Hvalfjordur: The Ultimate Day Trip from Reykjavik

Hvalfjorður is located in west Iceland, just north of Reykjavík. Often missed by the travelers driving around Iceland via The Ring Road because of a tunnel that goes under the fjord, Hvalfjorður is full of interesting sightseeing and culture. There is a very famous hike toward the second highest waterfall in Europe: Glymur. Plus, the road is absolutely gorgeous, and driving along the fjord is a pure pleasure. Here is a quick guide for the perfect day trip from Reykjavík to Hvalfjorður.

Julien Achache
21. November 2018

Overview of the fjord of Hvalfjordur

Hvalfjordur is full of gems of all kinds that impress any traveler. If you are on a road trip, looking for nice places to make stops at, , Hvalfjordur is perfect for you. If you are into hiking, you will find one of the most beautiful hiking trails of Iceland. If you think that a trip abroad cannot be whole without a bit of culture, do not worry, Hvalfjordur is packed with historical landmarks. Also, except for the Glymur Waterfall hike, everything described in this article is doable by a family, people of all ages and there’s no need for any hiking equipment. Not even hiking boots. Hvalfjordur is pretty far away from any city, making it a perfect location for northern lights hunting.

Spotting the auroras in Hvalfjordur

For this journey, let’s consider that the fjord starts at the beginning of the road 47: Hvalfjarðarvegur. One has to drive 33 kilometers (20,5 miles) for approximately half an hour from Reykjavík and turn right before the tunnel that cuts through the fjord: Hvalfjarðargöng. Few facts about it: the Hvalfjordur tunnel opened in 1998, and is 5,8 kilometers long (3,6 miles). After twenty years of service, passage became free of charge.

If you skip the tunnel, driving around the fjord takes around an hour for 71 kilometers (44 miles). So basically, a day trip from Reykjavík as described below durates in total a bit more than 2 hours of driving for 150 kilometers (93 miles).

Most of the places I will mention in this article are not clearly marked on the road. Sometimes even not at all, so I will be as clear as I can to help you finding them. Also, remember to always question the accuracy (and knowledge) of your GPS. If you are traveling by car (most likely) it will take you a full day.

One must also be aware that there are no proper restaurants or grocery stores on the way, at least none indicated. So it is better to bring your own food. Also it is necessary to note that there is only one gas station. If you follow the itinerary described here, from south to north, it will be at the end of your trip.

Birds, black sand beaches and a lighthouse: Hvalfjarðareyri

Once you are at the beginning of the road 47, you will just have to drive 8 kilometers (5 miles) to reach the first recommended stop. The place is called Hvalfjarðareyri, you have to take a small path on your left and slowly drive down to a car park. The way is then blocked by rocks and you will have to walk from there. Hvalfjarðareyri is not on google maps, but there is a small sign indicating it on the road. If you miss it, there is a second access just a bit further, also indicated.

Once there, you can walk toward a tiny orange lighthouse that you probably spotted from the road. For this you can choose to progress on a path between bushes and high weeds or on the beach on your left. The place is a bird reserve, and was packed with a tremendous number of birds the first time I was there. This evoked mixed feelings; my adult brain was quite worried, while my childish instincts made me clearly amazed in the middle of all those volatiles. During my second visit, in November, I could still spot some birds, but way fewer.

While walking on the path, you will see on your right a large area, often flooded. On a calm , and nice weather’s day, you will see the most gorgeous reflection, with the hills surrounding the fjord being perfectly mirrored in the water.

At the end of the path, you reach a small lighthouse. For sure, I would not describe this one as beautiful; there are plenty of more impressive lighthouses in Iceland. But it is really a cute one. It is tiny, looks old and abandoned, though it is powered by a brand new solar panel. Its pronounced orange tint strongly contrasts with the color of the sea and the surroundings.

Flora of Iceland, daytrip to HvalfjordurTiny orange lighthouse in HvalfjordurWater reflection in Icelandic fjordBeach of Hvalfjordur, full day trip

Once there, I recommend you to take a quick walk on the beach to your right before heading back to your vehicle.

The rock of Steðji (Anvil)

As for the previous location, do not rely on Google maps to locate this place, it will not find it. When you are driving on the road, the path leading to steðji will be located on your right and indicated by a sign written in red on white background.

Stedji is not the kind of place one will stay for a very long time. But it is still worth a stop. You will drive up a hill where you will find the car park. First thing you notice is this very strange rock, which looks like it has just been put there (by a troll?). This is actually why the place is named Steðji, which means anvil in Icelandic.

But the best thing about this place is without a doubt the view you get on the whole fjord from up there. During your stroll along the bay, you will find many resting areas offering a panorama on the fjord.

Hvalfjordur PanoramaFjord of Iceland near Reykjavik

Hvitanes: Looking back in history in Hvalfjordur

Every time I drive along the Hvalfjarðarvegur, I make a a stop in Hvitanes. There, one will find the remains of former British and US installations from the Second World War. There is a lot ruins of bunkers and buildings that are still standing and also a now completely rusty old pier.

Hvitanes is actually located almost at the very bottom of the fjord, which provides awesome panoramas on the mountains around and the ocean. One can spend quite a long time playing with the perspectives while staring at the landscapes through old windows.

Hvalfjordur literally translates to “the whale fjord”, although, it is highly unlikely to spot a whale there. But in Hvitanes, I once had the visit of a seal! So keep your eyes open.

This time again, do not rely on Google maps which will indicate Hvitanes on the northern bank on the fjord. It is actually just a few kilometers after Stedji, the place mentioned before.

Perspective in the fjord through ruins of WW2 in HvalfjordurFormer military base in Hvitanes, IcelandHvitanes, Old rusty pier

Glymur, Second tallest waterfall of Iceland

This is the first place in this guide that you will actually easily find using Google Maps. Because we already have a very good article about the hike to The Glymur Waterfall, I will not describe it in details here. We also have day tours to the Glymur Waterfall.

Basically, the hike takes between 2 and 3 hours and is not an easy walk, even if it is doable by most of people; it might still be really exhausting for lot of them. It is a summer hike as winter conditions make it inaccessible.

If your physical condition or the weather does not prevent you from doing this hike, you must definitely include it in this day trip. The main reason, to me, beside the beauty of the site itself, is that this is the best moment of this day trip to break the routine of driving, stopping, staring, driving again, and so on. For a few hours’ straight, you will be immersed in pure nature. The road 47 might be scenic, it is also good to leave the car for a while!

Glymur is the second tallest waterfall of IcelandBird watching by the cliffs of the glymur waterfall

Ship wrecks, Sea Sheperd and whaling company

Whaling is a sensitive subject anywhere in the world, but especially in Iceland, as the whales are still hunted, by a sole company named Hvalur. Most of the whales that are hunted do not end up on Icelanders’ table, but their meat is sold to touristic restaurants and exported to other countries like Japan. Hence the sensitiveness of the issue, I will not express any personal opinion about this matter, when I describe the following historical landmark.

In 1986, The Sea Sheperd sank two ships belonging to the Hvalur company. The event occurred in Reykjavík but they also damaged a processing factory in Hvalfjordur. This station still exists and is still used nowadays. The ships were brought back to land and they never operated again. This action is considered as the only “terrorist attack” ever perpetrated in Iceland.

Obviously, the ships are also not indicated on Google maps. Also, they are not easily accessible. A bit before driving in front of huge white tanks on your right, you will notice a red and white sign indicating: Bláskeggsá. The path there leads you to a little bridge over a river and a sign depicting the history of this bridge. In my opinion, this site isn’t very interesting. Although, you should park there in order to reach the ship wrecks. Once your car is safely stationed, you must cross the road, then come two options. First option is to walk a few meters straight ahead and enjoy the view on the boats and the fjord from up the cliffs. The second option is that, a bit down, on your right, you will see a very narrow walking path, leading straight to the beach where the boats are now parked. From there, you can easily walk around the ships.

The boats are still private property, and signs tell you that they are monitored via CCTV. So, despite how tempting it might seem, do not venture on the boats. I really struggled to refrain myself from a quick climbing session.

Ship wrecks sunk by the sea sheperd in hvalfjordurIn 1986, Sea Sheped sank two ships belonging to the whaling company of Iceland

Enjoy the silence and peacefulness of Þórisstaðavatn (Thorisstadavatn)

This is the last stop on this day trip to Hvalfjordur. But not the least, Thorristadavatn is the biggest lake in the area, but two other ones are also there: Eyrarvatn and Geitabergsvatn. The three lakes are not located exactly on Hvalfjordur, but the detour to reach them from the main road is barely a few kilometers.

The area is very popular among fishermen, one can expect to catch char and trout, occasionally a salmon. If you are not into fishing, other activities can be found in the vicinity, such as golf course, horse rental and swimming pool. If you intend to stay overnight, there are plenty of options, including camping, cottages, and hotels.

But despite the activities offered, I would mainly recommend to just chill and relax. The area could not be quieter, the lakes are gorgeous and it is definitely a wonderful place for a picnic.

If you have enough time, do not hesitate to wander around each of the three lakes, they are all unique, then head back to Hvalfjordur through the valley of Svinadalur (well indicated).

Popular for fishing, Thorrisstadavatn is also the perfect place to chillBeach by a lake in Hvalfjordur

After that, you will just have to take the tunnel of Hvalfjordur to head back to Reykjavik

Farm, waterfall, river: What else can be done in Hvalfjordur with a bit more time

Everything mentioned above makes what I would describe as my ideal day trip from Reykjavik in Hvalfjordur. Obviously, there is much more to do, and much more to see. One might want to spend more than a day there, or consider this program is a bit short if the hike to the Glymur waterfall is skipped. So below are a few ideas of visits to add to the ones previously mentioned. I must acknowledge that I have not visited most of them. They are sorted in the same order as before: From the southern part of the fjord to the northern one.

Night under the stars, northern lights and hot pot.

There is a place in Mosfellsbær, called Panorama Glass Lodge. It consists of private accommodation by the fjord, with a private outdoor hot tub, a stunning view, walls and ceiling made of glass. The place is far enough from Reykjavík to get to see a sky exempt of light pollution, allowing you to gaze at the stars and northern lights either from your bed or from your private hot tub.

I must admit that I had no idea that this place existed in Hvalfjordur before I started to write this article. When I discovered it, I immediately tried to book a room for my girlfriend’s birthday. Unfortunately, it was fully booked. I checked later dates, and there were no availabilities before April, and I am writing those lines in November. Therefore, if you are planning to book, make sure to do so in advance.

I must say that I am usually not into luxurious and fancy things, especially when it comes to accommodation. But when I learned about this place, I was just completely seduced. I could not book today, but I definitely will book a night there someday.

River and rapids

A bit after the fjord begins, the road becomes a bridge and passes over a river with small rapids. The place is called Laxa i Kjos. By the bridge, there is a parking and resting area. It is definitely a nice place for a photo stop, the panorama over the river is gorgeous, and if there are a few fishermen, it will add a nice life scene to your pictures.

Buy beef meat directly from the farmer

Just after Laxa i Kjos, there is a sign indicating the direction to Thingvellir National Park. There is also a sign with “Nautakjöt” written on it. It means “beef meat”. Lamb meat is really popular in Iceland, but this beef is excellent. The farm is open every day, meat is affordable, produced right here in Hvalfjordur (you will see the cows as you drive along the fjord), so if the weather is nice and you are planning a barbecue either for lunch or dinner, do not hesitate to drive the extra 2 kilometers to the farm.

The Fossá waterfall

There is a small waterfall a few kilometers later. It is situated right next to the fjord, and visible from the road, therefore, you cannot miss it. Also it is well indicated, and findable on Google Maps. You can either park right next to the waterfall or reach it after a short walk in the woods. In addition to the waterfall, you can also visit some ruins.

The War and Peace Museum

The War and Peace museum is located in a complex which also includes a campsite, a playground for children and a swimming pool with hotpots.

The museum tells about the role of Iceland in the Second World War and the occupation in Hvalfjordur. The museum is open only by an appointment. For further information, I encourage you to visit the War and Peace Museum Website.

Akranes

If you do not head straight to Reykjavík, you can have a quick stop in Akranes, at the very end of the fjord, by the ocean. At first glance, Akranes does not seem that attractive. But if you pay more attention, you will discover it has a lot to offer.

Akranes hosts several museums, most of them being located in one area: Garðar. It is also famous for its two lighthouses, right next to each other which are very often photographed by Northern Lights hunters. And also, less known, but during summer, one can actually relax and chill in Langisandur, a beach by the ocean.