What to see on the West Coast of Iceland

One of the main features of the West Coast is its rich history of Viking Settlers, like Erik the Red and his son Leif the Lucky, who certainly left their mark on this area. Just like the rest of the country, it has been shaped by volcanic activity over the years, with geothermal springs and crystal clear mountain rivers having drawn early settlers to this rugged landscape. Some of the popular sights of the West, such as Snæfellsjökull glacier and Kirkjufell mountain, have been featured in films and TV shows, so you may already recognize them.

 

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Arnarstapi

Arnarstapi was an important trading post in the past and used to host a much larger population than presently. Columnar basalt, ravines and grottos surround the Arnarstapi pier. There is good anchorage for small boats. There is quite a large arctic tern colony in the village itself and a walk along the coastline is recommended to watch the birds and see the magnificent lava formations.

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Borgarnes Village

A small coastal town, which has a rich history of settlers and heroes of Sagas, was officially founded as a village in the Borgarfjörður Region by a Scot in 1858, and is one of the few coastal villages of Iceland not dependent on fishing. Skallagrímur Kveldúlfsson, an early settler of Iceland, is buried in Borgarnes, and the burial mound is now the central feature for Skallagrímsgarður, a beautiful public garden. The Settlement Center, situated in Borgarnes, tells the stories of these Viking adventurers, like Skallagrímur Kveldúlfsson, and his son, Egill Skallagrímsson, who discovered Iceland over a thousand years ago.

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Búðir

Búðir is a small hamlet in the Búðahraun lava fields, by the river Hraunhafnará, which runs into the sea. It is a very picturesque area, with an unusual 19th century church, and some traditionally built and preserved buildings, including a popular hotel that was rebuilt after a fire in 2001 in order to match the original architecture of the area. Due to its proximity to the sea, Búðir originally hosted a lively trade community for the Danish, however it is now simply a popular and picturesque tourist destination.

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Deildartunguhver

Deildartunguhver Hot Spring is the most powerful hot spring in Iceland, with a flow of 180 liters per second and at 97ºC (207ºF), the highest flow of any such spring in Europe. Most of the water used for central heating in the towns of Borgarnes and Akranes is taken from Deildartunguhver. The hot water pipeline to Akranes is 64 km long, the longest in Iceland and the water is about 78-80ºC when it reaches Akranes. If you take a shower anywhere within a 65 km radius of the spring, you have already bathed in the hot water from this powerful spring! The water from the hot spring is also used at a spa nearby called Krauma, where there are bathing pools and a sauna, with changing facilities, a restaurant, and souvenir shop. It is also the habitat of the Blechnum spicant, also known as the deer fern, unique to this area of Iceland.

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Djúpalónssandur Beach

Djupalonssandur is a beautiful pebbled beach, with a series of rocks of mysterious forms emerging from the ocean. It is one of the few areas that lead down to the sea along this coast with its high dramatic cliffs. Watch out for the famous ghosts roaming the place! The remains of a shipwreck can be seen on the beach. On the beach there are also big stones which people tried to lift and test their strength in the days of the fishing stations. These stones are categorised by: Fully Strong 154 kg, Half-Strong 100 kg, Weakling 54 kg and Bungler 23 kg. Weakling marked the frontier of wimp-hood, any man who couldn't lift it was deemed unsuitable for a life as a fisherman.

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Eirikstaðir Museum

One of most historic sides of Iceland. Step back to the Viking Era and immerse yourself in the sights, sounds and scents of Erik the Red's farm, which is also the birthplace of Leif the Lucky who is said to have discovered America. Modern day vikings demonstrate the lifestyle of 1000 years ago, sharing their crafts and knowledge at this "living" museum.

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Eldborg Crater

Eldborg is a beautifully formed volcanic crater, called a spatter cone, about 60m (197ft) above the surrounding lava field, which last erupted about 5000-6000 years ago. There is a lovely 1.5-2 hour walk that can be taken around or to the top of the crater, which is best approached from Snorrastaðir.

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Flatey island

The Flatey island, is a charming "flat" island where time seems to have stood still for a while. It is believed to be so flat because it formed under a large glacier in the last Ice Age. Today this pretty island, surrounded by many smaller islands, has a small collection of old restored houses, shops and warehouse buildings. In the winter there are only two families who stay on the island, however many more move to the island in the summer, when the weather is nicer. If you walk to the end of the island it is possible that you might see some Arctic Tern nesting and flying, and you might also see some puffins. Ferries depart twice a day to this island from Stykkishólmur and Breiðafjörður.

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Glymur Waterfall

Glymur waterfall is one of the highest waterfalls in Iceland. Glymur is in the river Botnsá that runs out of Hvalvatn, which is a lake enclosed by molten lava, some 160 metres deep. Hvalvatn is one of the deepest lakes in Iceland, with an interesting history. It is said that a man betrayed a woman of the "hidden people" in refusing to have their child christened, and was consequently transformed into a terrible whale, killing many fishermen, amongst which was a "poet of power", who forced the whale to swim into Hvalfjörður (whale fjord), and up the waterfall Glymur. It has been rumored that whale bones can be found in the lake. When you drive from Reykjavik you will come to a tunnel and instead of driving through the tunnel you can take road 47 and drive around Hvalfjörður. At the bottom of the fjord is the waterfall Glymur. It is quite a steep hike but very doable, it takes about 2 hours, and the breathtaking sights of Hvalfjörður, considered one of Iceland's most beautiful fjords, makes it well worth it.

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Grundarfjörður

Grundarfjörður is a quaint village in the Snæfellsnes peninsula, and is the closest village to Kirkjufell, one of the most famous mountains of Iceland, having even made an appearance in a few films and tv shows. It stands at 463m (1520ft) tall, and has a uniquely beautiful symmetric shape. Other attractions include a geothermal swimming pool, and the Viking Association's small 'Viking Village', where you might be able to experience re-enactments of the past. The town's annual festival, Á Góðri Stund, is a weekend long festival at the end of July, when the town quite literally changes its colors, as the residents decorate their houses, and a range of activities are held in the village and on the pier.

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Hellnar

Hellnar is an ancient fishing village, a cluster of old houses and buildings situated close to Arnarstapi in the west of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. The picturesque village has very few inhabitants in the present day, so it is hard to see how this was once one of the biggest fishing villages in this area of the country. The coastal scenery in this town is spectacular, with Valasnös cliff protruding from the land, and the cave, Baðstofa, meaning bathing room, is set into the cliff, and appears to change colors with the natural light and the reflections of the sea.

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Hraunfossar Waterfalls

Barnafossar and Hraunfossar Waterfalls are situated not even a minute walk from each other. Barnafossar, meaning Children's Falls, are two waterfalls in the river Hvítá, who earned their name in a sad tale, where two children are said to have fallen off a natural rock bridge and drowned in the waterfalls. Today there is a footbridge over the beautiful ravine. Hraunfossar, Lava Falls, consist of a large number of volcanic springwater falls, stretching along about 1km of the Hvítá gorge, cascading between rocks and trees. A truly unique and unusual sight of Iceland. To reach these you will turn off road one just before the bridge to Borgarnes. Take road 50 and continue on road 518, where you will see signs for the waterfalls.

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Húsafell

Húsafell is the innermost farm of the Hálsasveit farmland area, with a restaurant, golf course, swimming pool and beautiful hiking trails in fields of scrubs and lava. The Hallmundarhraun lava field contains numerous lava caves, including Surtshellir and Víðgelmir, among the biggest in Iceland. From Húsafell you can take a tour with a specially fitted glacier truck into the Langjökull Glacier and explore the exceptional man made Ice Cave, with more information on https://intotheglacier.is/.

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Kirkjufell Mountain

Grundarfjörður's beautiful landmark is the most photographed mountain in Iceland. Its isolated position jutting out into the sea makes it a focal point for tourists and seamen alike. Surrounded by beaches, Kirkjufell has a lovely walking trail around it as well as a more challenging climb up to the top where bird and fish fossils can be found (guide is recommended)

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Lóndrangar Basal Cliffs

Uniquely-formed remnants of ancient basalt volcanic dikes sticking out from the sea, Londrangar and the hill Svalthufa are the remains of a crater, which has been eroded to its present form by the sea. This old crater is surrounded by younger lava fields. Interestingly, the farmers in the area have never made hay on the hill, because it is said to belong to the elves living in the area. Below the hill you may find Thufubjarg cliff where, according to a folktale, the poet Kolbeinn Joklaskald had an encounter with the Devil. On these cliffs, puffins and fulmars have their nests.

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Reykholt

Reykholt village is most famous for Snorri Sturluson, one of Iceland's most famous authors of the medieval times. Snorralaug, an ancient geothermal pool, is named after him, and is one of the best preserved pieces of medieval history in Iceland. If you are interested in learning about the medieval history of Iceland, Snorrastofa is worth a visit, as it is a cultural centre and institute dedicated to research about this period in Icelandic history, with more information about opening times and programs on http://www.snorrastofa.is/en/. There is also a church in Reykholt, where you may be able to attend a music recital.

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Settlement Center

In two of Borgarnes’ oldest buildings, the Settlement Center tells the thrilling stories of the first Vikings to make Iceland their home. Consisting of two exhibitions, the Settlement Exhibition and the Egill's Saga exhibition, it takes you on the journey that these Norwegian Vikings made, conquering the ocean, and establishing the first parliament, Alþingi. The Egill's Saga exhibition highlights one of the Sagas most famous heroes, Egill Skallagrímsson, whose father, Skallagrímur Kveldúlfsson, was one of the first settlers in the Borgarfjörður Region. It also houses a cozy licensed restaurant, a café and a souvenir shop. For more information, visit http://www.landnam.is/eng/.

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Snæfellsjökull National Park

Snæfellsjökull is a 700,000 year old glacier-capped volcano, that was established as Snæfellsjökull National Park on June 28th 2001, in order to protect and conserve the unique landscape, plants, animal life, and historical relics. If you're a fan of the novel 'Journey to the Centre of the Earth' by Jules Verne, you may recognise Snæfellsjökull as the site where the protagonists search for the passage to the centre of the Earth. The main attraction of the Snæfellsjökull national park is Snæfellsjökull glacier that dominates the surroundings. It is the only national park in Iceland that stretches to the coast. The glacial cap can often be seen across Faxa Bay from Reykjavík, over 120km away. The ice cap covers an active volcano, which has moulded a rich landscape ideal for wildlife, including lava fields of moss, and sea cliffs full of birds flying over the black sand beaches and craters. Many of the hills north of Snæfellsjökull are formed from eruptions under the glacier and are particularly exceptional.

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Stykkishólmur

The town of Stykkishólmur is beautifully situated on the northern side of the peninsula. The townspeople pride themselves on the preservation of the historical buildings that make up the town centre, including an old fish packing house that has been converted into a restaurant. The town received an award in 2008 for renovations such as these, where they were able to preserve the atmosphere and architecture of the past whilst catering to more modern needs. From Stykkishólmur Harbour you can see and visit a collection of small islands rich in wildlife just off the coast. Other activities include museum visits, a diverse range of dining options, a geothermal pool and hot tubs which have certified healing properties. Stykkishólmur is also one of the most environmentally friendly towns in Iceland, and is an EDEN (European Destination of Excellence).

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Vatnshellir Cave

Exploring Vatnshellir cave is truly amazing and unforgettable experience. This 8000 year old lava tube reaches over 200 meters and goes 35 meters below the surface. During summer, guided tours are offered from 10am-6pm, and during wintertime 2 tours a day are offered. Please check on the website www.vatnshellir.is. All guests will be equipped with flashlights and helmets, and it is recommended to wear hiking shoes and warm clothes.

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