The Hvalfjörður Fjord is a forgotten gem near Reykjavík
In 1998 the Hvalfjörður Tunnel opened on the western end of Reykjavík, shortening the Ring Road by 42 kilometers with an underwater pass. The long fjord of Hvalfjörður, once known to everyone who ever looped the country, became a quiet detour some 45 minute drive from Reykjavík.
Today, the beautiful fjord with its winding roads and pristine hiking paths is being rediscovered by travelers and developers alike.
Here are five things to do in and around Hvalfjörður.
The Hvammsvík Hot Springs
The Hvammsvík Hot Springs merge with the shoreline as if baths were a natural construct. In reality, they are the vision of Icelandic entrepreneur Skúli Mogensen who opened the 'nature resort' in 2022 on his family property overlooking the fjord. The superb construct, country rustic in style, is more exclusive than other bath resorts nearby Reykjavík; booking ahead is essential and the on-site restaurant suited for couples and small groups. (Note the art work: The bar-hanging knots by Shoplifter and 'Cars in River' by Ólafur Elíasson.)
Water levels and temperatures in some of the pools fluctuate with the tide and swimming in the sea is part of the fun -- if not the therapy.
The Glymur Waterfall
Glymur is Iceland’s second-tallest waterfall. Getting to see it, there means reaching the 198 meter height on foot on a multi-hour trek.
The path to Glymur is a 7km loop starting in Botnsdalur at the fjord’s bottom, with some rewarding views over Hvalfjörður.
The route is only 400m in elevation but still of moderate difficulty with two steep hills. It's not ideal for young children or the inexperienced. Hikers need to cross a river stream, either barefoot or wearing proper footwear, and those taking the entire loop will cross a second stream close to the waterfall.
Prepare for a three hour hike. For a shorter hike turn around at Þvottahellir Cave. Avoid when slippery - ice or thawing - as walking along the cliffs gets dangerous.
The War and Peace Museum
In Iceland’s history, Hvalfjörður is known for two deadly industries: whaling and warfare. The fjord’s narrow mouth was guarded by Allied forces in the Second World War when Iceland was a strategic base.
The War and Peace Museum (warandpeace.is) tells the story of the convoys located in the fjord during these historic years. At Miðsandur farm, is the largest preserved settlement of army barracks.
Nearby Miðsandur is the Hvalstöðin whaling station last operated during the summer of 2022. The whales are dragged on land and sliced up outdoors.
The Fossárrétt Waterfall
The pretty little waterfall at Fossárrétt, 300m walk from the mainroad, makes for an excellent picnic spot. A traditional “rétt” structure sits by the river, once used to round up sheep in the area.
Nearby is another scenic spot on the small Hvítanes peninsula, a former outpost in the Second World War. Over fall, the area is popular for berry picking.
Mt. Esjan, the iconic mountain dominating the view from Reykjavík’s coastline, is strictly speaking by the Kollafjörður Fjord – but certainly on the way on the Hvalfjörður.
Trekking the mountain is a favorite activity among Reykjavík locals. The best paths are along the Mógilsá River up to the Þverfellshorn summit. The final stretch is steep and only accessible during summer; most hikers stop at 800m (2625ft) by a rock known as the Stone (Steinn).
Prepare for wind at the top and some three hours of hiking. Bus 57 to Akranes stops at Mt Esjan.
The town closest to Hvalfjörður is the fishing hub of Akranes with a landmark lighthouse (the Akranesviti) and the "Long Sand Beach" popular for sea swimming. The ocean is cold – or at least, never warm – but fortunately the Guðlaug Baths await the brave. The gorgeous baths, with a modest admission, are well worth a trip to the beach in any weather. Read the safety instructions before dipping into the sea.
Getting to Hvalfjörður
A rental car is the best way to visit Hvalfjörður. After passing the village of Kjalarnes, by the Ring Road, look out for the sign pointing to Route 47. If you find yourself driving inside a tunnel, you’ve passed the junction!
Hvalfjörður has a road less traveled to the Þingvellir National Park via Route 48 known as Kjósarskarðsvegur. The drive is lovely but take precautions over winter. Look out for the Þórufoss waterfall.