West Iceland is hugely popular with Icelandic tourists and home to hundreds of summerhouses. Its rolling green landscape is broken by occasional lava fields and plenty of farms. It also includes the easy-to-miss, but hard to forget Snæfellsnes peninsula.
The reason for West Iceland being easily missed by non-Icelandic tourists is that Route 1 runs right through it, carrying cars on the much travelled route between Reykjavík and Akureyri – but despite this, Route 1 only goes through one of the region’s towns: Borgarnes. This can give the very wrong impression that West Iceland is pretty and pleasant, but lacking in things to see and do. Explore a little deeper and you’ll find this couldn’t be further from the truth.
This need to explore is perfectly illustrated at Hvalfjörður. Since the impressive road tunnel opened and removed this loooong fjord from the journey, people have largely stopped visiting. This is great news for commuters; but leisure travellers are missing a real treat. The old road is beautiful and the fjord is also home to the seldom-visited Glymur – the tallest of all Iceland’s hundreds of waterfalls.
The town of Akranes can be seen clearly from Reykjavík city centre and when you get there one of the things you’ll discover is an excellent complex housing three different and diverse museums in which you can easily wile away half a day or more. It’s a similar story in Borgarnes, where you will find a wide variety of shops and services and attractions including the Icelandic Settlement Centre – an indispensable resource for those interested in the sagas and the history of Iceland and its people around the world.
But West Iceland is more about the countryside than the towns. The area is known for being green and pleasant and for having a warm microclimate – especially around the Húsafell area. Then there is the Grábrók volcano craters near Bifröst; an easy and rewarding hike right beside the main road.
The undisputed star of West Iceland is Snæfellsnes. This tiny finger of a peninsula is Iceland in miniature and features a glacier, a national park, sea stacks, beautiful towns, unbeatable beaches and remarkable caves. Some claim Snæfellsnes is the most beautiful place in all of Iceland, and we’re not about to argue with that…
From the Snæfellsnes town of Stykkishólmur it is possible to take a variety of boat tours around the hundreds of nearby islands – including the inhabited, car-free island of Flatey, where time seemingly stopped ticking about 200 years ago. The car and passenger ferry to the Westfjords region also departs Stykkishólmur and stops on Flatey – an ideal overnight stop (your car will be waiting for you at your final destination, as it cannot come ashore on Flatey).