One of the most beautiful places in Iceland is without a doubt the Westfjords. Although it’s only a few hours from Reykjavík, I only went there for the first time last year. I immediately regretted not going there sooner because the nature there is even more beautiful than I’d imagined. The mountainous landscape is completely different from the rest of Iceland, with its flat-topped cliffs and narrow fjords. The area is ruled by desolate nature as only 7000 inhabitants live in this 22 km2 area. You have the possibility to go sightseeing on your own, hiking in Hornstrandir, kayaking in the fjords or just enjoy the small fishing towns.
In order to get the most out of a visit the Westfjords, I recommend spending at least three days there, preferably more, depending on how far you’re going. Even though the distances might not seem great on a map, a lot of the roads there are narrow gravel roads, so it can take longer to navigate than expected. It’s not recommended to go there in winter. Here are some of the places that I recommend visiting in the Westfjords:
This is a 10 km long beach, and as the name suggests the yellow sand often takes hues of red, depending on the light and weather. The blue sea and black cliffs around the area is a perfect contrast to the sand and shells. It’s highly likely that you’ll see a seal or two wandering around the shore.
Fun fact: At one end of Rauðasandur lies the abandoned farm Sjöundá. In 1802, when hundreds of people lived in the area, the farm was the setting for gruesome murders that later inspired one of Gunnar Gunnarsson’s best novels, Svartfugl (published in English as The Black Cliffs).
These magnificent cliffs are the biggest bird cliffs in Europe and are home to a great variety of birds. You’ve probably heard of the puffin, with its technicolour beak. This is the best place to see those cuties (Note: the puffin is only here from May until the middle of August). Látrabjarg is actually the westernmost point of Europe (not counting the Azores). These cliffs are so steep that you get dizzy going too close to the edge, which is just as well, since going too close to the edge is not recommended at all (the puffins make holes in the edge so it’s not safe). Látrabjarg is ideal for photographers and bird lovers. Me and my friend had a picnic there last summer, I recommend trying it if it’s not too windy.
This is an exceptionally charming fishing village, affectionately known as Patró by the locals. It’s an ideal place to stop and explore the surrounding area, there are cafés, restaurants, a hotel and a campsite in town and Látrabjarg, Rauðasandur and Dynjandi as well as other natural wonders are all in the vicinity. If nothing else, the view of the ocean and the mountains from Patreksfjörður is exceptional.
If you’re a fan of waterfalls (and who isn’t?), you can’t miss Dynjandi. It’s a series of waterfalls ending in the ocean, starting at 100 m above sea level. The most famous part, or at least the most photographed one, is the widest one, only 15 minutes from the parking lot. The waterfall is so stunning that it’s very possible you won’t be able to tear yourself away. If you can’t, that’s not a problem, there’s a campsite by the waterfall. Just be sure you can handle the noise!
The Natural Pool at Reykjafjörður in Arnarfjörður
There are so many fjords in the Westfjords that they even have fjords within fjords. In Reykjafjörður in Arnarfjörður are two pools, one natural and the other man-made. The natural pool, which used to be used for washing laundry, is too hot to sit in for longer periods of time but the other one is perfect for relaxing and watching the sun set in the fjord, behind the “Alps of the Westfjords”. Please remember to leave the place as you found it.
The Icelandic Sea Monster Museum
You’ve probably heard of sea monsters, but how much do you really know about them? Here’s your chance to learn more! Tales of monsters, elves, trolls and ghosts have been a big part of Icelandic culture through the ages, probably because of the dark winters when people had nothing better to do than imagining what was lurking in the darkness. It’s only open in the summer. If you want to know more about the supernatural Iceland, you could also stop by the museum of Icelandic sorcery and witchcraft in Hólmavík.
The Hornstrandir Nature Reserve
One of the most popular hiking trails, not just of the west fjords but of all of Iceland, lies through the Hornstrandir nature reserve. The area used to be heavily populated but because of changing social structures, the area was abandoned around the end of the second world war. Roads are scarce and the area can only be reached by boat or on foot but the nature of the area is magnificent. Several species of plants that were on the verge of extinction because of sheep grazing, are now thriving, and all animals in the area are protected, which has led to a thriving population of arctic foxes and immensely diverse birdlife.
Ísafjörður is the heart of the Westfjords. It is one of the oldest towns in Iceland and used to be one of its largest as well. It has a rich history and culture and some of the oldest houses in Iceland. It’s a great place to stay while you go skiing at the Tungudalur skiing area, go swimming, get some pastries at the revered “Old Bakery” and explore the surrounding area. Not only is the nature surrounding Ísafjörður quite extraordinary, it’s also surrounded by a host of small villages, each with their own charm. Visit for example the Ósvör maritime museum at Bolungavík or the museum of Jón Sigurðsson, Icelandic hero of independence, at his place of birth at Hrafnseyri by Arnarfjörður.
Looking for more information? Check out www.westfjords.is for information on accommodation, transportation and activities.