The West Fjords are home to the most dramatic landscapes in Iceland. Yet, only 10% of visitors to Iceland explore the West Fjords.
Jaw-dropping fjords line steep, 14 million year-old mountains. Small clusters of concrete and steel-clad homes make up isolated villages across the region. Off the Ring Road, it’s a region whose population is dwarfed by the number of waterfalls and sheep. Okay, not really, but it seemed like it.
After spending two days exploring the West Fjords, I can understand why some travelers might shy away. Roads can be treacherous and have limited season accessibility. Long distances span between sought-after sites. Admittedly if you are short on time, a visit to the region can be challenging to cram into your itinerary.
However, if you are looking to get lost in the mist, take time away from the other thousands of tourists, and slowly explore a unique region, the West Fjords will not disappoint.
Not convinced you should explore the West Fjords on your trip to Iceland? I’ve curated 5 reasons the region should be part of your Iceland plan, completely based on my experiences.
1) LÁTRABJARG SEA CLIFFS
The western-most point of Iceland are the dramatic cliffs at Látrabjarg. If you’re only able to fulfill your “explore the West Fjords” wish in one way, make it these cliffs!
Látrabjarg Cliffs, a bird lover’s paradise! Thousands of sea birds, including puffins, arctic terns, and kittiwakes make their nests each summer along the crags.
Protected from arctic foxes, the birds explore the grassy meadows above the cliffs before dive-bombing into the water in search of fish. The birds are so close you can almost touch them. Seals can been seen sunning themselves on the rocks below in the shallow lagoons.
I’ll let the puffins speak for themselves, but you can read more about my experiences at Látrabjarg on another post.
2) HOT POT HOPPIN’
Nothing like the Blue Lagoon, these natural pools of warm water are popular with both locals and tourists. West Fjord hot pots are modest and highlight stunning views of fjords and mountains. We visited two hot pots on our 2 exploration of the region.
Our first hot pot was at the Reykjafjarðarlaug swimming pool and hot spring, nestled in the crook of the Reykjafjörður fjord.
There is a small changing area beside the pool, but no showers or restroom facilities are available. The pool runs about 32°C and the hot spring about 52°C. When driving from Bíldudalur, you’ll see the pool alongside route 63.
In the small fishing town of Drangsnes, three public tubs rest on the shoreline, fed by a natural spring. No signage exists, but there is a white changing house located across the road from the tubs with a shower and restroom. Icelandic tradition requires you shower before entering the tubs.
It is free to use the changing house, however there is a donation jar for the upkeep of the facilities and the tubs. Since we showered and used the hot pot, we left some Icelandic krona to assist with the efforts.
The view of the harbor from the tubs is incredible. Just like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, one of the tubs at Drangsnes are sure to be just right for your liking.
There are more hot pots in the West Fjords besides these two. I recommend checking out the Guide to Iceland blog.
3) DESOLATE AND STUNNING SCENERY
I’ve been to many places and on many scenic hikes, but I never experienced isolation like that in the West Fjords.
On day two in the region, we arrived at a small car park before heading into the Seljalandsdalur valley. We passed two hikers on their way out of the valley and for the remainder of the 2-hour hike it was just us (and some sheep).
Fog and low-clouds often cover the tops of the mountains, leaving an air of mystery hanging heavy on the land. Colorful fauna provides a stark contrast to the lush greenery.
Although most of the region is flush with greenery, we took a fascinating drive through the Dynjandisheiði heath. The brown, vacant land resembled what I envision the surface of the moon to look like. We drove ever upwards on the heath, being greeted with snow melting in the July overcast.
There were pockets of lime green moss and other vegetation growing close to the roadside and streams, but the rest looked like a wasteland. The best part about this odd part of the region? It leads to the poster-child of West Fjords waterfall, Dynjandi.
Make sure you download some Sígur Rós before departing for the West Fjords. Their music is the soundtrack to the stunning landscapes in the West Fjords.
There are many small villages dotted through the West Fjords. Most are set along fjords, as the livelihood of many Icelanders was (and still is) fishing.
The biggest town and de-facto capital of the region is Ísafjörður. Although home to 2,600 people, the town is a calm and quiet place to explore. I wish we had spent more time uncovering this gem.
From Ísafjörður there are many places where one can hike the surrounding mountains, horseback ride, kayak, or catch the ferry to the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. There are several overnight accommodations in town, including the best campsite that we stayed at in Iceland (with a view of a waterfall from your tent door).
After reading rave reviews on Trip Advisor, we decided to check out Húsið, a cozy cafe that features live music and delicious food. If you go, 2/4 of us recommend the fish soup. The other 2/4 highly recommend the pizza.
The best part? In the summer you can order a beer at the small bar and wait outside until there is a free table. We arrived at 21:00 and it was packed to the gills. We also had the opportunity to try a beer from one of the newest breweries in Iceland- Dokkan Brugghús.
In the morning we stopped into Gamla Bakaríð, rated one of the best bakeries in Iceland and certainly the oldest in operation. The staff was so helpful, despite it too being a popular spot for both tourists and locals. After 12 hours of traveling the previous day, it was peaceful to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee while gazing out at the street.
There are also several museums in Ísafjörður that you can explore, including a Westfjords Hertiage Musuem, Seamens Monument, and the Photo Musuem. As I fantasize about our next trip to explore the West Fjords, I plan on spending at least two days in Ísafjörður to more deeply uncover what the area has to offer.
5) UNIQUE MUSEUMS YOU’LL ONLY FIND IN ICELAND
Want to learn more about sea monsters? Witchcraft? Sheep Farming? Nonesense?
You can learn about all these things and more at local museums throughout the West Fjords. We were able to check out the Sea Monster Museum in Bíldudalur and the Arctic Fox Center and if they are any indication, you’re in for a treat at any of these local stops!
There is a full list of museums on Visit West Fjords, but here are some highlights:
- Sea Monster Museum in Bíldudalur
- Sheep Farming Museum in Hólmavík
- Samúel Jónsson’s Art Museum in Selárdalur
- Nonsense Museum in Flateyri
- Arctic Fox Center in Suðavík
- Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft in Hólmavík
NEED MORE REASONS TO EXPLORE THE WEST FJORDS?
- Plenty of opportunities for hiking
- More waterfalls than you can count
- Dozens of villages full of character
- Red and black beaches
LOOKING FOR DRIVING ADVICE?
Driving in the West Fjords can be challenging, so it’s best to be prepared! Take a look at my driving in Iceland post, much of which is based on experiences in the West Fjords.
Did I convince you that you should include the West Fjords on your summer Iceland itinerary? If not I encourage you to check out my other posts featuring how you can explore the West Fjords: