When thinking of Iceland, most people picture the Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle, but what if you avoided the typical Icelandic tourist traps and instead headed to the rugged West Country for adventures that mirror some of the great Icelandic legends.
We’ve been in touch with Gudmundur, Visit Iceland’s self-proclaimed human search engine who happily supplied us with some tips and insider knowledge on where to go if you head west. So why not avoid the crowds and discover some of Iceland’s best kept secrets.
Snæfellsnes Circle[caption id="attachment_9750" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Snæfellsjökull National Park | Photo by EleKtr•ORL (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)[/caption]
Forget the Golden Circle, there’s way more to see on the Snæfellsnes Circle and it’s far less touristy. Located in the Snæfellsjökull National Park the route follows rugged coastline, passes incredible natural wonders such as lava fields, lakes, beaches and finishes at the Snæfellsjökull Glacier. The glacier is ancient and reported to have magical powers, it lies along the ridge of a mountain peak, running the length of the peninsula.
It is possible to see the entire circle in one day, but if you are not in a rush then spread it out over two or three days and make the most of the activities such as hiking and climbing along the way.
Hraunfossar Waterfalls[caption id="attachment_9751" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Hraunfossar Waterfalls | Photo by Gouldy99 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)[/caption]
Stretching over 900 metres, the Hraunfossar waterfalls are a collection of cascades and streams, oozing out of the lava mountains. The water sometimes appears milky white whilst other times it emerges as bright turquoise. Just above Hraunfossar is Barnafoss waterfall another well-known waterfall known as the ‘Children’s Waterfall’ after two children, according to folklore, fell into the water and drowned while crossing a natural stone bridge. Thereafter, the children’s mother cast a spell on the bridge saying that anyone who crossed it would also drown. Iceland is full of spooky folk tales and ancient traditions, another reason it is well worth a visit.
Kirkjufell Mountain[caption id="attachment_9753" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Kirkjufell Mountain | Photo by greenzowie (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)[/caption]
The most photographed mountain in Iceland and for good reason! Surrounded by scenic beaches, this mountain with its needle sharp point is like something out of Middle Earth. There are beautiful, scenic walking trails around the mountain, and if you are brave enough you can even hike up it, finding fish and bird fossils along the way – a guide is recommended to ensure you get the full experience.
Breiðafjörður[caption id="attachment_9755" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Breiðafjörður | Photo by Ophelia photos (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)[/caption]
A shallow bay of about 50km and surrounded by mountains including the volcano Snæfellsjökull, Breiðafjörður offers sea views, diverse wildlife, flora and fauna and spectacular walking trails. Flatey Island lies off the bay and from May to September is home to one of Iceland’s breeding puffin colonies and is well worth a visit. As a must-see for nature lovers Breiðafjörður is also a great place to get views of the Snæfellsjökull Glacier or to charter a boat for a fishing trip.
Deildartunguhver hot spring[caption id="attachment_9756" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Deildartunguhver hot spring | Photo by Jarek Piórkowski (CC BY-NC 2.0)[/caption]
This hot spring is a feat of nature but be warned this is not Mother Nature at her most maternal. The hot springs are too hot to bathe in (100°c) but the hot water is used by towns in its immediate radius, so even if you take a shower 65km away you’ve technically bathed in Deildartunguhver. Despite not being quite on the scale of the blue lagoon, it attracts far less crowds and is Europe’s most powerful hot spring.
Whale Watching[caption id="attachment_9757" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Whale watching in Iceland | Photo by MindsEye_PJ (CC BY 2.0)[/caption]
Off the shores of West Iceland the surrounding sea is home to around twenty whale species. If you’re lucky you can also encounter dolphins and combine the trip with some bird-watching including rare puffin colonies. The best time for whale watching is in the summer from May to September while bird-watching fans can enjoy the season from around June to September.
The Old Fish Packing House[caption id="attachment_10426" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] The Old Fish Packing House | Photo by Petr Hricko[/caption]
Built in 1918 as a packing house for local fish products, the building has now been renovated into a cosy café and restaurant. This is a great spot for trying some tasty catch of the day (obviously), but also to mix with the locals. As well as offering traditional Icelandic cuisine, there’s also the option to enjoy some live music.
Perfect if you’re in the area visiting the Hraunfossar waterfalls, the Húsafell Bistro is an artistic and cosy bistro serving various different Icelandic delicacies, including traditional lamb soup and Arctic char. The restaurant is open every day during the season but double check the opening times before you go as it varies during the week. There is also the Húsafell Hotel nearby which features a restaurant serving gourmet Icelandic cuisine.
Café Kjós[caption id="attachment_9790" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Icelandic Fish Soup | Photo by my_amii (CC BY-NC 2.0)[/caption]
With the exception of winter weekends, Café Kjós is only open during summertime and offers refreshments and light meals with a beautiful view over Lake Medalfellsvatn. Just North of Reykavik it makes the perfect pit stop on your way to the Western tip of Iceland.
If you’re looking to base yourself in West Iceland and soak up some of the remote calm of a hotel outside of Reykjavik then we have the ideal hotel for you.
Húsafell is an adventurers dream come true. A luxury hotel, with modern furnishing and geothermal baths set in a landscape of lava caves, Hraunfossar waterfalls and if you fancy road tripping is a comfortable two hour drive from the Snæfellsjökull National Park. There’s also a golf course nearby in case you fancy playing a few holes.
The restaurant of the hotel has an incredible view across the surrounding landscape and is the perfect place if you are looking to celebrate a special occasion.
Hotel Búðir[caption id="attachment_9760" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Hotel Búðir | Photo by John McGarvey (CC BY-NC 2.0)[/caption]
Perched on the edge of the Snæfellsjökull National Park, this hotel is like something out of an oil painting. A beautiful white Scandinavian style building set against a backdrop of wild and rugged landscape.
This is the perfect hotel from which to access all the delights and wonders of the Snæfellsjökull National Park. The hotel also has a widely renowned gourmet restaurant serving locally sourced fish and lamb dishes.
Hraunsnef Country Hotel[caption id="attachment_9762" align="aligncenter" width="1200"] Hrausnef Hotel | Photo by Jaime Pérez (CC BY-NC 2.0)[/caption]
A beautiful, family run hotel set on a working farm on a hilltop above Bifröst. Hraunsnef Country Hotel has ten comfy rooms decorated with traditional Icelandic textiles on the beds and each room is fitted with its own luxury bathroom.
The local surroundings include the 3000 year old Grábrók crater just 2 km south of the hotel, the nearby Hreðavatn lake and the Glanni waterfall on the river Norðurá.
Want to hear more from Gudmundur on west Iceland? Read the full interview here.