The Westfjords in Iceland is the oldest region in the country. Formed some 16 million years ago, this large, mountainous peninsula stretches out into the freezing waters of the Denmark Strait.
It’s the most remote region in the country and home to some of the island’s most dramatic landscape. This is the place to come to really get off the beaten path; to experience the midnight sun, to witness the northern lights, to see dramatic waterfalls and spellbinding scenery. It’s the place to come to experience the original Iceland.
The Westfjords are generally not where you travel to on your first visit to Iceland. Rather, this isolated region is best saved for your second or third trip to the country.
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Are the Westfjords worth it?
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It is absolutely worth it to visit the Westfjords; this corner of Iceland is spellbinding. It’s also very remote, which means that few people visit here and you’ll often have the roads to yourself. The scenery is very different to the mainland and there are some spectacular sights to see. Plus, the Westfjords is home to some fun adventure activities including skiing, kayaking alongside seals and snorkelling in chilly but crystal clear fjord waters. And if that’s not enough, the Westfjords is one of the best places in Iceland to see the Northern Lights.
Planning your road trip in the Westfjords
The first road linking Ísafjörður in the Westfjords to the capital Reykjavik was only completed in 1959. Heavy snowfall during winter months means that for large chunks of the year, the region can be cut off. Many of the roads in the Westfjords are gravel roads, making driving conditions challenging at times.
However, a new driving route the Vestfjarðaleiðin (Vest-fyar-tha-lay-thin), The Westfjords Way, was recently launched. This opening of this 950km ring road as Iceland’s newest driving route coincided with the opening of the Dýrafjarðargöng tunnel. This tunnel links the northern and southern parts of the Westfjords and means that the region will be accessible for nine months of the year.
There are plans to complete a new mountain road in 2023, which will open the region up year-round.
During our girls trip to Iceland, we worked with Hidden Iceland and enjoyed the following four-day Westfjords itinerary. Four days is the minimum amount of time you really want to explore the Westfjords.
Hidden Iceland are a fantastic local company that offer small personalised journey. Ryan, one of the co-founders, was our guide. We were hosted on the tour for the purpose of this review, but we covered our own accommodation and meals.
[author] [author_info]Travel tip! The best time to visit the Westfjords is during the summer months when you’ll experience the midnight sun and migrating bird colonies. Late August through to October are good months for spotting the northern lights. From December through to February / March there is heavy snow and some roads may be closed.[/author_info] [/author]
Westfjords four-day itinerary
The drive from Reykjavik to Gilsfjörður, the narrow fjord that separates the Westfjords from the mainland, takes around five hours. You may also choose to spend a day or two exploring Snæfellsnes Peninsula either before or after visiting the Westfjords.
You can also take a car ferry from Stykkisholmur to the Westfjords but it’s just as quick to drive. If you are self-driving then it’s Route 1 out of Reykjavik followed by Road 60, which will lead you into the Westfjords.
Westfjords Day 1
We drove from the Snaefellsness Peninsula to in the Westfjords and stopped at Erpsstadir, a family-run dairy farm along the way and before leaving the mainland. It’s a good pit stop on your road trip, not least because there’s a playground, farm animals to visit and homemade ice cream. They also make Skyr and local cheeses.
We took a farm tour and had a fascinating glimpse into life in this remote region. They are usually open between May and September but do call if you are visiting out of season and they may open their doors for you.
From here we headed to Eiriksstadir, an excellent living history museum, which sits just off Route 60. This is a recreation of a Viking long house that was built on the ruins of a house dating back from the 10th century. Guides in traditional Viking dress retell Icelandic sagas and the stories of Erik the Red and Lief the Lucky. Lief is believed by many to have discovered American 500 years before Christopher Columbus did.
It’s a fascinating look at the lives of Vikings and dispels a few myths too. No, they didn’t wear horns on their head but yes, they were a fairly violent people and they did eat rotten shark!
After learning about Vikings we stopped for lunch in the town of Budaardalur and had fish and chips at Veidistadurinn. From here we continued on to Gilsfjörður, the gateway into the Westfjords.
The first thing that you’ll notice about the Westfjords is the scenery. Because of its old age, this region doesn’t possess active volcanoes or steaming lava fields like you will find in the rest of Iceland. Instead, these remote areas boast wide green pastures and steep, flat-topped mountains. The narrow roads wind in and around the dark blue fjord waters, passing the odd farmhouse or small town.
Our hotel for our first night in the Westfjords was at Hotel Heydalur, a charming guesthouse hidden away in a glacier scarred valley. It’s owned by a local lady, Stella Guðmundsdóttir who bought the property when she retired. The hotel offers simple but homely accommodation in single, double and triple rooms.
There’s an indoor swimming pool and a natural hot spring as well as a greenhouse. The hotel also functions as a horse farm and there are opportunities to go horseback riding as well as other outdoor pursuits including fishing and sea kayaking. The highlight, however, is dinner in the main hall. I had a oven-baked trout caught that day from their fishpond and it was delicious.
Westfjords Day 2
We started our second day in the Westfjords in the small fishing village of Sudavik where there is a museum dedicated to the Arctic Fox. It’s a small museum but worthwhile; these are the only land mammal native to Iceland and 60 per cent of the population live in the Westfjords. We got to meet and feed the centre’s two fox pups while we were there as well.
From here we head to Ísafjarðardjúp, the largest town in the Westfjords and had lunch at the excellent Tjöruhúsid. They serve delicious dishes using freshly caught fish and seasonal produce. Meals are served buffet-style with new dishes constantly on rotation. I could have happily spent much longer here!
In fact, I would have happily spent longer in Ísafjarðardjúp. This is a great place to base yourself for more adventures in the Westfjords.
Instead we took our boat – the last of the season – for a trip out to the island of Vigur. This tiny island – it measures just 2km long and 400m wide – is one of three islands in this fjord.
Vigur was owned until very recently by one family who had occupied the island since 1830. They made their living collecting down from the residence Eider ducks and selling it on to Germany and Asia. It has recently been bought by another local family who plan to follow in their footsteps.
In addition to Eider ducks during the summer months Vigur is home to tens of thousands of puffins. Some 30,000 pairs lay their eggs here every summer but unfortunately they had all left by the time we arrived. You’ll also spot the oldest windmill in Iceland here, built in 1830. Harpa seals can often be seen lounging on rocks nearby.
During the summer months the owners have a cafe in what was once the old cow shed. Make sure to try the traditional Icelandic ‘Happy Marriage’ cake.
The company that runs boat trips out to Vigur island (and elsewhere) is called West Tours.
Once back on dry land we head to the town of Flateyri, a village that was once the base for shark-hunting and whaling. Today, it is home to the oldest bookstore in Iceland and is a popular spot for kayaking.
We had dinner nearby in Kaffi Sol, a small, family-run restaurant that is actually housed within the family’s home. Usually guests dine in the conservatory but that was already full so we were invited to eat in the family living room. It was quirky but the food was very good.
Our home for that night was the Kirkjuból Guest House, a lovely guesthouse tucked away in the nook of a fjord. The guest house has simple, cosy accommodation and serves a very good breakfast.
Westfjords Day 3
We woke up to blue skies and sunshine on our third day and headed to the Dynjandi waterfall, one of tallest and most spectacular waterfalls in Iceland. Located on the shore of Arnarfjörður fjord, Dynjandi is also called the Bridal Falls and really is one of the highlights of the Westfjords.
Dynjandi means ‘thunderous’ in Icelandic, an apt name given how noisy these falls are. According to local legend, however, the roar of the falls is the sound of a spurned giantess and the waterfall itself is her bridal veil.
The falls are, in fact, not just one waterfall but a sequence of waterfalls each with its own name. Make sure to walk up the side of the falls – there are viewing points at each level – but be aware that there are no safety rails or guide ropes. Allow for at least an hour here.
From here we drove deeper into the Westfjords, across barren rocky landscapes once used to test the original Mars rover. Our end destination was Patreksfjörður, the biggest town in the southern part of the Westfjords. Commercial fishing and fish processing are still important industries here although tourism is becoming increasingly important.
Our home for the night was the modern Hotel West, with bedroom and restaurant views over the fjord. We stopped for lunch at
Stúkuhúsid, which was excellent, and then jumped back into the car and headed to one of the most famous attractions in the Westfjords, the Látrabjarg sea cliffs.
The Látrabjarg bird cliffs are the westernmost point in Iceland. The cliffs rise dramatically from the ocean, soaring over 400m in places, and go one for miles. During the summer months this nature reserve is home to thousands upon thousands of Razorbills, fulmars and puffins who find homes in the cliffs’ crevices. Sadly, the birdlife had left by the time we arrived but the cliffs were spellbinding nevertheless.
Be aware that there are no guardrails along the cliff edge so do be careful; it can be blustery so keep away from the edge.
On our way to the cliffs we stopped at the Gardar BA 64 shipwreck, an old whaling ship grounded on the sand. You can also stop here for a photo op on your way back.
There are other Westfjords highlights near here that are well worth a visit if you have time. Sadly we didn’t but the red sand beach of Raudisandur is one to add to your Wishlist.
After dinner that night in Patreksfjordur we were lucky enough to see the dancing green shifting shapes of the Northern Lights. Make sure you download an aurora app or forecast so that you get a chance to see this magical experience.
Westfjords Day 4
We spent our final day in the Westfjords concentrating on getting back to Reykjavik in time for an evening flight! We did, however, manage to see some more sights on our way back to the capital.
We stopped first at the Grábrók Crater and walked along the rims of three volcanic craters. Nearby are the remnants of Viking settlements. Not far away is Glanni Waterfall, in the Nordura River.
Driving in the Westfjords
You can either self-drive around the Westfjords or book a tour. Personally, when exploring a region such as this where the geology and history is so complex and fascinating that a tour is really worthwhile. Hidden Iceland are an excellent outfit and I highly recommend them. If you do want to self-drive then there are a few things that you should know.
- Many of the roads are unpaved in the Westfjords so it’s important that you are comfortable driving in these conditions. Make sure that you take out insurance on your rental car to cover for any damage caused by gravel, as well as all the other necessary covers.
- Snowfall can start from November and last until February / March and many of the roads will be closed. Your best bet is to travel in late spring or during the summer months.
- The roads are very windy in the Westfjords so if you suffer from motion sickness, make sure to bring Dramamine or an equivalent with you.
- Remember to get petrol and food whenever you have the chance; the distances between towns can be very long.
- Be prepared to drive long distances and don’t try to cram too much into one day. The Westfjords is a region to be enjoyed, not to rush through.