If the crowds on the south coast and the Golden Circle are not your thing, a tour of the west coast of Iceland might be just the ticket. The area has its share of natural wonders, with majestic waterfalls and deep lava caves, as well as a rich historical heritage.
About an hour north of Reykjavík is Borgarnes, a charming little town with cosy restaurants, a watery paradise of a swimming pool, and fascinating museums. The Settlement Centre is dedicated to the Viking settlement of the area, telling the story of Egill, son of Skallagrímur, the fierce Viking and clever poet who first settled in the area. The Borgarnes Museum is just a couple of steps away and is focused on the more recent history of the area, with permanent exhibitions on childhood during the 20th century and Iceland’s rich birdlife, as well as temporary exhibitions. The swimming pool is a popular destination for locals and visitors alike, complete with an Olympic-sized outdoor swimming pool, an indoor pool, three hot tubs, a wading pool, a steam bath, three waterslides of varying size, and a gym!
Close by Borgarnes is Deildartunguhver, the most powerful hot spring in Europe. You can see boiling hot water gush from the ground, steaming and bubbling powerfully. Nearby is Krauma spa, where water from the spring is blended with water from a glacial source for bathwater of the perfect temperature. After relaxing in the geothermal water, stop by Krauma’s restaurant for a taste of local produce and ingredients.
A little farther along are Hraunfossar, the Lava Waterfalls. This remarkable waterfall is comprised of several little streams of water, flowing out from underneath a sheet of solid lava! A short walk away is another waterfall, the thundering Barnafoss.
Víðgelmir, Iceland’s biggest lava cave by volume, is a lava tube formed during a volcanic eruption when the magma started to cool on the surface, but there was still a hot “river” of magma flowing beneath it. Then the magma flow stopped, leaving a hollow cave beneath the cool crust on the surface. A tour of the cave can be booked in advance. Nearby Surtshellir, similar in nature, is Iceland’s longest lava cave.
If you drive farther along, you’ll get to Langjökull glacier, the second largest glacier in Iceland. Glacier hiking is great fun but if you’re an adrenaline seeker, a ride on a snowmobile on the glacier is a must. If you’re particularly adventurous, you can even go inside the glacier by booking a tour with Into the Glacier, a company that created a man-made glacier cave. Carved into the oldest part of the glacier, this is an opportunity to see what the glacier looks like from the inside!
If you want to take the scenic route back to Reykjavík, skip the tunnel under Hvalfjörður bay and drive around the fjord. On the way, you can see an old whaling station, a remnant from when whaling was widely practiced, or visit a museum dedicated to the US Army’s occupation of Iceland during World War II. You can also visit a working farm at Bjarteyjarsandur or hike to the tallest waterfall in Iceland, Glymur.