Of Collectors’ items & curious memories: The museums of the Westfjords 

To think of museums simply as places to see collections of old items is to miss the point. Museums are much more than that, especially the ones in the Westfjords.

A fine mix of history and folklore, art and heart, craft and culture, and above all, a crucible of human ingenuity in an environmentally extreme and largely cut off backdrop.

Follow in the footsteps of sorcerers, witches, fishermen and everyday people as you make your way around the Westfjords:

The Museum of Sorcery & Witchcraft, Holmavík 

The Strandir area is well-known for its history of witchcraft, witch hunting and sorcery, and this museum will take you on a colourful tour of the supernatural. Relive the painful history of witch hunting, a common practice in medieval times, wonder at the examples of magic and superstitious beliefs in days gone by, and don’t forget to look out for the ‘necropants’.

The Sorcerer’s Cottage, Bjarnarfjordur

Closely connected to the museum is the Sorcerer’s Cottage, which consists of three connected turf houses constructed from sod, rocks, driftwood and other natural resources in this area. The items displayed include hides, scythes, lamb skins, old tools, and more. They have been painstakingly collected from locals and give us a flavour of what life must have been like in an era gone by. From making your grass grow better to increasing the milk yield from one’s cow, the magic was driven by a largely innocent wish list for a slightly more comfortable existence.

The Museum of Everyday Life, Isafjordur 

“It is not about the moments in your life, but the life in each moment.” To that end, this museum does a fine job of making you look differently at routine, and everyday struggles. Local voices, little stories and assorted memories come together in an appealing blend to help visitors understand life in the Westfjords. The best part: it’s local and yet universal at the same time, resonating with everyone.  This is a museum about finding the loveliness in simple, daily “events” like cooking, eating, tending to family and more. Whoever said poetry is an exotic experience has clearly not visited this museum.

Samuel Jonsson’s sculptures, Selardalur 

Situated on the southern shore of Arnarfjörður fjord, the Ketildalir valleys are memorable both for their natural beauty and their quirky human-made elements. The remarkable sculptures and buildings in Selárdalur valley were created by Samúel Jónsson, the “artist with the child’s heart”, during his retirement. Amongst other scenes, he has replicated the Lions’ Court in Alhambra.

The Sea Monster Museum, Bíldudalur 

Considering that this is a nation of seafarers, tales of ‘sea monsters’ have abounded in folklore and folk culture for hundreds of years. Today, these mysterious, rare and little understood creatures have been housed for all to see in the small village of Bíldudalur, on the shores of Arnarfjörður, reputedly one of the most active centres of monster activity in the country. Taking the excitement a few notches higher is the museum’s multimedia presentation, with voiceovers, images and videos to recreate the sea monsters for landlubbers. Narrations form eyewitnesses juxtaposed by academic theories on the nature and behaviour of sea monsters make this a genuine-but-fun learning experience.  A range of relics and artefacts recovered from the sea appear throughout the museum as proof that they are no mere figment of the imagination!

Hnjotur Museum, Orlygshofn  

A unique collection of heritage items from the southern Westfjords, presented in a way that makes the fishing, farming and everyday life in the area come alive. At the museum, pride of place goes to an exhibition about the rescue of the British Trawler Dhoon that stranded at Látrabjarg in 1947. There is also a cafeteria and information centre to add to its appeal.

Gardar, Patreksfjordur

Launched in Norway in 1912, the very same year the Titanic sank into the North Atlantic Ocean, it was initially named the Globe IV and came with sails and a steam engine. It was specially built for the roughness of the Southern Ocean while hunting whales. 

In 1946, it was sold to the Faroe Islands, and at the end of the Second World War to Iceland. Given a new name once again, and reinvented with the original steam replaced by a diesel engine, it continued to trade owners and names till 1963, by which time it was known as Garðar.

It was finally deemed unfit for duty in 1981 and saved as an interesting relic from the past instead of being sunk into the sea. You can look forward to a dramatic scene and a perfect photo opportunity.

The Old Bookstore

Not exactly a museum, but also not your typical retail outlet, the Old Bookshop in Flateyri is the oldest original shop still trading in Iceland. It is a fascinating glimpse into the past, a cosy and enjoyable space to visit, and also a fantastic opportunity to buy that unique souvenir—whether it’s a first edition of an Icelandic classic, a modern translation, a new pen, or all manner of other curiosities. The shop is supplied entirely by other companies which are also over a hundred years old.


The Arctic Fox Centre

One of Iceland’s most iconic creatures is the Arctic fox. In fact, it is the country’s only native land mammal, stranded here by the last ice age, millennia before humans ever set foot ashore. Don’t miss your chance to get to know them in the village of Súðavík, at the national epicentre for the fox’s research and protection. The exhibition is truly fascinating, the house and location are charming, the café is welcoming—and you will (usually) have the chance to see real-life rescued young foxes up close-and-personal.


Just a couple of fjords over from Súðavík, you can’t help but notice Litlibær turf-roofed farmhouse nestled into the hillside along the shores of Skötufjörður. Today, the house is managed by the National Museum of Iceland and operates as one of the most memorable cafés in the Westfjords. While you refuel on coffee and (excellent) Icelandic waffles, take a moment to ponder the lives of the two large families who lived here together, crammed into these four tiny walls, scraping a living from sheep and fish, all the way until the late 1960s. How times have changed…


The atmosphere at Hrafnseyri is not dissimilar to Litlibær in some ways—after all, there is a café in a turf-roofed house. There are plenty of differences, though: not least that Hrafnseyri was a much larger farmstead and is a treasure trove of archaeological interest stretching all the way back to the first settlers in Iceland. It is also impossible to escape the fact that an extremely important and revered Icelander was born here. Cherished as the most prominent 19th century fighter for Iceland’s independence from the Danish crown, you can today learn all about him at the Jón Sigurðsson museum here at beautiful Hrafnseyri in Arnarfjörður fjord.

Westfjords Maritime Museum

Ísafjörður is proud of its long-standing trade links to the wider world. It was once a bustling export centre and one of the country’s biggest and most powerful economic drivers—thanks in part to its three rival trading posts. All three have morphed into heritage sites with different purposes today. The “lower” one boasts the oldest surviving wooden buildings in Iceland and today houses a truly fantastic fish restaurants, the tourist information office, public bathrooms, two family homes, the local Danish consulate, and the Westfjords’ regional maritime museum.

As the Westfjords region is inextricably tied to the sea—its dangers, its bounty, its beauty—the museum provides one of the keys needed to truly appreciate these strong ties. Another such key is the active fish factories and busy trawler dock just over the street, which continue to fuel the local economy to this day.

The Sheep Farming Museum

Parallel with fishing, the Icelandic nation might not have survived long without its sheep. In fact, sheep have been even more important than fish in keeping the nation fed and clothed through the good times and the (many) bad times during the over-1100 years since first settlement.

Sheep pull less of the collective weight of the nation today, but it is still impossible to conceive of agriculture in Iceland without them.

The Sheep Farming Museum in the Strandir area of the Westfjords takes the visitor on a journey to discover why. From the lives of farmers to the lives of Icelandic sheep, their unique genetics and nature, their uses, their past, their present, and indeed their future as well. There’s a reason the word “fé” in Icelandic means both money and sheep…

Before you ask: yes, this museum does of course also have a café!

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