Road Trip West Iceland
Driving in West Iceland is very accessible, with paved roads, highways and frequent gas stations along the way. The 74-km road from Reykjavik to Borganes will take you through Hvalfjörður tunnel on Road 1 (the Ring Road). From there you can access all the sights listed below. Check the weather and road conditions before you go on Vedur.is and Road.is. A drive through West Iceland can have some rough winds, and attention is especially required in winter.
West Iceland History
West Iceland, the area between Reykjavik and Akureyri, is packed with opportunities for adventure, but it's also the best in Iceland in terms of historic sites and saga history. Reykholt is the homestead of famed poet Snorri Sturluson, writer of the Prose Edda and Lawspeaker at Thingvellir. West Iceland is also the historical home of the hero of Egill’s Saga, Egill Skallagrímsson, famed warrior-poet who is also known from the Sturlung’s Saga. Laxárdalur Valley is the site of the medieval epic Laxdaela Saga, and in the small town of Borgarnes, you’ll find the Settlement Centre, a museum with many interactive and historical exhibitions.
Highlights of West Iceland
Into the Glacier Tour
A popular tour in West Iceland is “Into the Glacier,” an adventure into the sub-glacier complex of man-made ice tunnels. You’ll explore the region below Europe’s second largest glacier, Langjökull, which rests on a massif of hyaloclastite mountains. Under recently, what lay beneath the glacier remained a mystery to only glaciologists. To discover the mesmerizing tunnels of blue ice, book a tour ahead of arrival.
To Get There: Book a tour with one of our awesome tour guides.
Hike up to Glymur, Iceland's highest accessible waterfall. Located in Hvalfjordur fjord just off of Road 47, this majestic waterfall tumbles into a mossy green canyon just 2 miles (3.5 km) from the trailhead. You’ll have to cross a lava cave and maneuver around a river, but the view of the falls and Hvalfjordur are worth it. Once you reach the top of the falls, you have the option to go further upstream where it’s a bit calmer and wade across, or continue up to Hvalfell Summit to increase the hike to a 6.6 mile (10 km) loop. This hike is not for the casual hiker: it’s very steep in certain places, requiring some cables for support. In snow season, the log across the bridge is out, but there is an alternative route up the west side of the canyon without a crossing.
Getting There: Located in Hvalfjordur fjord, drive into the rear end of the fjord from Reykjavik (don't enter the tunnel to Borgarnes). Turn right at the sign for Glymur on road 47.
Hraunfossar & Barnafoss
These twin waterfalls are often paired together because of their proximity. Drive first to Hraunfossar, where a multitude of streams pour out of the black lava. In summer or winter, the cascades are stunningly beautiful, and easily visible from a convenient viewing platform. Autumn is also a colorful time, when the leaves above the waterfall turn bright red and orange, contrasting against the milky blue water.
Hraunfossar is 77 miles (125 km) from Reykjavik, downstream from the Hvitá River and Gullfoss. Follow the trail to Barnafoss a little ways, crossing the bridge over the river.
Getting There: Drive 55km north from Borgarnes on Road 518. Hraunfossar is between Reykholt and Húsafell. From Reykjavik to Hraunfossar, it's an approximately two-hour drive.
The birthplace and homestead of Iceland’s best-known writer and poet, Snorri Sturluson (1206-1241), Reykholt has been preserved through the centuries. Here you’ll find an ancient geothermal pool, Snorralaug, a cultural center with historical exhibitions and guided tours, and a small but elegant church.
To get there: From Borganes, continue on Route 518 about 25 miles (39 km) inland to Reykholt.
Háafell is a farm not far from Reykholt that houses a number of Icelandic goats. This ancient breed is distinct to Iceland, descended from goats brought over from Norway over 1,000 years ago. On the verge of extinction in the late 1800s, the Icelandic goat has since recovered, and at Háafell you’ll find flocks of these friendly creatures. The farm is exploring ways to tap into the goats for meat, milk, cheese, cashmere, and soap. Visitors can even “adopt” a goat: pay a fee, and the farmers will send you email updates about your sponsored pet. The farm is open from June to August.
Deildartunguhver Geothermal Area / Krauma Baths
The famous Deildartunguhver geothermal region is the most powerful in all of Europe, full of steam vents, hot pools, and greenhouses that tap into the naturally occurring thermal energy. This water is used to heat the nearby towns of Borgarnes and Akranes. Take a shower anywhere within a 40 mile (65 km) radius and you’ve likely bathed in hot water from Deildartunguhver.
Soon you won’t have to wait to try the waters for yourself - just north of the hot springs, the Krauma geothermal nature baths are under construction. Development is planned for outdoor hot tubs, a sauna, and a unique tranquility room. There will also be changing facilities, restaurant, bar and souvenir shop.
For decades, locals have tapped into the geothermal area for baking bread, and warming their tomatoes and carrots. The Viðigerði horticultural farm still produces and sells tomatoes to this day. In a matter of months, it will be used as a major soaking hole--a favorite Icelandic pastime.
To get there: Stop off at Route 50 when heading from Borgarnes to Hraunfossar and Barnafoss.
The small but charming harbor town of Borgarnes is a welcome break when driving out of Reykjavik. It’s likely to be your first town on the way to the North or Snaefellsnes. Here you can visit the Settlement Center, which tells the story of Vikings who settled in the 700s-800s. The most famous exhibit is of Egill Skallagrímsson, warrior-poet notorious for his gilded tongue as well as his ruthless approach to his enemies. There’s a pleasant path along the harbor’s edge that leads to a smaller island. This town is also a great option to spend a night if you’re arriving from Reykjavik or the Golden Circle, so you can get up early to hike to Glymur Falls or drive through Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
To get there: From Reykjavik drive about an hour to reach the town of Borgarnes. If you go via the tunnel under Hvalfjordur, expect a toll of 1000 kronur.
The colorful Vidgelmir lava tube is a mighty tube system, measuring around 150,000 cubic meters in volume. As the largest lava tube in Iceland, it’s also one of the more stunning features. Deep colors of mossy greens and vibrant reds, purples and yellows paint the cave walls wherever you turn. The farther you go, the more stalactites and stalagmites you’ll see. Jewelry and bones dating back to the Viking Age were found in a major excavation in 1993.
To get there: The cave is inaccessible without a qualified guide. Book with one of our West Iceland guides.
Round off your exploration of West Iceland with a hike up man-made steps to this volcanic crater. Just off the Ring Road, it’s a simple, short hike with breathtaking panoramas of Borgarfjörður, colorful and cone-shaped Mt. Baula, and Lake Hreðarvatn. Created by a fissure eruption nearly 3,000 years ago, Grábrók Crater is streaked with blackened lava on all sides. It’s a great way to stretch your legs from the drive and get your first glimpse of the Icelandic countryside.
To get there: Easily spotted from the Ring Road, the crater is served by an easy trail to the summit.
Continue Your Drive
It’s time to move on to the next part of your Iceland adventure: westward to Snaefellsnes Peninsula or northeast to North Iceland. If your goal is onward to Snaefellsnes, once you've reached Borgarnes, take road 54 to Vegamót, then road 56 until you reach road 54 once more, then continue until the turn to road 58 to Stykkishólmur. If you're heading up to Akureyri, continue along the Ring Road.