A stopover in Iceland, the first time in the midst of winter, this time in the middle of the typically temperamental Icelandic Autumn, is an easy option for us. We were on the way to Ireland and with our footloose lifestyle had plenty of time to discover more of Iceland; this time instead of heading to the popular tourist destinations in the south we ventured along the west coast to explore the Snæfellsnes Peninsula before moving on to the remote Westfjords. With the wests mountainous terrain we hoped the studded tires in our crappy little Hyundai i10 rental car would keep us firmly on the ground and keep our plans from coming to a sudden halt!

Looking out from Westfjord’s largest town of Ísafjörður

By the time we eventually hit the open road Andrea’s workday was almost upon us, our concern being that we had no idea of the cellular coverage in the less populated areas north of the capital. Fortunately we only had to make it as far as Borgarnes, a small town located a little over 90 minutes from the airport. As is the norm whenever we arrive in a new country and just prior to leaving the airport we pay whatever we have to to get hold of a SIM card, this time with Vodafone Iceland; a Gig of data with unlimited local calling for 2000 ISK, or approximately $17 – this ended up increasing a further $17 for additional data a few days later! Still, for peace of mind and the reassurance that Andrea will always have connectivity it’s a small price to pay. Also very handy in preventing us from getting too lost!

Leaving Keflavik Airport we zipped straight by the capital, through the almost six kilometre long Hvalfjörður Tunnel (burrowed 165 meters below Hvalfjörður fjord), then on into the well located town of Borgarnes. We didn’t plan on anything more than a night in town but with plenty to do on the roads leading inland we wish we had more time – things to do included a climb of Hafnarfjall Mountain which overlooks town, a visit to the impressive Hraunfossar waterfall, and dare to bathe in Europe’s most powerful hot spring at Deildartunguhver!

Creeks at Hraunfossar waterfall flowing into the Hvítá river

Hafnarfjall mountain overlooking the town of Borgarnes

At slightly over $81 Egils guesthouse was at the upper end of what we payed in Iceland, and not significantly more than we typically pay for non-hostel accommodation throughout Europe. Lacking a full kitchen was its only downfall – this meant that although we had our own paper plates and breakfast food we had no way of preparing dinner. This is where Iceland comes into its own; our first choice seeming outrageously priced, our second a crappy looking pizza place that rated high on Tripadvisor. It was getting late so we went in, sat down, looked at the menu, then looked at each other astonished – two very basic sounding pizzas for a whopping $50. We decided not to order beer, instead opting for tap water! The pizzas didn’t disappoint but certainly not worthy of the price tag.

We always had access to a kitchen from that night onwards!

Snæfellsnes Peninsula
This jutting piece of pretty amazing real estate is home to cute churches, hikes of various distances, lava tubes, hot springs, cliffs, and Icelands most photographed mountain; Kirkjufell. To see the highlights required 2-3 full decent weather days, something we struggled to find. A partial day 1 of our self-drive tour took us to the well photographed black Búðir Church on the south shore before following one of the scenic ‘secondary’ roads that head straight through the middle of the peninsula to the northern coast. Travel on a Friday is not so easy for us when trying to fit in Andrea’s work schedule and Icelands remote attractions! The one attraction we barely had to drive for was the multicolored dancing of lights visible from our hostel – our first non-plane experience of the much anticipated aurora borealis.

The black church of Buðir

Djúpalónssandur, the Black Lava Pearl Beach

Svörtuloft Lighthouse in Snæfellsjökull

As luck would have it Saturday was almost a washout, beginning with probably the windiest hike we’ve ever done; a very short hike that took us to the extinct perfectly formed Saxhóll crater – even the wooden walkway didn’t make the walk to the 100 meter high summit easy. From there the drive through the Snæfellsjökull National Park should have been spectacular but views of the glacier and pretty much everything at even slight elevation were ruined by rain filled clouds! The only stops we made within the park were for a couple of bright orange lighthouses, almost worthy of the few mile detour, and the pebbled beach of Djúpalónssandur. As well as pebbles, the beach has four slightly larger rocks that were used many years ago by fisherman to test their strength: Fullsterkur (full strength) weighing 154kg, Hálfsterkur (half strength) at 100kg, hálfdrættingur (weakling) at 54kg and Amlóði (Useless) 23kg. Amlóði marked the frontier of wimphood, any man who couldn’t lift it was deemed unsuitable for a life as a fisherman.

Continuing on around the peninsula the 2.5km each way hike between the villages of Hellnar and Arnarstapi caught our attention – apparently offering amazing lava landscapes and ocean views. We had to contend with 5kms of wind and driven rain, the only positive being that we got in a bit of exercise. The day ended in Stykkishólmur back across the peninsula at the super comfortable Harbour Hostel.

Magical Kirjkufell mountain and the Kirkjufellsfoss waterfall

From the Snæfellsnes Peninsula the journey would take us north to Westfjords, our initial plan being to take the ferry from Stykkishólmur to Brjánslækur. We paid the $110 at the Seatours office in town on Saturday afternoon, then canceled it on Sunday morning – firstly it sounded far better to be weaned into the Westfjords scenery by car and secondly there had been an expected winter storm on Saturday night which had closed many of the regions roads. The last thing we needed was to arrive at the remote ferry terminal and be stranded with no way of getting to a town.

Turns out the drive was in fact much more fun and we got to leave at a time dictated to by us and not wait around for an early afternoon ferry. We had no idea where we were going as we headed out of town, just we needed to follow the water and go in a northerly direction. It didn’t take long for the roads to turn dicey, almost within minutes of leaving our hostel turning to gravel – this wasn’t ideal for trying to steer clear of windscreen or vehicle body damage! Luckily the 60km dirt road was quiet.

The drive took us around Álftafjörður

Snowplows had done a good job

Scenery we’d have to get used to

A couple hours into the drive and right on the regions edge a decision had to be made; whether to take southern route 60 which winds its way in and out of multiple fjords before climbing some steep and potentially hazardous mountain passes, or route 61 which we found was used by all haulage companies and the road most likely to be completely passable. Cell phone coverage was almost non-existent at this point but provided we found a good spot the limited connectivity did confirm through Iceland’s road.is that the northern route was indeed the better option. Our matchbox sized Hyundai i10 was thankful for the decision!

The weather improved throughout the day and with it so did the scenery, becoming more and more stunning as we made it further towards our goal of Ísafjörður. Although we had no reservation it surely couldn’t be a problem finding accommodation in October in the biggest town of the Westfjords. The backpackers place in town wanted $100 a night, the hotel lacked a shared kitchen, and camping on the edge of a fjord was not an option – this is where trusty airbnb came in, and with a quick enquiry, and an even quicker response at a place in nearby Súðavík we were sorted. The French photographer/ owner couldn’t have made us feel more comfortable and with the entire house to ourselves it was better than expected.

The quaint fishing town of Bíldudalur

Dynjandi waterfall, jewel of the Westfjords

Perfectly located for Hornstrandir Nature Reserve and the surrounding fjords, Ísafjörður was the ideal place to spend a couple of days; fully stocked supermarkets, overpriced coffee and an abundance of excellent photographic opportunities. Whilst summer would definitely have been the better time to be in the region our preference to avoid the masses dictated otherwise. Another visit when the boats are running over to the remote Hornstrandir Nature Reserve will unfortunately have to wait for tourist season!

Running out of time and needing to head south we were somewhat committed to take the less reliable route out of Ísafjörður, an epic drive along yet more fjords before following winding switchbacks on dirt up to rugged snow-covered plateaus, then repeat, and repeat one more time. Icelands road.is website declared the route ‘Slippery’, conditions not appearing too bad to us, but it would definitely make sense not to be attempting these roads when they are classed as black or red!

Westfjord’s autumn landscape

Terrain for studded tyres

It’s surprising how time consuming it is taking in Icelandic scenery, only taking the time out from driving to hike up dramatic Dynjandi waterfall, nevertheless we made good time and arrived in Patreksfjörður just prior to the Northern Lights coming out to play once more. There wasn’t much going on in the regions biggest southern town, the surrounding areas being far more appealing. Even being the people of leisure that we are time was running out and with temperamental weather and the time of year most of the sights were limited – photography was very hit and miss, the puffins had long gone, and seeing anything from the most western point of Europe was unlikely. We stayed 1 night in a perfect self contained airbnb apartment and moved out early the next morning.

A brief stop at oceanfront hot springs close to Flókalundur was pretty much our goodbyes to Westfjords. We were sad to leave the snowy mountainous landscape behind but delving deeper would require summer conditions; undoubtably we had plenty of reasons for a revisit.

Not the most dramatic Aurora Borealis but we’ll take it

For the second time on this trip and unusually for us we had no place to stay on our penultimate night – was planning budget travel beginning to takes its toll? Eventually we found a really nice, expensive for us, farmstay just outside of Búðardalur on the road back south towards the capital. Also for the second time we bit the bullet and ate out, a couple of portions of freshly caught fish and chips for, guess what, a mere $50.

A bit of research and recommendations from other travelers had us change itinerary for our final full day in Iceland, so instead of returning through the Hvalfjörður Tunnel and bumming around overpriced Reykjavik we took the original amazingly scenic, and highly recommended, road around the Hvalfjörður fjord. Half way along the detour was the hike along Glymur canyon and up to Glymur waterfall, Icelands second highest at 198 metres. Other than the river crossing being far too cold and powerful to wade through we bushwhacked our way to the top for a fun couple hour hike.

Our final recommendation if you have an early morning flight out of Keflavik is to stay at Base Hotel/ Hostel, a cheap option that offers self catering and modern decorated rooms. The Base is a couple of recently renovated ex-US military buildings and is located a few minutes from the international airport.

SIM Cards & Coverage
Carrier: Vodafone, Usage: 2GB, Cost: $34
Overall the coverage in Snæfellsnes and the Westfjords, mostly due to the remote off the beaten path roads and attractions, was as we expected; too poor for Andrea to work from the car, but adequate for directions and checking email. When the phones coverage showed LTE or 4G life was good but more often than not either E or No Coverage was displayed!

Arrival: Cincinnati -> Keflavik, Carrier: WOW Air, Cost: $234.99 pp
Departure: Keflavik -> Dublin, Carrier: WOW Air, Cost: $149.96 pp

October 4th – October 12th 2018


I think that with trial and error both my photography and website design are getting progressively better so hopefully these newer, better quality images will inspire you to get out there and travel. Click HERE to see more and if you like the content then feel free to comment.

Subscribe To Our Blog


So you want to know what we’re getting up to whilst traveling around the world right? Yeah, thought you did. So come on, sign up here right now and we’ll be sending you a new blog whenever we get around to writing one.

You have Successfully Subscribed!