Pack Your Bags | Iceland Western Fjords
After good stint of doing the Southern Coast in Iceland every September, we felt it was time to shake things up a bit. Why not push ourselves out of our comfort zones and try the Western Fjords in February?
Well, I’ll be honest- if you saw the picture of the #beastfromtheeast in London, you may be able to imagine how that would translate into Iceland winter weather. Our experience in Iceland included a lot of stops for lack of visibility, crazy views of snow covered coastlines and sleepy small towns living life as normal in the midst of some of the coldest weather we had ever experienced!
So the weather was cold and we struggled a bit with the intense snow... but does that mean we wouldn't do it again? No way. And in fact, we are adding this trip to our new trips for the winter. It's too good to miss- so I'm sharing my itinerary with you below if you're looking for something a bit out of the ordinary routine along the Southern Coast for your trip to Iceland.
Day 1- VENTURING WEST TO BOGARNES & STYKKISHOLMAR:
From Reykjavik you take Highway 1, into a tunnel with an entrance fee of 1,000 krona (as of Feb ‘18 and roughly $10 USD) that takes you under the Whale Fjord. It’s about an hour drive from Reykjavik to this slightly remote part of Iceland. Drive to the oldest house in Iceland, called the Settlement Center, in the small town of Borghanes on the Sneiflesness Peninsula.
They provide a guided tour through the house that walks you through the early history of Iceland. It is very interesting and the people are very friendly. The house welcomes children, but if I'm honest, little ones probably won't be very captivated in hearing the history of Iceland. The museum is interactive and even had an exhibit where you can get on a moving boat and feel like you’re a viking! From the Settlement House, you can stop for lunch at the famous (in Iceland) gas station “N1”, a place with hot food comparable to a full-service gas station in the United States. Don't think day-old hot dogs rotating along warmers. Thing more along the lines of a burger joint that cooks food- like lamb stew, burgers, salads, etc- to order.
Then, head out to the Shark Museum, which is a 20 minute drive out of Stykkisholmur, and if you’re brave, try the fermented shark! Right outside the shark museum they have a bunch of Icelandic horses that they’ll usually let you pet. Remember to be respectful, stay a good distance from the fence (they’re usually electric), and don’t feed them!
On the drive, look out for Eldborg Crater, the salt column walls, and the lava fields.
If you’re traveling in the January-February, the peak of winter, be sure to check the road for adverse conditions and closings and stay flexible.
DAY 2- EXPLORING STYKKISHOLMUR:
Stay at Foss Hotel, a comfortable hotel in the small town of Stykkisholmur, about a 20 minute drive from the Shark Museum. Foss Hotel has amazing dinners every night and breakfast buffets every morning. The population is 1,000, but its as cozy as it gets in Iceland.
You’ll want to spend some time in these smaller, rural towns that embody the aesthetic of every Hallmark movie you’ve ever watched at your grandparents house over Christmas. From the hotel, it’s easiest to walk across the street and up to the church on the hill, where you’ll have a view the entire town and over the water.
From the hotel you can walk down the very picture-esque harbour filled with colourful boats, this is actually where they filmed the part of a Secret Life of Walter Mitty where they said they were in Greenland, that’s some movie magic.
If you walk past the harbour you can hike up a cliff (hike is a strong word given that there are stairs all the way up but sometimes they’ll be covered in snow and that can make it a challenge!) to the small, red lighthouse on the hill.
This is the highest point in the town and you’ll have the best view. Visit the Volcano Museum called Eld Fjalla, it features an original Andy Warhol painting and will give you amazing insiders to the various eruptions all throughout Iceland and even some from Central America!
Eat at an adorable little cafe called Narfeyarstofa, they offer lunch options, hot beverages, and a beautiful view out to the town and over the harbour! If you want to take a quick trip out of Stykkisholmur, you can take a forty minute drive out to Grundarfjordur where they filmed the majority of the Secret life of Walter Mitty.
After you’re done with a day in Stykkisholmur, load back up into your rental car and drive two hours to Husafell for the best chance at seeing the northern lights and to prepare for an adventurous day three.
DAY 3- HUSAFELL, INTO THE GLACIER & REYKJAVIK:
Wake up fresh at the Hotel Husafell offers breakfast, and it’s worth your time to work it into your schedule! The breakfast is buffet-style with a line of hot foods like scrambled eggs, sausage, etc. and a line for pastries and other bread. It was very fresh and clean, and there was always a waiter or waitress there to help, refill your coffee or replenish the food.
The “Into The Glacier” tour meets right outside the Hotel Husafell at Meeting Point Husafell. Make sure to reserve your tickets beforehand. The tour offers snowsuits and winter gear at the Meeting Point for those who came less-prepared for the bitter cold. The inside of the glacier is cold, but not terrible. At 36 degrees Fahrenheit, our tour guide called it “rather cosy” when wearing an Icelandic wool sweater. The tour guides are a team of men who are very well-equipped for leading you into the glacier, and they make jokes that make you forget what a bumpy ride it is. The ride up to the glacier is intense in the huge super jeep glacier vehicles, especially at the peak of winter, but they’re used to this.
Upon your arrival, they take you into a tunnel which leads into the glacier. It’s an incredible experience that you won’t forget. The views make it feel like another world. It is the largest man-made glacier tunnel in the world and the 2nd largest glacier in Iceland. On your way back down the mountain, they provide you with chocolate milk and kleiners, two Icelandic specialties. For more information on the Glacier, see post at Into The Glacier. Once back down the mountain, you can stop for lunch at Husafell Bistro right there. It is a buffet-style meal with bread, soups, pizza, and noodles located right next to the entrance of the Meeting Point where you departed.
From there, you can hop onto a bus for a tour through Vidgelmir Cave, the largest cave in Iceland. The bus will take you right to the office of the Cave and they’ll give you hard hats with lights to get you ready for your trek. It is a bit of a hike out to the entrance to the cave.
The views are amazing, the stalagmites are massive, and the experience incredible overall. You have the option of an hour-long tour which will take you through the parts of the cave that has a path cleared, or a more extensive, four-hour tour that will walk you through all of the cave if you feel equipped and balanced enough to explore without a man-made path.
Once you get back onto your bus, be sure to make a quick stop about 10 minutes up the road at Lava Falls Waterfall. End your day by driving back to Reykjavik.
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Et voila! There you have 3 really good days spent in the Western Fjords of Iceland. This itinerary is perfect for the repeat visitor to Iceland who is looking for a bit more than the standard Southern coast offerings.
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*images to Aspiring Kennedy