Awarded Top 10 region to travel to in 2022About Best In Travel 2022
The Westfjords is where Iceland’s dramatic landscapes come to a riveting climax and where mass tourism disappears – only about 10% of Iceland's visitors ever see the region. Jagged bird cliffs and broad multihued dream beaches flank the south. Rutted dirt roads snake north along jaw-dropping coastal fjords and over immense central mountains, revealing tiny fishing villages embracing traditional ways of life. In the far north, the Hornstrandir hiking reserve crowns the quiet region, and is home to cairn-marked walking paths revealing bird life, Arctic foxes and ocean vistas. The Strandir coast is less visited still, with an end-of-the-line, mystical feel, geothermal springs and minuscule oceanside hamlets.
Leave plenty of time: unpaved roads weave around fjords and over pothole-pitted mountain passes, but the scenery is never short of breathtaking. Once you get used to it, you may not want to leave.
The Westfjords: Voted Top 10 Region as Best in Travel 2022
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout The Westfjords.
Craggy mountains, precarious sea cliffs and plunging waterfalls make up Hornstrandir, one of Europe’s last true wilderness areas, covering some of the most extreme parts of Iceland. It’s a fantastic destination for hiking, with challenging terrain and excellent opportunities for spotting Arctic foxes, seals, whales and teeming bird life. It is essential to plan ahead and get local advice, as vast snow drifts with near-vertical faces can develop on the mountain passes, rivers can become unfordable.
Tumbling in a broad sweep over a 100m-rocky scarp at the head of Dynjandivogur bay, Dynjandi is the most dramatic waterfall in the Westfjords. The bumpy drive to it is famous for incredible views; you'll see how the falls are the catchment area for run-off from the peaks and inland valleys all around. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday from June to August a Westfjords Adventures bus linking Ísafjörður, Brjánslækur and Patreksfjörður stops at Dynjandi twice a day.
Stunning Rauðasandur beach stretches out in shades of pink and red sands on the southern edge of the peninsula. Pounded by surf and backed by a huge azure lagoon, it's an exceptionally beautiful, serene place. You can walk out to the lagoon edge at low tide; keep a lookout for seals. A coastal path (about 20km) runs between Rauðasandur and the Látrabjarg bird cliffs. Approach Rauðasandur by car from Rte 612 by taking steep, winding Rte 614 for about 10km.
Part of a cluster of historic wooden buildings by the harbour, this museum is in the Turnhús (1784), which was originally a warehouse. It's crammed with fishing and nautical exhibits, tools from the whaling days, fascinating old photos depicting town life over the centuries, and accordions. To the right is the Tjöruhús (1781), now an excellent seafood restaurant. The Faktorhús (1765), which housed the manager of the village shop, and the Krambúd (1757), originally a storehouse, are now private residences.
The old turf-and-stone fishing shacks of the Ósvör Maritime Museum powerfully evoke a past age. A guide in a typical lambskin fisher’s outfit shows you around the shore-side settlement, outlining its history and traditional seafaring life from the Settlement Era to the present day. There's also a cramped fishers' hut full of relics and a rowing boat.
The multilingual displays at this award-winning museum brilliantly convey dark, dramatic tales. Unlike the witches of New England's Salem trials, most of Iceland’s convicted witches were men. Often 'occult practices' were simply old Viking traditions or superstitions, but hidden grimoires (magic books) full of puzzling runic designs were proof enough for the local witch hunters (the area's elite) to burn around 20 souls (mostly peasants) at the stake. Don't miss the detailed descriptions of the spells, and the startling ‘ necropants ’.
Charming Vigur is a popular destination for day trippers from Ísafjörður. In season it's a nesting site for hundreds of puffins, and the rest of the year it's a peaceful spot, sitting in the mouth of Hestfjörður, offering sweeping fjord views in every direction, with seals splashing in the water and the chance to spot whales and dolphins.
At the tip of the Arnarfjörður, local artist Samúel Jónsson lived out his remaining years at a remote farm in Selárdalur, and filled his days by creating a series of ‘naive’, cartoonlike sculptures. Visitors can peruse the surreal works: a flamboyant house, a circle of lions (created from a postcard Samúel saw of the Alhambra), an ornate church and Samúel’s home.
Crumbling plaster, towering chimneys and vast water tanks ensure Reykjarfjörður's old herring factory is an atmospheric place. The trappings of old industry litter its dusty, cavernous spaces. Now each summer they're filled with powerful mixed-media pieces by acclaimed artists. Here photos, paintings, fabrics, found art, sculpture and installations, blend with audio exhibits and the crashing sounds of the mighty waterfall and waves outside.