The Westfjords of Iceland, hanging precariously off the north-west corner of the country are isolated, beautiful and rarely visited as most tourists skip this area. The area is full of fjords carved out of the volcanic earth by ancient glaciers. The Westfjords are known for there extreme weather and has an extreme landscape to show for it in an area just south of the Arctic Circle. Travel can be difficult in the Westfjords especially in winter when only well prepared travellers should attempt the trip.
Reykhólar Hostel is the standout option for accomodation in the region since it is open all year around and is located close to the entrance to the fjords. There are two other hostels in the region open during the summer months in Bíldudalur and another old farmhouse turned hostel in Korpudalur. Camping is common in the summer months.
Sights and Highlights
Reykhólar is a perfect place to base your travels in the Westfjords. It is located quite close to the entrance to the Westfjords and Reykhólar Hostel is one of the only hostels in the region. The sea around Reykhólar is very shallow and has a high tidal range. These conditions, combined with the marshes and ponds found inland create a perfect environment for rich bird life. The village is famous for its kelp factory, the only factory in Iceland that processes seaweed. The products are used in food, animal fodder, fuel, fertilisers and for medicinal purposes.
The Westfjords most famous beach is more than a beach, it’s a sand and shell sculpture, yellow-red in a beautiful setting of black cliffs and blue sea. Rauðasandur (red sand) is one of the most spectacular sites of Iceland. Large seals play with their young on the beach. A great spot for spectacular photos of the amazing coastline and its wildlife.
The cliff of all cliffs, the Látrabjarg promontory is home to birds in unfathomable numbers and the westernmost point in Iceland. The cliffs are home to millions of birds, including puffins, northern gannets, guillemots and razorbills. It hosts up to 40% of the world population of some species. It is Europe’s largest bird cliff, 14km long and up to 440m high and is easily accessible by car.
Patreksfjörður is the biggest town in the southern part of the Westfjords, with a population of around 660. Early in the 20th century, Patreksfjörður was a pioneering force in Iceland’s fishing industry. Tourism is strong in Patreksfjörður due to its proximity to the Látrabjarg cliffs, Rauðasandur beach and Dynjandi waterfall. Patreksfjörður has a new outdoor swimming pool, and if you prefer natural hot pools you will find them within an easy driving distance from the town.
Tálknafjörður is a friendly village in the southern part of the Westfjords, with a population of approximately 300. For centuries, most of the locals made their living from fishing but the town now has a thriving tourism sector. In the northern part of the fjord are hot water springs that are used for fish farming and heating the swimming pool in town. Bonuses to this geothermal activity are natural hot pools located just outside the village. There is nothing better after a long day on the road than to relax in a hot pool and admire the mountains surrounding the town. Various hiking trails can be found on either side of the fjord, many of them old riding paths, used to cross the surrounding mountains and heaths.
Bíldudalur is a village situated on the coast of Arnarfjörður. Bíldudalur prospered in the 19th century thanks to the booming fishing industry. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, the decline of the fishing industry and the imposition of strict quotas by the Icelandic government led the town to diversify its economy. The village is now home to a factory, which processes a mineral-rich algae found in abundance in the fjord, in which many of the residents work. The village is also becoming a popular tourist destination, especially for fishing trips and for artists seeking to gain inspiration from the spectacular scenery.
Dynjandi is a highlight of the west fjords, and is never short of breathtaking. The biggest and widest part of the waterfall is the one that gets all the attention and the photos, even though there are impressive, albeit smaller, waterfalls further down the river. In fact, one is formed in such a way that the brave can walk behind it while staying relatively dry.
Þingeyri is a small village situated on a spit of land in one of Iceland’s most scenic fjords, Dýrafjörður. Like in most other seaside villages in Iceland, the culture and industry has been shaped by the sea and the fishing industry. The highest mountain of the peninsula, Kaldbakur, is one of the so-called Westfjords Alps, the tall and pointy mountain range between Dýrafjörður and Arnarfjörður. Most Westfjords mountains are flat topped as a result of Ice Age glaciers, but the “Alps” are tall and pointy.
Flateyri has been a trading post since 1792, and became a major whaling center in the 19th century. In October 1995 an avalanche hit the village, destroying 29 homes and killing 20 people. Since then a deflecting dam has been built to protect the village from any further avalanches. In the 1990s, Flateyri prospered as a fishing village but after the 2008 Icelandic financial crisis hit, its main fishing companies shut down and many people left. Across the fjord you will find a white, sandy beach. This beach is the venue for an annual sand castle competition which attracts hundreds of participants every year. Flateyri is home to SÍMA Hostel.
Suðureyri is another fine example of an Icelandic fishing village. The village only began to form in the early 20th century, growing rapidly with the mechanisation of the fishing industry. Recently, villagers seized the opportunity of combining the fishing tradition with tourism, and every summer hundreds of sea anglers from Europe visit and try their luck at catching cod and halibut out in the fjord. Those that prefer more fish-friendly activities can feed the cod in the lagoon just outside the village.
Bolungarvík is the northernmost village in the Westfjords and has been a fishing port since settlement. The top of the nearby Bolafjall mountain offers a staggering view. There is a road all the way to the top to service the radar station located there. It is open to tourists in the summer months only. Amenities include a gas station, shops and different types of accommodation, as well as an indoor swimming pool and a sports centre.
Ísafjörður is the largest town in the Westfjords peninsula, with some 2600 inhabitants. It is an ancient church site and a trading post since at least the 16th century, although a real town did not start to form until the mid-19th century. Ísafjörður has a range of accommodation, restaurants and recreation for all budgets and tastes. A golf course, hiking and biking trails, horse riding, bird watching, skiing and kayaking are all within easy reach.
Súðavík is a small, charming and friendly fishing village 20 kilometres from Ísafjörður. The family garden Raggagarður, is a playground in the heart of the old town. It is created as a place where the family can spend time together. Another attraction is The Arctic Fox Centre, an exhibition and research centre focusing on the only native terrestrial mammal in Iceland. It has a cafe, museum and accepts volunteers to help with monitoring local populations and looking after rescued cubs. The town is an excellent place for hiking and a local guide is available for nearby routes.
Hornstrandir Nature Reserve
The Hornstrandir Nature reserve is the most northerly region of the Westfjords. The area is known for its rugged and steep landscape, moss covered valleys and stony tablelands, and huge colonies of nesting seabirds. Hornstrandir is also known as a common hunting ground for polar foxes. The nature is almost untouched by people and the only way travel to the area is by boat to the town Hesteyri. From the middle of June till the middle of August tourists and hikers can take boats from Bolungarvík or Isafjörður to Hesteyri. You must bring all your own camping equipment if you intend to hike through here and make sure you are well prepared for snow regardless of the time of year. Check out westtours.is for more information.
The historical village of Djúpavík dates back to 1917 when a herring factory was established in this small creek by the fjord Reykjarfjörður. The factory operated until 1954 and today it serves as an exhibition building. Djúpavík is a part of Árneshreppur the least populous municipality in Iceland, with only 53 inhabitants. It stretches over a wide area, though, covering some 780 km2. The population density is thus only 0, 07 individuals per km2. The area does not enjoy any public transport, apart from one to two weekly flights from Reykjavik to Gjögur.
Drangsnes is a quiet and minimalistic fishing village conveniently located near the local fishing grounds. The entrepreneur who runs the local restaurant and one of the guesthouses also runs the boat tours to Grímsey island. Grímsey island was supposedly formed by a giant trying to separate the Westfjords from the rest of Iceland and is the biggest attraction in Drangsnes. The boat ride is only 10 minutes across to the island that boasts a rich bird life of puffins, fulmars and an interesting side story in fox farming. As with many small towns in Iceland, the new swimming pool is high quality and spending a few hours in them in the afternoons is a great way to embrace Icelandic culture and meet the locals.
It possible to rent a small car for as little as 50€ per day in peak season and 30€ in winter, however to consider travelling to this region of Iceland a 4WD car is required. Perhaps the cheapest car rentals in Iceland are through sadcars.com and this is a good starting point. Busses service this area during the summer as per this bus schedule. There is also a car ferry that can be used to travel from the Snæfellsnes peninsula to the Westfjords with information available at seatours.is