiðafjörður fjord to see puffins and other birdlife or go for Viking Sushi adventure.
Reykholt in Borgarfjörður, once the home of historian and poet Snorri Sturluson, is one of Iceland's major historic sites. Bounteous in captivating scenery the area is full of lava fields, waterfalls, mountains, craters and caves.
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