West Iceland, or Vesturland in Icelandic, is essentially a brilliant microcosm of the unlimited, unimaginable beauty that the Nordic island nation has to offer. You can find some of the most beautiful natural sceneries in Iceland.
Although geographically close to Reykjavik, West Iceland differentiates itself from the capital’s metropolis buzz and amazes visitors by its vast area featuring the verdant valleys, the mysterious craters and volcanoes, the manifold waterfalls, the saint glaciers, and the tranquil fjords. It also has a long and rich influence in the Icelandic sagas. Most stories and adventures took place in this wonderful region, that’s why it’s also called Sagaland. The Silver Circle route covers all the highlights in this area.
The most brilliant section in West Iceland is the Snaefellsnes Peninsula that stretches out to the ocean with many wonderful must-see attractions decorating the region, and it’s a beloved place among Icelanders for the indescribably beautiful remoteness.
Our journey starting from Reykjavik first takes us to Hvalfjordur (Whale Fjord). During WWII, the fjord was used as a naval base for the British and American navies. Now one of the deserted piers is used by a whaling company for processing the hunt.
Located only 50 kilometers north from Reykjavik, Hvalfjord offers an exceptional opportunity for enjoying the rare beauty of the Icelandic fjords. Fjords can be found only in a limited number of countries in the world including Iceland. To form the long, narrow inlet with cliffs on both sides, the glaciers had to cut a U-shaped valley by its heavy weight. This led to the segregation and abrasion of the surrounding bedrock that later caused the ocean water to flood inland.
Hvalfjordur is famous for its natural beauty with the curvaceous shores, the jagged canyons, the spectacular waterfalls, and, somehow, the controversy regarding the history of whaling.
Since Hvalfjardargong Tunnel was put in use, Hvalfjordur became a quieter part along the busy Ring Road. There are very few people in this area making it an ideal excursion from Reykjavik. Most people come here to visit Glymur waterfall that once was the highest waterfall of Iceland.
Hiking to Glymur is usually a three-to-four-hour round-trip for those who are in good shape. The journey starts at an isolated valley where you will see birds hovering near the canyons and the shades of the beautiful mountains glowing near and far. After marching through the fields of planted forest, the gorge of Botnsa River awaits in front of you. To pass it, you need to test your balancing skills by walking on a log. It’s actually very fun to do and helpful for getting your body excited upon walking uphill to Glymur.
The waterfall is 198 meters high and the hikers usually pause on the south side of the gorge to enjoy a comprehensive view of the waterfall plunging down to the bottom of the valley with a series of silvery veins streaming against the cliff.
There are several stops along the way for hikers to appreciate the spectacular sceneries including a rock arch and a platform offering the best viewpoint to see the gorge and the waterfall. By taking you deep in the nature, this hiking journey best testifies how versatile the Icelandic nature can be - one moment you are driving amid the tranquil fjord sceneries, the next minute you are gearing up to hike to the hidden gem of the raw Icelandic nature - truly a memorable experience for nature lovers and outdoor goers.
You might wonder what is the Silver Circle of Iceland. The Golden Circle has made its name ages ago, and its three top must-sees have been attracting millions of visitors since then. The level of popularity somehow overshadows its neighboring attractions. But with an eye of curiosity and a spirit of adventure, you will find the Silver Circle surely, and amazingly live up to its elegant name.
The Silver Circle includes all the highlights in the west part of Iceland before you go further to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula. The most noteworthy attractions are Hraunfossar (Lava Waterfall), a waterfall with myriad streams seeping out of the lava fields, the largest geothermal hot springs in Europe amid a misty ground, and the famous Icelandic saga center that has bred numerous long-lasting tales. A journey to the Silver Circle is perfect for an eye looking for a brand new perspective in multifaceted Iceland, and it’s an extensive tour covering the pristine, rural part of the country where the stunning vistas of glaciers beckoning afar.
The Borgarfjordur region is known for the magnificent beauty of the pristine Icelandic nature. The town gives out a quiet countryside atmosphere amid the scenic landscapes.
Borgarnes and its surrounding area can be taken as the major setting for most Icelandic sagas. The vivid, untainted nature and the beautiful landscapes together engagingly contribute to the history and life and reflect the precious Icelandic heritage for anyone who wants to learn the ins and outs of the well-preserved culture.
To reach Borgarnes, the biggest town in Borgarfjordur region, you can travel through Hvalfjardargong tunnel. The beautiful mountain of Hafnarfjall on the right side will be the first thing you notice upon reaching Borgarnes. Hafnarfjall’s stunning view reflected in the serene fjord water is further enhanced by the winter’s exquisite daylight, everything looks otherworldly and this is just the beginning of a wonderful day tour.
Soon you will stop at Europe’s most powerful hot springs Deildartunguhver. The geothermal force pumps up 180 liters of boiling water every second making the sheer power an exciting motion to witness. The heat from the water has been assisting locals in cooking, cleaning and, recently, warming up houses. Besides the practical uses, the sizzling hot water generates a lot of stream making the entire area a mysterious sight.
The ubiquitous geothermal power in Iceland has made natural hot baths possible literally in any part of the country. Krauma Natural Baths is a less populated but an equally satisfying soak, in which the perfect warmth is, in fact, a blend of the scalding water from Deildartunguhver hot springs and the chilly cold glacial water. This unique mix can’t be missed as you’ll need the total relaxation in the pleasant temperature of Krauma Hot Baths.
In Iceland, no matter where you are, waterfalls can be seen everywhere in different forms and styles. They demonstrate varied scales of forces and emit different tones of moods. The two most famous waterfalls in the Silver Circle is Hraunfossar and Barnafoss waterfalls.
Hraunfossar waterfall consists countless groups of streams that continuously seep out from the lush lava field. The streams magically flow from the underground out to the intricate lava surface then go into the Hvita River. It rarely displays the same feeling and scene in different seasons. In autumn when the leaves on the bushes start to put on dazzling colors against the delicate, grainy moss plants, Hraunfossar also puts up the amazing visual feast by reflecting the colors artifully.
The forceful streams of Barnafoss waterfall that make a string of impressive rumbles is only one minute east on foot. The powerful flow of Hvita River robustly rushes to the narrow passage forming a spectacle series of waterfalls. The name of Barnafoss was derived from a folklore saying two children in the area fell into the waterfall by stepping on a natural stone bridge in order to cross, then the mother had the bridge destroyed to prevent other children from suffering the same fate. People named the waterfall Barnafoss (Child Waterfall) to pass along the tale. In reality, the destruction of the bridge can be a result of the natural cause originated from the forceful flow.
As one of the most notable historical sites in Iceland, Reykholt has bred a rich literary heritage including some of the most dramatic events of Sagas and the Iceland’s most-renown medieval author Snorri Sturluson. Snorralaug, an ancient geothermal pool, is named after him. To know more about the ancient poet and politician, you can visit Snorrastofa, a culture center and research institute for the medieval studies in Iceland. A selection of music recitals is available in the church of Reykholt, Reykholtskirkja, which is a decent spot for immersing yourself in the Icelandic cultural vibe through acoustics. This part of the country carries a lot of weight in preserving the Icelandic culture and language heritage.
Langjokull glacier is the second largest glacier in Iceland covering an area of 935 square kilometers (361 square miles). Its name means Long Glacier in English because Langjokull is about 50 kilometers (31 miles) long and nearly 20 kilometers wide, and its unique shape and vivid name make the glacier easy to remember. With an ice cap of 580 meters (1903 feet) at its thickest part, the glacial water from Langjokull nurtures Gullfoss waterfall by the powerful flow of the Hvita river.
These exciting features of Langjokull make the second largest glacier become a natural glacier wonderland. You can find the largest man-made glacier ice tunnel on Langjokull, and the area is also a popular recreational spot for snowmobiling tours and super jeep excursions.
The world’s largest glacier tunnel emits a mysterious vibe as you literally go into an Icelandic glacier. Inside this mesmerizing wonder, you will see and touch the blue glacier ice and get the chill from the ancient ice formation. You also have the chance to visit many highlight attractions in West Iceland during the excursion to Langjokull, including the powerful Deildartunguhver hot springs and the beautiful Hraunfossar waterfall. This route is designed as the best option to tour in the west part of the country to its fullest.
Nicknamed “Little Iceland,” the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is actually seen as a micro version of all the amazing attractions and astonishing landscapes that Iceland has to offer. The most famous part on this peninsula is the Snaefellsjokull National Park where the most pristine glacier is located. This area takes in much of the western tip of the peninsula and surrounds the hilly area of the Snaefellsjokull glacier.
In this brilliant Iceland microcosm, you can taste the traditional Icelandic dry fish in a fishing town at the northern tip named Stykkishólmur, you can visit the settlement center in Borgarnes to learn about the Icelandic history and traditions. Among the many fantastic itineraries, the most classic plan is to drive north from Reykjavik through the wild fields and make a stop at Gerduberg basalt rock formations before moving toward the tip of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
Visiting the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is also called “a journey to the center of the Earth” which is after the name of Jules Verne’s novel, and a 2008 Hollywood movie based on the story. The journey in real life is actually more touching and informative because you get to walk inside an 8000-year-old lava tube where the hot magma used to rest before bursting out from the Vatnshellir cave to the surface of the earth. This is an excellent add-on to your classic Snaefellsnes Peninsula day excursion.
The Snaefellsjokull National Park has numerous highlights that are unique to each other. The photogenic Kirkjufell and Kirkjufossar together have produced the most wonderful imagery in the area, and the golden beach Breidafjordur is a rare chance for visitors to see one of the few beaches that don’t consist of black sand in Iceland. Along the way, you will also find small towns and beautiful fishing villages and see the spectacular cliffs dwelled by seabirds at Dritvik and stop at Arnarstapi and Hellnar to appreciate the fantastic panorama. The diverse sceneries on the peninsula draw the visitors into an awe-inspiring geological environment where you can walk on the trail across the protected lava fields to see the native Icelandic fauna and relish the breathtaking view from the black sand beach in front of the North Atlantic Ocean. In winter, the undisturbed wild sky of West Iceland has the best flair for displaying the Northern Lights show.