Discover a quieter, quirkier part of Iceland in the Westfjords, where a rugged peninsula of high mountains and sweeping bays hide a very local part of the country. Here’s what to do in the Westfjords, Iceland.
The Westfjords stretch out into the Atlantic Ocean from the northwest corner of Iceland. A rugged peninsula of mountains cut by massive fjords, the distances are large and the landscapes wild.
Isolated by geography, the Westfjords have a charisma that’s unlike anywhere else in Iceland. Defined by a remoteness and lacking visitor numbers, it’s quiet and peaceful. The sights are less jaw-dropping and more all-encompassing; immersions in nature and local life that are a joy to be surrounded in.
Soak in hot tubs with locals, hike in one of the last European wildernesses and enjoy some of the best food and most hearty hospitality you’ll find in Iceland.
Only about 10% of tourists come to the Westfjords so this is a place that’s designed for locals. It’s slower, quieter, quirkier and more original.
Here’s what we discovered after spending a few days in the Westfjords.
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WHAT TO DO IN WESTFJORDS, ICELAND
Stretching for 14 kilometres and reaching over 400 metres above the ocean, the Látrabjarg Cliffs are the highest bird-watching cliffs in Europe. During the summer months (June to mid-August), birds from around the world fly here to build their nests on precipitous edges.
It’s one of the world’s great bird-watching destinations where you can expect to see gannets, fulmars, guillemots, and razorbills. But the star of the show is the puffin. They are so tame at Látrabjarg you’ll be able to get up close without bothering them much at all.
Walk along the cliff keeping an eye in the low grasses for puffins nesting just on the edge. Further up there are huge cliffs with thousands of birds nesting on tiny ledges.
The start of the cliff walk is just over a 1-hour drive from Patreksfjördur. The road passes the wreck of an old Norwegian vessel Garðar BA 64 which is worth a quick stop.
There are no toilets on the cliffs, so make a quick break five minutes beforehand. Bring gloves, windproof and a woolly hat for those bracing winds. A telephoto lens will come in handy.
Rauðisandur bucks the trend of black beaches in Iceland. This 10-kilometre-long beach is a great sweep of red and golden sand. The colour is a result of years and years of shattered scallop shells accumulating on the beach. Come here on a sunny day and at low tide, when the beach is at its largest, and their reflection makes this massive swathe of sand glimmer and glow. It’s a magical sight.
There’s a great little French café next to the beach called Franska kaffihúsið which does hearty hot chocolates, soup, and cakes. Right next door is the charming black church of Saurbaejarkirkja. It’s a short stroll from the parking lot onto the sands, where you can walk out as far as you want.
The road to Rauðisandur (Rte 614) is a 20-minute one-way (40-minute round trip) detour from the road to Látrabjarg cliffs. The gravel track is mushy and can be quite slippery when wet, so take your time.
GEOTHERMAL HOT SPRINGS IN WESTFJORDS
There are a host of wonderful hot springs situated in the southern end of the Westfjords. They are all slightly different and great in their own way. This is a remote part of Iceland and the hot springs feel more natural than in many other parts of the country.
Hellulaug // Hellulaug is a small hot spring surrounded by an enclave of rocks. It’s tucked under the side of the road but facing towards the sea while you have a soak, you would never know the road was behind you.
Krosslaug & Reykjafjarðarlaug // Krosslaug & Reykjafjarðarlaug are both concrete swimming pools that are naturally heated by geothermal springs. Both have wonderful views over the coast and small changing rooms. Krosslaug also has a more natural rock pool.
Pollurrin // Pollurrin is the favourite hot spring for locals near Flateyri. The geothermal spring heats a small set of pools of different depths which are great for lying in rather than sitting in. There are showers and changing rooms and donations help cover the cost.
Dragsnes // The village of Dragsnes has three geothermally heated hot tubs perched on the rocky shoreline overlooking the east coast of the Westfjords.
Patreksfjörður is a great base for exploring some of the main attractions of the Westfjords including Látrabjarg, Rauðisandur, and Dynjandi. However, it’s also a good stop in its own right.
The colourful town sits picturesquely on the edge of the fjord and has two quirky museums. A pirate museum telling the tales of how Icelanders were attacked by Barbary pirates in the 17th century and a folk museum covering whaling and dramatic sea rescues.
Make sure you end the day at Flak. This wonderful minimalist bar and restaurant serves fish or vegan soup alongside ales that are brewed specifically for the restaurant. It’s a relaxed minimalist space and the soup was top-notch.
There are many great waterfalls in Iceland, but Dynjandi in the Westfjords is one of the best.
Dynjandi is a spectacular sight. A tiered layer of staircases cascades down a huge rock face with water fanning out at the bottom like a massive wedding dress. It makes an imposing view as you drive around the fjord, but it’s also great from up close.
From the car park, it’s a short 15-minute walk on a rocky path that runs alongside a series of 6 smaller waterfalls before reaching the foot of Dynjandi. Expect to get wet.
Dynjandi is located between Dynjandisvogur Bay and Arnarfjörðurfjord, the 2nd largest fjord in the Westfjords.
Holt is a small collection of houses centrally located between three graceful valleys that stream down in different directions beside the imposing flanks of Önundarfjördur.
Enter the fjord via Vestfjarðagöng – the longest tunnel in Iceland – and remerge in the unique isolating landscape around Holt. Driving the short loop around the southern end of Önundarfjördur is a great introduction to this under-visited part of Iceland. Blades of mountains surge all around you, separating the fjord from the rest of the world. It’s idyllic, peaceful, and extremely attractive.
Don’t miss the small pier and sandy beach which is a great spot to have a stroll around.
Flateyri is a small community nestled under the flanks of massive flat-topped mountains. Like many parts of the Westfjords, Flateyri has its own quirks such as the Nonsense Museum which brings together strange collections from around the world.
However, the best reason for coming is to enjoy an evening of Icelandic hospitality at Vagninn. Meaning ‘wagon’ in English, it’s a local pub with great food and a cool relaxed atmosphere. They have a small menu, usually one meat and one vegan option, with a Scandinavian focus. The food was excellent, and it was one of our favourite nights out in Iceland. They also sell locally brewed beers and have some great lounge spaces.
There’s live music most Friday and Saturday nights.
ÍSAFJÖRÐUR TO SÚÐAVÍK TO LITLIBAER
Capital of Westfjords, Ísafjörður is the only town of any size in the region. It’s worth a brief stop to check out the maritime museum and amble the high street. More importantly, it’s the start of a wonderful section of Route 61 that winds around the fjords that cut into this peninsula.
On route there are wonderful viewpoints and sweeping vistas. After Súðavík the fjords get narrower and tighter and more dramatic until after about an hour you arrive at Litlibaer. This tiny house is still decorated in traditional style and is a micro-museum to the generations that lived here from the 1890s to 1969.
The current residents serve coffee and waffles (everything on doilies) after which you can wander around the tiny rooms checking out their vintage wares.
Just north of Litlibaer, stop off at Seal Lookout to catch a glimpse of the seals that can often be seen lazing on the rock.
HORNSTRANDIR NATURE RESERVE
The Hornstrandir Nature Reserve is one of the great wildernesses of Europe. Two hundred and twenty square miles (580 square kilometres) of steep cliffs and wild tundra are battered by crashing oceans. Occupying the northern tip of the Westfjords it is a paradise for hikers seeking a remote stomping ground.
There is good wildlife spotting here too. Arctic foxes are numerous and can be spotted on the wide-open tundra. Seals can be spied lounging on outcrops while white-beaked dolphins, humpback whales and orca can be found in the seas. In summer the birds nest high up on the cliffs here, just as they do in Látrabjarg.
Getting here is not easy. There are no roads, so you’ll need to catch a ferry from Ísafjörður to one of three stops on the Hornstrandir peninsula and hike in. You can just about do a day trip, but if you want to see the most dramatic cliffs and truly experience the wilderness try a multi-day adventure.
Hólmavík is the main settlement in the southeast Westfjords. It’s a convenient spot to break up the journey as you drive along the fjords. There are two good places we recommend you take a break at on your road trip.
Firstly, Hólmavík Church is perched on the top of a cliff and is reached by a wonderful colourful walkway and steps. Painted in the colours of the rainbow it’s a lovely photo opportunity.
Secondly, Bistro 510 keeps hungry travellers happy from the window of its retro caravan. They do some great pancakes and toasted sandwiches.
GETTING AROUND THE WESTFJORDS
The map below has all the main attractions in Westfjords. Keep in mind that distances are long and winding in and out of the fjords can take more time than you might think.
You do not need a 4×4 to explore the Westfjords. Almost all the roads are a mix of paved or gravel tracks that can be driven in a 2WD. After rain however, the gravel tracks, especially towards Rauðisandur, can be slippery and muddy, so take care.
There is only one F-road in the Westfjords (F66), for which you will need a 4×4, but it can easily be avoided.
Gas stations can be few and far between in the Westfjords, so don’t let your fuel tank get too low and fill up when you can.
HOW TO GET TO WESTFJORDS
There are three ways to get to the Westfjords: Taking the ferry from Snaefellsnes Peninsula, drive or fly.
FERRY TO THE WESTFJORDS FROM SNAEFELLSNES
A ferry runs twice daily from Stykkishólmur on the Snaefellsnes Peninsula to Brjánslaekur in the Westfjords. The journey takes 2 hours and thirty minutes. The ferry takes vehicles and foot passengers, but in order to explore the Westfjords at the other end you’ll need a car.
It’s possible to visit the Westfjords as a day trip by taking the morning ferry at 9am and returning on the evening ferry at 6pm. But with these windy roads and large distances, you won’t get to see much on a day trip. Plan on spending at least one night in the Westfjords.
It’s a good idea to get the ferry in and drive out (or vice versa) to reduce some driving.
DRIVING TO THE WESTFJORDS
From Reykjavík to the Króksfjarðarnes in the south-eastern end of the Westfjords it is 125 miles (200 kilometres) and takes about 2 hours and 45 minutes. If you are circling on the Ring Road, then it’s around a 55-mile (90 kilometres) detour from Route 1.
But getting to the southeast edge of the Westfjords is only just the beginning. The main sights are at the western and northern end of the peninsula. The journey to Látrabjarg is another 140 miles (226 kilometres) and takes 3 hours and thirty minutes. The road to Ísafjörður is 160 miles (255 kilometres) and takes just over 3 hours.
FLY TO THE WESTFJORDS
Twice daily flights run between Ísafjörður Airport and Reykjavík and take 40 minutes. Rental cars from Hertz, Avis and Europcar can be picked up at the airport.
ITINERARIES / HOW LONG TO SPEND IN THE WESTFJORDS
To make the most of the Westfjords you will need to spend at least one and preferably two nights. Here are some suggested itineraries for your time in the Westfjords.
1-DAY ITINERARY IN THE WESTFJORDS
For a 1 day itinerary stick to the southwest section of the fjords. Visit the two main highlights of Látrabjarg Cliffs and Dynjandi Waterfall and if time is on your side, make the drive over to Rauðisandur. End the day soaking in Hellulaug (or whichever thermal pool takes your fancy) and grab dinner at Flak in Patreksfjördur.
2-DAY ITINERARY IN THE WESTFJORDS
For a 2 day itinerary in the Westfjords make a loop around the entire western side. On day 1 cover Rauðisandur, Látrabjarg Cliffs, a hot spring, and Dynjandi before ending at Holt. It’s a wonderful place in the evening light and Vagninn in Flateyri is a great spot for dinner.
On day 2 make the long meandering drive, winding in and out of the fjords, passing through Ísafjörður, Súðavík, Litlibaer, and Hólmavík.
LONGER WESTFJORDS ITINERARY
If you have longer then head into Hornstrandir, one of the great wildernesses in Europe. You can scratch the edge on a day trip, but really it requires a multi-day hike to see the best of it.
WHERE TO STAY IN THE WESTFJORDS
This is a lovely guesthouse on the backstreets of Patreksfjörður. The rooms are a decent size and the shared lounge is bright with wonderful views over the fjord. Biscuits, coffee, and hot chocolate are available and there’s a garden for lounging in.
This is a very good value place in the hamlet of Holt. The scenery is rugged and remote and it feels like you’re really getting away from it all. The Vagninn Bar & Restaurant in Flateyri is only a short drive away and another great reason to stay here.
Tucked in the southeastern end of the fjords, getting here takes a bit of effort, but the reward is a fine evening meal followed by a soak in the Dragsnes hot pools staring across a seemingly endless ocean.
IS THE WESTFJORDS WORTH VISITING?
If it is your first time in Iceland and you’re spending between 7-10 days in the country, we suggest you spend most of your time in the southwest which is where the majority of the big attractions are. The other great thing to do with just over a week is to complete the Ring Road.
You can see all our recommendations on our Iceland Itineraries.
If it is your second time in Iceland, or you have 2 weeks or more, then the Westfjords is well worth visiting. You’ll see a very different side to Iceland that is much more focused in the local community. While it doesn’t have the famous attractions of the southwest, it has stunning landscapes and it’s a great place to hang out for a couple of days.
PLANNING YOUR ICELAND TRIP
Iceland is an excellent destination for semi-adventurous travellers who like to get off the beaten track and immerse themselves in stunning scenery. Here’s some more reading from us to help plan your journey to the land of fire and ice.
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