The Westfjords, Iceland's Crown Jewel Skip to content

The Westfjords, Iceland’s Crown Jewel

By Þórunn Arnaldsdóttir

Photo: Erik. The Westfjords at sunset.

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.

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