- Best Time to Visit
- All year-round
- 64.54481, -21.91034
- DIstance from Reykjavík
- 73km (45mi)
The Snæfellsnes peninsula is often referred to as “Iceland in miniature”, as you get a little bit of everything. The diverse landscape includes natural wonders like vast black sand beaches, magnificent mountains, large volcanic craters, rich birdlife, and the mighty glacier, Snæfellsjökull. It’s a spectacular slice of Iceland.
How to Experience Borgarnes
The History of Borgarnes
Borgarnes dates back to the early settlement era in Iceland and its history spans more than a thousand years. The first mention of the Borgarnes area is in Egil's Saga which tells of Icelandic life between the years 850 and 1000 AD. The town’s name derives from Borg á Mýrum, the farm of Egil Skallagrímsson who is the saga’s protagonist. You can see a cute wooden church at Borg á Mýrum, just a short drive from Borgarnes, and there has been a church at this site since the year 1000.
How to Get to Borgarnes
It’s a relatively short drive from Reykjavík to Borgarnes and it’s easy to navigate here as the town sits on the Route One ring road that encircles the entirety of Iceland. The drive is about 75 kilometres from the centre of Reykjavík to the centre of Borgarnes and takes about an hour or so. The most direct route is through the Hvalfjörður Tunnel which runs for six kilometres beneath a sprawling fjord. If you’ve got time to spare it’s worth taking the scenic route, following Route 47 around the perimeter of Hvalfjörður fjord instead of tunnelling under it. As it’s on the island’s main road, driving yourself to Borgarnes is easy and can be done year-round. But if you’d rather leave the driving to someone else, you can join a guided day trip to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula from Reykjavík.
There is a public bus that runs from Reykjavík to Borgarnes, eventually terminating in Akureyri in the north of Iceland. The 57 bus takes around an hour and forty minutes between the capital and Borgarnes.
Things to See and Do in Borgarnes
Sitting out on a peninsula surrounded by the ice-cold water of a fjord, Borgarnes is a pretty sight in itself. You can spend a couple of hours wandering along the shoreline and admiring the steely water flanked by snow-topped mountains. At the very tip of the town, you’ll find the perfect spot to admire the Northern Lights in winter. When the aurora makes an appearance on a cloudless night, you can watch the green glow reflected back on the smooth surface of the fjord. With very little light pollution, Borgarnes is a popular place for people to hunt for the Northern Lights on a deep winter’s night.
If you want to get a feel for the ancient history of the town and area, the Borgarnes Settlement Centre has you covered. Iceland’s earliest days are recreated in exhibitions inside, with rooms dedicated to the Icelandic Sagas and life on the island a thousand years ago.
You can experience Iceland’s outdoor bathing and swimming culture at Borgarnes swimming pool. It sits on the edge of the fjord and there are both indoor and outdoor heated pools, hot tubs and saunas. Twisting flumes and water slides can keep the little ones entertained. There’s another naturally heated swimming pool close to Borgarnes – Hreppslaug Swimming Pool was created in 1928 and is considered a cultural heritage site. It’s now run by a non-profit youth organisation and offers a slice of local life in West Iceland where folk gather to bathe and swim outdoors in the warm water and unwind together.
Those travelling with young children can also stop in Borgarnes to stretch their legs at the town’s playground, Bjössaróló, which is considered by some as Iceland’s coolest playground. It was built by a local carpenter and uses the unique mossy landscape and mini hillocks in its design. If you’re moving on to explore the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, Borgarnes makes an excellent overnight base. There are a handful of places to stay – comfortable hotels, guesthouses and private apartments – plus there’s a choice of supermarkets and restaurants to refuel on long car journeys. In the centre of town, Englendingavík restaurant offers a menu of rich and filling lamb dishes and perfectly seasoned fish with the opportunity to dine outside with a view over the water. While cosy Kaffi Kyrrð, filled with pot plants and knick-knacks, is the perfect stop for a road-trip coffee and slice of home baking. Those who fancy a nightcap can sample craft beers alongside hefty burgers and spicy chicken wings at BARA.
Activities and Experiences Around Borgarnes
If you take the scenic route between Reykjavík and Borgarnes, there are many pretty places to stop and admire Iceland’s dazzling wilderness around Hvalfjörður fjord. Waterfalls rush and bubble through rivers, and the viewpoints out over the fjord are a photographer’s dream. This is where you’ll find Iceland’s second-highest waterfall – Glymur tumbles for 198 metres through a dramatic crevasse in black rock and is a beautiful sight to behold.
Surrounding Borgarnes is the beautiful Borgarfjörður – a serene fjord steeped in myth and legend. The Borgarfjörður area is the setting for a significant number of Icelandic Sagas and there’s an undeniable folklore feel to the Glanni Waterfall on the Norðurá River said to be where elves and trolls gather. Nearby, the impressive Grábrók crater hints at the volcanic activity that formed this area over aeons. There are several waterfalls within striking distance of Borgarnes and perhaps the most distinctive is Hraunfossar where a series of waterfalls cascade over old lava tracks, orange as tiger stripes. Further up the valley, towards the Húsafell region, you’ll find the small settlement of Reykholt – birthplace of poets and creatives. You can experience some of Iceland’s geothermal pools at the nearby Krauma Spa, which is fed by Europe’s most powerful hot spring – Deildartunguhver. The Húsafell area is also home to Iceland’s longest glacier, the aptly named Langjökull, where you can embark on a glacier hike or descend Into the Glacier in a man-made ice cave.
While the natural wonders of Húsafell are to the northeast of Borgarnes, to the northwest you’ve got another outdoor playground. The Snæfellsnes Peninsula is known as ‘Iceland in miniature’ for its varied and dramatic landscape. Here, cliffside walks reward with views of craggy sea bridges and nesting birds at Arnarstapi, and one of the most iconic images of Iceland is of the conical Kirkjufell mountain rising up over the ocean in mossy-green glory. Those who like a little adventure can try glacier hiking on Snæfellsjökull ice cap and, at the other end of the ice-and-fire spectrum, you can descend into an 8,000-year-old lava cave at Vatnshellir Cave.
All About Borgarnes
Borgarnes is known for its location on a slim peninsula, creeping into the Borgarfjörður fjord. It is surrounded by water so walks along the shoreline here are a popular way to pass the day, looking out to Iceland’s often snow-tipped mountains. It also acts as the gateway to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula where you’ll find waterfalls that tumble over ancient lava, glaciers fit for day hikes and a landscape often referred to as ‘Iceland in miniature’.
Borgarnes has a handful of hotels that suit a range of budgets. There are a couple of comfortable 3-star hotels, a few family-run guesthouses and some privately run apartments if you prefer self-catering. The town also has a choice of supermarkets and cosy places to dine serving up warming Icelandic stews and fresh seafood. There are a couple of pubs for a nightcap too.
The easiest way to reach Borgarnes from Reykjavík is to follow the Route One main road out of the capital. Borgarnes is directly on Route One, about 75 kilometres (around 46 miles) from Reykjavík, so you can’t miss it if you’re driving yourself. The drive takes around an hour, but you might want to avoid the long tunnel beneath the Hvalfjörður fjord and choose the scenic route around the fjord’s edge to enjoy the rugged landscape. The scenic route adds about another hour to the drive time. If you’d rather not drive yourself, you can join a Snæfellsnes day trip from Reykjavík, which often stop in Borgarnes for a break on the way to the peninsula.
Similar to the Golden Circle in the south of Iceland, the Silver Circle is a sightseeing route from Reykjavík that takes you to the natural wonders of West Iceland and the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. It covers waterfalls that tumble over tiger-striped volcanic rocks, geothermal baths heated by Europe’s most powerful hot spring and isolated villages steeped in folklore. One of the most popular day trips from Reykjavík, the Golden Circle can get crowded, especially in the summer months. The Silver Circle offers a quieter experience with just as much natural wonder.
In old Icelandic, the term ‘borg’ referred to a small, dome-shaped hill or a stronghold or fortification. Over the centuries it came to mean town or city, so Borgarnes roughly translates as city and headland, possibly referencing the fact that Borgarnes sits on a peninsula. It takes its name from the nearby farm and now tiny settlement Borg á Mýrum, which is a major reference point in Egil's saga.
Isolated out on a peninsula and surrounded by water, Borgarnes is considered one of the best places in Iceland to spot the Northern Lights. There’s a dedicated lookout point at the very tip of the town (marked on Google Maps), where you can see the dancing green lights reflected on the water for an extra special experience. Since it is such a small town, there is low light pollution, meaning you’re more likely to spot the Northern Lights in Borgarnes than in Reykjavík.
With the surrounding mountains dusted with snow, Borgarnes is a beautiful sight in winter. It sits directly on the Route One main road, so it remains accessible even in the coldest months. What’s more, this small town is one of the best spots on the island to see the Northern Lights which only appear in winter.
Just off the Route One main road around Iceland, Borgarnes is a great place to pause and refuel on a long car journey. You’ll find hot springs, rivers and waterfalls in the area around Borgarnes and a couple of museums within the town itself. Jutting out into a fjord, the town is also a popular place to spot the Northern Lights.
West Iceland is home to Iceland’s capital and largest city – Reykjavík. But it is really considered a region in its own right. Within the Western Iceland region (Vesturland), the largest town is Akranes but the official seat of the region is Borgarnes.
If you are taking the scenic route (route 47 around Hvalfjörður fjord) to Borgarnes, there are several waterfalls and scenic points to stop at along the way. Laxfoss and Fossarétt are pretty little tumbles in the weaving rivers that lead to the fjord, but the biggest attraction is Glymur. And we mean ‘biggest’ quite literally – it’s Iceland’s second-tallest waterfall at 198 metres high. Apart from waterfalls, there are plenty of scenic outlooks to admire the mountains cascading down to the fjord.
While Reykjavík Airport is the closest airport to Borgarnes, it is the capital’s domestic airport and is only connected to other airports in Iceland. The closest international airport to Borgarnes is Keflavík Airport, which is where nearly all of Iceland’s international flights land. Keflavík Airport is 115 kilometres (around 71 miles) from Borgarnes and driving between the two takes about an hour and a half.