Snæfellsnes peninsula and the Westfjords -- the most compelling scenery of Iceland's west coast -- are unjustly neglected by travelers reluctant to make committed detours from the Ring Road. Snæfellsnes is closer to Reykjavík and sees a fair number of visitors, even on day trips from the capital. The Westfjords, on the other hand, receive only 3% of Iceland's tourist traffic. Surely this is the country's highest ratio of beauty to beauty-seekers.

Snæfellsnes, a 70km-long (43 miles) finger of land pointing westward, is closely identified with Snæfellsjökull, the glacier near its tip. Views and ascents of the glacier are unforgettable, but the peninsula has plenty more to offer and can easily sustain 2 or even 3 days of exploring. Circling the periphery is one of Iceland's most enjoyable road trips, especially if outdoor activities are tacked on. Possibilities include some splendid coastal walks; whale-watching from Ólafsvík; horseback riding along beaches on the south coast; and kayak or boat tours among the low-lying islands and mudflats of Breiðafjörður, a thriving habitat for birds and seals.

The Westfjords form a wildly convoluted claw-shape on the map, enticement enough for many would-be explorers. The area comprises a tenth of Iceland's landmass but a third of its coastline, and round every bend is some new variation on how mountains can tumble to the sea. The Westfjords have some of Iceland's grandest bird cliffs, loveliest sand beaches, and loneliest upland moors. Winters are relatively long and harsh, and the population is only 7,500 -- or less than one inhabitant per square kilometer. The image of the Westfjords as inaccessible, however, is exaggerated. Much of its road network is bumpy and decrepit, but daily flights to Ísafjörður, a likable and sophisticated town, take just 40 minutes from Reykjavík. The next morning you could board a boat for Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, one of Iceland's most ruggedly beautiful and pristine hiking areas. By afternoon you might be staring down an arctic fox, or peering over a dizzying bird cliff at the crashing surf, with civilization left completely behind.