North and West

To Iceland | Golden Circle Tour | Trip to Landmannalaugar | Southern Coast | Eastern Side | North and West | Full Circle


Shortly after leaving the Mývatn area, we pull up to Goðafoss. A light rain mixed with not-so-light winds cuts this visit short. There are tourists climbing down the slick face of the flanking cliffs to take their pictures. I don’t think it’s worth the risk.


Again, there’s a lot of driving this day. At the base of Eyjafjörður, we arrive at Akureyri and have lunch at Strikið. The food and service are impeccable in this restaurant that overlooks the bay. We see the passenger cruise ship pull out of the harbor and set sail for destinations unknown.


From there, we drive straight to Hvammstangi. Arriving in this small town, we’re greeted by signs welcoming us to the Land of Seals. Apparently, the Vatnsnes Peninsula is known for its seal population. Just beyond the village, a sign for Mörk directs us to our cottage. The wind carries me away as I exit the car. The owner greets us at her front door and hands me the key to our room. This would be one of our favorite stays in Iceland. The spacious room has a personal touch, designed to make guests feel like they’re in a home. We unpack, dry our camping gear, and head to town for dinner.

In the morning, we enjoy breakfast in a quant old-time café: Hlaðan Kaffihús. All around, collections of old coffee grinders, pots, mugs, sewing machines line the walls. Hot soup and bread warm all of us. Outside, we gawk at the display of dried fish carcasses hanging on a rack. Then, on the way back to our room, the morning rainbow forms an arc low to the horizon, framing our little cottage. We’ll remember staying in the center of the rainbow.

Forget the Land of Seals

Yan and I ask Daphney if she wants to go see seals. We got an emphatic, “No! They stink.” She had experienced seals up close at Point Reyes National Seashore, where we were but a few feet from them on the other side of the fence at the Historic Lifeboat Station. Skipping Vatnsnes, we cut across the narrow base of the Westfjords along a gravel road and enter Snæfellsnes Peninsula.

Snæfellsnes Peninsula

We arrive early into Grundarfjörður and decide to try checking in. Looking like an old hotel with smells of old carpet and cramped quarters, Kirkjufell Hotel is a disappointment. We decide not to linger. After pizza and carrot soup, and with extra time today, we head out for an ambitious loop around the westernmost end.

The first stop is Kirkjufellsfoss. On the way there, broad chapel-topped Kirkjufell becomes a triangle when seen on end. Here, we find many other tourists taking the same overpublished photograph of the waterfall and mountain. I do the same.

The counter-clockwise drive around the peninsula brings us along stunning landscapes. Clouds swirl atop Snæfellsjökull, obscuring its summit. The mountain’s base is made up of tangles of sinewy rock, hinting at eons of runoffs that have carved tortuous channels on their way to the sea. Beyond Arnarstapi, we cut northward on Route 54 to complete the circle.

Dropping Yan and the babies off at the hotel, I run up to Kirkjufellsfoss for more pictures, trying to get a different angle. Down below the falls, there is a small beach made of black pebbles. I find this spot all to myself away from the other photographers standing on the rim. On my way back, I meet a Vietnamese photographer waiting for sunset. He tells me that because the clouds have cleared from the horizon, he expects the sun’s rays to shoot up and illuminate the clouds. Not wanting to keep my family waiting, I return to the hotel and plan for dinner.

House of Food

Bjargarsteinn is a welcoming place for dinner, situated along the bay of Grundarfjörður across from the broad side of Kirkjufell. The restaurant used to be a house on a plot of land in a different town, where the local church acquired the land for parking spaces. The house was then moved and sold, then relocated here as a restaurant in 2014. Opening its doors in the summer of 2015, the owners styled the place “House of Food.” Inside, the host tells us it will be 9:00 PM before we can be seated, but another staff member sees us with young children and finds us a spot near the kids’ play area. Yan says to just order, and I can keep checking outside to see if colorful skies will really emerge. We order the seared sea trout. It comes beautifully presented.

Chasing Colorful Skies

While having dinner, the clouds outside have shifted, and the vibrant red I’m hoping for never emerges. I give up the idea of returning for more pictures, opting for enjoying dinner instead. The skyr custard with blueberry sorbet would be one of our favorite desserts in Iceland.

At sunrise, I find myself alongside one other photographer at Kirkjufellsfoss. There is a little bit of color, but it is nothing spectacular. The best thing is that I had the place nearly all to myself. Although the room at Kirkjufell Hotel is less than ideal, we treat ourselves to the breakfast buffet there. Yan and Daphney had been craving fruits, especially watermelon. Here, they have watermelon! We spend our time enjoying the spread. From here, our trip takes us south toward Reykjavík.

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