The Westfjords of Iceland
Standing on the Edge of the World
A part of Iceland’s appeal is certainly its remoteness and untouched landscapes and nowhere are these more apparent than in the Westfjords. The lonesome peninsula is overlooked by many as it is not officially part of the Highway 1 Ring Road, but those who make their way there will be awed by its winding fjords, imposing mountains, towering waterfalls, red sand beaches, secluded natural pools, wildlife, diverse culture – not to mention the sense of standing in a pristine environment at the edge of the world.
Even though the Westfjords are not connected to the main road by name, circling the peninsula is easily managed by car during the summertime in only three days time – or even less if you’re in a hurry. There are also regular flights going to the Westfjord’s capital, Ísafjörður, where you can arrange for rental cars or guided tours around the area.
A Wide Variety of Activities
A highlight for many are the majestic cliffs of Látrabjarg, which is the westernmost point of Iceland (and thus, of Europe) that truly give you the feeling that you’re at the world’s end. The drop is up to 1500 feet (440 metres) high, so those suffering from vertigo should come prepared. Látrabjarg is the largest bird cliff in Europe and is home to millions of birds, including puffins, guillemots, razorbills and northern gannets. As you can imagine, the daily life in the Westfjords is closely connected to the ocean – both its abundance and dangers. Visitors are invited to experience this connection with a multitude of experiences out on the Atlantic ocean – including sea angling tours, kayaking, visiting remote islands or the friendly seals, observing the birdlife, whale watching or just hanging around the small town harbours.
Alone in the World
Hiking in the Westfjords is truly an unforgettable experience as you’ll get the feeling you are truly alone in the world. Most towns offer information on suitable hiking trails and you’ll usually find a wide range of experiences – from pleasant scenic strolls to more demanding hikes.
For those seeking adventure, a trip to Hornstrandir is something to consider. It’s a completely uninhabited area in the far north of the peninsula accessible only by special boats which just go there a few times a week. As the area is so remote, careful planning and proper equipment are necessary.
But whatever your preference is, you’ll be sure to leave the Westfjords truly having experienced life in one of the most remote places you can find. -VAG
Your Base in the Westfjords
Hólmavík is a sparsely populated fishing village situated in a special slice of the Westfjords called Strandir.
The town is perhaps best known for the Museum of Icelandic Sorcery and Witchcraft where the unique history of witchcraft, sorcery, and witch-hunting from the 17th and 18th centuries is exhibited. Other attractions include a golf course, the swimming pool, riding tours, hiking trails and restaurants.
Finna Hotel offers 21 rooms in two houses, Finna Hotel and Steinhúsið. Finna Hotel has stunning views from the hill to the town centre, the church and the Steingrímsfjörður fjord. Steinhúsið is located in the heart of the old town, just opposite the Witchcraft museum and is the oldest concrete building in town, built in 1911. The hotel can offer both standard rooms with breakfast included or an apartment where you can make your own meal in a cosy environment.
Finna Hotel is ideal for families and independent travellers with many attractions just a short drive away.
The Gate to the Westfjords
Located on the south side of Kollafjörður fjord is the tiny community of Broddanes, which serves as a gate of sorts to the Westfjords peninsula. There you’ll find Broddanes Hostel, a family-run tranquil beauty spot with access to matchless natural phenomena and fantastic birdwatching spots right on your doorstep. The hostel is housed in an old two storied school building, with oceanic views from all rooms. The coastline is a sight to behold with small peninsulas and bays, creeks, islets and skerries. Just outside the hotel you’ll see a small island covered with puffins during the summertime as well as a variety of other birds like eider ducks, black guillemots, arctic terns and oystercatchers, while a short walk from the hostel leads to some friendly seals. Broddanes Hostel provides accommodation for all needs: family rooms, singles, doubles and communal kitchen-, dining- and living rooms. Broddanes is open from May to September. A local family runs the hostel and they’ll be more than happy to help out with any questions you might have.
Your Guide to the Far West
The small village of Patreksfjörður rests comfortably in the far west of the Westfjords by the eponymous fjord and acts as a base from which you can visit the countless attractions of the area. Tour operator Westfjords Adventures is based in Patreksfjörður and offers a wide variety of tours in the area. Their most popular tour, which is aptly named, ‘The Grand West’, takes visitors to two of the area’s highlights – Látrabjarg and Rauðasandur. In cooperation with a local farmer, Westfjords Adventures have launched a new unique service in which you are invited to join the farmer on a tractor-pulled wagon onto Rauðasandur to visit the local seal population. Sea-angling and scenic boat tours on the fjord are also very popular as they give a unique chance to take in the landscapes, birdlife and the fjord itself. Hiking tours also come recommended as they give a feel for the area and access to places only a few have been before. Whatever your preference is you can be sure Westfjords Adventures can be of assistance. You’ll find a tourist shop, car rental, ferry tickets and expert guidance for all your Westfjords adventures there.
A Home at the Edge of the Inhabitable World
Staying way up north in the Westfjords, close to the edge of what the locals call the “inhabitable world” is an experience in itself and what better way to do it than in your very own fully furnished apartment. A local mother and her five daughters decided to offer visitors the opportunity to feel right at home for longer or shorter periods of time in their hometown of Bolungarvík. Surrounded by mountains and the untamed ocean you’ll have a hard time finding a more peaceful sanctuary on your travels. Staying at Mánafell you’ll experience the unique balance of intimacy and privacy of small town life in Iceland. Many come there to write or work on special projects, while others come just to breathe the fresh air and take in the sights. Mánafell is ideal for families, small groups or individuals and has all amenities. The local geothermal swimming pool is just around the corner and there are a variety of activities in the area. During winter excellent ski slopes are only 10 minutes away.
SIMA Hostel and Sea Adventures
An Authentic Small Town Experience
Heading out from a tiny Icelandic fishing village into the Westfjords on a forty year old fishing boat is an experience not soon forgotten. The joint venture of SIMA Hostel and Sea Adventures offers this unique, authentic experience in the village of Flateyri by Önundarfjörður fjord. Flateyri still has the feel of a fishing town, even though the golden years of small-town fishing have long since passed. You’ll find small open motorboats sailing in and out of the harbour. One of them is a preserved fishing boat from 1974, owned by the Westfjords Heritage Museum – on which you’re invited to go sea angling or to catch the evening sun reflecting on the waters. The fjord is, of course, closely connected to Flateyri’s identity and going out on its placid waters, guided by a local sea captain, is the perfect way to get a feel for the place – its culture, nature and history. Depending on the weather and season, you can catch fish, check on crab traps or just take in the tranquility and stillness of the fjord, which the locals proudly claim to be one of Iceland’s most beautiful.
The SIMA Hostel is located in a renovated post and telecommunications office and the interiors of the upper floor are based on the original design, whereas the lower floor has a more modern feel. Owned and operated by locals, the cosy and clean SIMA hostel offers a variety of rooms with splendid views on the top floor. Cosy living- and dining rooms and self-service kitchens provide guests with an opportunity to share and experience Flateyri’s many offerings.
SIMA Hostel and Sea Adventures
Way Off the Beaten Path
In the remote Norðurfjörður in the northwest of the Westfjords peninsula you’ll find a little peace of heaven called Urðartindur. Norðurfjörður is actually Iceland’s least populated municipality with just over 50 inhabitants, one of whom was faced with the decision of what to do with his family’s deserted farm. He decided to renovate the barn as a comfortable guesthouse and has since built two cosy cottages. You’ll also find a fully serviced campsite on the premises. One of Iceland’s more famous geothermal pools, Krossneslaug, is located close to Urðartindur, where you can bathe under a splendid deep red sunset with the untamed power of the ocean just a few metres away. It is the perfect location to stay for a few days and walk around in the majestic Westfjords, way off the beaten path, where few others dare to go. Most visitors who initially intend on staying only one night tend to regret not having more time there.
The Hidden Treasure of the Westfjords
In a small cove in the massive fjord of Ísafjarðardjúp you’ll find the hidden treasure of Bolungarvík, one of Iceland’s oldest fishing villages, surrounded by towering mountains and steep cliffs.
This remote village was once mainly accessible only by sea, but now you could say its doors have been opened with the arrival of a 5.4 kilometre tunnel, connecting it to the neighbouring Hnífsdalur. Despite its remoteness and isolation, Bolungarvík is a friendly and accommodating Icelandic fishing village, true to its origin and culture. The Ósvör Maritime Museum gives a glimpse into 19th century fishing with a double fishing base, salt hut, fish drying area and drying hut, as well as the old rowboat named Ölver. The Natural History Museum tells the story of Bolungarvík’s close relationship with its surroundings, including a stuffed polar bear and an impressive rock collection. Hiking around Bolungarvík reveals the 600 metre tall Bolafjall with amazing panoramic views, not to mention the tantalising Hornstrandir across the fjord. Bolungarvík’s geothermal swimming pool is always popular with outside hot tubs, perfect to relax in after a long day. The fully serviced campsite on the riverbanks of Hólsá is a beautiful spot and just taking in the sights down by the harbour is an experience in itself.