14 reasons to visit the wonderful West
The less-travelled region of West Iceland is home to thriving fishing villages, key settings of the Sagas, the glistening white plains of Iceland’s second largest glacier, Langjökull, the much smaller but mysterious Snæfellsjökull glacier, Breiðafjörður bay, fjord with its endless islands and skerries, and numerous others magnificent wonders of nature.
1. Snæfellsjökull National Park. That glacier you can see at a distance of about 120 km from Reykjavik on a clear day? That’s Snæfellsjökull volcano. With an elevation of 1,446 meters (4,744 ft), it served as the magnificent setting of the world-famous, 19th-century novel, Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne. You should also keep in mind that in the Park there’s an 8,000-year-old cave called Vatnshellir, where you can go 200 meters in and 35 meters below the earth’s surface, to experience amazing underground colours and lava formations.
2. Akranes Lighthouse. While it’s always spoken of as just one lighthouse, there are actually two equally magnificent lighthouses at Syðriflös in the town of Akranes, across Faxaflói bay from Reykjavík. The original lighthouse, built in 1918, is 10 meters (32.8 ft) tall and offers visitors an amazing view from the top. Between 1943 and 1944, another lighthouse was built, nearly double the height of the original one. The acoustics in the second lighthouse are spectacular, and concerts are hosted there on occasion. Both lighthouses are open to the public during the summer months.
3. Arnarstapi village. Arnarstapi is a small, picturesque fishing village on the southern coast of the Snæfellsnes peninsula. Back in 1565, the Danish king’s ombudsmen stayed at Arnarstapi, but nowadays it’s mainly a vacation home for well-known professionals, ranging from lawyers to poets.
4. Deildartunguhver hot spring. This hot spring in Reykholtsdalur has the highest output volume of water in Europe, at 180 liters per second, at 97°C (206°F). Some of the water is used to heat homes and cottages in both Borgarnes and Akranes, 34 and 64 kilometers (21 and 40 miles) away, respectively.
5. The birthplace of Leif Eiríksson. Leif Eiríksson was a Norse explorer and the first European to land in North America, nearly 500 years before Christopher Columbus. Evidence suggests that Leif was born at Eiríksstaðir, where ruins of a longhouse are still visible today, and a replica of the farmstead has been built just a few feet from the ruins for a real historical experience.
6. The remote Flatey island. The island Flatey is located in Breiðafjörður, the bay north of the Snæfellsnes peninsula, and is accessible by ferry from the town of Stykkishólmur (the ferry also goes up to the West Fjords). Inhabited mainly in the summer, the island is home to an old church that houses both the oldest and the smallest library in Iceland. The island has only one road, which leads from the ferry dock to the old village.
7. Glymur waterfall. The second tallest waterfall in Iceland runs from the second deepest lake in Iceland. It was considered the tallest waterfall in Iceland until 2011, when an unnamed waterfall on the edge of Morsárjökull glacier, in the south of Iceland, was discovered. Hiking up to Glymur waterfall must be done cautiously, and it is best to follow the path on the Southeast riverbank. The hike takes about two hours and is not recommended for those who are afraid of heights.
8. Guðrúnarlaug Natural Pool. Guðrúnarlaug Pool is a reconstruction of what is considered to have been the oldest natural pool in Iceland. During the 18th century, a landslide ruined the original pool, which had been a popular bathing area because the waters were considered to have healing powers. The reconstruction was created to look as much like the original as possible, with an added changing area for those who wish to take a dip.
9. Hraunfossar. A series of short fresh-water falls, which tumble into the Hvítá river along an area approximately 1 kilometer (0.62 miles) in length. What makes these waterfalls different from others is the way they are formed. Subterranean water bubbles up and streams out over the lava field, then breaks up into rivulets that fall off the lava bed into the river.
10. Kirkjufell. Kirkjufell is a beautifully strange mountain just west of Grundarfjörður fjord and town. While relatively experienced hikers can climb the mountain, stories have been told of men falling to their death from the top of the mountain. A hike around the base of the mountain is a better option, and takes approximately 3 hours.
11. A Library of Water. The first of its kind in Iceland (and perhaps in the world), the Library of Water, conceived by the American artist Roni Horn, is found in the town of Stykkishólmur. The library’s three collections—water, words, and weather reports—are housed in a building that stands on a promontory overlooking the ocean and the town.
12. The real stars of Game of Thrones. Iceland’s landscape has played a large part in two seasons of the American television show, Game of Thrones. In episode 6 of season 4, viewers watched in horror as a dragon attacked a herd of goats. The scene was filmed near Þórufoss waterfall in Mosfellsdalur valley, which is a thirty-minute drive from Reykjavík. The goats are from Háafell farm in the Borgarfjörður region, West Iceland. Háafell is the only goat farm in the country, and preserves a stock descending from animals that the Vikings brought with them more than 1100 years ago. According to Jóhanna Bergmann, the goat farmer, no goats were harmed during the filming. “I enjoyed how much time they got on screen. The one who got the most screen time is named Gná.” The farm is open for visitors.
13. Fermented shark tasting. When visiting the small but wonderful shark museum at Bjarnarhöfn farm, you can taste one of Iceland’s most infamous treats: cured shark meat, prepared by the museum owners. It is sometimes compared to a stinky French cheese. We say that rings true, if the cheese is properly ripened and matured.
14. Snowmobiling on glaciers. Glaciers cover about 11% of Iceland. Two of them are in West Iceland, the small but picturesque Snæfellsjökull (which can be seen from Reykjavik), and Langjökull, Iceland’s second largest glacier. You can go snowmobiling on both. The sprawling Langjökull is particularly well-suited for longer tours. Several companies offer snowmobile trips on the glaciers, for every level of skill and ambition.
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