Iceland Holidays

Call Us: 1800 814 001

Hvalfjörður: Iceland’s Forgotten Fjord

Hvalfjörður: Iceland's Forgotten Fjord

Tucked away in the west of Iceland lies Hvalfjörður, a fjord whose name translates charmingly to ‘Whale Fjord’. Shrouded in scenic beauty and tranquillity, this once-bustling nautical thoroughfare played a pivotal role during wartime in the mid-20th century. Today, however, with the advent of the undersea tunnel that allows travellers to bypass it, Hvalfjörður has slipped into a peaceful obscurity, ready to welcome the intrepid explorers who wish to encounter its undisturbed splendour.

As you wander along Hvalfjörður’s meandering shoreline, the waters glisten with the reflections of steep mountains that seemingly plunge directly into the fjord’s depths. This setting provides a serene backdrop for a range of outdoor activities and historical sites. Those who seek the allure of nature can discover quiet hiking trails, cascading waterfalls, and even remnants of the fjord’s former significance.

Although Hvalfjörður is less trod by the typical tourist trail, its hidden charms offer a reprieve from the often-frequented sights of Iceland. Your journey through these parts will reward you with insights into a slice of Icelandic history and culture, as well as countless moments of awe in the face of boundless natural beauty. Whether it’s a leisurely drive around the fjord, pausing to indulge in the local lore and legends, or simply admiring the dance of light on the water, Hvalfjörður awaits to reveal its quiet charm to you.

Geography and Formation

Hvalfjörður is a testament to Iceland’s dynamic landscape, offering a unique blend of geological formations, diverse vegetation, and a wide array of wildlife.

Fjord Characteristics

You’ll find Hvalfjörður just north of Reykjavík, stretching 30 kilometres inland from the coastline. Depth wise, it reaches down to about 84 metres at its deepest point. This fjord is characterised by its calm waters, steep cliffs, and the former presence of an abundant herring industry.

Nearby Mountains

Surrounding Hvalfjörður, a series of mountains underscore the fjord’s majestic nature. For instance, the highest peak in the area, Akrafjall, rises to 643 metres, offering stunning views over the fjord and its green vegetation. In contrast, Hvalfell is a relatively smaller mountain but equally notable for its geological history.

Vegetation and Wildlife

Your experience in Hvalfjörður wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the lush vegetation that ranges from mosses and lichen to hardier conifers. The area boasts:

  • Mosses and Lichens: Blanketing the lower altitude rocky landscapes.
  • Green Vegetation: Including various grasses and shrubs, commonly found in the heathlands.
  • Conifers: Scattered throughout the region, contributing to the green hues of the landscape.

The wildlife where mountains meet the sea includes seabirds, making their homes on the cliffs, and various land mammals that inhabit the rolling hills and valleys covered with vegetation.

Historical Significance

A long highway in Iceland

Hvalfjörður has a rich and varied history, from being a hub of the whaling industry to playing a crucial role during World War II. Get ready to explore the remnants of its past that still echo through the fjord’s deep waters and rugged landscapes.

Whaling Stations

The fjord was once home to a thriving whaling industry. From the early 20th century, large whaling stations dotted the shoreline, processing thousands of barrels of whale oil. The remains of these stations offer a glimpse into the industry that was once economically significant to Iceland.

  • Location: Hvalfjörður (various stations along the fjord)
  • Operational Years: Early 1900s to 1989
  • Significance: Major source of employment and economic driver in Iceland

British Naval Base

During World War II, the British Royal Navy established a naval base in Hvalfjörður due to its strategic location and natural defences. This site was implemented by the Allies to combat German naval activity in the North Atlantic.

  • Operational Period: 1941 to 1944
  • Allied Usage: Convoy protection, naval repair, and refuelling operations
  • Legacy: Contributed significantly to the Allied war effort

War and Peace Museum

This museum commemorates Hvalfjörður’s wartime history, once the location of an abandoned military base. Here, you can walk through exhibits that bring the story of Iceland’s role in the conflict to life, highlighting the Allies’ presence and the change from wartime to peacetime.

  • Exhibits Include: Military artefacts, historical photographs, and personal accounts
  • Focus: Education on the history and impact of World War II on Iceland and Hvalfjörður
  • Museum Experience: Interactive and engaging displays for visitors

Natural Attractions

Iceland’s Hvalfjörður, often overlooked, is a treasure chest of nature’s wonders. From the majestic Glymur Waterfall to the geothermal warmth of secluded hot springs, you’re in for an unforgettable experience.

Glymur Waterfall

Glymur is one of Iceland’s tallest waterfalls, cascading beautifully from a height of almost 200 metres. You can witness this stunning fall after a rewarding hike, with views that capture the raw beauty of water in motion against the backdrop of rugged landscape.

Botnsá River and Valley

The Botnsá River carves through the valley, offering serene spots perfect for kayaking. As you paddle, the calm waters juxtapose against the dynamic valley, providing an intimate perspective of nature’s harmony. The valley is also home to Botnsdalur, a hidden gem that boasts diverse flora and a chance to spot seals at Hvítanes.

Hiking Trails

Hvalfjörður’s trails are a hiker’s delight, with routes offering varying levels of difficulty. A popular trail leads to Glymur, where you are rewarded with panoramic views. Along the way, nature reveals itself, with the chance to observe the local seals and the evocative landscapes enveloping Morsárjökull Glacier.

Botnsdalur Valley

A hike through Botnsdalur Valley surrounds you with Iceland’s quintessential natural beauty. The valley offers stunning views and a tranquil escape from the bustle of city life. Look out for the nearby hot springs, where you can relax and soak in nature’s warmth.

Hot Springs

Tucked away in the region are several hot springs, delivering nature’s own spa experience. After a day of hiking and exploring, the soothing embrace of these geothermal wonders is the perfect way to unwind. These hot spots are less crowded, allowing for a peaceful retreat as you revel in the beauty of Hvalfjörður.

Outdoor Activities

A person hiking over the foggy hills

Hvalfjörður offers a wealth of outdoor activities that cater to your adventurous spirit throughout the year. Whether you’re donning your hiking boots or setting up a tent, there’s something for every outdoor enthusiast in this majestic fjord.

Hiking and Trekking

As you lace up your boots and embark on the trails, Hvalfjörður beckons with its unspoiled terrain. Summer hikes are particularly splendid, with extended daylight hours providing ample time to explore. The hike to Leggjabrjótur, a notable ravine, is a must-try trek with its dramatic landscapes. Remember to dress appropriately, as the weather can be unpredictable.

  • Recommended Gear:
    • Sturdy hiking boots
    • Weather-resistant clothing
    • Navigation tools (map and compass)

Birdwatching and Seal Spotting

Your binoculars will come in handy when you come to Hvalfjörður for birdwatching and seal spotting. The fjord’s rich biodiversity is on full display during summer, where migratory birds can be seen nesting. Meanwhile, while lounging on the shores or quietly waiting by the sea, you may catch sight of seals going about their day.

  • Notable Species to Spot:
    • Eider ducks
    • Puffins (seasonal)
    • Harbour seals

Camping and Fishing

Pitching a tent under the Icelandic sky is an experience like no other. Camping in Hvalfjörður offers a serene escape, particularly in the warm months. Anglers will also find joy in the fjord’s clear waters, teeming with fish. Whether it’s summer or winter, the adventure doesn’t stop—though you’ll need to be well-prepared for cold weather conditions during the latter.

  • Essentials for Camping and Fishing:
    • Tent with good insulation
    • Warm sleeping bags
    • Fishing permit and equipment

Access and Transportation

Access to Hvalfjörður is straightforward, thanks to modern infrastructure and reliable transportation options. You have a choice between a scenic drive around the fjord or a quick tunnel route that bypasses the fjord altogether.

Hvalfjarðargöng Tunnel

Hvalfjarðargöng, commonly referred to as the Hvalfjörður Tunnel, provides a rapid connection between Reykjavík and the town of Akranes. The tunnel, opening the possibilities of Hvalfjörður to you, is a part of Route 1, which is also known as the Ring Road. This impressive structure is about 5,770 metres long and reaches depths of up to 165 metres below sea level.

  • GPS coordinates for the tunnel entrance near Reykjavík: 64.285° N, 21.789° W

Connecting Roads

Hvalfjörður can be enjoyed by taking Route 47, which loops around the fjord. This road meanders through stunning landscapes, offering views that are well worth the drive. Note, this detour is more time-consuming compared to the tunnel, but it’s perfect if you’re not in a rush and prefer to enjoy nature’s beauty.

  • Starting point near Akranes: 64.304° N, 22.075° W

Public and Private Transport

Public buses serve the region, but services may be limited, so checking the schedule in advance is advisable. Having access to private transport, like hiring a car, provides the flexibility to explore at your own pace.

  • To plot your journey via private transport, use starting GPS coordinates for Reykjavík: 64.1265° N, 21.8174° W
  • For public transport options, visit the Strætó bs website (public bus service) for the most current schedules and routes available.

Accommodations and Amenities

In Hvalfjörður, you’ll find a range of places to stay that cater to different preferences, whether you’re after a cosy cabin or a hotel with stunning views. There’s also a mix of dining and shopping options to enhance your stay.

Local Hotels

Hotel Glymur
With its picturesque setting, Hotel Glymur offers a mix of comfort and Nordic charm. It provides:

  • Rooms: A variety of rooms with fjord views
  • Amenities: Hot tubs, art gallery, and a conference room

Hotel Laxarbakki
Hotel Laxarbakki is a welcoming place that appeals to those who seek a more laid-back atmosphere.

  • Rooms: Comfortable, well-equipped rooms
  • Facilities: Restaurant, meeting rooms, and sports facilities

Holiday Homes and Cabins

Solvellir Holiday Home
Nestled in the breathtaking scenery of Hvalfjörður, Solvellir guarantees an intimate experience with nature.

  • Accommodation: Offers privacy and serenity for your stay
  • Features: Fully-equipped home with a focus on comfort

For a rustic retreat, consider renting one of the local cabins:

  • Location: Scattered around the fjord, offering immersive experiences
  • Amenities: Vary from basic to luxurious, often with scenic views

Dining and Shopping

Dining Options
Diverse options range from local eateries serving traditional Icelandic fare to cafés offering light snacks.

  • Síldarmannagotur: A quaint spot for fresh, local dishes
  • Nearby Restaurants: Offer a variety of cuisines to satisfy different tastes

The area’s shops provide an assortment of goods:

  • Local crafts
  • Souvenirs
  • Essential items for your visit

The shopping experience here gives you a taste of Iceland’s unique culture and the opportunity to take a piece of your journey home.

For an even more immersive experience of Iceland, consider booking our 8 Night Iceland Self-Drive tour. Alternatively, our 4 Night Luxury Iceland Experience offers an exclusive, high-end stay with all the comfort and luxury you desire, perfect for a memorable Icelandic getaway.

Cultural and Recreational Points of Interest

A remote Icelandic church

You’ll find that despite its tranquillity, Hvalfjörður offers a tapestry of cultural and historical layers to explore. From museums celebrating its pivotal wartime role to commemorations of great Icelandic figures, and vibrant local festivals, there’s a rich blend of experiences awaiting you.

War and Peace Museum

At the War and Peace Museum, you can immerse yourself in the history of Iceland during World War II. Situated by the old US naval base at Hvitanes, it provides a unique glimpse into the lives of servicemen and locals alike with exhibits that feature original artefacts, photographs, and military equipment.

  • Address: Hvitanes, 301 Kjós
  • Opening Times: June – August, 11:00 – 17:00 daily

Hallgrímur Pétursson Legacy

Revered for composing many of Iceland’s cherished hymns, Hallgrímur Pétursson left a spiritual and cultural imprint on the nation. In Kjós, you can trace his legacy through various landmarks and references to his life and work.

  • Notable Sites: Hallgrímskirkja Church in Saurbær

Local Festivals

Engage with the community at annual local festivals. One of the highlights is Síldarmannagötur, a vibrant celebration of the town’s fishing heritage. It’s a wonderful opportunity to experience local customs, enjoy traditional Icelandic food, and participate in fun-filled family activities.

  • Key Festival: Síldarmannagötur in July
  • Activities: Fish-related exhibitions, family games, and local cuisine tasting

Conservation and Ecological Efforts

Your visit to Hvalfjörður not only immerses you in its rugged beauty but also in the commendable conservation work. This includes significant reforestation initiatives, concerted wildlife protection efforts, and robust environmental education programmes.

Reforestation Initiatives

In Hvalfjörður, you’ll find a dedicated push towards reforestation to combat soil erosion and restore the natural landscape. Initiatives involve planting conifers and other green vegetation to replenish the native flora. The introduction of fast-growing species enhances carbon sequestration, promoting a healthier ecosystem.

  • Types of Trees Planted:
    • Conifers: Including types such as pine and spruce known for their resilience and growth rate.
    • Native Species: Birch and rowan to maintain biodiversity.

Wildlife Protection

Protecting the diverse wildlife in Hvalfjörður is critical. You’ll notice regulations are in place to safeguard endemic species and their habitats. Efforts here include strict monitoring of fishing activities and the creation of sanctuaries for both terrestrial and marine life.

  • Key Protections:
    • Land Animals: Preservation of breeding grounds, particularly for bird species.
    • Marine Life: Regulation of fishing to ensure sustainability.

Environmental Education

Knowledge is power, and in Hvalfjörður, you’ll be empowered through comprehensive environmental education initiatives. These programmes are designed to inform both locals and visitors about the importance of vegetation and ecosystems.

  • Programme Highlights:
    • Schools and Youth Groups: Hands-on activities with a focus on local species.
    • Visitor Centres: Displays and information on the ecological significance of reforestation and wildlife conservation.

For those looking to explore more of Iceland’s natural wonders, a visit to the Silfra fissure is a must. Here, you can experience the unique adventure of snorkelling in Silfra, where crystal clear waters provide an unparalleled view of the underwater world. Additionally, don’t miss out on exploring Raufarhólshellir, one of Iceland’s longest lava tubes, offering a mesmerizing journey through volcanic formations.