Guide to the Westfjords
The ultimate guide to the Westfjords: peaceful Iceland
Iceland is well-known for its stunning landscapes and breathtaking views, but despite the boom of its tourism industry, there are still some hidden gems on this island that you will be surprised to discover.
One such area that remains underappreciated is the Westfjords, which has some of the most amazing scenery. Here’s a guide to understanding why the Westfjords could be your next big adventure, especially if you're looking to avoid the crowds.
As the name implies, the peninsula is dominated by fjords, which are steep cliffs separated by inlets formed by glaciers.
Some of the rock formations in the area have been dated to be 14 million years old. The region is sparsely populated, with only 7,000 people inhabiting the peninsula, and due to their relative isolation from the rest of the country, the Westfjord communities have a distinct and unique culture. The main settlement, with over half the population of the entire region, is Isafjordur, home to about 4,000 people.
Your essential map 🗺️
⚠️ A Quick Word of Warning ⚠️
The Westfjords are geographically isolated and difficult to get to, as the land is hilly and the roads are often snowed in. The region is beautiful because of its wildness and lack of most human civilization; with that in mind, you need to be prepared before you go out hiking through the more isolated areas of the region. While there are plenty of places to camp, hike, and enjoy nature, you should always take precautions because the nearest help would be very far away from you.
Also, a few friendly reminders on the topic:
- Avoid visiting the Westfjords during winter time (November-April)
- Be sure to bring food wherever you go.
- Pack warm clothes as well as waterproof shoes- it can get cold, and a lot of the region is known for its fog. Cold and wet is never a good combination.
- Windbreakers would also be optimal; as in the rest of the country, there can be some violent winds.
- Maps are of vital importance. It is very isolated, and while GPS is convenient (and also encouraged), having physical maps of the surrounding area can keep you from getting lost.
How much time to visit the Westfjords ?
If you want to plenty enjoy the Westfjords' landscapes, we recommend spending about 4 days in the area. It might not seem this big, but the roads weave so much along the fjords, that it can quickly become quite a ride to get from a place to another, which adds up to the time spent there.
How to get to the Westfjords
There aren't a thousands ways to get there, and as van life addicts, you already know what our advice is. But let's get over alternatives first:
1. By plane ✈️
The national airline, Icelandair, has daily flights from the regional airport in Reykjavik (beware, it's not the same as Keflavik international airport) to Isafjordur, which is the main town in the Westfjords. A back and forth flight costs around 150€.
The issue with this transportation method, is that once you arrive in Isafjordur, you will still need to rent a vehicle to go around the region, has there is no reliable public transportation. That means it will end up costing you a lot of money, and is only recommended if you have very little time to spend in the Westfjords and thus can't (time speaking) afford to get there by car.
2. By car 🚗
There are plenty of car rental companies from Keflavik international airport and Reykjavik that will allow you to freely move around the country.
The only thing is that you will have to book hotels and accomodations in advance to spend your nights in the Westfjords. And not only are they very sparsly scattered, but they also usually cost a lot of money. Which is why the definite best method to explore the Westfjords is...
3. By campervan 🚐
Motorhomes and campers are known to be the best way to explore and travel around Iceland with a reasonable budget. In fact, you won't have to pay extra money for accomodations, as campsites only charges about 10€ per night, and since most of them don't require booking in advance, you can enjoy the freedom of travelling on a day to day basis, without planning everything ahead.
So what are you waiting for ? Get your own campervan for cheap now with the largest and sexiest rental company of the country !
What to do in the Westfjords
First and foremost, the main attraction of the Westfjords is nature! Sparsely populated land with rural settings, you won’t have a lot of buildings getting in the way of your views.
- The cliffs of Latrabjarg 🐧
The westernmost point in Iceland is also the largest bird cliff in Europe. Heading there during summertime will give you the opportunity to see puffins during their nesting season, adorable! Another bird known to nest there is the Razorbill, which heavily relies on Latrabjarg for survival, in fact over 40% of the world's Razorbills nest on these cliffs.
- Dynjandi waterfall 🌊
This is one of the must-see in the Westfjords: a breathtaking waterfall, in fact, the largest one in the region. Oh and there are some good news: the trail that takes you right up to Fjallfoss, also known as Dynjandi, is an easy hike, only 1.4 kilometers long: all skill levels can make it to the top!
- Hot springs ♨️
Even though the Westfjords aren't the most volcanic part of the island, there are still plenty of hot springs to enjoy. And the best is: most of them are still kept secret by the locals, which means you will usually have the spot for yourself!
Some of them are still very natural, and made of stone, like Hellulaug, Guðrúnarlaug or Krosslaug.
Others are man-made but naturally heated by the earth, like Hörgshlíðarlaug, Reykjafjarðarlaug or Pollurinn hot pool.
- Rauðisandur beach 🏖️
This breathtaking beach is a must when going around the Westfjords. What makes it different from the rest of Iceland's beaches is its colorful sand. When most beaches in Iceland have black sand from volcanic activity, Rauðisandur has gold, peach, orange and pink sands, which makes it very singular, and mostly spectacular!
- Hornstrandir Nature Reserve 🌲
This natural reserve is located in the northernmost peninsula and is home to a huge population of arctic fixes. Other wildlife in the nature reserve include field mice, seabirds and seals along the beaches. There are also over 270 species of ferns and flowering plants in Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, including some very rare ones.
The hard part is to access this part of the Westfjords, in fact the only possible way is to take a ferry from Isafjordur through companies like Borea or Sjoferdir. The ferry costs between 80-120€, which makes about 160-240€ back and forth. You can also choose to book organized tours to explore the reserve with a guide.
- Abandoned farms and ships ⚓
Another unique landscape found in the Westfjords is the abandoned farmsteads. These farmsteads were once occupied, but the land of the Westfjords is not ideal for growing crops, and many of these farmes were quickly abandoned. A lot of them can be found in Hornstrandir.
A few shipwrecks can also be found around the fjords, althought the most famous one is probably the Garðar BA64 which is located close to Rauðisandur and Dynjandi.
- Hiking 🥾
There’s plenty of hiking in the Westfjords, too. South of Hornstrandir is Drangajokull, the fifth-largest glacier in Iceland. With an 8-kilometer trail known as the Kadalon Trail, you can hike through the glacier- but be sure to bring good boots! Another popular trail in the Westfjords is the Fjallfoss trail, All in all, if you want gorgeous views untouched by human hands, there really is no better place in Iceland than the Westfjords to get your fix.
The largest town in the Westfjords is Isafjordur, a quaint town that is surprisingly urban. Originally established as a fishing community, the sea remains the main part of the culture of the town today. But the townsfolk have broadened their horizons past fishing, and host a variety of cultural events throughout the year. The old hospital in the town center has been renovated into a cultural center, with several showrooms as well as the town library.
There are also many cool cafes in the town center, and a fair amount of live music as well. The town even hosts an annual music festival called Aldrei for eg sudur, created by local musician Mugison and hosted every Easter weekend since 2004. There isn’t an entry fee, so it’s a great time for everyone! Another fun town gathering is the annual mud-soccer championship tournament, in which teams of six duke it out while playing soccer waist-deep in mud.
A strange sport, to be sure, but it is quite the spectacle! Other town attractions include a golf course, horse riding, and the Westfjord Heritage Museum, providing information about the surrounding area.