The Wild Westfjords at a glance

The stunning and mysterious Westfjords region is a large peninsula in northwest Iceland. It is one of the country’s administrative districts, with infrastructure including a regional police commissioner, court service, general hospital, health & safety directorate and more. The region’s nine municipalities work together in key areas of shared interest to give them a strong voice on the national stage.

Mountainous and heavily indented by dozens of fjords surrounded by steep hills, the Westfjords is historically viewed as remote and hard to access. At its narrowest point, the region is connected to the rest of the country by a strip of land just 7 km wide, between Gilsfjörður and Bitrufjörður.

Here’s a summary of the various areas that make up the Westfjords:

Ísafjarðardjúp or Ísafjörður?

Ísafjarðardjúp bay is about 20 km wide at its mouth and 53 km long, running northwest-southeast. The coastline to the north, is called Snæfjallaströnd and the famous Hornstrandir nature reserve, which has been uninhabited since the 1950s.

The south of the ‘bay’ (which is technically a large fjord in its own right) is slashed with a succession of long fjords, like the teeth of a comb. All the fjords are inhabited, though most only by scattered farms. Only two of the fjords host larger settlements: Álftafjörður and the village of Súðavík, and Skutulsfjörður with the town of Ísafjörður.

The two are related but distinct. Simply put, Ísafjarðardjúp is a large fjord system in the Westfjords. Its name means “Iced Fjord’s Deep” in English. Meanwhile, Ísafjörður is the southernmost and most inland of the many fjords running off its southern shore. Ísafjörður (Iced Fjord) is so named because it is far enough from the open ocean that the hundreds of rivers and streams in the ‘Djúp’ mean the water is fresh enough to freeze in winter cold snaps.
In a confusing twist, Ísafjörður town is not in Ísafjörður fjord at all. The town is in a fjord called Skutulsfjörður (Harpoon Fjord). Go figure!

Ísafjarðardjúp is rich in animal life. Many birds nest on the three islands within it, seals can be found on the shores, and due to the fertility of the waters, whales can often be seen within the fjords. The main sources of livelihood are fishing, farming, and tourism—though Ísafjörður is also gaining a reputation as a hub of the tech and knowledge-based sectors.

Ísafjörður town is the de-facto capital of the region, deserves your time and is the perfect base from which to explore the region. The small town offers you several top-of-the-line restaurants and a good bakery. Scenic and lovely, it is the largest town in the Westfjords. The town is full of 19th-century wooden houses, such as the Westfjords Maritime Museum and the Edinborg cultural centre. The former hospital became another important cultural centre when it made way for the bigger new hospital. Today it houses the library, archives, an art collection and has various exhibitions.

The fjords and islands of Ísafjarðardjúp

The northern coast of the bay is quite straight, with the only major inlet being Kaldalón, but the southern shore has a great many fjords: furthest north (home to Ísafjörður town) is Skutulsfjörður, then Álftafjörður (Súðavík village), Seyðisfjörður, Hestfjörður, Skötufjörður, Mjóifjörður, Vatnsfjörður, Reykjafjörður and Ísafjörður furthest south. These names mean: Harpoon’s (or shettel’s) Fjord, Whooper Swan Fjord (the birds are frequently found here), Firepit (or maybe Foggy (it’s obscure)) Fjord, Horse Fjord, Skate (the fish) Fjord, Slim Fjord (this fjord is the longest but thinnest and is today spanned by a bridge), Water’s Fjord, Smoke Fjord, and Iced Fjord respectively.

Three islands lie in Ísafjarðardjúp: Boragrey, Æðey and Vigur. Borgarey is the smallest, with no inhabitants, and Æðey the largest. On both Æðey and Vigur there is one farmstead.

Northern Westfjords

The ‘Northern Westfjords’ when used by media and politicians, is a term to describe the communities of Bolungarvík, Hnífsdalur, Ísafjörður, Suðureyri, Flateyri, Þingeyri, and Súðavík, plus surrounding areas.

Most of these towns are mentioned elsewhere in this article, apart from Bolungarvík, which absolutely must be mentioned! Bolungarvík is the second-biggest town in the region, with a thousand inhabitants, and nestles in a bay directly north of Ísafjarðardjúp. In winter, Bolungarvík is the end of the road. In the summertime, though, you can drive onward over the mountains to explore Bolafjall and Skálavík bay.

Hornstrandir and Jokulfiroir

Now this is as remote as it gets-and if you’re someone from a decidedly populous country, Hornstrandir, the remote nature reserve north of Ísafjörður, is the very pinnacle of solitude. You can only get here by boat or multi-day hike. Hike for a day or join multi-day treks camping or staying in huts, or join a multi-day kayak trip along the coast and stopping for hikes along the way.

The Jökulfirðir, or the glacier fjords, are a system of five fjords to the south of the Hornstrandir peninsula before the glacier and joining on to Strandir. These fjords can only be accessed by boat from Ísafjörður, Bolungravík,and Súðavík. The individual five fjords are: Hesteyrarfjörður, Veiðileysufjörður, Lónafjörður, Hrafnsfjörður, and Leirufjörður.

Western Westfjords

The entire fjord of Arnarfjörður is a local nature reserve where ‘must-sees’ include: Hrafnseyri farm museum and Dynjandi waterfall, as well as the Mjólkárvirkjun hydro power station (from the outside). The views from Dynjandisheiði and Hrafnseyrarheiði on either side of the fjord are not easily forgotten either.

Nestled between the fjords of Arnarfjörður and Dýrafjörður, you’ll find the “Alps of the Westfjords” – an area of uncharacteristically pointy mountains, including the region’s tallest peak: Kaldbakur at 998 m.

The villages of Bíldudalur and Þingeyri are the main population centres of the western Westfjords.

The Southern Westfjords

The long and stunningly diverse southern shore of the Westfjords makes for an incredible drive. The tiny and remote village of Reykhólar to the east is quite the bird lovers’ paradise, where the shallow shoreline combines with the marshes and ponds found inland for the perfect breeding ground for birds. What’s more, a wonderfully innovative museum dedicated to nature explores the symbiosis between nature and man, and how birds, seal and fish helped the economy thrive.

The shore takes in fjords and mountains, as well as several hot springs, before plunging down to the iconic Rauðasandur beach and further west to Látrabjarg. The towns of Patreksfjörður and Tálknafjörður are the main population centres of the southern Westfjords.


Heading further south, after Ísafjarðardjúp, you need to tackle the arduous Steingrímsfjarðarheiði mountain pass, before heading back down to sea level in the Strandir area of the Westjfords.

Strandir is roughly the south-eastern quarter of the Westfjords and is ensconced between Steingrímsfjörður fjord in the north and Hrútafjörður in the south. With its low-lying and undulating hilly landscape it’s the perfect place to rear sheep. The village of Hólmavík is the local centre of activity and is famous among visitors for its Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft which chronicles the history of witch hunting from the medieval era. To the is Árneshreppur, one of Iceland’s largest municipalities, but also its least populous, with just 47 residents. It is the perfect place to bike or hike through beautifully rugged landscape, waterfalls and small farms. Those with guts, gumption (and a good glacier guide) can have a crack at the Drangajökull glacier as well.

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