There’s nothing like a good road trip! Especially when driving the Icelandic West Fjords where there is so much diversity both in nature and wild-life. Everywhere you look is picture-postcard sights, packed of farm animals, tumultuous waterfalls, and rugged mountains.
Travel Guide to Westfjords of Iceland
The West Fjords include some of the most isolated areas of Iceland, but luckily it doesn’t mean they are inaccessible. Believe it or not, there are only 7400 inhabitants in the area, which means each person has around 1,2 km2 of personal space! The Westfjords are harsh and dramatic, with boisterous weather conditions and craggy mountain tops that tower above the icy water. But despite the peninsula’s mountainous nature, there are also plenty of charming details.
Whether you have a few days to fill or few weeks, driving is the ideal way to see the West Fjords at your own pace. Although it is possible to use the public bus system to travel around, having your own car will make you able to stop to take photos as you please (which is about every five seconds, if you’re me). You can hire a car in Reykjavik or at Keflavik airport. Here you can find the best car rental deals in Iceland.
As you follow the curvy mountain passes you will notice that many of the fjords are uninhabited resulting in quiet roads surrounded by untouched nature. The stunning landscapes of the West Fjords are the oldest part of Iceland (formed over 16 million years ago) and was created by a succession of ice ages and hasn’t changed much since. Now, the seals, whales and diverse bird-life circuit the deep fjords.
Cute Towns in the Westfjords
There are many small villages scattered around the Westfjords. Along the sides and at the inner and outer ends of each fjord you’ll find small communities and villages, each with its own characteristics that reflects its local traditions. Most of them were built up around the fishing industry due to its location close to some of the best fishing grounds in Iceland. You will most likely notice this as you stumble upon rows of codfish hanging out to dry alongside the roads or see the fishing boats that slowly sail through the fjords.
The livelihood of the villages depends on how nature behaves – The farmers hope for a good summer so their crops can grow and the fishermen wait for the right weather to go out to sea.
Most of the villages experience harsh living conditions over the winter months. With 4 hours of daylight some of the locals need to be regularly on the lookout for avalanches. They need to learn to cope with closed roads and stormy weather. Eventually the summer arrives along with its midnight sun and newborn lambs fill the mountain sides.
When driving the Westfjords you will most likely visit Ísafjörður, which is the capital of the area. Ísafjörður is the largest town in the peninsula located on a spit of sand, or eyri, in Skutulsfjörður. This cute town is dotted with colourful old houses on the edge of the bay that’s surrounded by majestic mountains. Make sure you stop at the local bakery, called “Gamla bakarí”, at the center of the town for a bite or two of the Icelandic kleina (a twisted doughnut) or the famous chocolate cinnamon bun or “snúður” in Icelandic.
There are endless hiking opportunities abound in the lush green hills that tower over the fjord as well as mountain biking, camping and sea kayaking. Despite its small size and historical isolation from the rest of Iceland, Ísafjörður has a rather urban atmosphere and hosts every year a popular music festival called “Aldrei fór ég suður” or “I never went South”.
Drangsnes is a tiny fishing village (some say it’s the smallest fishing village in the world) on the northern side of the Westfjord edge.
The best thing about this small village are the three hot tubs that are situated by the ocean and free for use for all visitors. During summertime you will see the hot tubs tightly packed with strangers who become friends and sit and chat under the midnight sun. From the hot tubs you get a unique view over surrounding fjords, where you can observe different bird species and last time we were there we even saw two humpback whales!
In winter it’s even more magical to relax in the warm water surrounded by the winter darkness. It’s even a great spot (and a warm one….) to watch the northern lights reflect in the water below.
Súðavík is a friendly, charming fishing village 20 kilometres from Ísafjörður. In 1995 a large avalanche destroyed a big part of the village, killing 14 people. After the disaster it was decided to move the whole village further into the fjord, while a large part of the old village still stands where the avalanche hit. So now the village is divided into two parts; the new village rebuilt safe from avalanches, and the old part kept intact as a summer resort for travellers.
Súðavík is a pleasant place to visit, with beautiful Icelandic houses, painted in bright colors that reflect in the fjord below. The village is really small, with steep mountains rising up on either side of the bay.
There are few cute restaurants and cafés in the town and another popular attraction is the arctic fox center, an exhibition and research centre focusing on the only native terrestrial mammal in Iceland, the Arctic fox. This small museum explains the natural history of Iceland. There’s also a nice coffee shop and outside you’ll find two orphaned male foxes. Usually I never visit places where animals are kept in a cage, but these foxes were found when they were young and Icelandic laws forbid to release them. So now the foxes are permanent residents and really like people, though one is a little friendlier than the other.
Bolungarvík is one of Iceland’s northernmost towns located close to Ísafjörður. The town is largely made up of rows of charming houses contrasting with the famous Bolafjall mountain in the background. The surrounding landscape has an extraordinary, desolated kind of beauty; set in a flat, sweeping valley with steep mountains and a sandy bay bordering its edges.
Þingeyri is a nice pitstop when driving the westfjords. It has a homy café called Simbahöllin, which serves delicious Belgian waffles in a beautifully renovated old Norwegian house. The small village is situated on a spit of land in one of Iceland’s most scenic fjords, Dýrafjörður. The first thing you will notice is the charming harbour with the Westfjords mountains as a backdrop, including some of the highest of the peninsula.
Bíldudalur is another small village and is in fact the only town in the fjord Arnarfjörður. While tourism has been increasing rapidly in this cute village, the main industry is still sea mineral processing and fish farming.
Látrabjarg Bird Cliff
Stretching for more that 14 km and up to 444 m high Látrabjarg marks the westernmost part of Europe and is known to be one of the most crowded bird cliffs on the planet. Here you will literally get the impression of being at the edge of Iceland while surrounded by thousands of birds.
I could easily spend a whole day here simply watching and photographing an array of bird species such as the Puffin, Northern Gannet, Guillemot and Razorbill.
The best thing is to sit down and take in the fresh ocean breeze while enjoying the most spectacular view out to the seas and over the rugged west fjords. If you are lucky you might see some seals resting on large rocks off the shore.
This massive bird habitat has always attracted human attention. These days bird enthusiasts roam the edges of the cliffs, however in the past, locals would risk their lives by abseiling down to collect eggs and snare the birds for food.
Rauði sandur – Red sand
The red sand beach lies about 10 km from Látrabjarg bird cliff. The drive down to the beach is incredibly scenic and at some points a bit scary. When you approach the beach from the hills you can see the colour of the red beach Rauðasandur. It is vast and astonishing. It stretches forever with golden shell sand and the magnificent hues of the sand differ with daylight and weather.
What is there to do in Rauðisandur? Well, not much, the main point of going there is to walk around, and enjoy the endlessly stretching sand with its unique tranquility. There is also a café there called Kirkjuhvammur that is definitely worth the visit. They serve the best coffee and real Icelandic waffles with whipped creme and jelly. While you sit back and dine you can adore the striking view over the beach.
Dynjandi waterfall is in my opinion the most majestic waterfall in Iceland, it begins where a wide glacial river drops off a cliff on its way to the Arnarfjörður Fjord. Cascading down over an ever-widening series of cliffs, Dynjandi forms a pyramid shape that in fact looks like a bridal veil.
The biggest and widest part of the waterfall is the one that gets all the attention and the photos, even though there are dozens of other impressive waterfalls further down the river. You can enjoy a small hike up to the waterfalls top, it takes from 15-20 minutes where you will walk past all the other smaller falls.
Hellulaug hot spring
Are you looking for a bit of adventure? This hot spring is located under a rock, down by the shore next to the abandoned farm called Hella. The hot spring is incredibly scenic where you get an infinity view over the fjord and surrounding mountains. I could seriously spend many hours in the cozy water with the temperature around 38°C.
Bolafjall is a mountain outside Bolungarvík, one of Iceland’s northernmost towns. The best part about this mountain is that you can actually drive to the top. It’s 634 meters high and has a gravel road leading to the top. However the road is a bit scary at some parts but makes for a great scenery. The road is very narrow and steep, almost hanging from the lofty mountainside. Then when you are finally at the top, it just get’s better. Some say that you can even see all the way to Greenland on a clear day. You will also see a weird round shape building that is a former US radar station, however now this area is used by the Icelandic Coastguard.
Also take caution when you are up there as it can be really windy and there is a steep drop off down the cliffs at every side. It’s best to go up there on a clear day, as clouds will reduce the visibility.
The road is open between July-August and it might be possible some days in September as well.
When cruising the many fjords of the West you will find few white, sandy beaches. Although the sea might be colder for bathing than most people prefer, the sand is soft and the views are wonderful. One of these beaches are located close to a town called Flateyri. That particular beach is actually the venue for an annual sand castle competition which attracts hundreds of participants every year, how cool is that?
Samúel Jónsson’s Art Museum in Selárdalur
In Selárdalur you will find a bizarre open are museum that is to honour the memory of Samúel Jónsson. This museum in Selárdalur has many wierd statues and buildings that is quite interesting to visit. Samúel’s house is also there and is still to be restored and will include a shop and a guest-apartment
There is also a cute church close by, that’s interesting to visit.
Hot springs of Reykjafjarðarlaug
This place is a must visit! The infinity pool in Reykjafjörður is around 40 years old and is open all year. The water comes from a well and there is also another hot spring in a walking distance from the pool. There are some changing facilities in the area but there are no showers on the premises.
Activities at the Westfjords
When driving the Westfjords there are few spots where seals are often found hanging out by the shore. Usually when I visit the Westfjords, I always spot some seals. They are incredibly beautiful and entertaining creatures that are curious by nature. They keep close to the shores so they can crawl up on big rocks or beaches to rest. Even though seals are wild animals, it does not take them long to get used to the closeness of humans, so you can expect to get striking photos of them in their natural environment.
Borea Adventure offers this kayaking tour to get even closer to the seals.
Whatever the weather and whatever your previous paddling experience (or lack of it!). The number one thing to do in the west fjords is sea kayaking. The Westfjords have sheltered fjords that make perfect conditions for sea paddling. While you’re out on the ocean you’ll experiences the closeness of nature and the beauty of the landscape from a different angle. You can choose different spots for kayaking, depending on what you’re interested in seeing; seals, geothermal areas or simply just paddle the deepest fjords!
You can do kayaking all year around in Ísafjörður, when the weather allows.
Uncover scenery that is breathtaking and enjoy your surrounds although we suspect you’ll be very busy with your camera!
For a similar adventure, check out these guys.
Have you been to the Westfjords of Iceland? Tell us about your favourite spots!
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