Borgarnes: Gateway to West Iceland’s Stunning Landscapes

  • by Yanshu
  • West Iceland
  • 12 Dec 2023

Let's explore Borgarnes, a charming Icelandic town where Viking history, cultural stories, and stunning natural scenery combine, offering a unique glimpse into Iceland's rich heritage and landscapes.

Borgarnes: Gateway to West Iceland’s Stunning Landscapes

Borgarnes is a picturesque town situated in West Iceland, about 75 kilometers north of Reykjavik. It’s located on a peninsula at the shore of Borgarfjörður, a fjord known for its stunning beauty and historical significance. 

This town serves as a central point for exploring the rich cultural and natural landscapes of West Iceland, and Snaefellsnes Peninsula, including nearby mountains, hot springs, and historical sites.

Borgarnes History and Culture

As you visit Borgarnes, you’ll find a place filled with Viking history and stories. This little town helps you learn about Iceland’s early history and its interesting culture.

Culture and Settlement Center of Borgarnes, West Iceland.

Borgarnes’ Origins of Settlement

Borgarnes is not just another picturesque town; it is a realm where history takes you back to the age of Vikings. It was established as a vital settlement center, believed to be the homestead of Skallagrímur Kveldúlfsson, one of Iceland’s earliest settlers and a prominent figure in the sagas.

The Town In Icelandic Literature

The sagas of Iceland, especially Egil’s Saga, penned by the chronicler Snorri Sturluson, cast a light on the protagonist Egill Skallagrímsson. Borgarnes is integral to this saga, with Snorri Sturluson himself having deep connections to nearby Reykholt, enhancing the area’s literary status.

What To See in Borgarnes

Borgarnes offers you a range of breathtaking natural wonders, from majestic mountains to geothermal marvels. Discover West Iceland’s magic through its scenic landscapes, outdoor activities, and the relaxing hot springs and beaches.

Stunning Nature and Scenic Landscapes

Borgarfjörður valley and Hafnarfjall mountain are a testament to the raw beauty you’ll encounter around Borgarnes. Take in the sprawling vistas where the land meets the Atlantic with pristine coastlines accentuated by the rugged backdrop of peaks. The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is a jewel you cannot miss, offering a diverse range of sights from black sand beaches to the iconic Snæfellsjökull glacier, which is a marvel of West Iceland.

Snowy Borgarnes nature, West Iceland.

Cultural Attractions

Your cultural journey through Borgarnes will take you to Safnahús Borgarfjarðar, or the Borgarnes Museum, where art and heritage intersect. Not far is Skallagrimsgardur, a park dedicated to the settlers depicted in the sagas, offering a reflective spot for contemplating the vast cultural landscape.

Historical Sites

Among the places where Borgarnes’s past resonates is Bjarg Borgarnes, the reputed residence of Skallagrímur Kveldúlfsson’s family. Exploring Hvanneyri, you discover an area that has played a significant role in educational and agricultural development, further anchoring the town’s historic significance.

The museum of Borgarnes, West Iceland.

Museums

Your exploration of Borgarnes’ cultural landscape would be incomplete without delving into its rich array of arts and exhibitions. This town is a treasure trove of Norse history and creative expression, hosting noteworthy museums and dynamic galleries where you can immerse yourself in the art and culture of Iceland.

The Settlement Center is a cornerstone of Borgarnes’ cultural offerings. Here, you’ll encounter engaging exhibitions that chronicle the age of Iceland’s settlement and bring to life the stories of the country’s first inhabitants and their descendants, such as the renowned viking poet Egill Skallagrímsson. Discover more through the interactive displays at The Settlement Center.

Borgarnes Museum invites you to a journey through history with its unique collections, from antiquities reflecting the local lifestyle to specialized displays like Soffia’s Toy Museum. A focal point is the history park, Skallagrímsgarður, where nature and history blend seamlessly. Gain insights into the museum’s thematic variety from visitor experiences at Borgarnes Museum.

Galleries and Art Spaces

For contemporary art enthusiasts, the vibrant Plan-B Art Festival held in the serene town celebrates modern artistic innovation with installations and pieces from avant-garde artists across the nation. Be part of the annual conversation of contemporary art with further details on the Plan-B Art Festival.

The Safnahús Borgarfjarðar, or the Borgarfjörður Museum, complements the town’s historical documentation with a creative twist, often hosting exhibitions like ‘Children over 100 years,’ reflecting on the experiences of childhood over a century, alongside a comprehensive display of Icelandic birds. Embrace the melding of nature and culture that Borgarnes proudly exhibits.

Hafnarfjall is a great hiking destination in the Borgarnes area, West Iceland.

What To Do in Borgarnes

For the adventurous at heart, the hiking trails in Borgarnes will lead you through areas of outstanding natural beauty. Challenge yourself with a hike up Hafnarfjall or explore the more serene surroundings of the Golf course with fantastic views. For a unique experience, the cascading waters of Hraunfossar near the Langjökull glacier are easily accessible and offer you splendid photographic opportunities.

Hot Springs and Beaches

Immerse yourself in the Deildartunguhver, the most powerful hot spring in Europe known for its high flow rate of boiling water and therapeutic properties. Don’t forget to relax at the Borgarnes swimming pool, admired by locals and tourists for its warm, geothermal waters. For a tranquil retreat, visit Englendingavik, a charming beach perfect for a leisurely stroll by the Hvalfjörður fjord.

Borgarnes walking trail, West Iceland.

Everyday Life in Borgarnes

As you step into Borgarnes, you become part of a close-knit community where daily life flows around its vibrant history and geographical significance. The residents here, although limited in number, are engaged in a variety of occupations, from fishing to farming, contributing to a self-sustaining lifestyle. You’ll find the town’s connection to its historical roots evident in its local practices and the pride of its people.

  • Restaurants: Offering fresh, locally-sourced seafood and Icelandic specialties.
  • Fishing: A cornerstone of daily life, contributing to local cuisine and economy.
  • Culture: Local museums and cultural centers are hubs for community events and history.
Borgarnes turns into winter wonderland when there is snow.

Shopping and Markets

For your shopping needs, Borgarnes provides a range of outlets, from quaint local markets to essential grocery stores.

Tour buses usually stop at Borgarnes on the Snaefellsnes day tour, where you can pick up snacks, water, or food. There, you’ll find a couple of grocery stores, namely Netto and N1. There is also a post office in the same area where you can send out postcards from Iceland!

  • Farmers’ Markets: Seasonal produce sold by local farmers enriches your kitchen with fresh flavors.
  • Retail Stores: Find your everyday essentials as well as specialty Icelandic items.

When you explore Borgarnes, the connection between its people and their land is palpable, showcased in the goods and produce you come across in these markets.

About the Snaefellsnes Peninsula

The Snaefellsnes Peninsula, your window into the stunning West Iceland, with the region’s dramatic landscapes. Just a journey away from Reykjavík, this area promises an immersive experience with its myriad natural wonders.

A random look along the road through West Iceland. [Photo credit to Yanshu Li]

Where is Snaefellsnes

Positioned to the west of Iceland and easily accessible from Route 1, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is often referred to as “Iceland in Miniature.” It’s a unique enclave where every quintessential aspect of Icelandic nature comes together. From lava fields to glaciers, and fishing villages to mountain ranges, the peninsula serves as a microcosm of the country’s diverse topography. While it remains less frequented than the famous southern coast, its proximity to Reykjavík—under two hours by car—makes it a convenient yet awe-inspiring destination for your itinerary.

The colourful port town of Stykkisholmur on Snaefellsnes Peninsula. [Photo credit to Yanshu Li]

What to see in Snaefellsnes

On the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, the magnetism of Snæfellsjökull Glacier is undeniable. The ice-capped stratovolcano, a jewel of the peninsula, not only dominates the landscape but also fuels the region’s folklore. 

Adventure seekers can relish in the unique experiences offered by the vast scenery, from exploring the enchanting lava tube caves with their intricate formations to visiting the idyllic coastal towns like Stykkishólmur, where fishing is still a way of life. 

Along the drive, you’ll encounter numerous viewpoints and natural attractions such as Djúpalónssandur Beach and Kirkjufell Mountain, each presenting an opportunity to witness the raw beauty that defines Iceland.

Kirkjufell mountain and the lagoon, Snaefellsnes Peninsula.

Good to Know About Visiting Borgarnes

When planning your trip to Borgarnes, consider your interests, whether they lean towards cultural exploration or simply basking in the scenic beauty. Borgarnes offers cultural charm and a variety of accommodations to ensure a comfortable stay.

Best Time to Visit

Tourism Peaks: The summer months are ideal if you’re looking to explore Borgarnes under the Midnight Sun, with longer days allowing for more sightseeing time. Summer is also when cultural activities are at their peak, giving you a deeper connection to local traditions.

Winter Wonders: For a chance to see the Northern Lights, visit during the winter months. However, prepare for shorter days and snow, which may affect transportation options. During this period, many travelers find tranquility and enjoy winter sports.

Accommodations: From the family-friendly Hotel Borgarnes to the more secluded Hotel Hamar, you have options ranging from cozy to luxurious. Book in advance, especially in high season, to secure your preferred choice.

Dining Out: Restaurants in Borgarnes offer a taste of Iceland, with local ingredients featured prominently on menus. Fresh seafood is a particular highlight, embodying the essence of local cuisine.

Transportation Tips: Rent a car if you wish to explore the region at your own pace. Borgarnes connects easily with Reykjavik via Route 1, making it a straightforward trip. Public buses are also available, but check the schedule in advance as services can be less frequent, particularly in winter.

You can golf in Borgarnes as it offers beautiful courses.

Frequently Asked Questions about Borgarnes

In this section, you’ll find concise responses to some of the most common inquiries about Borgarnes, which will help you plan your visit and ensure you don’t miss out on the highlights of this beautiful Icelandic town.

What are the top attractions to visit in Borgarnes?

Visiting Borgarnes offers an array of attractions, with the Borgarnes Museum being a focal point for its historical insights into Icelandic culture. The picturesque Hafnarfjall mountain is another must-see for hikers and nature enthusiasts.

How do you get from Borgarnes to Reykjavik?

To travel from Borgarnes to Reykjavik, you can take the public bus service which offers regular trips between the two towns. Additionally, driving via Route 1 is a convenient option, typically taking around an hour and 20 minutes.

What is there to do between Reykjavik and Borgarnes?

Along the route from Reykjavik to Borgarnes, you are encouraged to explore the unique landscape of the region, including activities like the Krauma geothermal baths and visiting the historic Deildartunguhver hot spring.

What historical sites can be found in Borgarnes?

Borgarnes is home to significant historical sites such as the Settlement Centre, where you can immerse yourself in the history of Iceland’s early settlers and the legendary sagas that have shaped the nation’s identity.

What are the dining options like in Borgarnes?

The dining options in Borgarnes cater to a range of tastes, with local eateries focusing on traditional Icelandic cuisine as well as international dishes. Some venues also offer the opportunity to enjoy meals with stunning views of the surrounding landscapes.

What is the ‘Silver Circle’ and what does it include in West Iceland?

The ‘Silver Circle’ is a tourist route in West Iceland that features several noteworthy landmarks, such as the Hraunfossar waterfalls, Deildartunguhver hot spring, and the historic site of Reykholt, providing a comprehensive experience of the region’s natural and historical richness.

The view of the mountains from Borgarnes, West Iceland.
About the author
Yanshu
Yanshu
A journalist and photographer, Yanshu is driven by a deep passion for Iceland. She's on a mission to share her love for authentic travel experiences and exciting adventures with fellow explorers. Armed with her camera, she sets off on hikes, delving into Iceland's intricacies while mastering the art of Icelandic language whenever possible.

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