How To Best Visit Vestrahorn, Iceland
Perched on the end of the Stokksnes peninsula, Vestrahorn is a dramatic saw-tooth mountain rising precipitously above a shallow tidal lagoon of black sands. Here’s how to visit.
Vestrahorn is known for its sharp peaks; pointy summits that create a saw-tooth ridge spearing the sky. It is an awe-inspiring mountain with steep flanks dropping into a black sand beach.
Beside it, Brunnhorn is another jagged mountain, nicknamed “Batman Mountain” thanks to the three recognisable peaks resembling the Batman logo.
Perched on the Stokksnes Peninsula, Vestrahorn and Brunnhorn are surrounded by a tidal lagoon, called Kirkjusandur, which on a still day offers magnificent reflections of the mountains.
It’s one of the most photographic places to visit in Iceland and an Instagram favourite.
With some great wildlife, hiking trails and even a Viking village, it’s a fantastic stop on your Ring Road itinerary. Here’s all you need to know.
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HOW WAS VESTRAHORN FORMED?
Vestrahorn mountain is part of a chain of three mountains: Vestrahorn (West Horn), Brunnhorn (Wishing Well Horn) and Eystrahorn (East Horn), all dating back 8 to 11 million years.
Unlike most other mountains in Iceland which are made of basalt, or Landmannalaugar which is rhyolite, the Vestrahorn mountains are predominantly gabbro rock. Formed by the slow cooling of magnesium and iron-rich magma, gabbro rock is green-black in colour with coarse grains that form into spiky shapes.
The black sand beaches below the mountains were created by the sea grinding down volcanic rock over millennia. At high tide water stretches over the sands forming a very shallow tidal lagoon called Kirkjusandur.
Wind that whips across the Stokksnes peninsula has formed dunes on the beach upon which tussocks (grassy clumps) have formed.
WHERE IS VESTRAHORN?
Vestrahorn mountain is on the Stokksnes Peninsula in the far southeast of Iceland.
It’s over 450 kilometres (280 miles) from the capital Reykjavík but the nearest town is Höfn, a 10- minute drive away. The popular glacial lake of Jökulsárlsón (on the south coast) is a 1 hour and 15-minute drive and Egilstaðir (in the east fjords) is 2 hours and 30 minutes.
HOW TO GET TO VESTRAHORN
Vestrahorn lies just off Route 1 – the main Ring Road around Iceland. If you were to drive direct from Reykjavík it would take about 6 hours, but it’s an excellent stop on our Iceland itinerary that loops around the country.
The Viking Café, which sits under the flanks of Vestrahorn, is the base for exploring the area. Driving is by far the easiest way to get here. It is just a 10-minute detour off Route 1, about 10 kilometres (6.3 miles) east of Höfn.
Bus to Vestrahorn // The number 51 bus runs all along the south coast from Mjódd in Reykjavík via Selfoss and Vik to Höfn. But there is only one a day and it still takes a taxi ride to get from Höfn to the Viking Café.
Flights to Höfn // There is a small airport at Höfn. Two or three flights run daily from Reykjavík taking about 1 hour.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO VISIT VESTRAHORN?
Vestrahorn is on private land owned by the Viking Café. It cost 900ISK ($6.50) to visit.
Entrance tickets are purchased from the cafe. They will give you a QR code which you scan on the code readers at the gate to gain entry to the beach.
HOW TO SEE THE BEST OF VESTRAHORN
Vestrahorn is one of the most photogenic sights in Iceland. It’s spiky façade rising above tidal lagoons, black sand beaches and grassy tussocks. The best photos are from just south of the Viking Café.
There are two parking spots along a short road where you can get the best photos of the mountain – assuming you have a clear day.
Firstly, if the wind is low and the tide is in, there are great reflection shots over the tidal lagoon. Secondly, even if the tide is not in, the sandy tussocks dotted around the black sand beach backed by Vestrahorn looks great.
Don’t miss shots of Brunnhorn above the pounding Atlantic surf.
Allow about an hour or two to fully explore the area. The best photo locations depend on the tide but we have marked them roughly on the map below.
TIPS FOR PHOTOGRAPHING VESTRAHORN
01 – If you have flexibility try to come on a day when cloud cover is above 500 metres, and the wind is low. If the wind is high, ripples form on the tidal lagoon making reflection shots impossible. The Icelandic Met Office has cloud cover forecasts.
02 – Aim to time your visit for high tide when the lagoon is larger for better reflection shots. Check this tide time chart before you set off.
03 – Dawn and dusk can be magical here but bring a tripod to help in the low light. We like Sirui tripods for their ultra light-weight range.
04 – The photo spots are quite close to the mountain so ideally have a wide angled lens. The Canon 16-25mm is one of the best there is.
05 – Vestrahorn is a great spot for drones but be careful with nesting birds in spring and early summer. They can be aggressive in Iceland. You don’t want to disturb them, but you also don’t want your drone destroyed.
HIKING ON THE STOKKSNES PENINSULA
The owners have created a series of hikes to explore the area in more detail. Each is marked on the map below.
Red Walk // The red walk is 5.5 kilometres (3.4 miles) and encircles the western part of the Kirkjusandur black sands. Part of the route is along the rocky edge of the Atlantic Coast where you’ll find swooping birds, seals lurking on islands out at sea, and the automated Stokksnes lighthouse.
Yellow Walk // The yellow walk is 6.5 kilometres (4 miles) and encircles the eastern section of the Kirkjusandur black sands. It heads along the black sand beach, gets right under the flanks of Vestrahorn and stops at a replica of a Viking village – used as a set in the Witcher TV programme. On wet days, a bit of wading on the sands of the beach may be required.
Blue Walk // The blue walk should only be attempted by climbers. It heads around over the steep sides of Vestrahorn mountain with tricky bouldering, a steep ascent, and an almost vertical descent down a scree slope. It’s an 11-kilometre (6.8 mile) extension to the yellow walk. Ask about conditions at the café before setting off.
MAP OF VESTRAHORN
Below is a map of the Stokksnes Peninsula containing a rough guide to the best photo spots and hiking trails. Use this to help plan your excursion to the area.
OTHER ACTIVITIES AT VESTRAHORN
There are a few other activities to try at Vestrahorn, depending on how long you plan to spend there.
Horse Riding Tours // The Viking Café offers horse riding tours around the peninsula to see the sights from the only breed of horse on Iceland. It’s a pretty cool way to avoid the wet and boggy sands.
ATV Tours // Small group ATV tours last about 1 hour and explore the area around the peninsula and along the black sand beach. Prices are 15,000 ISK per person (US$ 110), or 20,000 ISK for two sharing a single bike (US$ 140).
Viking Village // The replica Viking village is a 10-minute walk from the café. Originally built in 2010 for a Hollywood blockbuster that didn’t happen, it has recently played the star role in a Bollywood film and Netflix’s The Witcher.
FACILITIES AND ACCOMMODATION NEAR VESTRAHORN
Viking Café // The Viking café has seven private rooms with ensuite bathrooms and a campsite. The café serves coffee, beer, cakes, and pastries until 8pm and makes light snacks like sandwiches and waffles over lunchtime. It’s a great spot to stay and helps a lot if you want to get sunrise or sunset photos as you could not be any closer.
Milk Factory // Milk Factory is a wonderful guesthouse converted from an old Dairy Factory. There’s tea, coffee, and small snacks available all day. The rooms are big and comfortable and they even offer bikes to help you get around. It’s about 2.5 miles north of Höfn and a 15-minute drive from Vestrahorn.
Höfn Hostel // This is a great budget option in Höfn. Everything is modern new and spacious. There’s a large kitchen with good facilities and excellent common spaces in a central location.
PLANNING YOUR ICELAND TRIP
Iceland is an excellent destination for semi-adventurous travellers who like to get off the beaten track and immerse themselves in stunning scenery. Here’s some more reading from us to help plan your journey to the land of fire and ice.
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