Photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons, by Chensiyuan
Borgarnes is a town of fewer than 2000 people, located on a peninsula at the shore of Borgarfjörður. It is a historical settlement, a cultural hub and an essential commerce centre for a large part of western Iceland.
Getting to Borgarnes
Borgarnes is located to the north of Reykjavík, reached by travelling Route 1, otherwise known as the Ring Road which encircles the country. This journey takes you through a six-kilometre tunnel beneath the fjord of Hvalfjörður, and over the second longest bridge in Iceland.
If you would prefer to take the scenic route instead of the tunnel, you can make a turn on Route 47 to enjoy the beautiful Hvalfjörður fjord. This route is encouraged if you plan on hiking to the second tallest waterfall in Iceland, Glymur, which is nestled in the fjord.
Please note that taking the long route will double the time of the otherwise hour long trip.
If driving to the Westfjords, the Snaefellsnes Peninsula, or the north, Borgarnes serves as a great place to stop for fuel, food, drinks and a place to explore.
History and Culture at Borgarnes
Photo from Flickr by Funky Tee
Borgarnes was settled in Iceland’s earliest days, over a millennium ago, and has long been occupied by fishermen; the village was not to substantially grow, however, until the 20th Century when Iceland’s infrastructure boomed, and it became an essential gateway to the country’s north and the Snaefellsnes Peninsula.
The town is now home to two museums, the Settlement Centre and, curiously, the Centre for Puppet Arts.
The Settlement Centre is the largest and most famous. It houses two exhibitions, one on the Settlement Era and another on the Saga of Egil.
The former talks about how Iceland’s settlement began in the late 9th Century, as Norwegian jarls began to unite under a king, and chiefs sought a new land where they could maintain control. En route, they took slaves, mainly women from Ireland, and the Icelandic population was formed.
They settled across the country in approximately thirty clans, before uniting in 930 to form what would later become the world’s longest running representative parliament, thus beginning the Commonwealth Era.
The exhibition is interactive and great for children and adults alike. Icelandic history is often overlooked by visitors in lieu of Iceland's incredible nature, yet is a surprisingly well-recorded story of hardship, unity, folklore and endurance against all the odds.
The exhibition on Egil’s Saga is fascinating even to those unfamiliar with Icelandic texts. Icelanders have always been storytellers, and their greatest heroes are often poets and writers rather than kings and warriors.
The sagas are amongst the first records of these stories and are still read in school today, much like Shakespeare in England. Interestingly, however, Icelandic is one of the world’s oldest languages, and the texts read similarly to modern-day works of writing.
The saga perfectly captures what life in Norway and Iceland were like from 850 to 1000 AD, over several generations, and like many Icelandic pieces of writing, shows the many contradictions of the Icelandic character, spirit and family in a way that is both stark and sympathetic.
If travelling with children, the Bjössaróló environmental playground is a great place to spend an hour or two. It was built by Björn Hjörtur Guðmundsson who spent years developing the park using salvaged materials for all the equipment.
Here you'll find slides built into the surrounding hillocks, many swings, a jungle gym, spinning top and several lookout points. There's also a castle, an old boat, seesaws and a climbing dome. It's renowned as the best playground in the country, and additionally provides an excellent view of the sea.