Presentation of the destination
Borgarnes is a pretty peninsula town in West Iceland just an hour’s drive north of Iceland’s capital Reykjavik. It is ringed by snow-capped mountains, glacial views, national parklands and icy waters. Borgarnes is home to the Settlement Museum, where you’ll learn about early Viking history in the area, and the Borgafjordur Museum which details life for children in Iceland throughout the last century. Borgarnes is a great place to base yourself to enjoy the natural surrounds. Hike the Hafnarfjall mountain, take a snowmobile tour across the Langjokull Glacier, discover the world’s first parliament at Thingvellir National Park, and check out the boiling hot thermal springs at Deildartunguhver. Discover the small towns nearby, from Reykholt, where you’ll discover the life and times of medieval writer Snorri Sturluson, to the port town of Akranes where the museum centre includes exhibits of old Icelandic houses, fishing boats, trades and art. Borgarnes is very tourist friendly, with plenty of accommodation and fine dining, including in the town’s oldest building at the Settlement Centre! The town is one of the few in Iceland which does not rely on fishing, so although you can still get great fish meals, it’s the lamb farmed in the surrounding areas that is Borgarnes specialty. Borgarnes is a fantastic place to see the Aurora Borealis, as it lights up the snow-capped peaks of Hafnarfjall Mountain.
Points of interests / things to see
One of Borganes’ premier attractions is this museum featuring the history of Iceland’s settlement and an exhibit on the most famous of Icelandic tales, Egil’s Saga. You’ll learn about Viking ships and how they were built, about the archaeological finds at the early Viking settlements, and discover the tall tales of Iceland as you wander the exhibits with an audio guide. In the basement you’ll discover the Egil’s Saga exhibition where you’ll learn about the bloodthirsty Viking poet, farmer and adventurer Egil Skallagrimsson through folk art, interpretive panels, carved shields, skeletons and sculptures. The depictions of brutal battles, witches and werewolves from the saga provide a thrilling insight into Viking mythology, but aren’t suitable for young children. The audio tours take half an hour in each exhibit, and are included in the cost of entry. Enjoy a buffet lunch in the café in the adjoining building, which is one of the oldest houses in Borgarnes. During peak tourist season you can take a guided history tour from the centre to see sites from Egil’s Saga. The centre is located on a peninsula, close to the bridge leading to the island of Brakarey, named after Egil’s nanny. There are also nearby gardens said to be the final resting place of Egil Skallagrimsson. The Settlement Centre is open daily between 10am and 9pm.
Get an insight into the lives of children throughout the past century in Iceland in a creative and exciting exhibition bringing together photographs, recreated rooms and artefacts to give an immersive experience. This museum is a fantastic one for children, who can learn about the history of Iceland through sympathetic experiences of children’s lives in the past. Perhaps best of all is a long hallway of photographs from the perspective of children from the last hundred years, which is interesting enough on its own, but it’s the stories told by your guide that you’ll remember best when you leave the museum. Also within this museum is an exhibit on Iceland’s bird life, called ‘Adventures of Birds’. Here you can walk through a huge collection of life-like taxidermied bird species, and learn about the migration patterns of some of the species and the importance of conservation. An art gallery and ethnographic artefacts round out the museum. The museum is located nearby the Settlement Centre at the tip of the peninsula, and is open daily from May to August between 1pm and 5pm.
Thirty minutes’ drive from Borgarnes in Akranes, you’ll find the Akranes Museum Centre. Here you’ll find museums, dedicated to sports, ethnography and geology. In the Akranes Folk Museum you’ll learn about Icelandic ways of life throughout history, from farming and housekeeping to fishing, midwifery, blacksmiths, and carpentry. You’ll see a fully-sized nineteenth century oak fishing ketch on the pier as well as model ships, tools from Icelandic trades, a photographic exhibition and even old cinema reels and cameras within the museum building. There is even a collection of old houses which have been relocated from around West Iceland to the centre. Discover the life of the upper class of Iceland in the 1870s in the Gardar House. You’ll also see the oldest timber house still standing in Iceland, a sailmakers barn, and a tiny house once used as a primary school. In Iceland’s Mineral Kingdom you can discover the diverse minerals of this once volcanic landscape, and learn about the undersea Hvalfjordur Tunnel, a feat of engineering constructed in the 1990s. Athletic types will enjoy the Akranes Sports Museum, which documents Iceland’s love of sports through memorabilia, photographs and sporting equipment. The Akranes Museum Centre is open daily from 10am to 5pm through summer, and between 1pm and 5pm during winter.
An imposing sight from Borgarnes, this 4 million year old ex-volcano stands 844 metres (2760 feet) at its peak, and its mostly basalt sides are often dusted with snow. Birch trees ring the bottom of Hafnarfjall mountain, a nice place for a sheltered picnic before a hike up the steep ascent. The path to Hafnarfjall begins in Borgarnes by the bridge over the fjord, and takes about 3.5 to 5 hours return. The path is only about 6-7 kilometers long but there are steep inclines so it requires moderate fitness. There are nine peaks on Hafnarfjall, each providing incredible views back over Borgarnes on the peninsula, and the fjords and water. It is important to prepare for your hike beforehand and check local weather conditions as the wind around Hafnarfjall can be quite brutal at times. The track can also be done by mountain bike. During the right times through autumn and spring you can see the impressive sight of the Northern Lights shining above Hafnarfjall, definitely a view worth packing the camera for!
This national park is the place where the world’s first Parliament was held in the year 930, and continued to be held until the eighteenth century. The parliament known as Althing was held in the open air, and remnants of stone ‘booths’ can still be seen scattering the lush green landscape. There are also remnants of the rich agricultural past of these lands, where sheep once grazed. Parts of farmhouses, a church and stock fences from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries are visible throughout the park. Discover the rich history and natural beauty of the park for yourself on one of the many hiking paths or on a horse-riding trail. You’ll find plenty of information on walks at the National Park Information Centre, from which a 10 kilometer (mile) circuit walk departs before heading through old farmlands and the rift valley. Enjoy the view over Iceland’s largest lake, Thingvallavatn. In the warmer months, you can plunge into its icy waters to snorkel or scuba dive in the huge rift between the Eurasian and North American continental plates named Silfra, caused by tectonic plate shifts. Discovering the underwater caves and ‘cathedrals’ in these incredibly clear waters is an unforgettable experience.
At the very tip of Snæfellsness Peninsula, just under two hours drive from Borganes is the diverse Snaefellsjokull National Park where you’ll find Saxholl volcano, Djupalonssandur Beach, Snaefell Glacier, a waterfall, and rare flora and fauna. Take a tour into a volcanic lava cave, discover ancient names carved into the walls of the Singing Cave, and discover the ‘lifting weight’ rocks on sandy Djupalonssandur Beach which were once used to test fishermen’s strength. Parts of a shipwreck from the 1940s can still be spotted on the beach. The national park is a great place for a hike, with beautiful views of the sea, the icy peaks of Snaefell glacier, and vast lava fields and rolling green hills. Some of the roads through the National Park require a four-wheel drive.
Thirty minutes’ drive from Borgarnes in Reykholt you’ll find this exhibition on the life and medieval times of Saga writer and chieftan Snorri Sturluson who lived here during the thirteenth century. Sturluson is best known for writing Egil’s Saga. He ended his days in his home, murdered by enemies. It is this site on which the Snorrastofa Cultural and Medieval Centre is built, and out-doors you can see his thermally-heated bath. In the gift shop attached to the centre you’ll find local crafts, Icelandic designs and a fantastic collection of books about Snorri Sturluson and Iceland.
Take a tour to Iceland’s second largest icecap and stop off on the way to the highlands to see the powerful Gullfoss waterfall as it rushes into a chasm. Enjoy a warming beverage at the Gullfoss Café Once you’re up in the snowy scenery of the Icelandic Highlands, you’ll jump on a snowmobile for the rush of a lifetime. Navigate the icescape of the glacier and enjoy the views of snow-capped volcanos and Eiríksjökull glacier. You can also take a hike across the glacier, to discover the ice caves and water cauldrons. Alternatively, take a boat ride across the Hvitarvatn Lake to hike on Nordurjokull glacier, which is adjoined to Langjokull.
Visit the bubbling boiling thermal waters which is used to heat Borganes and nearby Akranes. It is also used to grow crops like tomatoes in nearby greenhouses. You can enjoy the fresh produce grown in these greenhouses in the summer, when growers hold market stalls nearby the Deildartunguhver Thermal Springs. During winter, all you will see of the roiling 95 degree Celcius waters is the steam. Despite the fact that it may be a frosty day, you can warm yourself in the clouds of billowing steam – like an outdoor sauna! The waters are full of sulphur minerals, and the grounds around the springs are covered in ferns which do not grow anywhere else in Iceland.
Vacation rentals in Borgarnes (Western Region)
How to get there ?
Fly in to Reykjavik and hire a car at the airport. There is no car hire in Borgarnes. The town is located on Iceland’s famous Ring Road, just over Iceland’s second longest bridge, an hour’s drive from the capital. Buses that run from Reykjavik to Borgarnes, which take approximately two hours. Iceland does not have a rail system. Although the town itself is quite compact and you can walk between the main attractions such as the Settler Centre and Borgafjordur Museum, the natural landscapes surrounding it are best discovered by car as they are quite spread out. It is important that drivers coming from Reykjavik are aware of the extreme high winds on the stretch of road near the Hafnarfjall Mountain and to check the weather conditions before departing. You can take guided tours of attractions around Borgarnes but many guides expect you to take your own car to follow them to the location. This allows you a bit of freedom about when you come and go and how long you stay at the site. If you’re not keen on driving, there are several companies run guided tours of Iceland’s Ring Road and take in many of the sights in and around Borgarnes before continuing on.
Hotels in Borgarnes (Western Region)