The Westfjords, Iceland's Crown Jewel Skip to content
Photo: Erik. The Westfjords at sunset.

The Westfjords, Iceland’s Crown Jewel

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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. 

When driving from Reykjavik it’s important to not 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. 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.

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.

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. 

Photo: Erik. Dynjandi waterfall, an icon of the Westfjords

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Photo: Erik. Ísafjörður, the largest town in the Westfjords

Something for Everyone

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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