Strandir: The coasts of sorcery and scenery

Strandir (simply ‘Coasts’ in English) comprises the eastern edge of the Westfjords peninsula and boasts of beaches strewn with driftwood. There are seals and Arctic foxes, waterfalls, hot springs, and wild vistas interspersed with tiny villages and amazing tales of sorcery in centuries gone by.

The posterchild for rural depopulation in Iceland in the 20th century, the three large municipalities (over 3500 sq. km) that make up Strandir; Árneshreppur, Kaldraneshreppur, and Strandabyggð; today have a population of barely 750 people between them. The smallest, Árneshreppur, has under 50 residents.

For former residents, it’s easy to understand. Road distances are long, snow ploughing in winter can be erratic, and flights to the region are expensive and unreliable. But for visitors, Strandir is truly magnificent.

Djúpavík and waterfalls

A tiny almost uninhabited hamlet in the fjord Reykjafjörður, Djúpavík, or the deep bay, best known for its huge herring factory. The first one was established in 1917 and closed in 1919 when the owner went bankrupt. The next herring boom took some time coming.

The year 1934 saw the setting up of the biggest herring factory, housed in the biggest concrete building of its time in Iceland. The good times lasted about 20 years, with as many as 500 people living and working here at its peak, making this remote area come alive like never before. By the shore there’s even a rusty old shipwreck, which was sometimes used as staff quarters when the town could not accommodate all the people working at the factory.

When the herring stocks were fished to oblivion, things started going downhill quickly and people left the village, turning it into the ghost town we see today.

A lovely and unforgettable hotel still operates here all year round and the old factory also has exhibitions that makes for an unusual visit. Soon, Djípavík will play host to a new museum dedicated to the Basque whalers who were stranded in the area and eventually massacred by the locals in 1615.
The 2016 American film Justice League was partially filmed here and there is a beautiful waterfall called Djúpavíkurfoss, which plunges off a high cliff and then cascades along slopes towards the settlement.

The best views

Trékyllisvík: This remote cove is surrounded by towering mountains and it is difficult to imagine that this special place was the main site for witch burnings in the 17th century.

Reykjaneshyrna: This viewpoint is an easy one-hour hike with rewarding views over the coastline, fjords and stunning mountains of northern Strandir.

Munaðarnes: At the mouth of the deep and narrow Ingólfsfjörður Bay, the area surrounding the northernmost inhabited farm has some of the best views in the region, especially the peaks of Drangaskörð on the horizon.

Swimming and bathing

Hólmavík: This is the largest town in the Strandir area and has a swimming pool constructed in 2004. This 25-metre pool is not heated by a geothermal source but has hot tubs, a wading pool, a gym and a sauna. It is next to the town campsite.

Drangsnes: The pool in the tiny village of Drangsnes has a 12.5 x 8 metre pool with a hot tub, a wading pool, gym, sauna. It even offers you a great view towards Grímsey Island. However, there are also hot tubs located right on the shore next to the road out of town after a geothermal source was discovered there in 1997.

Hotel Laugarhóll: In Bjarnafjörður this private hotel has a naturally-heated pool that’s been functional since 1947. Most kids from neighbouring areas learnt how to swim here. This 25-metre pool also has a nice natural hot spring to soak in. There’s also a protected site nearby, a recreated pool named after the medieval bishop and folk figure Guðmundur the Kind.

Krossneslaug: Just beyond Norðurfjörður—the final hamlet before the road north runs out—there’s a small pool here accompanied by a hot tub. It’s right on the shoreline, close to the sea and magical to soak in—a pool surrounded by the sea and untouched nature, on the edge of nowhere.

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