Western Iceland – Borgarnes & Snaefellsnes – 2 days of Wandering

Our tour guide Sola is someone I met last year when a guide bailed on us and it turned out that Sola was a perfect match for seeing Iceland.  We decided to do an overnight tour, spending two days in and around Borgarnes and the Snaefellsnes Peninsula with some Viking heritage sprinkled in.  I’ve been to both locations on previous trips, but this time we are including some places that are new to me. The Snaefellsnes Peninsula is like a mini-overall adventure of Iceland. Here you will find glaciers, lakes, volcanic formations, waterfalls, and lots of stories about trolls, giants, and sagas.

We left Reykjavik with the first stop in Borgarnes to visit The Settlement Center. The Center does a really good job of telling Egil’s Saga, which occurred in the local area, and also offers another 30 minute audio tour that talks about the settlement of Iceland. I love how the props are made with common day parts such as arms from chairs, wheels, baskets, scraps of wood. It just adds to the charm and is very different than the life size realistic props from the Saga Museum in Reykjavik. I enjoy both Saga museums, but I love the uniqueness of this one.

After going through Egils Saga with an audio guide, we decided to have lunch. The restaurant had a very large vegetarian buffet as an option, or you could go the way of the menu. I chose the fish soup because I have become a huge fan of Icelandic fish soup and will try it every chance I get. I also had a hamburger with fresh local Icelandic hamburger. Barrett chose the grilled filet of lamb with rosemary potatoes. We both left full and happy!

Departing Borgarnes, we drove further into the Whale fjord (Hvalfjörður), and stopped at the World War II Quonset huts left behind by the US troops in the 40’s and now are cherished summer homes. The town I grew up in in California was built during World War II so Quonset huts are quite familiar to us, but sadly no one thought to turn them into beautiful summer homes where I live!

Hraunfossar (the lava falls) and nearby Barnafoss (children’s waterfall) had more water than last year and the milky color is due to glacier melt. The first time I saw it, the river was bright blue but that was in the winter. When the glacier runoff starts, the water turns milky white. The water that flows through Hraunfossar percolates through 900 meters of lava rock before flowing over the top of the cliff into the river.

High above Hraunfossar is this beautiful farm. What a picture perfect view they have!

The Snaefellsnes Peninsula is beautiful and filled with dramatic landscapes. The most obvious one is the Snaefellsjokull glacier that is an easy focal point and also Kirkjufell mountain with its unique shape.

Seeing it from afar is different than a close up view, so we went off road and up to the base of the Snaefellsnes Glacier. As a kid my grandpa would take us ‘boondocking’ out in the desert on bumpy dirt roads and for whatever reason, as we bumped along the dirt road in Sola’s Ford Excursion, memories of my grandpa flooded in. I loved boon-docking and Sola thought the word was hilarious – a new addition to her English. It was a beautiful clear day so we were able to take nice pictures of the glacier.


We stopped to take a small trek up to a cave where we found a monster who wanted to stay, but Barrett informed me that I had to continue on.

At the base of the hike, we found this sign which a man and woman were staring at and discussing as ‘directions.’

Here’s my version of what happened when we saw the somewhat grumpy husband/wife bicyclists discussing the sign —- and later passed them on the dirt trail.

Man says to wife: It’s the instructions. We just follow it like a map.

Wife to husband: Are you sure?

Man: Of course I’m sure! Just get on your bike and we will follow the map.

We saw them a while later on a desolate road ….. they looked tired and thirsty (no water bottles that we could see). And as always, if you listen to a man who won’t ask for directions, you end up in Iceland on a dirt road to nowhere because that is is NOT a map!

Reykholt is where Snorri Sturlosson lived, and died, murdered by his own son-in-law. Such is the way of life for Icelanders and men who gain their power through ways that offend others. Snorri became his own ‘saga’ which is a story about an Icelander who usually dies in the worst of ways.

He had this lovely hot water spa it’s a tunnel from his home to the spa. While most of the tunnel is blocked off, the door was open today. Poor Snorri should’ve never let his son-in-law know about the tunnel as this is where he was ambushed one night in 1241…… back in the day (and still actually today), clothing in the Icelandic hot springs can be optional….. so my question is ….. was Snorri naked when he was ambushed?? Just my curious thought that no one seems to know the answer!

Snorri’s hot pool and tunnel

Reykholt is now a place where scholars come to study medieval history and the history of Iceland.

Near the town of Grundarfjörður is a nice waterfall, aptly named Kirkjufellsfoss, since it’s next to Kirkjufell, the cone mountain. It has very easy access on the paved trail. There wasn’t as much water flowing this year but the waterfall and iconic Kirkjufell are still popular places to take a photo.

Along the d rive to Stykkisholmur, we saw this beautiful church with the glacier in the background. The lupines were blooming all over Iceland and while they are beautiful (and added to my picture!), the lupines are are actually very invasive. Lupines are not native to Iceland. They were brought in to help with soil erosion and have taken over huge swaths of land and limiting the natural vegetation.

We stayed at the Hotel Fransiskus in Stykkishólmur, which was a lovely inn and the rooms were clean. Built as a monastery in 1933 by nuns from Belgium, their contribution to the local area included running a kindergarten, printing press, and built a hospital. Today, it is a hotel but the chapel inside is still used by the priest and sisters that came in 2009 after the original order from St. Francis had left.

I didn’t take pictures of the chapel because the priest was inside when we came back from dinner and sisters were inside in the morning, so it didn’t feel right.

Dinner was at Restaurant Narfeyrarstofa. It was a good thing we had reservations because even ‘out here’ in the countryside the good restaurants are packed.

It’s always hard for me to miss out on an Icelandic fish soup, regardless of what restaurant I’m at. There was fin whale on the menu and Barrett decided to order the appetizer. I took a small nibble – it wasn’t bad but I don’t see any reason to eat it again. Besides that, the President of Iceland just banned all whaling even though it’s been part of the Icelandic culture for centuries.

Having an after dinner drink back in the small hotel bar, there were 5 Americans who turned out to be Californians. They were riding rented motorcycles around the west fjords. When they asked where we were from, I said it was a small town in the desert and they probably wouldn’t know it. They insisted to know, and then we all laughed when 3 of the 5 were from Mammoth Lakes, CA which is only a few hours north of our small town. They certainly did know where Ridgecrest CA was. We all enjoyed a drink together before we headed for bed.

The Lutheran Church in Stykkishólmur

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We love to travel and especially encourage women to go out and see the world! We love history, archaeology and understanding the different cultures throughout the world.

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