Europe Great Outdoors Iceland

Struggling to plan your Iceland itinerary? Start with this 48-hour trip through the west.

How do you begin to write an Iceland itinerary? What a tough job. There’s already been so much said about Iceland, not to mention there are already enough beautiful photos. So how can my story rise above the rest? Iceland has been well and truly discovered but I can offer this: let me tell you my story, and give you my tips in the way that I do best – by showing you my photography and telling you my travel tale in a light-hearted way.

But first – let’s start the story halfway through. 

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West Iceland Itinerary – Day Three

Definitely feeling the effects of staying in sub-par accommodation the previous two nights, we pack up our stuff and hit-the-road-Jack. We’ve got new accommodation to check into and we’re so excited about being in a new part of Iceland: the west. I remark to Lisa that our luggage seems to have doubled in size. Either that or our tinny, little Hyundai i10 has shrunk overnight. I’m feeling like I’ve shrunk, too. Lisa and I have only been eating two meals a day and I can feel my jeans slipping around my waist. I begin to think about the possibility of calling my first book ‘The Iceland Diet’ which will be a best seller. Want results? Not being able to fully afford food on holidays is a good start. The title will clearly relate to my personal frugality. It’s not Iceland’s fault… I’m en-route to Canada and I’m not even ‘really’ supposed to be here, so I’d better pinch those pennies.

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Lisa shuts the boot door and confirms that she’s doing today’s 3.5 hour drive from Hella to Budardalur. I tell her that’s cool and she slips the key into the ignition. *Insert no sound of tinny Hyundai starting up.* Yes, that’s right. Nothing.

‘Phoebe, did you forget to turn the lights off again last night?’ she says. ‘Woops.’ I say as I bare my teeth in anguish. I know I’m in trouble and Lisa gives me the kind of look as if she won’t scold me herself.

”Welcome to Avis, this is (insert Icelandic name) Hildimundur Einarsson, how may I help you?”

Well, let’s just say the conversation lasts a mere 34 seconds as it is quickly determined that our car wasn’t turned off in P drive last night, but rather in D drive. And apparently, small tinny cars prefer to start in P drive. Who knew?

And we’re off – we’re getting out of the south and heading into West Iceland, baby! Besides a quick detour in Reykjavik to check out the hustle and bustle of the capital city, we basically do it in one trip.

Until this point, we have successfully conquered the GPS and have arrived at all locations on our West Iceland itinerary unscathed. However, we fear the directions for today’s accommodation the most. Why? Mainly because the instructions are written like an old, vague fable where we must kiss a frog and answer a troll’s three important questions under a bridge to even think about getting the key. As it turns out, the Airbnb has keyless entry so we evade that predicament.

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We manage to make it to the right area. By this point, we’ve lost reception and we are in a very beautiful but very rural area. I spot what looks like a farmhouse in the distance. ‘That’s it!’ I exclaim elatedly. ‘Ya sure?’ asks Lisa. ‘Yeah yeah trust me. It has the same red roof. Let’s go there.’

As we approach the ‘property’, it becomes clear that this is more of a working farm with live animals inside. I realise we’re staying in a farmhouse, but this building seems a little too ‘farmy’.

‘Do you think we’re staying INside with the animals?’ Lisa gasped. ‘Gosh no! Let’s just drive over to that other house and barn.’ I offer.

By this point, the farmer has become aware of the intrusion, thanks to the barking of his collies. I guess he doesn’t often get visitors in his neck of the woods, not to mention two young, perplexed ladies. He approaches our running car. Feeling very proud, I launch into conversation. ‘Hi! Do you have an Airbnb room? We think we’re staying here for a few nights!’ I say with an innocent grin. ‘No. I don’t think you are.’ He grimaces.

After sharing a bit of a communal laugh and apologising for our brazenness, we’re on our way – equipped with the freshest directions in town, which are to continue driving one and a half more minutes.

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We arrive and not a moment too soon. The sun will be setting shortly and we need to set up shop. But before we get down to business in the kitchen, we make use of the outdoor hot pool which uses natural hot spring water from the ground. Pure luxury, I think to myself as I feel my body float to the top. There’s something wonderful about having a cold face above and a warm body under the water.

Airbnb outdoor hot pool west Iceland

West Iceland Itinerary – Day Four

Time to seize the day. We’ve got some wonderful tips from West Iceland to follow and we need to wake up nice and early to make sure it’s all possible today. On our agenda is a small hike to the top of a crater, a visit to the most powerful hot springs in Europe, a walk through a beautiful cascading series of lava waterfalls and then a tour with Into the Glacier to Langjökull, Iceland’s second largest glacier.

Grabrok Crater

Guide to Iceland: Grabrok

Grabrok crater sticks out around 170 meters above the ground and is easily recognised from the road and fully accessible via a footpath with steps. The last eruption took place nearby about a thousand years ago at Hnappadalur. This crater is the largest of three in the area and was formed about 3400 years ago in a fissure eruption.

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It’s a remarkably easy walk to the top, and I’m glad we added it to our West Iceland itinerary. I note to myself that I must be getting physically fit and I feel proud for walking to the top of a crater in Iceland. Then I remember that it’s only 170M to the top and give myself a reality check.

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While perched on the above rock, I smell the air of opportunity. I am supposed to be flying directly to Canada right now but due to my wit and brilliance, I discovered months ago that Iceland Air offers a free stopover for up to seven days. In a private moment, I ask myself if I’ll ever be able to return to Iceland. I am then interrupted by what sounds like 180 middle-aged Americans who have arrived by bus. My quiet moment is over and I must press on.

Hiking path Grabrok Iceland

Krauma Hot Pools and Deildartunguhver Thermal Spring

We pull into location number two and I instantly regret not booking a ticket to get into these hot pools back when I was planning out my West Iceland itinerary. Unlike photos of the Blue Lagoon, this place looks calm and civilised. And void of selfie sticks. In fact, I only see a local couple in one pool and their eyes are shut as they take in the last possible rays of the year. ‘Could this be the definition of nirvana?’ I ask myself.

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So envious are we about not having access to the pools, that we decide to go inside and look at Krauma’s restaurant. Allured by the modern furnishings and tapestries, we opt to splurge and have a real coffee. It goes down a treat. Sitting by the main window, looking at Deildartunguhver and her rising steam, I determine this trip to already be a success.

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After the coffee, we decide to check out what Deildartunguhver is all about.

Deildartunguhver is Europe’s most powerful hot spring. It provides 180 litres/sec of 100°C hot water. Most of the water used for central heating in the towns of Borgarnes and Akranes is taken from Deildartunguhver. If you take a shower anywhere within a 65 km radius of the spring, you have already bathed in the hot water from this powerful spring!

I read this information and decide that I have already bathed in this fine water – back at home at our Airbnb.


Safety first, kids!

This place is boiling hot. And when I say ‘boiling’, I mean it. Stay behind these barriers, kids – for good reason. To play it safe, we don’t hang around for too long. We’ve got new waterfalls to see on our West Iceland itinerary.

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I’ve entered a wonderland of autumnal colours. And it’s definitely already a major trip highlight. This place is a strange cross between the Plitvice Lakes in Croatia and something out of Avatar. And it’s Mother Nature on steroids. She’s bringing all the colours out to impress!

We find a nice rock and sit down to have a picnic. The sun is shining and with these milky blue water rapids and the burning autumn colours, it’s one of the more scenic spots we’ve eaten a sandwich.

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Hraunfossar – Lava Falls – are beautiful and unusual natural phenomena. Clear, cold springs of subterranean water seep through the lava and run as tiny waterfalls and rapids into the Hvita River.

West Iceland – Lava Falls

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west iceland, iceland itinerary, off the beaten path iceland

Barnafoss – Children’s Fall

Above Hraunfossar (lava falls) there is another famous waterfall called Barnafoss (children’s fall). According to a legend, Barnafoss takes its name from two children who fell into the waterfall.

The story is something like this: a long time ago there was a widow living on a farm nearby with her two young children.

One day the widow went to a Christmas service but left her children at home. When the widow came back from the evening service, her children had disappeared. People went searching and found their footsteps leading to the stone arch over the river.

Their mother had the arch destroyed, promising that no one would ever cross the falls alive again.

Legend of Barnafoss

Standing at Barnafoss rapids, a short stroll after Hraunfossar.

It’s almost time to make our way back to the car so that we can make the eight-minute drive to Husafell for our ‘Into the Glacier’ tour, which absolutely had to be added to our West Iceland itinerary. We take one last look at Hraunfossar, complete with its own cafe and post-box. Feeling grateful for how this day is panning out, we make a move.

Husafell to Langjökull

Into the Glacier
Tel: +354 578-2550

Once we arrive at the small village of Husafell, a friendly Polish man, who works for Into the Glacier, picks us up in his transport bus. He’s taking us to the base of the glacier. First, he warns, we have a ‘slightly bumpy’ 35-minute ride.

There’s no need to put this part of our West Iceland itinerary into words other than saying that I think my intestines have now moved to a different part of my body, thanks to that ride. Iceland’s terrain has become very moon-like. If I’m not going to fly to the moon one day, this might be the closest I ever get – with a bus from the 80’s and a Polish man at the helm. Close enough.

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west iceland, iceland itinerary, off the beaten path iceland

We arrive at the base and do the usual check-in like showing our tickets and getting equipment. If you’re planning on adding this experience to your own West Iceland itinerary, you’ll want to pack warmly – see my list of the best winter travelling gear to get started.

For those ill-prepared, it’s possible to take a blue ice jacket and some snow boot covers. Pros: You end up with pretty cool pictures as the blue jacket really suits the scenery. Cons: You lose cred among staff members for being a ‘typical tourist’ who can’t handle a temperate climate. As I’m already wearing suitable clothing, I take nothing and soon regret it after seeing how cool my friend Lisa looks in her get-up.

Going into the glacier

Our tour guide Ingimar tells us a little bit of information about Langjökull. He states that it is about 50 kilometres (31 miles) long and up to 20 kilometres (12 miles) wide, and the ice is around 580 metres (1,903 feet) deep at its thickest. The glacier reaches the highest point in its northernmost part, which is called Baldjökull, rising around 1,450 metres (4,757 feet) above sea level.

It’s time to go in! Ingimar makes us put on ‘crampons’. Being a girl who grew up in hot humidity, it’s the first time I’ve heard that word.

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Obviously, the first time one is inside a glacier, one needs to touchy-touchy. Even though the roof is dripping, I still take as many photos as I can. Ingimar also tells us that the difference between a big chunk of ice and a glacier is that a glacier is forever moving and changing shape – hence the drips. He also explains that this glacier has a temperate climate – meaning no matter if it’s below freezing outside or a hot summer’s day, this glacier will always be a neat zero degrees inside.

The glacier tour is over within an hour and we’re allowed to play around outside before the bus departs. There are two huge black crows hanging around and we enjoy photographing them and the beautiful view.

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Like my clothing?

Jacket: Stutterheim / Backpack: Sandqvist / Beanie: Vai-ko
See my favorite travel brands.

One can only have fun with crows for so long, so we decide it’s time to head home. Day one in the west of Iceland has been an absolute treat – but we are, you guessed it: pooped.

West Iceland Itinerary – Day Five

The Snaefellsnes Peninsula

We won’t sugar coat it – we’re starting to feel a little tired. The trip is over in a couple of days and we’ve already done nearly 2000 kilometres. This is our last full day in the country but nevertheless, we decide to take it easy, stopping whenever we feel like it. The West Iceland tourism office has given us a bunch of hotspots in this part of the country and the first place we want to stop at is Ytri Tunga to see the seals. But first we must decide which way to drive.

Google Maps is telling us to take a little shortcut but makes no mention of roads vs ‘not’ roads. We embark – soon to discover the terrain we’re likely to be stuck on for hours. It has its upsides though. It’s just us on the road, no one else. And the scenery is pretty unusual.

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You heard it here first, folks. Road number 54 from Budardarlur to the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is rocky and best suited for a 4X4 mainly because you’ll be on it for a long time. If you’re in a small car like us (below), you’re best driving the long way on a real gravel road from Borganes.

Finally, road 54 is coming to an end. We see this beautiful farm conveniently perched right under a unique mountain range so we stop to take some photos. west iceland, iceland itinerary, off the beaten path iceland

Road 54 turns into road 55 and we keep going on the rocky path. Eventually, we turn right onto a gravel intersection which we believe is the beginning of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula and we’re ready to rock-n-roll again. This drive is immediately scenic and we’re on our way to see some seals.

Ytri Tunga – seal watching

A wonderful tip! If you like watching seals, you’d better make it down to this little bay and catch a glimpse of them.

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The walk back to the car along the dunes presents mystical scenes such as the below photo. If you haven’t felt like you’re in a movie scene yet, you will now. Elves and fairies, anyone?

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Budir Black Church

The first Búðakirkja was built on the spot in 1703, but was eventually deconstructed due to the area lack of parishioners. The current church was reconstructed in 1987 after a single member of the church lobbied to have the chapel brought back. Budir Black Church

Besides the obvious fact that this church is a very popular tourist stop for any West Iceland itinerary, you would come here to take some unusual photos. This church defines the word minimalism and its presence here conjures up the desire to take photos from every angle. west iceland, iceland itinerary, off the beaten path iceland, budir black church

While at the church, I make a point of looking around at the surrounding scenery. I can’t believe the mountain range behind the church. (Pictured below.) It’s as if someone came along with some little paintbrushes and did a watercolour painting.

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Arnarstapi for lunch

If you’re looking for food by now, you’re best off heading to Arnarstapi for lunch. Here at this seaside town, you can find all kinds of food. I opt for a food truck offering fresh fish’n’chips but they also have cafes and restaurants in the area. This little town was a recommendation by a fellow Instagrammer from Iceland.


Kirkjufell Mountain

Sigh – probably one of THE most photographed spots on any West Iceland itinerary. But sadly this afternoon’s weather isn’t playing nicely with us. We arrive at the car park, and for the first time on the whole trip, we can’t get a spot. While looking at the mountain, we decide it’s nice but we don’t understand the similarities between what’s online and in reality. (We later discover we should’ve gone to a different part to get a different perspective. But hey, here’s a photo from the back of the mountain! No tourists here.)

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It’s specifically at this part of the country where I think to myself…. ‘it looks a little bit like the Faroe Islands here!’ Anyone else agree with me?

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Sunset in West Iceland

As we make our long drive back to Borganes and then up north to our Airbnb, we notice the weather is completely different. There is the most miraculous sunset and it’s turning out to be quite a beautiful end to our West Iceland itinerary.

During this sunset, I realise that the weather can be everchanging here, sunlight plays a huge role in people’s moods and for the first time in my life, I realise how a strong sunset can have the power to alter your perspective of nature.

I am amazed at how the place we’ve been staying the last few nights suddenly looks like Uluru in Australia.

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Thank you

Thank you very much for making it this far along my West Iceland itinerary post. It delights me to have readers – people who care about the travel stories I tell. I really can’t wait to hear what you think of this one 🙂

Thank you to West Iceland for the wonderful tips and spots and for organising a tour through the glacier. I don’t know I would’ve found half these spots without your help and now thanks to that, my readers have a full 2-day West Iceland itinerary fully planned for them.

If you like my work, please do support me. You can follow me here for Instagram, here for Facebook or if you want to be part of my positive travel community, you can join the Team Kaptain Kenny group on Facebook.

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  • Reply
    October 9, 2018 at 6:15 pm

    Hey Phoebe!
    Funny, well written & amazing photographs!
    Iceland has a beautiful scenery, glad the trip went well!
    Gonna save this! 😀

    • Reply
      October 9, 2018 at 6:42 pm

      Thank you, Jyotsna for the kind words of support! SOOOO good to have readers who jump on board and read it from start to finish and even leave me a sweet message 🙂

  • Reply
    The Travelling Frenchy
    October 9, 2018 at 6:42 pm

    Your photos are absolutely amazing! This part of Iceland seems to be incredible! I would love to visit one day!

    • Reply
      October 9, 2018 at 6:48 pm

      Thanks so much you gorgeous one! Your support and readership here means a lot to me 🙂 I hope you make it to Iceland ASAP! xxx Phoebe

  • Reply
    October 9, 2018 at 7:28 pm

    Really nice post and awesome photos. I’ll keep this in mind for when we plan our trip next year.

    • Reply
      October 9, 2018 at 7:34 pm

      Thank you so much for letting me know you like it! Means a lot to actually have readers!!

  • Reply
    Denae Kohler
    October 10, 2018 at 1:07 pm

    As always, you are a wonderful writer, photographer, and adventurer! I love you posts and always feel like I finish knowing more than when I started.

    • Reply
      October 10, 2018 at 1:13 pm

      This is an amazing piece of feedback! Thank you so much lovely Denae. Means a lot that my work gets received like that!

  • Reply
    Kait Smith
    October 11, 2018 at 6:44 pm

    Hey Phoebe. Just spent an enjoyable 20 minutes reading through your blog. I’ve never been to Iceland and found it fascinating. Your writing style is really engaging and I love that you give an honest view of things. t obviously goes without saying that your photography is amazing too. Can’t wait to read more.

    • Reply
      October 11, 2018 at 6:45 pm

      This has seriously made my day! I’m so honoured that you took the time to really read my entire piece – gosh it says a lot about the quality of my readers!

  • Reply
    October 23, 2018 at 4:11 am

    I need to Iceland immediately! Your pictures blow my mind!

    • Reply
      November 16, 2018 at 2:20 pm

      You legend Jake! That’s a yes from me 🙂

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