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Are you looking for things to do in West Iceland that take you away from the tourist trails? West Iceland’s coastline is a tapestry of breathtaking cliffs, charming towns, and unique beaches, each offering a distinct experience away from the island’s more frequented spots.
To give you a sneak peek of what awaits, check out this highlight reel from our unforgettable West Iceland adventure.
The region offers a unique opportunity to experience Iceland’s stunning landscapes and rich cultural heritage in peace.
This guide is tailored to showcase activities and destinations where you can savor West Iceland’s serene landscapes and vibrant culture at your own pace. From tranquil hot springs to secluded trails, this leads you to West Iceland’s lesser-known spots for an experience filled with tranquility and the awe of natural majesty.
Things To Do In West Iceland Away From Tourist Crowd
West Iceland’s Coastal Charms
Nestled on the northern edge of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Stykkisholmur is a gateway to breathtaking landscapes and maritime adventures. Known for its:
- Historic Lighthouse: Offering panoramic views of the surrounding archipelago.
- Seafood Cuisine: Fresh catches that are a must-try for food enthusiasts.
- Best Time to Visit: Summer months for boat tours and extended daylight.
- Getting There: A scenic 2-hour drive from Reykjavik, perfect for a day trip or as part of a longer itinerary.
Hellnar to Arnarstapi
This coastal walk connects two picturesque villages, Hellnar and Arnarstapi, showcasing West Iceland’s dramatic coastline. It is a scenic trail along rugged cliffs. Highlights include:
- Breathtaking Ocean Views: Ideal for photography enthusiasts.
- Accessible Trail: Suitable for all ages, offering a gentle walk between the two villages.
- Best Time to Visit: Late spring to early autumn for the best weather conditions.
- Getting There: Both villages are easily accessible by car, with parking available at either end of the trail.
Discover West Iceland’s Iconic Landscapes
Kirkjufell, or ‘Church Mountain’, is renowned for its distinctive shape and the nearby Kirkjufellsfoss waterfalls. Essential tips for visitors:
- Photography Tips: Visit during sunrise or sunset for magical lighting.
- Best Time to Visit: Summer for the midnight sun or winter for a chance to capture the Northern Lights.
- Getting There: Located near Grundarfjörður, easily accessible by car with parking near the falls.
Londrangar and Malarrif
These towering basalt cliffs and the surrounding area offer a haven for nature lovers perfect for spectacular seascapes and birdwatching. Key information includes:
- Wildlife: a prime location for birdwatching, especially during the nesting season.
- Hiking Opportunities: Several trails offer varying perspectives of the cliffs and coastline.
- Best Time to Visit: April to July for birdwatching; summer months for hiking.
- Getting There: Follow the signs from the main road; Malarrif also features a lighthouse and serves as a great starting point for hikes.
Budir Black Church
The black church of Budir is a serene and iconic landmark set against the dramatic backdrop of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. Visitors should know:
- Photographic Landmark: A must-visit for its stark beauty and contrast against the landscape.
- Northern Lights: A potential backdrop during winter nights.
- Best Time to Visit: Accessible year-round, with each season offering a unique ambiance.
- Getting There: Approximately 2.5 hours by car from Reykjavik, making it an accessible stop for those exploring the peninsula.
Unveiling Hidden Gems in West Iceland
Víðgelmir Lava Cave Exploration
Explore Vidgelmir, one of Iceland’s largest and most fascinating lava caves, with guided tours that illuminate its history and geology. Stretching 1,585 meters, Víðgelmir is a grand underground passage that has witnessed over 1,100 years of history.
Managed by a family deeply rooted in the area, a visit to Víðgelmir is more than a tour; it’s a journey into their heritage and the geological marvels of West Iceland.
- Guided Tours: Lasting about one and a half hours, is both educational and exciting, with helmets and headlights provided for navigating the cave’s large chambers and intricate lava formations safely.
- Best Time to Visit: May to September for the most comfortable conditions.
- Getting There: Located in the Hallmundarhraun lava field, accessible by car, tours depart regularly from the site.
Experience the awe of Europe’s second-largest glacier, offering unique adventures like ice cave explorations and snowmobiling. Important details:
- Ice Cave Tours: A must-do for a glimpse into the glacier’s blue ice.
- Best Time to Visit: Year-round, with each season offering different experiences.
- Getting There: Tours often depart from Reykjavik or Husafell, with transportation included.
Hraunfossar and Barnafoss Waterfall
Witness the unique beauty of Hraunfossar, where water seeps through lava fields into the Hvita River, and the nearby Barnafoss with its deep, churning waters. Visitor tips:
- Walking Paths: Easily explore both waterfalls via well-maintained paths.
- Best Time to Visit: Autumn for vibrant foliage, though stunning year-round.
- Getting There: Located near Husafell, accessible by car, and a short walk from the parking area.
Deildartunguhver Hot Spring
As Europe’s most vigorous hot spring, Deildartunguhver is a testament to Iceland’s volcanic activity and its innovative use of geothermal energy. Visitors to this natural wonder will find:
- Sustainable Energy in Action: Witness the power that heats homes and powers lives in West Iceland.
- A Unique Natural Phenomenon: The hot spring’s steam and boiling water create a mesmerizing spectacle.
- Best Time to Visit: Year-round, with winter visits offering a stark contrast of steam against the snow.
- Getting There: Located near Borgarnes, the hot spring is a short drive from Reykjavik, easily fitting into any West Iceland itinerary.
Sustainable Stays and Culinary Delights in West Iceland
Nestled in the heart of West Iceland, Hotel Husafell stands as a beacon of sustainability, offering guests not just a place to stay but an immersive experience of Icelandic culture and nature. Seven generations have run the Husafell resort with a deep respect for the land that sustains them, and they are stewards of the pristine environment that distinguishes Husafell.
Husafell’s cold water comes from its neighboring glaciers after filtering through expansive lava fields and emerging exceptionally clean and clear in a number of local springs. The surrounding waterways are also used to produce clean, sustainable hydroelectricity that powers the region, along with geothermal energy from the ground.
Here’s why it’s a must-visit:
- Sustainable Practices: Powered by geothermal and hydroelectric energy, the hotel is a pioneer in eco-tourism.
- Local Cuisine: Dining at Hotel Husafell is a journey through Iceland’s culinary landscape, with dishes that blend traditional Icelandic ingredients with modern flavors.
- Best Time to Visit: Year-round, each season offers a unique experience, from the Northern Lights in winter to midnight sun hikes in summer.
- Getting There: Just an hour and 40 minutes drive from Reykjavik, Hotel Husafell is an accessible retreat into the wilderness.
Culinary Exploration of West Iceland
West Iceland’s culinary scene is as diverse as its landscapes, offering everything from fresh seafood to foraged herbs. Dining on Icelandic cuisine with Asian influences overlooks nearby glaciers and the Borgarfjordur valley through floor-to-ceiling windows.
- Seafood: Fresh from the Atlantic, Icelandic seafood is a must-try. Restaurants in Stykkisholmur and along the coast offer the day’s catch.
- Lamb: Grazing freely on heather and berries, Icelandic lamb has a unique flavor that’s celebrated in dishes across West Iceland.
- Skyr: This traditional Icelandic dairy product is versatile and can be served sweet or savory. Don’t leave without trying skyr-based desserts or sauces.
Unique Experiences: Adventure and Relaxation in West Iceland
Horseback Riding in Snaefellsnes
Experience the rugged beauty of the Snæfellsnes Peninsula on horseback, an adventure that offers a unique perspective on Iceland’s landscapes. Key points include:
- Tours for All Levels: Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced rider, there’s a tour tailored to your skills.
- Best Time to Visit: Summer months offer the best conditions for riding and exploring the trails.
- Getting There: Numerous farms and stables around Snaefellsnes offer horseback riding tours that can be easily booked in advance.
The Canyon Baths, a lesser-known geothermal spa, offer a tranquil escape into nature’s warmth. Surrounded by stunning landscapes, it’s the perfect way to unwind after a day of exploration. Essentials to know:
- Sustainable Relaxation: The baths are heated naturally by the earth, offering a sustainable way to enjoy Iceland’s geothermal activity.
- Best Time to Visit: Open year-round, but visiting in the winter offers the magical experience of soaking in warm waters while snow falls around you.
- Getting There: Located near Husafell, the Canyon Baths are accessible by car, with tours often including transportation.
Snorrastofa Cultural Center
Nestled in Reykholt, Snorrastofa offers a profound glimpse into the medieval past of Iceland, celebrating the life and works of the legendary historian and poet, Snorri Sturluson. This cultural center is a treasure trove for history buffs and literary enthusiasts alike, providing:
- Insightful Exhibitions: Delve into the sagas and learn about medieval Icelandic culture.
- Guided Tours: Available in the summer, offering a deeper understanding of Snorri’s impact on Icelandic history.
- Best Time to Visit: Summer for the full experience, though open year-round.
- Getting There: Reykholt is accessible by car, making Snorrastofa an essential stop for those exploring West Iceland’s rich historical landscape.
Thingvellir National Park
Thingvellir National Park, though not in West Iceland, is an indispensable part of Iceland’s heritage, marking the birthplace of the Icelandic parliament and lying at the tectonic crossroads of the world. It’s a place where the past is ever-present and the earth’s power is visible at every turn, offering:
- A Walk Through History: Explore the site of the Althing, one of the oldest parliamentary institutions in the world.
- Geological Wonders: The park is a prime location for witnessing the continental drift and exploring the Silfra fissure.
- Best Time to Visit: Accessible throughout the year, with each season offering its own unique beauty and challenges.
- Getting There: Just a 45-minute drive from Reykjavik, Thingvellir is a highlight of the Golden Circle, making it an easy and essential visit for anyone in Iceland.
Exploring During Volcanic Activity
Traveling to Iceland means being in a land that is constantly shaped by its volcanic nature. During my visit, a fissure eruption started on the Reykjanes Peninsula on Monday, December 18, 2023, at 10:17 PM. However, this eruption posed no immediate threat to people, and air traffic to and from Iceland continued as normal. Here’s how you can safely explore West Iceland, even amidst volcanic activity:
- Stay Informed: Always check the Icelandic Meteorological Office for the latest updates on volcanic activity and safety advisories.
- Guided Tours: Opting for guided tours, especially in volcanic areas, ensures that you have expert advice and guidance.
- Best Time to Visit: Volcanic activity doesn’t follow a schedule, but being prepared and informed makes any time a good time to visit.
For those of you who might start or end your journey in the capital, don’t miss the chance to explore beyond the usual tourist spots of Reykjavik, Iceland, which also offers some authentic slices of Icelandic life.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some hidden gems or less crowded places to visit in West Iceland?
Stykkisholmur town, Hellnar to Arnarstapi coastal walk, Budir black church, Lava Cave Exploration at Víðgelmir, Langjokull Glacier, Hraunfossar, and Barnafoss waterfalls.
What is the best time to visit West Iceland to avoid crowds?
Shoulder seasons (spring and fall) offer good weather and fewer crowds compared to peak summer months.
How can I travel sustainably in West Iceland?
Choose eco-friendly accommodations like Hotel Husafell, explore via walking or biking, and be mindful of your impact on the environment.
What are the best hikes in West Iceland that are less crowded?
Consider trails around Kirkjufell mountain, Londrangar and Malarrif cliffs, or near Hraunfossar and Barnafoss waterfalls.
Can I see the Northern Lights in West Iceland?
Yes, the winter months offer the best chance, particularly near Budir Black Church or during guided tours.
What are some unique culinary experiences in West Iceland?
Try fresh seafood in Stykkisholmur or along the coast, sample lamb dishes, and don’t miss the Icelandic yogurt Skyr in various forms.
Are there any geothermal pools or spas in West Iceland besides the Blue Lagoon?
The Canyon Baths offer a more secluded and natural experience compared to the busier Blue Lagoon.
What are the safety considerations when visiting West Iceland, especially during volcanic activity?
Stay informed about current volcanic activity and follow advisories from the Icelandic Meteorological Office. Consider guided tours for expert advice in potentially risky areas.
Where can I find more information about specific tours, accommodations, and transportation options in West Iceland?
The official tourism website for West Iceland is a good starting point.
What are some local customs or etiquette I should be aware of when visiting West Iceland?
Respect the environment, dress appropriately for the weather, and be mindful of personal space when encountering locals.
It’s clear that this region offers more than just a travel destination; it presents an opportunity to connect deeply with nature, to experience the warmth and innovation of Icelandic hospitality, and to embark on adventures that resonate with the soul.
Take the time to enjoy the local cuisine, the warmth of the hot springs, and the tranquility of the landscapes. As stewards of the earth, we have a responsibility to protect and preserve the natural beauty we come to enjoy. Practice sustainable travel to ensure that future generations can also experience the wonders of West Iceland.