The Westfjords, Iceland’s Crown Jewel

How to get to the Westfjords

When driving from Reykjavik, it’s important to note that the road out west, Vestfjarðavegur nr. 60, deviates from Þjóðvegur 1 highway in Borgarfjörður, and goes up Brattabrekka where it crosses through the small village of Búðardalur before heading into the Westfjords. If you’re driving to Ísafjörður, the capital of the Westfjords, from the Reykjavík area, you can expect the drive to last around 6 hours in good conditions. Note that roads in the Westfjords are still rough in many places, and inclement weather may significantly impact your driving time. If you’re planning on going to Ísafjörður, there are two main routes to drive. One way goes west via Route 60, passing through Þingeyri, and the other goes through Hólmavík via Route 61.

Driving conditions in the Westfjords can be worse than in many other parts of the nation, in part due to the northern latitude, higher elevation, and lower level of infrastructure. Before you go, it’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with best practices for driving in Iceland.

 

For context, the above photos were all taken on a trip in March / April. While that might sound like spring to some readers, out in the Westfjords, it’s still very much winter!

There are three airports in the area with scheduled domestic flights throughout the summer to Ísafjörður and Bíldudalur, two of the biggest towns, and Gjögur, a non-populated location at the eastern tip of the fjords. A third option for getting to the Westfjords is by ferry from Stykkishólmur to Brjánslækur with a pitstop on the tiny island of Flatey.

Traveling through the winding roads of the Westfjords in Iceland may seem intimidating but during the summer season it is a surprisingly accessible area that is sure to leave an unforgettable impression. The Westfjords are not only breathtaking to look at but they are rich in culture and history that is proudly displayed all along the way. Sprinkled throughout the area are geothermal baths and some true natural wonders that make the Westfjords worthy of their own Ring Road type journey. 

Breiðafjörður ferry Baldur
The ferry Baldur, which services Stykkihómur, Flatey, and Brjánslækur.

The Wild Westfjords

Like most areas in Iceland, the Westfjords were built up around fishing and the unique landscape of the fjords already had natural harbours that people were able to utilize. Although sparsely populated, the Westfjords has a vibrant collection of towns that have adapted well to changing times and aside from fishing and fish farming, the economy of the west is now largely based on tourism. One of the most prominent fjords is Breiðafjörður, a large expance of ocean between Stykkishólmur and the Westfjords, that is home to a number of whale species and birdlife and offers a great opportunity for whale watching. Smaller fjords cut out from Breiðafjörður and in one of them, Vatnsfjörður, is a hidden gem of a geothermal pool, Hellulaug, nestled in a cave just a few steps off the main road. Close by is Hótel Flókalundur, a newly renovated hotel that is a great first stop on the journey through the Westfjords. 

The largest town in the southwest part of the fjords is Patreksfjörður, a short forty five minute drive from Vatnsfjörður, that greets visitors with cozy restaurants like Stúkuhúsið and a brand new community pool that has stunning views across the fjord. Two of the most popular natural highlights of the Westfjords are both in the vicinity of Patreksfjörður; Látrabjarg cliffs, a huge, easily accessible bird cliff where puffins and a number of different bird species nest in the summer and Rauðisandur beach, a ten km long beach of red sand that seems to extend out to the horizon.

iceland puffin
A puffin by the Látrabjarg sea cliffs.

Small towns, big nature

A bit further up north from Patreksfjörður is one of the most charming towns in Iceland, Bíldudalur, perfectly situated on the tip of Arnarfjörður. Bíldudalur has a reputation for being blessed with good weather more than any other location in the west and that might explain the jovial vibe of it that immediately makes visitors feel welcome. The town has a certain je nais se quoi element to it that is best experienced in person. It’s a perfect place to stop for soft serve ice cream and a stroll along the harbour. Music is prevalent in the culture of Bíldudalur along with folklore about sea monsters which has sprouted an interactive Monster Museum that is a must see. Not too far from Bíldudalur is Reykjarfjörður-syðri, a camping ground with two seperate natural pools, a structured one that is visible from the road and a slightly less visible one that springs right up through the grassy field. Roughly an hour’s drive north from Bíldudalur is another highlight of the Westfjords, Dynjandi, a breathtaking waterfall with impressive sound effects. 

Dynjandi waterfall
Dynjandi waterfall. Photo by Erik.

Traveling north towards the Westfjord’s biggest town, Ísafjörður, are a number of interesting villages worth visiting, including Þingeyri, a bustling fishing village with a world class belgian waffle café and Flateyri (not to be confused with Flatey), a popular place for kayaking with the added bonus of a homely second hand bookstore straight out of a novel. The last town before Ísafjörður is Bolungarvík that sports a natural history museum, a fishing museum and a swimming pool with a thrilling waterslide. A few years ago a huge viewing platform was built on Bolafjall close to the town that offers beautiful views over Ísafjarðardjúp and beyond and is not for the faint of hearts. South of Bolungarvík is the unofficial capital of the Westfjords, Ísafjörður, a town of 2600 people and a place where sky’s the limit when it comes to activities and adventures. It is worth spending a few days in Ísafjörður to fully experience what the area has to offer and for true nature lovers there are few places in Iceland that compare to Hornstrandir Nature Reserve that is a short boat ride away from town. Hornstrandir is a vast speck of land that has never been inhabited by humans and is one of the most popular hiking spots in the country with wild flora and fauna that make it a truly unforgettable experience. 

ísafjörður westfjords
The town of Ísafjörður, seen from the west.

Where to stay in the Westfjords?

Compared to the rest of Iceland, things in the Westfjords are on a smaller scale. There are fewer towns, with fewer people. So in general, you need to plan out where you eat, where you’re going to get gas, and where you’re going to stay.

Planning early is especially important for accommodation in the Westfjords, which are an especially important part of your journey. Ísafjörður, for example, is a town of only 2,700 people but is visited by thousands of travellers during the peak summer months. 

During the high season, rooms in Ísafjörður may be booked months in advance, so if you’re planning a trip there, keep that in mind! 

Staying in Ísafjörður

The town of Ísafjörður only has a handful of hotels, hostels, and guesthouses so your options are somewhat limited. 

At the time of writing, a four-night stay for two adults during peak summer months in a guesthouse costs some 81,000 ISK [$573, €539], just for some context. The same stay at the hostel will put you back 71,000 ISK [$503, €472], and a stay at a proper hotel will be about double for the same stay, around 150,000 ISK [$1,060, €998].

Travellers who prefer short-term rentals will of course have various options to choose from. On the cheaper end of things, a simple apartment can be had for around 21,000 ISK  [$150, €139] per night for two adults. At the more luxurious end of the spectrum a small house can be had for around 70,000 ISK per night [$500, €465], so this may be a good option for travellers with families.

cruise ship iceland
Ísafjörður is an increasingly popular destination for cruise ship tourism. Photo by Erik.

Camping in the Westfjords

Most settlements in the Westfjord will also have campgrounds, where backpackers can pitch tents, and camper vans can find connections for electricity and water. 

As of 2023, the campground in Ísafjörður charged 1,900 ISK per person per night [$13.50, €12.60], which includes access to a washing machine, toilets, shower, cooking facilities, and a playground for children. So this may be a great option for the younger and more adventurous traveller looking to experience the Westfjords on a budget (though of course, just during the summer). The Ísafjörður campground is open from May 15 to September 15.

camper van iceland
A camper van on the way to Ísafjörður. Photo by Erik.

Many campsites throughout the Westfjords will have similar services and prices as the campground in Ísafjörður, but as always, it’s best to check at the site before you go!

Something for everyone - what to do in the Westfjords?

Rounding out the trip through the Westfjords are two towns on the western edge, Hólmavík and Drangsnes. Both towns are small but full of personality and history, especially of the supernatural kind. Hólmavík has its own Magic Museum to recount the history of witchcraft in Iceland, but witch-hunting was especially prevalent in the Hólmavík area in the 17th century. Drangsnes is further out west and although it has a proper swimming pool in town, the real reason to visit are the hot tubs down by the ocean side with uninterrupted views of the surrounding fjord.

Ultimately, the Westfjords are a place that should be a staple on any Iceland itinerary. It’s an endlessly versatile area where everyone can find activities to enjoy, from fishing in serene lakes and rivers, to horseback riding with locals through remarkable nature. Around every corner is a new surprise and no matter how long the stay, the Westfjords are a place that will leave visitors wanting to come back for more.

Exploring the Westfjords in 24, 48, and 72 hours

Summer in Hornstrandir, Westfjords.

With many unpaved, narrow and meandering mountain roads, the Westfjords are a place of slow and careful travel. Seemingly short distances can be long in reality, which will be your main obstacle when visiting the Westfjords with a limited amount of days at hand. Having a predetermined plan with estimated travel times can come in handy to tackle this, but being flexible is also key. Most importantly, though, enjoy the scenic journey, not just the destinations!

Day one

7-9 AM

Make your way to the Westfjords. If you have a long drive before reaching them, for example, travelling from Reykjavík, we recommend heading off at 7 AM to make the most of your day. The itinerary includes lunch and dinner stops where you can buy food, but pack something to snack on between meals. 

11:30 PM

Your first stop will be for lunch at Flókalundur in Vatnsfjörður fjord. If you brought your own lunch, head up to the campsite picnic tables or spread out on the grass by the shore. You can also purchase lunch at Hótel Flókalundur. 

12:30 PM

Depart from Flókalundur and drive to your next destination: Rauðisandur Beach.  The journey will take a bit more than an hour. Rauðisandur, or Red Sand, is a truly magnificent place picked as one of the top 100 beaches of the world by Lonely Planet. The beach, stretching for 12-13 km [7.5-8 miles], gets its name from the uniquely pink and reddish shades of its sand, stemming from the shell of the Icelandic Scallop.

A mountain road in the Westfjords.
Photo: Golli. A mountain road in the Westfjords.

2:30 PM

Head off to your next destination, which is the renowned Dynjandi Waterfall. 100 metres [328 feet] tall and spreading out on the cliffs like a veil, it‘s a spectacular sight. You can hike up to the waterfall on a rocky path, passing by several other smaller waterfalls on the way. The area is a natural protected monument, so please stay on the paths to help preserve it. To take in more of the Westfjords’ unique landscape on the way to Dynjandi, opt for road 63 rather than 62, which you drove from Flókalundur. The drive will be about 2 hours. Should you be in need of an atmospheric snack spot before you arrive at Dynjandi, stop by the Abandoned Barn of Fossfjörður fjord. 

5:30 PM

If you‘re not planning on staying the night in the Westfjords, this is the time to circle back. If you are staying, drive the 50-minute drive to Ísafjörður for dinner at Húsið restaurant. Their fish soup is particularly popular among guests and a must-try if you haven‘t had Icelandic fish soup yet. For those not ready to go to bed after dinner, we recommend driving to the Bolafjall mountain viewing platform, which has an absolutely breathtaking view of the mountains and ocean lying before it. For lodgings, we recommend The Little House or Einarshúsið Guesthouse in Bolungarvík, a small village 15 minutes from the platform. 

Day two

8 AM

Start your day off with a Kringla and Kókómjólk at Kaffihús Bakarans bakery in Ísafjörður. This is a classic Icelandic combo of torus-shaped carraway bread and chocolate milk. 

9:30 AM

Head off on a guided trip to Hesteyri, a tiny village deserted in 1952. Now, it serves as a summer resort for local owners and is a popular starting point for hikers exploring the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. Due to its isolation and lack of inhabitants, nature has been left mostly undisturbed. As a result, you will experience Iceland’s most pristine flora and fauna, with wildflowers spreading over the entire area and arctic foxes running between them. You can bring lunch or order it from the local cafe, The Doctor‘s House.

Note: The trip to Hesteyri can only be made from the beginning of June to the end of August. 

An arctic fox on a beach in Hornstrandir, Westfjords.
Photo: Golli. An arctic fox on a beach in Hornstrandir, Westfjords.

2:30 PM

When you get back, take a walk around town and pop into the Westfjords Heritage Museum to gain a better insight into the Westfjord‘s culture and maritime history. If you‘re cold and tired, you can also make your way straight to your accommodations for the night: Heydalur farm guesthouse. There, you‘ll be able to take refuge in their unique swimming pool and natural hot spring before having a delicious locally sourced dinner. If you‘re yet to try the Icelandic lamb, we highly recommend having the lamb fillet. The drive from Ísafjörður to Heydalur will take a bit less than two hours. If your plans do not include another night in the Westfjords, you can start your journey back after dinner.

Day three

8 AM

For your last day in the Westfjords, you‘ll head over to the north side for an adventure in Strandir straight after breakfast. Your destination is Krossneslaug, a small swimming pool on a beach in the middle of nowhere. It‘s probably the most remote swimming pool you‘ll find in Iceland. It‘s been in use since 1954 and has a terrific view of the ocean, where you might be able to spot some whales if you‘re lucky. The drive will take about 3 hours, which sounds like a lot but don‘t worry; half of it is on the most scenic road you can take in Iceland.

Note: Due to road conditions, Krossneslaug can only be reached from mid-May to the end of August.

Krossneslaug swimming pool in Westfjords.
Photo: Golli. Krossneslaug swimming pool in Westfjords.

12:30 PM

Begin the 50-minute drive to Djúpavík, a historical, abandoned and enchanting village where you can have a late lunch at Hótel Djúpavík and a guided tour of the old herring factory. The village is known for its ability to take you back in time and was one of the filming locations of the 2017 Justice League.

3:30 PM

It‘s time to venture back to civilisation for the last stop of your Westfjords tour. The Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft is located in Hólmavík, and it will take you approximately an hour and a half to get there from Djúpavík. The museum offers you to step into the time of Galdrafárið, the witch hunt hysteria, and learn about the lives of people in Strandir during that period. The latest time to enter is 5:30 PM, so make sure to leave Djúpavík no later than 3:30 PM. This should give you about an hour to explore, as the drive takes approximately an hour and a half. End your day with a scrumptious meal at Café Riis in Hólmavík, which serves high-quality Icelandic classics and pizzas. 

A Guide to Iceland’s Most Popular Waterfalls

dynjandi waterfall in iceland

Skógafoss Waterfall

This 60-metre [200 ft] waterfall is immersed in legend. The tallest waterfall in Iceland, Skógafoss is fed by two glaciers. Its icy waters plummet down to a pool below, where visitors can walk close to the falls, likely getting drenched in the process. 

The waterfall itself can be seen from two different viewpoints: at its base and from above. Visitors can climb a metal staircase to reach the top of the falls, where they are often greeted by the song of birds and a carpet of luscious greenery. A double rainbow typically accompanies this view, a result of the sunlight striking the water. 

skógafoss waterfall in south iceland

The legend surrounding Skógafoss details how the viking Þrasi Þórólfsson buried a chest full of treasures behind the falls:

“The chest of Þrasi is filled with treasures, 

located beneath Skógafoss waterfall,

the first man who goes there will find great richness.” 

Years later, three men set out to find this chest. They were successful. Yet upon trying to remove it from its watery hiding place, one of the golden rings, which served as a handle, broke off and plunged the chest deep beneath the waterfall, never to be found again. Travellers can find this infamous golden ring at the Skógar Museum. 

Traveling to Skógafoss

Located in the South of Iceland, Skógafoss is an ideal destination for anyone travelling on the Ring Road. Only a two-hour drive from Reykjavik, visitors who choose to drive to this destination can take advantage of free parking and the nearby campsite in the village of Skógar. Skógafoss is also accessible by bus line 51. 

Activities Near Skógafoss

Adventure enthusiasts who are eager to savour the natural beauty of their surroundings can hike in the area. A hiking trail can be found at the top of Skógafoss. It leads to the Fimmvörðuháls Trailhead, which many consider to be one of the best hikes in Iceland. This challenging trail spans 24.5 km [15.2 mi] with a 1300 metre [4265 ft] ascent and typically takes seven to twelve hours to complete.

For those who prefer a less strenuous activity, the Skógar museum is close to a five-minute drive from Skógafoss. The museum was opened in 1949 and is located beside a school building from 1901, an old magistrate’s house, a farmhouse, and a turf storehouse. Visitors can find national costumes, a tapestry, other artifacts, and the golden ring from the legend inside the museum. 

 

Dettifoss Waterfall

Dettifoss, a waterfall which boasts of nature’s strength, is known by many as “the beast”. The most powerful waterfall in all of Europe, this natural wonder is a spectacular vision.  Fed by the largest glacier in Iceland, Vatnajokull, Dettifoss is 100 metres [328 ft] wide with a 44 metre [144 ft] drop. Some say by placing one’s hand on top of nearby rocks, you can feel the power of Dettifoss reverberate through the landscape. 

Dettifoss offers two different vantage points. The upper view is accessible via a path along the river, where travellers may experience a chilling spray from the waterfall. For the lower viewpoint, visitors can embark on a steep downhill walk, which is also likely to result in being drenched in the waterfall’s mist.

dettifoss waterfall in north iceland

Travelling to Dettifoss 

Located in Vatnajökull National Park in Iceland’s northeast, this waterfall is a seven-hour drive from Reykjavik. However, it is only a 35-minute drive off of the Ring Road. Travellers can access Dettifoss from either the east or west side. Road 864 will take travellers to the west side of the waterfall, while Road 862 will lead to the east. There is free parking on both the east and west sides of Dettifoss. Some travellers may also prefer discovering Dettifoss from the comfort of a guided tour.

Activities Near Dettifoss

Dettifoss is not the only waterfall in the area. Explorers can hike a rocky 1 km [0.62 mi] trail to Selfoss. This waterfall is found in Jökulsárgljúfur canyon and is 100 [328 ft] metres wide. Often dwarfed by the magnificence of its neighbour, Dettifoss, Selfoss is worth the 30-minute trek. Travellers are often mesmerised by its horseshoe-like shape and the gentle spray of mist which compliments the Icelandic landscape. The Mývatn nature baths are also nearby, making a great stop on a tour of the area.

Hafragilsfoss waterfall is located downstream from Dettifoss and is only a five-minute drive north. Hafragilsfoss is fed by the same glacier as Dettifoss and stands at 27 metres [89 ft]. Nestled within rocky terrain, this waterfall can be viewed from the east or west. 

 

Gullfoss Waterfall

A popular Hollywood destination, Gullfoss waterfall has made an appearance in a myriad of films. Will Ferrell’s Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, Lost in Space, Vikings, and Twice Upon a Time, have all taken advantage of the stunning landscape and thundering falls. 

Called the Golden Falls, Gullfoss lives up to its name. Rather than a single cascade, this waterfall flows over two rocky plateaus, carrying water from the Langjokull glacier to the pool below. In the summer months, the sunlight shines upon Gullfoss, causing the water to take on a spectacular golden hue. 

To travellers who are visiting Gullfoss in the winter months, it is prudent to take caution as the terrain can often by icy and slippery and requires caution when exploring. 

gullfoss waterfall golden circle
Golli – Gullfoss Waterfall

Travelling to Gullfoss 

The Gullfoss waterfall is in Iceland’s southwest in Haukadalur valley. It is a popular stop for those who are travelling along the Golden Circle. It can be reached from Reykjavik in only two hours by car. There is a visitor center and parking lot near Gullfoss and parking is free.  There are no city buses available from Reykjavik to Gullfoss, but many guided tours are available. 

Activities Near Gullfoss

Gullfoss Café is located next to the main parking lot where customers can purchase tasty delicacies. A nearby shop is also available, selling Icelandic souvenirs. 

Gullfoss also has a couple different walking paths that visitors can travel for a truly immersive experience. Different views of the waterfall and canyon are available, mostly looking from the waterfall above as it tumbles into the canyon below. A truly breathtaking view.  

Check out even more ways to see the Golden Circle.

 

Dynjandi Waterfall

For travellers with an inclination for waterfalls, Dynjandi is the place to be. Known as the “jewel of the Westfjords”, Dynjandi shimmers amidst the landscape. It stands at 100 metres [328 ft] tall with a width of 60 metres [197 ft]. However, it is not the only waterfall nearby. Rather, Dynjandi is one of seven other waterfalls in the area. In order to access Dynjandi, travellers must hike past these six other waterfalls. They are called: Strompgljúfrafoss, Göngumannafoss, Hrísvaðsfoss, Kvíslarfoss, Hundafoss and Bæjarfoss. However, most agree that Dynjandi, which has often been equated to a bridal veil, is the most spectacular in the area. 

dynjandi waterfall westfjords
Berglind – Dynjandi Waterfall

Travelling to Dynjandi 

A six-hour drive away from the nation’s capital, Dynjandi is not easily accessible from Reykjavik. This means the waterfall is not often crowded by tourist and is worth the trek for travellers who wish to avoid large crowds. For those travelling by car, there is free parking. 

It is also possible to reach the waterfall from the comfort of an organised tour. 

Activities Near Dynjandi 

In order to reach Dynjandi waterfall, travellers must make a fifteen-minute hike uphill on a well-maintained pathway. This hike is steep and may not be accessible to everybody. This journey will take travellers past six other smaller waterfalls along the path and serves to be a quick but beautiful hike. 

 

Dynjandi Donated to the Icelandic State

Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson and Birkir Jón Jónsson by Dynjandi waterfall.

The estate of Dynjandi by Arnarfjörður to the Icelandic state, by RARIK- Iceland State Electricity. The donation was made on the occasion of the Republic of Iceland’s 75th anniversary and the official delivery was made yesterday, on the Day of Icelandic Nature. RARIK ltd is a corporation owned by the government. Minister for the Environment and Natural Resources Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson accepted the donation on the government’s behalf.

The estate contains the waterfall Dynjandi, as well as other waterfalls in the Dynjandi river. Dynjandi is among the country’s highest waterfall, almost 100 m high and one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Westfjords.

On the occasion of the donation, Guðmundur Ingi and Birkir Jón Jónsson, Chairman of the board of RARIK signed an agreement to ensure the area’s protection. Dynjandi and the other waterfalls in the river were made a conservation area in 1981 but the government intends to extend that conservation to the whole of the estate.

“RARIK generous donation to the nation creates a unique opportunity to connect the estate to the conservation area in Vatnsfjörður and to create great value for the south part of the Westfjords,” said Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson on the occasion. “The nature of the area will be appreciated and its attractiveness to tourists increased. Research shows that it is economically efficient to protect nature and that the majority of people visiting the country, come for the nature.”

The Dynjandi estate is abandoned today but has a long history of habitation and archaeological finds in the area have a historical and cultural value. The area has been made more accessible in the past few years, a parking area was opened in 2018 and new bathroom facilities were opened yesterday. Improvements to walking paths and observation platforms are also planned.

Breakthrough in Dýrafjörður Tunnel Celebrated

The final explosion to clear the Dýrafjörður tunnel will be performed tomorrow. A special ceremony will be held to celebrate the fact that the construction of the tunnel has gone extremely well. Minister of Transport Sigurður Ingi Jóhannsson will attend the ceremony and assist with finishing the job with a special ceremonial explosion at 14.30.

The first explosion was made on September 14, 2017, so it only took 19 months to dig the 5300-metre long tunnel. The digging crew set an Icelandic record by digging 111 metres in a single week. No significant delays took place, and no aquifers were hit nor was there any difficulties breaking through the rock.

The tunnel will assist with transport security in the Westfjords, as residents had to rely on Vestfjarðavegur road which is often closed in the wintertime. When the tunnel will be fully completed, it will shorten the Vestfjarðarvegur route by 27 kilometres, as well as providing a stable and secure route. The tunnel will open towards Dýrafjörður on the north side and Arnarfjörður on the south side.

Travellers heading to Dynjandi waterfall will now enjoy a shorter route to their destination.

The contractors Suðurverk and Metrostave have invited townsfolk from Ísafjörður and Þingeyri to the ceremony. Buses will go from Kjarnastaðir at 12.45 into the working zone, while two buses will go back and forth from Ísafjörður. People are reminded to come appropriately dressed, and with proper footwear. As the area is still a construction zone, individuals under 18 years will not be allowed to enter.

The formal ceremony begins at 14.00, and the men’s choir Ernir will sing a couple of songs before the Minister will perform the final explosion. Light refreshments will be served. The ceremony is planned to last until about 15.30.

Further information about the Dýrafjörður tunnel can be found here – http://www.vegagerdin.is/Verkefnavefir/Dyrafjardargong.nsf (English information at the bottom).