Explore the untamed Westfjords, the least populated region in Iceland. The scenic area boasts magnificent mountains, stunning fjords, and picturesque landscapes. Although sparsely populated, the area boasts charming villages with vibrant cultures you won't want to miss. Here are our insider tips on where to go, how to get there, and more!
Unlike other tourist hotspots, the appeal of the Westfjords is not its famous attractions but its tranquil atmosphere and pristine nature. Travelers who venture to the area are blown away by the dramatic landscapes of deep fjords lined with sharp cliffs, lush green valleys, and bubbling geothermal pools. It's the perfect road trip for those who enjoy getting off the beaten path.
Sitting on the Denmark Strait, the Westfjords make up a third of Iceland's coastline. The dramatic peninsula is carved out with long fjords and sharp cliffs that date back 14 million years. In fact, the rock formations of the Westfjords are the oldest part of Iceland! The distinctive landscapes shaped by glaciers, oceans, and rivers are truly awe-inspiring.
As a notoriously secluded region, the total population of the area is only 7,115, with around 4,000 of the residents living in the district capital and largest settlement Ísafjörður. The wildlife –, including puffins, seals, Arctic foxes, and whales – actually outnumbers humans. The scantily populated area has several tiny fishing villages spread out along the peninsula that have their own rich histories. For example, Hólmavík has a fascinating background of witchcraft and sorcery!
Unlike the East Fjords, located on the popular Ring Road, the Westfjords can be a bit hard to reach, Many travelers skip it on their Iceland itinerary, with only 10% of visitors making the trip. While the roads can be difficult in some areas, especially in the winter, you can reach the Westfjords from Reykjavík by plane in under an hour. If you are looking to escape the overcrowded tourist attractions of the Ring Road and have two or more days to spare, we highly recommend you add the Westfjords to your Iceland bucket list!
To help you plan your road trip we have created the ultimate guide so you don’t miss out on any of the magic of the area.
Domestic flights between Reykjavík and Ísafjörður, the Westfjords’ largest town, run all year through Air Iceland Connect. Departures run twice a day most of the year and once a day during the winter (December-February). The flight takes about 40 minutes each way. Flights are also available on Eagle Air Iceland.
A ferry runs daily between the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and the Westfjords. Ferry Baldur crosses Breidafjörður Bay and follows a route between Stykkishólmur village, and the Brjánslækur ferry station in the southern part of the peninsula.
During the summer the ferry departs twice per day and between September and May. It runs once a day from Sunday to Friday, six days a week. In the Summer months, riders have the opportunity to make an extra stop at the stunning Flatey Island, which is famous for its birdlife. If you are traveling by car you can send your vehicle across the bay during your visit to Flatey at no extra charge.
The roads in the Westfjords are one of the reasons the area doesn't get many visitors. In the summer months, the roads are safe and a road trip up the coast offers stunning views. Even though the roads are paved, there are some rougher gravel roads with potholes so you should always rent a 4x4 car. It is also highly recommended to get insurance on your rental.
Roads in the Westfjords are extremely treacherous in the winter. Starting around October, the region starts to see heavy rain and strong winds, which lead to poor road conditions. Unlike the main roads, the northern roads aren't as well maintained and can be impassible for days at a time during severe weather. Some of the smaller roads aren't even cleared and are closed the entire season.
Because the ice begins to thaw later in the Westfjords, winter conditions can last until late May. If you plan on driving to this region in the autumn, winter, or early spring good winter tires are essential. For the best and safest experience, we recommend planning your Westfjords road trip for the summer months or taking a plane.
As the least populated region in Iceland, there are only about 15 settlements in the Westfjords, with the majority of them having a population below 500 people. Despite being small communities, these charming fishing towns are worth stopping at.
Discover the fascinating and surprising histories of these communities. From fisheries to witchcraft to sea monsters these small hubs have some of Iceland's quirkiest museums. During your visit you will have the opportunity to learn about all of the fascinating lore and culture of this remote area.
Ísafjörður is the capital of the Westfjords and the largest settlement in the region. The town began as a trading post and fishery but has become a popular tourist destination for skiers. Ísafjörður is a great stop for visitors who want to try some organized adventure tours during their Westfjords trip. There are a wide variety of activities to suit all tastes including golf courses, horseback riding, birdwatching, kayaking, and hiking trails. Ferries to the remote Hornstrandir Nature Reserve leave daily during the summer months. Visitors can also find any amenities they might need such as supermarkets, restaurants, accommodations, and tourist centers.
As for culture,. Ísafjörður hosts some of the most famous festivals in Iceland, including the "Aldrei fór ég suður" (“I Never Went South”) music festival, the "Við Djúpið" classical music festival, the Mud-Soccer European Championships, and the Runners’ Festival.
Bolungarvík is the second-largest settlement in the Westfjords and was established as a fishing port. The town has historical sites, accommodations, shops, and even an indoor geothermal swimming pool. Stop by Iceland's oldest fishing station, which has since been turned into a museum; Or check out the natural history museum which hosts a giant trophy exhibit where you can see a polar bear!
For nature-lovers, the nearby Bolafjall Mountain is a popular hiking area. At the top is a radar station originally built by the United States Military, which is a scenic lookout spot.
Patreksfjörður is a small fishing village with lots to offer. The town serves as the ideal base for some of the region's most popular natural attractions, including the Dynjandi Waterfall, Látrabjarg Cliffs, and Rauðasandur Beach. Adventurers can find campsites, guesthouses, a swimming pool, restaurants, and tours.
For some cultural flavor, stop at the town's awesome Pirate Museum. A small exhibit tells the history of the pirates that raided Icelandic ships in the 15th and 16th centuries. The Folk Museum is another must-see and has exhibits on a variety of local pastimes including whaling and aviation.
Hólmavík is a vibrant village located on the 'Strandir Coast.' The word Strandir is actually Icelandic for “'the coasts,”' and the area stretches 3,500 square kilometers across the eastern coastal region of Iceland's Westfjord Peninsula. A notoriously secluded region, it was once one of the most isolated areas in the country. Today only about 800 people live in the district, with 400 of them residing in Hólmavík, their largest town.
The locals, known as Strandamenn, have a pretty whimsical history that has created some tourist buzz. For centuries it was said the townspeople of Strandir had knowledge of sorcery and witchcraft, which even led to witch hunts in the 16th century. Hólmavík even has a fascinating museum dedicated to the topic for visitors with an interest in the supernatural.
Visitors can find basic amenities in town such as guesthouses, restaurants, a tourist information center, and even a geothermal swimming pool.
Just across the fjord from Hólmavík you will find the remote village of Drangsnes. The town has just under 100 inhabitants but still has basic amenities including a shop, a restaurant, and a campsite. The idyllic town is a boat ride from the even smaller Grímsey Island, popular for birdwatching. The town's main highlight is the hot springs, which are located on the seashore. It is definitely one of the most serene bathing sites in Iceland.
For a town with just under 200 residents, Bíldudalur has a thriving cultural scene. The town hosts folk music festivals, workshops, art performances, and exhibitions that attract both domestic and international visitors. In line with its eclectic arts scene, Bíldudalur is home to the quirky Icelandic Sea Monster Museum. The exhibits honor the fantastic sea creatures that have shaped the local folklore through the ages. Visitors can find all the necessary amenities in town including cafes, restaurants, guesthouses, and campsites.
Inhabited since the 18th century, Þingeyri is one of the oldest villages in the Westfjords. Walking through town is like walking through a time portal, as you pass historic buildings and farmhouses. Make sure to visit Simbahöllin Café. Set inside a 100-year-old traditional Norwegian house, the building has been preserved and the entire interior is completely authentic.
For nature lovers, there are lovely hiking trails in the surrounding mountains, or try a round of golf at Iceland's most scenic golf clubs.
Not far from Ísafjörður is the charming village of Súðaví. The town is home to the Arctic Fox Centre, a non-profit research center and exhibition dedicated to Iceland’s native Arctic fox. The center welcomes visitors to learn about the biology, habits, and habitats of this furry mammal.
The town has guesthouses, a grocery store, restaurants, campsites, and for visitors traveling with the children, there is a large outdoor entertainment park.
Located on the westernmost part of Iceland, Látrabjarg is a 1,445-1,986 ft. (300-440 m) tall cliff that stretches 8.7 mi. (14 km) across. Although impressive in size, the cliffs themselves are not as famous as the millions of seabirds that nest in them. During the summer, about 15 different species lay their eggs in the cliffs, including the famous Atlantic Puffin. There is no better spot for some serious birdwatching than Látrabjarg.
Dynjandi is a little harder to reach than the famous Ring Road waterfalls, but it is equally spectacular. The largest waterfall in the Westfjords, the powerful waterfall is comprised of seven small cascades. The water pyramids from top to bottom which gives it a unique appeal.
Iceland is famous for its black sand beaches, but Raudisandur Beach is actually a red sand beach. The beach's distinct color is made from pulverized scallop shells and can appear gold or pink depending on the light. Fun fact: You can see it from space! Surrounded by the contrasting blue of the ocean, this is one of the most photogenic spots in the Westfjords.
Hornstrandir is the most secluded nature reserve in Iceland. Inaccessible by car, visitors need to take a boat from Ísafjörður or Bolungarvík to reach the pristine wilderness area. Here you will see the most untouched, raw example of Icelandic nature. There are no villages, shops, or permanent inhabitants and the only facilities are a few campsites and old farm buildings. The dramatic landscapes are overwhelming, with lush green fields, jagged cliffs, vibrant flowers, and crystal pools of water. Sometimes if you're lucky you might spot the famous Arctic fox!
The reserve is only accessible for a limited time during the summer (between July and August). If you want to explore the reserve we recommend signing up for a guided hike or tour.
Iceland is famous for its countless natural hot springs and the Westfjords are home to some of the country's best. Icelanders have been using these pools for centuries and some of them are even featured in folklore.
During your trip stop for a dip in one of these relaxing nature baths and enjoy the healing powers of their geothermal waters. Before you leave check out our list of the most scenic pools you should add to your itinerary.
Despite being one of the least visited regions in Iceland, the Westfjords are getting more popular due to its unspoiled nature. To help maintain the beauty of this natural wonder it is important that you are traveling responsibly. Ways to be a responsible traveler include: