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The Westfjords of Iceland are remote and unexplored. Tucked away in the far north-west the road from Reykjavík to Hólmavík is 232km of easy driving and from that point onwards the main roads disappear and gravel roads and vast panoramas take over. One of the least explored areas of the country the Westfjords are a haven for wildlife and peaceful travel.
Where are the Westfjords
The Westfjords is a series of fjords in the north west corner of Iceland. The peninsula is connected by a narrow 7km isthmus between Gilsfjörður and Bitrufjörður just south of Hólmavík.
From Hólmavík the peninsula spreads out into three distinct fingers – one towards Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, a second towards Ísafjörður and Þingeyri and the third stretching towards Patreksfjörður.
Beyond the Westfjords there is nothing until the coast of Greenland, 1216 kilometers to the north west.
How to Get to the Westfjords
The Westfjords are located 232km from Reykjavik and 335km from Akureyri in the north.
The main entry point is via Ring Road 1 and then picking up Road 60 north of Borgarnes. This is the same road that takes you to the north of the Snæsfellsnes Peninsula. After you pass road 54 to Stykkishólmur there is the option to drive around the peninsula in a clockwise direction taking Road 61 to Hólmavík and onwards to Ísafjörður or staying on Road 60 to visit the area in the south of the Westfjords around Patreksfjörður.
From the north the route follows Ring Road 1 from Akureyri picking up Road 68 just before the town of Staður. This will take you north to Hólmavík and onwards to the rest of the Westfjords.
The southern area is perfect for an introduction to the Westfjord, especially when combine with the Brjánslækur ferry from Stykkishólmur to Flókalundur. This will cut off 270km and whilst the time saved is minimal the journey is a little different, more relaxing and will allow you to watch for whales and pass Flatey Island. Price wise the cost of the ferry is comparable with the cost of fuel but means you can hit the road ready to go having eaten and relaxed during the crossing.
Driving in the Westfjords
The Westfjords have some of the scariest roads in the whole of Iceland. With high mountains passes and cliff edge roads it has a little bit of terror all over the place. In the winter months many of the roads are impassable and so driving the West fjords is only really recommended in the summer months.
The roads switch from gravel to tarmac on a regular basis so you need to pay attention although through most towns and villages the roads are good.
Getting to Látrabjarg and Melanes involves mountain passes with numerous switchbacks on sheer edges. We drove this in a 4WD and it was difficult in places. However, we did pass buses and campervans attempting the roads. While it is possible you do need to be sure of your own driving skills and your ability to reverse a longer vehicle on single track roads with a drop on one side!
Driving in the Westfjords also requires planning. Check the road conditions and weather before setting out and check on a regular basis for any changes. We found Road.is to be most reliable for road conditions and Vedur.is for the weather. Even in the summer months it can be grey and overcast with heavy rain, sleet and anything else the sky wants to throw at you.
Finally toilets – use them when you see them. They are mainly portaloos in car parks but the distances between them can be substantial and there is nowhere else. The sign for these stops is a blue hut with a heart on the door and they usually give you a 1km warning.
Distances and Driving times in Westfjords
In this part of Iceland everything takes much longer than you think. On the map it may look like a short distance but in reality road conditions and weather changes make everything much more uncertain. Listed below are some distances between places and a rough estimate of how long you need to allow during the summer months for the drive without stops.
Reykjavík to Hólmavík 3hours 230km
Akureyri to Hólmavík 4hours 340km
Hólmavík to Djúpavík 1hour 15minutes 70km
Hólmavík to Reykjanes 1 hour 90km
Reykjanes to Ísafjörður 2hours 140km
Ísafjörður to Bíldudalur 3hours 145km
Bíldudalur to Dynjandi 1 hour 15 minutes 60km
Dynjandi to Patreksfjörður 1hour 45minutes 90km
Patreksfjörður to Látrabjarg 1hour 15minutes 60km
Patreksfjörður to Brjánslækur ferry 1 hour 60km
READ MORE: OTHER ROAD TRIPS IN ICELAND
Where to Stay in the Westfjords
Despite being remote there are lots of options in this area from campsites to larger AirBnB’s and hotels. If you want something larger then you will need to look at options in Patreksfjörður or Ísafjörður although there are nice secluded hotels dotted all over the place. Whatever your budget you do need to plan ahead. Places book up ahead of time and the distances are large between towns.
If you are planning to camp make sure that you have a backup plan. As I’ve already mentioned the weather in the Westfjords can be wild and unpredictable and camping, especially in a tent may not be an option. Look a day or two ahead at the weather and make adjustments to your plans if things are looking rough.
Places to Visit in Westfjords
Despite being a remote corner of Iceland the area has lots to see and do. Whilst a day trip from Snæsfellsnes Peninsula is possible a three day itinerary for Westfjords is a much better way to explore. This is especially important if you are visiting from Akureyri or Reykjavík where the drive to enter the area is over two hours before you start exploring.
The region has lots to discover and taking your time means that you can visit the museums, hot springs and amazing restaurants that are dotted around this area as well as ticking off the main Westfjord attractions.
Árneshreppur, Drangajökull Glacier and Hornstrandir Nature Reserve
This is the most remote and least populated area in the whole of Iceland with just 50 inhabitants. Once a bustling fishing area, the herring fishermen left behind a story that is now displayed in a small museum at Djúpavík on the way to Hornstrandir Nature Reserve. The herring processing plants and the large houses are all that remain of the industry. If you want something a little more restful then the pool at Krossneslaug is a definite visit.
Hornstrandir Nature Reserve has been uninhabited since the 1950’s and is perfect for hiking. It has high bird cliffs at bay of Hornvík and most areas can only really be reached by boat from Ísafjörður. It’s isolation means that it is the undisturbed home to arctic foxes who can be seen living in their natural environment if you are very lucky.
South of the nature reserve is Drangajökull Glacier. The most northerly of the Icelandic glaciers and the only one below 1000m it is also the only one that is not showing signs of major decrease in size. The edge of the glacier can be reached on a relatively gentle hike following a track from the road.
Hólmavík and the East of the Westfjords
Hólmavík is the most easterly town in Westfjords and one of the places that you will start to feel that the busy Ring Road 1 is really behind you. This area combined with Árneshreppur is known as the Strandir region. In Hólmavík is the unusual Museum of Icelandic Sorcery & Witchcraft. In the 17th century twenty Icelanders were burned at the stake for practicing sorcery and today the museum tells the story of the witch hunts and trials along with the history of sorcery and witchcraft in Iceland.
Hólmavík also has a large ornate church that sits on a hill above the town and can be seen from everywhere whilst you are walking around.
After Hólmavík the road heads upwards over a mountain pass with small turf huts by the side of the road. This is a desolate landscape and it is not difficult to imagine what it can be like in the winter months. All along this stretch of road are small lakes teeming with birdlife which are worth a moment or two of birdwatching.
The final part of Strandir region takes you to the edge of the coastal fjords and Reykjanes (not to be confused with the Reykjanes Peninsula in the south). Right on a long bridge over the head of the fjord is the Reykjanes Hotel. A really odd place with large hotel, lovely campsite (but very very windy) and a boiling hot almost olympic sized outdoor swimming pool. This location is one of the best little finds and with a hot swimming pool that is free for residents it is a great place to spend a night in the Westfjords. There are not many places where you can swim with Arctic terns circling above feeding their young. If you visit the area during dark nights then the hotel is a superb base for catching the northern lights.
The North around Ísafjörður
Between Reykjanes and Ísafjörður is the small but really informative Arctic Fox Museum in Súðavík. It is just a short visit but has loads of details about these amazing mammals for anyone who can’t get out to Hornstrandir to see them in the wild. It is located in small village with the first facilities for a while.
Vatnsfjorður Nature Reserve
Vatnsfjörður Nature Reserve with its blue tin shed and fish drying shed is worth a short stop. You can sometimes find fish drying in the turf roofed barn and the nature reserve has numerous walks. It is home to one of the Icelandic sagas and a small white church. The nature reserve is wild and exposed and on a grey day can seem like the edge of the world.
READ MORE: PHOTOGRAPHING VATNSFJÖRÐUR NATURE RESERVE
Litlibær and Hvítanes Seal Colony
Litlibær cafe and museum is situated on a hillside on the western side of Skagafjörður which is the largest of the fjords you will drive up and down. It is a little disheartening when you realise that you have to drive the full length of the fjord and can see the road continuing on the far side. Just past the cafe is a large parking area where seals haul out at the Hvítanes seal colony. There are paths down to the shoreline so you can attempt to see the seals. Along the roadside are lots of small waterfalls and the views on a clear day can be stunning.
Ísafjörður is one of the larger towns in Westfjords and is the hub for exploring this area. The town has a small airport and a large fishing industry. There are lots of places to stay in the town as well as stunning restaurants. For a completely different experience the amazing Tjöruhúsið restaurant on the edge of the harbour is a must visit for anyone passing through Ísafjörður, but you really do need to book in advance. The town also has the oldest buildings in Iceland which are now a museum.
Whale watching in Ísafjörður is also big business and if you want a quieter experience away from Reykjavík or Húsavík, then Ísafjörður is definitely worth considering. It is also the place to pick up a boat out to Hornstrandir Nature Reserve.
The north also includes Bolungarvík with the Bolafjall mountain behind. This is now a winter ski resort but can disappear into the clouds at any moment. A new tunnel connects Ísafjörður with Bolungarvík making it a quicker journey than following the coast road.
READ MORE: EXPLORING BOLUNGARVÍK
A new tunnel between Ísafjörður, Suðureyri and Flateyri (make sure you take the left fork in the middle of the tunnel to get to Flateyri) links Ísafjörður with the next fjord and the small fishing village of Suðureyri without the need for mountain passes. The tunnel is an experience and drops from two lane to single lanes as well as have the choice of tunnel direction. Almost as soon as you leave the tunnel at the Flateyri exit there is the sandy bay and Önundarfjordur Pier with its beautiful golden sands and turquoise sea.
Mid-Westfjords – Önundarfjordur to Bíldudalur and Arnarfjörður fjord
This section of the Westfjords if exposed with a high mountain pass to navigate from Þingeyri to Hrafnseyri Museum. The mountain road is gravel with switchbacks and no easy passing places. Not a road to attempt in bad weather conditions. At the bottom of the pass as you reach Arnarfjörður Fjord there is a small church adjacent to the Hrafnseyri museum. This consists of three small turf roofed buildings with a small museum and lovely tea room with gorgeous Skyr cake. The perfect place to recompose after the mountain pass.
From the museum the road snakes along the side of the fjord with views across the amazing Dynjandi Waterfall with its stunning veil shaped main fall. This road changes from tarmac to gravel but is slowly being upgraded with a new tunnel being built to improve journey times across the Westfjords. Dynjandi Waterfall is one of the main attractions of the Westfjords and if you are limited on time this may be as far north into the Westfjords that you need to go. A short 20 minute walk will take you to the main waterfall, passing smaller falls all the way up.
READ MORE: DYNJANDI WATERFALL
Shortly after Dynjandi the road splits with Route 60 heading south to Flókalundur and the ferry to Snæsfellsnes Peninsula, however the right fork takes you onto a rough track road – Road 63 that passes the warm and relaxing hot spring of Reykjafjarðarlaug with a hot pool and large cool swimming pool. Close to the hot pool is small turf sheep shelter. All of this is right on the shoreline of Arnarfjörður Fjord with views along the length of the fjord. There is a small changing room and toilet which is helpful in less than perfect weather conditions.
Icelandic Sea Monster Museum and Bíldudalur
Stories of sea monsters living in the fjords abound, there are even road signs warning of their presence. Sagas perpetuate the stories across the generations. In Bíldudalur, a small town with a pretty church there is the Icelandic Sea Monster Museum. An odd place that will give you a few surprises as you explore!
South Westfjords – Patreksfjörður and the Coast to Flókalundur
For many visitors to the Westfjords, the small loop from Flókalundyr to Patreksfjörður via the bird cliffs and the mountain passes is enough for an introduction to this stunning region of the country.
After leaving Bíldudalur Road 63 crosses another high pass with a gravel road. The views from this road are stunning and show the final fjord of the Westfjords laid out as you drop down to Patreksfjörður. This small town has lots of facilities and is a good place to stock up on fuel and food before heading onwards.
Garðar BA 64
Leaving Patreksfjörður on Road 62 there is the option to drive straight back to Flókalundyr or take the rough track that is Road 612 out to the far west of Iceland. Shortly after the turning onto the 612 you will find Garðar BA 64, the oldest steel ship in Iceland. This large ships is hauled up the beach and is slowly rusting away. She is beautiful but should not be entered (despite what others might be doing!). When we first visited she was busy but coming back early in the morning meant the light was perfect and we had her to ourselves.
Along this coastline are a number of small waterfalls, old fishing huts and farming sheds which are photogenic and worth a pause with a camera. Remember that they are private property and should not be entered or explored away from clear footpaths.
READ MORE: ABANDONED BARN IN WESTFJORDS
After Garðar BA 64 the road becomes even more wild and heads out towards the Látrabjarg Bird Cliffs. On the way it passes the weird Hnjótur Museum with its American planes and fishing boats in the middle of nowhere. There are also stunning views across the fjord and its sandy bays and spits.
READ MORE: PATREKSFJÖRÐUR, MUSEUMS AND LIGHTHOUSES
Látrabjarg Bird Cliffs and Bjargtangar Lighthouse
Once you pass Hnjótur Museum the road heads over another mountain pass before meandering along the coastline to the most westerly lighthouse in Iceland at Látrabjarg. This is a windy spot even on a good day but the bird cliffs are a sight to be seen in the summer months when the puffins and kittiwakes are nesting all along the cliff edge. Unfortunately this road is a dead end and to get back to the real world you have to retrace your steps over the pass back to Garðar BA 64 to pick up Road 62 again.
A small detour on the way will take you to the beautiful golden sands at Rauðasandur Beach and it’s small black church called Saurbæjarkirkja. This bay is reached by driving the extremely scary and steep Road 614. The beach, church and small campsite is worth the terror of the sheer hairpins all the way down to the bay.
READ MORE: RAUÐASANDUR BEACH AND SAURBÆJARKIRKJA
Mountain Pass and Coast to Brjánslækur Ferry
Once you are back on Road 62 it is an easy drive back to Flókalundyr to the ferry to Snæsfellsnes Peninsula or the road to Búðardalur and Ring Road 1 north of Borgarnes. On this road you will pass the Kleifabúi Stone Man marking the highest point of the Kleifaheiði mountain pass celebrating the engineering achievement of the completion of the road.
Further along the coast towards the ferry terminal the coast opens out into wide shallow bays. Along the coast are two hot springs Birkimelur and Hellulaug Hot Springs. Both of these hot springs are small and discrete sitting right on the shore line with stunning views across the bay.
- Always ensure that you have weather protection and a lens cloth for your camera
- The wind can be fierce so a tripod is not always an option. Long exposure photography may not be possible
- A polariser can enhance the blues of the sky and the sea on non-cloudy days
- The landscapes up here are vast so panoramas can help to convey the scale
- Make sure that you don’t get distracted looking for photo stops while driving. Parking areas are usually found at the best and safest location for a photograph
Map of Places in the Westfjords to Visit and Photograph
The Westfjords have so many places to visit and photograph that it isn’t possible to include them all on one map. Click HERE to see the map of favourite places in Westfjords or click on the map.
Driving and Touring the Westfjords
The Westfjords cover a vast area with narrow and steep gravel roads. This really is the place for vehicles over walking and cycling long distances. If you have the time and budget 4WD will make this whole adventure far more pleasant.
Car Hire To Explore The Westfjords
Getting to the Westfjords is possible with a hire car and plan a self drive route. You should ensure that you have a 4WD vehicle and are confident with gravel road driving and switch back roads. These roads do not forgive mistakes and the road conditions should be checked before setting out and during the day to ensure the weather and road conditions are safe. Check out the conditions on Vegagerðin
If driving the Westfjords isn’t for you there are a number of tours that explore this area with a guide. Take a look through as there are some really good options.
Midnight Sun Photography Tour of Westfjords and North Iceland
This photography tour will let you explore the Snæsfellsnes Peninsula and the north of Iceland as well as the Westfjords. It takes you to some of the beautiful places in the guide as well as hidden secrets.
Walking Tour Of Rauðasandur Beach
This guided walk along the beach at Rauðasandur will allow you to explore without having to worry about the tides or getting down the road to the bay, your guide will do it all for you!
Cycling To Rauðasandur Beach
If you are a little more energetic then how about cycling the Westfjords. This is an amazing route with a guide to help you all along the way. And if the uphill home is too much they can give you a lift back to a hot tub and a brew.
Everything In Westfjords
If this corner of Westfjords is intriguing then this day tour will take you to all the places on roads 612 and 614. Someone else will drive the passes for you and negotiate the coaches on the tiny mountain roads while you enjoy the experience.