Discover Borgarnes, Iceland: Top Attractions and Activities in this Historic Icelandic Town

Nestled just an hour’s drive from Reykjavík, Borgarnes is a charming town that offers a perfect blend of history and natural beauty. Officially established in 1913, this quaint town has evolved into a hub for service and trading, making it a convenient stop for tourists exploring Iceland.

From its unique playground, Bjössaróló, crafted entirely from discarded materials, to the serene Skallagrímsgarður park, Borgarnes provides delightful experiences for families and adventurers alike. The town also boasts excellent accommodations, restaurants, and a local museum, ensuring a comfortable and enriching visit.

Whether you’re driving through the scenic Hvalfjörður fjord or taking the quicker route through the Hvalfjörður tunnel, the journey to Borgarnes is as captivating as the destination itself. This hidden gem in Iceland promises a memorable escape into the heart of Icelandic culture and landscapes.

The history of Borgarnes

Borgarnes boasts a rich and intriguing history. The town’s origins date back to the Icelandic settlement in the 9th century. Early settlers chose Borgarnes for its strategic location, nestled between mountains and the sea, providing natural protection and resources. Borgarnes means “Rocky Headland,” derived from its distinct geological features.

The area saw significant developments in the 19th century. In 1867, Borgarnes became one of the first regions in Iceland to establish a trading post, bolstering its economic importance. By 1877, the settlement had grown sufficiently to initiate local governance. This marked the beginning of Borgarnes as a recognized municipality.

Several historical landmarks reflect Borgarnes’ past. The Settlement Center offers a comprehensive dive into Icelandic history, showcasing exhibitions on the settlement period. Visitors learn about Egill Skallagrímsson, a famed Viking poet, and warrior who called Borgarnes home. This connection to Viking heritage adds a unique cultural layer to the town.

Additionally, the Borgarnes Museum holds archives that document local history, providing insights into the town’s evolution over centuries. Open during the summer months, the museum is a must-visit for history enthusiasts.

Architecturally, Borgarnes displays a blend of old and new. Traditional Icelandic timber houses stand alongside modern structures, creating a visual narrative of the town’s growth. This mixture highlights Borgarnes’ ability to preserve its heritage while embracing contemporary advancements.

Cultural events further celebrate Borgarnes’ history. Annual festivals and local gatherings often feature traditional Icelandic music, dance, and cuisine, giving both residents and visitors a taste of the past.

With a well-documented and celebrated history, Borgarnes continues to be a place where the past meets the present, offering a unique glimpse into Iceland’s rich heritage.

Where is Borgarnes located?

Borgarnes sits in West Iceland, approximately 70 kilometers (43 miles) north of Reykjavík. The town is easily accessible via Route 1, Iceland’s Ring Road. Borgarnes lies at the base of the majestic Hafnarfjall mountain and offers stunning views of the Snæfellsjökull glacier.

Positioned on a peninsula, Borgarnes is surrounded by multiple water bodies, which enhance its scenic beauty and provide opportunities for water activities. The town’s location on Borgarfjörður Bay ensures a picturesque backdrop and a moderate climate.

Borgarnes serves as a gateway to many natural attractions in the region. Visitors can explore nearby areas such as the Deildartunguhver hot spring, one of Europe’s most powerful geothermal springs, and the Hraunfossar and Barnafoss waterfalls. The town is also close to Reykholt, a site of historical significance due to its association with medieval writer Snorri Sturluson.

The town’s strategic placement makes it a convenient stop for travelers heading to or from major Icelandic destinations. Borgarnes’ bridges, including the one connecting Brakarey island, enhance connectivity and ease of travel within the region.

How to get to Borgarnes?

Driving from Reykjavík to Borgarnes is straightforward. Follow Route One, known as the Ring Road, heading north through Mosfellsbær. Pass Mt. Esja, then go through the Hvalfjarðargöng, a 6-kilometer underwater tunnel.

For hikers, the longer route through Hvalfjörður is a beautiful option. This path takes you past the stunning Glymur Waterfall. The 3-hour hike to the waterfall’s top offers breathtaking views of the fjord.

RouteEstimated TimeHighlights
Tunnel (Hvalfjarðargöng)1 hourUnderwater tunnel, Mt. Esja
Hvalfjörður Fjord2 hoursGlymur Waterfall, fjord views

Once you arrive in Borgarnes, you’ll cross the second-longest bridge in Iceland. This bridge offers stunning views of the surrounding water bodies and landscapes, adding to the travel experience.

For accommodations, Borgarnes provides several options:

  • Hotels: Icelandair Hotel Hamar, Hotel Borgarnes
  • Hostels: Borgarnes HI Hostel
  • Guesthouses and Bed & Breakfasts: Egils Guesthouse, Kría Guesthouse, Bjarg Borgarnes, Borgarnes Room with a View, Englendingavík, Blómasetrið
  • Camping: Borgarnes Camping Ground at Granastaðir, Bjarg Borgarnes Camping Ground

Borgarnes officially became a town in 1913. Located 70 kilometers west of Reykjavík, it’s easily accessible by car. Offering a blend of historical charm and modern facilities, Borgarnes makes for an unforgettable trip.

Accommodation and hotels in Borgarnes

Borgarnes offers various accommodation types catering to different budgets and preferences. Several hotels provide modern amenities and comfortable stays with stunning views of Borgarfjörður. For a luxurious experience, the town boasts boutique hotels featuring spacious rooms, fine dining, and spa services.

Guesthouses and hostels, often family-run, offer a more intimate experience. These options typically include cozy rooms, communal areas, and personalized local advice. Staying in guesthouses provides a unique opportunity to connect with Icelandic culture more deeply.

For a more budget-friendly option, camping grounds are available. Many are equipped with essential facilities like restrooms, showers, and cooking areas. These are perfect for those looking to immerse themselves in nature while exploring the town and its surroundings.

Self-catering apartments are another popular choice. These accommodations, fully furnished with kitchen facilities, allow guests to enjoy a home-like experience. This option is ideal for families or groups who prefer cooking their meals.

Several farmstays in the surrounding countryside let visitors experience rural Iceland. These accommodations often feature traditional Icelandic farm culture, giving insights into the country’s agricultural practices and lifestyle.

Whether choosing luxury hotels, cozy guesthouses, budget hostels, camping grounds, or self-catering apartments, Borgarnes makes exploring West Iceland convenient and memorable.

Things to Do in Borgarnes

Make a Splash at Borgarnes Swimming Pool

Take a dip at Sundlaug Borgarnessi, the town’s stunning leisure complex featuring a 25-meter outdoor pool with fabulous views across Borgarfjörður. The indoor pool, several hot pots, steam saunas, children’s pool, and three water slides offer something for the whole family. Relax and enjoy the warming waters with different temperature options, all fed by Europe’s most powerful hot spring, Deildartunguhver. The admission is about 1000 ISK for adults, and accessible changing rooms are available.

Walk in Viking Footsteps in a Tree-filled Park

Stroll through the Skallagrímsgarður park, where ancient Viking history comes alive amidst lush greenery and sculptures. The park, dedicated to the Viking chieftain Skallagrímur Kveldúlfsson, offers serene walking paths and picnic areas. Enjoy the tranquility while learning about Iceland’s Viking heritage through interpretive signs.

Experience the Settlement Center

Visit the Settlement Center, which offers a deep dive into Icelandic sagas and Viking history. The museum features multimedia exhibits detailing the settlement of Iceland and the exploits of Egill Skallagrímsson, one of Iceland’s most famous Viking warriors and poets. The center also houses a cozy café serving traditional Icelandic dishes.

Explore Borgarnes Museum

Head to Borgarnes Museum, where you can explore various exhibits on local history and culture. From ancient artifacts to contemporary art, the museum provides a comprehensive look at the region’s past and present. The museum also offers interactive displays and educational programs for all ages.

Hike the Hafnarfjall Mountain

Embark on a hiking adventure on Hafnarfjall Mountain, offering panoramic views of Borgarfjörður Bay and the surrounding landscapes. The trails vary in difficulty, making it suitable for both casual hikers and experienced trekkers. Make sure to bring sturdy footwear and a camera to capture the breathtaking scenery.

Visit Hraunfossar Waterfalls

Drive to Hraunfossar, a series of enchanting waterfalls fed by the glacial water of Langjökull glacier. These falls cascade over a distance of about 900 meters through porous lava fields. The nearby Barnafoss waterfall, known for its turbulent waters, adds to the natural beauty of the area. Enjoy the picturesque views and take in the fresh, crisp Icelandic air.

Borgarnes in Winter

Borgarnes transforms into a winter wonderland with pristine white landscapes and numerous activities to enjoy. For those interested in the Northern Lights, Borgarnes offers ideal viewing opportunities. Its remote location means the town lights won’t interfere much with the aurora borealis display. You can get a spectacular show if the lights are out.

When the weather takes a turn, staying indoors can be just as exciting. Borgarnes has excellent museums to explore. They offer a warm refuge and rich insights into the town’s history. The Settlement Center is a must-visit, providing interactive exhibits about Iceland’s Viking past.

If you’re a film buff, you might be interested to know that “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (2013) filmed many scenes in West Iceland. One notable location is a bakery called Geirabakarí, featured as Papa John’s in the movie. This bakery is famous for its delicious pastries, especially the ástarpungur.

For a relaxing experience, make your way to Sundlaug Borgarnesi. This leisure complex features a 25-meter outdoor pool with breathtaking views across Borgarfjörður. Facilities include an indoor pool, hot pots, steam saunas, a children’s pool, and three water slides. The different temperature options are all fed by Europe’s most powerful hot spring, Deildartunguhver. The admission is around 1000 ISK for adults, and the complex offers accessible changing rooms.

If you prefer outdoor activities despite the cold, walking through Skallagrímsgarður, a Viking-themed park, can be refreshing. The tree-filled park echoes the footsteps of ancient Vikings and provides a serene environment to connect with nature.

Even in winter, Borgarnes doesn’t disappoint. Whether you’re chasing the Northern Lights, exploring historical sites, or relaxing in a geothermal pool, the town offers varied experiences that make the chilly season enjoyable.

Movies, TV Shows and Music Videos filmed in Borgarnes

Borgarnes, with its unique charm and picturesque landscapes, has attracted filmmakers and musicians alike. Several notable films, TV shows, and music videos have taken advantage of the town’s stunning backdrops.


“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (2013) prominently featured various locations in West Iceland, including Borgarnes. The town’s natural beauty and iconic landmarks provided the perfect setting for the film’s adventurous scenes. Another film that captured the essence of Borgarnes is “Rams” (2015), an Icelandic drama that showcased the rural lifestyle and rugged terrain of the area.

TV Shows

Borgarnes’ captivating scenery has also made its way into TV shows. Icelandic series often incorporate the town’s landscapes, highlighting its cultural and historical significance. Although specific titles are not always internationally recognized, local productions frequently depict the beauty of Borgarnes, offering viewers a glimpse into Icelandic life.

Music Videos

Musicians find inspiration in Borgarnes’ scenic vistas. The town has served as a backdrop for music videos, utilizing its dramatic coastlines and charming streets. These videos often aim to capture the essence of Iceland’s natural allure, with Borgarnes playing a starring role.

Borgarnes continues to be a popular location for creative projects, thanks to its stunning views and rich cultural heritage. Whether for films, TV shows, or music videos, the town’s unique landscapes and vibrant atmosphere provide a perfect setting for visual storytelling.

Interesting Places Near Borgarnes

Exploring the areas near Borgarnes reveals hidden gems that showcase natural beauty and cultural richness.

Giljaböð Canyon Baths

Just a short trip from Borgarnes, the Húsafell Canyon Baths offer a secluded, tranquil experience. Nestled in forested hills, these pools require a small hike, accessible through small group tours. The design of the two pools draws inspiration from the historic Snorralaug pool in Reykholt.

Hraunfossar and Barnafoss

A visit to Hraunfossar, fed by the glacial waters of the Langjökull glacier, showcases stunning turquoise waters cascading over lava formations. Nearby, the eerie Barnafoss, also known as the children’s waterfall, adds a touch of mystery with its natural stone bridge and tales of missing children. Walking paths bordered by birch trees enhance the scenic walks around these beautiful falls.

Blómasetrið Coffeehouse

For a relaxing break, head to Blómasetrið coffeehouse. Overlooking the bay, this charming spot features a colorful interior filled with flowers and cozy seating. It’s perfect for enjoying coffee and cake after a day of exploring.

Englendingavík Merchant Houses

Following a beach path from the coffeehouse, reach the historic merchant houses of Englendingavík. Once bustling with trade, the area now offers coffee and cake on a veranda overlooking the serene skerry coast. Attached to Englendingavík is Sofia’s Toy Museum, showcasing a curated collection of dolls, toys, and knickknacks from the past century.

Bjössarólo Playground

Continue along the beach path to find Bjössarólo Playground. Designed with recycled materials by idealist Björn Guðmundsson, this playground offers a variety of equipment for an adventurous play experience, perfect for families with children.

Borgarnes Shoreline

After exploring these sites, take a walk along the rocky shoreline of Borgarnes. It offers fantastic views of the second-longest bridge in Iceland and the opposite side of Borgarfjörður, providing a perfect end to a fulfilling day near Borgarnes.

What To Do Around Borgarnes

Borgarnes offers a perfect blend of history, nature, and modern comforts. From exploring Viking heritage to hiking near stunning waterfalls, there’s something for everyone. The town’s winter landscape provides a magical setting for Northern Lights enthusiasts. Don’t miss the chance to visit local gems like the Húsafell Canyon Baths and the charming Blómasetrið coffeehouse. Whether you’re drawn to outdoor adventures or relaxing indoor activities, Borgarnes promises a memorable experience that captures the essence of Iceland’s beauty and culture.

author avatar
Erik Rivera