Iceland is absolutely beautiful everywhere. Everything down to the sand is beautiful, and there are waterfalls everywhere. E-VERY-WHERE! It is insane.
Alex and I originally planned to explore all of Iceland but didn’t want to rush our adventure, so we decided to only explore Western Iceland. Below are a few of my favorite things and must-sees. “But Nichole, there is only one waterfall listed!!” Yes, my friend, I know, but don’t fret! I have a post all about the waterfalls in Western Iceland! I’ll link the post at the end of this one.
1. Kleifarvatn Lake
Kleifarvatn Lake is the largest lake on the Reykjanes Peninsula and is SUPER deep (318 feet to be exact). There was an earthquake in 2000 that created a fissure in the middle of the lake and drained most of the water. However, the fissure over the years refilled, and the lake is back to its original state.
Kleifarvatn Lake was the first place we explored when we got to Iceland. This actually wasn’t on our original list of places to see, but I saw a picture on Instagram a few days before we left and was like YUP, we are going.
I read that Kleifarvatn Lake is a popular destination for fishing and hiking, but we were the only people there! At least in the spot we drove to. And this lake was our first taste of Icelandic winds. (I talk about the crazy winds in my 5 Things to Know Before You Go to Iceland post.) The Icelandic winds can be NUTS. There are signs on car doors advising to hold them tightly when opening. Your insurance doesn’t cover wind damage!
Anywho, as soon as we got out of the car, the wind took me away. I had to shut the door fast and get low. I am not exaggerating. I thought I was going to blow away. I crawled over to the edge of the water to try to get some pics but unfortunately couldn’t get that many. I crawled back to the car and waited for Alex to blow his way back. We immediately were like, holy guacamole, I hope the whole country doesn’t have winds like this! Don’t worry, it’s not always super windy.
Once we recollected ourselves, we drove around the mountains here. The wind died down as we moved away from the lake, so we were able to get out and explore the first of many multi-colored mountains. Iceland looks like Mars, and this was our first glimpse of that. We didn’t feel like we were on this planet because there are no trees and everything is a different color. IT’S SO COOL. We didn’t do too much exploring in this area because 1. we were afraid of the winds and 2. we had a few other places to explore before the day was over!
2. Þórsmörk (Thorsmork)
Þórsmörk is a valley and mountain range situated between three glaciers - Tindafjallajokull, Myrdalsjokull, and Eyjafjallajokull. We arrived here late in the day which we were bummed about because there is SO much to do here. Wanna hike? Go right ahead. Wanna go on a glacier tour? Be my guest. Wanna walk around and take pictures of Iceland’s beautiful lands? You are in the right place! Oh, and you want to see some beautiful waterfalls on your way there? There are plenty!
There are a few ways to get into Þórsmörk. You can take F249 which brings you by Seljalandsfoss and Gljúfrabúi. Seljalandsfoss is a classic Iceland waterfall you most likely have seen before. Gljúfrabúi is another classic, but you have to make sure you are looking for it because it is hidden in a cave! You can also take F250 which brings you by Gluggafoss (also called Merkjárfoss). Gluggafoss is another beautiful cave waterfall. We took F250, so we were able to experience this beautiful waterfall.
No matter which road you decide to take, it will be bumpy. And by bumpy, I mean you need to go 5 mph or less bumpy. There is no way to get here quick, or if there is, we missed the memo. Just make sure to give yourself enough time. Þórsmörk will be there when you get there, I promise.
There are two main hikes in Þórsmörk - Fimmvörðuháls and Laugavegur. Laugavegur is a 34-mile trek that brings you to Landmannalaugar (I talk about Landmannalaugar later in this post). Fimmvörðuháls is a beautiful, but difficult, 15-mile hike that brings you past Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull as well as 26 waterfalls! Both are not for the faint of hearts, but well worth the journey if you are up to it! Looking for a short but sweet hike? Then the hike to the summit of Valahnukur is just for you! This hike brings you the same breathtaking views in a shorter distance (only 1.5 miles round trip). The summit offers beautiful views of glaciers, rivers, volcanoes, and cliffs covered in moss.
As I said earlier, we got to Þórsmörk pretty late in the day which wasn’t helped by the long and grueling F road. Because we had to drive slow, we didn’t get to go all the way into Þórsmörk, but we were able to see a few of the glaciers and the beautiful landscapes. After realizing we couldn’t travel much further on the road, we turned around to enjoy Gluggafoss. We decided to climb up the side of the waterfall by following a sheep path. It was pretty sketchy because of how steep it was, but hey, if the sheep can do it, we can, too! Although, the sheep are risk takers here. You will see them literally on the side of a mountain just chilling and eating their day away. The views from the top of the waterfall were beautiful!
We have seen pictures of how beautiful Þórsmörk is when you drive further in, so take a day to explore this beautiful place!
Háifoss is the fourth tallest waterfall in Iceland measuring up to about 400 feet. Some people consider it the second tallest waterfall (behind Glymur), but there were two waterfalls recently found in Morsárjökull Glacier taking the titles of the tallest and third tallest waterfalls. There is also another waterfall next to Háifoss called Granni.
The drive to Háifoss is a brutal one though. This road can be relentless with parts of it having some big rocks. Oh, and there are a TON of potholes. My advice: take it slow. The 4.6 miles on this road may seem like it will never end, but I promise it will! And your reward: a breathtaking waterfall. In my opinion, Háifoss is the most beautiful waterfall we saw in Iceland.
The coolest part about this spot is your position. You are on the cliff opposite of Háifoss, so the view is INSANE. The cliff you are on is taller than Háifoss, so you have a view of the entire waterfall. Fight back your urge to run away from the cliff edge and look down. It took all of my willpower to look over the edge, but the view of the entire waterfall was worth it. Talk about an adrenaline rush! Once you are done pushing past your fears, take a look to your left and take in those views!! The valley is beautiful! I miss this spot so much.
There is a way to hike down to the bottom of Háifoss if you are interested! The hike begins in Stong and is a little over 6 miles. You hike the river upstream until you get to the beautiful waterfall! I bet seeing Háifoss from the bottom would have been incredible. If anyone does the hike, let me know!!
Landmannalaugar, also known as the People’s Pool, is the beautiful land of multi-colored mountains, lava fields, and volcanoes! It is a very popular area for day or multi-day hiking and offers beautiful, natural hot springs (hence the name “People’s Pool”).
This magical land, however, is very difficult to get to. Most of the F roads leading to Landmannalaugar require crossing a few rivers, so make sure you have good car insurance! If you are too nervous to cross any rivers like we were, you are in luck! Taking F208 from the north will lead you in without any river crossings! And it will lead you to a camping site with a beautiful hot spring. However, the road is very long and bumpy, so make sure you give yourself plenty of time to get into this magical place.
If you want to do a multi-day hike, I suggest the Laugavegur trek which is 34 miles. It brings you all the way to Þórsmörk. The entire hike is absolutely breathtaking, so you won’t even notice the mileage (lol jk)! If you don’t want to do a multi-day hike, have no fear, there are plenty of hikes for you! Mt Bláhnjúkur, also known as Blue Peak, is a 3-mile, relatively easy loop. It gives you amazing views of the Laugahraun Lava field and multi-colored mountains. Well worth the 3-hour hike. Another great, short hike is the loop through Laugahraun Lava field via Sulphur Wave trail. The 2-hour hike brings you across amazing landscapes!
We planned on being in Landmannalaugar for a full day to hike and enjoy the hot springs, but Mother Nature had different plans. If you read my 5 Things to Know Before You Go post, you know Iceland’s weather is bipolar. On our drive to Landmannalaugar, it was sunny and beautiful. Once we got inland, the clouds rolled in and opened up. This was the first time it actually poured. It mists a lot in Iceland which is bearable when hiking, but today Mother Nature decided to send the rain. We were drenched the moment we stepped out of the car, so we decided to skip the hiking and swim in the hot spring! There is one right by the campsite, so it is easily accessible. We were hoping the rain would clear up, but it never did, so we spent our day wading in the beautiful spring.
When we go back to Iceland, this will be a place we visit again.
Where do I even begin with this beautiful, beautiful place... Fjaðrárgljúfuris by far my favorite place we explored in Western Iceland. Fjaðrárgljúfur is a gorgeous canyon that is about 330 feet deep and over a mile long. It was created many, many moons ago by the erosion of glacier water. Crazy to think a little water created this majestic canyon. Over the years, moss started to grow on everything and just adds to the beauty!
Fjaðrárgljúfur is easy to find because it is about 2 miles off of the Ring Road. This is a popular place, so you will know you made it once you see the influx of cars. There are a few hiking paths that take you around and down the canyon, and there are a few waterfalls! When you go to Iceland, you will see that there are waterfalls everywhere and every single one has a name, so these are not different! If you do decide to hike around Fjaðrárgljúfur, make sure to be careful! Tthe waterfalls are almost impossible to cross.
Can we go back, yet?! I love this place, and it will forever hold a special place in my memory bank. I shed a tear here. At first, I thought it was the mist, but nope, just my emotions getting the best of me. This place took my breath away. Fjaðrárgljúfur was one of the first places we explored when we got to Iceland, and dang, what a great way to start our trip!
Reynisfjara is the infamous black sand beach located by the town of Vík. (I would recommend stopping in Vík. It is a super cute fishing town.) The sand is made from eroded volcanic rock which gives it the black color. Reynisfjara is located off the Ring Road, so don’t worry, you don’t have to go on an F road to visit here!
There is a lot to see here, so get your cameras ready! You have the Reynisdrangar sea stacks which are basalt columns, the Hálsanefshellir sea cave, and the Gardar cliff. BUT before you begin exploring, take note of the ocean. The waves are CRAZY over here. People have died from not paying attention and being reckless. We didn’t end up going to the cave because there was a storm coming in, and the waves were pretty insane.
There is also a cliff nearby where Dyrhólaey Lighthouse is located. It is a short drive to the top of the cliff where you can see the beach for miles. You can also see Dyrholaey Arch from here! We saw people walking on the Arch, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Its roped off for a reason! One you take in the beautiful views of the black sand beach, turn around and take in the view of the multi-colored mountains and glaciers! You can see Myrdalsjokull and Eyjafjallajokull from here. This is actually when we decided to venture to a glacier. We also drove on the beach a little bit where the water was further out and found a pretty cool spot with a cave! We had it all to ourselves. The storm had fully rolled in, so visibility was low. We couldn’t see 10 feet in front of us! That’s when we knew it was time to find a glacier!
There are glaciers all over Iceland, and you can take tours on most of them! We decided not to do a tour, but we did drive up to a lot of them. If we spotted a glacier in the distance, we would find a road that led there using our GPS and take it!
One of our favorite glaciers was Sólheimajökull, which is one of the smaller glaciers in Iceland. You cannot walk on the glaciers if you aren’t on a tour because there is quicksand (say whaaat?!). Sólheimajökull was no different, however, there was a clear area that was safe to climb on. Once you are parked, it is a small hike to the glacier. This glacier is melting at a fast rate which is why there is what looks like a lake next to it. The glacier years ago used to take up the space the lake now owns.
The glacier is SO cool. I have never seen a glacier before, so I may or may not have run to it like a little kid and giggled when I touched it. We obviously climbed on the safe spot. I mean… how could you not?! However, once we saw the signs about quicksand, we ran our butts off.
We were only coming here for a pit stop and not doing a tour, but there are plenty of tours available for Sólheimajökull. There is a glacier walk which is about $90 per person. It takes 3 hours, and the guide brings you all over the glacier. We heard a lot of people raving about it, so if you have time, make sure to do it!
Have you been to Western Iceland? What were your favorite spots? Don’t forget to check out my 7 Beautiful Waterfalls in Western Iceland post!